Essay: Hour of Bewilderbeast by Badly Drawn Boy

Records typically live or die by consistency, which is to say they could go either way. In music-critic-speak, a consistent album could either have a “unified sound” or be too similar overall. On the other hand, an erratic grab bag of styles and influences can confuse, disorient, and annoy. Badly Drawn Boy’s debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast pulls off the seemingly impossible: It’s a consistent grab bag, a cohesive hodgepodge, and a ramshackle collage that more than equals the sum of its parts.
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Interview: Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello’s new memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, is a whirlwind tour of Costello’s life as a rock musician, son, father, television host, and songwriting collaborator with Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach. Like his music, Costello’s book is equal parts acerbic and heartfelt, giving scope to the many stylistic detours he and his fellow musicians have taken since his start in the mid-’70s. Elvis Costello spoke to The A.V. Club about those detours, faulty memories, and collaborating with childhood heroes.
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Book review: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Calling Sarah Vowell a historian doesn’t seem right. She certainly deserves the title, considering her ability to write beautifully about history and, as the lengthly bibliography at the end of Lafayette In The Somewhat United States proves, research the hell out of her subject. Maybe it’s just hard to picture David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin, say, waxing poetic about a visit to Bruce Springsteen’s house or providing a heartbreakingly funny mid-book interlude about the Quaker community’s complicated history with the Revolutionary War. Sarah Vowell’s books always, to their great benefit, have heavy doses of Sarah Vowell, a talented and opinionated writer in love with America’s weird, messy backstory.

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Album review: Poison Season by Destroyer

The press materials for Poison Season, the 11th record Dan Bejar has recorded under the name Destroyer, cite David Bowie’s chamber-pop classic Hunky Dory as an influence this time around. The touchstones—ornate strings, piano flourishes—are certainly there, but Poison Season is a looser, less-constrained affair. With its saxophones, bongos, and violins, it’s more of a Young AmericansHunky Dory hybrid.
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Album review: The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

Given the band’s affinity for energy and explosions, Titus Andronicus is often compared to Hüsker Dü and The Clash, but a better corollary might be The Who. Both bands specialize in sudden tonal shifts from bombast to sensitive soul-searching, and like The Who, Titus Andronicus caters in collections of songs that work together for a high concept. Not for nothing do the liner notes credit frontman Patrick Stickles as both the writer and director of this project.
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Interview: The Sklar Brothers

Twin brothers Randy and Jason Sklar—together known as the Sklar Brothers—began their stand-up comedy career as part of the New York alternative comedy scene in the mid-’90s. Since then, they have hosted the ESPN comedy show Cheap Seats, released four stand-up albums (the most recent of which, 2014’s Sklar Brothers: What Are We Talking About, was also released as a Netflix special), and created the enormously popular podcast Sklarbro Country. In honor of Siblings Week, they spoke to The A.V. Club about what it’s like to be twin stand-ups.
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Interview: “Weird Al” Yankovic

When comedian, musician, and parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic broke through to the mainstream in the ’80s thanks to hits like “Eat It” and “Fat” (parodies of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Bad,” respectively), it was something of a coup for nerds. There on MTV, wedged between Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, was a frizzy-haired, four-eyed oddball who played it so straight that his parodies were almost indistinguishable from the originals (unless, of course, you paid attention to the clever lyrics.) Among the ’80s pop bombast and sheen was Al, a goofball who, to paraphrase a Yankovic song title, dared to be stupid.
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Album review: Glean by They Might Be Giants


It’s been 33 years since Johns Linnell and Flansburgh formed They Might Be Giants, and 21 since they converted their two-man accordion-guitar-MIDI operation into a multi-instrument group, meaning they’ve fronted a full-fledged rock band for the majority of their careers.
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Interview: H. Jon Benjamin

I grew up in Worcester, so I’m depressed a lot. There was a bleak quality to it. But I have fond memories of Worcester, too. I grew up Jewish, which was depressing, too, but Worcester had a pretty tight Jewish community. You know how they stick together, the Jews. Like kosher glue.
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Book review: Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

