Woman King

The origins of Sam Beam’s Iron & Wine were not so inauspicious or unassuming as they were precarious. Somewhere in the south a bearded college professor quietly commits an enchanted body of song to tape in the safe seclusion of his bedroom. These recordings rather unexpectedly result in widespread critical acclaim. With this success, Beam had painted Iron & Wine into the tightest corner with his simple strokes of soft-focus genius. Doing more of the same would draw accusations of limited aesthetic vision but any deviation from these initial efforts would surely be decried for ruining what was so right to begin with.
Beam grappled with this predicament on 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days to only limited success. Struggling to expand his sonic spectrum, some sacrifice was made of the initial intimacy that defined Beam’s prior work. Softer songs from the same palette as The Creek Drank the Cradle merely withstood the more clinical production but were made no better for it. Songs seeking to augment that sound with fuller arrangements and more moderately lively tempos yielded stiff, sterile, and awkward results. Even with those missteps, Beam further established himself as a skilled songwriter of delicate depth and deft maturity. The record proved itself to be at best good but by no means great and nothing nearly as striking as Beam’s debut.
With Woman King Beam begins to reconcile the ethereal charm of his homemade recordings with the more conventional approach of his most recent work. Mistakes made are corrected with Beam succeeding where he once failed. Fuller arrangements flow more fluidly and allow for new tones and textures without compromising any of Beam’s many strengths.
Compared to Woman King, Our Endless Numbered Days sounds like a transitional work aching with the agony of progress. That awkwardness has given way to graceful refinement and more comfortable carriage. Benefiting from more time on tour and more experience in the studio, Beam sounds much more at home backed by a band and behind a professional producer’s microphone.
Sounding more like a band than a set of studio musicians, the accompaniment is no longer forced or rigid but more malleable and natural. This allows for even greater instrumentation, including the rather unlikely but surprisingly organic sound of a brightly burning fuzzed-out electric guitar amidst the folk strings and finger-picking otherwise associated with the group. Beam even manages the effortless delivery of the line “we were born to fuck each other one way or another” into this more vibrant and varied sonic environment.
That atmospheric consonance harkens back to the vaporous haze of The Creek Drank the Cradle. Moving beyond tape-hiss and happenstance, Woman King forges this ambience through intricate production and aesthetic preference. Some of this may stem from the return of Brian Deck who also produced Our Endless Numbered Days. Now both producer and artist have a more clearly established understanding of each others’ processes and their common creative vision.
This balance of sonic variation and unification is complemented by a comprehensive thematic concentration. Woman King draws its title from the record’s focus on female figures from Beam’s personal and theological relationships. Here Beam masterfully imparts holiness to earthly forms while humanizing heavenly icons; Jezebel becomes an idol to pray to and Mary becomes a “mama” whose babe can “lick that devil and do it alone.”
For all this development, the most captivating songs on Woman King are still those most akin to The Creek Drank the Cradle. “Jezebel” and “My Lady’s House” fuse delicate atmospherics with syrupy melodies, Beam’s voice rarely rising above a languorous whisper. There is an uncanny sense of intimacy about these songs that is instantaneously ingratiating.
The scope of Sam Beam’s vision and ambition is pushed profoundly forward on Woman King. Through only six songs the EP proves both satisfying and rewarding. The strength of this release only raises the standards by which Iron & Wine’s work will be judged in the future. Should this prove to doom and damn Beam like his prior successes it does so as a triumphant creative victory.

Listen to "Freedom Hangs Like Heaven" - sure to be the best 2005 indie rock song about Christ that isn't from Sufjan Stevens.

Pre-order Woman King from Barnes & Noble.


