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Sunday, August 31, 2008

One Happy Island: Secret Party That The Other Party Doesn’t Know About (2008)

Oh what’s that? You mean you aren’t listening to the newest One Happy Island EP Secret Party That The Other Party Doesn’t Know About from the greatest little record lab Wee Pop? Not even on vinyl? That’s a shame, a damn shame.

For the less savvy, I’ll be sassy with you and tell you that this latest EP from the sloppy Boston popsters might be their best work yet. And did I mention that Wee Pop! Records coughed up the dough to do a 7” vinyl run? That’s gotta count for something right? Right.

The songs, well the first two tracks, “Temporary Tattoo” and “Earth’s Circumference,” knock it out of the park and are probably my two favorite One Happy Island tracks overall.

“Temporary Tattoo” has a lilt of melancholy that will draw you into the extended metaphor of temporary tattoo-as-friends/lovers sticking together. It’s a little complicated (the issue at hand), but with Rebecca Mitchell’s beautifully understated voice ghosted by Brad San Martin’s harmonies the song distills any silliness offered by its initial premise.

“Earth’s Circumference” draws the melancholy out even further with a slightly heartbreaking tale of distance-destroying-relationships. Brad and Rebecca exchange vocals quite effortlessly while an old school Casio keyboard anchors the entire dizzying affair on, well, Earth.

“Shorthand” and “Mothball” never quite reach the same heights as the first two songs, but “Mothball” still works well as a semi-cathartic closer that ultimately is a winner due to the odd little chorus where Rebecca, Brad and friends sing, “Do the mothball with me, Catherine/Make ‘em think we did every sedative in Birmingham/Do the mothball with me, Catherine/Do just stand there/Do just stand there.” It’s evocative enough to keep me wondering what exactly it means.

Secret Party That The Other Party Doesn’t Know About is a great little introduction to One Happy Island and I think with this EP this self-described sloppy DIY band from Boston has finally hit their stride in combining everything cute and sad and wonderful about pop music. Oh and did I mention that you can grab this album on vinyl?

One Happy Island-"Temporary Tattoo"

One Happy Island on Myspace
Order the VINYL on Wee Pop! Records

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hotpants Romance: It’s A Heatwave (2008)

Part of me really wanted to hate It’s A Heatwave by Hotpants Romance. What’s to like about the messiest, sloppiest kind of garage pop by three girls who can hardly sing? A lot actually. I mean on first listen you might be mortified, but Kate Armitage, Laura Skilbeck and Lowri Evans have so much charm and a “fuck it” kind of attitude I really started to almost love this record.

The opener “Hotpants No Chance” is a ridiculously brash, obnoxious, sweet and clever combo that really optimizes everything I love and hate about this band. Every song after pretty much follows suite and songs like “Sugar Dip” and “Heatwave” even turn it up to 11 and would make pretty fun live experiences.

“Effin’ + Jeffin’” and “Don’t Go” are almost too much for me to handle as you can’t even understand what Hotpants Romance are saying and “Stop Escaping” starts off in that same mesmerizing level of awfulness (starting off acapella too) before coalescing into what I’d say is the band’s most coherent and beautiful melody on It’s A Heatwave. It's a rewarding track that has become my favorite.

“I Don’t Wanna” is also a pretty little guitar-only number that sounds dirty if I could understand the lyrics. I enjoy that kind of suggestiveness.

I am probably notorious for not digging the albums released on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records (Cars Can Be Blue and The Smittens are exceptions), but what makes Hotpants Romance and their record It’s A Heatwave something memorable is its go for broke attitude, the “I don’t give a fuck we are going to make you dance” attitude that is complimented by the insane level of charm that exudes from every pore on their bodies.

Hotpants Romance-"Stop Escaping"

Hotpants Romance on Myspace!
Order It's A Heatwave on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Smittens: The Coolest Thing About Love (2008)

Hey folks, sorry about the mini-disappearing act, I've been busy with my potential career as filmmaker, but I am back as far as I know. Anyway onward with The Smittens!

