Handsome Family Values: The Salamander

handsomelogo120eFor the Handsome Family, upcoming album Honey Moon—a collection of love songs due April 14—is a startling left turn. The husband/wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks still deals in spectral bluegrass and noirish folk forms on its ninth album, but gone are the ghosts and murder ballads that had painted them into a gothic-Americana corner. (Trust us, the album is still plenty weird. Love is weird.) The Handsome Family is guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with Brett and Rennie about Honey Moon and a host of other topics.

slamander370Rennie Sparks: Salamanders need a moist environment, so it’s not surprising that they like to live inside rotten logs; it is startling to throw an old log on the fire, however, and see a salamander leap out of the flames. Such occurrences, and the fact that salamanders are able to regenerate lost limbs or tails, are perhaps the reason that medieval alchemists believed the salamander to be an immortal creature forged out of fire. I wish I lived in a time and place when it was easy to believe in magical creatures born of fire. Still, it took my breath away when I once spotted a tiny salamander perched on a wet stone at the edge of a stagnant pond littered with old beer bottles.

Lost Classics: Flying Saucer Attack “New Lands”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

:: FLYING SAUCER ATTACK
New Lands // Domino/Drag City, 1997
davepierce366c2Flying Saucer Attack was at the forefront of Bristol, England’s fertile mid-‘90s scene that included Massive Attack, Portishead and Amp. FSA mainman Dave Pearce indulged his love of krautrock, traditional British folk music and a post-shoegaze ambient aesthetic to forge records of uncommon beauty and passion. Nowhere near as fuzzed-out and lo-fi as its four predecessors (Pearce, who’d been wrestling with depression, claimed it marked his “second phase”), New Lands was still unmistakably FSA, from pulsing waves of treated and feedback guitar to massive, cresting dynamics to Pearce’s hushed vocals. New Lands is also fantastically vertiginous in the best, most My Bloody Valentine-esque sense.

Catching Up: After 2000’s Mirror, Pearce essentially vanished, turning up briefly for 2003’s Clear Horizon, a collaboration with Jessica Bailiff.

“Up In Her Eyes”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/UpInHerEyes.mp3

Free MP3 From The Spinto Band

spinto364Somehow 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.

“I Think We’re Alone Now” (download here):

Handsome Family Values: Alasdair Roberts

handsomelogo120eFor the Handsome Family, upcoming album Honey Moon—a collection of love songs due April 14—is a startling left turn. The husband/wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks still deals in spectral bluegrass and noirish folk forms on its ninth album, but gone are the ghosts and murder ballads that had painted them into a gothic-Americana corner. (Trust us, the album is still plenty weird. Love is weird.) The Handsome Family is guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with Brett and Rennie about Honey Moon and a host of other topics.

dc3265401Brett Sparks: Alasdair Roberts played live in our living room once. He is a Scottish folk musician who used to record under the moniker Appendix Out. The first time I heard his 2001 record, The Crook Of My Arm, I wept. It consists entirely of solo vocals and guitar in non-standard, wonderful tunings. These are sad, sad Scottish folk songs. He sings both his own compositions and recitations of traditional songs, including many traditional death ballads. He lives in Glasgow. I wish I could play guitar like him. I wish I could remember all those lyrics!

“The Wife Of Ushers Well”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/TheWifeOfUshersWell.mp3

Harrison Ridley, Jr. 1939-2009

harrisonHarrison Ridley, Jr., a jazz DJ, historian and teacher, died last week due to complications from a stroke. Though most MAGNET readers probably don’t recognize the name, Ridley was a vital part of Philadelphia’s jazz scene and a consultant to the Library of Congress. For 32 years, he was a DJ on WRTI, the jazz station run by Temple University (alma mater to more than a few of us) and in recent years lectured weekly at the Borders bookstore across the street from our offices. When we told Brother Ridley (as most called him) that we were working on an article on avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler back in 2004, he just shook his head and said, “That’s the kind of music I have to go in the basement to play.”

Philadelphia Daily News obituary here.

Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/DoNothingTillYouHearFromMe.mp3

Wheat Reissues Early LPs, Preps Release Of “White Ink, Black Ink”

wheat08366Wheat—the New England wobbly-pop duo of Scott Levesque and Brendan Harney—is reissuing its first two albums (1997’s Medeiros and 1999’s Hope And Adams) in a three-disc package. Along with the two full-lengths, a 16-page booklet and limited-edition signed poster (for pre-orders only), a third disc of rarities titled 30 Minute Theatrik is included.

“We made the third disc its own program,” Harney tells MAGNET, “flowing very much like we’d try and make a record flow. Rather than just throw some songs on the end of each record, it has its own oddly part real/part made-up vibe.”

