Monday, December 31, 2007

happy new year

Of all fifty-two weeks in the year, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day strikes me as the strangest. It's a weird sort of purgatory. The most anticipated and commercialized holiday of the season has come and gone, somewhat anticlimactically, and all that's left is the gripping revelation of how frightening time is. Like, it keeps going by faster and faster, and it won't stop, not even for a tiny second to let you catch your breath, ever. It's rude, really. But never mind. Here are a few obligatory mp3s to help you cope with the mixed regret and excitement you're feeling over the demise of 2007 and the infinite possibilities of 2008.

mp3: "January" by Ravens & Chimes
mp3: "The New Year" by Death Cab for Cutie
mp3: "The Ice of Boston" by the Dismemberment Plan
mp3: "This Year" by the Mountain Goats
mp3: "Gonna Make It Through This Year" by Great Lake Swimmers
mp3: "The Start of Something" by Voxtrot

Saturday, December 29, 2007

free music

Holidays clean out your wallet? Well, boo-hoo. Some of us never had money to begin with.

In that spirit, we present you a list:

Twelve Really Great Places to Score (FREE!) Legal Music:

The State Of Samuel - Swedish indie pop reminiscent of a one man Clap Your hands Say Yeah! Check out his album Swedish Metal Aid in addition to a liberal smattering of his other work.

Salty Pirates - Sloppy, loud, and fun. In order "to fight the commercialism that's infecting the music industry today" they're giving away their entire catalogue. Let the party begin.

Wild Geese Music - A completely free music label. Check out Micheal Bach, a Swede who does Americana better than most Americans. (And a big thanks to Swedesplease for cluing us in to this great find!)

John Vanderslice - No collection is complete without Mass Suicide Occult Figurines. It's true.

Daytrotter - Live in studio freebies from... pretty much anyone who's hip and a few people you probably haven't heard of but should. Sondre Lerche, Sunset Rubdown, Au Revoir Simone, and Andrew Bird. Oh my!

Archaric Horizon Records - A completely free label dedicated to "advancing the Experimental." Home to our friends The Dandelion Council. Download and daydream away.

Inlets - A beautiful, day-dreamy EP from Sebastian Krueger, a.k.a. Inlets, partner in crime to Feist and My Brightest Diamond. The closest you'll ever get to a "sure bet" in the indie world.

Palmer AK - You need this EP.

Chris Walla - Because ako would kill me if I left off this gem. And because I know a good pop song when I hear one.

10· Logan Whitehurst - Strange, Andy Kaufman style humor that will have you singing along for days.

11· Jens Lekman - Rare EPs and live tracks from our favorite Gothenburger.

12· David & the Citizens - Only you can prevent the spread of gloom! Download the I Saw My Reflection and Didn't Recognize Myself ep today and do your part.

Runners up: the record labels: Sure they're trying to hook you, the first one's free, then you've gotta pay. But these select few really know how to dole out the goodies.




Saturday, December 22, 2007

a very sedaris christmas (and/or happy holidays)

Sometimes...our job is made far too easy...thanks, Crumpet!

So the Would-Be Hipsters are scattering for Christmas...even though one of us is technically Jewish.

We hope, as always (or at least, like Thanksgiving, being that's the first holiday we've been in existence for) that you have a safe, fun holiday of choice. Personally? My only real danger is on peppermint bark, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

So, be good, do good work and keep in touch. We'll be back sometime before the new year with some more random pontification, screaming geek-girl reviews, and of course...pie


The Would-Be Hipsters

P.S. Must we remind you yet again that this is the finest radio program currently available?

mp3: "Santaland Diaries" by David Sedaris

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

storm watch 2007

Terror fell over the southern California region today when water - yes, water - fell from the sky. Traffic on the 405 came to a screeching halt as rush hour commuters tried to come to grips with the new, potentially deadly situation. Said one stranded motorist, "It was horrible... I had to run my windshield wipers. I mean - you plan for these kinds of things, but when they happen, what kind of reassurance can we give our children?"

