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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: NOAH & the WHALE - Heart Of Nowhere

NOAH & the WHALE - Heart Of Nowhere (Mercury UK May 7, 2013)

The Twickenham band continues in the same light-pop-meets-arena-sing-alongs of 2011's wonderful Last Night On Earth, choosing not to vary the sound much.

On their fourth album, Noah & the Whale songs push and pull between intimate folky pop and big, swing-for-the-fences arena-ready sing-alongs. Often that struggle happens in the same song. It doesn't always work, but when it does, the results are exceptionally wonderful. At their best, Noah & the Whale is one of the strongest British acts currently making records. At their worst, the songs are still enjoyable, but a bit generic and samey. Tying it all together are the lyrics, which are interesting character studies and stories of people looking for hope, love, and inspiration.

I'm a big fan of 2011's Last Night on Earth. It was my #5 album of the year and hardly a month has passed since that I haven't played it. But even then I called it really good "empty calorie feelgood pop". Noah & the Whale started out as part of England's new folk indie pop scene of the mid part of the last decade, but quickly evolved into a more anthematic band with bigger production and songs with a wider reaching scope. The songs are catchy and instantly likable; uplifting despite the underlying melancholia that Charlie Fink's vocals veer toward. The songs are given extra depth thanks to a balance of organic performances and electronic drums and synth flourishes and smatterings of bouncy strings.

Part of me wishes that Noah & the Whale would vary their sound a little more. On their own every song is solid, but back-to-back they tend to blend together. Especially on the slower songs that don't have driving rhythms and larger-than-life choruses. That being said, Heart of Nowhere is an album deserving of many plays and Noah & the Whale are band ready for a larger audience.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: WAVVES - Afraid of Heights

WAVVES - Afraid of Heights (Warner Bros)

The San Diego band's fourth album is an adrenaline rush of angsty guitar charged beach pop fun with hyper melodies.

Wavves' supercharged slacker punk pop sounds like a more reckless version of Weezer. They have no shortage of oversized hooks or bratty exuberance, filling every song with sing-along choruses with pogo inducing energy. They create the illusion that it could all fall apart at any second, but rather than sounding dangerous they come off as good natured trouble makers.

Much has been made of this being the band's first album for a major label and their working with a name producer in John Hill (Pink, Santigold. MIA, Devo, Christina Aguilera). The band's sound is tighter and cleaner, but it still has most of the lofi edge of their earlier work. I'm not sure if it's possible to make a big production values lo-fi record, but if it is, this is it. Much of what makes the label transition work so well is  frontman/songwriter Nathan Williams' sharper focus and coming in with a great batch of songs.

Individually every single song is solid and worth hearing. The only problem I have with the record is that it gets a bit samey. There's not much variety in the arrangements or production, so everything sort of blends together into one grungy sugar rush. That being said, it's one of my most played albums of the year hits the spot when I'm up for some angsty fun.

Monday, May 20, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: MAN OR ASTRO-MAN? - Defcon 5...4...3...2...1

MAN OR ASTRO-MAN? - Defcon 5...4...3...2...1 (Warm Electronic Recordings)

Auburn, Alabama's #1 Sci-Fi-Spy-Surf group return with their first album in a dozen years and a slightly more muscular sound.

It was a hell of a great surprise to find out that Man or Astro-Man? were back together and had a new album out. They've played a few shows and released a few singles since reuniting in 2010, but somehow that news never made it to me. The band has evolved in several ways since their last album. They're a bit more rocking this time round and at times deliberately downplay their surfy roots in favor of grungier indie rock. They've practically abandoned the found sound movie drop-ins that were one of their trademarks. And they've put more emphasis on vocals - almost half of the songs here have vocals. If the band name wasn't on the cover I don't think I would guessed who this was. There are some very classic Man or Astro-Man moments, but there is also a little lo-fi electronica and even some poor man's Sonic Youth. The album doesn't always work, but when it does, it's quite fun. When it doesn't quite work it's still interesting, but I'm not sure how often I'll return to it once the novelty of having a new Man or Astro-Man? album wears out.