Silver Screen Fiend, stand-up comedian and writer Patton Oswalt’s memoir about moviegoing in the ’90s, begins and ends at a revival screening of Sunset Boulevard. It’s a fitting choice: The 1950 noir is essentially about what movies do to us, and what role a film’s viewers—“those wonderful people out there in the dark,” as the film’s main character, Norma Desmond, puts it—play in the movie-audience transaction.
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Interview: Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt’s new memoir, “Silver Screen Fiend,” describes the stand-up comedian’s five-year, almost-daily habit of watching movies at LA’s New Beverly Cinema in the mid- to late-’90s. The book — his second, after 2011’s essay collection “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland” — details his efforts to overcome the obsession, his growth into adulthood, and the then-burgeoning alt-comedy scene. Oswalt performs stand-up at the Wilbur Theatre Wednesday night.
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Essay: “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight

There are two kinds of one-hit wonders: The first is where you hear the famous song and think, Of course they didn’t have another hit. The song is so dumb, so stupidly ephemeral, there’s no way the people responsible could have bothered to try it again. The second is the kind that makes you think about what could have been: This song is so great. Why didn’t this artist just do it at least one more time? Where did they go?
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Essay: Glass Houses by Billy Joel

Being a Billy Joel fan is a complicated endeavor. “Fan,” after all, is short for “fanatic,” a word that implies a kind of loyalty that artists like Joel make challenging. At the risk of giving a backhanded compliment, sounding like an apologist, or, perhaps, making a massive understatement, Billy Joel has some shortcomings.
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Album review: Tough Love by Jessie Ware

Jessie Ware proudly wears her influences—Sade, Whitney Houston, Prince, and any number of ’80s and ’90s R&B belters—on her sleeve. But her many strengths as a songwriter and singer outweigh any possible charges of imitation, and her willingness to apply subtlety, make unexpected choices, and take risks are what make Ware such a unique presence.
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Essay: Wildflowers by Tom Petty

For Tom Petty, 1994 was a year of transitions. His contract at MCA had just come to a close with the massively successful Greatest Hits (and its blockbuster single, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”) and drummer Stan Lynch acrimoniously left The Heartbreakers. Moreover, Petty’s marriage was steadily crumbling and, after two hit records with Jeff Lynne, he was looking for a new producer. For Petty, however, it wasn’t an excuse to take some time off. It was a clean slate.
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Album review: Sukierae by Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy is a remarkably versatile songwriter, even when only considering the output of his main gig, Wilco. For every delicate ballad like “Far, Far Away,” there’s a noise-rock storm like “Kicking Television”; for every Tin Pan Alley pastiche like “Hummingbird,” there’s a hazy fever dream like “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” Jeff Tweedy contains multitudes.
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Interview: Bob Newhart

Talking to Bob Newhart on the phone is strange at first. You half-expect the comedian, whose stand-up act has long featured imaginary phone conversations about bizarre situations, to act like the Empire State Building security guard responding to King Kong’s arrival, or Abraham Lincoln’s press agent giving feedback about the Gettysburg Address.
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Essay: Why MTV Unplugged matters

During R.E.M.’s Unplugged set in 2001, Michael Stipe glanced at himself in a nearby monitor that was playing a video of the band’s first Unplugged show in 1991. He cringed, laughed, and remarked about how “earnest” he looked. He urged the show’s producers to turn the damn thing off, though not before remarking coyly, “What a fox.”
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Album review: Nikki Nack by Tune-Yards

In some respects, Merrill Garbus has come a long way since 2009, when she released her debut as Tune-Yards. That record, the eclectic Bird-Brains, was a homemade delight full of tape loops, faraway vocals, and found-recording snippets. In contrast, Nikki Nack, Garbus’ third effort, is polished, meticulously produced, and very much a studio effort.
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Interview: Eugene Mirman

My parents brought me here [from Russia] in the late ’70s, and I grew up at a time when there was a stand-up boom. We came here with the idea of becoming anything we wanted and genuinely believing and pursuing the American dream. Not to say that [my parents] probably weren’t concerned, but they let me go to Hampshire College, where I majored in comedy. My thesis was a one-hour stand-up act. It was actually an incredibly practical decision in terms of how much I’ve applied all the things I learned in college.
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Interview: The Both

