All posts in Indie Dispatches

Indie Dispatches: CHL’s year-end accolades & a peak at what’s to come in 2012

From the melodic pop of Real Estate to the undeniably retro fuzz of Yuck, the distorted dreamy noise of I Break Horses and the lo- fi meandering of Youth Lagoon, 2011 has been an excellent year for music. Read more…

Indie Dispatches: Will the Grammys see an indie upset repeat? + more…

Grammy schmammy.   Read more…

Indie Dispatches: Real Estate’s ‘Days’ evokes the best of bygone indie era

There seem to be two words coming out of a lot of people’s lips in the latter part of 2011, usually with some sort of glowing acclaim attached, with those words being, Real Estate. Read more…

Indie Dispatches: CHL picks for CMJ Music Marathon

Alabama Shakes among this year's must-see at CMJ

It’s fall again, when every avid music fan’s thoughts turn to NYC and the annual CMJ Music Marath… hang on… it’s 2011! Does anyone actually go to this thing any more? Is it even relevant? Though indeed, it may not have the cachet of past decades, it seems that there are still a crew of people that will make the rounds of the clubs to see whatever the latest buzz hope-they-are-not-forgotten-in-two-years-time band (hello Black Kids?) While the masses may all be lined up to see Purity Ring or Araabmuzik, maybe you’d enjoy a few of the tips below – some new, some old, some signed, others not – to brighten up the days traipsing from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back…

Fionn Regan – Ireland’s answer to Ryan Adams – that is, a balladeer of the finest pedigree, who can floor a room with just his voice and an acoustic guitar (Fat Baby, 8pm Thurs 20)

FIDLAR – group of young SoCal punkazoids currently looking to steal the mantle of ‘kings of the LA underground’ from No Age. And winning. (Cake Shop, 10pm, Wed 19)

The Lonely Forest – their experience with Atlantic Records seems to have been a bust so far, but don’t discount them for that reason – this band is in the best tradition of the Pacific Northwest – great songs, good energy and a superb live show (Rock Shop, 9.30pm Thu 20)

Caveman – not sure the name does the band justice – but a very nice and subtle psychedelic edge sets them apart from the rest of the current crop of post-Local Natives/Fleet Foxes harmonizers (Pianos, 11pm Thurs 20)

Weekend – the loudest band in the US right now? Certainly a candidate with their excellent firebrand noise-rock, and another find by the always tasteful Slumberland label (Cake Shop, 12.45am Fri 21)

Rubber Kiss Goodbye – featuring the son of Brian Ferry. That’s a reason to at least have a look-see, right? (Fontanas, 9pm, Fri 21)

Duke Spirit - Still slogging away with that ‘big break’ eluding them, but for sure they rock better than most bands. And Liela Moss gets the vote as the sexiest front woman in Altrock (Brooklyn Bowl, 11pm, Tues 18)

Robert Ellis - sure does sound like Gram Parsons at times. And there is nothing wrong with that… A shining gem on the New West Records roster. (Living Room 11.15pm, Fri 21)

Metronomy – UK electro act that captured a lot of hearts (and ears) with their album The English Riviera this year (MHOW, 11.30pm, Thurs 20)

A Place to Bury Strangers – see Weekend. But with more records under their belt. And signed to Mute. (Union Pool, midnight, Thurs 19)

Sea of Bees – On the supreme Heavenly label for the UK, and an NPR fave. Freak folk with a twist – think the female equivalent to Devendra Banhart, or maybe Damien Rice (Living Room, 10.45, Thur 20)

Hey Marseilles – more great Northwest indierock that slides nicely alongside DCFC & more particularly, the Decemberists. (Living Room, 10pm, Sat 22)

Alabama Shakes – They are from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and live up to that area’s rich musical history. Say no more. (Bowery Ballroom, 8pm, Thu 20)

This Old GhostSmiths? Deathcab? not a bad place to start… (Acheron, Thu 20)

