Freaks.

Pop music is difficult to execute well. Many times accessibility trumps creativity and bands leave me wanting. But some do it well, even while toying with popular, ephemeral sounds and studio chicanery.

This is clearly what Matt Bronleewe, Dan Haseltine and Jeremy Bose attempt with The Hawk in Paris. They clearly don’t desire to forge new musical ground. In fact, they sound like a bunch of middle-aged guys trying to re-create the magic of their favortie eighties synthpop bands. (Definittely not a bad thing.)

The swagger and spaghetti Western guitars in title track, “Freaks,”obviously owe a lot to Depeche Mode. “Birds on a Wire” seems to take more chances, dropping out the beat in places and adding flourishes of acoustic guitars, while invoking some of Simple Minds’ mid-to-late eighties work. Kitsch weighs heavy on the last track, “Wake Me Up,” tipping its hat to the way Pet Shop Boys’ early work mixed R&B with pop. The auto-tuned vocals and lyrics (“I don’t wanna have another dream without you.”) further add to the band’s shtick.

With the promise of two more EPs this year, I’m excited to hear what The Hawk in Paris delivers. As a rabid fan of Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Camouflage and New Order, I welcome anyone who seems to get synthpop. Sure The Hawk in Paris is referential and invokes some obvious influences, but I think that’s the point. And I love it.

Buy it now.

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Episode 107: Wait Underwater with Me

Sometimes I wonder if it would be more convenient to just post Spotify playlists instead of recording these episodes. Whenever I start believing this work is in vain, supporters come out of the proverbial woodwork. For example, last week a friend encouraged the audience at his concert to check out my blog. “Jonathon Smith knows your favorite bands before you do,” he announced.

Who knows? Maybe I’ve included songs from of your new favorite bands this week.

Enjoy.

  1. “Moonshake” – Can (Future Days / United Artists / 1973)
  2. “Lists, Plans” – A Sunny Day in Glasgow (Scribble Mural Comic Journal / Notenuf / 2007)
  3. “Sea Birds” – Burning Hearts (Aboa Sleeping / Shelflife / 2009)
  4. “Crest” – The Antlers (Undersea / ANTI / 2012)
  5. “Please Let Me Wonder” – The Beach Boys (Today! / Capitol /  1965)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #107 (8/3/12)

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A few thoughts.

Cover of Ten Years After’s 1969 album, Ssssh

I didn’t have time to record a podcast this week, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about music.

  • A friend asked me about Slowdive this week. Fortunately for him, I already had a Slowdive playlist in Songbird. (Does this really surprise you?) So I burnt him a mix CD from that playlist just before Thurday’s rain. Diving back into the band’s dreamy catalog with light rain rapping upon the windowpanes was perfection. I can’t wait for him to hear this; it’s gorgeous.
  • I stopped at Half Price Books in Westport on Thursday and bought Stereolab’s Margerine Eclipse and ABC Music. Now, I’m on a serious Stereolab kick. Don’t hate.
  • I wish my wife wouldn’t have informed me Stars will be playing at The Bottleneck in Lawrence on October 9. We won’t be able to attend, as it’s on a weeknight. Oh, to see them perform “Ageless Beauty“!
  • My friend, Brandon Briscoe, stopped by yesterday, and I introduced him to the music of Ten Years After. I’ve always felt that the band’s lead guitarist, Alvin Lee, was the best of the British blues rock players. Since everyone and everything is on Spotify, I suggest you check out the band’s records Cricklewood Green, Ssssh and Watt. In that order.
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Episode 106: The middle of July in a stocking cap.

Dan Billen, performing with The Billions

I don’t know what the weather’s like in your neck of the woods, but it’s been insanely hot in Raytown this summer. About the only thing worth doing is watching my son play around in the living room and listening to records. Fortunately for us, a ton of great music has been released in the past few months.

I’m occasionally accosted by dudes who want me to play their music on my show. (As if they’ll see a substantial uptick in albums sold, right??) Usually their music is, at best, mediocre. But when Michael Edwards told me to check out his band, I was blown away. Not because it was the best thing I’ve ever heard or that it was something entirely new. No, the band impressed me with how comfortable it feels with itself and the audience. In this episode, I play a song from Genetic Engines’ new EP, Feed My Mind. Please buy it. It’s only four bucks.

I’m also petitioning discerning music lovers to buy Dan Billen’s new EP, Not Alone. Billen is a long-time friend who played bass in The Billions. Since the band broke up, he has quietly sat by as his brother amassed quite a catalog of indie pop. (Truth be known, he and his wife were trying to get their family started, a focus of many of his songs.) Like his best work in The Billions, Not Alone, boasts diverse styles and honest lyrics. Name your price and buy it.