Trials & Errors

She left him right where she found him: bags of beer bottles building up in the kitchen and out into the living room; bad dreams; blood shot eyes and beer breathe mornings; big black records turning around into late hours.
Some of those records were just too closely connected to her to be tolerated. Then there were those that resonated rightly within him.
Jason Molina’s work still swelled with a deep dark timbre in tone with his soul. What haunted Molina hung heavy within him as well and it helped him feel at least a little less alone.
She had never liked Molina much and sometimes toward the last tip of another near-empty bottle he smirked at that. He remembered how she had introduced him to Molina’s work when she offered him her copy of The Magnolia Electric Company. “I don’t like this,” she said. “It’s too dark and too country.” She never understood Molina like she never understood him. And now she had given up on them both.
Occasionally that idea gave way to the thought that may be he was meant to meet her just so he could find Molina. And Molina in turn could help heal his heart once she left. It was a cold comfort at best and came about quite rarely and only after much drinking.
Still, it seemed quite fitting that her departure would be so quickly followed by a new Molina record. Adopting the title of his first record heard from them as their new moniker, Molina and his new band issued a live document from their first tour together. On Trials & Errors, the newly-christened Magnolia Electric Company stomp through three tracks from Molina’s past and seven new songs of somber introspection.
Molina’s group efforts had always come off loose and heavy, but here the songs burned with unprecedented intensity. A bass player at heart, Molina’s down-tuned guitar rumbled with malevolent foreboding off-setting his quaking tenor of a voice. The band lurched along, heaving the songs through impassioned instrumental passages before giving way to another grave refrain.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse were the most obvious comparison but there were shades of Creedence and Seeger as well. Young himself was even cited directly with the incorporation of phrases and passages from “Out on the Weekend” and “Tonight’s the Night.” Still this likeness moved beyond mere tonality and onto dexterity and overall toughness. The playing was rough but determined. Solidly professional yet unrehearsed, the delivery was strong and swaggered with beer-swilling, bar-band bravado.
This wasn’t for fey Bright Eyes fans in designer denim. Scene kids who dreamed up dark days as cheap way just to get laid would find the classic rock touchstones indecipherable and off-putting. This was the sound of a twelve-stepper tripping and tumbling back down to the rock-bottom they were born into.
This damned and doomed solemnity was tempered by a defiant resistance to inexorable defeat. Even at their most harrowing, Molina could deliver lines with an inspirationally plaintive urgency. The band backed him up with soaring solos and sweeping segments suggesting that all was not yet lost or abandoned.
After a few weeks of incessantly spinning all four sides of the double album, he began to realize that may be it wasn’t the darkness that drew him to Molina as much as it was this refusal to let the light die. With that he smiled slightly and took the last long pull off a cold pint of pilsner. Bottle back down, he got up to flip the record over one more time.

Download "Dark Don't Hide It"

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Learn more about Trials & Errors directly from them.

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The Great Destroyer

Come unto me my brethren, for I bring to you prophesy of good fortune: the First Great Indie Rock Schism of 2005 shall be averted! The Great Destroyer will offer no just cause for division amongst you for the likes of Low shall not prove themselves entirely unfamiliar. Indeed, they will but focus what accessibility they possess into a more universally palatable offering without the abandonment of any defined hallmark of their legacy. Yea, though this release has been heralded as a heretical rejection of their past, Low engage in only the most subtle revisions, thus precluding the reproval sure to follow otherwise.
Believe in me for I have heard the coming record and those that have preceded its fruition. Know that I was amongst you to both covet and cherish those soft sounds of impossible gravity at the onset of Low’s conception. How those weighty resonances have moved my eyes to render tears before their spectral presence! Those hallowed hollow sounds they haunt me still, from the pleading plod of The Curtain Hits The Cast to the swollen throb of Things We Lost In The Fire.
This spirit grew only more restless with the lackluster Trust of three years prior. With that effort Low struggled to progress against the sonic tide that defined them. They stumbled and failed to yield a sound as true as its predecessors nor unique enough from them to establish it as anything but a pale pretender.
Then, with The Great Destroyer approaching, strange news from the land of Low! Promises of defiant reinvention! A most unlikely choice of producer! Assumption into the fold of a label who’s foundation defies nearly every aspect of their identity! Surely great changes were awaiting us and how the blogosphere has trembled at such a prospect!
Take comfort then and know that The Great Destroyer shall not obliterate so much of Low as to leave them indistinguishable. Indeed, it is not that any characteristic has been abandoned as much as they have been harnessed and hardened. This is a Low refined. Languid excesses are stripped away and hooks, once recessed and subtle, are pushed forth. The result is a sound familiar yet tempered with a newfound sense of immediacy.
Yet here I must caution you: the role of external influence should not be overestimated in this progression. Dave Fridmann’s production does surprisingly little to embellish Low’s idiosyncratic sparsity. Though his impact is most readily apparent on the bombastic stomp of “Everybody’s Song” and the symphonic sweep of “Cue the Strings,” the lush extravagance Fridmann has brought to The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev is not to be found here.
Such excess would ultimately prove unnecessary and in truth irrelevant. The biggest departure here is within the songs themselves. The dreary drones have been curtailed in favor of directed economy. Their punch and polish is not so important as their substance and structure.
Yet here again, take heed in my assurance that even this change shall not render Low unlike themselves. The ragged urgency of the louder songs may be atypical but there is still enough sparse solemnity to invoke the ghostly gravity that pervades their work.
So rejoice! Rejoice my brothers and sisters! For Low have returned to us triumphant and shall not give us cause for conflict. Let there be no casting of stones. Let there be no careless epithets such as “The Flaming Lows” or “Mormon Rev.” And let there be no petty squabbling over whether it was the label, the producer, or the band itself that has brought Low to ruin as such ruination has been most certainly avoided!