At first, the combination of Ted Leo and Aimee Mann seems incongruous. Leo got his beginnings in the New York hardcore scene, and he founded the mod-punk band Chisel before branching out to pop-punk with the Pharmacists. Mann, meanwhile, is primarily known for ballads, waltzes, and slow-burning pop songs. Excepting their respective beats-per-minute ratios, however, the pairing makes sense: The duo’s self-titled debut, The Both, features Leo and Mann finding common ground in melody, searing guitars, and meticulous songcraft. The A.V. Club spoke with Leo and Mann about their first experiences with dating, adolescent rapping, and each other.
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Album review: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (reissue) by Elton John

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s title track is a gorgeous lament about fame, a celebrity’s dream of normalcy. The song addresses Elton John’s popularity in lyricist Bernie Taupin’s opening words: “When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land?” The rocket man was anxious about his trajectory.
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Album review: Lost In The Dream by The War on Drugs

The band and its fans are undoubtedly sick of the comparison, but there’s no denying it: The War On Drugs sounds like Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits. Instead of imitating those and other FM mainstays, however, The War On Drugs aims for listeners’ feelings about them, and for our collective radio unconscious. On Lost In The Dream, they nail us good.
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Interview: Real Estate

It’s hard to hear Alex Bleeker, traveling by van on tour with his raucous bandmates, somewhere between San Francisco and Portland, Ore. “Sorry,” he says sheepishly, “I’m gettin’ ribbed.” Bleeker is the bassist for the popular indie-rock band Real Estate, which just released its third record, “Atlas,” to very positive reviews. The band performs at the Sinclair in Harvard Square on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
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Interview: Hannibal Buress

A typical Hannibal Buress joke is so deceptively simple that you don’t realize its complexity until later, long after it comes together in a weird, hilarious ending. “Whenever people are going through something in life, they get really cliché,” starts one joke. “They say stuff like, ‘I’m takin’ it one day at a time.’ You know who else is? Everybody. Because that’s how time works. That’s the only way you can take time. Were you taking it one week at a time before? Who are you?”
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Album review: Atlas by Real Estate

On Real Estate’s previous albums—an endearingly woolly self-titled debut; the excellent, vibrant follow-up Days—the balance between offhand and methodical was delicately maintained. Atlas, the New Jersey band’s newest effort, too often tips to the “offhand” side of the scale. Despite some strong material, the album is ultimately too light to stay grounded, too loose to stick.
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Interview: Sue Costello

The first thing you notice about Sue Costello is her voice. It’s a loud, smoky thing, full of strength and vulnerability, simultaneously world-weary and ready for anything. In those ways, it mirrors Boston itself, and especially Savin Hill, the Dorchester neighborhood where the stand-up comic and actress grew up.
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Album review: Close to the Glass by The Notwist

The Notwist’s new record sounds very much like the German quartet’s previous work—beats glitch, guitars strum, lyrical desperation chills. “We want to be you,” Markus Acher sings shakily on “Signals,” the album’s opener. When he then sings “We want to light your screen,” the primary theme of Close To The Glass sinks in: The Notwist is anxiously reaching out through the morass of modern technology, one listening device at a time.
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Interview: Kurt Braunohler

Comedian Kurt Braunohler has a podcast, excels at self-promotion, and once staged a one-man show. Nothing out of the ordinary for a comedian, right? Not until you consider the particulars: his podcast, “The K Ohle,” includes a regular segment that offers fake boat knowledge; recent self-promotion efforts included skywriting that asked, “How do I land?”; and his one-man show detailed a hiatus in a relationship and its origins in Amish tradition.
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Interview: John Hodgman

Humorist John Hodgman has had many show business personas. Though initially known to most as “PC” in Apple’s famous Mac vs. PC television commercials, the Brookline native’s career has included three books of fake — and hilarious — world knowledge, a stint as “resident expert” on “The Daily Show,” and a Netflix comedy special entitled “Ragnarok,” in which Hodgman delivered esoteric stand-up while patiently waiting for the Mayan apocalypse.
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Interview: Pete Holmes

Lexington-born comic Pete Holmes—perhaps best known as the voice of the E*Trade baby—is debuting a late-night TV show. “I remember growing up and thinking I was on TV when I was 8 years old and wanting something called The Pete Show,” Holmes says. “The fact that here I am, 34, on something called The Pete Holmes Show, is just a preposterous, one-for-one, 100 percent dream come true. I walk around in a daze most of the time, just smiling and feeling grateful. It’s unspeakable.”
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Essay: Paul Simon’s “Thelma”

