2007 Releases artists artists to watch for in 2008 digital downloads guitar music

Flobots – Fight With Tools

Flobots - Fight With Tools
Flobots Live

So today, I received my copy of the new Flobots album, “Fight With Tools”, and all I can say is these guys have got me excited… in a big way. Despite the fact that they’ve been taking a pounding in the music blogosphere lately, I have high hopes for Flobots.

The problem with that Popmatters review linked to above – in my opinion – is that they seem to be missing the entire point of the song that they eviscerate there, “Handlebars”; something which I find surprising, considering the fact that the point is made clear by the video that accompanied the single. Let’s take a look at some of the choice words in that review:

At one point in “Handlebars”, the narrator boasts that he and his friend made a comic book. Hey guy, guess what? I made a bunch of comic books with my friend Josh when we were kids. It was a series called Goggle Guy. We made about 10 different issues and actually sold some of them. Call me when you and your buddy pop out issue number two, which will hopefully happen sometime before you “end the planet in a holocaust” as you threaten toward the end of your little brag session.

Um. No. See, as I see it, the song isn’t about a bragging session at all. It’s a song about the infinite possibilities that we all have as kids; that idiom that anything is possible as long as we believe in ourselves. After all, it’s opening lines of “I can ride my bike with no handlebars, no handlebars” hit you over your head with that wide-eyed, child-like innocence

But, at the same time, it’s a song about how that potential is beaten out of us by life… how life can jade us, and steal our innocence.

And, ultimately, it’s a song that talks about the fact that, while we have all the potential in the world to do all these good things (“I can design an engine sixty four miles to a gallon of gasoline, I can make new antibiotics“), we squander this responsibility. When they’re talking about “ending the world in a holocaust”, they aren’t literally saying that they will (I feel like a dumbass for even having to point that out to the reviewer)… they’re talking about the powers that be. I mean, listen to that last stanza and it’s blindingly obvious:

My reach is global
My tower secure
My cause is noble
My power is pure
I can hand out a million vaccinations
Or let’em all die from exasperation
Have’em all healed from their lacerations
Have’em all killed by assassination
I can make anybody go to prison
Just because I don’t like’em and
I can do anything with no permission
I have it all under my command
Because I can guide a missile by satellite
By satellite
By satellite
And I can hit a target through a telescope
Through a telescope
Through a telescope
And I can end the planet in a holocaust
In a holocaust

Gah. I got a bit carried away there, but that review irritated me no end, and I needed to get that out. But this post isn’t meant to be an analysis of “Handlebars”.

What this is meant to be, is a post saying: these guys are good. Mixing hip-hop with a groove-fusing rhythym section, violins and trumpets… in a tightness beyond belief? Yeah, it’s good. And the productions values on “Fight With Tools” looks to have been flawless.
While they may not be “Rage Against The Machine” (and, let’s be honest, they’re nowhere near the same league… but then again, who is?), they offer something: they offer change. They offer hope. And that’s what music should do.

I’ve included three tracks from the album below. The first is the album intro, “There’s a War Going On For Your Mind“, which sets the mood for the album to come. The second, “Mayday!!!“, is a hard-hitting track, that in the hands of a lesser band, might have become a wall of mashed sound… yet somehow, Flobots pull it off. And, of course, the final track is the single, “Handlebars“.

Listen. Love. Support.

Listen: Flobots – There’s A War Going On For Your Mind
Listen: Flobots – Mayday!!!
Listen: Flobots – Handlebars

2007 Releases 2008 releases artists artists to watch for in 2008 digital downloads guitar music

May 2008 – The month that music forgot. (Or, “Tidings of The Old Romantic Killer Band and The Tallest Man On Earth”)

What that extremely long and convoluted title alludes to is the fact that, for me, May 2008 has proven to contain an absolute dearth of good new music. Aside from the new Death Cab album and Frightened Rabbit release, not much sparked interest from me this month, and that might have been noticed in the slowing of regular posting here.

In a way, the month of May forced me to confront an issue that I suppose all music-bloggers eventually face: whether to post regularly – sometimes for the sake of posting – simply to provide your regular readers with something to tide them over; or to hold back, and stick firm to the policy of “only posting music that excites you“. I noticed this trend throughout the month in some of the other blogs I read. Some were subscribing to the “post for the sake of posting” philosophy, which I can understand. It’s a valid way of thinking, and probably the smartest if you’re hoping to build up a community on your blog – as I’m hoping to do – by engaging your readers regularly.
In the end though, I felt that I simply could not do that. Perhaps it’s the wrong decision to make, and feel free to leave me a comment if you’d prefer that I post more regularly. But really, I find it really hard to write at all, unless there’s some passion behind it.

