Rae Spoon is, according to the publicists, “one of the worldâ€™s only transgender country singers.” He’s also a clever songwriter and a bit of a wit, and really not all that country, at least on his most recent release, superioryouareinferior. This disc is a trip through musical styles, from lo-fi indie pop to mod folk. Drop a buck and download “If You Lose Your Horses” if you’re looking for a classic country track, or check out the album’s opener for an example of Spoon’s songwriting smarts — I never knew I wanted to write a song for the Great Lakes until I heard his. Oh, and if you’re looking for a record full of what it means to be a transgender country singer, you might want to keep on looking, because this isn’t it.
Compared to my pals here at 3hive, I don’t know jack about electronic music. I can tell you all about country and jangly guitar pop, but deep down inside all those synths kind of freak me out. Maybe it was too much Herbie Hancock back when my dad built a pirate MTV converter in 1985 or so. Therefore, if The Egg isn’t cool, you’ll have to forgive me, ’cause I think it’s pretty kicking. At least it doesn’t give me a headache, which every other electronica track I pull seems to do. So here’s how I found out about this British quartet that’s been making records for a decade or so: SXSW. Every year, the website for this Texas blow-out has about five hundred free MP3s, and I get all download crazy for a day or two. The Egg was one of my random grabs, and it got me moving, and one click begat another… Enjoy “Funky Dube,” live from Glastonbury, and forgive me if it ain’t all that. I kind of think it is.
In college I was a creative writing major, and that same subject was my favorite class ever to teach in high school. Were I to still be teaching the class, I think I’d probably use the text to Belleisle’s track “Talks a Lot” as a classroom sample of the “every poem is a song” idea. The song, from the 2008 album Longstanding, exhibits a narrative sense that I just love. Speaking of love, I’m starting to feel that way about Belleisle, (and it’s not just because I used to go to the Frederick Law Olmstead-designed Detroit park of a similar name when I was a kid). The Montreal-based team of Rebecca Silverberg and Tasha Cyr make up the core of Belleisle, and their smooth delivery and surprisingly tasteful moments of dissonance are making me smile a whole lot, making me want to wax poetic.
Since everyone else is doing it — all the other reviewers and critics and press types, that is — I’ll avoid comparison when discussing Laura Gibson, and instead just say that her smooth, precise, detached vocal styling should appeal to anyone who likes an eccentric female singer-songwriter. “Spirited,” off the forthcoming Beasts of Season, suggests an orchestrated lushness to this young Oregonian’s songs, as opposed to the more classic shuffle of “Hands in Pockets,” from 2006. Speaking of the new album, NPR will feature it next week in streaming audio as part of its Exclusive First Listen series.
Clay recently wrote about not being able to post the bands you’d really like to, and I can sympathize. A few years ago I wanted to share The Hazzards, a ukulele-playing pair of girls from, of course, Brooklyn. Alas, nothing was available. If you’re looking for a uke fix, though, a little Jason Holstrom can do the trick. While decidedly more island-themed than The Hazzards, who were, you know, ironic (from Brooklyn), Holstrom plays it kind of straight, dishing up clean pop songs with some palm-inspired lilt. A veteran of a bunch of Seattle bands I’d never heard of, Holstrom gave us a travelogue with his 2007 album The Theives of Kailua. Uke it up!
So, Gnarls Barkley. You might have heard of these guys, eh? Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo? Yeah, they’re kind of popular, with two records of sweet beats and smooth vocals, and an EP with versions of the song below. Oh, and a pair of Grammys, also. Yep, here at 3hive, we’re glad to introduce you to the cutting edge of new music!
It’s supposed to be -5 degrees Fahrenheit in Detroit tonight, which means it must be about -500 Celsius in Saskatoon, home of The Deep Dark Woods. (Actually, I picture Saskatchewan as being one big wheat field, with about ten trees scattered here and there, but what do I know, I’ve never been there.) Such cold is clearly irrelevant to this quartet, who offer up easy-going country rock more suited to the bronze glow of fall than the brutalities of winter. In fact, I’d go so far as saying these are warm songs, with steel guitar or, as in “All the Money I Had is Gone,” a fantastic old organ sound wrapping around you like an old blanket. Vocal harmonies smooth country grooves, lyrics of wistful longing — all perfect for curling up and staying under the covers, and due on Feb. 17.
Not being especially tech savvy, I kind of freaked out a few minutes ago when I checked the web for an article I’d written about Freedy Johnston for the old Salt Lake City-based music monthly grid. (Disclosure: about half of the 3hive crew were employed by grid.) Google says opening the defunct magazine’s website might “harm your computer.” Yikes! The article was called “Hoboken Dreaming,” and it profiled Johnston’s 1997 album Never Home. If I remember right, my interview with the NJ pop singer wasn’t half bad. Anyway, the track available here comes from a disc full of covers — in this case, one by Marshall Crenshaw — released in 2008 called My Favorite Waste of Time. It’s full of the kind of pop songs that Johnston’s been offering up for years, tracks by The Eagles, Matthew Sweet Paul McCartney and Tom Petty, among others. And while these songs don’t necessarily have the geographic specificity of some of his own work, he still plays them like he owns them.
Happy New Year! In an auspicious start to 2009, I had one of my old musical wishes granted, that is, sharing with you all a free MP3 from Kathleen Edwards. Not exactly new to the scene, this Canadian country crooner’s 2003 debut Failer had some of my all time favorite lines (“Wanna go get high? / The Mercury is parked outside under the lights”). She’s been pretty quiet since the mid-point of the decade, with Asking for Flowers coming after a three year break. The title track, available here, offers a perfect glimpse of what she has to offer — smooth and subtle vocals, an easy roots foundation, lyrics that offer a deeply personal narrative. And for this Midwesterner, something much better than watching Big 10 football teams getting creamed in the Cali sunshine.
Regarding that which we would term “Americana,” do they call it “Canadiana” in the land to the North? Just curious. Ox = American lo-fi alt country from Canada. They showed up on a nice little sampler from Weewerk that I’ve been listening to like a homemade mix-tape lately. My favorite among these tracks is probably “Transam,” which with its wavering vocals and shady narrative (not to mention the Bond-themed guitar solo) kind of reminds me of those Neil Young songs about drug shipments and getting burned. The thing is, download any of these freebies from Ox’s two albums and you’ll find great narratives wailed over stripped down simplicity. This time less is more.