Vermont’s most beloved band The Smittens has released a new album, much to the joy of lovers of Indie-Pop and Twee music, actually, much to the joy of everyone really. I usually am one to say critical writing can be done about anything, but with The Smittens’ The Coolest Thing About Love, I don’t know, I guess I’m having too much fun listening to really write out my thoughts.

With that said, they deserve heaps of praise. They have the art of melody down pat, unique and fun instrumentation, lyrics that are super sweet and more singers than you can shake a stick at.

More than anything else, I love the trifecta of singers, Colin, Dana and Max. Colin’s voice is something else, may take some getting used to, but over time you’ll love it. Dana has a sassy singing voice that isn’t oversaturated with fake sultriness. Max just has a kick ass bass register. All three come together harmoniously on songs like “The Interstate,” “Half My Heart Beats,” “C’mon! (When The Grass Grows Tall And Green),” and “Gumdrops.”

It’s not hard to understand where the Smittens come from on The Coolest Thing About Love, but I’m really happy about that. They are just a collection of cool kids doing what they love and I understand now how they can create such joyous music. I mean really, if you were able to travel the roads with your friends and make people smile, how could you not write about love, love and more love?

The Smittens are a special band and that they are a band is a testament to a lot of things, notably, music really does bring people together and not just on the surface either. I’m sure all the members aren’t sunshine and lollipops every second of the day, but at least on The Coolest Thing About Love, The Smittens channel every ounce of positive energy into a little microcosm of joy.

The Smittens-“C’mon! (When The Grass Grows Tall And Green)"

The Smittens on Myspace!
Order The Coolest Thing About Love on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records

Monday, August 11, 2008

Interview With Marc With A C

Foto by Blackstarlight

Marc Sirdoreus, former blogger/music critic but better known as Marc With A C has been playing for almost ten years now and recently released his latest album Linda Lovelace For President (comes with the Live At Stardust DVD too!). The record takes a more serious turn than any previous album, but it’s still got Marc’s classic and stripped down sensibilities. Most importantly it has some great tunes that I think are more rewarding in many ways than some of his older songs. You can read the rest of my review here.

But let’s get on with it shall we? Marc was kind enough to entertain my questions (many many questions) and I hope everyone will find them as enlightening as I did.

Foggy: How did you get started making music?

Marc: My grandmother bought me my first guitar when I was around twelve or so. It was the cheapest little Spanish guitar that wouldn't stay in tune. She tried to buy me a strap so I could wear it, but accidentally bought a saxophone strap for me instead. I didn't know any better, so I wrapped it around the back, attached it to the inside of the sound hole and went for it. My mom taught me some initial chords, and then I mostly learned to play from the tablature in classic rock songbooks, as well as a hearty amount of trial and error.

Around 14 or 15, I got really into writing and recording my own music under a different name, which eventually branched off into a somewhat unrelated band. There are probably hundreds of those tapes floating around, but I'm pretty embarrassed by them now and I'd prefer they just sort of disintegrated. It was all really whiny, angsty teenage stuff. I didn't have enough remove from the situations I was singing about to offer any real perspective, and my voice was unusually high for my age. Since I didn't really know how to control my voice at the time, I tried to push my range into something really gravelly - which is the exact opposite of what my vocal cords naturally want to do. So... bad songs, bad singing, bad lyrics.

Marc With a C as a solo persona was invented to kill time between acts at a local open mic night that I hosted. I wrote some silly little nerdy songs that were probably more honest than I wanted to admit - things like "Why Don't Girls Like Me" and "Left For Her". This persona became more of a draw than any musicians actually showing up to play, and it was a little surprising. I didn't really expect to be doing it this way ten years later.

The first Marc With a C "show" happened when a very popular local band didn't show up for their set on time. The promoter wanted someone to fill time, I offered my services, expecting to bomb. I opened with the theme to the Laverne & Shirley show and followed it up with an early version of "Victoria's Girls". Probably played for about 20 minutes or so. The crowd hooted and hollered, but... I didn't expect people to start booking me the very next day. I haven't really slowed down since.