Anyway, I suppose in some ways that’s an apology of sorts for the lack of regular posting around these parts lately. Or perhaps a justification.
I can’t decide quite which.

I will add two songs here, however, that have been on my “Possible Blog” list for quite some time now… but were waiting for more companions to join them, in order to make a “music round-up” post. However, nothing more came in May. So here they are, standing lonesome…

The Old Romantic Killer Band – Lovers Pass

The Old Romantic Killer Band
The Old Romantic Killer Band

The Old Romantic Killer Band
are everything that’s right with the blues/folk/punk fusion movement. Catchy, and hooky as all hell, this song, “Lovers Pass“, is an instant classic… and, in my opinion, finds The Old Romantic Killer Band at their dirty blues best.

The band, a two-piece from Leeds, is easily one of my bands to watch in 2008. Singer Harry’s voice has that vintage quality that just pulls you in with it’s warmth, and the stunningly tight yet emotive rhythm section driven by Greg behind the drums is sure to please the blues purists. Amazingly, The Old Romantic Killer Band has still not been picked up by a record label… I doubt they will stay that way for much longer.

Earmark these guys right now. They’re the real thing.

Listen: The Old Romantic Killer Band – Lovers Pass

The Tallest Man On Earth – It Will Follow The Rain

The Tallest Man On Earth
The Tallest Man On Earth

Ok. I’m going to throw around the “Dylanesque” word here. And yes, I know it’s overused. And yes, I know it’s rarely warranted. And yes, I know it’s almost lazy for a music blogger to use that word.
But listen to The Tallest Man On Earth (aka Swede Kristian Matsson), and try not to hear early Bob Dylan there… it’s almost impossible, isn’t it? There’s an abandon there, and an inherent ease that simply recalls Dylan for me. Point blank.

This song, “It Will Follow The Rain“, is taken from The Tallest Man On Earth’s 2007 EP, although he has just released his full-length debut, “Shallow Graves”, earlier this year. The production on “Shallow Graves” is exactly that sound that I love… scratchy and warm. It honestly feels as if Matsson is performing these songs live in your kitchen, with every breath and every crack is his warm rich voice present.

There’s nothing forced here.
It’s natural, and tumbles from The Tallest Man On Earth in a way that’s impossible to resist.

Listen: The Tallest Man On Earth – It Will Follow The Rain

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Live Music Friday – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, live on NPR’s World Cafe

Just so that everyone knows, my iPod has officially given up the ghost, completely and utterly without warning. With most of my music on there, this is severely going to impact posting, and – quite frankly, more importantly – completely bums me out. Anyone want to start a “donate to help Matthew buy another iPod as he’s already in mountains of debt” fund? Oh wait, I already did… a shameless cry for help, yes, I know, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do…

Help a brother out, and keep the tunes flowing, would you? Click the donate button to help sponsor through Paypal. Every cent helps…

Anyway. Welcome back to another Live Music Friday. For today’s post, I thought I’d fall back on the always sublime Ryan Adams and the Cardinals.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals Live

Last year, in 2007, I was finally lucky enough to see Ryan Adams & The Cardinals perform live at The Tivoli, in Brisbane… and it was everything I had hoped it would be. The band are unbelievably tight, and despite Ryan’s well-known cantakerous exterior, he really does have this magical ability to pull you right into the song, taking you along to ride the melody and lyrics beside him.

This set is also from 2007, from a performance on the always wonderful NPR’s World Cafe (which also gave us the wonderful Counting Crows performance featured here).

The show finds Ryan at his sardonic best, with sarcastic observations peppered between the songs.
If nothing else, make sure that you listen to the tracks “I Taught Myself To Grow Old”, with Ryan’s voice soaring at it’s heart-breaking best, and a lovely slower version of the normally manic “Let It Ride”. While it’s a short set-list, and lacks for the regular “Magnolia Mountain” and “Wildflowers”, it’s a powerful set nonetheless. And don’t worry… I have a much longer Ryan Adams show that I’m sure I’ll post in the future, with a 10 minute version of “Magnolia Mountain”, so no fear there.
Something about this show, however, just connects with me. It’s a Ryan Adams quality – and a very distinctive one at that – that when I hear him live, it hits me like a shovel to the chest. It’s a very personal connection, and one that no other artist has managed to come close to, for me at least (save for Alex Dezen of The Damnwells, who is nipping at Ryan’s heels for my adulation).

