What's On The Hi-Fi...The Mummers

The Mummers
Tale To Tell
Big Bass Drum (2009)
Download: "Wonderland"
Much has been said already by some American reviewers about the Mummers and their significance to the Philadelphia New Year's Day parade, all much ballyhooed and taken on as a cause by such luminaries as Kevin Bacon of Friday The 13th and Footloose fame. Also, yes the lead singer's vocals bare a striking resemblance to Bjork. Okay, now that is said, let's review the album.

Tale To Tell is an exotic, electronic piece of showmanship that centers itself around the beauty and voice of singer-songwriter Raissa Khan-Panni. Like the Icelandic sugar hiccup and Alison Goldfrapp before her Raissa mesmerizes with tight-wire Kurt Weillian' sweet yowls. The album is her showcase and she is spellbinding in her task.

The music does not wander too much farther than big top hijinks, mixed with Cafe Del Mar Otto or Cinco. I forget because of the champagne. There is a bit of a wander after the middle that becomes a grander march out of the circus tent. Cattiness aside, It takes skill to produce this sound and some level of credence should be afforded to the music makers.

It's a brilliant piece of treacle overall and will be enjoyed by many. And for the Philly crowd, remember she is from the UK and they certainly were Mummers first. Now grab a Geno's with cheese and chill!

The Mummers (Official) | MySpace

What's On The Hi-Fi...YACHT

See Mystery Lights
DFA (2009)
Download: "Psychic City (Voodoo City)"

YACHT (Make sure you always capitalize the name! Read why here see article) was originally the solo project of Portland, OR-based electronic musician and multimedia artist Jonathan Warren Bechtolt. Working mainly as a performance artist from 2003-2006, he released I Believe in You, Your Magic Is Real in 2007. The following year, YACHT dropped the gangplank and invited Claire Evans aboard for See Mystery Lights.

The album is reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem's highly-praised and oft-purchased Sound of Silver which deftly pairs an eclectic and refreshing take on electronic dance music with rock. What we don't hear on this album, luckily, is the down side of a performance artist/musician, which is best exemplified in the work of Fischerspooner. Unlike that group, there is skilled and thoughtful lyrics and composition in this work.

The album swells with refined musical ideas and cool phrasing. Listen to the wonderful "Psychic City (Voodoo City)" and you will find fun, quirky, narrative lyrics and walking beats in the vein of the Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club.

"Summer Song" scintillates with the heat of the season. Who doesn't love handclaps popping over call and response chants, all riding over a dirty Niles Rodgers-esque 70's bass-line?

YACHT explores unusual, almost profound territory asking metaphysical and theological questions about life and universal truths on "The Afterlife" and the gospel sounding "Ring the Bell". The tracks never get heavy or overbearing though as they are buoyed by trance inducing dance beats.

The most surprising track on the album "It's Boring" features storming punk drums, metal guitar and a Haircut 100 bass-line. At well over eight minutes it could have easily become unhinged and dulling, but the group keep throwing new sounds at you to keep it fresh.

Simply said, See Mystery Lights is excellent. It is looking like it will definitely be on my year end Top 10, and it's now ruling the hi-fi.

YACHT (Official) | MySpace

What's On The Hi-Fi...The Nightgowns

The Nightgowns
Sing Something
Self Released (2009)
Download: "Narwhal Aerobics"
Born from the smoldering and belligerent ashes of Tacoma, WA band The Elephants are The Nightgowns. The expanded and reformed lineup has created a sweet, simple yet deceptively distinct sound on their debut Sing Something.

The album opens with its strongest and most defining track with “Narwhal Aerobics”, a thoughtfully catchy, Casiotone diddy that really digs in upon repeat listens. The fall off from the opening track is minimal and there are several other gems on the album including the ominous “White On White” and the more upbeat, danceable sound of “Cosmic Clancy”.

Sing Something doesn’t offer a revolutionary sound and I don’t think the band wanted to change the world with this output. What you do find is an engaging and well-built album from a band that we will be keeping our eye on in the future while we enjoy this one now.


Summer Tracks with Leo Maymind of Spanish Prisoners

Listen to “Los Angeles Guitar Dream” MP3

Spanish Prisoners
Los Angeles Guitar Dream
Earfarm (2009)
Download: "Los Angeles Guitar Dream"

Brooklyn band Spanish Prisoners have followed up their highly praised 2008 debut album Songs to Forget with an even more poised, cohesive and diverse EP, Los Angeles Guitar Dream. Leader Leo Maymind has assembled a strong band for the short set that is highlighted by the airy voice of keyboardist Amberly Hungerford on the title track.

There is a strong resemblance to Soft Bulletin era Flaming Lips here but Maymind and crew have a much fuller bag of tricks. One can hear influences as wide-ranging as early Echo and the Bunnymen, The Moody Blues and Aussie group The Sleepy Jackson throughout the tracks. Although they present an eclectic mix of sounds on Los Angeles Guitar Dreams, Spanish Prisoners merge them to create three, beat filled, cunning cuts that resonant. We look forward to seeing what they do on their next full-length.

Spanish Prisoners leader Leo Maymind recently shared his top tracks for the summer with What's On The Hi-Fi.

