Upcoming Music Releases – March 2012

March 2012 has been a pretty quiet month for new releases.  Here are a few notable releases that you can expect to see in the shops soon.

6-March-2012:

UK’s Kaiser Chiefs return with new album Start The Revolution Without Me.  I adored 2008’s Off With Their Heads, with its ridiculous bounty of jaw-dropping tunes.  By contrast, last year’s The Future Is Medieval was completely underwhelming.   For those of us waiting for the Chiefs to bravely return to form, the early reviews of the new album are almost universally negative.  That’s never a good sign.  If this album stiffs, it could be the end of the band.  (Post-Script:  it turns out that this ‘new’ album is really just a rehashed USA version of last year’s UK-edition of The Future Is Medieval with a few tracks swapped out, which makes it even more pointless than I feared).

Kelowna, BC’s Yukon Blonde return with their second full-length LP.  I’ve only heard some brief snippets of Tiger Talk online, but it definitely seems like a change of direction for the band.  The new album amps up the Sloan-y hook-laden pop-rock of their fine debut LP with new, punkier textures.  What it lacks in immediacy, it more than makes up for in energy.

13-March-2012:

The Decemberists are about to embark on an indefinite hiatus.  The band is not breaking up, but rumour has it that they could be taking a five-year break from recording and touring.  To help tide us over, The Decemberists are releasing a double-CD (or triple-vinyl) live album called We All Raise Our Voices To The Air.  It was assembled from the best performances on their well-received 2011 concert tour.

20-March-2012:

The Shins are back with new album Port of Morrow.  As previously discussed on this blog and others, it should be interesting to hear what kind of sound the newly-reconstituted Shins are going for.  Just a head’s up – I inquired about the vinyl version of Port of Morrow at my local record shop yesterday.  While the shop has some CD copies in the back and ready to sell, it sounds like there have been some distribution issues with the vinyl version and it might not be on the shelves until the end of March.

Spiritualized also return with a new album called Sweet Heart Sweet Light (technically released on 19-March-2012, since Monday is the traditional UK new release date).

27-March-2012:

The Mars Volta are back with new album Noctourniquet.  After staking out their territory with a succession of dense, frantic, hyper-hyphenated (progressive-jazz-psychedelic-thrash-metal-alt-rock) records, they broke their own mould with 2009’s relatively restrained Octahedron.  Time will tell if the new sonics explored on that record have set the stage for this new one.

Future Note:

Record Store Days is coming up on Saturday, April 21st.  Expect to see a rush of special releases in time for RSD 2012.  With summer just around the corner and Coachella’s kickoff to the festival season, April should be a fun month for new records.

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Road Trip!

Your faithful correspondent has been a little lacking in new posts lately.  Had a busy week at work, then had to get ready for a road trip.  I try to get out of town for a concert at least once a year.  It’s fun to hang out in different places, try new restaurants, and walk some new neighbourhoods.

This weekend I’m in the lovely city of Vancouver, BC.  I’ve caught Wilco on every western Canadian tour for the past decade or so, but this year for The Whole Love they’re not coming to my town (at least not yet).  So, mid-winter seemed like a nice time to head out to the west coast for a change of scenery.  The weather has been great here – yesterday was sunny and about 10 degrees C.  I’m told this is unusual for this time of year – typical weather is drizzly and closer to freezing.  But hey, it’s been a weird winter so we’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Another fun aspect of traveling is looking for new record shops.  In the ‘old days’ I would have gone spelunking for bootleg or hard-to-find CDs.  These days, it’s all about vinyl.  After a quick subway ride and a brief walk, I found a few great shops in Vancouver on Main Street.  The best of the bunch was Red Cat Records.  Lots of selection, knowledgable staff, excellent prices.  Other stores had more used vinyl (some had loads of used vinyl) but I’m mainly a collector of new LPs.

I was really hoping to find the two Jellyfish album re-releases on vinyl, but they were nowhere to be found, even on the Pacific coast.  However, I did find a nice copy of The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow:

Also found a copy of The Postal Service’s Give Up album, complete with a bonus 12″ with the singles and the b-sides that were released by SubPop back in the day:

My most fortuitous find was this R.E.M. live album, recorded in Dublin. Triple LP plus a bonus DVD – nice!  The band is sadly defunct now, but I’m looking forward to collecting their works on black platters over the coming years.  I know I’ve seen some of their I.R.S. era albums out on newly-released 180g vinyl; I’m expecting Warners to do the same with their latter-day stuff:

With six LPs in hand, I figured I’d better leave the store before I had too many treasures to fit in my carry-on luggage 🙂  Special thanks to Red Cat Records for being such a cool shop.  I will certainly be back the next time I’m in Vancity for a gig.  Maybe they’ll still have that Radiohead live double LP from 2001 that I spotted in the racks.

Looking forward to Wilco and White Denim at the Orpheum Theatre tonight, too!  Stay tuned for more on that.

What’s In A Name?

Did some poking around on the interwebs today at lunch, and came across a very interesting article about The Shins.  It was published back in September of 2011, but I didn’t stumble across it until now.

The article was posted on the TwentyFour Bit website, just after The Shins returned to the stage at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival.  But in the interim between The Shins’ tour for Wincing the Night Away and the summer of 2011, the entire band roster changed except for James Mercer.

