Friday, December 31, 2010

Ashes in Your Champagne and Japanese Hendrix: Happy Year of the Rabbit

New Year's Eve is the big holiday for Russians, and the time for one of my favourite traditions. Tonight we write a wish on a piece of paper, and during the twelve strokes of midnight burn it into a glass of champagne and drink it. I genuinely look forward to this because it has been my experience that it does work. I'm not sure how, but I think it has something to do with science.

Other things New Year's Eve is not complete without?  Auld Lang Syne as performed by a Japanese Jimi Hendrix cover band:

Happy New Year to you and yours, and all the best in 2011. I don't do exclamation points, but I really, really mean it.

You Can Argue but You Can't Win: Mr Shuffleupagus' Favourite Albums of 2010 (Part Two)

Time for my five favourite records of 2010. I'm telling you, as much fun as it is to do, ranked lists are tough. So feel free to put anything you think I missed or any lists of your own in the comments where I can judge appreciate them.

Or if you hate me personally, just go ahead and put that in the comments. It all brings extra site hits, so I win either way.

If you missed #11-#6 you can find them here. And #5-#1 are:

#5. Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
There is not a track out of place on this album-- it has a distinct, memorable sound and is confident as hell. After all, it takes balls to go toe to toe with Talking Heads, and even more talent to come out ahead.
And those drums, man. Those driving drums make every song impossible to turn off.

#4. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Even a couple months ago, I thought this album was only alright and never would have predicted it being on this list. But for reasons beyond me, I kept pressing play and the more I listened to it the more I wanted to listen to it. It's not that it grew on me-- it's more like I began to get it.
And yes, I know that sounds really, really pretentious.

(For personalized video go here. Type in your childhood address, watch, cry, repeat.)

#3.Beach House, Teen Dream
Back in the summer my best friend announced that "this is the most beautiful album of the year."
"It's only August," I said. "Give it a bit."
Goddamn. He was right.

(I put this up, because the "official" video is creepy as fuck.)

#2. The Black Keys, Brothers
It doesn't matter what kind of music you listen to--everyone likes the Black Keys. So if you don't like this album you must be a tone-deaf Nazi. It's the only way.

#1. The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt
You know an album is special when you stop a conversation to find out what's playing, which is exactly what I did the first time I heard Kids on the Run. And if I owned this album in a non-digital format, it would be worn out. It's honest without being hokey, upbeat without being inane, spare but not simplistic, wistful not moping, classic not tired...and all in Kristian Matsson's trademark warble that threatens to break your heart. Every. Single. Time.

Friday's Forgotten Song: Are You Ready for the Sex Girls

Thursday, December 30, 2010

You Can Argue but You Can't Win: Mr Shuffleupagus' Favourite Albums of 2010 (Part One)

Let's make it very clear that this is a list of favourite albums. Not best albums--favourites. So yes, I know that Ariel Pink is awesome and Deerhunter did everything right, but at the end of the day, those albums just didn't give me a boner like like these ones did. And you can't argue with a metaphorical boner.

What follows are the first six of my eleven favourite 2010 albums**:

11. Girls, Broken Dreams Club
Techncally this is an EP, but I'm letting it in because as soon as you listen to it, you'll want to listen to it again. And then one more time. And then one more time, all the while thinking If I had a guitar I would learn to play every song on this album... Unless you have a guitar. Then you probably already have.

10. The Walkmen, Lisbon
This album makes me nostalgic. For my childhood, for my parents' childhoods, for emotions and ideals I can't put my finger on and don't even understand. Listening to it makes you feel wistful. And 100 years old.

9.The Morning Benders, Big Echo
This album does lose its way by the end, but it the first two-thirds go down so good, you'll barely notice. Recommended for sunny mornings when you can wake up slowly.

8. Yeasayer, Odd Blood
I've already discussed this album and the fact that it's not perfect (still can't get into Ambling Alp--no chance) But the more you listen, the better Odd Blood sounds. It's energetic, ambitious and interesting, all of which is way more important than perfect.

7. The National, High Violet
Ornate and deep, the only reason it doesn't rank higher is because I can't listen to it all that often--it has a way of sweeping you into a dark, dramatic world that's not always an easy place to be. 

6. Sleigh Bells, Treats
It would be cheap and easy to play on the album title here, but screw it--I am cheap and easy. And from sweet, girly electronic beeps to riotous guitar riffs, this album is full of treats. It's been awhile since listening to a record was so much fucking fun.