Kevin Devine - What better way to spend the final night of the the festival, than relaxing with Brooklyn’s most talented singer-songwriter? (Highline Ballroom, 8.30pm, Sat 22)

WILD FLAG – what do mean you weren’t there? #FAIL (Bowery Ballroom, 10.30pm, Tues 18)

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: Musical highlights of 2011 thus far…

Charles Bradley one of CHL's 2011 picks

We’re not really sure why (need for updated content? lack of anything in the way of worthwhile ideas from their editorial staff? an obsession with lists?), but it seems like various online outlets are publishing their ‘best bands’ lists (are there really 40 great new acts this year Stereogum?) and the best of the first 9 months of 2011 just seconds after a best of the first half of the year… So, what the hell, that seems like a reason to chime in with some of what we see as the cooler musical moments to date (since we flaked on a mid-year summation), especially as some of the ‘best of’ ratings are populated with a fair share of clunkers (EMA, tUnE-YarDs we’re looking at you), some that have been much covered but have generated medicore sales and others that we have to disqualify just because (The Head and the Heart really came out in 2010 more than once, and well, there was this too…) So drumroll please… a few of the musical bright spots of the year to date…

Cass McCombs “County Line” (Domino) – quite possibly the track of the year, and McCombs’ finest moment to date. The full length, Wit’s End, is his best yet, though peppered with a couple of jarring moments foiling any aspirations for album of the year (but then, there are more than a few other records in 2011 that seem to suffer from the same affliction)

Middle Brother Middle Brother (Partisan) – a ‘super group’ of sorts, but one that may well be greater than the sum of its parts. Dare we drag up the ‘alt country’ tag, but this trio from Dawes, Deer Tick and the Delta Spirit made an album full of sublime originals (exemplified by the rather superb “Wilderness”) and a rather great Replacements cover (Portland) which will warm the cockles of any Whiskeytown or Ryan Adams fan’s heart.

The Kills Blood Pressures (Domino) – Rock’n'roll at its finest. Guitars and more guitars. A cheap drum machine. And one of the sexiest and most engaging vocalists out there. What else do you need?

Caitlin Rose Own Side Now (Theory 8) – An album that is charming, full of personality and brimming with well crafted songwriting. The spirit of Emmy Lou Harris and Neko Case lives on in the next generation, and for that we are thankful. No wonder the Europeans were early adopters and embraced the talents of this diminutive Nashville singer-songwriter.

Yuck Yuck (Fat Possum) – yes it is derivative, and owes an awful, awful lot to the 90′s, and especially Dinosaur Jr. But hell, J Mascis hasn’t made a truly brilliant record in years, and has headed into old(er)age by making acoustic records, so someone has to pick up the baton in the noise-rock stakes.

The War on Drugs Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian) – The Bloomington, IN label collective does it again, with another great release – this time from the indie rock band from Philadelphia, who once featured Kurt Vile amongst its members. An album both dense and laid back, featuring the droll Tom Verlaine-esque vocals from A. Granduciel. It’s been described in the media as Spiritualized meets Springsteen, and that seems an apt assessment of its dreamy psychedelic-tinged Americana.

Charles Bradley No Time for Dreaming (Dunham) – Both Otis Redding and James Brown may have left this mortal coil, but Bradley makes a brave effort to step in and at least partially fill their ample shoes on his debut album – released at an age when many of his peers are looking to take advantage of those AARP discounts. A slab of sweaty, wrenching soul. Excellent.

Adele Rolling in the Deep (XL) – yeah, so sue us… It doesn’t matter how popular this track is, but it is an absolute monster. The same can’t be said for the whole album, which can veer into schmaltzy mainstream territory, but just for this one song alone, Adele, we salute you!

WILD FLAG - Everything about them. The live show. The limited edition RSD 7″. The videos. The album on Merge. A band that just elicits pure excitement from devotees, both new & old. And they rock. Can’t complain about any of that!

