If you’re like me, you feel like it has been too long since we’ve heard from Portland folk goddess Alela Diane. In the follow-up to her 2013 record About Farewell, Diane teams up with guitarist Ryan Francesconi and makes a delicious combination of intricate instrumentals and her timeless voice. In their first cut “Shapeless,” the pair work through various movements – from mournful to powerful – for a beautiful track.
Their collaborative album Cool Moon will be released October 16th.
Typhoon are the best little big band in America right now. Hands down. While their following steadily grows with each new listener, in my mind there is no reason this band shouldn’t be selling out the Greek Theater. In time, I’m sure they will. A band with this much skill and creativity can’t remain a secret for long. Their latest single “Common Sentiments” teases at what we can expect from their recently recorded upcoming full length.
Both “Common Sentiments” and it’s b-side “Green” are lush, slow-building, orchestral tunes. The a-side opens with a click and a whirl before a rustic and folksy melody gradually builds into a clattering, propulsive swell. Here, Typhoon simultaneously serve up intelligent songwriting and a catchy melody. It’s original and fresh, but not with out precedent. Indeed, if you like artists like Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire, then you’re going to love this track which blends Illinoise-like instrumentation, Funeral-like songwriting, with frontman Kyle Morton’s thoughtful, often poetic, lyrics.
And, if you were wondering, the single’s b-side is definitely not a throwaway. Indeed, it is a particularly gorgeous track. It’s a swaying tune blending together a bright piano melody, full horns, lovely harmonies, and a crisp rhythm section to accompany Morton as he sings: “Take my heart and paint it green. I never wanted to be jealousy. I only try to keep you close to me. I only try to keep you close to me.”
Buy a copy of their new 7″ single from their Bandcamp page. I already did. You won’t regret it.
Good things come from Portland, Oregon. For example, Portland has a great beer culture. Walk through most any of the city’s neighborhoods and you’re bound to stumble upon a fantastic microbrewery. They also have a great food culture. Dollar for dollar, Beast was on of my favorite foodie dining experiences anywhere in the United States. And, of course, they have a great music culture. On our last trip to PDX (in 2010), Kasey and I inadvertently found ourselves browsing the wares of a small boutique called Tender Loving Empire when I realized the store had it’s own record label. I walked out the door with a vinyl copy of Typhoon’s Hunger and Thirst and have had a new band to count amongst my favorites ever since.
What’s even better is how often all of these great things come together in Portland. For example, I was recently introduced to Tender Loving Empire’s latest roster addition, BRAINSTORM. The Portland-based trio features a guitar/tuba playing vocalist, Patrick Phillips, who also works for a Portland-based restaurant named Grain and Gristle that is known for sourcing local pork and beef which they butcher themselves.
Not at all unlike fellow PDX’ers Menomena, BRAINSTORM demonstrate a penchant for mixing experimental sonics and unusually sourced inspiration into their catchy pop jams. For example, their latest single “Beast From The Sky” is a skittering, polyrhythmic groove seeped in Colombian-cumbia studded with post-rock guitar squawk. The enigmatic lyrics are equally engaging. Drummer Adam Baz told MTV: “The Beast in the song very loosely refers to Quetzalcoatl, a plumed serpent from Mayan mythology, rumored to have returned from some distant godly domain in a fiery blaze of feathers.”
Throughout it’s course, Heat Waves is a hash of instrumentation. Most tunes are founded upon a bed of crisp, circularly rhythmic percussion which set the stage for lively, stuttering keys settled-in alongside bright, sputtering tuba, and nimble, flowery guitar riffs. It’s a unique combination for certain (especially owing to the prominent tuba), but it’s a mishmash that nonetheless remains entirely approachable and catchy.
Kasey’s recipe for Corn, Zucchini, and Padron Pepper Hash is a particularly toothsome dish that makes a good side for any occasion. It’s brimming with fresh corn, savory zucchini and (best of all) padron peppers. That particular variety of pepper is a personal favorite, in part, because I love the way approximately one in ten offers a surprising burst of fiery umph. That mix of fresh ingredients with unexpected spiciness makes BRAINSTORM’s Heat Waves a perfect pairing for this recipe.