**Eleven because I can't stand even numbers. No even numbers and no orange M&Ms. Deal with it.

Today's Swell Tune: Up and Down

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Boss Stuff on the Interwebs: Wednesday Links 29/12/10

It's the end of the year, which means roundup lists are everywhere. Consider this my roundup list of roundup lists. That's not to say that I agree with all the below choices, but I do dig all the below sites so it's worth a look. And I did do some weeding; one site listed She and Him Volume Two as album of the year, which sent them off this list, and hopefully into a mental ward. 
My favourite albums of the year are coming soon. But in the meantime here are some of the more interesting lists I've found: 

  • Ten best of albums of 2010, as argued by three different contributors-- Mixtape Muse
  • Ten 2010 albums you probably didn't listen to but should have --melophobe
  • Ten 2010 albums that you were too much of a music snob to give a chance-- Draw Us Lines

Today's Swell Tune: The Wanderer

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Musicians are People Too: Interview with The Russian Apartments' Mike Caulfield (Exclusive)

If you're a regular here, you know that most mornings I post "Today's Swell Tune," some track in heavy rotation on my current personal playlist. What you don't know is that the entire feature came about so I could put up songs with no accompanying article. Sure, it's convenient in cases of all night masked crime fighting  drug-and-hooker binges laziness, but initially it was devised as a means to feature The Queen of America despite having zero information about The Russian Apartments

Then lo and behold (what?) I was contacted by Mike Caulfield who is, for all intents and purposes, The Russian Apartments.  Our mystery man informed me that he was neither running from the law nor in the witness relocation program--he just had no idea so many people had been listening. 

How is that possible? Well, Mike sat down with me to talk about it. Just kidding. We emailed across 7,000 km, eight time zones, and one and a half holidays to discuss trends in music, his new single, and why people scattered across the globe suddenly want to know who he is.

You've been a bit of a mystery since the summer--there was nothing about you other than a download for quite awhile. What's the story there?  

Mike Caulfield:
Since about 2008 I've been putting up music I make on the Internet as part of one project or another, and I've just gotten used to the idea that I was releasing to a very small set of friends and fans and fellow artists.

So Joe Andreoli (of I Am This Big Black Cloud) and I put the Double Phantasm split up on Bandcamp, I think in August, and we kept saying crap, we should send this out to the music blogs, and shop it around to labels. But we kept putting it off because a) we work day jobs, b) we also have personal lives, and c) given a choice between marketing our music and making more music, we generally end up making more music. 

How did you end up with listeners all over the world? Would you call this an accidental sort of success?
Right, I really have no idea. Sometime in early December I'm sitting in a bar with friends, and someone says -- "hey I have a story for you". He says, "I'm over my girlfriend's house and we're listening to a playlist someone forwarded her, and your song came up." And he starts telling me that he likes that video I made with the monkey. And I say -- "Um, what video with the monkey?" I didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. But I went home and found the music was up on, on BIRP, in these various mixtapes and blogs, and that someone had made a video for it.

So yeah, accidental sounds right... I'm absolutely shocked. It's bizarre to see people in Italy and Serbia adding you to their favorites list.

This is never easy: How would you describe your sound?
Dyschronic, I suppose. There's some other labels that for what one song or another sounds like: retrofuturism, glo-fi, hypnagogia/hypnogogic pop, hauntology, bedroom psych... But if you look for something that holds (everything) together, I think it's a fascination with time out of joint. I'm really interested in how we live in a post-historical world. If you fell asleep in 1973 and woke up to the radio in 1983, you'd be like, holy shit, the future. If you fell asleep in 1993 and woke up to the radio in 2003 or 2010 how would you know?

It''s tempting to just blame that on the radio and the record companies, but I'm not entirely sure there's a future left to go to - at least in a modern sense. All our possible futures turn out to be alternate histories, and we're endlessly looping back into the past to find small spaces that weren't fully fleshed out when we rushed past them. I wish there was a term for people that deal with that in an intentional way -- how to mine the past without turning everything into one big hunk of present. But I don't have a term for that yet. It's very close to retrofuturism, I think, the music of the future that never came to be... music of the past that never happened.

What do you think the most exciting trend in music is? And the worst? What trends do you predict?
Well, this will seem really biased, but I think the most interesting things are all these things around dyschronia, time out of joint. And there's this other set of related things that revolve around presence and the lack of patina in modern life.

The patina thing is interesting.Technology makes presence of the past as real as the now. Maybe more real. That Beatles song that used to have that peculiar 60s mix, that record with the scratches that reminded you John Lennon had been gunned down and Harrison had been taken by cancer -- that's been replaced by an immortal remastered digital file that sounds perfectly at home next to the latest Katy Perry tune. There's no evidence of time passing, of distance, of the fact this was recorded on a particular day with particular equipment, we're given this as if it was released yesterday.