Foggy: Do you think like a music critic (blogger) while making your music and vice-versa?

Marc: I suppose so. I'm certainly trying to capture experiences and feelings sort of condensing them into bite-size reviews of my life. I'm also elaborating on whether the subject affected me in a positive or negative light, usually. I've never really thought about it that way before... but I think you're totally dead on.

Foggy: As a writer who puts a lot of pop culture references in the songs do you wish listeners knew them all or do you think of it as a nice surprise for the nerdier fans?

Marc: My motto just sort of tends to be "the right people will get it". Although I'm often surprised by the references that people don't pick up on as much as I am shocked by what the listeners gravitate towards. I thought that my years of name checking The Who would have landed me a big following of fellow Who freaks, but it hasn't happened.

Sometimes, I don't even realize how many references I'm using! An interviewer once asked if I meant to refer to Winona Ryder three separate times on the Bubblegum Romance album... and I hadn't even thought about it until that very second. However, I get asked all the time about the line from "When My Ship Comes In". You know, if I really named our dog Meatwad. And the answer is yes.

Foggy: What do you do for a living besides making music, (formally) writing about music, and just plain being a cool guy?

Marc: Hah! You think I'm cool? Man... I'm the biggest dork on the planet, but thank you very much for putting that in print! Every job I have revolves around music in some way. I have been known to while away my time in record stores for employment, but that has ended for the time being. We're going to devote a lot of energy to Marc With a C work for a few months, and a regular job might not sit well with it.

Foggy: On the recently released Live At Stardust DVD you went on some hilarious little rants; are they planned or completely off the cuff?

Marc: Usually off the cuff. I might think of some stories I want to tell during the day before a show, but usually they are all long forgotten by stage time. Even when I tell some recurring stories, like the banter you'd hear before or during "Drunk Classic Rock Fans" or "Life's So Hard", I'm always improvising new bits. I rehearse as much as I can, but when I stand in front of a crowd that's as excited to see me as I am to see them? I'm just oozing happiness and I almost can't think straight. It's intoxicating, for sure, and that situation often leads to my mind going blank for the first few songs. But once I get talking during shows... all bets are off. Even I'm surprised by the things that come out of my mouth. I guess I'm just so excited to be there that I can't really shut up.

Foggy: Would you consider putting your discography online for free? Older stuff? All?

Marc: No. I give away a lot of music in the form of free "official bootlegs" on my site. I make as many of my concerts free as I possibly can. But making the official records entirely free, all the time? No, that's not really in the cards for me. I think in terms of albums for the most part, and giving it all away negates the cost of packaging and such for me. I grew up liking to buy records, tapes and CD's. That old guard mentality might be fading a bit in recent years, and I'm adapting as well as I can, but... I like record collections. I like for my albums to be part of someone's physical collection. If that vanishes? Half of what I love about music will have disappeared. It's likely that I'd quit altogether, at that point.

Foggy: What do you think of CLLCT (001Collective)?

Marc: I think it's a great idea. There's nothing wrong with putting together a supportive musical community, you know? Plus, the site looks great, and I always end up finding something new that I like there. I can only hope that it grows beyond the collective's wildest dreams. CLLCT is doing something very ballsy... and they're doing it right.

Foggy: Are blogs the modern equivalent of how radio used to operate?

Marc: In a way. They are sort of a cross between the CMJ magazine if every band referenced could fit a song on the monthly CD... and if everyone were listening to the same college radio station. The smart labels know that blogs have the power now, and they're playing the games they used to dabble in with radio. The not-so-smart labels, however? They are the ones afraid of sending you free records and CD's in the mail. They think that if they drop an MP3 in your blog's inbox, then dammit... you'd better write about it. And they will follow up until you are just fucking annoyed with the band themselves. Like the labels are doing the blogs the favors, hah. If you want press, you gotta be willing to model your product. Period. And that goes for even the smallest label running on no money whatsoever. If you can't be bothered to walk to the mailbox and send a prospective reviewer the thing you want to sell a kajillion copies of, then they shouldn't have to be bothered with writing about it. Radio wouldn't have put up with that crap in it's heyday, and the upstart blogs shouldn't be expected to either.

