Sam Prekop – Sam Prekop

Sam Prekop - Sam Prekop

Label: Thrill Jockey

Sam Prekop is the principal vocalist and guitarist in Chicago’s uber-hip The Sea and Cake, and played in the now-defunct Shrimp Boat. Along with fellow artist Archer Prewitt, Jim O’Rourke and members of Tortoise and The Cocktails, these bands and players have helped define the influential post/prog art-rock movement in Chicago. Consisting primarily of painters and artists, these bands have an incredible knack for fusing jazz with pop, and pop with jazz in a way that everyone from the Beats to the Beatles couldn’t help being inspired by.

On Prekop’s first solo effort, he has created one of the lushest, most sophisticated fusions of soft brassy-piano instrumentals and gentle rolling pop songs. Unlike the upbeat jangle that characterizes The Sea and Cake, Prekop has tuned it all down a tad on this solo exploration preferring to focus on the all quieter newness of modern jazz-pop music. Warmed by the gentle guitarwork from Archer Prewitt, and the heady production job by O’Rourke, this album blows quietly like summer wind, and definitely worth turning on to.

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This Is Our Youth

“This Is Our Youth” is easily one of the most convincing plays I have ever seen. So good, in fact, that I actually saw it for the second time the other night. Granted the premise and concept may seem a bit painfully gen-X, but the dialogue and acting manage to so perfectly capture the essence of three very specific kinds of people that you can’t help but marvel at it. The play takes place in Dennis Ziegler’s Upper West Side bedroom, a sparsely decorated filthy studio paid for by his rich parents, who are most likely just happy to have him out of their own apartment. As Dennis struggles to figure out his life, bike messengering for drug money, the rest of the people from his privileged world are off at college and pursuing self-sufficient lives. Enter Dennis’ sloppy, shy and stoner friend Warren.
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Hands On A Hard Body

Hands On A Hard Body

Director : J.R. Binder

Every year for the last bunch, a Nissan dealership in the town of Longview, Texas has given away a truck to the person who was able to stand around it for the longest time. The actual participants, who we get to know rather intimately, are quite a scrappy bunch. One is missing her front teeth, another seems too overweight to stand for longer than a day, and the others are basically just a bunch of odd rednecks. But in a test of will like this one, these people are forced to look at each other, and then again at themselves (reflected off of the shiny hood of the prized pickup) for as long as they can stand to deal with the indefinite reality of the contest.

The official rules of the competition allow the contestant a five-minute break every hour and a fifteen-minute break every six hours. The contestant must also keep at least one hand flat on the truck at all times, and cannot lean against it nor sleep at any point unless they are on a break.
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Beth Orton – Central Station

Beth Orton - Central Station
Label: Dedicated / Arista

Slapping an ephemeral moniker like “folktronica” onto the incredibly lush music of Beth Orton would be severely limiting to what should, theoretically, be a massive audience of sophisticated music fans. On Orton’s second record, entitled “Central Station,” she has picked up pretty close to the gentle ethereal landscape she left us off at on her sparkling debut “Trailer Park.” The orchestrations are quite a bit more realized this time around, substituting the hypnotic, electronic loops with a fuller slate of guitars, piano, and lightly swept drums. In addition to her slice-of-heaven vocals and poetic lyricism, Orton has managed to assemble a phenomenal cast of guests on this album: Dr. John on piano, Ben Harper on electric guitar, Terry Collier on some backing vocals, and Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt to string together the beats on the album’s final track.

More than almost any female vocalist since Cocteau Twin Liz Frazier, Orton uses her voice as an instrument that just seems to linger leaving the chords effortlessly hanging long after she has finished the thought and the guitar note has disappeared. Vocally she sounds like one part Joni Mitchell, another Karen Carpenter, a dash of Nina Simone and a little Natale Merchant. This may provide you with an unjust description of her range and intent, but more than anything she has a very distinctive sound and approach to making music. On “Couldn’t Cause me No Harm” Orton practices her habit of mesmerizing us with the flowing repetition of simple choruses.

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Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage: Animation Music

Olivia Tremor Control - Black Foliage: Animation Music
Label: Flydaddy

Over the past decade there have only been a couple of bands that have been able to interpret and pay tribute to the Beatles mid-60s pop in a completely new and innovative way. For every ten Zeppelins or Doors knockoff bands there was only one who dared to attempt the Beatles. While Guided By Voices took Paul and John’s penchant for the intelligent pop hook and pared these hooks down to the barest essence, the Atlanta musical collective Olivia Tremor Control took Paul and John by the hand and then had the audacity to sprinkle on top a little Brian Wilson as well. The result is an artier, slightly less accessible melange of the two aforementioned bands.

On “Black Foliage,” the OTC’s predictably ambitious 27 track newest effort, there are definitely a few throwaway tunes that you could program out of the CD. But by pulling out sounds from just about anything they can get their hands on (saws, plates, bells, brass, strings, guitars and a whole bunch of unidentifiable stuff) you tend to hear just how creative and ambitious they are.

“Black Foliage” isn’t quite as consistently poppy or accessible “Cubist Castle” but with all the other Elephant 6 projects the band has been a part of (Beulah, Elf Power, The Minders, Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples In Stereo, etc.) this is definitely the kind of product that results from a 2.5 year recording schedule. Still this is a remarkable pop record as dense and light as a record can be.

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