The song below is one of the more traditional Man or Astro-Man moments from the new album.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Here's another batch of my favorite album covers. These are listed in no particular order. These aren't necessarily the greatest album covers of all time, just the ones that for one reason or another totally work me.

[ PART ONE here ]

ABOVEthe Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed (1969) I've always loved that weird Robert Brownjohn sculpture with the overloaded record-changer spindle topped off with a cake. Although I've got to be honest - I had that album for ten years before I realized the whole thing on was several different items and not just a cake. Here's a brief piece from the Daily Mail about the artwork going up for auction, which also has a picture of the design sketch.

ABOVE LEFT:  Big Black - Atomizer (1986) So simple, but effective and funny as hell.
ABOVE RIGHTthe Cramps - Bad Music For Bad People (1984) - great drawing from Stephen Blickenstaff

ABOVEXTC - Black Sea (1980) A fabulous band photo that really stood out compared to most of the covers of the time. The band's name doesn't directly appear, but it is hinted at in the seagull, ship's mast, and the moon partially obscured by the weather balloon. I've had two different versions of the album (one with a green paper outer sleeve and one in a black plastic outer sleeve - both of which I've lost over the years.

ABOVE LEFT:  the Clash - the Clash (1977) One of my friends has drawn my attention to album covers that perfectly LOOK like what they sound like (his example of this best being illustrated is Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps). When you see the first Clash album cover, with the distressed Kate Simon photo, the torn edges, an the bold band logo, you know exactly what it's going to sound like. 
ABOVE RIGHTDonald Byrd - A New Perspective (1963) Design and photo by the incredibly talented Reid Miles. Really, I have to limit myself on Reid Miles cover faves to keep this just being a Reid Miles collection. 

ABOVE LEFT:  New Order - Power, Corruption and Lies (1983) The UK version without the text - one of Peter Seville's best. Using Henri Fantin-Latour's "A Basket of Roses" as a base.
ABOVE RIGHTthe Replacements - Let It Be (1984) A great band photo by Daniel Corrigan taken on the roof of Bob & Tommy Stinson's Mom's house.

ABOVEMadness - One Step Beyond (1979) Another one of my favorite band photo's ever! Madness in full Nutty Train mode. although not with Chas Smith (who hadn't officially joined the band yet, although it's his dance moves featured on the back cover).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sometimes it's the simple things...restocked on new pocket notebooks

I stopped by Coudal offices yestersay to restock on Field Notes books. The Graph Paper is my go-to for notes, but I also picked up a few Plain Paper pads (regular and the Red Blooded) to use for doodling. But since I'm a creature of habit, I've already started in on one of the graph paper books for doodles. Started with the cover (pictured below) and ready to start doodling on the paper inside.

Field Notes memo book cover doodled and ready for action

Even though I have no practical need for water/tear proof paper I couldn't resist picking up some Expedition Editions too. They don't hold ink from any of my regular pens very well, so for now they're just to hold, cherish, and wish I had a need for them.

My current obsessive notebook traveling rotation is pictured below.

The Anal Retentive Notebook Horder

Always with me are three pocket memo books from Field Notes (a Red Blooded graph paper for notes, and the classic version in plain and graph paper for dodling). Pictured here they're banded with a highlighter and a few UniBall Signo's - my current pen d'jour.

In my messenger back there is always a Moleskine Folio A4 Sketchbook (for doodles and drawing) and two Moleskine Folio Ruled Note Pads (one for writing and one for journaling). Also in my messenger bag at all times is a meshbag with 20-30 various pens and markers (my paper addiction comes second to my pen and marker addiction). Each of those notebooks have a few post-it notes on the inside covers and a few index cards in back. The A4 sketchbook also has a traveling morgue file collection of about 20 pages of random drawing fodder and inspriation.