Just as Hearts And Bones is unfairly dismissed as Paul Simon’s misstep before Graceland, The Rhythm Of The Saints is too often described as the lackluster follow-up to the 1986 masterpiece. Though it’s understandable that the records are considered companion pieces—both Graceland and Saints find Simon taking cues from other cultures, and the records share some personnel—they’re very different albums.
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Album review: All Hail West Texas by the Mountain Goats

A split-second of silence, followed by the whirring of gears. For many years, this is how most Mountain Goats songs began. John Darnielle’s Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox is almost as famous as the man who pressed record to document songs that, whether fictional or autobiographical, seemed intensely personal. The fact that the boombox recordings sound like unearthed artifacts certainly encourages that feeling, but when Darnielle started regularly recording in studios with full bands, the intimacy remained. Darnielle, it turned out, was just a damn good songwriter.
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Essay: Longpigs’ “On and On”

The “alternative” boom of the ’90s produced all kinds of bands. Some pushed themselves through MTV Buzz Bin territory to great artistic rewards; others burned bright and quickly flamed out, not even reaching a sophomore slump. Then there were bands like Longpigs, who were somewhere in between.
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Album review: Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz

Major Arcana, the first full-length from Massachusetts indie-rock outfit Speedy Ortiz, proudly bears its influences—the clean guitars of Liz Phair, the dirty ones of Sonic Youth and Pavement—but dwelling on those touchstones distracts from the record’s fervent drive to unsettle and have fun in novel ways.
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Interview: Eugene Mirman

Standup comedian and Lexington native Eugene Mirman knows exactly why this area is such a breeding ground for comedy. Without hesitation, he says, “It’s the combination of being smart and angry, this great combination of tough but very bright. Everyone is sort of the Matt Damon character from Good Will Hunting.”
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TV review: John Hodgman: Ragnarok

Those who have followed John Hodgman’s career—from his beginnings as a self-appointed expert of world knowledge and Daily Show regular through his side gig as a Mac pitchman and podcast judge—will not be surprised that his first comedy special, produced by Netflix, is unconventional.
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Album review: Partygoing by Future Bible Heroes

The primary question of Partygoing, the new album from the Stephin Merritt side project Future Bible Heroes, is nestled in the wonderfully titled “Satan, Your Way Is A Hard One”: “Who would believe that I was naive? / Who would believe I was once young?”
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Album review: Volume 3 by She & Him

The new record by M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, a.k.a. She & Him, isn’t likely to change anybody’s opinions about the duo. Deschanel’s voice is still rough and imprecise, and the songs, buffed to a folk-pop sheen, are anything but. However, skeptics may want to give it a listen: Volume 3 is a step forward for She & Him, and it’s the pair’s best effort to date.
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Track review: “Sweater Weather”, Parks

Oh man, we need songs like this, right? It may not be the most original sound around, but that’s kind of the point: it hits the sweet spot in your pop music subconscious, cramming all the minutes of FM radio that you’ve heard in your lifetime into one sweet little song.
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Track review: “Tin Horn”, Horsehands

This song is bonkers, but that’s what I love about it. Psychedelic freakout one minute, Built To Spill-style slow jam the next. I keep listening to it, thinking I’ll unlock what makes it hold together, but I can’t figure it out. Let’s call it a draw.
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Interview: Lyle Lovett

Hurricane Sandy had Lyle Lovett on edge. He was not only concerned for all his friends and fans on the East Coast, but unsure about his shows in New England. “We were talking to our promoters today,” said Lovett, on the phone Monday from Nashville as Sandy raged in Boston, “trying to figure out what the heck was going on, and if it’s going to affect them, or the shows, or what. There’s really no way to know until it blows through, I suppose.”
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Album review: Shut Down the Streets by A.C. Newman

The New Pornographers’ frontman Carl Newman wrote Shut Down the Streets after his mother’s death and before his son’s birth, and as open and airy as these songs sound, they are also anchored by weighty lyrics about indecision and ambiguity. In other words, the album’s cover, featuring Newman standing in a spacious glade surrounded by fallen trees, is perfect.
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Album review: Transcendental Youth by the Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle has a new baby, but that hasn’t softened his love for dark subject matter. (“Please,” he wrote on his website in July. “May the baby grow up to spit in my face if I should pose that hard.”) Transcendental Youth, despite its frequent use of a punchy horn section, is bleak, even by Darnielle’s standards. It’s also one of the band’s best.
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Album review: The Tarnished Gold by Beachwood Sparks

