Len, again

Gin Blossoms

I’ve posted about Len and their 1999 album, You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush once before, but in a different-ish context, so I’m calling it ok to repeat a little now. Even though it’s now 12 (holy crap) years old, that album still sounds fresh to me. Maybe because it doesn’t sound like the late-90s at all; it borrows and mixes tiny bits from all over music history and every genre, which gives it an oddly timeless quality.

Len was a Canadian band inspired by early hip-hop, gospel, skater-esque punk-pop … and Kraftwerk? “The Hard Disk Approach” is a surreal electro-pop jam, “Cheeky Bugger” would sit nicely next to Blink 182, and “Crazy ‘Cause I Believe (Early Morning Sunshine)” has a chorus that could’ve come from Stevie Wonder. But instead of feeling like a disconnected stream of references and influences, You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush is bursting with the pure love of music. You can hear it spilling out of the speakers – Len just loves it all. Now that I think about, that may be the thing that keeps me coming back to this album after so long, it’s infectious.

But even with a huge assortment of influences, Len clearly loves old-school hip-hop the most. Like, the oldest school – Kurtis Blow and Biz Markie make appearances here, though I’ll never know how they got those legendary guys to join up with these crazy Canadians. And they get it just right – I agree, old school is the best school, and on songs like “Cryptik Souls Crew”, Len pay homage with respect, not with mimicry or irony.

What a shame then that Len never really got it together properly again. Apparently Bum Rush was their third album and there was another after, but the reviews I’ve come across (I haven’t had the chance to hear any of these myself) haven’t been kind. There was an odd magic that came together for just one album, apparently, that was sadly not heard by many. “Steal My Sunshine” was a really fun single and Len will probably be remembered as a one-hit-wonder because of it, but they had a lot more to offer on Bum Rush.

Friday Favorite: Ladytron

Ladytron – Destroy Everything You Touch

Friday Favorite: Yeasayer

Yeasayer – Mondegreen

In The Merry Merry Month Of … September

Monsters Of Folk

So another month has passed us by, and it’s getting darker and colder out there. Let’s have a look at some of the new releases the end of summer ’09 brought us, shall we?

Girls‘ debut album, Album, was widely talked about – in fact, I only checked out the album because I’d seen their name all over the place – and is, as it turns out, quite good listening. They aren’t doing anything hugely new, but that’s ok sometimes – their brand of fuzzed-over surf-ish California pop is a lot of fun (when it isn’t sounding completely lovelorn, that is). Their sound doesn’t exactly pop, but would make some excellent heartbreak or late-at-night listening. Oh, except for “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” – that one rocks hard.

Girls – Big Bad Mean Motherfucker

The CribsIgnore The Ignorant, their fourth album, came out last month as well. Let me start by saying that I was a huge Cribs fan back when their debut came out. I was seriously in love with that album (and still am). I enjoyed the second as well, though maybe not quite as much, but was less impressed with the third. But at least it had some kind of catchy singles. So it pains me to be so bitterly disappointed in this new album. It’s just … boring. Blah. Blerg. I hear Johnny Marr in there and that should be cool, but honestly, I’m not sure what he adds in this context, especially when the songs just aren’t there to begin with. I’m not all that surprised really, what with how Men’s Needs … never fully caught my attention, but this is an even bigger let-down than I’d have thought possible. Bummer.

Before I get to my last album of September, I should mention here that I’m still trying to get my grubby hands on Kid Harpoon‘s full-length debut, Once. I’m a huge fan of his First and Second EPs, so I seriously cannot wait to hear this. Mr. Harpoon has tracks streaming on his website, so go have a listen here. It sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

My favorite – by so far I can’t even see the others in the distance – is, without a doubt, Monsters of Folk by the folk-supergroup of the same name. Oh my, this album is a serious winner – each song definitely sounds like the member it was written by, and each of their voices are as distinctive as ever, but this never feels like a compilation of Conor Oberst, Jim James (or, inexplicably, Yim Yames), M. Ward, and Mike Mogis songs. Their styles and voices blend so beautifully, so smoothly, it feels like this foursome always existed as one. It’s so hard to pick a single stand-out track – is it the Marvin Gaye-meets-folk “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)”, or the old-timey country-gospel ditty “Goodway”? I’ll go with the cowboy-tinged “Man Named Truth” for the moment, but I have a feeling it’ll change constantly as I keep listening to this wonderful album.

Monsters Of Folk – Man Named Truth

And now it’s time to look at our favorite singles. Some months I choose certain singles because they’re not great but not bad either, so to give the band the benefit of the doubt I include them in the Merry Merry list. This time, however, I didn’t have to use any filler songs! It doesn’t happen very often so I’m really excited about September’s releases. I am smitten with every single one of these singles.

Mumford And Sons – Little Lion Man

This is a sweeping bit of stomping folk. It starts off simple and urgent, but by the chorus you’re swept away by beautiful layers of fiddles and voices and a banjo, I think.

Girls – Lust For Life

The song and the video are both so very adorable. It’s upbeat and melancholy and over way, way too fast.