Seeing that in writing makes it seem even crazier than it already appeared.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


HOUSE OF LOVE - She Paints Words In Red (Cherry Red)

House of Love deliver beautiful jangly psychedelia with rich pastoral melodies and their best album since the 1990 self titled album (aka Fonatana/Butterfly)

House of love took their time between 2005's underrated comeback album and the follow up, but the results are well worth the wait. I was a big fan of Days Run Away, putting it at #6 in 2005 year end list (which with hindsight might have been a bit too eager on my part). The songs were individually quite strong, but it was missing something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Upon first listen of She Paints Words In Red I realized what was missing from Days Run Away was the overall feel. The new album FEELS like a House of Love record. It lures you in the way the first two albums did, and it captivates in a way that you could lose yourself in the grooves.

Middle aged House of Love are mellower. Acoustic guitars play a larger role now than ever before. But that only adds to the elegant pastoral sound that hits right in Guy Chadwick's sweetspot. There are still plenty of shimmering guitars, but they're more relaxed and organic. 2013 House of Love make jangly psychedelia with roots in 1990's Britpop, but now they're letting their mid 60's influences stretch out more. I hear bits of Rain Parade and the Church on much of the album, with a few songs dipping into the same terrain as Robyn Hitchcock or mid 80's REM. She Paints Words in Red is hardly an adventurous album, but it's one that feels perfectly natural for House of Love and exactly the type of album I hoped for.

"Cat Poo Valentine" and other new pictures

Here  a few pics from my walk today.

Patrolled Guards Dogs Prosecuted

Litter Comics


Eleven Lock Lock

And as a bonus, here's a pic of a single heart shaped poo that one of our cats left for us by our front door. I was not aware of their fecal craftsmanship.

Cat Poo Valentine

Friday, May 10, 2013


BOMBINO - Nomad (Nonesuch) 

Mesmerizing desert blues from the highly talented West African guitarist/singer's third album gets a little help from the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.

Like many Westerners, I first became aware of Tuareg desert blues through the music of the genre's breakout group, Tinariwen. That band's 2007 album Aman Iman was a personal favorite and one of my most played albums for the next year or so. I picked up several other Tuareg albums, most notably the Tinariwen followups and albums by Etran Finatawa and Tartit. But they lacked the charm of Aman Iman, or sounded just a bit too similar. I've been looking for a new Tuareg record to get excited about ever since, and I finally found one in Nomad, the third album from Omara "Bombino" Moctar.

Bombino is a singer-songwriter and gifted guitarist from Agadez, Niger, who plays traditional Tuareg melodies. But the plays them with a few subtle differences than most of contemporaries that make his sound a bit more Western friendly. The layered guitar lines serpentine throughout the songs, playfully dancing with the hypnotic rhythms. Two percussionists and plenty of hand claps in various tempo African time signatures drive the songs, but it's the sinewy acoustic and electric guitars that really captivate. That and Bombino's relaxed vocals, occasionally chanted, but always sung in sung in his native Tamashe.

One of the thing that separates Nomad from other Tuareg recordings is the addition of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys behind the producer's desk. Recorded in Nashville, he gives Bombino lots of freedom to do what he does best, capturing the loose and flowing vibe of the music. But he adds very subtle bits that fill out the sound. There's a little bit of pedal steel, some vibes, an occasional organ riff, and I'm sure he encouraged the use of a few extra guitar pedals. Much like he did so well with Dr John last year, Auerbach nudges Bombino more than directing him, allowing the artist's organic energy to ultimately decide where the journey ends. In this case, it ends with a very enjoyable and uplifting album that I'm sure I'll be playing for many years to come.

Shuffle-a-gogo: MP3 randomness

I'm in a shuffle mood. Pretty simple concept: set the MP3 player on shuffle and post the first ten songs.

1. PRETENDERS - Private Life (Pretenders 1980) The Pretenders debut is about as perfect as a record gets. One of the best debuts ever.