So there's this feeling of living in the infinitely reproducible and eternal digital present. Which seems like it should be an awesome thing, but it kind of sucks. A lot of these things around now are coping mechanisms -- cassette culture, lo-fi music, steampunk, maker fairs, various forms of retro-ism -- a lot of it is to escape from this eternal unbroken now. We want our transience back. 

Kids being born now, maybe they won't miss that sense of receding history, they'll just be born into this world where everything is now all at once. Me, I need my coping mechanisms. I need history, loss, absence. So I don't know what the trends will be, but I think they are going to continue to deal with this issue for at least a little bit. As for me, I'll be just taking whatever others come up with and trying to do it with a better hook.

With all the new attention are there any plans for a full-length album?
I actually have a dozen or so songs in the can, but I'm not happy with them. I haven't explored some of the style on More Than Passion enough yet, and I want to go back to that... I feel if I hit my groove I'll be releasing three or four EPs this year. We'll be releasing Double Phantasm on a limited run of 100 through Gnar Tapes in late winter/early Spring. If those clear fast there's probably more physical media in our future. 

Who are you listening to right now? 
Blank Dogs right now. A lot. Coma Cinema**--Mat has such a great sense of lyric and rhythm, he's like a young Ben Gibbard. It's songwriting as craft & architecture, which I'm always a sucker for. Dead Gaze and Nice Face. Bedroom electro-psych. That Nicole Kidman & Greenspon collab, Already Dead. 

I also go through phases where I listen to the Rubble Box Set incessantly, and I'm in one of those now. If you don't have this, you need to get it -- all these obscure lost singles from the late sixties, pop-psych, freakbeat, stuff released on limited pressings of 45s, financed by the bassist selling his Vespa or someone's Mom putting up the money. And early stuff from people you didn't know went back that far. 

What advice do you have for other DIY artists?
I'd say do it because you love to do it, not because you want to make it. Do it in a way that if you never find success you'll have no regrets. If you manage that, success is just an excellent day you have, and failure is impossible. If you're doing it staked out on some future massive win where you're making a living doing it, you're an idiot. 

And the Lightning Round:

Quick and honest--what's the last song you listened to?
Cloud Nothings, "Cool Kid"

What is the first album you ever owned? And the last album you got?
I bought the Kinks "One For The Road" at a yard sale. And immediately after answering these questions I'm going to order a 5 CD sampler pack from Bridgetown Records, which at $22 is unbeatable. 

Who is your favourite artist of all time?
Oh, geez. I used to say Dylan. I think that's still true, though maybe less so. I've got pretty traditional heroes -- Lennon, McCartney, Dylan, Bowie, Ray Davies. I think the main thing is I have to connect really deeply to the lyrics. 

I think the other thing I like about older heroes is when you pick one you are picking such a broad variety of music. I mean, Stuart Murdoch is probably a hero to me, but there's less variation in a decade of Belle and Sebastian than in a year of John Lennon. My modern heroes tend to be people that embrace a variety of styles, people who give you a bit of whiplash album to album, where you wonder what they are coming up with next.

Oh crap, this is lightning round, right?

Do you have a musical pet peeve? Something when you hear it, you turn off the music immediately?
You'd need days for me to catalog that. I have a lot. I suppose the big one is that fake gritty vocal style you'll hear in Nickleback, truck commercials, and various indie singer/songwriters. Gravel voice. If you sing like that I'm going to do more than turn off your song, I'm basically going to lose respect for you as a person. 

You are stranded during the zombie apocalypse with only three albums to listen to until the end of the earth. What are they?
If I had to survive with only three albums I'd do myself in. My weakness and my strength in music is I get bored really, really easy with stuff. 

MP3s: Death of the music industry or music industry wild west?
Hopefully both. 

Would you like to say hi to your mum/primary caregiver?
I'll say hi to my wife, who puts up with me moping when I can't find time to do music.  Or when I'm answering interview questions at breakfast.


A very big thanks to Mike for answering the questions, waxing awesome on the subject of musical patinas, and insulting Nickelback. And while this interview was the bees knees, I do have to admit I'm a little sad to let go of my visions of him as crazed brilliant recluse/serial killer/Batman. 

To contact Mike Caulfield/The Russian Apartments:
And here are the two latest releases, available from that bandcamp page:

**Mr Shuffleupagus notes that she was listening to Coma Cinema at the moment she read this sentence for the first time and was promptly freaked the fuck out.