In the 11 years since the indie-country-folk band’s last record, things have gotten hazier for Beachwood Sparks. Their sunniness is now deployed with a lighter touch and ample reverb, bringing to mind the humid dog days of August instead of the fireworks of July. Thankfully, the haze suits them.
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Interview: Marc Maron

YOU’VE MENTIONED ON YOUR SHOW THAT YOU HAD SOME CONFLICT WITH THE BOSTON PERSONALITY. I don’t know if it was conflict. I grew up in New Mexico, and my family is from the East Coast. For the first couple of years there, the inconsistency of the Boston accent can be a little intimidating. But over time it becomes charming. It’s hard not to feel like an outsider for a while, but I grew to really get a kick out of it, and get impressed by it somehow.
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Album review: Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage by R.E.M.

Four guys in Athens, Georgia start a band. They play shows, get signed to a local label, work their way up the college rock ranks, get signed to a major, become rock stars, implode, and (mostly) recover.
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Interview: Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper has always seemed like a bunch of country/folk/fuzz-rock vagabonds, so perhaps it’s fitting that frontman Eric Earley’s cellphone reception repeatedly died as the band drove across the deserts of Arizona on their way to a show in New Mexico.
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Film review: High and Low

Though known internationally as Heaven and Hell, the film’s American title High and Low is more reflective of its many highs and lows: art, classes, and physical spaces, not to mention the movie’s equally compelling text and subtext.
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Essay: Saying goodbye to R.E.M.

R.E.M. recently called it quits after 31 years together, and Robots David and Mark needed it to talk about it.

Robot David: Where to start? I’ve been an R.E.M. fan for so long that I’ve lost objectivity. I’m not the first to make this comparison, but it’s really been like a personal relationship. We’ve had our squabbles—Michael, please stop yelling “Accelerate!”—but they’ve been a constant. Even though I wasn’t aware of them until 1991, they started less than a year after I was born. They’ve always been around.
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Album review: Slave Ambient by The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs’ music is hard to categorize, but its influences are fun to identify: a little Springsteen here, some Dire Straits there, a pinch of New Order. But “Slave Ambient’’ is no ’80s nostalgia trip. It’s a rock album that mixes 30-year-old influences with the deep, hazy production of indie synth-poppers like M83.
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Album review: Good One by Tig Notaro

Sarah Silverman provides an introduction on Tig Notaro’s debut comedy record, and it’s a fitting choice. Like Silverman, Notaro caters in moments of surprise, and neither comic shies away from discomfort, letting jokes unfold to satisfying payoffs.
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Album review: Join Us by They Might Be Giants

For all the reductive adjectives typically used to describe They Might Be Giants—“quirky,” “weird,” etc.—their songs are always rooted in their own realities. A drum-playing worm sounds perfectly normal when described by John Linnell, and why wouldn’t The Replacements have a song called “We’re The Replacements?”
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Album review: SBTRKT

SBTRKT’s name is pronounced “subtract,” and the moniker fits—this London producer’s self-titled debut is all about subtlety and mystery. Beats seem to emerge from dark corners, sounds from shadows. The fact that SBTRKT performs wearing a mask comes as no surprise.
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Track review: “Circulation”, Thurston Moore

I did not expect to like the new Thurston Moore record. Not because I dislike him, or Sonic Youth, but because I don’t particularly love Sonic Youth. I admire and respect them, and I like many Sonic Youth songs, but I don’t tend to listen to many of the band’s records in full (except Washing Machine, for some reason, which got me through high school. It is underrated!).
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Interview: The Decemberists

The Decemberists have had an interesting few years. After several albums on indie label Kill Rock Stars, the Portland band signed to Capitol Records in 2005. They released “The Crane Wife,” the best album of their career, a year later, followed in 2009 by “The Hazards of Love,” a concept album about a shape-shifter who lives in the forest. Not exactly a typical indie-band career path.
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Interview: Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann is no stranger to contradiction. Some of her most biting songs, such as the lacerating “How Am I Different,’’ are also her prettiest and most melodically satisfying; and her most relatable work was done on artistically and financially personal terms. So it’s perhaps fitting that Mann is simultaneously writing a stage musical and touring small venues with a scaled-down band.
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Essay: Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon

For reasons that now seem ridiculous, I wrote off Warren Zevon for a long time. Like They Might Be Giants — who I’ve also wised up about — I assumed for years that Zevon, despite his long career, was a wacky classic rock one-off: in his case, a guy who wrote a dumb song about a werewolf. I’m glad I came around.
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Interview: Paul F. Tompkins

Much about stand-up comedian Paul F. Tompkins is old-fashioned, from his onstage uniform of suits and bow ties to his mock-pompous vocabulary (“I didn’t de-collapse my opera hat for this!”). So it’s surprising that he is also a master of online self-promotion.
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Essay: El Oso by Soul Coughing

I’ve been putting off writing this one. There’s just something unruly about the final Soul Coughing album, something rough-edged and unmanageable. Though it has some concise pop gems — “Circles” is one of most radio-friendly songs of the ’90s — much of the record is rambling and relentlessly dark.
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Concert review: The New Pornographers

The first lesson from Friday’s New Pornographers’ show at the House of Blues was this: do not mess with Neko Case.
For some reason, an audience member hurled a CD — no case, just the shiny, sharp-edged disc — at the stage early in the band’s set. This prompted New Pornographer Case to say, half-jokingly, “Whoever threw that, come up here, and I will fucking fight you. . . . I will go to jail, I don’t give a shit.”
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Concert review: Free Energy

It takes balls to open a debut album with the words “we’re breaking out,” but that’s what the band Free Energy recently did on their homonymous debut from DFA Records. It’s also how the Philadelphia quintet began last night’s show at the Middle East downstairs, plowing through the fuzz-rock song in question (“Free Energy,” of course) with abandon and sending the crowd into a minor frenzy.
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Interview: Yeasayer

Yeasayer guitarist Anand Wilder had just woken up, which might explain his confusion about who was calling.
“Vitamin Magazine?” he asked excitedly. “I love vitamins!” He waxed rhapsodic about a few of his favorite nutrients (vitamin D, Emergen-C), then sounded a little disappointed when reminded that Vita.mn is a Twin Cities entertainment publication.
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Interview: Andrew Bird

Andrew BirdAndrew Bird is known for eclectic choices — all of his records include violin, wordy lyrics and lots of expert whistling — but even he admits that his current seven-show tour of churches is out of the ordinary.
“I sort of indulged myself,” he says.
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Interview: Brother Ali

Brother Ali hit the national radar with 2007’s The Undisputed Truth, on which the Minneapolis rapper tossed out barbed, perceptive, and often deeply personal lyrics like bombs, from his joy at being a father on “Ear To Ear” to incisive and controversial political critiques like “Uncle Sam Goddamn.” He’s gained even more recognition for the new Us, which teams him again with longtime collaborator (and Atmosphere member) Ant. Us is all about connections: to his fans, his new family, and his Twin Cities community.
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Interview: Dirty Projectors

dirtyDirty Projectors frontman Dave Longstreth seems like a very nice, easygoing guy, but he’s about to get angry. “Fuck!” yells Longstreth into his phone, while walking around his Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint. “I had this awesome biscuit, and I’m walking down the street, and I just dropped it on the ground!” This outburst is understandable. The Brooklyn-based sextet — singer/guitarist Longstreth along with a rhythm section and three multi-instrumentalists/vocalists — have had few days off for eating biscuits this year.
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Concert review: Thao Nguyen and The Get Down Stay Down

thao-1-middleastOn her new Kill Rock Stars release, Know Better Learn Faster, Thao Nguyen starts the song “Easy” with this line, spoken matter-of-factly: “Sad people dance too.” That sentiment is also fitting for Nguyen’s work in general.
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Essay: The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads by Talking Heads

arton9514This isn’t what I thought would happen. I thought I would listen to this 27-year-old live album and compare different eras of Talking Heads: the 1977-1979 version (disc one), the 1980-1981 version (disc two), and, based on their later material, what the band eventually became. To their credit, Talking Heads sound equally energetic, smart, and dedicated on both discs.
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Interview: Matt and Kim

Matt and KimFor most people, making a video in which you and your bandmate stroll naked through Times Square would be the highlight of your year. Not if your name is Matt or Kim and you are a rock star.
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Essay: Reckoning by R.E.M.