“Angeles” has always been one of my favorite Elliott Smith songs. It’s a beautiful, sparkling ballad that highlights nearly every one of Smith’s strengths: powerful songwriting, a gorgeous melody, and Smith’s cedar-y and heartfelt vocals. In celebration of what would be Smith’s 43rd birthday, Kill Rock Stars has been releasing alternate versions of some of his best known songs on his Bandcamp page. First we heard a version of “Alameda” with a different version of the tunes’ lyrics. Later they released a different take on the track “Punch and Judy.” And then earlier this week they released a new version of “Angeles.” The newly released version is even more stripped-down, hushed and emotive than the original version. It’s stunning. Give it a listen below.
You can download the alternate versions from Kill Rock Stars’ Bandcamp page.
My list of highly anticipated records set to be released before the end of 2012 is ever growing, and Menomena’s Moms is definitely one of the top albums on that list. The album’s first track “Heavy Is As Heavy Does” opens like any other traditional rock ballad with a melodic piano-fed tune and intimate vocals. Things get more interesting though a little over a third of the way into the song as a skittering kit enters the groove before a snarling, buzz-saw guitar tears the melody apart. It’s further proof that Menomena can beautifully balance the pop against the experimental.
You can preorder Moms from Barsuk Records and you’ll also get a Menomena t-shirt.
The American Analog Set has been extremely quiet lately (as in: they haven’t released an album in seven years). But it wasn’t always that way. Songwriter Andrew Kenny formed the Austin, Texas-based indie rock band nearly sixteen years ago in 1995. Initially the band was named The Electric Company, but they were subsequently forced to change their name when another band using the same name started doing the rounds. At the time, the band stood out from many of their peers in part because of Kenny’s dedication to simplicity in his production and instrumentation. That isn’t to say that they weren’t technically proficient or compositionally adventurous. Just the opposite is true in fact. As Kenny explained to the Phoenix NewTimes back in 2001: “I guess our recordings have a little reverb on them, but there was nothing between the instruments and the amplifiers at all. Just a cable, no knob twirling or tweaking.”
Released in September 2001, Know By Heart was the band’s fourth full-length. With it’s shimmering elegance, restrained rhythmic sensibility, and (compared to the band’s prior releases) concise compositions, it’s always been my favorite album by the band. The album kicks open softly with the misleadingly titled “Punk As Fuck.” Brushed jazzy drumming, warm bass tones, and soft acoustic strumming usher in a flowing and gentle melody as comforting and enveloping as a wool blanket and a cup of coffe on a cool morning.
Meanwhile, the album’s most upbeat moment may come on the kinetic and shuffling “The Only One” which is propelled along a sharp, tightly wound guitar riff as Kenny warmly intones: “Keep me like a key, I’m the only one. Worn around your neck, I’m the only one. Lucky like a charm, I’m the only one. Closest to your heart, I’m the only one.” It’s driving and hypnotic.
Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard provides guest vocals on the sparkling, plaintive track “The Postman.” It’s pleasantly lethargic and relaxed. Of course, that’s the mood the album sets for from start to finish. It’s whispered and bright. For example, the buzzing organ and clattering percussion on the grooving “Million Young” is embracing and dreamy. Similarly, the track “Aaron and Maria” is almost hymnal-like in it’s cinematic, urban love-story lyrics and unrushed, strummed acoustic guitar-based melody.
Know By Heart pairs well Kasey’s recipe for Cardamom and Nutmeg Waffles with Minted Strawberries. Like the album, the recipe is fresh, bright and clean. It’s comforting and upbeat. But, not only that, Know By Heart is a great album to start your day with. It’s positive and cool, but stays sluggishly kinetic throughout. It’s gentle enough that you can leave the energizing to your morning cup of coffee.