Today's Swell Tune: Car

  • Artist: Jim Noir
  • Album: zooper dooper (EP) 
  • From: Manchester, England, United Kingdom
  • Sound: Like Flight of The Conchords penned lyrics for Strawberry Alarm Clock; psych-pop
  • Website:
  • Download Free:  ↓↓↓

Monday, December 27, 2010

Television Tried to Kill the Video Star, Failed: The Suzan's Home

Traditional music videos are all but dead. If you hadn't figured that out yet, head to the MTV website where you will see six scheduled hours of The Hills: Thinking is Hard, and back-to-back episodes of things called I Can't Stay Thin/ I'm Addicted to Food. The Russian music channel isn't faring much better, considering I just watched a half hour of c-list celebrities playing charades.

That's not to say I'm getting nostalgic; music videos have just been rerouted to the internet where that they can now benefit from interactive technology. In the fall, there was Arcade Fire's eerily-personalised We Used to Wait.  Last week, I showed you the Team Me's retro video-game-video for Weathervanes and Chemicals. 

Now Pomp&Clout have done up Home, the first video for Japanese all-girl group The Suzan. It's an infectious, energetic whirlwind of colour and xylophones, and if you download it as an app for your iPhone or iPad you can play with the speed, position, and angle of the kaleidoscope all day. And you will do it all day. If any of you just finished getting high, I apologise in advance for the massive blow I just delivered to today's productivity level.

You can get both the video and app here.

Monday Morning Cover: Warning Sign

Local Natives

Talking Heads

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Today's Swell Tune: Heartbreaker

  • Artist: Girls
  • Album: Broken Dreams Club (EP)
  • From: San Francisco, California, United States
  • Sound: Everyone with a guitar will know it within the year; indie rock
  • Website:
  • Download Free:   ↓↓↓

Friday, December 24, 2010

Family Sing-Alongs and Old Sluts on Junk: Season's Greetings to All

In Christmas movies the whole family stands around the piano singing carols and smiling creepily at one another, while in reality you watch and comment that no family ever does that. Yeah, well I came from the kind of family that totally did that, though in our defense it was with less smiling and more scotch.

I can't play piano as well as my father did and I'm not religious in the slightest, so on the off-chance that I do one day have kids and the state does let me keep them, I can't imagine much carol-fueled family bonding around a piano. But there will surely be a good deal of scotch-fueled singing around the internet, because the internet feeds you the lyrics and what stupid piano ever did that for you?

And in the spirit of the season, I invite you all to sing along with me to the hands-down best Christmas song ever: The PoguesFairytale of New York. 

I'm totally ready for my offspring, now.

Happy Christmas your arse.

Friday's Forgotten Song: World Destruction

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Retro Playtime: The Weathervanes and Chemicals Game is as Much Fun as the Song

When we were kids, my sisters and I didn't have a Nintendo. We really wanted one, but our older brother wouldn't let anyone touch his and our parents had deemed video games too expensive and brain-rotting.


We were allowed access to the shed, however:

...totally cool

Being the resourceful tykes we were, we made a shoebox Nintendo with Smartie-box-and-string controllers, cardboard game cartridges, and even a changeable "screen". And we actually played with it for hours which is either insanely awesome or heartbreakingly sad.

What I'm getting at here is that I come from a disadvantaged home in the video games department. So of course I like Get Home--a retro 8-bit game based entirely around the song Weathervanes and Chemicals by Norway's Team Me.

Wow--It's like actually being there.
You'll need some patience because the controls are only slightly more responsive that those engineered by my sister and myself. But it's good, clean, three-button fun.

And since I love the song itself I'm going to post it for those who have no desire to play the game. If you haven't heard Weathervanes, it sounds a bit like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, The Polyphonic Spree, or another band of similarly orchestral hippies. Very catchy.

Enjoy playtime.

Today's Swell Tune: Jailbait

  • Artist: Headless Horseman
  • Album: Late Night Allentown Radio (Sampler)
  • From: Allentown, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Sound: Honestly, I have no idea what's going on here but it's fucking compelling; glitch-pop
  • Website:
  • Download Free: From bandcamp

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Boss Stuff on the Interwebs: Wednesday Links 22/12/10

While Russian holidays don't technically start until next month, I'm not about to let that stop me from not going to work or getting drunk in the daytime. I know my roots. And I know most of you are doing the same. So in addition to dodging or seeking out mistletoe based on your own personal level of sluttiness, you should take some time to check out links:

For Gentiles:
  • If you like Sufjan Stevens --and maybe Jesus-- The Sound and the Fury has the former singing songs about the latter. Or maybe it's the other way around. Something like that, anyway. 
  • And only The Devil Has the Best Tuna could satisfy even the most obscure Yuletide tastes, walking you through Matinee Records' Christmas EP with Math and Physics Club, Northern Portrait, Champagne Riot, Bubble Gum Lemonade, and Strawberry Whiplash. Also I just added "Champagne Riot" to my list of potential autobiography titles.