Foggy: So many people are obsessing about what direction the music business will take in the few years, but is "the end" really near as some people claim?

Marc: Only for the less savvy brick and mortar stores. You don't see Amazon pitching a fit about how CD sales are slipping. Folks still (mostly) buy music at shows to support touring bands. T-shirts aren't any less popular than they used to be. But to those people obsessing about what direction the industry is taking? I honestly better not ever hear a single fucking peep out of them. They shouldn't have time to talk about predicting these trends... they should be busy counting their no doubt gigantic stacks of money from saving their precious little industry if they are so damned smart.

But you're not seeing that, and you won't. Folks have been up in arms about the industry dying since the 8-track went out. Music will continue to exist, and people will pay to see other people perform it. As long as that doesn't go away, we're pretty much gonna be fine. Maybe the WEA system won't exist in ten years, but really good bands will still be doing just fine.

Foggy: Do you think the hipster record player fad will go away? Is reel to reel the next cool thing?

Marc: Hey, reel to reels were considered high-end audiophile equipment back in the day! But will this record fad fade? There's a lot of things to consider there, Steven. First of all, a lot of the teenagers buying their first records and turntables have grown up never paying for music at all. They get this stuff home and find out what it's like to have bought a slice of art. They see liner notes, big pictures all matched up with better fidelity than they have ever heard in their lifetime. I've watched the most "technologically advanced" iPhone-toting folks on the planet sell off practically everything they own to rebuy all of their digital music on wax, and it only gets bigger every day.

Having worked in the record store industry, I can say that there's not only been an obvious dip in CD sales... but also in what people are bringing to trade in at used shops. Folks are often only selling back compact discs for trade credit that they can spend on vinyl. You weren't seeing as many hot titles entering the used bins anymore, and the CD's that were selling the best were often the ones that you couldn't get on wax. While the stock of newly minted records has skyrocketed, the price surprisingly hasn't, unless the label is doing something special - colors, heavyweights, etc. Although... if it does all turn out to be a fad, we're gonna see the price of vinyl drop immensely, but there's also gonna be a lot of great used records out there that these kids are going to regret losing later. If vinyl loses its flavor... the industry is fucking sunk.

Foggy: Is it possible for another Elvis, Beatles or Nirvana, or is global success coupled with critical acclaim gone forever?

Marc: It's already happened again. We're just too close to it to realize it. Mark my words on this one... the next step in your Elvis, Beatles and Nirvana timeline will be In Rainbows. Not so much Radiohead, but moreso that album and its business model. Fans loved it, critics praised it to the hilt, and then once we all actually *heard* it...? Everyone almost unanimously agreed that it was at least pretty good. I can personally take or leave most of Radiohead's output, but I'm glad there's a band that hipsters and casual listeners of music can both agree on that doesn't suck eggs and doesn't treat their fans like idiots. It's very reminiscent of the Nirvana phenomenon in that way, and Radiohead is certainly selling more concert tickets than Nirvana ever did at their peak.

Foggy: Do you listen to your own music for pleasure?

Marc: Of course, man. I make records that I want to listen to. Probably not often enough to be a total narcissist, but I'll go a few months without listening to the recordings I've made, and then go through them all in a shot. This usually leads to me rediscovering a song or two that I'd forgotten all about. "Human Slushy" is a good example of that, and it started getting played live a lot more for that reason. My records are pretty good for driving, as they mostly last as long as the average Orlando car ride, and that's where I end up playing them. If I ever make a record that I don't want to listen to afterwords, I've done something very, very wrong.

Foggy: Favorite album of 2008 so far? Most anticipated?

