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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Top 20 Melancholic New Year's Indie Songs

New Year's Indie Reviews for the Attention-Deficient


Solidarity in Pain, Regret, and Hope for the Holidays
(also published by Blogcritics on-line magazine)

Most of you know the routine of this column by now. If you don't, treat yourself to the warp speed explanations of columns past. Time's a wastin': let's get down to the business of music and the holiday season.

Christmas cheer? Humbugarama! Life does not take a holiday for most of the world from December 25 through January 1. War, heartache, poverty, work, grief, oppression march on unflinchingly. They deserve attention, even from us who struggle so much to lend it despite our best intentions.

Someone I know barely kept his life on Christmas Day when the navy ship on which he was serving was sunk, killing hundreds of comrades and from which he escaped with his body and only part of his mind. He hates Christmas, and not of his own volition. Others find the rampant and aggressive commercialization a cooptation of more human principles at the holiday’s heart. Others still, are in the midst of heartache not of their own choosing. Nor might an indie reviewer, however so attention-challenged, forget that many people in the world have not the resources for its commercial version and/or have no tie to its religious foundation.

So this exceptional IMRFAD goes out to the Attention-deficients who for various reasons find Christmas sad, superficial, lonely, or annoying—any and all of these things.

Focus. Here are twenty songs for those in need of comfort but repulsed by naïve cheer. The list is hardly exhaustive, but you and I have trouble concentrating, so I’m being considerate. Good luck making it through the list, and if you do and need more, you can email me.

1. Oscar the Grouch: “I hate Christmas.” You’re always in good company with this loveably mangy muppet. Raise a glass to the Grouch. He farts on Ikea obsessions and potpourri compulsiveness.

2. Steve Earle: “Christmas in Washington.” Like Cash, at unlikely times he turns an eye toward the underbelly of a situation, this time at Christmas. Earle hearkens back to a time when religion and collective celebration pointed to obligations to one’s fellow creatures, not just self-absorbed consumerism and selective moral criticism. His finale is a tour de force, as he summons the spiritual help of the freedom champions of Christmas Pasts to come back and inspire now: “Come back Woodie Guthrie …Come back Malcolm X/And Martin Luther King/We're marching into Selma/As the bells of freedom ring.”

3. John Doe (of X): “Someone Like You.” This also competes for number one on my sadcore list, depending on the day. Doe's voice yearns, his tears drip from the speakers, as the country guitar simulates the sniffling pedal steel. No one wants to admit it, but there are many out there who never ever recover from the grief of losing their greatest love: "Well it's cold at Dawn/You're so far gone/I still miss Someone like you." A lifetime of regret. May it not visit you, my friends.

4. Elliot Smith: “I Didn’t Understand.” Hard to choose from this tortured soul’s magnificent corpus. “Independence Day” is a close second, though one could find many more with very little effort. Smith is nearly incomparable in putting to music the pain of tortured minds who realize they’ve driven away those they love more than anything else and must face the dark possibility that such is their destiny. (Also worth mentioning, in association with Christmas special "The Year Without a Santa Claus," Smith was in a band called Heatmiser before he went solo.)

5. The Kinks: “Father Christmas” (a single from 1977). Surprising entry by the Kinks, who point out that Christmas has a class underbelly in its Western commercialized version. A sample: “But give my daddy a job cause he needs one/He's got lots of mouths to feed/But if you've got one, Ill have a machine gun/So I can scare all the kids down the street/Father Christmas, give us some money/We got no time for your silly toys/We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over/Give all the toys to the little rich boys.”

6. Sufjan Stevens: Okay, I'm going to depart from my usual routine here at the risk of losing you completely. Hang in there. This guy deserved his own Indie Music Review For the Attention Deficient this year for his album The Avalanche, the follow up to his excellent album "Illinois" (2005).

“Sister Winter” (from Songs for Christmas, 2006): The horns, the sleigh bells, the vocals--
"My heart is returned to Sister Winter...Oh my thoughts I returned to summer time…gave to a beloved who threw it all away.” He then apologizes to all his friends for returning “to Sister Winter.” He wishes them the best, a Happy Christmas, genuinely or ironically. This song perfectly captures the double-edged sword of the holidays; beneath the carolling horns and tinkerbell-ish sleigh and other bells is a drone, violins, a monotone sound constant with grief and inconsolable sorrow.