In addition, Harney revealed some details on Wheat’s upcoming fifth album, White Ink, Black Ink. The late-spring/early-summer release will be on the Rebel Group, a label run by Thaddeus Rudd (of Wheat’s ’90s-era label, Sugar Free). “[White Ink is] very different from the last [album],” says Harney. “It’s much simpler, much more honed down, much harder-hitting. I think this is our best record to date. Very confident, very pop, but very Wheat.”

Wheat will be appearing at SXSW with a new live lineup that includes, according to Harney, a device/person known only as “robot.”

MAGNET tooled around picturesque New England small towns with Wheat in 2007 and got the whole story on the band’s music-biz ride on the rollercoaster that John Mayer built. We also had some excellent Portuguese kale soup. Read the article here.

“Leslie West” from Medeiros:

Handsome Family Values: The Woodpecker

handsomelogo120eFor the Handsome Family, upcoming album Honey Moon—a collection of love songs due April 14—is a startling left turn. The husband/wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks still deals in spectral bluegrass and noirish folk forms on its ninth album, but gone are the ghosts and murder ballads that had painted them into a gothic-Americana corner. (Trust us, the album is still plenty weird. Love is weird.) The Handsome Family is guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with Brett and Rennie about Honey Moon and a host of other topics.

woodpecker350b

Rennie Sparks: There’s an old box elder tree in our backyard. It’s full of dead limbs and crawling with bugs, but somehow it manages to produce an explosion of broad green leaves every spring. The foliage is so dense mid-summer that when my cat leaps up into the branches, he completely disappears. The woodpeckers are not fooled. Every autumn, they return. A woodpecker’s hearing is so acute it can actually hear bugs burrowing through a tree trunk as it flies past overhead. The tongue of the woodpecker is extremely long and ends in a razor-sharp barb. The woodpecker hammers at the holes made by insects, then snakes its tongue into the wood to skewer its prey. In early September, I hear them out there tap-tap tapping as the sun rises. It’s a deep and hollow sound like a gloved hand patting down wet soil: the perfect sound to wake up to.

Lost Classics: Rachel’s “The Sea And The Bells”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

rachels545

:: RACHEL’S
The Sea And The Bells // Quarterstick, 1996
Neo-classical? Avant-chamber? Pre-rock? No one has ever been able to determine what genre of music this instrumental Louisville, Ky., collective played. There’s the modern-classical feel of 1995’s Handwriting, the chamber pop of 1996’s Music For Egon Schiele, the minimalist experimentation of 1999’s Selenography and the post-rock beauty of 2003’s Systems/Layers. But Rachel’s—pianist Rachel Grimes, bassist/guitarist Jason Noble, violinist Christian Frederickson and assorted friends and neighbors—were most impressive on The Sea And The Bells. Inspired by a collection of poems by Pablo Neruda, the album features 15 guest musicians, giving Rachel’s the opportunity to venture into full-blown orchestra territory. At turns classical, experimental, jazzy, ambient and avant garde, this hour-long set is unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

Catching Up: After collaborating and staging a multimedia piece with New York City theater company SITI in 2005 and 2006, Rachel’s went on hiatus. Noble plays in Shipping News, and Frederickson has recorded with Mission Of Burma and Matt Pond PA; the two formed the Young Scamels in 2007.

“Rhine & Courtesan”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/RhineAndCourtesan.mp3

Free MP3 From Dntel

dntl390Long 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

Handsome Family Values: Barry McCormack

handsomelogo120eFor the Handsome Family, upcoming album Honey Moon—a collection of love songs due April 14—is a startling left turn. The husband/wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks still deals in spectral bluegrass and noirish folk forms on its ninth album, but gone are the ghosts and murder ballads that had painted them into a gothic-Americana corner. (Trust us, the album is still plenty weird. Love is weird.) The Handsome Family is guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with Brett and Rennie about Honey Moon and a host of other topics.

barrymcormick368Brett Sparks: Barry McCormack is our friend. When we first toured Ireland, he opened for us. He rode in the van and smoked and drank whiskey. He weighed like 65 pounds. He never ate. He was usually paid in drink. He sang these great, evocative modern Irish tunes. His songs range from murder ballads to comic story songs. They’re often inspired by local histories and often feel like a musical version of James Joyce’s Dubliners. He is a unique voice in Irish music. According to Barry, after years of indolent scrounging, he has earned a modest but honest living as, among other things, a shop assistant (stationery supplies), postboy for a life insurance company, office temp, English language teacher and arts columnist.

“The Shiftless Son”: