Saturday, March 30, 2013


I suspect I’m like many others in that too much hype actually makes me so annoyed about a band’s very existence that , before I’ve even listened to them, I’ve already passed some sort of judgment and I try to stay away from sampling their music for a while. Even though I was a fan, when Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out, I got to a point where I had read so much about it that I didn’t really feel like I needed to even explore it myself. To this day, I haven’t heard more than a couple of songs from that record.

Chvrches almost fell into the category of overexposed bands that I thought I had heard enough about to not even care to investigate any further. Then I read this from Frank Yang at

The hype around Scottish trio CHVRCHES has probably put some off of them entirely already, some six months from the release of their debut album, and that’s a shame. Because as far as I can tell, they’re not being posited as saviours of anything, just a new band with some really good songs.

I didn’t want to be someone who fell in that foolish group of people who never gave the band a chance simply because they were buzzed about. Or, frankly, because their name seemed a bit pretentious, until it made sense (no one wants to do an internet search for a band called “Churches”). So I started with the song above, “The Mother We Share.” My initial impression was kind of the same one I had to hearing Passion Pit’s1 “Little Secrets” for the first time. It’s a bubbly, joyous, synth-driven anthem that could be blasted at full volume over and over again and not lose any of its infectiousness. In fact, I’ve been delighted by the results of testing that theory over the last few days - the song does indeed hold up after repeated plays.

I’ve read Chvrches newest single, “Recover” described as "the ‘Midnight City’ of 2013.” At first listen, I have to admit, I thought, “this is what American Idol winners will sound like in five years.” The sound is almost that glossy and the hooks are very obvious. Not that you can’t love that kind of thing, but I actually thought “The Mother We Share” came closer to earning the M83 comparison (the backing vocals near the end of the song especially remind me of “Midnight City”). In my book, that’s some of the highest praise you can give. I’m glad I didn’t let the hype machine deter me from checking out a promising new band.

  1. Chvrches recently toured as an opening act for Passion Pit. ↩

Sunday, March 24, 2013

At Least The Dark Don't Hide It

Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. passed away last weekend, due to complications from a prolonged battle with alcoholism. Almost inevitably, whenever someone dies, it seems like people come out of the woodwork to extol their virtues. It’s natural to almost doubt the sincerity of those statements, coming from grieving hearts, pure as the intentions behind them are. It’s as if tragedy obligates the outpouring of emotion.

Well, this is that kind of post. Though I feel no obligation to declare this to the small number of people who read this blog: Jason Molina was probably the nicest musician I’ve ever met. I’d guess it was about ten years ago that I met him, at a Songs: Ohia, Damien Jurado and TW Walsh show at the now defunct Go! Studios in Carrboro, NC. I really wasn’t there to see his band, but the other two that played before Songs: Ohia, who was the headliner. At the Go! Studios, there was a little loft area with a few very worn couches and a relaxed atmosphere. If you got there early enough, and the show wasn’t super crowded, you could grab a great seat up there. You could relax, and even half ignore the band playing, if that was what you wanted to do.

As TW Walsh played the first set of the night, my wife and I talked to Jason. I wanted TW Walsh merch and he acted like he was in charge of it. He was so enthusiastic about peddling T-Dub’s stuff that you would have thought he was part of the band, or had some kind of stake in it. I didn’t realize who he was but he was clearly a fan of Tim Walsh’s music and just stoked to be talking to someone else who felt the same way. I was struck by his kindness. In the years since, before his death, I’ve thought often of him and how easy it was to talk to him. Independent musicians aren’t rockstars, but sometimes they can be just as inaccessible. Jason was just the opposite.

Another reason I remember that night is that we left about two tunes into the Songs: Ohia set. We were tired, unfamiliar with the music, and just feeling the tug of our warm bed which was still a fair length drive away. The side door where you exited the Go! Studios was in full view of the stage, and I remember feeling terrible walking out on this guy who had been so welcoming to us while he was playing his songs. I suppose that’s part of why his kindness sticks in my mind.

I never did get into Songs: Ohia, but I liked what I heard by the time Jason had changed the band name to Magnolia Electric Co. If you’re not familiar with the man’s work, I’d highly recommend What Comes After The Blues. Start off with “The Dark Don’t Hide It” and “Leave The City” and just leave them on repeat for a while. I dare you to not be struck by their simple country-influenced sounds and naked examination of the sadness of living in a fallen world. Then, feel free to grieve with the rest of us for the passing of Mr. Molina.

Update - Another post on the kindness of this man and his commitment to music.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Black is Back

There are times where I just do internet searches to see if I can turn up any news about a new Small Black release. It's been some time since their last proper release, 2010's New Chain (right around when I saw them live). Unfortunately, my searches as of late have been fruitless.

This week, news of a new Small Black release coming in May dropped in by lap, courtesy of the the 'Gum. Yes, Black is back, and they've emerged with a more expansive sound on the "Free At Dawn" single. Absent from this song are some of the blissed-out theatrics that served the band so well on songs like "Search Party" and "Photojournalist" from their last record and the low-fi stuttering cheap keyboard beats of their debut EP. The new track has what feels like a steady slow build, climaxing in hazy, lazy guitar solo over repeats of the of the chorus of "free at dawn". One can imagine a man, emerging fatigued from a third shift at work, in the early morning hours. He squints in the sun as he scans the parking lot for the car that will liberate him from his nightly grind. "Free At Dawn" is the soundtrack to his drive home. A cassette, well worn from use, playing from the stereo in the dash as he makes his way to a good day's sleep.

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