But a close Sufjan second would go to the acoustic version of “Chicago” (The Avalanche) especially if you’re haunted by regret, mistakes. His voice gently pets you into a dog: “you came to take us /all things go, all things go /to re-create us /all things grow, all things grow /we had our mindset /(I made a lot of mistakes) /all things know, all things know /(I made a lot of mistakes) /you had to find it /(I made a lot of mistakes) /all things go, all things go /(I made a lot of mistakes).” Once again the ambiguity is hope-tinged. Mistakes made, things get re-created, things go, things grow. Some may take this as utterly pessimistic about relationships. In fact, I like the metaphors of growth and re-creation here, which give it a kind of aura reminiscent of Heraclitus's maxim: you never step in the same river twice. Things change, but they also grow, not necessarily requiring total loss to grow and re-create us (not just you or him or her). But you know I'm a total optimist at heart.

7. Merle Haggard: “If We Make it Through December." He sings: "I wanted Christmas to be right for daddy's girl/Now I don't mean to hate December/It's meant to be the happy time of year/And why my little girl don't understand/Why daddy can't afford no Christmas here." If you think you don’t like “country” (as if this is mainstream Nashville Garth Brooks drivel), then grow up. There’s a reason why recovering punk-rockers have turned to classic American country (John Doe of X, Jon Langford of the Mekons,etc.).

8. The Smiths: “There is a light that never goes out.” It’s tough to choose one Smith’s pearl out of their considerable showcases of sad jewels—they have a monopoly on them in underground niche markets of the last twenty years. But this one is inevitably sad-tinged and yet bold, romantic, hopeful: “And if a double-decker bus, crashes into us, to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine.” Morissey, a strange troubadoring hybrid descendant of Wilde, Goethe, and Poe.

9. The Cure: “Pictures of You.” Sadness, Regret, Hope aren’t just evoked by music. The visual evidence is a haunted house, a torture chamber, or an oasis on the horizon.

10. Johnny Cash: “Hurt.” The Man in Black—‘nuff said about qualifications. He wears it for the poor, broken-hearted, etc. and if you’re still reading this that includes you. In the last few years before he died, he did some of the most eery, astonishing, monumental covers in the history of modern popular music. This is my favorite, a cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt.” Throw all sharp objects out the window before listening to this.

11. Serge Gainsbourg: “Les Feuilles Mortes” (The Autumn Leaves). This classic (originally in France, 1942, lyrics by the poet Jacques Prevert) has been covered many, many times. If you've never heard it, time to grow up musically. Afterall, you're grown up unwillingly thanks to heartache, misery, doubt, bad luck, and angst. This dirge is suitably in French, but if you have an "English-only" policy, try Edith Piaf's version (she's the greatest French chanteuse of all time but sings this in English and French) or jazzed-up ones like Chet Baker's or Miles Davis'.

12. Jerry Jeff Walker: “Mr. Bojangles.” This gem has been covered many many times, by "the Byrds, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Harry Nilsson, Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, Arlo Guthrie, Nina Simone, John Denver, David Bromberg, Neil Diamond, Sammy Davis, Jr, Tom T. Hall, John Holt, Robbie Williams and David Campbell" among others, and for good reason. Another beautifully sad tale of a hapless man who finds some spring in his step (indeed, he’s a dancing man by métier).

13.Buffalo Tom: “Torchsinger” (Big Red Letter Day). BT’s songs are often poppy, which will veil their angst for some listeners. Excellent songwriting that somehow makes pain toe-tappable.

14. M. Ward: several possibilities, but let’s go with “Vincent O'Brien," in which Ward moves effortlessly from a warble to a Tom Waits: "He only sings when he's sad/and he's sad all the time/so he sings the whole night through/ and he sings in the daytime too."