I suppose that that was really a long-winded way of saying: “Ryan’s music makes my world a better place. It describes that bit that is simply out of the reach of words“. And while that’s a terribly trite comment to read on a music blog, it’s true nonetheless.

I hope it does the same for you.

Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, Live on World Cafe, 15 June 2007

1.) Introduction
2.) Two
3.) I Taught Myself To Grow Old
4.) Winding Wheel
5.) I See Monsters
6.) Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard
7.) Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.
8.) Nightbirds
9.) Let It Ride
10.) Blue Hotel

2007 Releases 2008 releases artists digital downloads guitar music

Malcolm Middleton… easily my favourite Scot.

Yes, you read that right. Malcolm Middleton is easily my favourite Scotsman, and that’s saying something. While still predominantly known for his work with the – albeit, brilliant – Arab Strap, his solo output since leaving that outfit has been, in my opinion, nothing short of consistent excellence.

Malcolm Middleton
Malcolm Middleton has just released his new EP, “Sleight of Heart”

So it was with not much surprise that I found myself spinning his new EP, “Sleight of Heart“, pretty much non-stop over the last week. In short, it’s everything I would expect from the Scottish singer: a passionate, cathartic affair, that teeters on the edge of depression; yet one that – somehow – manages to inject enough humour, wit and optimism into the otherwise dark experience that you come out feeling… well… almost hopeful.

If you’re a fan of Malcolm’s 2007 release, “A Brighter Beat“, then you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy of this EP, as it’s predominantly comprised on tunes that were penned during the recording of that album. Throw in some eclectic cover tunes to that mix, and you’re in for a great aural experience.
I’ve included two songs below for you to get a taste. The first, “Blue Plastic Bags” is a track off the new EP, “Sleight of Heart”, and is a perfect example of Middleton’s skill in bringing a sad plight to our attention – in this case, a rampant and out of control British drinking culture – and injecting it with hope. While the song itself is full of longing, despair and confusion, Middleton is sure to couple that with a somewhat life-affirming refrain:

You know there is no shame,
‘coz we’re all feeling the same.
So sing along with the sad song…
– Malcolm Middleton, “Blue Plastic Bags”

… and that refrain somehow reassures us that we’re not alone. And that’s an impressive feat.

The second tune is the title track off his previous release, “A Brighter Beat“, and is, really, a song of seeming contradicitions. The fast-paced, powerful melody seems to be in direct opposition to the actual story of the song; that of depression, and it’s ability to paralyze people. In one particularly expressive verse, Middleton sings:

Now the’ve gone and left us, and we’re not here,
Just the ghosts of the people they once held dear.
– Malcolm Middleton, “A Brighter Beat”

Yet, again, Middleton brings the song back from the brink. Anyone can write a song about depression; but it’s Middleton’s ability to full a song about depression with redemptive moments that makes him truly stand out above the crowd.

Listen. Love. Support.

Listen: Malcolm Middleton – Blue Plastic Bags
Listen: Malcolm Middleton – A Brighter Beat

2007 Releases artists to watch for in 2008 digital downloads guitar live songs music

A Romantica Vision…


Knowing my passion for Ryan Adams, a post featuring these guys shouldn’t come as a surprise. After Romantica‘s “America” album was featured on Paste Magazine’s “Top 100 Albums of 2007”, comparisons began popping up between Romantica’s singer/songwriter Ben Kyle, and both Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy just about everywhere… heady company indeed.

When I first heard those comparisons, I was intrigued to say the least. After all, Adams and Tweedy are two of my favourite artists. But, more interestingly, both were known for playing in the style… and I knew that Ben Kyle was an Irish boy, and I wondered whether he would be able to bring that authenticity to the Americana style.
I shouldn’t have doubted it for a second.

Ben Kyle has said of the band’s style that:

It’s really hard to be objective about your own sound, particularly when you’re trying to sound subjective, but if if I had to label what we do… I’d probably call it “Irish Americana Pop.” Some of the artists I’ve listened to a lot on the American side are Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown, The Jayhawks, Wilco, Springsteen, and Dylan. And on the Irish/Brit side, Van Morrison, The Waterboys, Nick Drake, Belle and Sebastian and a lot of Irish folk. I think you can definitely hear some of these footprints, and we definitely take more of traditionalist approach.

