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PHAWKER RADIO: The Transfiguration Of Vincent

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

BY JONATHAN VALANIA First, a word about his sponsor: While I can’t ever foresee the need to hear a new Superchunk album in this lifetime, the label those folks have set up, Merge, so consistently releases product of uncommon purity and indispensability that it should make the likes of Matador, Touch and Go, Sub Pop and Drag City glow with the red-blush shame of the recently spanked. I tip my hat to them.mward.jpg

Folk music gets a bad rap, having long ago been relegated to the leafy retreats of crunchy granola ninnies in white socks and Birkenstocks, where its rough-hewn hymnals were gutted by time and the ’60s, and reduced to politically correct acoustica, liberal bromides and impotent protest. What’s missing from most people’s assumptions about folk music is the blood, sweat and come, not to mention the staggering body counts, laments for lost limbs, dead wives, drowned babies and hard rains. And that’s just the happy songs.

M. Ward is the nom de soft rock of one Matt Ward, a shadowy horse whisperer from Portland, Ore., who has released four albums of Jiminy Cricket porch folk and enigmatic lo-fi attic blues, each invested with a moonlit vibe that suggests there’s a kind of hush all over the world tonight. Ward is deeply self-schooled in all things past, and smart enough to know those who ignore history are doomed to remix it. A sad-eyed troubadour in the hang-dawg tradition of Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, Ward teases high emotion out of low-key compositions, coloring his records with the sepia-toned crackle and hiss of old rural blues recordings, drifty dustbowl sadness and the submarine murk of vintage echo. It’s the pretty, twittering music you usually have to suffer a concussion to hear — you hold your head and just watch the concentric halos of birdies and little stars orbiting your noggin. This is the sound of 21st-century porch music, like a Woody Guthrie song about flying saucers or watching Birth Of A Nation on your iPod.

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ROCKSNOB: Beware Of Aging Rock Critics With Candy

Monday, January 15th, 2007

BY ED KING There’s no need to lecture me on the deceptively breezy charms of the music of this month’s wondergirl, sassy British upstart Lily Allen. As any gimmick-hungry yob who’s ever hoped to dig gold fromlily-alright.jpg rock ‘n roll will tell you, writing and selling a catchy little pop song is a bitch. I’d been hearing so much about this Lily Allen, seemingly out of the blue, for the last month that I feared I’d fallen a few more steps out of touch with Today’s Happening People. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared: last week I learned from Dan Deluca that her “Album of the Year,” Alright, Still, has yet to be released in the US. OK, so this is the latest example of the hype machine in full force, this is the music industry’s version of Hollywood films that manage to land Academy Award nominations before anyone but a few dozen critics in New York and Los Angeles have seen them. Of course, I’m expected to believe that the overnight success of the “cheeky” Ms. Allen has been wholly accidental and self-driven through the powers of MySpace. You know what, I’ll buy this story. I’m sick of being a bitter cynic. Have you been keeping up with this girl’s blog? It’s outrageous! She’s taken shots at a Spice Girl and Bob Geldof! What’s next, she’ll declare there’s no Beatles or Stones in 2007? Power to the People! Let’s face it, ever since Boy George rode off on that white horse the world’s been waiting for something to fill the void left behind by Culture Club. And honestly, we missed the boat here in the States in fully appreciating the ska-lite pop of Madness. Redeem us, Lily, and while you’re at it, grant us older folks forgiveness for thinking Blondie jumped the shark with “The Tide Is High.”

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LILY ALLEN “Littlest Things”

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Sunday, January 14th, 2007

BY DAVID R. STAMPONE WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT Many folks here in the 215 have closely followed the career of one John Reis, even if said guy is as essentially San Diegan as voted-in-Tuesday Baseball rftc6.jpgHall of Famer Tony “Mr. Padre” Gwynn. His groups have always been well-received in the Delaware Valley (as is his weekly free-form radio show “The Swami Sound System,” heard online at starting 1 am every Sunday). And, actually, two of his biggest bands each had a Philadelphia story.