Yeah, I know: either you (1) love R.E.M. and think Reckoning is awesome; (2) hate R.E.M. and no stupid review is going to convince you otherwise; or (3) feel ambivalent about R.E.M. and probably won’t finish reading this review. Regardless, hasn’t enough been written about Murmur, Reckoning, and the whole lot? Isn’t it time to give underrated gems like New Adventures In Hi-Fi some love? Answers: yes, and oh hell yes. But Reckoning was just reissued, and its new incarnation is something of a revelation.

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Interview: Free Energy

f-i-09-09-free_energy1Philadelphia’s Free Energy are sitting on a tiny landmine of potential buzz. A couple of their members were in the late, great Minneapolis band Hockey Night, and Free Energy’s debut record – Stuck On Nothing, due January 12, 2010 – will be released on DFA with James “LCD Soundsystem” Murphy producing. The band recently released a 7-inch featuring two songs, and the message is clear: this band is all about joy.
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Essay: Stakes Is High by De La Soul

5949a2c008a096fb0d8a5010l_aa240_13 Feet High and Rising remains an indisputable classic, and there’s something charming about De La Soul’s efforts to match its heights. You can hear this awkward scrambling in the dark humor of De La Soul Is Dead or in the funky experimentation of 1993’s Buhloone Mindstate. By 1996, De La Soul were not only trying to live up to their own reputation, they were trying to remain relevant in a new hip-hop landscape.

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Essay: Elliott Smith and Good Will Hunting

Hi. I’m Dave. I’m a friend of Alex’s from way back. One might say I’m the Chuckie to his Will. Or … one might not.
In any case, when Alex told me he was writing a Good Will Hunting blog, I was immediately excited. Not only because I, too, think of the movie more than anyone probably should, but because I am a bit obsessed with Elliott Smith, and this would be yet another venue to vent the effects of my insanity.
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Concert review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

yeahyeahyeahsThere are rock bands, and then there are Rock Bands. It’s like the difference between an actor and a Movie Star: there are people who do their job, and then there are people who completely entrance while doing it. When Karen O. slinked onstage at First Avenue, with her face lit up by a pink neon mask, the category in which she belonged was clear: capital letters only.
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Essay: The Simpsons Sing The Blues

2b58225b9da0386fd089d010lWithin its first season in 1989, The Simpsons was a massive hit; America ate it up. So did you, as your parents surely remember — they’re the ones who threw away your “Don’t have a cow, man” t-shirt in 1996. They also probably tossed The Simpsons Sing The Blues while they were at it, unless you set it aside as a cultural artifact you thought you’d find funny in, say, 2009.
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Interview: M. Ward

mwardFor a guy who’s known for being interested in everything old — old song styles, old equipment, old instruments — Matt Ward sure has a lot of new things going on. Ward, known to the indie music world as M. Ward, just put out his seventh album, “Hold Time,” less than a year after his previous effort, a collaboration with actress/singer Zooey Deschanel billed under the name She & Him.
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Essay: Here They Come! by Paul Revere & The Raiders

pr2Full disclosure: my dad, who died five years ago, loved this record, a fact that will likely cloud my judgment. In fact, I’m counting on it: I decided to check out Here They Come! as an exercise, a way to understand his tastes. He was a guy who knew what he liked and knew when he needed the things he liked. As a music obsessive, I’m the same way; he was no addict, but we shared a belief that music can heal almost all wounds. [Click here for more]

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Essay: Improvisations to Music by Mike Nichols & Elaine May

Nichols & MayEvery culture, subculture, genre, and category has its wonks. Improvisational comedy is no exception; its biggest snobs scoff at Robin Williams’ zany talk show antics, and they eschew the hackery of television shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? by decrying the lack of characters and scenework. I am one of those snobs.
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Track review: “Say Fiesta”, Francois Virot

41vmfcdmuml_sl500_aa280_I’ve written a lot about songs in which acoustic guitars are more than acoustic guitars. Think Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith, “I Summon You” by Spoon. In each case, you don’t picture a person with a guitar, but whatever universe the artist wants you to imagine. [Click here for more]

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Essay: Either/Or by Elliott Smith

eitherorMuch has been made of Elliott Smith’s performance at the 1997 Oscar ceremony, and rightly so. Not only is it an inherently bizarre moment in pop culture, it’s a nervous but typically brilliant performance, with a surprisingly understated Academy orchestra in the background. It marked the beginning of a new chapter for Smith, who had been a relatively successful indie rock musician until he was suddenly the Oscar-nominated center of attention.
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Interview: P.O.S.