And I can certainly hear pretty much all those influences in there. Although if I had to say what it immediately recalls for me, I’d probably say a delightful mix of Ryan Adams, Wilco, Del Amitri and some Gin Blossoms thrown in there for good measure. In fact, I can even hear some hints of The Damnwells in there, particularly in the opening chords of their tune, “Queen of Hearts”. In other words, it’s simply heaven.

The songs I’ve included below all come from “America” album – except for the bonus goodness of Ben Kyle and Ryan Adams performing together on one of Ben’s songs. Do yourself a favour, and check out the album now.

Listen. Love. Support.

Listen: Romantica – Ixcatan
Listen: Romantica – Queen of Hearts
Listen: Romantica – Drink The Night Away

Bonus Goodness:

Listen: Ben Kyle & Ryan Adams – The Dark (live)

(Aside: I have to pop down to Sydney tomorrow for work requirements, and will be there until next week, so I might not be able to pop onto the blog much. I’ve post-dated a post to appear on Live Music Friday, so hopefully that will appear without a hitch…)

2007 Releases artists artists to watch for in 2009 digital downloads guitar music

Chris Bathgate – The Last Parade on Ann St & Serpentine

Chris Bathgate
Chris Bathgate (image credit: Quite Scientific)

A product of the Ann Arbor folk-scene, Chris Bathgate is enjoying some serious spins on my playlist lately; which really isn’t all that surprising, when you consider that Chris counts Will Oldham and Jeff Tweedy amongst his many admirers… after all, two of my favourite artists can’t be wrong.
Last year, Chris released the amazingly polished album, “A Cork Wake Tale“, although it’s only now that I’m really getting into it. In a scene that perhaps is becoming slightly oversaturated, Chris Bathgate has a certain bleakness that seems to set him apart from the other “Iron & Wine” crowd. Much like Bon Iver, there’s a tenderness and vulnerability there that simply pulls you in.

Earlier this month, Bathgate released a new 6 song EP, “Wait, Skeleton” (learn more at his Myspace page) though the Quite Scientific label.

The first song below, “The Last Parade on Ann Street“, is a hauntingly beautiful song, that doesn’t go anywhere near where that first chord indicates. I know that might sound a strange description, but take a listen and see if you feel the same way. And the middle of the song is dominated by a swirling mass of guitars that – for whatever reason – reminds me of The Pixies in one of their contemplative moments. In other words… it’s sheer brilliance.

The second track, “Serpentine“, is actually the opening track on “A Cork Wake Tale”. Someone once described it to me as, “This song is what I imagine ice skating must be like. Silently gliding…“.
And you know what? I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Put simply, you should be listening to this. So get in on it now.

Listen: Chris Bathgate – The Last Parade on Ann St
Listen: Chris Bathgate – Serpentine

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Live Music Friday – Alex Dezen of The Damnwells, Live at Hotel Cafe

Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a large collection of live shows of my favourite artists… thank god for all those tapers out there who share their wealth with those of us who can’t make it to the show! When I was living in South Africa, those tapers pretty much managed to get through the many winters when large acts simply wouldn’t visit our shores.
So I thought it was time that I shared the wealth. And that leads us to this, the inaugeral “Live Music Friday“. When time allows, Friday posts here will become a regular live music post. Now, I’m not going to lie… the likes of Ryan Adams, Howie Day and Bob Schneider will probably be popping up more than once in this series of posts. But for today, I thought we’d start with…

Alex & Angela Dezen at the Hotel Cafe, 2007

Alex and Angela Dezen
Alex Dezen of The Damnwells & Angela Dezen.

It’s official. Following Damnwells posts here and here, I’m obsessed. And I’m ok with that. The music of The Damnwells really is that rare breed, where I find that — even years after initially hearing them — my love of their music hasn’t waned in the slightest. And that’s a rare form of staying power.
There are quite a few live recordings of Alex and The Damnwells around, and some with better sound quality than this one. But this is possibly my favourite, simply because of the dynamic that Alex Dezen shares with his wife, Angela… who is not only an actress, but an amazing singer. Side note – how jealous can one guy make me? There is a real tenderness in these songs that simply hits you like a steam-train.

I stumbled across a recent video that they posted on Youtube, of them performing the song, “Like It Is”, in front of a glowing Christmas tree, where that exact tenderness is so immediately apparent…

Alex and Angela Dezen performing “Like It Is” live.

From the moment Alex opens his voice in that video, my heart absolutely breaks. And when Angela comes in? Man… I know this is an awful thing for a music blogger to write, but I simply don’t have words for it. It awakens a yearning in me that I never knew existed.

