Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is a few months late for the Summer Jam of 2010 sweepstakes, but I’d like to take this opportunity to retroactively nominate the Springfield, Mo. indie rockers.
“Sink / Let it Sway,” from the new album Let it Sway is a flawless (OK, the slash in the title makes it hard to announce on air), 3-minute flare from the heart of the power pop sun: From the kick drum bomp and toned-up guitar (if that’s not a Jaguar through a Fender Deluxe, I don’t know what could be), to the attention to detail (hear those intricate harmonies in the first 10 seconds?) and the bah-bah-bah at 1:40, the tambourine to the minimalist keyboard grind, the handclap-and-hard-driven-guitar outre to the lyrical hooks. I never believe pop fans who say they don’t listen to lyrics. Do they really think “MMMBop” would be “MMMBop” without Mmm-bop? And no, SSLYBY hasn’t gone bubblegum, but from the witty opening lines — “Pretty girls don’t just park where they want to / They gotta go around in circles like we all do” — to the recognition that “everything is not OK,” the band gets the simple but necessary psychological insight of pop therapy: “No miracle is gonna happen when you feel that way — Hang low but you gotta let it sway. Come on now!”
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin will be at the Firebird tonight, August 31.
“Sink / Let it Sway” – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
For those of you who don’t know, Sunday was Jeff Tweedy day in St. Louis. Local devotees gathered in Forest Park to mark the momentous occasion and celebrate with a day full of diverse music and good beer. Judging from reports of the first day at LouFest the crowd and vibe seemed fairly equivalent for day two — even if festival-goers were looking a wee bit more sunburned and stiff from all the time spent rocking in the park. It was an interesting scene to be sure. Hipsters mingled with hippies and there were plenty of adorable little kids on hand to twirl ecstatically to the raucous sounds of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and back up Jeff Tweedy on the harmonica.
A big part of the pleasure came simply from taking advantage of one of our most important community resources, Forest Park. There’s something about the shared experience of soaking up sun and music in equal measure to create a nice feeling of camaraderie, however tentative. Obviously this isn’t a new concept, but it’s always refreshing to encounter the phenomenon personally.
Sadly, I missed all but the last five minutes of Kim Massie. She seemed to be getting a good response from the small crowd who were happy to make requests when needed. Magnolia Summer followed Massie with a nice set tailored to the hometown crowd. Although lead singer Chris Grabau’s voice was eclipsed at times by the large backing band, the group was able to find a steady groove on the faster songs. The Funky Butt Brass Band made another appearance at LouFest – the band backed up So Many Dynamos on Saturday — joining Magnolia Summer at the end of its set.
Carolina Chocolate Drops offered up their gifts as virtuoso musicians and storytellers/music historians. Perhaps the most fascinating piece of information shared was a brief discussion tracing the musical through lines from early string band styles to current forms of hip hop and rap, a proto hip hop as it were. Beyond their extensive knowledge and obvious love for their musical niche, the Carolina Chocolate Drops know how to play a wicked jam. I’m now a believer that nothing elicits such a happy response as the sight and sound of a well-played jug. Other highlights include, Rhiannon Giddens fiddle-heavy cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”
Photos from the second day of LouFest by Dana Plonka.
It’s 8:35 a.m. the morning after the first day of LouFest. I’m a bit sore. 11 hours in Central Field at Forest Park best belongs to the dragonflies, burrowed rabbits and the significantly younger.
As it turned out, LouFest, despite a good first-year crowd — could there have been more than 3000 through the gates? correct me if I’m wrong — seemed dominated by the 35-and-up, though the starting lineup was the most youthful of the first two days. And most of my aging cohorts stuck it out to see the 7/8 moon rise over the east and an epic closing set by definitive indie rock collective, the Broken Social Scene.
Mostly the day raced by, with astonishingly few snafus. The only line in sight was for the free water refill, and the only regular complaint I heard was directed at the Bud Light monopoly, though not even sun stroke could explain why anyone would choose that over the plentiful Schlafly ales. Sure, it was hot, but I felt a day-long breeze, and a high of 91 is nothing to wilt over. I looked in vain for a cloud in the endless blue sky, but only saw the white underbelly of a jet heading somewhere less awesome.