As always CWBH has you covered... at least music-wise.

If you need me, I'll be outside perfecting my Gene Kelly impression.

mp3: "Spring Came, Rain Fell" by Club 8. I dare you to find a situation when Swedish pop isn't appropriate.
mp3: "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall (live)" by Bob Dylan. Metaphorical rain... ohhh!
mp3: "Umbrella (Rihanna cover)" by Amanda Palmer. Just yeah...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street

At this point, I'm convinced Johnny Depp could fly if he wanted to – he doesn't of course, least he make us feel bad for our own shortcomings. But believe me, he could do it – or anything else he elects to accomplish. Playing a homicidal barber, with a remarkable, pain drenched tenor, forcing us to take him seriously despite a horrendous fright wig? Please, that's child's play.

There are only three things that are certain in a Tim Burton film – a Johnny Depp, a desaturated color palette, and blood. Lots and lots of blood. On all three accounts, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, fails to disappoint. Depp delivers a mature, emotionally evolved performance. Characters and ghosts haunt the night, cloaked in detail-free shadow. Blood coats the screen, at one point splashing the camera. In short, this is not a film for the weak of heart.

Much of the terror is derived, as one might expect, from the simple premise of having a stranger hold a sharp object to your neck. Or more correctly, audience terror is derived from streams of characters not recognizing this hidden danger1. Burton invests himself in the same macabre love affair Todd experiences with his razors. All the shaving implements are shot in intimate close-ups usually reserved for the leading lady. At one point, Todd extends one blade to the heavens screaming, "At last, my arm is complete again!" You can almost feel Burton's glee growing in proportion to his leading man's dark side, marked audibly by the tell-tale sounds of razor sharpening. By the time the blood starts flying – and there's lots of it - the violence is almost a second thought, a release from the dreadful anticipation.

Thankfully Burton's glee is not without its lighter side. The clown of Sleepy Hollow, Depp is Sweeney Todd's titular angst-ridden straight man, leaving the humor to Helena Bonham Carter’s cheerfully practical yet maniacal Mrs. Lovett, and the surprisingly subdued Sacha Baron Cohen as a rival barber. However, the real supporting actor award belongs to Alan Rickman, upper-crust British accent interjecting every line with a subtle sinister subtext. Even when not perpetrating some of the film's more disturbing crimes, his very presence denotes the true embodiment of evil, cloaked handsomely in a protective patrician wrapper.

Addapted from the hit Stephen Sondheim play, Sweeney Todd proves once and for all that Burton is a master not only of style, but of substance2. Every elemental choice ties directly back to the Todds' - and by extension, the film's - moral and ethical dilemma. Even when the film dallies in the ingenues' romantic subplot, the audience is never once allowed to forget how high the stakes have become. By the time Sweeney’s quest reaches its inevitable, visceral conclusion, the audience is left exhausted, gasping, and perhaps... a bit bloody.

1. Time and time again, I find myself thankful I was born with two x chromosomes. I shouldn’t be trusted to hold sharp objects to my own neck, let alone allow an anonymous man take control of my grooming habits.
2. Admittedly this is a argument I’ve always sided with Tim Burton on... but a point - for the unbelievers - that needs to be made none the less.

Friday, December 14, 2007

end of year list #3

This was painful.