Listening to a record by The Morning Benders is kinda like sitting down at the dinner table to enjoy a good home-cooked meal. Their latest record, Big Echo, for example, is warming, comforting, engaging and completely satisfying – thereby stirring the same emotions brought on by a good meal. So it is no surprise that they are one of TK’s favorite bands in indie music. And beyond that, they’ve also proven to be some of the nicest guys in music. You can follow frontman Christopher Chu on Twitter where he regularly shares his thoughts on food, music and life with his Twitter followers. And unlike many other musicians, he regularly engages with those followers directly. The band is currently hard at work in L.A. working on the follow-up to Big Echo. Nonetheless, Chris was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions for Turntable Kitchen about dining out in restaurants from Tokyo to New York, jamming out to music in the kitchen and the progress of their new album. Read on after the MP3.
TK: I understand you’ve been living in Portland recently working on LP3 for the Morning Benders. Before that, you spent time living in New York City and San Francisco. All three of those cities are considered foodie-meccas. What are some of your favorite restaurants in those cities?
Chris: I am actually in LA now, another amazing food city! But anyway… too many good places to list. Here are 3 off the top of my head. Dove Vivi (Very special cornmeal curst pizza in Portland), Taste Good (Malaysian in Elmhurst, NY), Yamo (Burmese in SF)
TK: When you are cooking, do you have any albums that you like to listen to in the kitchen?
Chris: Right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean and K Michelle. R Kelly also comes back on a lot.
TK: What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
Chris: This is kind of impossible. Probably this Kaiseki meal I had at a place down a random alley in Tokyo I can’t remember the name of.
TK: In terms of the food, what are the best and worst parts of being on tour?
Chris: The best: getting to try new foods, or more specifically, experiencing different regions’ different takes on certain dishes. The worst: always having a time constraint (i.e. having to convince my band to drive 45 minutes out of the way to get ramen).
TK: Is there are any food that you just won’t eat?
TK: Do you have a favorite celebrity chef (i.e. a chef-testant from Top Chef, Bobby Flay, the Barefoot Contessa, Thomas Keller, etc.)?
Chris: I like Alice Waters
TK: Is the new album finished yet? Does it have a working title?
Chris: No. But I am already super proud of it. It’s the best thing we’ve made.
TK: Can you name any of the songs that will be on it?
Chris: Don’t want to disappoint anyone, so no promises yet.
TK: I’ve noticed from your recent tweets that you’ve been listening to a pretty diverse array of artists recently (Britney Spears, Cass McCombs, The-Dream, etc); have you been influenced by any of the albums you’ve been listening to?
Chris: Definitely. We always listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but this album is definitely more influenced by Pop and R&B than anything else we have done.
TK: How will the new album be different from Big Echo?
Chris: Kind of hard to say… but one thing I’ve been thinking about is how, when we made Big Echo, we made it to be a “grower.” The way it was arranged, the way the songs were written- it had a lot of subtleties and nuances that we hoped would reveal themselves after multiple listens. We were really excited by that idea at the time. Lately I’ve been interested in things that are more immediate. Music that gets its point across quickly and clearly. That’s how the new album will be different.
TK: What type of recipe do you think the album would pair with?
Chris: The new album? Something spicy… maybe Korean?
Typhoon‘s Hunger & Thirst easily landed a spot within my top 5 album’s of 2010. And you wanna know why? Because it is a beautiful album with thoughtful lyrics, swooningly-lush orchestral instrumentation, subtly effective hooks and clever melodies. Surprisingly, these folks don’t seem to have found the massive fan-base they so obviously deserve and seem destined for. At least not yet. For our part, Kasey and I pretty much stumbled upon their music after fortuitously coming upon the Tender Loving Store in Portland.