Behold "When I Go Deaf" and how Low does reconcile both old and new sounds alike!

Do not delay in your purchase for the rapture is upon us!


The Folded Palm

It was the fourth beer, the third pill, or the fourth cup of coffee. Or may be it was their synthesis instead. Circumstances cannot be easily disregarded either. There was one body buried, one broken heart, and three long holidays endured drunk, drugged, and dejected. It was madness and it was in this state that Frog Eyes finally found their place within me.
The process began months prior. The name was known but their identity had yet to be established. A new record was released and I decided the time had come to make my self familiar.
Strikingly anomalous, The Folded Palm was initially unnerving. Unlike any contemporary or conventional sound, I struggled to distinguish analogies. Eventually I settled upon a queer and unlikely combination of Bowie, Xiu Xiu, and The Decemberists. Intriguing as this amalgamation was, it still had yet to lay claim to me. Still, this strident singularity was enough to keep me coming back.
Then, amidst the heartache and chemical consumption of these past few months, it slowly slipped down deep inside me. This is music for mania and until that mindset took hold these songs had no hold on me.
Then with the bottle bent back to chase the pill taste, the chaotic arrangements were suddenly all-too-well-suited to the fragmented feelings inside me. Shatters of self struggled up against the downpour of distress just as the spastic strumming of guitar and whispering shrieks rose above the lurching plod of a rhythm section gone wrong. The desperate delivery betrayed both a tortured understanding of an inevitable demise and an unwilling acceptance of that untimely end. Frog Eyes seemed as I was: alone, shaking, afraid, and decidedly defeated.
Moving past that, an enigmatic attraction remains. The unusual nature of this appeal is that it emerges independent of conventional hooks. There are no memorable choruses and the verses border on bizarre. Some moments stand out, but they do so almost entirely isolated from their context. Instead there is a totality yielding a series of sensations ranging from joyful madness to delirious desperation.
Independent and entirely idiosyncratic, The Folded Palm proves itself well worth the attention and effort invested into it. Seething with unpleasantness, it seeks out a secluded segment of the psyche where the darkest days loom largest.

Descend down deep with me into "Ice On The Trail"

Buy it right now because there isn't much time left


Franz Ferdinand/The Futureheads

Dear Franz Ferdinand,

I’m leaving you.

This shouldn’t come as any great shock to you, but I’m sure it does. You were always too self-obsessed to notice I was never happy. Sure, there was that first burst of bliss when we met, but that titillation never matured into gratification.

It’s probably my fault. My attraction to you was superficial at best. You had that certain look and everyone spoke so highly of you. I guess I let myself get carried away with all that. Now, months later I find I can’t even spend ten minutes with you before I’m rolling my eyes and waiting for it all to end.

But that gets back to you again. I can’t say you’re not charming, but you need to realize that only gets you so far. You were always smartly dressed and quick with the wit, but you also wore out any welcome wallowing in your own smug indulgence.

At first I found that cockiness somewhat alluring, but after a while I realized you just didn’t care about me at all. It didn’t help that you were always surrounded by so many other fawning suitors. And when you took that big corporate job it got even worse. I don’t know if success ruined you, but it definitely ruined you for me. I guess I’m just too selfish and insecure to share you.

Still, if you’d ever offered any actual intimacy or insight, may be I would stick around. But you didn’t and I just don’t think you can anymore. The flash and dazzle that first drew me too you is all you’re capable of.