ten favorite albums

10 · Very Tiny Songs by Logan Whitehurst & the Junior Science Club
One last testament to the brilliance of Logan Whitehurst. May the giggling continue indefinitely.
9 · The Stage Names by Okkervil River
Bouncy, jangly, dark, upbeat, and beautiful in a vaguely ugly sort of way. Something of an achievement.
8 · Wincing the Night Away by the Shins
The faintly sterile quality that prevented me from fully embracing either of the Shins' previous releases is not present here. I'm a sucker for a great album opener, and "Sleeping Lessons" is definitely that. Also, the line "it's like I'm pushed on the handlebars of a blind man's bike" from "Split Needles" is one of the better metaphors that I've heard lately, for anything.
7 · In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars
It's not as good as Set Yourself on Fire. It's just not. But it's still dangerously addicting.
6 · The Flying Club Cup by Beirut
A couple weeks ago, an inexplicable and foreign weather pattern passed through Los Angeles, wherein water actually fell from the sky. It turns out that the sound of this album coming out of my car's speakers complements that phenomenon nicely.
5 · Friend and Foe by Menomena
Ingenious and absurd. And awesome live.
4 · Reunion Tour by the Weakerthans
Fact: the world is split into two camps. Those who recognize John K. Samson as the greatest lyricist in the history of ever, and those who have no soul.
3 · The Con by Tegan and Sara
Fact #2: Everything Chris Walla touches is gold. I mean, not to take anything away from Tegan and Sara themselves, who wrote and compiled a collection of layered, quirky pop songs -- easily their best effort to date -- but the production is just stellar. And so what if I'm only trying to justify the fact that I listened to almost nothing but this album for two months straight? Leave me alone.
2 · Emerald City by John Vanderslice
I'm trying to remember how I ever harbored ambivalence towards this man's music, and failing miserably.
1 · Random Spirit Lover by Sunset Rubdown
What's there to say anymore, really? If this album seems too long or too abstract or too complicated for you, listen to it ten more times. Trust me. The rewards of repeated listens here are unparalleled.

ten favorite songs

10 · "Modern Day Saint" by Via Audio from Say Something Say Something Say Something
Just a really great pop song. Wait, scratch the word "just".
9 · "Myriad Harbour" by the New Pornographers from Challengers
On an album that disappointed me somewhat, this manages to be joy, melted down and chemically manipulated into song form.
8 · "Polyethylene (Parts 1&2)" by Chris Walla from Stereogum's OKX
Oh come on, how was I supposed to leave this off? Consider it a small preview for next year, when my favorite album is a foregone conclusion.
7 · "Numbered Lithograph" by John Vanderslice from Emerald City
John Vanderslice has this way of taking universal, even clich├ęd, sentiments and making them wrenching all over again. Maybe it has something to do with the oddly specific settings his characters are cast in, but when he sings, "I've never been lonelier," you believe him.
6 · "Guyamas Sonora" by Beirut from The Flying Club Cup
If the horn section of this song (as it commences at approximately 1:04) was the official soundtrack to my life, it would be a whole lot more profound than it is now.
5 · "It's Not Worth Fighting" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin from Not Worth Fighting
This is one of two songs on the 7" single that I bought when I saw SSLYBY in April. I think it qualifies as dreamy.
4 · "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" by Okkervil River from The Stage Names
It's always a little bittersweet when an album's lone downfall is that no other song lives up to the epic perfection of its opener.
3 · "Wet and Rusting" by Menomena from Friend and Foe
When I first listened to this song after a downloading spree on the Barsuk website last December, I had no prior knowledge of the band and the song's appeal was so obvious to me that my first instinct was to classify it under "guilty pleasure". It turns out that there's absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, of course. I love it when that happens.
2 · "The Taming of the Hands That Came Back to Life" by Sunset Rubdown from Random Spirit Lover
It's incredibly difficult to pick out individual songs from this album, as it flows so magnificently as a whole. Furthermore, to emphasize the strengths of one part is to imply the comparative weakness of the others, and weakness just doesn't happen here. But this one contains a few of my favorite lyrical moments, and at least one very good question.
1 · "Naked Girl" by the Velvet Teen from The Great Beast February/Comasynthesis
I decided three months ago that this was going to be my song of the year. I couldn't renege just because it happens to be six years old.

five favorite shows

5 · Ben Gibbard @ Royce Hall
4 · Beirut @ Amoeba Records
3 · Sunset Rubdown @ El Rey
2 · The Weakerthans @ El Rey
1 · John Vanderslice @ the Troubadour

three favorite books

I was too busy keeping track of all the albums I listened to to keep track of the books I read this year. I plan to fix this in 2008. In the meantime, here are three of my favorite books on most days:

3 · Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
2 · The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
1 · Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

three favorite movies

I may have seen three movies in 2007, but of those, I passed out during the first five minutes of one, and one was Harry Potter.

my secret superpower is:
the ability to be insecure about anything and everything. Also, the ability to shield myself with a Radiohead poster and not pass out during Sweeney Todd.

my advice to other would-be hipsters:
Wear your seatbelt. And, obligatorily: don't follow my advice.

in 2008 I might:
actually die of homesickness for the Pacific Northwest.

mp3: "Myriad Harbour" by the New Pornographers
mp3: "Wet and Rusting (LOAF: A Deli Tea Version)" by Menomena
mp3: "It's Not Worth Fighting" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
mp3: "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" by Okkervil River
mp3: "Naked Girl" by the Velvet Teen

Sunday, December 9, 2007

end of year list #1

I declare that 2007 will forever be known as “the year of the Swede.” Is it the weather? The diet? The government subsidizing? Whatever it is, they're kicking our collective American butts. Come on countrymen, get it together. Your assignment for the upcoming year? Let’s show ‘em we, too, know pretty.

This year can also be considered the year I forgot how to rock. Electric guitars? Who needs ‘em when you’ve got accordions, ukuleles, sultry piano, and…er…the Pipettes? With such beautiful, orchestral offerings from Beirut, Loney Dear, and Rufus Wainwright to smooth the way, the guitar’s sad demise doesn’t seem like such a painful departure.

The rankings surprised me. Chalk it up my perennial favorites letting me down, or failing to release an album all together. Dear Sufjan, where is my new states album? I suggest thinking outside the box - make 2008 the year of Puerto Rico. And where is the new incarnation of Beck? Someone better invite him to next year’s party. Some albums that had me salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs didn’t deliver the treat I’d been hoping. Bright Eyes forsake his angst-driven past in favor of a more “adult” sound. Ben Lee took the opposite route, embracing his cheerfulness, creating auditory saccharin.

Finally: To The New Amsterdams, Coconut Records, and Thurston Moore, I apologize. If this list were the top eleven (and believe me, I rallied long and hard for it) one of you would be joining the party.

ten favorite albums

10 · Open Field by Taken By Trees
Victoria Bergsman's solo debut is understated, to the point of childlike simplicity. It's easy to miss its emotional punch. However, give it time and a few late nights. You’ll find that writing this straightforward and affecting doesn’t need orchestration.
9 · Neon Bible by Arcade Fire
After Funeral's few hits padded by a lot of filler, I almost wrote off this gem. Stupid me.
8 · Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird
A late night, cold medication-induced discovery - who I was utterly convinced was actually Mew. Which is of course to say, the night was very late and the cold meds were very effective. Layered, introspective suave pop. And yes, the whistling's real.
7 · Bird and the Bee by Bird & The Bee
Pure electro-pop bliss. I harbor fantasies that I sing like Inara George. I’m also convinced I'm witty. I guess we all have our personal stumbling blocks. (For a +3 hipster points, pick up their newest EP Please Clap Your Hands.)
6 · Release the Stars by Rufus Wainwright
Thankfully Rufus didn’t go through with his threat to create his “introspective, striped down” album. Instead, after the somewhat disappointing Want Two, the Ru is back, bigger and shmazzier than ever. Pin on your broach collection and listen closely: you can almost hear the Busby Berkeley dance routines.
5 · Loney Noir by Loney, Dear
A Sufjan Stevens, Postal Service love child. If I’m at eating lunch at home, then it's mandated listening. I’m really not sure what would happen if I didn’t…but with pure Swedish orchestral pop this lush, who'd want to tempt fate?
4 · The Flying Cup Club by Beirut
A deep voiced, scruffily dressed indie boy takes us on a tour of 1920s Paris along with his band of merry troublemakers and orchestral chaperone Owen Pallet. It’s the budget-travel soundtrack for those of us who can’t quite yet afford the hitchhikers version of Europe.
3 · Our Ill Wills by Shout Out Louds
“Hey Bart! Alf’s back…in pog form!” When I was young and impressionable (okay, younger and more impressionable) I used to sneak out after bedtime to watch Cure music videos with my older brother. This album finds me back in my parents' living room, this time with visions of the Scandinavian midnight sun and all night dance parties dancing in my head.
2 · Dumb Luck by Dntel
One can only be distracted for so long by side projects. Yes Jimmy Tamborello’s worked with everyone in the music industry (heck, he’s probably remixed one of your band’s tracks) and released music under a half a dozen different monikers. But it’s about time he went back to his first love, or at least first identity. Turns out it was well worth the wait. Dumb Luck is a love letter to the by-products of the artistic process: lost love, squandered talent, and self-doubt. With some of Jimmy’s previous musical partners lending their vocal talents, the simple stories of heartbreak take on a painful, yet universal tone.
1 · Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman
Once again, marry me Jens. Either that or stop reading my diary. Seriously, it's getting spooky. It's been two months now since the album's release, and this pop gem has yet to find its way out of my car. Yes, I am that girl next to you in 405 gridlock, singing at the top of her lungs. Deal with it.

