Rebecca Schiffman "Rebecca Schiffman" TT08
"It's time for your renaissance," sings Rebecca Schiffman on her new album, and it's a message aimed not least of all at herself. In the seven years since her last LP - the warm, vibrant, Syd Barrett-influenced To Be Good For A Day - Schiffman saw her songs used in Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, had her jewelry line covered by The New York Times and embraced by visionary pop artist Grimes, and moved from New York City to Los Angeles for love. The new album - her third, and the first to be self-titled - picks up the story where To Be Good For A Day left off, pushing in new directions with new collaborators and a renewed sense of purpose.
Lacking a firm footing in the Los Angeles music scene or even the general admission ticket to LA life - a driver's license - it took some time for Schiffman to find musicians to play with. A turning point came when a friend introduced her to Mark Ramos Nishita, a.k.a. Money Mark, best known for his work with the Beastie Boys and Beck, and who has played with everyone from Nile Rogers and Yoko Ono to Iggy Pop and Lee Scratch Perry. But it was the lush, lo-fi arrangements on Nishita's acclaimed solo albums that excited Schiffman about the possibility of working together. After meeting for coffee at Proof Bakery in LA's Atwater Village, they planned to record an album in the coming weeks at his own nearby studio, a few steps from the LA River.
Schiffman was prompted to rescue and flush out a set of new songs from notebook purgatory. The most personal of these chronicle her transition from New York to Los Angeles as well as an artistic struggle from self-doubt and paralysis to finding her voice anew. The breezy, poppy "Walking to the Subway" is an homage to New York and a carefree time of living at home and going out every night, while "Childhood Bedroom Claustrophobia" and "Nico" share a stifling sense of time folding in on itself. "Tips for Conquering Fear of Flying" and "Time for Your Renaissance" suggest a newfound self-assuredness while poking fun at the "self-help" genre with dry humor. Flying was a very real fear that almost prevented Schiffman from going to LA, and her song touts the morbid mantra "I've had a great life, I can't complain, surely there are worse ways to die."
The recordings from these sessions are delicate but confident, still possessing the catchy, sidewinding melodies of her previous work while flirting with new sounds and influences, like the keyboards and lap steel guitar on "Walking To The Subway," the Julee Cruise-inspired backing vocals on "Nico," and the early Floyd-inspired jet engine guitar on "Tips For Conquering Fear Of Flying." The latter was played by Wilco guitar wizard Nels Cline who recorded the part at a studio in New York. Along with Nishita, who contributes keyboards throughout the album, the musicians on Rebecca Schiffman are a mix of old and new collaborators, including composer and pianist Jay Israelson (a holdover from To Be Good For A Day), bassist Ethan Glazer (Song Preservation Society), trumpet player Clinton Patterson, drummers Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies) and Angelo Hatgistavrou, and multi-instrumentalist Mike Bloom (Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis). Ke$ha and Demi Lovato guitarist Max Bernstein - a close high school friend of Schiffman's - adds lead guitar on the jangling, tumbling "Little Ronnie."
Rebecca Schiffman ends with a cover of Robyn Hitchcock's "I'm Only You," a song Schiffman has mixed into her live shows for years. Hitchcock and his forefather in bedsit psychedelia Syd Barrett are still notable influences, along with the offhand profundity of NYC mainstay Jeffrey Lewis, the pop-inflected storytelling of the Kinks' Ray Davies, and even the big screen, heart-on-sleeve romanticism of Carly Simon. But Schiffman brings something of her own that defies easy comparison. It's the way she experiments with unexpected chord changes and harmonies, and her talent for finding meaning in unlikely places, like in "Laura," a romantic lament inspired by the pilot episode of Seinfeld, and "Little Ronnie," which turns a kitten adoption into a chance for moral reflection. Rebecca Schiffman is an album of small gestures drawn out into elegantly crafted statements. It's a renaissance with staying power.
Heartbreak Scene "The Szabo Songbook" TT01
"In a world crowded with songwriters clamoring for 'unheralded master' status, Mark Szabo is the real thing. His understated melodic sense brings Robert Forster to mind; his lyrics tuck all their barbs into phrasings that tail off at the ends of the lines, so that by the end of the song you feel like somebody's just whispered a handful of secrets into your ear. Any spotlighting of his work is cause for celebration." (John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats)
"If you've heard some or all of these songs before, you don't need me to tell you how good they are. And if these are the first versions you'll hear, you'll find out soon enough." (Franklin Bruno)
The Szabo Songbook is the first album from Vancouver, B.C.'s Heartbreak Scene, but as the title suggests, it's a self-effacing debut. In 2003, singer Marcy Emery (The Choir Practice, Capozzi Park) called some of her friends together to record interpretations of songs by another friend, Mark Szabo.
