Monday, March 31, 2008

"I'm going to scream if you tell me how to organize my queue one more time."

This blog has been a little low on the funny for a while, so I thought I'd share this short, starring the masterful Arnie Niekamp from Chicago.
The best exchange:
"I don't think that's what I need right now."
"Well, it kind of is."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Swim - Random Walk

The Swim call their second album an EP, but at eight songs and 36 minutes it doesn't fit too well within that boundary. Nor does it have the sense of being a minor or transitory work as the EP tag might suggest. Random Walk is a fully realized indie rock album, alternately somber and catchy, full of bombast and edgier guitars than the band brought to the debut LP We're Green. On the whole Random Walk is a more powerful album, with a new drummer and guitars that are both more sophisticated and often times more energetic.

The tone-setting lead track, "Heavy Ringer," is instantly captivating, with the band's trademark intricate guitar interplay and catchy, soaring harmony vocals.

"Unravel" follows with a smoother groove, accented by trumpet and organ flourishes before riding out in a fuzzy guitar, while "Reckless" is reminiscent of the Pixies, with a bouncy, thick bass line and surges of distorted guitar melodies and crashing cymbals. The Swim next turn toward an almost straightforward punk sound on "Stan The Man," a lightning fast song that rises and drops in fewer than 90 seconds.

The album closes with its two strongest tracks, the anthematic "Margaret With Comets" and
the eight-minute triumph "Piles on the Floor," which begins as a wistful slow-build before dissolving into a guitar solo that feels both ruminative and exultant.

Even after just a few listens, it's clear that Random Walk is a great companion for two of my favorite albums so far in 2008 - Real Emotional Trash from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and Delayer from the Heavenly States - guitars up front and center, with a lot of versatility. There's crunch and chime and distortion and melodic breaks and long, mesmerizing leads.

The Swim - Margaret With Comets (from Random Walk)
The Swim - Lazy Day (exclusive Catfish Vegas download)

CONTEST: We have two prizes to give away - a copy of The Swim's new EP Random Walk and two free passes to the CD release show Friday at Plush.
Entering is simple: just email with either "Swim CD" or "Swim show" in the subject line. You can enter both, just do it in two different emails. Winners will be chosen at random Thursday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Interview: The Swim

This afternoon I caught up with Caleb Christopher and Colton Harris from The Swim to talk about their new EP, Random Walk, which the band is debuting this Friday with a CD release show at Plush, along with Blankets, The Deludes and Mostly Bears.
Since moving to Tucson from Prescott two years ago, Chrisopher, Harris and bassist Nate Ziebell have hooked up with drummer Justin Bernard, self-released their first record (We're Green) and quickly became one of the top drawing local bands.
I sat through overtime of the Suns and Pistons game in the wired-for-NBA shed behind Harris' West University house. Anything but casual fans, they exchanged high fives with every Steve Nash three-pointer and I suppose it's good I was there to turn their attention away from the heart-breaking loss.

Q: How does this new EP compare to We're Green? Any new directions or sounds you guys wanted to incorporate?

Caleb Christopher: It's just a batch of songs we've banged out that we're proud of. It's quite a bit more focused than our first album. We didn't spend as much time trying church anything up.
I seems to be all around a little heavier, a little more distortion, but it's still very melodic. We're incorporating some more keyboards and stuff. Andrew (Lane, drummer for Blankets) played trumpet on a song.

Q: What sort of approaches does The Swim have for writing songs?

Colton Harris: I think a lot of it is just that Caleb really writes a lot. That's why it's so diverse. It's almost become and extension of Caleb's life.