15. Patsy Cline: “Walkin’ After Midnight.” One of the most distinctive American female vocalists of any genre, and the yardstick of female singers of her generation and after. This is possibly her most famous number, and it is more than fitting for alternative holidays: “I stop to see a weepin' willow/cryin' on his pillow,/maybe he's cryin' for me, /and as the skies turn gloomy, /night winds whisper to me, /I'm lonesome as I can be/I go/out walkin' after midnight, /out in the moonlight,/just hopin' you may be somewhere a walkin' /after midnight searchin' for me.”

16.Cat Power: “Hate.” The Greatest is a feast of self-doubt, -hate, -regret. The Romantic poets don’t have much on these bare arrangements, Chan’s raspy voice a songbird with sinusitis. Only for those not on suicide watch: “they can give me pills/or let me drink my fill/the heart wants to explode/far away where nobody knows/do you believe she said that?/do you believe she said that?/I said I hate myself and I want to die.”

17. Jose Gonzales: “Remain.” Anything off the spectacularly melancholic Veneer will give you your fix, again and again, on a loop that will eventually rock you to sleep, when you feel there’s no way to sleep ever again. “Remain” is ambiguous, hope-tinged. The rain washes away everything, even bloodstains from hearts, and the lovers remain standing—but reconciled? Separate?

18. Richard Buckner: “Blue and Wonder.” His first album established him as a Prince of Indie singer-songwriter darkness (true he has several competitors). His first album, the gloomy masterpiece Bloomed, is one long, perversely sweet funeral procession. Expectations are a gun without a safety trigger. Keep them low: be happy.

19. Lucinda Williams: “ Metal Firecracker” (Car Wheels on a Gravel Road). Again, an artist with multiple offerings for a list about comfort through angst-ridden solidarity. This is one of my favorites, but check out Lucinda’s eponymous album, which features the perfect rhetorical question: “Am I Too Blue (for you)?”

20. Joel R. Phelps and the Downer Trio: “Calling for You.” Former Silkworm rocker has produced some of the saddest and most beautiful singer-songwriter efforts of the last ten years. This one is my favorite, an Iris Dement cover, and it is hard to beat Iris if that tells you anything about the power of this song and Phelps’ rendition. It also is hopeful about reconciliation after hurt has brought love to a dangerous precipice.

I said I would stop there, but Hank Williams Sr. sholdn't be neglected. I just couldn't narrow it to one. Honorable mention also goes to Nick Drake, Joy Division, George Jones, and the Old 97's, especially "Lonely Holiday" and "Valentine." Or, in haiku:

Consumer binges

Up yours! you cheery f-er.

Oscar the Grouch rules!

I wish you a Happy New Year in 2007, friends.

This article also appears in Blogcritics on-line magazine.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tonight at Point Ephemere

Christmas is coming, the goose and Jayson are getting fat. Please put a centime in Point Ephemere's hat...
Tonight.
I repeat:
Dec. 21 Panico + Motormark + Soffy O + Fox n'wolf Typical South American Garage Punk. Lead singer Eduardo of Panico is a "hippie-Latin version of Joey Ramone." The group takes a break from recording a new album to come to Ephémère. "Hippie-Latin" and Ramone? I think I'm in love...

See you there, Parisnormaliens. I'll be the guy in the Devo, Clash, Ramones, Woodie Guthrie, Pavement, Robbie Fulks, Merle Haggard, or Bloodshot Records t-shirt, singing Hank Williams Sr. to himself with five empty pint glasses for friends...That is, unless you join me in this christmas spirit.

Happy, Merry, Consumer Binge!
Jayson

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jayson on next week

Lately I've learned not to look forward to too much in the near future. It's a great new plan: just see what the present does to you, after what you did to it, and try to figure out whether you can do anything with it. Will it be generous? Will it be stingy? Will it be unforgiving? Will it forgive?
What escapes the present?
Is music the great exception?
Crystal balls and bloggerly self-indulgence aside, I look forward to the following. Might you join me in the necessary folly of musical optimism?


