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by Evan Sawdey

16 Oct 2012


Victoria Bergsman has had a pretty fantastic career. In fact, she’s had two of them.

First, she’s well known for being the voice of Swedish indie-rock group the Concretes, who formed in 1995 and have been recording ever since. A great deal of the group’s recognition coming from the albums recorded with Bergsman before her departure from the band in 2006. Since then, she’s been putting out albums under the moniker Taken by Trees, and a well-timed cover of Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, which was used extensively in TV ads and movie trailers, helped slowly push Bergsman into the mainstream.

Now, with Other Worlds, her latest, she recontextualizes island music into her own world. By using instruments you’d normally find on Hawaiian albums and adapting them to create a dreamlike quality that only amplifies her well-honed pop chops, the whole thing sounding like precious few records out there today. To help celebrate the release of Other Worlds, Bergsman has sat down with PopMatters to discuss how mind-blowing animals are, why she finds a counterpoint in Harry Rabbit Angstrom, and proceeds to teach us some interesting Swedish turns of phrase . . .

by Evan Sawdey

27 Sep 2012


When you hear of a band who decided to name themselves after a celebrated novel by Herman Wouk, you might be lead to believe this band’s sound would please the more bookish of indie-rock nerds.

Yet if Youngblood Hawke the band are up for anything, it’s upsetting expectations, which is why their debut EP is maximalist pop in the best way imaginable. Mix two parts MGMT, one part fun., serve chilled.

The group’s powerful, distinctive sound, however, is not a happenstance accident by a couple of newbies, no. Instead, Sam Martin and Simon Katz are actually well-worn veterans of the pop-rock landscape, having already scored a hit with the song “In This City” in their previous group Iglu & Hartly. A lot went into the touring and creation of their 2008 debut, but it would turn out to be the only effort from the band, and now, with Youngblood Hawke, the guys are fully unleashing their pop inhibitions, with dance beats, children’s choirs, and peppy guitars popping up all over the place. In lesser hands, it would be a total mess. In Martin and Katz’s, however, it approaches something close to pop nirvana.

With their EP now finished and their debut full-length on the way, Sam Martin has taken some time out of his schedule to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing how The Notebook made him cry, which Rolling Stones album he calls the greatest of all time, and why he feels best in “silk pants from the hills of China” . . .

by Evan Sawdey

25 Sep 2012


Photo: Chris Graham

It continues to amaze just how long it takes for some bands to get the payoff they deserve.

Case in point: look at Rah Rah: here’s a group of energetic Canadian songsmiths who have gone from party-hearty rock ‘n’ roll animals to established pop veterans, gaining great notoriety in their homeland but only recently did they start making inroads in the States and abroad. The original founding trio of Erin & Joel Passmore and Marshall Burns (multi-instrumentalists all) slowly began absorbing members of other bands like Despistado, creating a sound that was energetic but not without a through-line of actual musicianship, as violins, keys, and numerous things being pounded on created a sound that was dense but accessible, thoughtful but also dance-inducing as well. In short, the group was very much out to do their own thing, and are still waiting for the world to catch up.

Now, with this year’s The Poet’s Dead garnering attention even before its release, the group is slowly working their way into the mainstream. Since their formation in 2005, one of the hallmarks of the group has been their raucous live shows, featuring pom-poms, Pop Rocks, and a whole slew of colorful clothes that helped the group form a bond with their audience in the form of a giant party. Yet despite their unabashed enthusiasm, The Poet’s Dead shows the group a bit more stripped down, a bit more formal, and very much in tune with their vision. “Prairie Girl” would be a carefree hit in lesser hands, but is a wonderfully smart song in Rah Rah’s, smart and catchy at the same time without having to concede to anything. It’s what makes the group’s sound work, and is what is bringing them attention still even months before the disc’s release.

Now, founding member Marshall Burns takes another step forward with PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing an affinity for Bob Dylan and Moonrise Kingdom, discovering Howlin’ Wolf for the first time, and which band he would’ve felt most at home with while wearing a leather jacket and eating vindaloo . . .

by Evan Sawdey

18 Sep 2012


Langhorne Slim has done so much in so little time it’s almost exhausting to keep up.

Having put out his very first full-length when he was 19 years old, Langhorne Slim (né Sean Scolnick ) has gradually developed a unique, home-spun type of songwriting that simultaneously takes a nod from the dusty solo singers of folk’s past while carrying a charm and wry witticism that is unmistakably modern. EPs, national tours, and landing songs in key television commercials soon followed, and, when coupled with his raucous, story-filled live sets, Slim slowly began inching closer and closer into mainstream acceptance.

Now, with this year’s The Way We Move already garnering some of the strongest reviews in his career, Slim can finally take a long-awaited rest and answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing how he no longer recalls being referred to as Pig Pen as a compliment, that he doesn’t have much tolerance for either Star Wars or Star Trek, but does in fact have a deep-seated passion for the film Rudy . . .

by Evan Sawdey

11 Sep 2012


Image: Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir

The titles of múm’s albums tell a remarkably self-deprecating tale. There’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know from 2009. Yesterday Was Dramatic—Today Is OK was the group’s 2000 debut full-length. And, of course, 2002’s sophomore effort Finally We Are No One.

Yet such self-deprecation is just one facet of this infinitely intriguing Icelandic combo. Its sound—which quietly terraforms pop and electronic genre standards into its own brand of beautifully rendered, lo-fi hymnals—has been gradually developing over the years, constantly changing and evolving while still staying fundamentally múm, regardless of the years the band has logged. Hence, its new compilation, titled, appropriately, Early Birds: A Compilation of Early Recordingds, Rare Music, and Forgotten Songs from 1998-2000 or Thereabouts, gives fans and casual observers a look back at the group’s sketches, inspirations, and early triumphs, going from ambient soundscapes to bedroom dance parties at the drop of a hat.

To celebrate the occasion, founding member Örvar Smárason sat down to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing to us the neorealist cinema classic that almost made him cry, which band member wears Jabba the Hut underwear, and why he’s proud of “not having gone completely insane yet” . . .

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