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by Evan Sawdey

24 Aug 2010

Joseph Michelini isn’t as much a survivor as he is an inspirer. 

Having been a long-standing staple of the New Jersey coffee house scene, Michelini wasn’t very content just sitting around while strumming acoustic laments for baristas.  Slowly he began introducing banjos and cellos into his set, and one man became three people, which soon became eight, which soon became River City Extension.

With a sound that seems to find a sweet spot that lies perfectly between Neutral Milk Hotel’s near-orchestral bombast and Modest Mouse’s popular brand of almost-cynicism, River City Extension makes full use of the various instruments at their disposal (cellos, trumpets, a djembe for Pete’s sake!), but never once plays them just for the sake of eclecticism.  On The Unmistakable Man—the group’s second full-length—the Extension swerves between acoustic ballads (“Today, I Feel Like I’m Evolving”) and piano-lead group sing-a-longs (“Holy Cross”) with remarkable ease, the whole disc feeling like a unified statement while never sacrificing the need for a storming pop hook.  It’s no wonder its live shows are as heralded as they are.

Shortly after the release of the band’s latest record, Michelini tackled PopMatters’ 20 Questions, revealing a deep-seated love of Paul Simon’s Graceland, the frustration over a stolen laptop filled with songs, and why life truly isn’t complete until you have heated toilet seats ...

by Evan Sawdey

10 Aug 2010

Ontario’s own Tokyo Police Club has alternately had a very drama-free existence since its Lesson in Crime EP came out in 2006.  The group didn’t get in huge drunken fights, get dropped by labels, or engage in intense legal wranglings over songwriting royalties, no.  Instead, the only real drama the group had to deal with was a bit of blogosphere backlash following the heralding of that aforementioned EP, some saying that the band’s 2008 full-length Elephant Shell was the sound of the group selling out, with just as many trumpeting it as the logical extension of the group’s poppy, guitar-driven aesthetic.  During all of this, though, the band seemed to not really care, instead touring like hell and having a good time with its legions of fans.

Now, with the release of the group’s lean, muscular new album Champ, few people seem to be snickering, as the band has fully come into its own, with angular guitars mixing with spritely keyboard patterns and an ever-shifting set of dynamics, like on the storming “Favourite Colour”, which uses stop-start guitar spurts to ask a very simple question to a possible love interest, adding high drama to an everyday sentiment.  Indie rock don’t swagger like this.

Taking some time out of his busy touring schedule, Tokyo Police Club’s drummer Greg Alsop answers PopMatters 20 Questions, here revealing how The Velveteen Rabbit “cauterized my tear ducts”, how he positively thrives on human interaction, and why lightsabers trump phasers each and every time.

by Evan Sawdey

21 Jun 2010

Photo: Pat Pope

Justin Currie has had one of the most extraordinary second acts one could ever have in a career.

The first act was simple: the Scottish-born singer-songwriter formed a band called Del Amitri with friend Iain Harvie in the early ‘80s, focusing on a power pop sound that resonated well in their homeland, the group soon scoring a seemingly never-ending string of hits in the UK, all while the duo cycled through quite a few members during their two-decade existence. Although the group was moderately successful in their homeland and developed quite the cult audience stateside, it wasn’t until 1995 when the group’s insanely catchy track “Roll to Me” became a Top 10 hit in the U.S., quickly becoming the one thing that the group is immediately identified with even up to this day. Subsequent albums failed to capitalize on the group’s popularity stateside, and after 2002’s Can You Do Me Good?, the group became relatively quiet.

Yet in 2007, Currie re-emerged as a solo artist, and his disc What Is Love For was released to huge levels of acclaim, many people even gravitating towards Currie’s melancholic tunes without having much if any knowledge of his power-pop past. Suddenly Currie was courting a brand-new audience, and feeling reinvigorated about his own career.  With this year’s The Great War, however, Currie has taken a great leap forward with his songwriting, as highlighted by the eight-minute epic “The Fight to Be Human”, one of his most blistering and ultimately cathartic tracks to date. 

Following in that same vein, Currie recently sat down to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, and in doing so reveals which Spinal Tap character he is most like, which political figure he would not mind murdering, and how an A&R rep once gave him some of the best advice he ever received ...

by Evan Sawdey

18 Jun 2010

On paper, the pairing of Christy & Emily almost seems like the setup for a joke: one girl (Emily) is a classically-trained pianist who graduated from Oberlin College, the other (Christy) a California-bred rock guitarist who wound up playing in multiple New York indie outfits. When they finally meet up, however, it’s not a non-stop collision of wackiness that was filmed in front of a live studio audience. Instead, it’s a collection of remarkably sweet, understated indie-pop wherein the emotional power lies within the sheer economy of their arrangements.

The pair’s new album is aptly titled No Rest, which makes sense given that following the release of Gueen’s Head (2007), the duo toured relentlessly, joined up with Effi Briest for even more musical collaborations, and worked quite relentlessly on its moody yet potent new disc. Tracks like “Here Comes the Water Now” exude a gray cloud sky sort of idleness, while tracks like the more propulsive “Beast” show that the group still can display some biting rock when it needs to, and yet still make all its stylistic detours sound like they’re coming from the same place.

by Evan Sawdey

15 Jun 2010

Discovered by Of Montreal and yet embracing their own sort of joyous electro-pop sound, Casiokids may be the hottest dance act currently out of Norway.  Although that statement might seem to be a bit insular, given that both Datarock and Annie have emerged from the same Bergen scene that this quintet have, that’s quite the statement indeed.

Having petered out one tantalizing single after another in Europe while wowing audiences with their shadow puppet-filled, often downright goofy live show, it wasn’t long before labels began taking interest, and only recently did Topp stemning på lokal bar—their vibrant debut album—finally get a Stateside release, all without making any sort of concession to rerecord the songs in English, instead merely giving the tracks a small studio revamp to potentially make them even catchier than they are now (as if that were possible!).

Although the group retains a slight aura of mystery around them, bassist Kjetil Bjøreid Aabø took some time to set us straight by answering PopMatters’ famed 20 Questions, revealing a love for all things Pet Sounds, why he holds Smurf-related merchandise over that of Star Wars toys, and how the only tough decision he’d have to make is choosing a favorite film director: Woody Allen or Werner Herzog ...

//Mixed media

Con Brio: The Best New Live Band in America?

// Notes from the Road

"There’s a preciousness to McCarter and the rest of the mostly young band. You want to freeze the moment, to make sure they are taking it all in too. Because it’s going to change.

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