The Cave Singers

The Cave Singers released their 3rd album this week, No Witch, on Bon Iver’s independent Jagjaguar label. It follows in the footsteps of their previous releases, further honing their rootsy folk-Americana sound, but with more variety in their delivery (touches of a harmonium, viola, gospel singers, etc) and a deeper, richer sound coaxed out of the studio. All three of their albums form a cohesive vibe that alternates between sunny & optimistic and spooky & droning -- a vibe I better grasped after seeing them perform their songs live on stage in Bellingham, Washington last fall. I was most impressed by the amount of gravitas and a sense of restrained, almost throttled, power that seethed from the singer’s delivery. Their music gave the sense of something desperate or unbalanced lurking just beneath the simple surfaces of their songs.

Here is a video I shot and edited from their performance:

And here is a sampler mix of five songs from
No Witch to whet your appetite:


Neil Young's Archives Vol. I

In the wake of Bob Dylan's successful 1985 expanded anthology Biograph, it seemed like every rock artist of note was lining up for CD box-set canonization. And true to his reputation as a futurist, David Bowie tried to outdo them all with 1989's Sound + Vision, which supplemented the usual greatest-hits-plus-rarities format with a bonus disc of visual content that would showcase the glorious new CD-Video format. There was only one problem with his attempt to revolutionize the box set: no one knew what the hell a CD-Video disc was, let alone owned any kind of device that would allow one to view it.

It was around this same time that Neil Young started talking up an ambitious career-retrospective project called Archives, and given the amount of unreleased songs Young routinely dusted off in his concerts, fans had come to expect nothing less than a parallel-universe repertoire every bit as rich and deep as his official one-- a Decade to last for decades. But as gleaned by anyone who's gone to a Neil Young show expecting to hear the hits but treated to an hour of Greendale instead, being a Neil fan requires a certain amount of patience. Twenty years since its first public mention, Archives has gone on to usurp even Chinese Democracy as the ultimate lost-album punchline. But the long-delayed arrival of this first volume seems less a matter of archeology as technology. And like the Bowie box, there's some confusion about how exactly you're supposed to use the thing.

Neil Young is an odd sort of perfectionist, favoring a raw immediacy in his recordings that often means leaving the mistakes in for purity's sake, but he's obsessed with making sure those mistakes are mixed and mastered to sometimes unattainable standards of fidelity. (He refused to release arguably his finest album, 1974's On the Beach, on CD until 2003 for this reason.) So it appears that the advent of Blu-ray HD audio technology was the missing piece that has allowed Neil to realize his multimedia masterplan for Archives. What little public comment he's made about Archives' release has taken the form of evangelical praise for the medium, urging fans to adopt the new technology like a Best Buy salesman working on commission.

The first volume of Archives arrives as a 10-disc set, spanning the first 10 years of Young's career and, somewhat confusingly, three different formats. For the most ardent audiophiles, there's the $300 multimedia-enhanced Blu-ray edition that includes six compilation discs; the previously released Live at the Fillmore East and Live at Massey Hall; an additional solo concert recorded in 1969 at the Riverboat coffeehouse in Toronto (though it boasts a tracklist similar to last year's Live at Canterbury House set, also included here as an unlisted bonus throw-in); the first DVD release of Young's infamous tour-documentary-cum-existential-road-flick, Journey Through the Past; plus online-update capabilities through which users will have access to more material.

For equally fervent fans with inferior home-entertainment set-ups, there's a $200 version boasting all of the above musical and multimedia content in a DVD format. And for those who just want some Neil on-hand in the car to soundtrack future road trips forevermore, there's a basic eight-disc $100 CD box with all the tunes but none of the extras. (All versions come with mp3 download codes, though we all know how Neil feels about iPods.)

Regardless of the format, each version of Archives makes the same convincing case: For Neil Young, the years of 1963 to 1972 were marked by a rapid maturation and a series of successful stylistic reinventions that rivaled the Beatles. Starting out as the surf-rockin' frontman for Winnipeg garage combo the Squires, he quickly transitioned into the folkie busker cutting early demos of "Sugar Mountain" for Elektra Records in 1965; the wide-screened psychedelic visionary in Buffalo Springfield; the savage electric warrior of 1969's Crazy Horse debut, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; the heroic hippie wingman for Crosby, Stills and Nash; and then the country-rock traditionalist of 1970's After the Gold Rush and 1972's Harvest. On top of summarizing a tidy 10-year span, Archives Vol. 1 ends symbolically with Neil at his commercial peak, before a growing disillusionment with rock stardom and the death of close friends would usher in a more darkly compelling phase of his career......
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Pearl Jam's "Release"

For nearly 20 years and running, I've been listening to Pearl Jam's album "Ten." There's a good chance you have been too. "Ten" has become on of the 30-something generation's touchstone albums, defining of your "young adulthood," a time when many of us are opening up to the power of music in new ways. The records we hear in this fertile period tend to stick with us over the long haul, becoming emblematic and representative of something larger than itself. Pearl Jam's debut album "Ten," along with "Nevermind," "Blood Sugar Sex Magic," "Ritual de lo Habitual" and "Badmotofinger."