CC: In the past it was a lot of me and Colton working together. This album just came from me writing a lot of songs.
It used to be music first, and then lyrics first. Recently it's been more with the lyrics first, or even just the hook or a theme.
Most of the time I just have a lot of stuff written down I like to use, lots of starts of things and when I get something musically that works I can finish it up.
I'd imagine it's going to always be changing. Pretty much every song comes form a different place, a different start, different influences.
Some just start out as a theme that I want to write about. Some of it's an extension of my daily encounters and habits and activities. It's my way of having something so that I can push everything else aside.
This album was kind of a quick thing for us. We had the songs so we might as well record them and keep from being stagnant. I think that with this next album we'll be pushing our selves a little harder.

Q: You played SXSW for the first time this year. How were the crowds? Any other bands that knocked your socks off? Any other highlights?

CC: We didn't really know what to expect, nor did we have he time to research how we were going to do it up because we were hard pressed on the album. But we had a great time and we know what to expect for next year.
We got to see Jens (Leckman) that was awesome. NOFX too. The whole band loves NOFX. We all grew up listening to them

CH: It's really energizing to go on a trip like that and see a bunch of bands and people who are into music. We just kind of just cruised around and had fun. We didn't plan who to see, but we still had a blast.

Q: You guys have done all the recording and producing yourselves so far, and the mixing and mastering as well on this one. How do you guys approach recording and what benefits are there to doing the whole thing yourselves?

CC: The biggest benefit is the cost and considering our budget it was a pretty obvious choice. Also, the fact that we've gotten some good equipment and we all pretty much know what we're doing.
Timing is a big thing too. We wouldn't have had enough time or been able to afford to work out the small details with somebody else.
Nate does most of the engineering and he and I are really quick together. Me and Nate side by side works. We're both on the same page because we've worked on the songs, practiced them together.
Everything moved really quickly once we started tracking. We did the drums with Fernando at OG-7 studios. Colton banged out a lot of his stuff right away and Nate and I are really quick together.

Q: The Tucson Weekly has described your sound as "Equally informed by '60s pop and modern indie-pop/rock, with just a hint of Americana." What are some of the largest influences for The Swim? How do you guys pick which songs or bands to cover?

CH: We all like some of the same bands, for the most part, but everyone takes a different approach to it. Justin has a different take on everything, Nate has a different take on everything. Everyone has got different influences.
Caleb introduced me to a lot of bands that we've covered. He got me really into Ween and the last two cover-ups with Wilco and GBV.

CC: Me and Colton have always shared the DIY bands. Our early guitar influences were based on the Kinsellas (Tim and Mike, of Joan of Arc, et al.)

CH: What we were trying to achieve when we were first starting was a little bit more complicated than we're doing now.

CC: We were definitely interested in pushing ourselves to learn how to play out of time, play different guitar parts and feed off each other. It still shows in our music, but more than that it helped us to bond as guitar players and move forward

Q: How did The Swim form and when did you know the current lineup was really working well?

CH: Caleb and I started off playing guitars together and recording little ditties. We did a few with Nate and that's how he started playing with us.

CC: That's what's cool about the way The Swim started. It was just a fun thing and a way to try recording things we'd never done before. That's what was enticing about it. It was a ton of fun so we thought we'd get it together full time
And moving to Tucson, we wanted to do it and were ready to push ourselves to another level. There's an excellent music scene and touring bands coming through all the time.

CH: We'd come down to Tucson and scouted it out and everyone in our immediate group of friends were feeling a little restless with Prescott and needed to get out. To us, Tucson seemed a lot like Prescott as far as the people go. Everyone is really chill here.
After Justin joined we knew it was pretty solid. We knew that this is the group.

CC: Pretty much after the first practice with Justin, once he confirmed he's a gigantic Ween fan it was pretty much in the bag. We didn't even know his credentials at the time, but we didn't really know anybody else. The guy's solid. He's been playing drums for 50 some odd years. It made us think that it was time to sharpen up.

Q: How did you go about picking other bands to play during your CD release show? What sort of a connection do you feel to other Tucson bands or the Tucson music scene?