Fanfarlo – The Walls Are Coming Down

The second single of their debut album is a wonderfully warm song. Fanfarlo is an amazing multi-instrumental band and has a beautiful, rich sound that has one leg in tradition and one leg in a mystery bucket of beauty. Yeah, I suck at telling you what they sound like but don’t let that stop you checking them out. They’ve been compared to Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah but try to clean your musical palate before you listen to this band. Their music is strong enough to stand on its own without the heavy shadows of other great Indie bands luring over them.

Beth Jeans Houghton – I Will Return

This song is lovely – a melodic pop song with a bluegrass ‘tude. Her enchanting voice transports me to a soft summer day in a beautiful field, which is hard to do because it’s fricking freezing today.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – The Golden Age

Her voice is so bizarre but cute. For some reason the music reminds me of a trippy yet slick nineties commercial and I love it. This song also makes me wish for carefree picnics in a park – Sigh, I might just be projecting my sadness for the demise of summer on these songs…

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing

With this strange song The Drums rediscover the surfing theme without revisiting The Thrills. It vaguely echoes and pays homage to California surf pop, but with a wonderfully intricate contemporary feel. There’s also handclaps and whistling, I swear it’s like Bean dreamed up this band.

The Dodos – Fables

I mean it’s The Dodos. They rock. I was gonna leave it at that, but all the other ones got a wee descirption so it just wouldn’t be fair. “Fables” from their third album is catchy and swinging and a fun and flighty introduction to their fantastic new album. It’s almost poppy but with tremendous substance and depth.

Metronomy – Not Made For Love

A gentle number about lost love with electronic bleeps and a sad, sad voice. It’s sparse compared to the other singles in this list, but conveys as much, if not more emotion with so little.

Backtrack: Björk, Post

Björk

I wouldn’t say I’m a massive Björk fan; I’ve never felt the urge to go see her play live, nor have I ever seen Dancer In The Dark, but Post is one of my favorite albums of the nineties. I was fourteen when it came out and all I knew of electronic music was that it sounded like a bunch of impersonal bleeps to me, untouched by human feeling and experiences. Acts like Massive Attack and this album especially smashed all my preconceived notions to bits.

I have favorite tracks, like “Hyper-ballad” and “The Modern Things”, but I love it as a whole. I adore the way one song flows into another almost seemlessly and yet it covers a mulitude of styles. The album seems to tell one story, but goes from one mood to the next like a bi-polar yo-yo. She follows a jazzy, latin beat with a harpsichord without missing a beat, but we’re cleverly manipulated into thinking that makes total sense. Every song creates another element of a weird but wonderful landscape. To me this album made alternative, arty, electronic music accessible and it still resonates in many new bands from Hot Chip to Final Fantasy to Bright Eyes.

Björk – Hyper-ballad
Björk – The Modern Things

Backtrack: Plushgun, Pins & Panzers

It’s been almost a year and a half since I posted about Plushgun for New Band Day. Since then, Dan Ingala and friends have been signed to Tommy Boy Records, released two EPs and their debut album (Pins & Panzers released last month), and had their music featured on both TV and film soundtracks. Good for them – nothing makes me happier than to see a truly deserving musician or band meet with success.

It’s a rare thing to find music that is stunningly beautiful and makes you dance at the same time. Being in a rather sleepy/blah mood today, I’m surprised to find myself semi-dancing in my seat (or sitting on the floor, as it happens) along to Pins & Panzers. And though it’s been almost a year and a half since I first heard “Just Impolite”, I’m still not even close to getting over how lovely it is. The whole album is simply a pleasure to listen to – it feels like the (retrospective) freedom of high school, staring out the window at the rain, and a summertime party with friends all wrapped up in a loving blanket of electronic pop.

Enjoy one of my favorites from Plushgun’s debut album below, get Pins & Panzers right now from emusic, or visit PlushSpace to hear more.

Plushgun – Let Me Kiss You Now (And I’ll Fade Away)

From The 100(mail)b(ox)

Woodhands

The goofy-looking guys you see before you are Woodhands, from Toronto, Canada. Remember them from high school? Maybe freshman year at college? They were the guys you cool people probably thought were geeks (note that I didn’t say us cool people). Now they have the kids up and moving it to the beats they weave and you might even wish you were them a little bit. Woodhands, not the kids, though that might also be the case.

Dan Werb and Paul Banwatt bring a purely-created (no samples or nothing) dance vibe meant solely to rock the party. And, given their cover of the Eddy Grant 1983 hit “Electric Avenue” had my head boppin, I think you’ll have to agree Woodhands achieve their goal well. Electro-pop, digi-beat or whatever you want to call it, these creations can’t help but bring a smile to your face and have you interested in hearing more. The Bean doesn’t like the Eddy Grant original and thought the Woodhands cover was something to hear. That’s saying something.

Woodhands – Electric Ave

Check out Woodhands at their digital hangouts: MySpace and Facebook.

Want more? Buy Heart Attack at Paper Bag Records