Which begs the question – what’s in a band name?

The Shins certainly aren’t the first group to change a significant amount of band members while keeping the same name.  Billy Corgan flushes Smashing Pumpkins like they’re made out of expired Tylenol.  Robert Smith has had even more bandmates than hairstyles in The Cure.  Mark E. Smith has kicked enough punters out of The Fall to fill a double-decker bus.  And I’ve lost track of how many dudes Axl Rose has shit-canned from Guns N’ Roses (bucket-headed or otherwise).  I suppose that’s your right when you write the songs, and (especially) if you’re the lead singer.  A lot of a band’s identity is tied up in the front man.

At the same time, there’s an unwritten obligation to not destroy the BRAND of the band.  Smashing Pumpkins fans are generally bemused whenever Grandmaster Billy brings in “all new guys” and takes off in a completely different direction than the ‘classic Pumpkins’ sound.  Sure, it would be unfair of me to chastise an artist for wanting to try something new, to push the envelope.  If every Shins album sounded exactly like their debut, Oh Inverted World!, life would get pretty dull before long.  But fans will only give an artist so much leeway.

Once upon a time, Neil Young’s fans thought they had him sorted out.  He was the guy who made some quiet folksy country-rock records (generally solo) and some blistering feedback-drenched heavy rock records (generally with Crazy Horse).  But all of his albums were imbued with a similar identifiable style.  Then Neil signed with Geffen Records in 1982 and everything careened straight into the ditch.  Trans was loaded with synthesizers and vocoder-processed vocals.  Everybody’s Rockin’ was a rockabilly pastiche without the charisma.  Old Ways was a throwback to his folksy early-70s records, but mostly forgot to bring memorable tunes.  Things got so bad that Geffen sued Neil Young, essentially for not sounding enough like Neil Young.  Worse yet, Young broke his unwritten contract with his fans.  Challenging your audience to follow you down shadowy new side streets is one thing, but intentionally crossing over into Bizarro World just alienates people.  It took years for Young to win huge legions of his audience back.

All of which brings us back to the continuing Shins saga.  The TwentyFour Bit article gives quite a bit of insight into why Mercer jettisoned his former bandmates.  Drummer Jesse Sandoval was fired for not being able to play some challenging new drum parts to Mercer’s standards.  Fair enough – Jeff Tweedy did much the same thing when he replaced Ken Coomer with Glenn Kotche in Wilco.  It seems that bass player Dave Hernandez was similarly dropped off on the side of the road.  Keyboardist Marty Crandall pretty much fired himself by beating up his girlfriend in a Sacramento hotel room (somewhat detrimental to the Shins’ nice-boys image, not to mention a total dick move).  Hence – all new guys, but same old brand name.

We will see how it all works out in March when Port of Morrow debuts.  If Mercer is smart, he won’t try to completely reinvent the wheel, at least not right away.  If he does, he may rue the day that he put the Shins label on the cover.

The Shins are Back!

Cool! Albuquerque’s (or perhaps Portland’s) favourite sons The Shins are getting ready to launch a new record.  Their new song, simply titled “Simple Song”, recently appeared on the band’s website.  You can check it out here:

http://simplesong.theshins.com/

(hint: click on the reel-to-reel’s ‘Play’ button)

Looks like the full album, Port of Morrow, will drop in March.

If memory serves, SubPop released the Shins’ previous album, Wincing the Night Away, in January of 2007.  This approach has some merit – by releasing new music in the dead of winter, you can sometimes get better press coverage for indie releases, since not much new product comes out just after the Christmas season.  The mid-winter timing can make touring & other kinds of promotion problematic, though.  This time around, it looks like James Mercer et al are going to release the album on their own label (with distribution by Columbia) and just tease us with a single in January, followed by the full album in spring.  Expect to see some high-profile tour dates and late-night TV appearances in March and April, right around the release date and leading up to their Coachella appearances.  I sure hope they get some great exposure; it’s well deserved.

With any luck, The Shins will include my fair burg on their tour this year – I’ve never been lucky enough to see them.  Might even have to make an impromptu road trip, depending on circumstances.

All three previous Shins records (Oh Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow, and Wincing The Night Away) are indie rock gems.  Lots of Beatles-esque melodies paired with chiming guitars and pristine, modern production values.  I’m hoping that the new album builds on the new direction suggested by the stand-out track and second single, “Sealegs”, from the last album.  Port of Morrow has some big shoes to fill.  Based on the first single, I’m optimistic.

When last we saw the band, on Jimmy Fallon’s show in November 2011, they played a tasty rendition of “Breathe” during Tribute to Pink Floyd week.  But in “Simple Song”, do I hear some sonic similarities to The Who circa 1978?  Not the over-the-top ‘big rock’ sound, but in the melody and songwriting.  Interesting.

P.S.: Port of Morrow will be available in mp3, CD, and vinyl formats.  Plus limited quantities of audiophile reel-to-reel tape:

http://theshins.cinderblock.com/

Very cool!  Is reel-to-reel the new vinyl?  Watch and see.

P.P.S.:  The Shins have always been dominated to a large degree by lead singer James Mercer’s voice and songwriting.  The revolving cast of band members continues for album number four.  This year, the reconstituted Shins will feature Mercer joined by Richard Swift, Joe Plummer, Yuuki Matthews and Jessica Dobson.