Pittsburgh Union of Record Geeks electronic

Monday, May 07, 2007

Recent discoveries

Light Poles and Pines is the excellent debut by San Francisco's Or, the Whale. At first listen I though this may be one of those alt-countryish things that is pleasant enough but that I could really take or leave. But turns out it's almost indescribably great, so I guess I'll take it. It sounds like the Carter Family, George Jones, CS&N, Neil Young, The Band, The Eagles, The Long Ryders, and the Jayhawks. Except it's completely original. It is impeccably sung and played with enough creative flourishes that you couldn't call it derivative. This is a pretty amazing record and my early frontrunner for album of the year. I guess maybe it isn't even really out yet, but it is available in downloadable form, especially on eMusic.

Not to take anything away from some other good stuff I've gotten lately...

The Parish is another Bay Area band making their debut. I was prepared to say that The Way We Bend reminds me of early R.E.M. (which a lot of stuff seems to nowadays, for whatever reason), but with male-female harmonies, twangy guitars, and organ. So maybe it reminds me of the B-52's. But I hate to stick them with that. I guess it's like a lot of '60s influenced stuff from the early '80s that embraced the ethos if not the sound of punk, except it's from now and seems to embrace the ethos if not the sound of indie rock. Got that? The band released this on their own Cavalry label.

David Karsten Daniels gets a nice Will Oldham/Jason Molina vibe goin' on Sharp Teeth, his debut on the Fat Cat label. Dr. Dog, too, on the more muscular "American Pastime." I guess this is a really hip label and this record has got a "buzz," so what do ya need me for? Meanwhile...

Stumbling across New York City's The Subjects opening for rockin' locals Black Tie Revue at Brillobox a couple of months back was a lot like finding ten bucks on the street. If you do find ten bucks on the street, use it to buy With the Ease Grace Precision and Cleverness of Human Beings from Pretty Activity records. Both on stage and on record, the band--made up of two high school teachers and two former students--remind me of a less '60s-derivative Dr. Dog (yeah, them again...still can't get into their new record, by the way), with top notch melodies delivered by way of slightly off-kilter vocals and wonderfully loose and authentic background bashing. These guys will be returning to Pittsburgh June 2, on the bill of Black Tie Revue's CD release show at 31st Street Pub.

Also, The Rutabega--aka Josh Hensley of Goshen, Indiana--isn't really a new discovery, having produced one of my favorite albums of 2004 in These Knotty Lines, a set brimming with perfect pop. But I've finally gotten a hold of a copy of its follow-up, 2005's It's You, a fully DIY effort by Hensley from recording to distribution. It's You is more melancholy and atmospheric than Lines, but at no loss to effecting tunes. Comparisons to Elliot Smith have been prevalent since Hensley's 2002 debut Cobus Green, and it's clear why, though the new(er) release combines the powerful emotional delicacy Hensley's work shares with Smith's early records with more ambitious and engaging instrumental backing, though the sparse and lo-fi "A New Song" is maybe the most striking single track on the record. The vocals throughout--veering from seeming resignation to the lyrics' inherent sadness to aching wails desperate to escape it--suggest deeper emotion and meaning to Hensley's simplistic, often childlike, images. Particularly on "A Very Short Engagement" there's something unsettling about what outwardly is a sweet and pretty love song. Take it from me, you're not gonna run across this disc anywhere else, so it would be wise to hit up Hensley's online Patsy Presents imprint to get one for yourself.

In addition, the nasty rumors that Hensley has been collaborating with our own Friendstealer appear to be true. More to come on this development.