Dec. 8 Yes, that's right now. Stop reading this, damn it, and get yer derriere over to the Fleche d'or: Electric President (US); pop electro rock.// Jim Bianco (US); bluesy, south westen eclectic sound, similar to Tom Waits.// Blood Red Shoes. (If you liked Sleater Kinney) // Viva Voce (US); classic american rock. bit of psychedelic influence too.

Golden Grahams--err Member--er Boots. VU meets Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, says their Myspace page. Give'em clever points.
Fleche d'or: Dec. 19 Golden Boots (US); alt.country. I'll be damned if this high-heeled falutin' Eurotrash don't need a good shot of alt.country.

Maroquinerie
Dec. 14 Les Inrocks Indie Club featuring: The Long Blondes (
UK)(I'm hearing some Siouxie and the Banshees, and I'm likin' it); 60s femme rock. // Good Shoes (UK); new wave.// The Answer (UK).

Also at Maroqui.
Dec. 16 Lords of Altamont (US); Very spaghetti Western, meets cowpunk, lighter more psychedelic Jesus and Mary Chain--all in one song. I kid you not. Follow the link. Dig it.

Nouveau Casino:
Dec. 14 New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble (US): Uh, it's like a ska-jazz ensemble that comes from New York...Come to think of it these pointy-headed and -toed Parisiens could use a good ska kick in the derriere too! If you like experimental ska, don't balk. If you don't know what that is, well, I won't say you shouldn't be here. Just go to it.

Point Ephemere:
Dec 10 Goûter d'écoute de Noël Arte Radio Stories of family, toys of madness, and a light feast for the ears when Arteradio.com presents a line up of musical creations and documentaries. Includes Le Partage, a film by Mathilde Guermonprez of the story of ten brothers and sisters who reunite to divide their parents' belongings. Sniffle...but I bet it's cool.

Dec. 14 Rock Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)+ Two Dollar Guitar with Chris Brokaw + Awesome Color A favorite of Point Ephémère with a solo opening performance from Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Dude, it's LEE RENALDO, S-O-N-I-C Y-O-U-T-H. Should you go? Duh.

Dec. 19 "Unclassifiable" Klezmer groove Ozone & Marc Ducret + Zakarya Ozone invites Marc Ducret and circumvents guitar, rock'n'roll, and jazz. Difficult to classify Zakarya's jazz, waltz, trash, Balkan rock style, but there goes. What part of "Balkan rock" don't you understand? What part of "trash" doesn't rev your engine? What kind of an America--er, cosmopolite are you?

Dec. 21 Panico + Motormark + Soffy O + Fox n'wolf Typical South American Garage Punk. Lead singer Eduardo of Panico is a "hippie-Latin version of Joey Ramone." The group takes a break from recording a new album to come to Ephémère. "Hippie-Latin" and Ramone? I think I'm in love...

See you there, Parisnormaliens. I'll be the guy in the Devo, Clash, Ramones, Woodie Guthrie, Pavement, Robbie Fulks, Merle Haggard, or Bloodshot Records t-shirt, singing Hank Williams Sr. to himself with five empty pint glasses for friends...That is, unless you join me.

Happy, Merry, Consumer Binge!
Jayson

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

December Calendar

December!

Santa’s here early with…


HOT PICKS:

Danielson, La Maroquinerie Oct. 15

Blood Red Shoes, La Fleche D'Or, Dec.7, 8

Darmstadt, La Fleche D'Or, Dec.11

Long Blonds, Good Shoes La Maroquinerie, Dec. 14

Marianne Dissard, La Fleche D'Or, Dec. 19

Shows
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

.Bataclan

Dec. 9 Mylo Paris Party Release (Scotland); electronic.

Dec. 17 Kagerou (Japan); Japanese rock.

La Fleche D'Or (20me) (No Cover!) Equally exciting offerings.

Picks of the month: Blood Red Shoes, Darmstadt, Marianne Dissard, Glasvegas

Dec. 6 Alexandre Kinn (FR); folk rock. Like a French Jack Johnson.// The Love Bandits (FR); simple, catchy classic rock with a southern blues influences.// Red (FR); rock.