Flaming Lips – live at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A spectacular light show, with strobe lights and lasers bouncing off the palm trees, gravestones and crypts, and playing their finest moment The Soft Bulletin front to back in one the best settings for an outdoor live show in Los Angeles. Three thumbs up!

TV on the Radio Nine Types of Light (Interscope) – thankfully ditching the more overt art-rock tendencies of their last 2 releases, the kings of Brooklyn return to form. And still may be the most unlikely act signed to a major label…

Beach Boys 7″ (free with MOJO 60′s magazine) – a fine taster from the upcoming Capitol issue of the Smile Sessions box set, and putting Panda Bear in his place, showing him who is the master, and making the point about what a real teenage symphony to god should sound like.

Warner Brothers Record Store Day 7″ series – a genius idea – pairing an original from their storied catalog with a cover by one of their newer acts, for example Jenny & Johnny covering Gram Parsons‘ “Love Hurts”. The only fault is that in playing (on Warner Brothers or on other labels) a few of the originals such as Husker Du “I Don’t Want to Know if You are Lonely” it only amplifies the sense that very few, if any, artists are making recordings even close to being this truly classic and long-lasting in 2011…

Bright Eyes The People’s Key (Saddle Creek) – At the recent LA live show, the Nebraska combo played one track after another which made the listener think, “This is a great song. And so is this…” And many were drawn from the latest (and possibly final?) album from Conor Oberst helmed Bright Eyes. An album that has possibly the most elaborate packaging for a regular CD & LP release for the year. And we’ll say ‘thanks’ for all of the above.

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: Wilco goes their own way with The Whole Love – will others follow?

Wilco releases The Whole Love on their new label dBpm

In the indie sector, this week qualifies for landmark status, as the much revered and critically acclaimed band Wilco officially turned their back on the major labels with the release of their new album The Whole Love. The Chicago combo had spent their entire career through Warner Music, firstly on Sire/Reprise, before controversially being dropped, and ironically re-signing to WMG via Nonesuch. In fact the new Wilco album constitutes band leader Jeff Tweedy‘s first indie release for almost 20 years, ranging back to when his prior group Uncle Tupelo left the Rockville label after their March 16-20 album and signed to Sire/Warners for their final record Anodyne in 1993. The Whole Love is the first release on the Wilco’s own imprint dBpm, distributed via Anti, part of Epitaph Records – not a small indie, but still a far cry from the WMG behemoth. And significantly, the early signs on the record show it is business as usual in the Wilco world, and they are not rueing their departure from the major label. In fact, to the casual observer there is no difference, with the obligatory NPR piece and album stream, a TV performance on Letterman, the glowing reviews, the slew of articles, and a general blitz in the media.

In the broader scheme of things, onlookers will also be curious to track the success of the album, as it could serve as the template for a number of other alternative and indie bands with a similar sales base and stature (such as Bright Eyes and Fleet Foxes, who have both reportedly fulfilled the terms of their recording agreements), looking for non-traditional release options in 2011 and beyond. Not only could more artists be looking to turn to the independent world and snubbing the majors and those dreaded 360 deal terms (though The Shins bucked the trend, signing to Columbia), but more could also be really choosing to take control of their own destiny, following the example of Wilco (and other artists like The Get Up Kids), and forming their own record labels.

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: Requiem for the 90′s; aka Remembering Creation Records

As a logical segue from the recent piece on 4AD is a discussion about the other of the twin towers of British independent labels from the 1990′s – Creation Records. The two companies took very different paths in the end, with the 4AD remaining a true independent label (selling out to the equally indie, Beggars Banquet), and continuing as an entity to this day, meanwhile Creation sold to the majors (Sony), and then flamed out when the two founders – Alan McGee and Dick Green – thought the time was right, around 1999, to pack it all in – living by the live fast, die young… adage and leaving a legacy untainted by any current musical flavors du jour.