CC: It's an array of music that's going to happen that night. Blankets are just crazy, all over the place. You follow it up with The Deludes , a lot heavier and faster, almost punk. Mostly Bears are very progressive.
The people in all the bands are some of the favorite people we've met

CH: There are tons of bands that could have played it. There are so many that we're really close to or good friends with. It just happened that this is what works for all the bands. It's really just a lot of fun.

Q: You guys have been on shows with bands like Ted Leo and Okkervil River. If you could pick any other bands to play with, who would it be?

CH: Ween first of all. But I'd also really like to play with the folks from New Pornographers. Not necessarily the new Porn, but Neko Case and A.C. Newman and Destroyer.

CC: I'd love to play with (Joel) Plaskett. Or Malkmus would be sick.

Q: There was an earlier album (Pretty Good But Hella Rushed) that didn't get finished. Are there any plans for those songs?

CH: I think there are songs that sound good on the recording that don't sound good live and vice versa. There's always a push-pull between those songs. But also there's the fact that we want to keep moving.
There are plenty of songs to play. We have a shit load of songs to play, plus covers we like.
There's no need to rehash those songs unless it's fun for all of us. We're thinking about doing a really old song for our release show.

Q: Do you guys have plans for a tour?

CC: That's the goal - to get a tour going. We're playing CD release shows in Prescott and Flagstaff too, but we're still working out the details for a longer tour.

CONTEST: We have two prizes to give away - a copy of The Swim's new EP Random Walk and two free passes to the CD release show Friday at Plush.
Entering is simple: just email with either "Swim CD" or "Swim show" in the subject line. You can enter both, just do it in two different emails. Winners will be chosen at random Thursday.

Check back tomorrow for a review of the EP and two tracks to download: one from Random Walk and the second a Catfish Vegas exclusive!

I'm there!

Radiohead! Wilco! Beck! Tom Petty! And tons more.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The new spooky

English trip-hop pioneers Portishead are returning with their third studio album, 11 years after their self-titled second record and a full decade after the phenomenal Roseland NYC Live, which is when I actually started to really get them.

Portishead came across as way too spooky for me and I pretty much wrote them off initially. But after seeing the Roseland video and paying more attention to just how the band crafted its soul-spooking sound I came around. After that my only difficulty with Portishead was trying to remember the individual song names.

In a 1997 interview with Rolling Stone, Geoff Barrow described his self-styled anti-sampling method. The band would record original music, press it onto vinyl, rough the records up a bit and then sample that.

Third has leaked and probably isn't too tough to find in full, but just today the band officially released the first video, for the appropriately named "Machine Gun." It's rough and jarring in comparison to their earlier records (and the bulk of Third, at least from what I've heard) but it's hypnotic and compelling at the same time.

I wonder, as I do with a lot of well-established bands, whether or how well Portishead would catch on if they were to debut in this era of hyper blog scrutiny and immediate Internet access. Suffice it to say that while critically acclaimed for the most part, trip-hop never was the broadest sub-genre in alternative music. I don't think anybody who listened to that type of music then or now would rank Portishead any lower than the top two or three bands of trip-hop. And they certainly stand up over the time. Check out "Roads" from their Roseland performance:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Suicide Kings!

I'm stoked to be heading up to Phoenix on Friday to see the Suicide Kings for the first time. The Suicide Kings are led by Valley music legend (perhaps the Al Perry for the folks north of the Gila?) Bruce Connole, whose long string of bands and projects date back to at least the early 1980s.

Hell, Connole was being touted as a long-timer a decade ago, when he made a turn from honky-tonk to bluegrass. Not that he's purely country by any means -- Connole's bands along the way have been everything from new wave to full on metal.

It was Connole's Jetzons who were looking for an opener on their four-sets-a-night, four-nights-a-week gig when Gin Blossoms legend Doug Hopkins first stumbled into a regular gig.

Not that I was remotely around for any of that, but it's a fascinating rock 'n' roll history that demonstrates more than anything how versatile the Arizona music scene has been dating to the early days of punk rock and how talent and commitment can lead to as many different gigs as a musician can think up.