Dec. 7 The Volunteer (UK) Early New Order sound. Dark disco feel.// The Dead Sexy Inc. (US) electro punk.// David & The Citizens (Sweden); vocals sounds like a faster Counting Crows.// Blood Red Shoes (UK); garagey pop sound, catchy.

Dec. 8 Electric President (US); pop electro rock.// Jim Bianco (US); bluesy, south westen eclectic sound, similar to Tom Waits.// Blood Red Shoes. // Viva Voce (US); classic american rock. bit of psychedelic influence too.

Dec. 9 Bo (FR); electro rock.// Dictafone (FR); pop folk.// Electric President.

Dec. 11 Jad Wio// Candy Clash (FR); no wave rock. // Darmstadt (FR) post-punk, joy division/interpol-ish.// Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (FR); poppy, fun rock.

Dec. 13 Alexandre Kinn // The Love Bandits // Red (FR); rock.// Lena Deluxe.

Dec. 15 Koko Von Napoo (FR); 80s new wave.// Osni (FR); rock.// Hopper (FR) Ghinzu-ish sound with less pop.

Dec. 16 Tcheky Karyo (FR); ambiance.// Fauve (CH); jazzy folky stuff with lyrics sung soft as lullabies.// Project Zlust (Macedonia); somber, somewhat eerie Balkan folk music with a modern twist.// Kiril (Macedonia); balkin folk gone electric.

Dec. 18 Jad Wio // Christine (UK); new wave, pop punk.// Cercueil (FR); electronica, pop.// John and Jehn (FR); post-punk with some Doors influences. // Pravda (FR) electro rock.

Dec. 19 Golden Boots (US); country. Neil Young influences and some Velvet Underground.// Marianne Dissard (US); American folk sung in French. Latest album was co-written with Calexico’s Joey Burns.// Naim Amour (US); French folk.

Dec. 20 Alexandre Kinn // The Love Bandits // Red // Charlie O

Dec 22. The Marxmallows (FR); pop punk.// Neimo (FR); rock, new wave.// Madamoiselle K (FR); rock.

Dec. 27 Alexandre Kinn // The Love Bandits // Red // Charlie O

Dec. 28 The Green Olive (FR); poppy rock.// Please Don’t Blame Mexico (FR); poppy but eccentric rock.// Hey Hey My My (FR); rock. // Glasvegas (Scotland); 50s doo-wop with a punkish upbeat.

Maroquinerie

Dec. 2 Sweet Silence (US); emo, acoustic. Cardinal Colère (FR); rock.

Dec. 3 Merry (Sweden); 90s pop rock.

Dec. 4 Troy Von Balthazar (FR); elcetic taste in instruments, something out of music boxes and childrens theatre and blended with rock. Well done.

Dec. 5 Danielson (US); A product of Daniel Smith’s senior thesis, it’s an indie classic in the making. Symphonic, and folky at the same time.// Jeffrey Lewis.

Dec. 6 Badly Drawn Boy (UK); rock.

Dec. 7 Nery Belgistan (FR); French rock.

Dec. 8 Nomeansno (Canada); hardcore.

Dec. 9 Shawn Lee (US)

Dec. 12 Axiom (US); death metal. System of A Down type stuff.

Dec. 14 Les Inrocks Indie Club featuring: The Long Blondes (UK); 60s femme rock. // Good Shoes (UK); new wave.// The Answer (UK).

Dec. 15 New Model Army (US)

Dec. 16 Lords of Altamont (US); psychedelic rock, garage, punk.

Dec. 22 Kiemsa (FR); hardcore with ska?!.// Absolute.// Spic

Nouveau Casino

Dec. 6 Poney Poney (FR); punkish, similar to Talk Taxis.// Fancy (FR); classic rock, rock.

Dec. 11 Mono (Japan); electronic, similar to God Speed You Black Emperor and Mogwai. Playing with Goodbye Diana (Fr); rock.

Dec. 12 Steeple Remove (FR); rock similar to Broken Social Scene.// I love UFO.

Dec. 14 New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble (US); it’s a ska-jazz ensemble from New York! Pretty good stuff.

Dec. 15 Anne Clark (UK) Every sythn-pop sound the 80s ever represented.

