Music. History.
Dr. Dog - I Can't Fly
289 plays

"I Can’t Fly" by Dr. Dog from Toothbrush [2002]

Back when Dr. Dog was still unknown, they kicked off Toothbrush, their first album as a proper band, with the psychedelic (yet quite catchy) track “I Can’t Fly.”

Neko Case - Dirty Knife
90 plays

"Dirty Knife" by Neko Case [2006]

To think that this was released a full five years ago (March 7, 2006). Time flies!

Certainly by 2006, much of the decade’s indie rock being an update of the 1980s was a well established trend. Not that Neko Case intentionally drew on any artist in particular for her 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, but, at least to me, that record showed striking similarities to the work of Kate Bush. Fox Confessor was not quite as experimental as Bush’s Hounds of Love, but similarly, as the album progressed each song added further mystery. By the time “Dirty Knife” rolled around in the second half of the album, Case had reached a story of full-on madness.

And yes, I understand that you might have a completely different point of reference for Neko Case…

Free Energy - Free Energy
100 plays

"Free Energy" by Free Energy [2010]

Three members of Free Energy got their music careers started in their hometown of Red Wing, Minnesota. That’s the same town Bob Dylan wrote about in his 1963 song “Walls of Red Wing,” about the state juvenile prison there. Scott and Evan Wells and Paul Sprangers’ first band, an indie outfit called The Hockey Night, was a staple in the Twin Cities from the late ’90s through 2007. The band never quite put it all together and failed to break into any major markets.

When I first heard “Free Energy,” I could hardly believe this was 3/5 of The Hockey Night. It turns out the tighter, power-chord-laden summer groove owes itself to LCD Soundsystem and DFA Records pioneer James Murphy, who produced the band’s first EP and its debut album. From my point of view, the opportunity to work with the ambitious and focused leadership at DFA is the best thing that could have happened for Paul Strangers and co. Good luck, guys, but be sure to come back to play the Cities!

Cloud Cult - Everybody Here Is a Cloud
60 plays

"Everybody Here Is a Cloud" by Cloud Cult [2008]

Organic farm an hour-and-a-half outside the nearest major city. Biodiesel van covered in solar panels. Post-consumer CD packaging. Profits donated to environmental charities. Does this sound like a successful rock band? 

Well, it is. Led by down-to-earth (pun possibly intended) singer/songwriter Craig Minowa, Minnesota band Cloud Cult spurned major label attention in the middle of the 2010s in favor of keeping control of all aspects of production. I have not yet seen the band live, but apparently, instead of contributing to the music itself, two band members paint original artwork on stage for auction at the end of the night.

After steadily gaining attention with albums in 2004 and ‘05 (Minnesota’s Album of the Year and an 8.3 Pitchfork review, respectively), the band’s 2008 release Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) saw the band plateau. Cloud Cult remains one of the Minnesota’s best bands—for both successfully balancing creating music with actually saving the planet and for the quality of the music itself. Check 'em out

Unfortunately, the most recent news from the band is that Craig Minowa was hospitalized with a heart condition last week. It looks like he’ll be all right, but you can never be sure. Get better, Craig! We need more people like you!

97 plays

"The Room Got Heavy" by Yo La Tengo [2006]

Random Music History Song of the Day

Eleven studio albums in, Yo La Tengo just kept rolling out great music. The band continued to find new ways to mix the stylistic influences they draw on. “The Room Got Heavy” made bongos, a Krautrock drone, 60s soul organ pumps and monotone vocals seem like they’ve always belonged together. That’s all you really need to know. Oh, except that the album title rocks: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.

1,053 playsDownload

"We Could Send Letters" by Aztec Camera [1983]

Random Music History Song of the Day

With hindsight, many observers cite 1981 as the year “alternative” and “indie” first began distinguishing themselves as distinct genres (as opposed to punk, post-punk or new wave). In America, R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” mixed old and new in a way that suggested those labels were no longer appropriate. In Great Britain, NME’s C81 compilation cassette looked back at five years of independent music on Rough Trade Records and other labels. C81 acknowledged independent success and brought that fact into the consciousness of music fans across the UK. The compilation stands as a fluid crossing point between more arty tendencies of post-punk and the pop sensibilities of “indie.” As far as I’m concerned, the lines only got blurrier as the decade continued. 

In the end it doesn’t matter what genre you say it is; a well-written, well-performed, well-produced song with interesting lyrics is the ideal. In either version - the acoustic take included on C81 or the studio recording posted above - “We Could Send Letters” proves its worth. The song first appeared as the B-side to Aztec Camera’s debut single “Just Like Gold,” released in January of ‘81, the same month as C81. The studio recording of “We Could Send Letters” was a centerpiece on the band’s stellar 1983 debut album Hard Land, Hard Rain.

144 plays

"Nights of the Living Dead" by Tilly and the Wall [2004]

Random Music History Song of the Day

For every band whose name is permanently imprinted in the public consciousness, dozens of others fall away after a short time in the haze at the edge of the spotlight. A few of those bands still manage to make a name for themselves based what amounts ostensibly to nothing more than novelty. For example, ’60s psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators featured electric jug. They were a decent band, but they weren’t Pink Floyd.

Similarly, Omaha, Nebraska-based indie band Tilly and the Wall garnered significant attention for percussionist Jamie Wilson, a tap dancer. As you can hear in “Nights of the Living Dead,” the second song from the band’s 2004 debut album Wild Like Children, Wilson’s taps provide the only percussion. Again, these guys will never be Belle and Sebastian, but their unique sound defines “fun.”

I never saw a show, but a few of my roommates in college (including tap-dance legend cbye) saw the band multiple times and loved ‘em. Wish I could have been there…

31 plays

"Careful" by Hot Chip [2006]

Random Music History Song of the Day

Hot Chip’s sophomore effort, 2006’s The Warning, seemed like a remix of everything pop electronic music had offered to that point - from 10cc (“I’m Not in Love”) and OMD to Fatboy Slim and Postal Service. Except for the sweetly soaring bridge, the album opener “Careful” sounds like a Brian Eno sound experiment remixed as a backing track for Dizzee Rascal. Not my favorite track from the LP, but still worthy of a listen or two. 

40 plays

"Jackie, Dressed in Cobras" by The New Pornographers [2005]

Random Music History Song of the Day

As if I haven’t shared enough good news with my dear followers recently, today’s song of the day reminds me that my girlfriend just bought tickets for us to see Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers at First Ave. on June 11. Somehow, despite being a music nut living in the Twin Cities, I have never seen a show at historic First Ave. It even looks like Neko Case will be with the band on the tour. I’m so excited for this summer!

Anyway, I don’t have too much to add about this song actually. While the band members take turns on vocals, most of the music from The New Porno’s 2005 third album Twin Cinema was written by A.C. Newman. “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras” is one of only three exceptions. Those three were instead written by unusual Vancouver singer-songwriter (and New Porno member) Dan Bejar. Typical of his songs, the meaning of the lyrics is difficult to pin down (something about the protagonist not being afraid to introduce himself to a girl (one “Jackie”) despite her outwardly dangerous nature?). Rather, the strength of Bejar’s lyrics is in the creative imagery of Individual lines (e.g. “don’t live your life inside a mirror”). The song was one of the highlights of the album, but was never released as a single.