Hot Snakes began as an SD/Philly two-dudes-in-two-cities project, with Reis rocking guitar/bass and former Delta 72/Burning Brides drummer Jason Kourkounis putting down beats. (Later, the now NYC-based Rick Farr — prior Reis cohort in the earlier 90s Drive Like Jehu and the late-80s vintage Pitchfork — was brought in for vocals and more guitar, and Beehive and the Barracudas broheim Gar Wood assumed bass duties.) Before Kourkounis departed after the second album, the most common HS press photo showed the quartet “backstage” (upstairs) at the Khyber.

Rocket From the Crypt (1990-2005) briefly had Philly area product and well-travelled trapsman Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Marah, etc.) before being replaced by final drummer Mario Rubalcaba (who also replaced Kourkounis in Hot Snakes). In November 2005, Wurster was at the Bigger Lovers finale at Indre Studios in South Philly five days after attending Rocket’s concluding gig in SD. “Two final shows from two bands in the same week, true,” he confirmed. “The Rocket show was a blast – I wound up guesting on tambourine for a few songs, people there probably wondering who the hell I was and how I fit in …”

After that last Halloween RFTC gig, there was just one John Reis band left standing. The Hot Snakes had finished up in August 2005 following a strong three-studio-album run and successful international touring. That left the Sultans, the trio Reis started as a singer-bassist in the late 90s. (The line-up later shifted for their second album, with Reis on guitar and vocals, his little brother Dean on bass, and new drummer, yes, Mario Rubalcaba.) As the current Wikipedia entry puts it, “Of Reis’ many musical projects, the Sultans are the only band still considered active.”

That needs to change after the Sultans’ farewell set this past Wednesday night in a benefit for Fourth Project Entertainment, a film and graphic design concern run by longtime San Diego music scene fixture Marc Gariss, burnt out of his office by fire there in December. Reis fans worldwide groaned at word of the Sultans’ “last show ever!” and expressed concern over possible damage to footage Gariss was using to make commercial DVDs of Rocket’s last show and a Hot Snakes retrospective. Reis assured all on his Swami Records messageboard that the DVDs would be forthcoming, and as for the Sultans:

“[We’ve] been on permanent hiatus ever since the last time we played. Mario and his wife had a baby and … my wife and I had one too. … I am no longer interested in playing in different bands and spreading my efforts thinly. … I came to the realization that I needed to slam the door shut with an intention of permanence so arftc.jpg new musical identity would have room to germinate.”

Shortly thereafter “Slasher” John himself checked in with this writer to e-volley from his end on some Q & A:

PHAWKER: First of all, timely priorities — Reis’s thoughts on the NFL playoff situation, including predictions that pit his Chargers against our Eagles in the Super Bowl (Terry Bradshaw recently on the Tonight Show) or a San Diego vs. New Orleans title game that would see former SD high schooler/Saints rookie back Reggie Bush and N.O. quarterback Drew Brees (runner-up as both 2006 NFL Comeback Player of the Year and MVP) line up against Brees’ old team featuring this season’s MVP LaDainian “LT” Tomlinson and first-year starting Charger QB Philip Rivers…

JOHN REIS: Eagles. Shit. When will you die? They look better than ever. If the D holds up, they are scary. Anything can happen and unfortunately for teams with great records and a history of underachievement (SD), it usually does. LaDainian Tomlinson is more than worthy of all the accolades. Violent ballet. Reggie has had a great rookie season. He needs to stop running backwards though. You can’t compare them until Bush gets more years under his belt BUT I do not see him ever running with the ball or receiving it or blocking or throwing the ball as well as LT. Although Reggie’s legs are there, I don’t see the power developing. Rivers is unraveling. He has got to get his shit together. The Chargers are better with Rivers but Brees plays a better head game. Rivers needs more time for that to come. Unfortunately, it kinda feels like now or never.

PHAWKER: More Sultans trackage?
rftc7.JPG JOHN REIS: There are no plans at this moment to record anything although there are about 7 or so songs that have yet to be captured on tape.

PHAWKER: More in the pipeline from Swami Records?
JOHN REIS: Yes, lots more to come in 2007: CPC Gangbangs, Shady Lady, RFTC All Systems Go 3, RFTC the “Drag Racist Sessions,” Hot Snakes live DVD and CD, The Night Marchers debut …

PHAWKER: Still gonna do your radio show?
JOHN REIS: Although it’s only a 3-hour commitment a week, it’s probably been the only thing keeping me musically sane this past year. Without a ‘band,’ so to speak, I have been flailing. This brief weekly love affair with my records has made me lots of new friends and is keeping me connected to the black oily underbelly of this Navy town.