Marc: I've really loved a few records this year... probably my favorite had been the newest Breeders album. The last Robert Pollard album, Off To Business, is pretty stellar as well. Other really pleasant surprises have been the new platters by Capstan Shafts, Retribution Gospel Choir and those Os Mutantes reissues. The upcoming stuff I'm looking forward to most? Easily, the new albums by All Girl Summer Fun Band and Juliana Hatfield. Especially the latter. Anytime Juliana puts out a new album, it deserves a fucking federal holiday.

Foggy: Seriously, Isn't Chris Zabriskie's album O Great Queen Electric, What Do You Have Waiting For Me? the best thing ever?

Marc: Yes, it is. And in some alternate universe, people are building shrines to him for making it. We just have to wait for the one in which we live in to catch up. That record is a masterpiece, hands down.

Foggy: What is your relationship with Chris? What was it about those three songs he had written that made you want to put them on Linda Lovelace For President?

Marc: We're best friends, we're bandmates, we're family. I think that Chris Zabriskie is the finest songwriter I have ever having the pleasure of knowing personally. As far as why his three compositions made it to the last Marc With a C album, it's a bit of a long story, so let me give you a quick overall summation...

At the same time that I was putting together the ideas behind Linda Lovelace For President, Chris was putting together ideas for the second record by another band we did for awhile: lo-fi is sci-fi. Further activities for that nomenclature were put on indefinite hiatus, but I felt a very close kinship to three of the demos he'd given me. I knew that LLFP was going to center around spiritual turmoil and disconnect from the world at large... and to boil it down simply? Chris wrote better musical statements on those things than I had. I begged, pleaded and groveled to use the songs, Chris allowed them to be used for Marc With a C, and the tunes became crowd favorites instantaneously.

You can't dance around the fact that two people as close as we are will likely be on similar pages creatively. I can't thank Chris enough for those tracks... they helped me to express the rest of the sentiments on the album, and LLFP as an album would not and could not exist without his compositions. He wrote the glue. The same should be said about his work on the DVD that accompanies the album, Live At Stardust. Without his editing skills, that film would simply not exist, period. He's the best.

Foggy: So Linda Lovelace For President has been out for a bit now and is even available as a hardcopy, any new thoughts on the album? New revelations?

Marc: Not really. I got out a lot of things that I wanted to express on this album, and to me... it almost plays like the second disc of Normal Bias. I think it's a really good collection of lo-fi pop songs, and I'm every bit as proud of it as I was when the tape ran out at the end of the album. Which is very audible on the title track! The real revelations are what listeners make of it from here on out, you know?

Foggy: What's next for Marc With A C?

We have a lot of things cooking at Mw/aC HQ. Ultimately, we'd like to do some road shows for the first time in quite awhile, and we've already started in on that. I would like to finally complete the Shock Treatment album that I've been working on for, oh, ten years? Hah. For a guy that writes and records as much as I do, I don't nearly come close to completing it all. If I did, I wouldn't have time for my friends and family, you know? I will say this, though... for the first time, I would like to just sort of focus on showcasing and enjoying the stuff I've created as Marc With a C, and not so much just jumping head first into a new album or project. There's so much left to do with what we've already made. That's a really exciting place to be in your creative life, and a first for me.

Thanks Marc for answering my questions and I hope all you readers have lots of food for thought to chew on. Look forward to news about Marc With A C's tenth anniversary. I heard he has something special planned.

Marc With A C-“Classic Country Wasn't Multitracked In '61”
Marc With A C-"I Tried To Die Young"

Older Marc With A C posts on Foggy Ruins Of Time
Marc With A C site
Marc With A C on Myspace!
Chris Zabriskie site

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

One Year Anniversary, Updates, (Very) Old Poll Results and New Poll

View from The Studio, my venue of residence in Isla Vista, California.

Hey kids I’m back in good ol’ Santa Barbara and maybe, just maybe I can get back on a regular schedule. Then again was this blog ever on a regular schedule?

Foggy Ruins Of Time is now a year old (actually a few days ago, but still)! I remember being inspired by so many blogs out there who sadly aren’t with us anymore. But, I shall carry on the torch and continue bringing you faithful readers the most in-depth reviews of DIY music, Lo-Fi music and anything else that comes my way. Thank you all for making this something fulfilling and a necessary part of my day. I am a better writer because of it. Not to mention all of the great music discovered and friendships made.