The song "Release" is the closing track, winding things down after 10 tracks of unbelievably passionte and driving rock 'n roll. It started a tradition of P. Jam ending most of their album with a seriously smoldering slow jam that highlights the pleading sincerity of Eddie Vedder. We bring it to your attention now because P. Jam have recently released a remastered/remixed version of "10," with new renditions of oldish classics handled by Brendan O'Brien, their long-time producer. I'm curious to hear which version you like the best, and to make things more interesting, I've tossed in 2 live versions too. If you have any feedback on the different takes on "Release," or on P. Jam and "Ten" in general, leave yer thoughts in the comments.

Release (1992)

Release (2009)

Release (Live in Chicago 2003)

Release (Live at Bonaroo 2008)

(Click to play)

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Looking back...

Favorite Jams of 2008
as selected in an alley by members of the SBWS

Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes at WWU.

DJ Fundi
Top 10 Tier

Fleet Foxes "Sun King" + self-titled
Al Green "Lay It Down"
Gnarls Barkley "The Odd Couple"
Stephen Malkmus "Real Emotional Trash"
Erykah Badu "New Amerykah"
Cat Power "Jukebox"
Flying Lotus "Los Angeles"
Girl Talk "Feed the Animals"
Bon Iver "For Emma, Forever Ago"
Q-Tip "The Renaissance"

Second 10 Tier
DJ/rupture "Uproot"
"The Very Best" mixtape by Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit (available for free download at
The Roots "Rising Down"
Jamie Lidell "Jim"
Dusk + Blackdown "Margins Music"
The B-52's "Funplex"
Bob Dylan "Tell Tale Signs" (B-sides, outtakes, rarities, etc.)
Toumani Diabate "The Mande Variations"
Neil Young "Sugar Mountain : Live at Canterbury House 1968"
Quantic "Flowering Inferno"

Honorable mentions: Orchestra Baobab, Santogold, Amadou & Mariam, Nina Simone boxset
Best concert experiences of 09: Bassnectar in B'ham, Fleet Foxes at WWU, Horning's Hideout bluegrass festival in OR, John Scofield in Vancouver
Biggest disappointments: Beck, My Morning Jacket, Thievery Corporation & Michael Franti

Click here to listen to a Rhapsody playlist based on the SBWS Favorite Songs of 2008 lists.

More lists after the jump...
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Flying Lotus

Steven Ellison is a tall, soft-spoken twenty-five-year-old who works under the name Flying Lotus. As part of a peer network, with outposts in Los Angeles, Montreal, and Glasgow, Ellison is helping to lead a small group of producers toward a new strain of hip-hop. He has been signed to the highly regarded London-based label Warp, which made a name in the nineties by releasing esoteric electronic recordings by Autechre and Aphex Twin. Ellison and his contemporaries have come up with a fusion of the extreme detail allowed by software programming (fractal spidering of sounds, a backdrop of crackles, and prickling, feverish rhythms no human hands could play) and the bedrock thump of hip-hop, the grounding beat that has bled into almost all pop music in the world. Ellison’s Flying Lotus releases this year—an album titled “Los Angeles” and a series of EPs—are a good index of how one branch of hip-hop is going to move into the next decade, detaching itself from traditional hip-hop rhyming and forming new splinter genres.

To listen to Flying Lotus' "Essential Mix" for BBC Radio One, visit Radio Free Fundi.
To listen to Flying Lotus' remix of Radiohead's "Reckoner,
click right here.
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Fleet Fox Mania!!

I've been listening to both
Fleet Foxes albums a ton over the past 2 months or so -- especially am fond of the debut EP "Sun Giant," and on that release, I am insatiably hooked on the tunes "Mykonos" and "Innocent Son." I liked this band plenty-- their comforting sound, unique songwriting, creative instrumentation and especially the CSNY-esque vocal harmonies -- but after seeing them live last night here in Bellingham....well, now it is serious. Freekin' A: they sounded good -- strong, clear, rousing, and the power of their harmonies sung live, with the full bellows of their lungs, was almost startling. The venue they played in -- the Performing Arts Center on the campus of Western Washington University -- was designed for the ultimate sound -- it is often used for classical and other acoustic performances. The Foxes filled the whole space -- which was packed to the rafters with mostly students, but folks of all ages too -- with a warm, reverberating sound that I could literally feel resonating in my chest. Because I went to the show solo, I was able to score a seat in the front row center, so was on the front lines of their performance.