I first came to Connole's music through The Revenants, as pure a honky-tonk band as I've ever heard, no matter what the era. Mr. Chair first introduced me to the Artists & Whores album, with the promise that if I liked Johnny Cash, I'd dig what these Tempe dudes had to offer. And hey, he was right, though I'd throw in that anybody who digs Hank Williams would dig The Revenants as well.

Artists & Whores is pure honky-tonk, ornery as hell. It aint', it's country - and also clever as hell. The lyrics are at once a mastery of the genre's themes of heartache and drinking early graves and a winking spin on those same themes. "That Girl's Insane" is my favorite off that record:
"She looks good, just like Hollywood, was a fire in her eye
Makes an entrance like a lady should,
Shoulders back, head up high
Ooh it makes me sad like the pouring rain
Ooh she looks so fine, but you know that girls' insane"
After The Revanants went on permanent hiatus, Connole moved on to The Busted Hearts, who were the one and only band I saw perform at the legendary and now demolished Mill Ave. Long Wongs. The Busted Hearts weren't quite pure bluegrass - there was a spirit of country songmanship that ran through what they did and downplayed the instrumental just a bit. But damn, what a show.

Apparently The Busted Hearts have now gone away and Connole has resurrected the spirit of The Revenants, along with the original band name, The Suicide Kings. I've heard a bit of the demos for their new project and while the honky-tonk remains, there's a roadhouse rock 'n' roll feel that shows up, a rowdier spirit that takes over. Some of the songs are re-recordings of Revenants or Busted Hearts tunes (like "Even Hookers Say Good-Bye" and "Hooker's Lament") that show new life.

Overall it's an incredibly promising set of tunes, a set that is all but certain to surpass what Connole achieved on Artists & Whores and The Busted Hearts single, self-titled record.

I'd hate to even start guessing how Connole has been active and innovative in a backwater (yet still compelling and absolutely unique) music scene for 30 years. But it's the straight truth. And what does that get ya? A gig (not even opening) at Mesa's Hollywood Alley, which can't hold more than a couple hundred (busted-hearted) souls. But I have high expectations and if y'all are in the Valley, go on and check out the show or (no matter where ya are) spend a little time with Connole's music on MySpace.

The Suicide Kings - Whiskey Row
The Revenants - That Girl's Insane
The Busted Hearts - Hooker's Lament (demo)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Since I gave short shrift to the Heavenly States myself yesterday I 'spose it's a tough position here to complain about how under-attended tonight's show at Congress was. But damn.

I first saw the Heavenly States almost three years ago - in the same venue, opening for Smog. I clearly remember their energetic brand of keyboard- and violin-laden indie rock. But I never did get any of their records and I'm already regretting that. This band has definitely progressed in that time and I couldn't believe how poor the ratio of great music to crowd presence was tonight.

Don't let the Heavenly States pass you by. I can't attest to the recorded material, having just picked up the latest album myself, but the Tucson Weekly has a good review. But judging from the live show, these Bay Area folks are going to have a great 2008.

DOWNLOAD: The Heavenly States - Lost In The Light

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gas money courtesy of Tucson, aka WXSW

A few years back, somebody in the Ol' Pueblo got the idea to start piggy-backing on the country's biggest music festival.
After all, Austin is a long drive from the West Coast and one extra stop a day's drive away will put that much more gas in the tank.
WXSW isn't the most blessedly scheduled festival - it's split over two consecutive Mondays and Tuesdays - but it more than makes up for the awkward timing with intriguing pairings.
Tuesday at Club Congress check out The Heavenly States (from the Bay Area) and Tucson rockers The Swim.
As for the second half of the festival, I can recommend both Helio Sequence (Portland) and Birdmonster (S.F.), headlining at Plush on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. (Also, the dudes from Birdmonster keep a highly entertaining blog.)