pos3Decider: The first line on Never Better is “Sorry it took so long.” Was there pressure to do this record?
P.O.S.: No, not at all. It’s just been a lot of years between the release of Audition and Never Better. I just wanted to let my fans know that I didn’t forget about them.
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Essay: a Coldplay debate

coldplay_theportraitA rock debate via e-mail: How a couple of critics learned to stop complaining and almost love Coldplay, sort of.
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Interview: John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants

20080620-075802-pic-438961865This article will begin the same way my interview with They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh did: with a disclosure of personal bias. Flansburgh and his Giants cohort John Linnell are from Lincoln, Mass., and attended Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, athletic rivals to my Acton-Boxborough Regional High School (go, Colonials!). Things could get ugly, I warned Flansburgh.
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Interview: Aimee Mann

aimee-mannAimee Mann’s new record is, in fact, not new at all. It’s more of her melancholy, melodic pop — songs about heartbreak and disappointment sung in soberly deadpan tones. It’s not groundbreaking or discordant, and it’s not going to top the charts. In other words, it’s everything an Aimee Mann record should be.
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Interview: Mike Mills of R.E.M.

rem-140The songs on R.E.M.’s new album, Accelerate, are the loudest and fastest the band has recorded since the mid-1980s, when their unique sound was ruling college campuses. The intervening years, of course, were full of chart-toppers and canonic music videos, but the band’s reputation was somewhat sullied with 2004’s dull and lifeless Around the Sun. The prospect of a lively rock record had fans excited, and Accelerate, clocking in at under 35 minutes, just about fulfils that promise.

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Track review: Haley Bonar, “Big Star”

haley-bonar-big-star-coverI could listen to Haley Bonar sing anything. It helps that her songs are usually well-crafted, and that the production is meticulous, but for me, it’s all about the voice. It’s light without being weak, airy without being empty. There are years in there, experiences you don’t, and never will, know about.
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Essay: Wolf Songs For Lambs by Jonathan Fire*Eater

d1607823314Jonathan Fire*Eater’s story is unfortunately all too common in the music business: band releases strong EP, band signs to major label, band releases major label debut, band is never heard from again. DreamWorks released Wolf Songs For Lambs on the heels of mountains of buzz, only to see the record fizzle despite critical acclaim. Yet it’s hard to imagine Jonathan Fire*Eater failing in 2007.
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Record review: Iron & Wine

61bdgfbcctl_ss500_Sam Beam, the singer-songwriter behind the name Iron & Wine, made a name for himself with the four-track masterpiece The Creek Drank the Cradle in 2002. But rather than staying lo-fi, he’s moved on to bigger productions. On his third Iron & Wine full-length, he goes for his biggest sound yet, but the production is mere window dressing for some of his best songwriting.
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Record review: Two Gallants

51bofohwn-l_ss500_Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel have long been trying for a sound that’s both earthy and artsy, Bright Eyes folk rock delivered with an aw-shucks squint. So far — on two full-lengths and a pair of EPs — the results have been underwhelming.
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Track review: Immaculate Machine, “Dear Confessor”

immaculatemachineimmacunv7Chances are, when you heard the New Pornographers were replacing Neko Case on their tour with Carl Newman’s niece, you said to yourself, “Someone’s taking Neko’s place? And Carl Newman has a niece old enough to sing for the New Pornographers!?”
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Interview: Brother Ali

aliBrother Ali burst onto the Minneapolis hip-hop scene in 2000, when he released his cassette-only demo Rites Of Passage. He soon signed to Twin Cities label Rhymesayers Entertainment, which has released his two acclaimed records, Shadows On The Sun and the Champion EP. It’s been three long years since hip-hop fans heard from Brother Ali, and during that time, Ali divorced, became homeless, and fought for custody of his son. He addresses these and other topics on The Undisputed Truth, produced by Ant from the Minneapolis rap duo Atmosphere.
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Record review: Mouthful of Bees

87138bacd7a0dfc940e66110_aa240_lMinneapolis-based Mouthful of Bees, with its barbed guitar lines and swarms of distortion, is a rare musical species: a band whose name perfectly fits its music.
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