They talked quite a bit between songs -- conversations with old friends they knew in the audience, gently poking fun at the Society for Creative Anachronisms (Dungeons & Dragons, but in real life), Bruce Springsteen and college kids -- and mentioned several times they felt uncomfortable playing a college auditorium, as opposed to a club, with the crowd invisible to them because of the lighting.

"I wonder if, like, you're all a college class studying us, and everybody knows it but us," a Fox wondered. From then on, the crowd shouted "A+!" or "extra credit!" when they played a particularly good song or told a good joke.

Another thread of conversation through the performance was the lead singer, who was donning a too-small, uncomfortable-looking red jacket, talking about a wardrobe malfunction. "I'm wearing this red jacket because I lost all of my other clothes," he sighed. Later he wondered aloud, "How did I lose all my clothes?"

Anyways, you can download or stream a live Fleet Foxes concert from this past summer over at
the Live Archive (thanks NPR!) I have video of them performing the excellent song "Mykonos" in Bellingham posted at YouTube and a few photos over at Flickr.

The sound on this video is pretty shoddy -- the music was loud, I was in the front row, my camera is cheap -- but the vocal harmonies at minutes 2:00 and 3:25 sound rather marvelous.

This one here features lead singer Robin Pecknold singing s song solo and unplugged. Only problem was that my memory card filled up about halfway through the song! Obviously, my pirating skills need some work -- AAAAaaaaaarrrrrrRRRrrr!

Even more videos and stuff after the jump...
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Bill Frisell in Bellingham

Can sound take on physical form? Does it have texture? How about temperature? Can one actually
taste music?

I expect to answer these questions, and other ones I haven't thought of yet, next week when Bill Frisell sits down to play his guitar in the redwood sanctuary of the Church House.
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Prince at Coachella

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"Return of the Rock Lobsters"

By Marc Spitz/
The New York Times

(Listen to The B-52's live on stage in Montego Bay, Jamaica, circa 1982 and preview their new album "Funplex" over at the Podcast Cafe's Live Archive!)

A harsh wind is blowing around the four members of the B-52s as they view Lower Manhattan from a seventh-floor observation balcony at the New Museum, which rises over a nearby flophouse on a gentrifying stretch of the Bowery. From this height, they can see every newly opened bar, cafe and boutique. “The neighborhood didn’t look anything like this,” said the guitarist Keith Strickland, 54, referring to the late 1970s, when these new wave pioneers from Athens, Ga., first conquered the downtown rock scene. “I walked out this morning and said, ‘Where am I?’ ”
A few minutes earlier, the band, which also includes the vocalists Kate Pierson, 59, Cindy Wilson, 51, and Fred Schneider, 56, had traveled a few short blocks south from the retro-chic Bowery Hotel, which opened on the site of a former gas station last year. Along the way, the four had passed the shuttered storefront of CBGB, the punk club, now defunct, where fans in Fiorucci dresses and vintage sharkskin suits lined up to hear the band’s primal yet lyrically futurist dance-rock. “Oh, CBGBs,” Ms. Wilson said mournfully.

“Kiss it for luck,” Mr. Strickland said to Mr. Schneider.

“I’m not kissing that,” he replied with a mock shudder.

On the eve of “Funplex” (Astralwerks), the band’s first studio release in 16 years, the B-52s are reckoning with a new frontier that barely resembles the one they imagined on optimistic tracks like their 1983 single “Song for a Future Generation.” “We have to jump back into the void we left behind,” Mr. Schneider said. “We’ve gone through three different types of music eras or styles since we put out our last album. People watched MTV. Now everyone’s on the In-ter-net.”

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Erykah Badu's "New Amerykah"

Erykah Badu transforms the flotsam and jetsam of hip-hop.
by Sasha Frere-Jones/The New Yorker

On a Monday evening in August of 1996, I went to see the Roots perform at the Knitting Factory, in downtown Manhattan. The band had come from Philadelphia for a three-night stand in support of their “illadelph halflife” album. At one point during the set, I noticed a tall woman with an enormous head wrap standing in the front row of the crowd. Toward the end of the evening, the group’s bassist, Leonard (Hub) Hubbard, gestured for the woman to come onstage. The lead rapper, Tariq (Black Thought) Trotter, announced, “This is a friend of ours from Dallas, Texas. Her name is Erykah Badu.”Keep Reading...

Dubstep revealed

Evolving and Mutating, Dubstep Splits Cells and Gives Life to Dance Floors

You could tell this wasn’t a normal dance party because the music kept doing something strange: stopping. The record would spin backward, the dancers would cheer, the D.J. would pause, and then the song would start again, from the top. This crowd-teasing technique — the rewind — has long been a major element of reggae concerts and parties. And as a few hundred dancers were reminded on Friday night, it also lives on in the reggae-influenced electronic genre known as dubstep, which has sprouted around London over the last few years.

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