Multi-instrumentalist John Collins (producer of Tegan and Sara and producer/member of The New Pornographers) was one enlistee, along with his New Pornos bandmate Dan Bejar, whose other project is the brilliant, sui generis Destroyer.
All involved were fans of Szabo's and thought the Vancouver-based songwriter's work deserved wider attention. For years Szabo had been mixing ramshackle arrangements with sophisticated melodies and surgically precise lyrics, both solo and with his now defunct band Good Horsey.
Imagine an autodidact songwriter as attuned to down-and-out humanity as Springsteen, only far subtler than the Boss and steeped in art pop from the ESP- DISK label through Slapp Happy all the way to Drag City, with songs that are off-handed in execution but very, very deliberate in composition, and you're getting the right idea about Mark Szabo.
Marcy Emery and Heartbreak Scene tease out Szabo's melodies and hooks, and the improved recording fidelity holds a jeweler's loupe to the carefully wrought lyrics. Many of Szabo's characters are desperate for someone to salvage them, but defiant about their need for salvaging. The same might be said for the songs themselves, and on The Szabo Songbook, Heartbreak Scene answer that conflicted call with grace and ingenuity.
Franklin Bruno "Local Currency: Solo 1992-1998" TT02
Franklin Bruno "Zero Return" 7" TT03
Franklin Bruno's songs are intricate in all the right ways, and emotional in a lot of the less obvious ways, and melodic in several gentle ways that you don't get to hear very often. I have been feeling personally inadequate while listening to them for over a decade. (John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats)
21 Songs: Milkcrate/ In a Sourceless Light/ News From Cupid/ About You I'd Ask/ Wholly Heavy Heart/ Winter's Just a Word/ Medium of Exchange/ Keeping the Weekend Free/ Purity Test/ Shooting Past Me/ Cat-Scratch Fever/ The Irony Engine/ Pointless Triangle/ The 101st/ No. 119/ Fond Icicle/ Soggy Girl/ Sleeping Through the Jane Pratt Show/ Rice King/ Coupon/ Dream Worth Dreaming
Local Currency (Solo 1992-1998) gathers songs from long out-of-print 7" singles and compilations by songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and sometime music critic Franklin Bruno. If you already know Franklin's work from his collaborations with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (both as a key sideman on the acclaimed albums The Sunset Tree and Get Lonely and in the duo The Extra Glenns), his six albums of inspired power pop with Nothing Painted Blue, or his three previous solo albums, you have a good idea of what to expect: richly melodic songs that, even at their most lo-fi, resound with sly wit and a huge heart.
In the early 1990s Franklin released two cassette-only collections of four-track recordings on the venerable Shrimper label (an early home to the Mountain Goats, Lou Barlow/Sentridoh, and Refrigerator, and still relevant with its recent support of Brooklyn's Woods). These enigmatic, individually dubbed tapes filtered through the post-Nirvana independent underground, winning admirers with their balance of rawness and craft, as if Loudon Wainwright III had signed to K Records.
Those early tapes are prized by a cadre of devotees, but Franklin saved his best solo material for the releases collected here. Pressed in small runs on labels like Walt, Sing, Eunuchs!, Baby Huey and Germany's Little Teddy, the highlights include "In a Sourceless Light," which weds sumptuous lyricism to electric-acoustic jangle; "Milkcrate," a poignant, catchy breakup song; and Bruno's de facto signature song, "Irony Engine" (frequently covered live by the Mountain Goats, and included on a recent Rough Trade Shops compilation alongside tracks by Elliott Smith, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey).
Local Currency includes track-by-track notes by Franklin, and an essay by poet and Nation columnist Ange Mlinko. Purchasers of the CD will receive a code for a free five-track download-only EP, featuring covers of songs from across Franklin's career by friends: Lou Barlow, Laura Cantrell, Mac McCaughan, Jennifer O'Connor, and Mecca Normal; the first 150 orders include Zero Return, a limited-edition 7" of vintage recordings of three previously unreleased songs: "Waterweight", "Medal" and "I'm Not Ashamed".
