3 Artists You Probably Don't Know But Should
I don't normally write about up-and-coming musicians that much for one primary reason: most of them aren't very good. This isn't necessarily a knock at other bloggers that seem to keep up a steady drum-beat of hype for a bunch of no-name musicians. But as Jack White says in one of the essays in Chuck Klosterman IV: "Usually when somebody brings up something obscure, I assume its not very good, because--if it was--I would've heard it already. Music collectors are collecting. They're not really listening to music."
Fair enough. But in the past few weeks, I've been exposed to three particular musicians who deserve to be more well-known than they are. So I'm gonna' write about them.
Okay, so Elvis Perkins, the first of the trio, isn't exactly an unknown. He's been featured on Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan, So Much Silence and Floating Away, so he's not exactly starving for attention. But the truth is that his performance about two weeks ago at the Troubadour warrants high praise. Opening for the Cold War Kids and Dr. Dog, Perkins delivered the best set of the night.
This was surprising for two reasons. The first because Cold War Kids and Dr. Dog are well-known commodities in the Internet music world, both of whom turned in very respectable and entertaining, if not transcendant sets. The second because Perkins' album is a wonder of hushed vocals and restraint. A collection of 11 haunting and beautiful tracks, Perkins' Ash Wednesday is mostly acoustic, the types of rhythms that will winnow their way into your head for days, but usually not the kind of songs thatI assumed would translate well to a live setting. (I'm looking at you Destroyer).
I was wrong. Perkins along with his backing band, Elvis Perkins in Dearland ripped through a rollicking set of numbers, channeling a feel somewhere between Elliot Smith, Bob Dylan and a bluegrass band (I attribute this to their strange garb and the oversized violin that one member of the band was playing, an instrument I'm rather sure isn't actually called an oversized violin).
Elvis Perkins might just be the most impressive singer/songwriter to debut this year. His album is full of lush sounds and earnest tasteful vocals. And the production, coming from Ethan Gold (also a top-flight songwriter in his own right) manages to turns tracks that could've sounded thin and tinny into a masterpiece of strings, guitars and emotion. The album isn't available in stores, just at Insound. However, rumor has it that some of the big indie labels are currently in a bidding war to sign Perkins. Either way, it's a must purchase especially if you're into guys like Iron & Wine or Sufjan Stevens, which I assume most you are.
Elvis' Myspace page is here. And be sure to download "While You Were Sleeping," which at this point seems like a lock to make my top 10 list of singles this year.
Elvis Perkins--"While You Were Sleeping" (left click)
Elvis Perkins--"May Day" (left click)
Mezzanine Owls: Actual CD May Not Contain Owls or Mezzanines. No Owls Were Harmed In the Making Of This AlbumThe first thought that came into my head when I saw the Mezzanine Owls a few weeks back was that these guys are way too good to be opening for The Like Young on a Tuesday night at the Silverlake Lounge. The Owls used to be known as The Few up until last year, when after going through a variety of line-up changes, they decided to finally just change their name and become full-fledged owls that roost in mezzanines. This may or may not actually be true.
I'd actually caught the Mezzanine Owls once prior, in their days as the Few, last November when they were headlining a residency at the Silverlake Lounge. The band before them was a bunch of then-unknowns known as the Cold War Kids. Needless to say, it was one of the better nights of music that I've ever randomly stumbled into.
Live, the Mezzanine Owls unleashed a loud and glimmering whirl of guitars, set against Jack Burnside's plaintive resonant vocals. Drummer Pauline Mu might be the best female drummer in rock now that Janet Weiss has laid down her sticks, keeping a steady-beat for the band's blend of Jesus and the Mary Chain meets Radiohead sonics. In the course of their 45 minute set, the band whipped through an raucous energetic set, filling the walls of the dingy bar with waves of blistering reverb and emotion. Hell, they even played a cover of a Ride song. Not only was I impressed, but notorious cynic Ian "Sexy Results" Cohen also walked away a fan of the Owls. I know.
I haven't heard the album, but its produced by well-regarded industry veteran Andy Lemasters and it's sure to be pretty excellent, judging from the cuts I heard at the Silverlake lounge. The Owls are playing a free show at Spaceland this Sunday night. If you're in the area, check them out. You won't be disappointed.
The Mezzanine Owls on Myspace
Download--"Lightbulb," (right-click, save as)
You can buy their CD at Sea Level Records or Amoeba Records or here. According to Tripwire, it's the sound of "Indie Jayhawks meets shoegazer Ride/Jesus and the Mary Chain. Your stereo will thank you."
Clean Guns: Or What Happens When Firearms Get OCDI'll be honest, I wasn't looking forward to listening to this album. The reason is such: it's a rap album made from Zilla, a frequent commentator on this very blog, a guy who I've e-mailed back and forth with many times on the nature of hip-hop and a guy who I consider a friend, inasmuch as you can consider someone a friend when you really don't know a damn thing about them other than their tastes in music and film. And because of this relationship, I knew that I'd have to say something nice about this album no matter what. And the truth is I sound ridicuously insincere when I lie, so If I was lying I'd come-off looking like a complete jack-ass. Awesome.
Lucky me, that this album not only doesn't suck, it's actually pretty awesome. Even if I didn't know the guy, I'd be hard-pressed not to lavishly praise this record. I like Lupe Fiasco's album quite a bit, but in my opinion this is the rap debut of the year. Too much of Lupe's record is bloated with filler, including his unconscionable decision to tack a 12 and a half minute thank you song onto the end, where he ridiculously thanks seemingly everyone he's ever met. It's pretty fucking stupid. Clean Guns' record is what you'd expect: clean. Just 12 raw songs, sans the filler or skits that plague most contemporary rap records.
Like Lupe's album, Clean Guns' record is for the hip-hop purists. A hard-hitting collage of breakbeats and clean 16-bar syllable rhyming. It's reminiscent of early Atmosphere meets present day Cage, before Slug started making records for the ladies and after Cage had decided that introspection was a far better career tactic than gross-out humor. The album is decidly underground, the beats hard-hitting and grimy, filled with piano loops, turntable scratches and eerie synths. But what's perhaps most impressive about the album is how Clean Guns walk the line between being sounding hard on wax and just being themselves.
A whole lot of indie rappers think that being as real as possible (read: nerdy) will endear them to their fanbase. A whole lot of mainstream rappers think that their audience merely wants them to present a gangsta facade. Clean Guns walk the line between indie intelligence and mainstream accessibility.
The CD is currently available at CD Baby for just $8. If you're looking for a great underground CD in a year that has only produced one by my count (Murs' Murray's Revenge), pick up this album. To be honest, I'm shocked how many spins I've given it and I can't wait to see more from these talented Illadelphians.
Even if you don't buy the album, add Clean Guns on Myspace and download the two tracks below.
Download--Clean Guns: "Blast Off" (right-click, save as)
Clean Guns: "Nobody's Hero" (right-click, save as)
You may or may not have noticed that I've updated my blogroll again, adding some blogs I've been reading for a while. All of them are worthwhile reads, but a few particularly standout.
First off, is Dallas Penn, a blog that many of you probably already read. For those of you who don't know, Dallas is currently embroiled in a death match with Byron Crawford, Straight Bangin' and Oh Word to determine the most literate and well-written hip-hop blog around. His site is definitely worth book-marking.
Also check for Handsome Bobsled, Handsome Commando, whose content is as strange and funny as its name is. Needless to say, I like my blog comedy the way I like my women: weird and slightly unhinged.
Speaking of comedy, you should also check for Scott's Blizzog. In addition to being outright hilarious and someone with fine taste in music, Scott was the writer's assistant on Season 3 of Arrested Development and even got in one episode, as this post details. Needless to say, the man was in the room for what might be the best season of the best television show ever made (the only other possible answers are Seinfeld and The Simpsons). Need I really advertise his blog any further than that?
Lastly, I'm not sure how I never discovered this blog before, but check for The Rawking Refuses to Stop. There aren't all that many LA MP3 blogs (though I must say that with Aquarium Drunkard, Audio Deficit Disorder and You Set the Scene, there are some damn good ones). Not to mention the recent addition of Gerard Vs. Bear (which is so damned funny that I pity you if you aren't reading it by now). However, the Rawk blog definitely holds its own.
In other news, if you haven't read this Onion story on L'il Wayne and Fat Joe: go there immediately
If you're a Woody Allen like I am, you'll definitely want to check out transcripts of his stand-up routines from the early 60s. They're hilarious and surprisingly remind me a lot of JD Salinger.
Lastly, from Slate: the secret lives of baseball card writers.