I’m excited to record another episode. It seems like it’s been forever since my last one. I hope you enjoy. (For some reason, WordPress won’t allow me to stream episodes like I used to, so just use the download link at the bottom.)

  1. “Into the Cold” – Genetic Engines (Feed My Mind / independent / 2012)
  2. “When We Come To” – Michael Miller (When We Come To / Shiny Shiny / 2003)
  3. “Flying Backwards” – Doug Gillard (Malamute Jute / Cushion Records / 1998)
  4. “Let a Dreamer Dream” – Dan Billen (Not Alone/ independent / 2012)
  5. “See Right Through Me” – The Bats (Free All the Monsters / Flying Nun / 2011)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #106 (7/20/12)

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Of CD Wallets and Road Trips

When Katy and I were dating, she in Dayton and I in Raytown, we faced long, monthly drives to see one another. I tried to sell her on this drive by telling her it was only about as long has playing through her 10 favorite CD’s in the car.

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We’re preparing for a trip back to Dayton next week, and I’m packing my CD wallet. I know, it’s 2012 and I should just load up my phone with MP3’s or stream songs from Google Music or something, but the car we’re taking only has a CD player. (I’m not complaining…15 years ago, this would have been a luxury, right?) I think MP3 players have made me lazy, dumping tons of music onto a player with no real intentions of getting to much of it.

I’m not sure I can even articulate what makes a good road trip album. It certainly needs driving beats, and there needs to be some amount of predictability. Nostalgia’s important, too, as my favorite albums make for great road trip albums. (Many of which, I owned on tape and got stuck in the tape deck of a couple different Escorts I had in college for months on end.) But then again, some just tend to be a solid, unflashy album in a band’s catalog. Sometimes I just need an record that will sound good in my particular car at the time. Finally, I take new albums on trips because a 10-hour drive is a great chance to wear in a new one.

Here are a few* that make my list. I’ll let you decide what criteria they meet.

  1. Get Happy!! – Elvis Costello and the Attractions (F-Beat/1980)
  2. Dear Science – TV on the Radio (Interscope/2008)
  3. Red Medicine – Fugazi (Dischord/1995)
  4. Forever Changes – Love (Elektra/1967)
  5. After Dark – various artists (Italians Do it Better/2007)
  6. Bloom – Beach House (SubPop/2012)
  7. a CD I burned with both Object 47 & Red Barked Tree by Wire
  8. Some Racing, Some Stopping – Headlights (Polyvinyl/2008)
  9. Feelings – Motel Beds (Fictionband Mechanics/2010)
  10. Your Future Our Clutter – The Fall (Domino/2010)
  11. Never Hear the End of It – Sloan (YepRoc/2007)
  12. 25 Years of Hits – Pet Shop Boys (Parlophone/2009)
  13. Slideling – Ian McCulloch (Cooking Vinyl/2003)
  14. Oranges & Lemons – XTC (Virgin/1989)
  15. Sex Change – Trans Am (Thrill Jockey/2007)
  16. Wake Up! – The Boo Radleys (Creation/1995)
  17. The Chaos – The Futureheads (Nul/2010)
  18. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever – Orange Juice (Polydor/1982)
  19. The Loudest Sound Ever Heard – The Choir (Galaxy21/2012)
  20. OX4: The Best of Ride – Ride (The First Time Records/2002)
  21. Last Exit – Junior Boys (KIN | 2004)
  22. some last minute selection by Robert Pollard or Guided By Voices

*My wife reserves the right to edit the final list any time before Saturday.

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Episode 105: A Glimmer of LIght

Sam Billen, c.1997

I had imagined a grandiose introduction this week, but after several attempts at editing, I give up.

I think I’ve known Sam Billen for over a decade. I consider his brother and father family, too. They’re pretty much the only reason one would ever want to visit Topeka. Except for hot pickles.

Sam has nearly completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the mastering and manufacturing of his new record, Places. He has about ‘$800 left in this final week for the campaign. As a way to publicly thank him for his great music through the years and as a way to get the word out about his new record, I devote this week’s show to his songs. Enjoy.

  1. “Headphones and Cellphones” – Sam Billen (Headphones and Cellphones | The Record Machine | 2009)
  2. “I Found a Way” – The Billens (Trash and Treasure | Northern Records | 2005)
  3. “Invisible Game” – Sam Billen (Miracles | Northern Records | 2004)
  4. “Someday You’ll Regret” – The Billions (demo recording for Trash and Treasure | c.2004)
  5. “My Life” – The Billions (Never Felt this Way Before | Northern Records | 2003)
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1415312/105radiofreeraytown.mp3″

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #105 (6/8/12)

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Episode 104: Take your brain, it’s time to go!