Dec. 18 Aswefall// Nelson (FR); electronia base with a punk rock sound.

Dec. 31 Midnight to sun-up, the Casino is hosting a party but with hip hop, funk, rock, and 80s music. 18E with a glass of champagne included.

Point Ephemere (19me)

Dec. 1 Experimental Electro Felix Kübin + Gangpol und Mit + Plateau Repas

Dec.2 Rock The Thermals [+] This Portland, Oregon based band’s gritty post-pop-punk sound comes alive through their “get the fuck out while you can” lyrics. For all those ex-pats fleeing from the states, this is your concert.

Dec. 5 Projection suivie d'un spécial live Transhumance Nicolas Boone Transhumance visual arts. Free entry for those interested.

Dec. 6 French Hip Hop Teki Latex + Just Jack + Yes Boss Former member of French hip hop and twisted electronic band TTC, Teki Latex went solo and with his first single “Disco Dance with You.” If you’re into French Hip Hop, or just looking to dance, Tiki’s new retro sound is sure to be an entertainment at the least.

Dec. 8 Noise Aids Wolf This “noisy and discordant” punk band from Montreal with improv tendencies claims to have no shame. Describing their sound as a squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag, they are part of the current effervescence of Canadian experimental rock.

Dec 10 Goûter d’écoute de Noël Arte Radio Stories of family, toys of madness, and a light feast for the ears when Arteradio.com presents a line up of musical creations and documentaries. Includes Le Partage, a film by Mathilde Guermonprez of the story of ten brothers and sisters who reunite to divide their parents’ belongings.

Dec. 12 Vaudou jazz Adjabel + invités (Fr / Haïti) [+] The Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, the music-Root of Atissou Loko opens a new chapter in the history of Adjabel. A master of the ancestral drums is surrounded by remarkable musicians, Peter Corser on saxophone, clarinet and lambis, Rico Kerridge on guitar, Gillian Mombo with the second drum, and Scott Taylor with a guest appearance on accordion. A mixture of culture voodoo, afro-rates/rhythms, and hypnotic dancing. Rare and rich “like a black pearl,” as Ephémère’s site says.

The Rooooo Christmas Festival- Here’s Point Ephémere’s Christmas present to you in the form of a three night soirée. Choose from the legendary Red Krayola, Lee Ranaldo, or the still youthful Magik Markers

Dec. 13 Rock The Red Krayola + Turzi . The psychedelic, avant-garde rock band from Houston, Texas, formed by art students at the University of St. Thomas in 1966 is no stranger to negative reviews. But nonetheless, they are still alive and rocking with their noise rock, psychedelia and occasionally folk/country songs and instrumentals in a DIY-punk fashion, which says something.

Dec. 14 Rock Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)+ Two Dollar Guitar with Chris Brokaw + Awesome Color A favorite of Point Ephémère with a solo opening performance from Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth.

Dec. 18 Rock Jackie O Motherfucker + Magik Markers The last of the three night Christmas Festival features Jackie O Motherfucker’s post-rock, free-jazz or psychedelic folk. The American trio Magik Markers’ improvised rock'n'roll was born along side Sonic Youth last summer in the states.

Dec. 19 “Unclassifiable” Klezmer groove Ozone & Marc Ducret + Zakarya Ozone invites Marc Ducret and circumvents guitar, rock'n'roll, and jazz. Difficult to classify Zakarya’s jazz, waltz, trash, Balkan rock style, but there goes.

Dec. 20 Jazz–slam Ascenseur + Print & D’ de Kabal Slam n’Jazz contest.

Dec. 21 Panico + Motormark + Soffy O + Fox n’wolf Typical South American Garage Punk. Lead singer Eduardo of Panico is a “hippie-Latin version of Joey Ramon.” The group takes a break from recording a new album to come to Ephémère.

Dec. 22 Soirée Dub Excursion party I Electro fans, get in one last soirée before going home for the holidays. Put on by the electro label dub. Live guests include Thierry Arnold, Rondo, Weeding Dub, and Molecule.

Formerly "Parisnormale: Paris Rocks"