Making music about making music with Noah And The Whale

It’s like some kind of songwriting Inception: we have to go deeper

Noah and the Whale, Last Night on EarthOne of the albums that’s made its way into my regular rotation is, much to my surprise and delight, Noah And The Whale‘s Last Night On Earth. It’s an affecting, uplifting album of indie pop songs (with just a dash of 80’s synths) that nicely refines the sound of their excellent, Eels-esque debut Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down.

So if I liked their debut that much, why is Earth a surprise? Because their last release, 2009’s The First Days of Spring, was an absolute bore: recorded in the aftermath of frontman Charlie Fink’s failed relationship with Laura Marling, it sounded like 11 versions of the same, depressed, unconvincingly weary song, completely devoid of memorable melodies and sonic color. I was worried that Peaceful was the exception to Spring‘s rule, but Earth thankfully proved me wrong.

There are a lot of great songs on Last Night On Earth, from the sweet, soaring, string-accented “Just Before We Met” to the Tom Petty-ish “Waiting For My Chance to Come” (tell me you don’t hear echoes of “Learning to Fly” once the rhythm guitar starts), but one that’s been giving me a case of earworm lately is “Give It All Back,” a fun reminiscence about starting a band. They recently played it live (minus the xylophone, sadly) at RAK Studios in London, and have made an MP3 of the recording free for download. Watch the video and download the MP3 below:

Download: Noah And The Whale, “Give It All Back” (Live from RAK Studios) (MP3)

Like what you hear? Head to Amazon MP3 and download Last Night On Earth.

Are An Horse from Brisbane? or Newark?

An Horse, WallsI was listening to An Horse’s new album Walls for the first time on my morning commute having only heard song samples before, and midway through opener “Dressed Sharply” I found myself querying Wikipedia: where the hell was this band from? Based on how Kate Cooper enunciates, I was thinking somewhere in or near the five boroughs. This is how I heard the verse that got me searching:

“Dressed so shawply
You know I will read
Ev-e-ry woid
That you send me”

Turns out they’re from Brisbane, Australia. Huh. Now I have to wonder: is Brisbane the Newark of Down Under? Listen for yourself & decide:

Rethinking Music with 8in8, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, and Julia Easterlin

What do you get when you lock 3 musicians and 1 author in a recording studio for 12 hours? Nighty Night, a sharp collection of 6 songs, churned out by Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds, Damian Kulash of Ok Go, and Neil Gaiman, which was debuted on the stage of the Berklee Performance Center in Boston last night as part of the Rethink Music conference. I was lucky enough to see the performance, and was floored by everything I heard. It pays to know a guy, you know?

Julia EasterlinThe evening started with a 2-song set by Julia Easterlin, a soon-to-be Berklee graduate & upcoming Lollapalooza performer, who performed accompanied only by a loop pedal. She used the box to sample, loop, and layer her voice, creating a complicated, beautiful, building sound. I’ve seen KT Tunstall use something similar in concert before (she called it her “little bastard”), but it was nowhere near this level of sophistication. Imagine Björk’s Medulla album rendered live, and you’ll begin to get the picture. I tracked down her MySpace page and listened to some studio creations, but they don’t compare well to the live experience: there’s something magical in that there loop pedal. Keep your eyes and ears on her: she’s performing locally in Boston through May, and then at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August. Head to her website for a free song download.

Black Joe Lewis and the HoneybearsNext up was a frenetic shot of Stax and blues from Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, who blew the doors off the joint. Opening up with a vital rendition of the Robert Johnson classic “Stop Breakin’ Down,” they spent the next half hour burning through James-Brown-meets-Muddy-Waters songs mostly from their excellent new album Scandalous. The saucy call-and-response of “Booty City” was a highlight, as was the heavy stomp of “You Been Lyin’,” but the band was a total revelation: the rhythm section was tight, the horns were consistently funky (their almost-coordinated dance moves were good fun, too), and Lewis’ guitar playing was out of control, displaying surprising dexterity and ferocity, at one point playing it with his teeth. The venue sadly had too many seats bolted to the floor: this is a band that demands to be seen in some sweaty club somewhere. Can’t wait for their next trip through town. Head to Amazon MP3 to download the deluxe version of Scandalous, which includes that great cover of “Stop Breakin’ Down.”

