There aren’t nearly enough good New Year’s Eve songs. With the exception of a few gems—George Harrison’s “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” Prince’s “1999,” Death Cab For Cutie’s “The New Year”—most NYE tunes veer toward the sappy and sentimental. The world doesn’t need another cover of “Auld Lang Syne” (unless the Flaming Lips are the ones doing the covering), but we’ll take “In The New Year,” the first single off the Walkmen’s most recent album, You & Me (Gigantic). If you’re already picking out next year’s ball-drop-countdown soundtrack, keep this song in mind: It’s full of messy guitar reverb, raspy vocals, organ and romance. In other words, perfect for that point in the evening when everyone’s tired and spilling champagne. The Walkmen hit the road with the Kings Of Leon on April 19.
Somehow it seems appropriate that the eternally sunny Spinto Band would be the next to cover the song rock critic Lester Bangs once called “the bubblegum apotheosis.” Its rendition of “I Think We’re Alone Now” (originally recorded by Tommy James And The Shondells in 1967, covered by pop sensation Tiffany in 1987) is the musical equivalent of a root beer float on a warm summer day: frothy, bubbly and all sorts of sweet. The song will be released March 2 as the b-side of the Wilmington, Del., group’s next single, “Vivian Don’t.” Don’t look for any mall concerts a la Tiffany, though—the Spinto Band is touring Europe until a SXSW appearance in March.
Long before any collaborations with Ben Gibbard, Jenny Lewis, Conor Oberst or Grizzly Bear, Jimmy Tamborello—otherwise known as Dntel (or one-half of the Postal Service)—sat down with his Kurzweil K2000s and some basic MIDI sequencing software and recorded two albums, Early Works For Me If It Works For You and Something Always Goes Wrong. These albums, released on Phtalo Records in 1998 and 1999, respectively, were much simpler than any of Tamborello’s more recent ventures; both were almost entirely instrumental and featured more traditional electronica and glitch sounds than anything on, say, 2007’s Dumb Luck. On April 14, Phtalo will reissue both of these albums on a three-disc set called Early Works For Me If It Works For You II, which also includes some previously unreleased material, recorded just before 2001’s Life Is Full Of Possibilities. Below, a taste of what’s to come: a remastered version of “Loneliness Is Having No One To Miss,” one of Dntel’s first synthesizer compositions.
“Loneliness Is Having No One To Miss” from Early Works For Me If It Works For You II (download here): http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/LonelinessIs.mp3
Matthew Houck grew up listening to Willie Nelson’s slow-motion drawl emanating from his dad’s turntable. It follows, then, that Houck’s current band, Phosphorescent, would be steeped in the kind of conceptual Americana that Nelson invented during the outlaw-country movement of the mid-to-late-70s. For his fourth full-length, Houck has returned the favor, recording a tribute album in the mold of To Lefty From Willie, Nelson’s 1977 homage to fellow troubadour and trailblazer Lefty Frizzell. To Willie (Dead Oceans) contains 11 covers plucked from the recesses of Nelson’s catalog and filtered through Phosphorescent’s warm, ghost-town aura.
MAGNET called Houck to discuss the album, the art of the cover and just how much grass he had to smoke to get into character. (Houck’s answer: “Less than my bandmates.”)
To Willie covers a lot of ground, from the late ’60s to the mid-’90s. How did you go about curating the record? It began a long time ago. There really wasn’t a “curating” process. I kind of knew for years that I wanted to do (these) Willie Nelson songs—they’re favorites of mine since I was a kid. I just was waiting for the right time to do it. I recorded one Willie Nelson song on an EP a while back: “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” In the back of my mind, I knew I would do something like this, but I didn’t know when or how. At some point, about two years ago, I was listening to the album To Lefty From Willie and realized that was the perfect form this record could take.
You hit many of the touchstone albums—Phases And Stages, Red Headed Stranger—but not necessarily the touchstone songs. These songs almost hide in the cracks of those albums. That wasn’t a conscious choice. I’ve actually talked to some friends of mine about this. It seems like by and large, over all artists, I end up liking the deeper cuts on records. Almost always the hit song on any given album is my least favorite. I always end up liking the weirder ones, for lack of a better word. Maybe they aren’t the most popular ones, but in my opinion, they’re the real stunners.
Do you have a favorite? I don’t know if I could narrow it down any further. As far as what we got on the record … I think “Too Sick To Pray” has something really, really special going for it, that was a little bit beyond what I had in mind. That one surprised.
That’s the most recent cut, from 1996’s Spirit. And “The Party’s Over” is the oldest, right? 1967? Is that true? I only know “The Party’s Over” from that ’80s album, Always On My Mind. Shit, I didn’t know that. It’s weird—you know how those guys do. A lot of those songs, I think you can find them on early demo collections and stuff. I like that song “Permanently Lonely,” which is also, I know, a version from the ’80s. I think that song is from the ’60s as well. So there you go.
I couldn’t find “Heartaches Of A Fool” anywhere but on his 1981 compilation Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be). I couldn’t either. And I know that one specifically, because that’s probably the record that did it. My dad had that greatest-hits album. I remember those songs from when I was three or four years old. I have pretty vivid memories of those songs.
You’ve covered Nick Cave and the Weeds theme, which is now like a rite of passage. Is it more challenging to record covers than original material? No, it’s less. It frees you up not to worry. I’ve never properly released any covers, I don’t think—except for that one, another Willie Nelson one. With the Internet now, if you do a song at a show or something, it’s floating around as if you had released it. Which is fine by me. I think doing cover songs is a way to sort of just play, and not worry so much about an artistic statement or anything like that. Just enjoying playing music, you know?
Does Willie know about the project? I sent him a copy. I haven’t heard back yet.
You’ve never met? No.
How’s the follow-up to Pride coming? We’re working on it right now. We recorded the Willie record in a small little warehouse space in Brooklyn …
You’d never guess it was a Brooklyn album. [Laughs] Yeah, right? A bunch of Southerners playing on it though, so that helps. We’re going to record the next one in there, too. We’re in the early stages of tracking. I’m really stoked about it. I want it to come out this year.
Who are the players on the record? It’s the same band that I was touring with. We all kind of surprised each other, recording this. I think it kind of pulled something out of people they didn’t know they had. I think everybody kind of killed it, you know?
On “Reasons To Quit,” you picked up the tempo quite a bit. Was that intentional, or did those sorts of things happen naturally during recording? Me personally, I didn’t refer to the originals at all during the making of this thing. So if it’s in different keys or different tempos, that’s just a natural part of how we played it. I’ve known these songs forever. I didn’t want to go back and listen to the originals; I just wanted to sing them and do them how I knew them. We did refer once back to the original after it was already recorded. We were doing some guitar overdubs, and our electric guitarist didn’t really know what kind of vibe he was looking for, so he decided to listen to the original and cop some of those licks.
If you had to pick one current artist to do To Matthew, who would it be? [Laughs] I have to wait. That somebody comes along in, like, 20 years, right?
They haven’t been born yet. Or maybe they have, who knows? I’ll be stoked to see.
Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen is poised to release second album Grrr… March 10 on Dead Oceans. Songs from 2006 full-length debut The Broken String scored the core duo of Christian Rudder and Justin Rice a Sony digital-camera commercial, as well as a cameo in saccharine teen romance Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Despite the commercial exposure, Bishop Allen is sticking with the sunnily frank lyrics and gently melodic guitars of The Broken Spring, adding a dash of ukulele instrumentation for good measure . If you can’t wait until March 10 to sink your teeth into Grrr…, the album will be available for digital download a week in advance on the band’s website.