Well, it would hardly surprise me if Typhoon’s fanbase grows with the March release of their new EP A New Kind Of House. The first single has recently leaked – titled “The Honest Truth” and it leaves no doubt in my mind that this EP should be great. A New Kind Of House is reported to act as a “sequel” to Hunger & Thirst featuring “five multi-movement song cycles” (and you may have thought only Joanna Newsom, The Decemberists and the Arcade Fire were striving for lofty indie-songwriting goals nowadays). You can preorder the EP from Tender Loving Empire and you’ll receive a free download of Hunger & Thirst. Sweet deal! And if you are a San Franciscan looking for what will probably be one of the top shows from this year’s Noise Pop – you might want to catch Typhoon when they play Bottom of the Hill on February 23.
If you hadn’t been paying close attention, the Decemberists’ latest album, The King Is Dead, may sound like a somewhat unexpected departure for a band that had so recently recorded and released the crunchy-rhythms, metal-inspired riffs and weird-fiction themes of Hazards of Love. The King Is Dead is a pretty straight-forward country-folk album, featuring Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck playing significant supporting roles that very clearly contribute to the overall sound of the album. And there isn’t a loose narrative or concept unifying the songs. Oh, and as far as I can tell, none of the songs’ characters are murdered, raped or forced to engage in massive-scale acts of prostitution (though I think there are some pretty serious threats in the lyrics of the track “Rox In The Box”). So yeah, The King Is Dead is pretty different from many of their previous albums.
But really, I think The King Is Dead was pretty well foreshadowed. The group demonstrated their love for country western music at the very beginning of the tour for Hazards of Love havingperformed a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love” on several nights. Hell, even portions of the lyrics could have been predicted. After all, who can work through the depths of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and not discover some inspiration. The novel is so awe-inspiring, it requires a heart as cold and unfeeling as those of Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents to be unmoved upon completion. And indeed, The Decemberists’ front-man Colin Meloy clearly demonstrates that he is not immune following his participation in the Internet-based Infinite Jest reading group, Infinite Summer, as he alludes to the novel on the track “Calamity Song” in which he sings of “the year of the chewable Ambien tab.” Personally I was hoping Meloy would write a 20 minute long suite of songs inspired by Eschaton. But I digress. The point is that this wasn’t so unexpected. And really, some of this album’s best moments (all of the track “January Hymn” for example) aren’t that different from the band’s earliest ballads: acoustic instrumentation, sea-shanty inspired melodies and thoughtful, well-written lyrics. It is rustic and straight-forward with no gimmicks. And yet it is also modern and complex in character. For these reasons, I think that the spicy pickled green beans Kasey is featuring in the Kitchen today is a perfect metaphor for the Decemberists’ song-writing on The King Is Dead. There is nothing complicated about the spicy pickled green beans recipe, but those highly addictive green beans are nonetheless so crisp and complex in flavor. Trust me, after you try these you’ll never look at a green bean the same way again.
So, by now, you have a sense of what the album sounds like (country-folk with nerdy literary references for lyrics), and so naturally the next question is whether it is actually any good or not. And, yes, I’m happy to report that The King Is Dead is an excellent album. The album’s first single is the nimble and flowery “Down By The Water”, which is also the album’s most upbeat and catchy moment – packed with whimsical hooks and earthy rhythms. The resonant and lively “Calamity Song” is the type of song I know I’ve craved ever since the first time I heard R.E.M.’s Document. “All Arise!” is a lively and pastoral barn-raiser. “This Is Why We Fight” is scintillating and shimmery evidence that The Decemberists’ aren’t backing away from melodic, epic rock songs. And the aforementioned “January Hymn” and it’s companion “June Hymn” are some of the band’s prettiest tracks to date. In other words, there is an album’s worth of material here that will please any fan of The Decemberists.
Pick up the deluxe edition if you can afford to part with the cash. It is worth it. It comes beautifully packaged and includes a DVD, a CD version of the album, a thick white-vinyl copy of the record, a hard covered book, a limited edition print and a one of a kind Polaroid (here is a poor scan of the picture packaged with my copy). You can score if from the band’s website.