Amanda Palmer, Damian Kulash, Ben Folds and Neil Gaiman, a.k.a. the band / via amandapalmer.netThen it was time for the main event: Palmer, Folds, Kulash, and Gaiman (“the band,” as Palmer put it) took the stage in very good humor but in a near-delirious state thanks to the hectic songwriting/recording schedule of the preceding 24 hours. Their intent was to record 8 songs in 8 hours, hence 8in8, but as that became unrealistic, they settled for 6 songs in 12 hours: still a very respectable output. After a single solo number from each of them, including Gaiman reading his back cover prose from the Who Killed Amanda Palmer? album over the melody/rhythm of Folds’ “You Don’t Know Me” from Way To Normal and a performance by Palmer and 17-yr-old piano wunderkind Tristan Allen, the band got down to business: a slightly weary but very good-humored runthrough of 5 of the 6 completed songs from the resulting album, Nighty Night.

8in8, Nighty NightThe results were unsurprisingly great: “Nikola Tesla” has one of the most clever choruses I’ve ever heard (“Nikola Tesla/I wish you’d invent a/current that could activate my heart”), Folds added reliable dashes of silliness and maudlin to the Mockingbird Song-esque “Because the Origami,” and Gaiman even took the mic to provide an appropriately British voice to the Joan-of-Arc-themed march “The Trouble With Saints,” but the real standout of the evening was the Kulash-fronted “One Tiny Thing,” with its dark, spare arrangement (it recalls Ok Go’s “Hello My Treacherous Friends” in a very good way) and heartbreaking poetry about the end of a relationship: it’s a hell of a song, and it could/should be released as a single. Stream it below:

Head to Amanda Palmer’s Bandcamp page to download 8in8’s Nighty Night: the minimum donation is $1 to download the all 6 songs, and for the first 2 weeks of release, all proceeds are going to Berklee City Music Network, “a charity which provides kids with every opportunity to see their musical potential.” It’s great music, a good cause, and the price is right: do it!

A Modest Proposal

Steve Earle and Allison MoorerDear Steve Earle,

Don’t you think it’s about time for you to finally make a full album of duets with your wife, Allison Moorer? One listen to your new album I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, and it was instantly clear to me: rock-solid songwriting abounds, but “Heaven or Hell,” your duet with Moorer, is a cut above. I find your voice to be an underrated instrument, but it shines when given a foil like Moorer’s (the aforementioned “Heaven or Hell” and “Days Aren’t Long Enough” from Washington Square Serenade) or your sister Stacy’s (“When I Fall” from Transcendental Blues). You get better with a partner, she needs great material: it would be a Reese’s peanut butter cup of roots/folk awesomeness. Let’s get on that, hmm?

Love, Sam

P.S. — Anyone need convincing? Here’s a gorgeous acoustic rendering of “Days Aren’t Long Enough”:

Apparently you can teach a Wombat to play a synthesizer

Play them off, keyboard wombat!

Play them off, Keyboard Wombat!

… ’cause that’s the most noticeable upgrade to the Wombats’ sound on their new, better-than-I-thought-it-would-be album This Modern Glitch. The cheeky sense of humor and knack for impressively catchy hooks they displayed on their excellent 2007 debut A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation are both still firmly intact, but in the last four years, these Liverpudlians apparently listened The Killers’ Hot Fuss a LOT, because that album’s brand of anthemic, synth-heavy dance rock is in full effect here.

The Wombats, This Modern GlitchNot that it’s a bad thing at all: the bigger, bolder soundscape gives jaunty singles like “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)” and “Jump Into The Fog” even more earworm possibilities, and the expanded palette even finds the boys dabbling in balladry like “Anti-D.” This Modern Glitch is a nice surprise and a consistently good time. “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)” is definitely in the running for my best of ’11 mix:

Like what you hear? Head to Amazon MP3 and download This Modern Glitch.

Adele’s Tiny Desk Concert sounds HUGE

After watching Steve Earle’s Tiny Desk Concert on NPR.org yesterday, I clicked into their archives & found one featuring Adele from February. Backed only by hushed keys & guitars, she treats us to astonishingly powerful renditions of “Someone Like You,” “Chasing Pavements,” and “Rolling In The Deep.” Keep that voice in shape, lady: my wife & I have tickets to see you live next month and we’re looking forward to this show’s equal!

Click the photo below to watch the video & download an MP3:

Adele, Tiny Desk Concert / NPR

Steve Earle: “We used to make records for girls, now we make ’em for nerds”

Great ‘tween song banter about the vinyl pressing of Earle’s new album from his Tiny Desk Concert on NPR.org. He stopped by their studios to play a handful solo/acoustic numbers from I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, which is due in stores tomorrow (I know what I’m doing during my lunch break). Click on the photo below & you’ll be taken to NPR’s site where you can watch the video and download audio of the session, too.

Steve Earle, Tiny Desk Concert / NPR.prg