Let’s finish up that poll from a zillion years ago:

It makes me happy that a majority of you readers said that “Indie” isn’t a genre. For those who said “yes,” what are the qualities of the “Indie” genre? For those who said “Not anymore,” I really want to know what that means.

So what’s on the plate in the next few weeks? For album reviews:

Patrick Ripoll’s Spawning
The Smittens: The Coolest Thing About Love
Hotpants Romance: It’s A Heatwave

Plus a slew of Wee Pop! Records releases. Damn it’s hard to keep up with Thor and Camila’s impressive output these days. Just too many good bands including secondary releases by One Happy Island and The Just Joans as well as the debut record of Let’s Whisper. I know you all can’t wait.

Also I will probably be ready soon to write my review for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, this summer’s other masterpiece.

But the biggest news of all is I have two interviews in the works, that’s right, two! Marc With A C was kind enough to answer my questions and give us some food for thought and some terrific insights into many many things. The second interview is a dual interview between Star Dell’Era of The Elated Sob Story fame and me (as my music moniker Existential Hero). What’s even better is that it is a video interview. Exciting? You bet it is…

Oh and a new layout soon!

The Roots-"Birthday Girl"

Marc With A C on Myspace!
The Elated Sob Story on Myspace!
Existential Hero on Myspace!

Cars Can Be Blue: Doubly Unbeatable (2008)

Initially I was turned off by Cars Can Be Blue’s new record Doubly Unbeatable (Their second record on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records). The bitterness displayed in this collection of songs is so palpable you feel like you’re trekking through a swamp. Luckily Cars Can Be Blue gives you a speedboat of garage band rocking and razor sharp melodies to hurl you through the muck.

The first six tracks of Doubly Unbeatable are a near flawless display of Pop and Rock music in ultimate synergy. Did I mention that these songs are fueled by bitter sarcasm? Check out “Coat Tails” a song calling out second-rate bands clinging to bigger bands for the press. It even includes the necessary Pitchfork bashing too. I love the descending melody as Becky Ann Brooks sings, “I don’t care about that stuff/I’ve heard you talk and I’ve heard enough/blow out the candles on your birthday cake and wish yourself away/from me.” She’s got a practical voice and never wastes a single breath.

On “Hope Your Hurting,” Cars Can Be Blue doesn’t waste anytime uttering the refrain, “I hope your hurting now/I hope you hurt right now.” They're the kind of lines we all like singing along with no matter our disposition. Even a line like, “I’m not saying that I hate you/Just because I can’t date you,” gets a lot of mileage because it cuts straight to the point.

Cutting straight to the point hits a ridiculously ridiculous level on the next track, “Pretty Special” when Becky calls out girls with groupie like behavior pleading with them, “Please put that pussy down/Cuz it’s been all over town/And if you don’t give it a rest/Have fun checking that pregnancy test.” Ouch, pretty harsh don’t you think? Though I like the way she sings the phrase, “You get them all with your big vagina,” so I’m just as guilty.

“Ribbon” is pretty addicting with its thrashy instrumental nature and when Becky and Nate start shouting something about “Ribbon on your car!" it’s pure, animalistic and fun.

At this point on Doubly Unbeatable Cars Can Be Blue start singing about penises, calling out fat people, cheap people and even attempt at trying to sell us merch. “Seems We’re Breakin’ Up” wraps things up nicely and puts a smart perspective on the entire album, or the band anyway.

The first half of Doubly Unbeatable is pure gold and even if its bitter sarcasm isn’t your cup of tea, trust me it will be when you press play. There is something to be said about carrying this kind of manic energy and bitter sarcasm I just hope for Becky and Nate’s sake that they aren’t stewing in this stuff when sitting at home. It certainly can't get out of my head.

Cars Can Be Blue-"Hope Your Hurting"

Cars Can Be Blue on Myspace!
Buy Doubly Unbeatable on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records