Guided By Voices’ difficult yet well-executed 1994 album, Bee Thousand.

Summer school starts next week, and I’m teaching seventh and eighth grade math. I anticipate it’ll be a busy June.

With this week off between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer school, I’ve watched my son and listened to a ton of music. Fueled by our purchase of tickets to see Guided By Voices in September, making a mix CD of Pollard-related tunes and a friend finding a lot of 36 Guided By Voices-related CD’s for $60 on the internet, much of this listening has been to Guided By Voices, Robert Pollard and Boston Spaceships. I’m kind of a nerd, but Pollard can deliver a killer pop hook when he wants to. He’s also quite the wordsmith, when he puts his mind to it.

Anyway, I know you want the goods, so here goes.

  1. “Something to Say” – The Action (Rolled Gold | Parasol | 2002)
  2. “Brain” – The Action (Rolled Gold | Parasol | 2002)
  3. “Somebody Made for Me” – Emitt Rhodes (Emitt Rhodes | Dunhill | 1970)
  4. “Echos Myron” – Guided By Voices (Bee Thousand | Scat | 1994)
  5. “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” – Guided By Voices (Let’s Go Eat the Factory | Guided By Voices Inc. | 2012)
  6. “Wild” – Beach House (Bloom | Sub Pop | 2012)

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1415312/104radiofreeraytown.mp3″

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #104 (6/1/12)

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Episode 103: The Hymns You Hide

When I get in a musical rut, it sucks for everyone in my life. I’ve been listening to a Nick Drake album every night before bed for the past two weeks. (I think Pink Moon has narrowly beat out Bryter Layter, but that’s probably because it’s a quieter album, more suitable for bedtime listening.) I’ve also found Gary Murray’s music chill and perfect for Ian’s early morning feedings.

At any rate, I’ve been so busy. No time to write much of an introduction this week, so just enjoy the music.

  1. “Horn” – Nick Drake (Pink Moon / Island / 1972)
  2. “Things Behind the Sun” – Nick Drake (Pink Moon / Island / 1972)
  3. “Could This Be True” – LN (Plum Brook / Velvet Blue Music / 1999)
  4. “This is How I Feel” – Derri Daugherty (Clouds Echo in Blue / Galaxy 21 / 2012)
  5. “Cure for This” – Golden Smog (Another Fine Day / Lost Highway / 2006)
  6. “Origins” – Tennis (Young and Old / Fat Possum / 2012)
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1415312/103radiofreeraytown.mp3″

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #103 (5/11/12)

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What presence?!

Yesterday Ian and I watched Orange Juice on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

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Episode 102: Milestones

I can still remember the day I coerced Tim into buying his first Miles Davis album. We were visiting Earwaxx Records, and I showed him to a couple crates in the back filled with 60’s and 70’s jazz records. Most were marginal efforts by washed-up cats trying to make a go at the easy listening market, but I had found a few gems. One such gem was Bitches Brew, Miles’ head-first dive into fusion and tape edits and manipulation. The double album was only $12, and I knew my friend needed it.


Several records sit next to Tim’s turntable. It gives a peek into what he’s recently played or, like the radio stations of yore, his heavy rotation. While the stack always changes, one constant remains: Bitches Brew. He told me he has to listen to it once a week. (He listens to it so much, in fact, that he bought another copy!)

It probably didn’t take you 101 episodes to realize I’m excited to help others discover an artist. I’m especially happy when it’s a jazz artist. See, anxiety seems to mount when the discussion turns from post-punk (or whatever I’m blathering about at the time) to jazz. It’s almost as if jazz is a menu at an Ethiopian restaurant: no one knows what he’s ordering, and no one knows what to do with it once it arrives.

I certainly get people’s trepidation; jazz can be heady. In the 20 years after World War II, virtually all big bands went the way of the dinosaur. Small combos took their place, allowing artist-composers freedom to write more complex tunes. Eventually, jazz became polarized. Either the artists played free or they boasted in their ability to improve in a certain mode and in a time signature in opposition to the rhythm section. Either extreme scares off most of my friends.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and I think Miles Davis’ work proves this. He could be, at once, complex and accessible. The problem with his vast catalog is knowing where to start. Hopefully I can give you a few starting points this week. Enjoy.

  1. “Circle” – Miles Davis Quintet (Miles Smiles | Columbia | 1967)
  2. “Milestones” – Miles Davis (Milestones | Columbia | 1958)
  3. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” – Miles Davis (Bitches Brew | Columbia | 1970)
  4. “Prelude (Part One)” – Miles Davis (Agharta | Columbia | 1975)

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1415312/102radiofreeraytown.mp3″

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #102 (4/27/12)

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