ten favorite songs

10 · "The Moat" by Palmer AK from AK Final EP
Eric Howk’s got everyone at CWBH drawing hearts in the margins of our math homework.
9 · "The Art of The Quick Draw" by The Minor Canon from No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
Proving that even the most painful of recognitions can sound pretty when delivered over a swelling horn section.
8 · "While You Were Sleeping" by Elvis Perkins from Ash Wednesday
Honestly? I have no clue what this song is about. But the world he creates is so soothing I want to live on repeat in this hypnotic lullaby.
7 · "I Defy" by Joan As Police Woman from Real Life
The ex-girlfriend of Jeff Buckley and Anthony ratchet up the emotional intensity as they peel back their lovers’ skins to “kiss the real you.” The result is one of uneasy beauty.
6 · "Cycling Trivialities" by Jose Gonzalez from In Our Nature
Haunting. Is there another word for what he does? This time, Jose outdoes himself with his longest track to date, echoing uneasily into an unknown future.
5 · "Colleen" by Joanna Newsom from Joanna Newsom And The Y's Street Band
Searing, yet playful, Joanna spins another unforgettable yarn of love, loss and beauty.
4 · "Everything I Cannot See" by Charlotte Gainsbourg from 5:55
Untrained emotive wailing, lyrics written by Jarvis Cocker, all performed over a long lost Air track. Why wasn’t I born French?
3 · "Paris Is Burning" by St. Vincent from Marry Me
Story as old as time itself: Girl joins Sufjan Steven’s band of merry pranksters, girl learns ropes of storytelling and songwriting, girl graduates from group to become a dazzling artist in her own right.
2 · "Amsterdam" by Peter Bjorn and John from Writers Block
The younger, introverted but gifted sibling of "Young Folks."
1 · "Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig" by Jens Lekman from
Night Falls Over Kortedala
The best way to touch your heart/is to make an ass of myself. The anthem for the year…and quite possibly my entire adult life.

five favorite shows

5 · Peter, Bjorn and John @ The Roxy
4 · Jens Lekman @ The Troubador
3 · Joanna Newsom @ Walt Disney Concert Hall
2 · Rufus Wainwright @ The Hollywood Bowl
1 · Interpol, Taken By Trees and Modest Mouse @ The Accelerator Music Festival

three favorite books

3 · The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
2 · Looking For Alaska by John Green
1 · King Dork by Frank Portman

three favorite movies

3 · Lars And The Real Girl
2 · Darjeeling Limited
1 · Paris J'taime

my secret superpower is:
The ability to speak any language at moment's notice. They call me Linguistic Girl! It does nothing in my quest to fight crime...but I always have a great time at dinner parties.