PHAWKER: Musicianly designs?
JOHN REIS: I still wanna take over the world with my archaic rock n roll sounds, so I am gonna try and do that again. Right now I am stockpiling guitar noise. Hopefully I can get together something soon so I can return back to the stages of the lounges and niteclubs.”

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Friday, January 12th, 2007
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Thursday, January 11th, 2007
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Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

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ON PHAWKER RADIO: Staubgold, amazing German electronica comp.

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We Know It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But We Like It

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007


BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER On her debut, the deftly titled Knives Don’t Have Your Back, Emily Haines sets her husky alto whisper against melancholy piano chords and waltzing rhythm beds, coloring her reveries with mournful strings, funereal brass and swooning Moog atmospherics. Performing Sunday night in the cathedral of the sold-out First Unitarian Church, Haines was backed by Sparklehorse drummer Scott Minor and ex-Mercury Rev bassist Paul Dillon – neither man a stranger to the notion of a light touch making the silences in between the notes positively deafening – and Moog operator-projectionist Todor Kobakov.

A comely blonde in de rigueur, neo-’80s hipster attire, Haines pounded the horse teeth, intoning her muzzy melodies, while noirish abstractions created by filmmaker Guy Maddin – director of the acclaimed The Saddest Music in the World and Haines’ friend – was projected behind her. Pulling off a minor miracle, Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton managed to re-create their album’s dense ambiguities, low-key grandeur and many-splendored mood-swinging, from start to finish.

The weather, however, remains beyond her considerable powers of persuasion. “I made a winter record and winter never came,” Haines said, looking skyward toward the steady patter of January rain on the church roof.

INQUIRER: While Her Piano Gently Weeps

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Tuesday, January 9th, 2007
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EARLY WORD: Holy Soul Jelly Roll

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007


Ars Nova Workshop and Kelly Writers House welcomes writer John Szwed and pianist Dave Burrell in a public discussion that hopes to shed more light on the significance of pianist/composer Jelly Roll Morton and the stride continuum that paved the way for the jazz avant-garde.

Thursday, January 11 | 6pm
Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania | 3805 Locust Walk
Free Admission



Friday, January 5th, 2007


sheen.thumbnail.jpgBY ED KING, ROCK SNOB My first serious exposure to the music of The Shins was through that godawful Zach Braff film, Garden State. In a film that aspired to be The Graduate but was minus the talents of Mike Nichols and Dustin Hoffman, The Shins provided the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack minus the song-smithery and understated cool of Paul Simon. I didn’t want to kill the band based on their association with Braff’s first step toward the pantheon of TV actors done in by good fortune and hubris (see McLean Stevenson through Rob Morrow), so I kept an ear open toward their critically acclaimed releases. The Shins didn’t sound any more interesting without the grating images of Natalie Portman fumbling through the “gimme” Winona Ryder role, but too many people whose tastes I respect continue to go to bat for the band. So it was with great anticipation and a chance for redemption that I popped in the forthcoming Wincing the Night Away. You see, I am no stranger to affectation. Back in college I thought that smoking a pipe (the legal kind, mind you) could be a worthwhile affectation. When you’re 19 years old and trying to figure out your place in the world, having an affectation or two around which to build an adult identity doesn’t hurt. I still recall loading up my pipe, leaning back in my chair just so, and puffing away. First, only alone and in the comfort of my room, but within a few days I was showing off my new bag to friends. Once I even took my pipe outside with me and lit up as I strolled across the campus. I felt cutting edge for a week or so until the pressure of living up to the image of a pipe smoker started to weigh on me: Was I wearing the right kind of sweaters? Was it OK that I didn’t wear glasses? Should I grow a beard? Has a guy who’s flunking friggin’ algebra for the second time earned the right to smoke a pipe? (more…)

This Is Why We Stopped Watching Television

Friday, January 5th, 2007

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It’s nothing but Leo Sayer abuse, and we simply won’t have it. Because when you need love, you just close your eyes and guess what? You feel love.

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EARLY WORD: Beretta Was A GOOD Cop!

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007


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Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007
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Cost of the War in Iraq
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