2. QUEEN - Another One Bites the Dust (the Game 1980) I remember walking to Rainbow Records in Darien to buy this single and being very bummed they didn't have it in stock. I think that's what prompted me to finally join the Columbia Record club since the Game was featured in their current ads.

3. DAVID BOWIE - It Ain't Easy (Ziggy Stardust 1972) For some reason this song is sounding even more awesome than usual this morning. It might be a Ziggy morning once this shuffle is over (Bowie's Ziggy, not the pantless Tom Wilson cartoon character).

4. the RIFLES - Peace & Quiet (No Love Lost 2006) High energy pop from London with ringing guitars and oversized hooks. This was one of my favorite albums of 2006 and I was pretty confident this band was going to be huge. I can't imagine them not being insanely fun live.

5. the dB's - Live is For Lovers (Like This 1984) Pop perfection - this is up there with "starry Eyes", "Radiation Vibe", and "Yellow Pills" as one of the all time great pop singles.

6. the dB's - the Fight (Stands for Decibels 1981) A dB's twofer! This Peter Holsaple song is a big fave from the first album. Actually, I can call anything from the first 3 dB's albums a big fave.

7. ARCWELDER - Remember to Forget (Pull 1993) This underrated Minneapolis trio is one of my favorite American bands of the era and I've never understood why they didn't get more attention. The have a powerful rhythm section and a slightly dissonant wall of sound, but with hooks worthy of any great power pop band. Wearing my Arcwelder t-shirt has been rationed to extend it's life - I'll be sad when the day comes that it's gone through the washer one too many times.

8. the COLURFIELD - Take (Virgins and Phillistines 1985) Maybe the Ziggy morning will go on hold for a Terry hall day. Hmmmm....

9. TOMMY KEENE - Nothing Happened Yesterday (Places That Are Gone EP 1984) Sorry Terry Hall, now it's going to be a Tommy Keene morning. Tommy is one of the most reliable musicians out there.

10. the RECORDS - Keeping Up With the Jones (Music on Both Sides 1982) Another power pop fave. This is from the band's third album, which is actually the one I play the most. Critically this album gets dismissed, but many of my Records faves come off of it.

Monday, May 6, 2013


A friend and I were recently talking about our favorite album covers, but long after the conversation ended I was still thinking about the covers I love the most. Here are some more of my all time faves, listed in no particular order. Some of my favorite covers are meticulously designed, while others make my list just for a stunning photo or the perfect use of a font. I have a round fifty covers on my list so far, so there will be more album cover posts in the near future.

ABOVEthe Beatles - Beatles For Sale (1964) My favorite Beatles album cover - so much so I have a framed print hanging in my living room. The Robert Freeman photo shot in Hyde Park is one of my favorite rock artist pictures.


ABOVE LEFTBilly Joel - Glass Houses (1980) I get a lot of shit for it, but I'm a big Billy Joel fan and have been about as long as I've been buying records. In fact, one of the first albums I ever bought was a "Sounds Like" record because I didn't know any better. My older brother took great joy in making fun of me when I put it on and realized that it wasn't the guy singing that I knew from the radio. Anyway, I absolutely loved this cover when it came out. Cover photo by Jim Houghton.
ABOVE RIGHT:  XTC - Go 2 (1978) A classic cover and much parodied cover from Hipgnosis.

ABOVE LEFTLou Donaldson - Sunny Side Up (1960) Reid Miles is a seemingly endless source of great album cover design. The brand identity he created for Bluenote Records is incredible.
ABOVE RIGHT:  Sesame Street - Born to Add (1983) I love a good parody cover, but this is one of my faves. It was probably one of the first cover parodies I remember acknowledging as a parody.

ABOVE: Bo Diddley - Have Guitar Will Travel (1959) A Great pic of Bo and guitar on a scooter. And the Paladin style calling card is a nice touch. I SAW this record and fell in love with it before I ever actually heard it. My friend Mike had a copy he appropriated from his Dad's collection and when he first showed it to me I knew that this was the record for me. For some great shots of the location then and now as well as more backstory on the shoot check out this excellent PopShots entry.

