Perhaps one notch willfully odder than, say, Yo La Tengo, Chicago's Califone have always had an organic, wooden, or "natual" feel to their music. Their newest, All of My Friends are Funeral Singers, is even more so than their five previous albums. A song like "Salt" is positively rootsy. The interesting production has strange sounds popping out everywhere. The cover art matches the record perfectly. And you've got to love a band named after a record player. One of 2009's best, on the Dead Oceans label.
I did a fair amount of traveling the roads of the Midwest on my old job; it is the thing I miss most about those 12 years. A favorite hidden spot I loved to travel through was along the Mississippi River between Burlington, Iowa & Hannibal, Missouri. There were no four-lane highways there when I started my regular trips from St Paul to St Louis. Nowadays there is, it's called The Avenue of The Saints, connecting the two saintly burgs. An old customer of mine (still a dear friend) in Cedar Falls hipped me to the new highway, which is really a collection of different roads that makes the most direct route between the two cities.The 50-cent toll bridge over The Des Moines River at that little pointy corner of extreme Southeast Iowa seemed from a different time. The lack of tourists made this area a secret. The natural beauty of the river & surrounding terrain always seemed magical, especially at twilight, which it always seemed to be when I drove this stretch. Add to that the earthy feel of Keokuk, the stateliness of Quincy, Ill, and the mystique of Hannibal, I savored this journey, and long for it today.
This is the land William Elliott Whitmore is from. His family is a large cadre of outlaws & artists known for throwing some of the biggest & wildest parties in South East Iowa. They really know how to live. His songs reflect his home.
His new LP, Animals in the Dark, is out on the Anti label, home to some other modern-day larger-than-life characters like Tom Waits & Neko Case. Perfect company. William sings like a man at least 30 years his senior, and his voice sounds so soulful & real that he is a true force of nature. His songs on this LP in particular seem so pointedly direct they'll grab you & not let go until they are over. Accompaniment of acoustic instruments on this LP are not only tastefully subdued, but recorded ideally. Little gloss is brushed over this record, and I glad it isn't there. So much beyond the pigenholing his music usually gets, William is the real deal. Perhaps the greatest musical artist Iowa has given us so far. A great LP.
I have been completely sucked in by this genius. If there were any worries that Kurt Vile might lose some of his offhanded charm by releasing his newest LP on biggie Matador, you can be pleasantly relieved to know that "Childish Prodigy" holds up to 2008 favorite "Constant Hitmaker"'s promise. Maybe the vocals are a bit better recorded, but there's still enough reverb & echo to keep it weird. Modern-day Indie Psych has found its master. A friend of mine refers to his favorite casual home-spun recordings as being "Front Porch Music". I christen Kurt's latest LP as being decidedly-recorded music for the back porch, to be listened to on the tattered sofa that has somehow survived 8 Minnesota winters while remaining outside (and out of the snow, 'natch). This is where I first heard "Constant Hitmaker", and it is the ideal place to listen to "Childish Prodigy", as long as this Indian Summer keeps up (61 degrees today! It's November!).
Michael Yonkers has certainly benefitted from the rise of the internet & the ability of music fans to find even the most reclusive of musical enigmas. A few short years ago Michael was unheard-of amongst many Minneapolis-area music fans, only the most ardent of local music veterans seemed to be hip to this 40-plus year recording artist. That all changed with Clint Simonson's De Stijl label and his unearthing of the unreleased 1968 LP "Microminiature Love" LP in 2002. The realization that Minnesota had its own world-class cult rock n roll artist in Michael Yonkers seemed to help complete the local music landscape historically. Reissues of ultra-obsure recordings such as the 1973 Lp "Grimwood" via De Stijl/Sub Pop and the soon-upcoming issue of more seventies recordings "Lovely Gold" by Galactic Zoo/Drag City have heightened the legend. His current recordings are also quite notable and powerful. Suddenly, Michael has gone from being truly underground to one of the most prolific recording artists Minnesota has ever seen.
Which brings us to the "Michael & The Mumbles" LP, which was released yesterday. The thing that I just can't get over about this LP is the fact that these are ALL ORIGINAL SONGS; what band that wasn't on an international level was recording all original material in 1966? It just goes to show that guitarist/singer Michael, brother drummer Jim, bassist Richard Paske, and keyboardist Jim Woehrle treated their music and this LP as a true art form, not just to make the kids dance. Historically, this is a very significant LP due to this fact, both to Minnesota music or to anywhere.
How does it sound? Michael told me he recorded this LP on a Crown reel-to-reel player he had purchased as a kid, and he had recorded it himself. The fact that from such humble origins comes this pounding and powerful frat-rock & garage stomper is also almost beyond belief. This LP easily ranks up there with The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird", The Fendermen's "Muleskinner Blues", The Litter's "Distortions" & TC Atlantic's "Live at The Bel-Rae Ballroom" as one of the most rocking-est 1960s LP to come from the frozen north. It is now part of this pantheon of records, even at one day old. The hindsight needed to rate it this highly comes instananeously once you hear it.
If you like primitive rock n roll, this is a must-have, and if you're a fan of vintage simple lo-fi recordings, it's a no-brainer. "Michael & The Mumbles" help show that Minnnesota was one of the best indie recording scenes of the 1960s.
Wow. REALLY pastoral, haunting, & psychedelic. I love this. A dash of rock, a dash of 1960s British folk, absolutely perfect for a leaves-falling late October day. Great playing, lots of strings, and great sound. Perfect cover art to look at while listening- ideal for the large LP-size format. A nice suprise, and highly recommended.