The history of the legendary Creation has been a topic of conversation this year after the debut US screenings of the documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story. The film, which tracks the history of Creation from the chaotic early days in the mid-80′s to the later days, which were equally chaotic, for different reason, and highlighting the status of the label – and especially McGee – as true mavericks.  Upside Down also represents an amazing reflection on a very different time in the music business – a period where there were no 5-year marketing and promotion plans, no 360 deals, no American Idol, and when it truly was, more often than not, just about the music. An era, I’m sorry to say, that was in many ways infinitely more exciting. Think of bands and labels devoid of the obsession with social media, alternative income streams and the quest for that elusive TV license as an essential marketing tool, a time of seat-of-the-pants decisions, borderline craziness, and yes, the archetypal “sex, drugs and rock’n'roll”. And the documentary shows that Creation was fueled by all three.

But it was truly about the music. Fancy that – a company run by music fans – and the artists who signed recognized that, and as a result the label put out a range of some of the best tracks of the era. It is staggering to realize that Creation issued My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless, Primal Scream‘s Screamadelica and Teenage Fanclub‘s Bandwagonesque albums, all within the space of a few weeks in 1991 – releases that are both hugely influential and legendary, and still stand up some 20 odd years later. Something tells me you’d be hard pressed to find any of the 2011 crop of indie labels such as Neon Gold or IAMSOUND releasing one album with that status or lasting impact, let along three at the same time! And then of course on Creation there are the rest… Felt, (the massive selling) Copper Blue by Sugar, along with Ride, Super Furry Animals, the Boo Radleys, Saint Etienne… the list goes on. There’s no disputing Creation did release its fair share of duds, especially in the years when they were skating on thin-ice and releasing as much as possible to keep the doors open and stave off bankruptcy, but in 2011 their iconic status still stands, in no small part due to that little band called Oasis… While there is an argument that Adele is successfully flying the flag for indies in 2011 (on XL ex-USA at least), it’s hard to comprehend an artist nowadays having the sort of impact Oasis have had. Watching the jaw-dropping footage in Upside Down of the band’s now legendary Knebworth concerts, gives an indication of just how truly massive in size Oasis became, and how they were part of the fabric of daily life in the UK at that time. And of course the Creation story wouldn’t be complete without the band that punctuated both the beginning and end years of the label – the Jesus & Mary Chain. So it is fitting that the documentary – a rollicking, fun, inspiring journey itself – draws its title from their notorious debut 45. Upside down indeed. Alas, there is no current news of further screenings, or a DVD release for the documentary in the USA, but once the film secures distribution, it should be on the agenda for every music aficionado.

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: Legacy Incorporated

Among 4AD's preeminent releases

There’s no arguing that more than a few eyebrows were raised in the indie community recently, over the release of the debut EP from Inc. (formerly Teen, Inc.) on the storied 4AD label. Since 4AD is usually seen as a bastion of good taste, and the home of a remarkable and significant back catalog, the signing of the L.A. ‘crew’, who have played a minute number of shows in their hometown, and have not garnered any great number of glowing reviews, was seen as quite a surprise. Furthermore, when a band seems manufactured for the blogosphere, and even Pitchfork decides the band is not up to snuff describing them as “a total fucking disaster” , a “huh? what were they thinking?” response isn’t unexpected. Which begs the question of “legacy”. A band like Inc. definitely pales in comparison to prior generations artists of on 4AD – from the Pixies and Lush, to Dead Can Dance or the Cocteau Twins - and even more recent signings such as Deerhunter, The National and (love them or hate them) tUnE-yArDs.