The Swim - The Beautiful Endeavor
Birdmonster - Cause You Can
Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead

Friday, March 07, 2008

Turning heads

I never did come back and write anything after the Dean & Britta show a couple weeks back, but rest assured, it was fantastic.
The duo is better than anybody out there at reinterpreting the pimptastic sort of late 1960s and 1970s songwriters. They indiefy those sorta lush, French-sounding, loungy pop songs from the likes of Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg (who, obviously, is French).

So check out this new video, which features Britta (who Dean describes as "very feminine and gorgeous in a Scandinavian way, with high cheekbones and big, green eyes") on vocals (and bicycle). And Demitri Martin, for some reason...

Dean has a book coming out about his rock 'n' roll days, a memoir of touring and recording in a band that never quite broke through.
It's called Black Postcards, and Men's Vogue has published an excerpt.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Got Malk?

I've tried to avoid reading too much about Stephen Malkmus' new album so I could really come to it more on my own terms. Basically, I really want to taste it first for myself, without the menu descriptions. But I've been sick and busy and only gotten in a couple fractured listens, even after a few days with the album. So some opinions have filtered in and I've gathered that it's considered somewhat of a psychedelic or loopy album. Maybe.

But what I haven't picked up on anywhere is the fact that Real Emotional Trash is the type of guitar album that's paradise when it's played live. And that was my first exposure to the music - a rare album-less tour for Malkmus just over a year ago, when he played six of the album's 10 songs in their road-test mode.

This four-piece version of the Jicks is just right for Malkmus. He's got an absolute crasher on drums in Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, who manages to chip in some backup singing as well. Portland bassist Joanna Bolme has been a recording engineer and longtime fixture in Northwest indie circles. And Mike Clark delivers rock-solid grooves on guitar and keyboards.

I think it would be one of the more fascinating musical time-transportations you could think of to hear Malkmus fronting a 1960s garage band - all hair and moustache and proto-punk spirit, far quirkier than you ever found in that era. I'm by no means a Malkmus or Pavement expert - I picked him up in the Terror Twilight era as part a batch of taste filtered over from my roommate Dr. Chung (a big thank you for all that influence, by the way Doctor, especially Neutral Milk Hotel and Magnetic Fields in addition to the Malk). But Malkmus' music has always struck me as oddly approachable for how weird it can get. And the latest is no different.

This post isn't meant to serve as any sort of a proper review for Real Emotional Trash - really more of a preparatory exercise to really soaking in the album than any thing. But for those who appreciate the album, check out these road-test versions:

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash (live)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Baltimore (live)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - We Can't Help You (live)
Get whole show as a zip: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Live Tucson, 2007-01-09

(The Pictures are part of some wonderful behind the scenes stuff on the Malkmus Web site.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Glory and tedium

Catfish Vegas is now the thrilled owner of a sweet new Macbook - a classically beautiful machine that seems quicker than Hermes himself after slogging away on a five-year-old Gateway laptop. It was a workhorse to be sure and while it's still running, it was sliding noticeably downhill. Not to mention the lack of any hard drive space whatsoever made the precious acquisition of music a difficult chore.

But not comes the tedium - the slow transferring of files (dating back nearly a decade if you count the already transferred once Word documents that are in many cases priceless). The bulk of the memory space is music files, but there are thousands of pictures there and beyond that, an entirely less well organized mess of written documents.

And not only that, but now it's time to begin the full digitization of my music collection. Yeesh.

But what that all means is I'll have far more music readily available and it will be much easier to dig things out of the vaults at any given time, for any given purpose. So (hint, hint), blogging will become richer from here on out. Plus it will be much easier to make additions to my iPod, like the all-latter-day Dylan playlist I'm working on for the drive to PHX later this week.

Tune in tomorrow for some live tracks from Stephen Malkmus in honor of his excellent new album, Real Emotional Trash...