ABOVE LEFT:  Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978) - That weirdly morphed "Chi-Chi" Rodríguez image is so iconic now, but that record had to look incredibly weird sitting on the new release endcaps along side Toto, the Grease soundtrack, and Olivia Newton-John.
ABOVE RIGHT:  Pussy Galore - Dial 'M' For Motherfucker (1989) I don't know the source of the cover image, but it absolutely kicks ass.

ABOVE: the Rolling Stones - Flowers (1967) Simple design, but totally of the era. Designed by the vague collective known as the Corporate Head, which as far as I can tell was actually just photographer Guy Webster and designer Tom Wilkes. Webester was already an aclaimed photographer and has since taken many iconic music and movie images. Wilkes would go on to design hundreds of album covers, including such iconic covers as All Things Must Pass, the Beatles Red and Blue compilations, Neil Young's Harvest, Beefheart's Safe As Milk, and Cheech and Chong's Big Bambu.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


BLEACHED - Ride Your Heart (Dead Oceans)

Bleached's punked up take on 60's girl group pop is loaded with sugary pop goodness, making it a perfect soundtrack for a Summer road trip.

On their debut album, Bleached make perky pop with sugary melodies and just the right amount of fuzz. The songs are firmly rooted in 60's girl-group pop, but with a modern indie-pop attack. The arrangements are straight forward and without much in terms of frills, like the early Ramones albums. The focus is on the alluring melodies and the spirited vocals, which sound like a cross between the Primitives' Tracy Tracy and Katy Goodman of La Sera/Vivian Girls. In fact, this album reminds me quite a bit of La Sera's Sees the Light album, which was one of my favorite albums of 2012. Both albums expertly move between mid-tempo pop and punky rockers that race by. And both feature vocals that are technically limited, but have enough charm to pull off anything they reach for.

Jessica and Jennifer Clavin were previously in the beloved LA punk garage band Mika Miko, so they're no strangers to buzzing guitars and hyper tempos. Ride Your Heart has plenty of that, but more refined and with a strong California beach culture feel. This is perfect Summer ear candy. The type of record that makes me smile every time I put it on.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A new page o' doodles

Here's a new page of doodles. Rather than gangposting a whole bunch at once I'm going to try to the post them somewhat closer tp when I actually draw them.

More cartoons and doodles from the sketchbook

For those of you playing along at home, this is a page from my Moleskine A4 Folio Sketchbook drawn with a medium nib Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen (sanguine 188).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

two new pages of doodles

I'm trying to make sure I allow at least a little time every day to draw, doodle, cartoon, or just create something. Here are two new pages from my sketchbook.

new sketchbook doodles

new sketchbook doodles

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


PALMA VIOLETS - 180 (Rough Trade US)

Much buzzed debut album from a London four piece is a raucous blast of organ heavy garagey fun.

The Palma Violets tread where many bands have gone before, playing punchy rock with a little sleaze and a lot of laddish energy. Based on their raucous live shows easy-to-grab hooks they became a UK "it" band before their debut album was even out (including an NME cover and the obligatory backlash that comes with it).

They play a no-frills brand of garagey indie rock with a simple (and a bit sloppy) drum/bass/guitar attack. But what really separates them from the pack is the fuzzy psychedelic organ that fills out the sound and takes them from being just another Libertines to bringing in bits of Modern Lovers, Stranglers, and Caesars. The production is filled with reverb and is deliberately muddy, which adds to the reckless feel, but still has a professionalism to it that keeps it from sounding lo-fi. The band's style is easy to like right out of the box; a bunch of jaunty songs that make you want to jump around and mouth along the words that you don't quite know. I'm not sure what kind of staying Palma Violets will have, but for now the album is a splendid burst of fun every time I put it on.

"Klaus Nomi Eats a Cupcake" cartoon

Sometimes you just want to to draw Klaus Nomi eating a cupcake. Today was one of those days, so here it is.
"Klaus Nomi Eats a Cupcake"