But then no label can be seen as having a totally flawless roster, and every company has more than one clanger they have signed. Sub Pop may be lauded for Nirvana, Sebadoh, Sunny Day Real Estate or the Scud Mountain Boys, but the 90′s also saw them ink Teen Angels, Chixdiggit and The Yo Yo’s - acts that haven’t weathered the test of time all that well (and maybe were not universally embraced at the time either). Even recently the Seattle indie might want people to forget Tiny Vipers and Ruby Suns in lieu of Blitzen Trapper and The Head and the Heart. Or with Matador you may make the argument for Pavement and Sonic Youth over Bunnybrains and Esben and the Witch. While the majors have a history of actions like this – possibly tainting their legacy with a new generation of artists, especially when they are absorbed into larger music conglomerates – for example Atlantic, where Otis Redding & Led Zeppelin can be seen as far superior to Kitten, or 3Oh!3. Even somewhere like Elektra released some better-left-forgotten records before their golden years signing Love, MC5, Tim BuckleyThe Stooges and Television, while Liberty (which later owned the Blue Note catalog) made their money with the hit Chipmunks records, and most recently the decision to hand the legendary Verve label over to David Foster – better known for producing schmaltzy elevator pop – has jazz afficiandos shaking their heads in dismay. So, when it comes to the music business, “legacy” can be a slippery slope. But to a large degree consensus seems to be that the independents exercise a deeper level of taste, and stay truer to their roots as a bastion of taste. So for the moment, while 4AD may have taken a baffling step with Inc., maybe the sands of time will show that the band, and their faux Prince-isms, were just a momentary lapse of reason, an embarrassing sidestep, swept under the rug as the indie regains its well-deserved reputation for their A grade roster.

- Cool Hand Luke

Indie Dispatches: A Look at the Long Road in an Age of Hype

Kevin Devine to release his latest album Between the Concrete and Clouds on Razor & Tie

There seems to be a tendency in the media world in 2011 – especially amongst blogs and online outlets obviously – to go hell for leather-touting whatever the next shiny-new-thing coming down the street (which will likely have a shelf life of about 10 minutes – Black Kids anyone?)  And in that mad stampede, it’s sometimes the older artists who get lost in the proverbial shuffle. Which is a shame, because more likely than not, their records are better, and longer-lasting than some of their younger competitors. Just look at Thurston Moore who, despite his Dorian Gray eternal baby-faced looks, is truly an elder statesman when it comes to alternative rock. 2011 has seen his new solo release (what must be about his 325th record overall!), where he took a daring step in making an acoustic album. Demolished Thoughts, released by indie Matador, sees Thurston (who celebrated his 53rd birthday this week!!!), passing up his regular noise for a gentler affair, sitting somewhere between the music of his current touring (& label) partner Kurt Vile, and the more plaintive moments of Beck – who produced the album. And in the process, the lanky New Yorker made a fine record, one that the folk battering down the doors in search of new EMA or Rainbow Arabia albums, would be making an error to ignore.

And how about Thurston’s former DGC label-mates in Sloan? The Canadian stalwarts celebrated their 20-year anniversary this year by putting out a new album, appropriately titled XX – the Double Cross. Each record from the foursome, with XX the 10th overall, has been a barrage of power pop songs that have stood up well, and there is no disputing their landmark album One Chord to Another still sounds as fresh 16 years (and 3-4 labels) on from its original release. And while the Nova Scotian quartet may not have seen a lot in the way of ‘hits’ – at least south of the border – there is no disputing Sloan still have a wide and dedicated group of devotees, even after 20 years.

Then there is Kevin Devine. He may reside in Brooklyn, like many of the blog obsessives, but it’s not as though he receives the same coverage.  Once again a crying shame, as the singer-songwriter has spent 10 plus years making smart, thoughtful and well crafted records, from his early days in Miracle of 86, through a number of solo releases – not to mention his recent collaboration with Manchester Orchestra under the name Bad Books – an oeuvre that includes Put Your Ghost to Rest, which could possibly be classified as “the best album released for what seemed like 10 minutes on Capitol Records in 2006″ (Devine was dropped soon after its release). But the songs from that and his other albums have barely aged, showing infinitely more longevity than some of his buzzy counterparts over the years. The good news is that Devine has finished a new record, Between the Concrete and Clouds, which is scheduled for release in the fall through Razor & Tie. And what’s the bet we’ll still be hearing from Devine in 2021 – something that is far from guaranteed when it comes to the likes of Wu Lyf, or Inc.

- Cool Hand Luke

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