my advice to other would-be hipsters:
Advice redacted due to on-going quarter life crisis. Please check back for 2008 “best of” list.

in 2008 I might:
find some sort of meaningful, full-time employment. Then again I might strap my guitar to my back and flee like a feral rat into the night.

mp3: "Plasticities (live)" by Andrew Bird
mp3: "I Am John (live)" by Loney,Dear
mp3: "Everything I Cannot See (live)" by Charlotte Gainsbourg
mp3: "Paris Is Burning (live)" by St. Vincent
mp3: "Friday Night At The Drive In Bingo (solo)" by Jens Lekman

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

the dandelion council

Four years ago, if you had asked me about electronica, I would have thought of heavy nightclub trance beats and cringed. Then, two things happened: I spent a semester in France during the height of Air’s Talkie Walkie promotion, and I met my dear friend Pip Craighead, a.k.a. the Dandelion Council.

The Dandelion Council, lead by Pip and his revolving band of merry sidekicks, draws inspiration from the hills of Altadena; so much in fact, early drafts of the band's mission statement claimed that rather than original works, they were simply covering tapes found buried deep in the hillside, circa 1970.

Despite band-fueled rumors of borrowing a page from their forebears, the Dandelion Council is nothing if not a creative, unique endeavor. Electronic beats are merged with ethereal human voices, the laughter of children, and sampling from nature. Nature is a huge theme: inspiration is taken from summer nights, fields of grass rippling in the wind, the smell of wet earth, lens flares, sunsets, cricket songs, fireflies, and the friendships that share in them, all ultimately pointing back to the glory of their creator.

Be sure to catch the Dandelion Council live:

December 8 2007 at 7th Annual Holy Chaos Music Festival
3700 E Sierra Madre Blvd,
Pasadena, California 91107
Cost: $5

Tell 'em the Would-Be Hipsters sent you.

As for me? I guess I can say I like electronica. Trance on the other hand? Not so much…

mp3: "In The Rainbow Forest" by The Dandelion Council
mp3: "Red Sunset" by The Dandelion Council

Sunday, December 2, 2007

heartworn highways

It's December, which means that even in Los Angeles we can now sort of pretend that it's almost maybe the time of year to wrap oneself in soft blankets, curl up in front of the fire, eat way too much pie1 and cookies, listen to comforting music, and try to resist the impulse to change your last name, relocate to another planet country, and pretend you never met any of those crazy people who claim to be related to you. Or is that just me?

Another common symptom of this time of the year is nostalgia. Luckily for us, there's Hacktone Records, which resurrects forgotten albums of past decades and re-releases them to hopefully find new and perhaps more profound relevance in modern times. One of these projects is Heartworn Highways, a soundtrack painstakingly compiled from the 1976 Americana documentary of the same name.

It is at this point that it may become necessary to trade in that imaginary fireplace for an imaginary campfire.

As someone who has long been a self-proclaimed American history geek and relishes history in most of its forms, the realization that I've never really contemplated the history of American music as an isolated entity is kind of disturbing to me. You can feel it pulsing throughout these songs -- written and performed by various artists: Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, David Allan Coe, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and others -- even though, by 1975, the lifestyle they consciously or subconsciously sought to evoke had long since vanished.2

With dialogue interspersed throughout the twenty-six tracks, the album itself becomes its own sort of documentary, one that for me, personally, recalls actual people and places not so dissimilar. (I spent a brief interlude of my post-high school life working as a groom at Emerald Downs in Seattle. Many of those characters still exist -- horse people don't change very much.) As I said, remembrance is in many ways what this time of year is all about, and it's fitting that the album's culmination is on a Christmas Eve thirty-two years ago.

mp3: "Silent Night" by Rodney Crowell (and friends)

1Wait, did I just say too much pie? Surely that's not possible.
2In effect, that makes this nostalgia for nostalgia. I love it.