And that’s how it is with this live show. Alex Dezen, with Angela, creates beauty. If nothing else, make sure you listen to their version of “Bastard of Midnight“. If it doesn’t stop you in your tracks, then I’m not sure we have much more to talk about.

Anyway… here’s the set-list. I’ve included individual files below, and then a handy .zip of the entire show below that.

Alex and Angela Dezen Live at the Hotel Cafe, 14 October 2007

1. Dandelion
2. Chatter 1
3. Bastard of Midnight
4. Kung Fu Grip Kiss
5. Chatter 2
6. Jesus Could Be Right
7. Chatter 3
8. Chatter 4
9. Say
10. Chatter 5
11. Closer Than We Are
13. Chatter 6
14. Like It Is
15. Chatter 7
16. Golden Days

Alex Dezen Live at Hotel Cafe 14/10/07 .zip file

And now for the links… The Damnwells website can be found here, their Myspace here — and I would suggest checking out Alex’s blog there — and Angela has a website here. Linkage galore!

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Thursday Music Round-up – Matthew Ryan, Josh Ritter, New Atlantic & The Kooks

After almost a week off from the blogosphere, there are a few songs that I haven’t told you about… so we’ll just jump right in…

Matthew Ryan – American Dirt & Gone For Good

Matthew Ryan
Matthew Ryan… don’t call it a comeback!

Matthew Ryan has – for the most part – flown under the mainstream radar, even though he’s been releasing albums for more than a decade now. In fact, a quote on his Myspace page even reads, “Don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years“. And the lack of mainstream exposure is absolutely shocking, as Matthew Ryan’s output over the years has been nothing less than consistently brilliant. I suspect, however, that 2008 will be the year that he finally hits the big time.
There’s just something about Matthew Ryan’s voice; it has the very real ability to reach right into your soul and tug on it until it wakes up.

I’ve included two songs here: the first, “American Dirt“, is off his latest album, “Matthew Ryan Vs. Silver State“, and is a ball of seething rage and purpose. The song smothers you in it’s intent, which is more steely than anything I’ve heard from Matthew Ryan before. Matthew Ryan Vs. Silver State came out on April 1, and I seriously suggest you check it out. Ryan is on top form with it.
The next song, “Gone For Good“, is off his 2007 release, “A Late Night High Rise“, and is a slow, delicate number that displays Ryan’s versatility. There’s a Bon Iver kind of vulnerability in his breathy, pleading lyrics here, that absolutely breaks me every time I hear it. A must-listen.

Listen: Matthew Ryan – American Dirt
Listen: Matthew Ryan – Gone For Good

Josh Ritter – Thin Blue Flame

Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter… one of the best songsmiths of our time.

Stepping back in time a bit here, to Josh Ritter‘s 2006 release, “The Animal Years“, and it’s standout track, “Thin Blue Flame“. A 10-minute track of epic proportions, it’s like something out of Revelations… really, it’s a 10 minute opportunity to re-examine your life, and the way we live.

I wondered what it was I’d been looking for above.. Heaven’s so big there ain’t no need to look up. So I stopped looking for royal cities in the air — only a full house gonna have a prayer.

Only a full house.
– Josh Ritter, “Thin Blue Flame”

Josh Ritter — to me at least — is still one of the best songsmiths in contemporary music. Point blank. And Thin Blue Flame is no exception. It’s a direct plea to his listener… and one that I can’t turn away from.

Listen: Josh Ritter – Thin Blue Flame

New Atlantic – Apologise

New Atlantic
New Atlantic (photo credit:

One of my guilty pleasures last year was One Republic’s tune, “Apologise”. As cheesy and formulaic as it was, there was something about the song that I just dug. So this is included here, really, as just another guilty pleasure. New Atlantic can produce some interesting stuff, but their cover of “Apologise” is a nice, cheesy, formulaic cover. Heh. But it’s cool for a spin.

Listen: New Atlantic – Apologise (One Republic cover)

The Kooks – Tick of Time

The Kooks
The Kooks have just released their second album, “Konk”.

The Pete Townshend-beloved Kooks are back, and I’m really digging where they are going with their second album, “Konk“, which came out last week. This song, “Tick of Time” is a ridiculously catchy closer to the album, and shows them in their best light… a band, just having fun.
I’ll admit it, I was sceptical that The Kooks would be able to deliver — again — on their hype. But this song clinches it for me. Well played lads, well played.

Listen: The Kooks – Tick of Time

Ps. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for an inaugeral “Live Music Friday” post… starting off with some Damnwells tunes!