Besides, I’ve found someone new. It’s only been a few weeks, but already The Futureheads have made clear just what was so wrong about you and I.

You never had my heart. Truthfully, I never intended to give it to you. But I did expect some excitement. The way you leered at me with a suggestive flick of the eyebrow promised me a kind of desperate joy you simply could not deliver. You had no passion to offer me, only cleverness.

Which is not to say that The Futureheads and I have stumbled into anything too profound. It is what it is and right now it’s just a lot of fun. My friends all say it’s just a rebound thing and they’re probably right. But after all the stagnant disappointment I’ve endured with you, the infectious and impulsive rambunctiousness of The Futureheads is a welcome change.

I’m sure it’s not fair to compare you, but The Futureheads could really teach you a thing or two, Ferdie. You were always so composed to the point of being contrived, but The Futureheads rock with the kind of recklessness you just can’t conjure. So while you stay at home practicing your little hipster dance in front of a full-length mirror, they swagger like The Stranglers back up to the bar for another round of pints.

They never overstay their welcome either. You keep shopping around your singles to the club kids just so you can drag them out a little longer, but The Futureheads understand the power of economic songwriting that defined the best work from Guided By Voices and Wire. Yet they do so sounding a whole lot less studied and self-conscious that you ever have.

Ultimately it was that lack of authenticity that drove me away from you. That calculated eagerness to please may have succeeded in catching my attention, but it couldn’t keep me around.

So, goodbye Franz. I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m sure someone else has already stepped in to take my place. And you’re probably so caught up in yourself that you’ll never even notice. If you ever do, it will likely be long after The Futureheads and I have parted ways. Flings like that never last. But I’d gladly take a fling for the time being over the hopeless and half-assed sham we’ve sustained for far too long.

PS: I want back my copy of This Nations Saving Grace. I don’t really think you ever listened to it anyhow.

Download "Stupid and Shallow" by The Futureheads. Then listen to it, pretend that they wrote it about Franz Ferdinand, and giggle.

Buy The Futureheads now from Amazon

Or buy Franz Ferdinand even though it's not as good


Show Calendar 2005

2/10 Mountain Goats at The Echo
2/20 Ted Leo & The Pharmacists at The El REy
2/25 The Hold Steady at The Knitting Factory
3/2 Antony & The Johnsons at Amoeba Music
3/4 Xiu Xiu at The Echo
3/8 Cass McCombs at Spaceland
3/12 Th'Cornn Gang at The Echo
4/9 Deerhoof at The Echo
4/15 Crooked Fingers at The Knitting Factory
4/16 Dinosaur Jr at Spaceland
4/23 Neil Hamburger at The Knitting Factory
4/29 Magnolia Electric Company at The Echo
5/2 Dax Pierson Benefit at The Knitting Factory
5/3 The Angels of Light w/Akron/Family at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre
5/11 Spoon at Amoeba Music
5/11 400 Blows at The Knitting Factory
5/15 LCD Soundsystem w/M.I.A. at The El Rey
5/17 Boredoms at The Knitting Factory
5/20 Architecture in Helsinki at Amoeba Music
5/20 The Books w/Mia Doi Todd at The Knitting Factory
5/24 Caribou w/Junior Boys & The Russian Futurists at Spaceland
5/26 (Smog) at Amoeba Music
5/26 Fog w/Boom Bip at The Echo
6/11 The National with Menomena at Spaceland
6/13 The Hold Steady w/U.S.E. at The Troubadour
6/14 Stephen Malkmus at The El Rey
6/21 The Futureheads at The Henry Fonda
6/25 Mountain Goats at The Troubadour
7/1 Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out at The Ford Amphitheatre
7/5 Annie at Cinespace
7/21 The Go! Team at The Troubadour
7/29 Mu at The Echo
8/17 Dinosaur Jr at The Avalon
8/20 & 21 SHELLAC at The Echo
8/27 The Walkmen at Spaceland
8/30 Smog at The Knitting Factory
9/4-5 Arthurfest at Barnsdall Art Park
9/27 M83 at The Avalon
9/29 New Pornographers w/Destroyer at The Henry Fonda


Amoeba Music
The Echo
The Fold
Hotel Cafe
The El Rey
The Knitting Factory
The Smell
The Troubadour
The Scene Bar


Ticket Master

Other Resources

LA Weekly: Rock & Pop Calendar