Local Currency Free Companion EP
Free companion EP features: Lou Barlow, "Sit Back and Watch"/ Jennifer O'Connor, "Clean Needle"/ Portastatic, "Tableaux Vivant"/ Laura Cantrell, "Lies On Your Lips"/ Mecca Normal, "Coupon"
Peter Peter Hughes "Fangio" 7" TT04
Peter Peter Hughes "Fangio" LP/MP3 TT05 Coming 9/7/10
PRE-ORDER $14 ppd
This is me, Peter Hughes, dba Peter Peter Hughes (yes there is a story, no it's not that interesting). If you know who I am already, it's probably as the guy who's been playing bass in the Mountain Goats for the past decade or so. I've done other stuff, too: I fronted the unfortunately named DiskothiQ for a decade before that, played bass in Franklin Bruno's Nothing Painted Blue and have sporadically put out stuff on my own.
This project, Fangio, an album consisting of a 7" single and a 12" LP, requires some explanation. When I was seventeen I wrote a song for my Casio-powered solo project Party of One which imagined the 1950s race car driver, five-time Formula One World Champion, and Argentine folk hero Juan Manuel Fangio piloting a then-current 1980s-model Saab 900 Turbo across the Andes mountains on a covert mission to assassinate the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. As my Mountain Goats battery-mate Jon Wurster might say, "Why?" Twenty-three years later, this album picks up where "A Fangio for the '80s" left off.
The real-life Fangio died in 1995, long retired from racing. On the track he'd been known as El Maestro-the teacher-and a legendary bad-ass. Off it, he was El Chueco-most commonly translated as "bandy-legs"-short, squeaky-voiced, the very essence of good-natured humility and universally beloved for it.
The Fangio of my imagination is slightly different. He's still alive for one thing-though by what Borgesian mechanism it's never made clear-and so haunted by his own refusal to speak out against the atrocities of Argentina's Dirty War that he's gone underground as a sort of international rogue agent, beholden to nobody and determined to clear his conscience by evening the score: against the CIA, against the cartels, against every agent of oppression that conspired to terrorize and exploit the people of Latin America over the last half century. This album should be properly read as one part DC comics, one part Tom Clancy novel, and one part Marxist revolutionary tract.
Fangio was recorded entirely at home, by me, using GarageBand-which, in its ubiquity, cheapness, and user-friendly simplicity, I regard as the clear 21st century successor to my old Casio MT-100. And it sounds like New Order because I've always wanted to play in a band that sounded like New Order. I make no apologies.
LP: My God Is an Angry God (Juan Manuel Fangio Castiga los Pecados del Mundo) / La Consciencia Intranquila de Juan Manuel Fangio / Edwardian Gray / Bebe's Song / El Hombre Mas Macho / Compared to Their Predecessors, Today's Politically Motivated Kidnappers Are Total Dicks / Los Viejos / Beat Your Halfshafts Into Swords (The Radicalization and Redemption of Juan Manuel Fangio)
7": Operational Detachment Juan Manuel Fangio b/w El Narcoavión
The Human Hearts "Art Books"/"Last Words Of Her Lover" 7"+MP3 TT06
An actual, physical 7" by The Human Hearts featuring Franklin Bruno, the brilliant songwriter who was basically Fayettenam's raison d'etre. It's yours for $6 postage paid, and comes with a free digital download.
The 7" features two new songs: the rocking "Art Books," and "Last Words Of Her Lover," which features guest vocals from the lovely and scarily talented Bree Benton. You can stream both songs here.
Various Artists "Grow Up/Move Out" Compilation TT07
A long-delayed digital-only compilation with all proceeds (minus Bandcamp's 15%) going to City Harvest, an NYC-based homeless charity.
The compilation is called Grow Up/Move Out, it has a cover by cartoonist Michael Kupperman, and it's a great, eclectic representation of everything I wanted the label to be. The songs are all unreleased or super-rare, and include beautiful contributions from Darren Hayman, Tenement Halls, The Human Hearts featuring Franklin Bruno, Jeffrey Lewis, Refrigerator, Peter Peter Hughes, Heartbreak Scene featuring Mark Szabo, Saucer featuring Bill Goffrier of Big Dipper and the Embarrassment, Matthew Hattie Hein, Brian Dewan, Mean Spirit'd Robots, Kleenex Girl Wonder, The Tony Green Orchestra, Ron House, and two young Brooklyn bands of whom I'm a huge fan: Hospitality and Darlings.