How do I know that? By definition: Everywhere was less awesome on such a freaking gorgeous day.
The Bottle Rockets started at noon sharp with “Lucky Break,” an inside joke for those who knew the band almost didn’t make the bill. The Northwoods pulled out, and we should all thank that band for breaking up. The Rockets took the slot and cruised through some of their best but under-appreciated rock songs, including “Every Kind of Everything,” “Done It All Before,” and “Give Me Room,” as well as the essential closing suite of “Indianapolis,” “Radar Gun,” “Welfare Music” and “The Long Way.” The band seemed to have a blast, sounded crisp and spunky, and I only wish more people could have seen the set.
Stephaniesid, from Asheville, N.C. followed just 30 yards away at the Orange Stage, doing a bit of Bjork meets the voice of Joanna Newsom and the moves of pole-dancing Liz Phair, which actually sounded OK, even if the lack of songs was palpable. She managed a singalong with an unfamiliar crowd, no small feat, so props for that, and for a cover of “Life in a Northern Town.”
STL band #2, So Many Dynamos, demonstrated why they are the math fuzz funk kings of the cowbell, even when the set halts two songs in because of crackling cables. The Funky Butt Brass Band joined in for two final songs, including a grand skronkfest to close out one of the most accessible, danceable sets I’ve heard from the band.
Adam Reichmann and his new band, the Ghosts of Electricity, played next, with a strong but under-attended set of songs, some from Nadine, including a fast, power poppy “Twilight,” as well as the relatively new gorgeous opener “Georgia Summer” and perhaps the best rocker Reichmann has written: “Sixes and Sevens.”
Next, Titus Andronicus blasted out their Springsteen-meets-Fugazi-punk, and while one never expects this band to sound good, they did, with violin licks, and some ragged and wonderful solos from Patrick Stickles. Pretty spectacular, and one of the biggest surprises of the day.
Lucero faired less well, starting 10 minutes late, due to Ben Nichols looking for a compost bin to puke in. The singer looked like hell on the half shell, and though he tried to make it through 4 songs, he ultimately staggered off stage, hurled, came back and finished “Drink ‘Till We’re Gone.” “Sorry,” he apologized. “That’s all I can do. I have a date with an IV.” He promised to come back soon. No riots or cat fights ensued.
Photos from the first day of LouFest by Roy Kasten.
Formed here in St. Louis in 2005, Gentleman Auction House self-released its first EP a year later, following up with two other EPs and 2008′s full length disc, Alphabet Graveyard on Emergency Umbrella Records. GAH has performed at South By Southwest and Daytrotter, and the Riverfront Times named the group Best Indie Band of 2009.
The band, led by Eric Enger, performs euphoric pop songs that aren’t afraid to take some chances and some left turns. In addition to the expected sounds of a band (bass, drum, keys, guitar), Gentleman Auction House has a knack for using all kinds of instruments to keep its horizons open, from horns to an instrument you might have played with as a kid, the omnichord. The music is fun, distinctive and adventurous. It gets even better on repeated listens.
Nick Cowan: How did Gentleman Auction House start?
Eric Enger: The brief version is that Steve (Kozel) and I were in a band together, just a college thing.
Where did you go from there?
After that, I moved to Tucson to take a recording internship. The studio I was interning at was working on Calexico and Neko Case records. The Iron and Wine and Calexico collaboration was happing then. I got to be around a lot of really great musicians and studio people that really had their stuff together. It certainly stuck with me as a good example of how to record.
How long did you do that?
Less than 6 months, but it seemed like a lifetime. There’s a huge music culture in Tucson, a very communal vibe. I learned a lot from how they all operated and their devotion to craft is something I can relate to.
Then how did everyone you have now come in?
Steve and I were in that band before. Steve and I have known Kiley since college. Ryan Adams joined, Eric Herbst and Stephen Tomko were the last two. We’re all really close.
Has everyone with you now been in the band since recording Alphabet Graveyard?
Yeah, almost everyone. The six people in the group now are all devoted to the same thing.
They all play at least a couple of different instruments, right?
I don’t think there’s anyone that can’t play something else.
I love Kiley’s voice in the boy-girl chorus on a few songs — one of the Christmas songs, “On The Rooftop” comes to mind. Do you keep that dynamic in mind when writing vocal harmony?
That’s an element I’ve always really liked in music. Choosing the spots where there’s a female counterpart can be really effective and get the emotion across. I’ve always loved a female vocal of any kind.
What was it like recording the full-length album?
Alphabet Graveyard was a weird recording experience. It was really great but came with unforeseen stressors: There was a problem in mixing, so the tail end of the recording process was really hodgepodge; I flew back out to mix, and a couple of the final mixes had to be done by phone. In the end I’m pretty happy with it.
Did you learn how to play through any formal training?
I took guitar lessons for about six months, a year tops, when I was 14 and it got to the point where I had enough. The lessons started to get too mathematic.
How did you develop your musicianship after that?
I started learning what kind of chords and vocals I wanted. It started that simple and got more complex. My favorite pop music is a mix of the intuitive and the ugly and trying to combine oddities within some sort of cohesive package.
Is this where the omnichord and other stuff come in? Those little elements give the songs a little edge.
Yes! I was kind of looking for something new. The omnichord can do four things. I learned which two I liked. I grew up really liking heavily arranged hip-hop groove or drum and bass that had odd elements that jumped out of the song, or some sound that colored the song and gave it a personality. Odd sounds, omnichord or otherwise, are things that perk your ear up and when you really hit it sounds fresh and timeless too.
Emerging from the dirty yet alluring morass of culture and humidity that is Chicago, Fruit Bats share a musical pedigree with their early contemporaries and collaborators such as Califone and the larger group of artists on the Perishable Records label.
Although they have been around for over a decade in various permutations, Eric D. Johnson remains the center and driving creative force of the Fruit Bats. Over the years, Johnson has been crafting a lived-in, lovingly retro blend of the swelling sounds from the golden years of rock & roll with the gentle ache of country ballads. The band is once again gaining momentum with the release of its latest album (The Ruminant Band, last year on the Sub Pop label), a turn on the summer festival circuit and a new album hopefully just around the corner. Johnson was happy to chat about the logistics of geographical shifts in musical sensibilities, the art of music education and collaboration and most importantly the Fruit Bats latest work and upcoming visit to St. Louis.
Liz Taylor: First off, how is your summer going? You guys are winding your way down the West Coast and slowly heading back towards the Midwest where you’ll make your final stop in St. Louis at LouFest.
Eric Johnson: We’ve actually been having a pretty great time. Just recently we were on Orcas Island, and the San Juan Islands. We were at Pickathon Festival, which is on like an 80-acre farm in Oregon. Yeah, we’ve just sort of been playing all of these awesome outside spaces and it’s cool that we get to end in St. Louis, which is the same deal. It’s been a lot of festivals that are not like the normal throw you on throw you off kind of festivals. It’s been really mellow and really nice. We’re almost like — I think it’s been making us play better, but sometimes we’re almost too relaxed.
Right, getting a little too much into the vacation vibe.
When I was listening to your music and thinking about LouFest I was thinking your music has sort of that perfect, easygoing, like it’s a really good summer soundtrack type thing. You guys seem like a really good fit for LouFest.
Yeah I’m excited. It seems like it will be a super cool festival.
Do you prefer the festival scene or is it sort of a toss up between that and playing a smaller, sort of one off night at a club?
It depends on the festival, I think. They are definitely not all the same. They can differ wildly. Yeah, we like playing outside. There’s something kind of fun about that. We’ve toured for years and years and this is literally like kind of just in the past year we’ve played more outside shows and festivals than we’ve played in the previous nine years on the road basically. And I have to say, I could definitely get used to it. It’s pretty fun especially when you don’t play at the huge festivals where you are just totally faceless. You can still have kind of an intimate time with people in an outdoor setting and especially when it’s in a pretty place. There’s just kind of this enhanced feeling. Yeah, I like it a lot, but again it’s sort of apples to oranges; you can’t really compare the two.
Speaking of touring and making your way back to the Midwest, I know you started in Chicago and you seem to be back a fair amount. What’s it like for you returning to Chicago and playing again in the area? You recorded the last album with the Fruit Bats in Chicago. What’s that like for you returning?
It’s always cool. I’m there so much still and it often feels to me like we never left really or that I never left. My whole family is still there and everything. It’s usually kind of hectic and chaotic, but it’s cool. Fruit Bats have been really fostered in the Northwest in a lot of ways. This is definitely a great home base especially in Seattle and Portland. It really feels like home in a lot of ways, but so does Chicago. And Chicago, it’s not one of those things where I sort moved the base of operations and they were like you forgot about us, you know, screw you or whatever. It’s basically like having two hometowns. Or three home towns even, which is really cool. I feel as much of a Chicago band as I ever have been. It’s a big enough kind of transient city that I think Chicago people don’t really care when you leave. You can sort of leave, but you’re always a part of it kind of thing.
Yeah, I get that feeling. It seems like a lot of your work is rooted in the landscape. You seem to dig into your surroundings and I’m wondering if you noticed a tonal or lyrical shift when you moved from the Midwest to the West Coast or if that was something you thought about while writing?
I think if anything I probably wrote more about the Midwest on this last record, which was my first sort of fully hatched record that was like a totally West Coast record even though we recorded it in the Midwest. It was probably my most Midwesty record. It’s probably just the result of you know when you are gone from somewhere you can sort of write with a little bit of like hindsight is 20/20 kind of perspective. I think on the previous records, the ones where I had been living in Chicago, I wrote a lot about the West and the West Coast because I spent a lot of time here too. I’ve always kind of been back and forth. I wrote about sort of nature and trees with a lot of longing because half the time I was living in Logan Square in a hot, summer-time apartment and I wanted to just sort of get out of the city. Now I think I’m writing, I’m not living in the country, but I’m living in a pretty pastoral environment in Portland and I think there’s a lot of Chicago, basically, to the new album even though it’s a sort of rustic sounding record. Lyrically, it has a lot to do with the Midwest and the Rust Belt. I mean I have a lot of affection for those places.
Each successive track on Frazey Ford’s Obadiah plays out like kindling added to a slow-burning fire. The British Columbia-based singer-songwriter, a founding member of folk trio the Be Good Tanyas, remains true to her roots while expanding on her sound in her solo debut album. Obadiah, released in July 2010, is 13 tracks of introspection on Frazey Ford, the artist.
Canadian born and raised, Ford spent much of her early childhood living in a commune as the daughter of American draft-dodgers during the Vietnam War era. If that experience alone weren’t fodder enough for the earthy artist’s style, Ford drew further inspiration from the likes of ’70s soul artists Al Green and Ann Peebles. She aims in Obadiah to connect the ’70s soul she knew and loved growing up with her own cocktail of folk, bluegrass, gospel and soul.
Obadiah‘s opening track “Firecracker” is Exhibit A. Ford skillfully weaves her folk sound — supported with banjo-plucking and a stop-and-go pulse — together with vocals that are reminiscent of gospel mixed with a hint of country. Background vocals frame Ford’s exquisitely as her songbird cries of “Hallelujah” lift the heart.
“Lay Down With You” and “Lost Together” typify the more soulful tracks on Obadiah: slower, expressive and set against a backdrop of soothing vocals. In a voice like melted butter, Ford pleads, “help me forget myself for an evening.” Served up fireside with a glass of red wine, this album exudes tranquility.
The sassier side of Ford surfaces in tracks like “I Like You Better,” that break loose from the typical soulful ballads spread across the album. The tempo picks up so that idle swaying gives way to toe-tapping. An electric bass brings a touch of island reggae flavor to the mix; it’s just enough to feel a hint of sand between the toes. In the jazzy “Blue Streak Mama,” Ford lets herself break away from the prose to do some straight-shooting: “Think you’ve got something, you’ve got nothing all, nothing at all.”
Start to finish, Obadiah is a sultry album. While most of the songs boast a certain sensuality in their steady cadence, the consistently mid-paced beat could have been used more sparingly. That said, this debut is a solid showcase of Frazey Ford’s talent as a singer, songwriter and, now, solo artist.