And for Those Who Just Call This "The End of December":
  • I'm not so hip to the indie dance scene, but Ventomat knows better and is teaching me about Popskarr.
  • Know Your Conjurer has Suicide live at CBGB. And anything live at CBGB is worth looking at.
  •  If you don't know Boston garage-pop band Hands and Knees you're in luck, because Relentless Noisemaker knows everything and will tell you all about it.
  • Hmm...let me try to make this about music somehow.....The Royal Tannenbaums had a great soundtrack! There. Now go look at this "111 Archer Avenue" poster, because Maxim Dalton is an amazing artist. And if you buy it for someone this Christmas/Hanukkah we're right back on theme. 

Today's Swell Tune: Tick Tock

  • Band: The Fantasies
  • Album: Meet the Fantasies (single)
  • From: Northampton, Massachusetts, United States
  • Sound: A post-apocalyptic B-52s; psych-pop
  • Download free: On their bandcamp page 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

First my Mobile Phone, Now my iPod: The Finns Won't Rest Until They Control All the Electronics

Last Sunday, my "Swell Tune" of the day was French Films' Golden Sea.  It's boss, and to my knowledge the first anything from Finland I have ever featured.

Then yesterday, I was contacted by Big Wave Riders, another Finnish band.  I wasn't sure if it was coincidence or run of the mill networking, but I couldn't ignore it--I was suddenly very interested in "that land the phones come from."

Well there must be something in the water in Finland. Something post-punk and awesome. Because, like their fellow countrymen, Big Wave Riders have a dark infectious sound that will test the stamina of your back button.  If I pegged French Films as "Joy Division-via-John Hughes", then Big Wave Riders might be "Duran Duran-via-David Fincher".  But even with different genes, it's clear they're still from the same neighbourhood. It's post-punk/new wave aesthetic, but with much less distortion than similar projects out of the west.

So what I need to know is if this is typical for Finland right now--anyone on the inside who can explain the scene, please contact me. St Petersburg-Helsinki is a short train ride and I think I've found somewhere to go for spring holidays.

(You can download both these tracks for free from their Soundcloud page.)

Today's Swell Tune: What Makes Me Cry

  • Band: The Car is on Fire
  • Album: Ombarrops!
  • From: Warsaw, Poland
  • Sound: The exact opposite of what the title, band name, and album cover suggest; pop-rock
  • Website:

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Do Not Care For the Holiday Songs: The Beach House Exception to the Rule

I never like holiday music. When the holiday singles come out, I don't even bother to listen, that's how much I dislike them.

Despite my small, cold heart, I'm actually not a Grinch. I just don't believe that anyone has such strong feelings about cookies, bells, and the scent of pine that they would write about it without a paycheque. Which explains why all these songs all suck so much

But I'm willing to make an exception in the case of Beach House. First, because Teen Dream easily makes my best of 2010 list, and second because I Do Not Care for the Winter Sun is not about presents, betinseled shrubbery, or--God help us all-- boots. It sounds like something they had already written that just happened to be seasonal.

Is it a holiday song that you'll look forward to hearing every year? Nah. But it will be, by far, the least annoying song on anyone's 2010 Christmas playlist.

And in the holiday spirit of giving, Beach House wants you to download it here for free. Santariffic.

Obituary: Captain Beefheart

This past Friday, December 17th, music lost a psychedelic rock idol. Captain Beefheart of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band (real name: Don Van Vliet) died at age 69, after a 20 year battle with multiple sclerosis. 

The iclonoclastic front man (with or without his Magic Band) inspired going on three generations of musicians, with heavyweights like The Pixies, NirvanaTom Waits, Slash, and Beck citing him as influence. His signature combination of funk, blues, rock, and absurdist humour has been covered in the studio by the likes of The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Sonic Youth and XTC. The band he fronted also inspired another of the greatest psychedelic-rock outfits in history: Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

And if you've inspired Muppetry, you've led a full life. 

Captain Beefheart will forever be an icon of a too-brief golden age when rockstars were eclectic, otherworldly showmen and never worried about being grounded or accessible.

Rest In Peace, Captain. I hope you and Frank Zappa are dropping acid and writing music in rock-and-roll heaven. 

Since Monday is cover day around these parts, we'll do two from Captain Beefheart  and cover versions from the bands he inspired:

Monday Morning Cover: Never Tear Us Apart

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