"Cobrastyle (RAC Mix)" - Robyn
My friend Andre Allen Anjos, who remixed one of our songs, did this mix and I like it so much more than the original version. Someone actually just told me that the chorus is taken from a Kid Rock song. Oh well. Listen

"The Boys Are Back in Town" - Thin Lizzy
Thin Lizzy's one of those bands that I heard a lot about and I've heard the hits on classic rock radio, but its not till I got a compilation of theirs that I really sat down and listened to them and realized how well-constructed these songs are. This song to me is all about summer. Watch

Since I Left You" - The Avalanches
Put this song on. It'll be summer wherever you are immediately. Watch

"Lust for Life" - Girls
I've been listening to this song on a near daily basis since I found out about this band when they came to NYC for their first shows here. Just a great pop melody, supplemented by some hysterically out of tune harmonica playing. What else do you need? Watch

"Phones Don't Feud" - Holiday Shores
A jangly, reverb'ed number. This band's getting compared to the Walkmen, which I don't hear, but this song really skips along. Listen

"House Jam" - Gang Gang Dance
I saw them play a free show at Barnard and it blew my mind. This album (Saint Dymphna) is good but overall not as exciting as their live show. That always amazes me. Listen

Spanish Prisoners (Official) | MySpace | Earfarm

What's On The Hi-Fi...Jónsi & Alex

Jónsi & Alex
Riceboy Sleeps
XL Recordings (2009)
Download: "Indian Summer"
More than five years in the making, Jonsi and Alex's Riceboy Sleeps is a deep, contemplative and brilliant piece. At first it seems that duo of Sigur Rós' singer Jon Thor (Jónsi) Birgisson and Alex Somers created a tranquil, languorous set of lullabies but once you release yourself from the boundaries of tracks, chords and melodies you open a door to the full light of the album. It is the picture on the album cover that most defines the album's sound for me. It represents the quiet peace of childhood and the purity therein. From the opening track "Happiness" the group paint an idyllic setting that rises and expands through the excellence of "Indian Summer" and beyond. The album breathes (sometimes literally) and exists as an entity all its own.

Jonsi and Alex were making a very intense and specific concept album from the beginning. Their website states that they used only "acoustic Instruments played in Iceland" and "toyed on solar-powered laptops in a raw food commune in some far corner of Hawai". The effort has richly paid off for the two as you can hear both the comfort of home and the sounds of nature slowly resonating, undulating and speaking to the listener.

As a reviewer you find yourself musically hair-splitting every album you come across. This band sounds like this band. It is a way to derive some safety and comfort from a particular sound. I went back through everything from Eno to the Last Temptaion of Christ Soundtrack to Lohengrin to Andres Vollenweider's Down To The Moon looking for some comparison. Riceboy Sleeps is unique, incomparable and stirring.

Jonsi and Alex (Official) | MySpace

What's On The Hi-Fi...Podcast One

Listen to “What's On The Hi-Fi Ep. #1” MP3

"Los Angeles" - Sr. Chinarro
Single from Ronroneando, released by Mushroom Pillow, from this cult figure of the Spanish independent underground scene.
Sr. Chinarro's leader Antonio Luque shares his top summer picks with What's On The Hi-Fi here.
Sr. Chinarro (Official) | MySpace | Mushroom Pillow

"Airsuit" - Windmill
A wonderfully quirky track off the Epcot Center-inspired album Epcot Starfields from Windmill to be released on Melodic on 14 September 2009. Various European tour dates are in the works for this fall!
Windmill (Official) | MySpace | Melodic

"It Pays to Belong" - The Embassy
Catchy summer electro-pop tune from the Göteborg duo's just released album Tacking on indie Swedish label Service! Check it out!
The Embassy shares their top summer picks with What's On The Hi-Fi here.
The Embassy (Official) | MySpace | Service

"Gone With The Weather" - Original Folks
A wonderfully upbeat sing-a-long affair from the release Common Use from French indie folk / pop project Original Folks.
Read our interview with Jacques Speyser of Original Folks here.
Herzfeld (Label) | MySpace

"Window" - Whalebone Polly
A joyous new track from the duo Rachel Dadd and Kate Stables (of This Is The Kit), to be released on the EP Taproot and Sill on 13 September 2009. The duo have so far scheduled the following UK dates in September (be sure to check the group's MySpace page regularly for updates):

3rd - Wigan
4th - Norwich
5th - Suffolk
6th - Winchester
8th - Bournemouth
10th - Bristol
11th - Bristol
13th - Brighton

Read our interview with Kate Stables here.

"Already Over" - Violens
A sparkeling, summer inflected track from NYC's Violens' excellent self-titled debut EP!
Violens (Official) | MySpace

"Imperial Climb" - Acetate Zero
A swooning and explosive track from the new release Hesitation Blues from Paris-based Acetate Zero.
Acetate Zero (Official) | MySpace | Arbouse Recordings

"Open Organ" - Sébastien Schuller
Stunning track off the evocative release Evenfall from French artist Sébastien Schuller.
Read our review of Evenfall here.
Sébastien Schuller(Official) | MySpace | Green United Music (MySpace)

"Don't You Say Your Heart Is Broken (We Know It's Not)" - Pets

Infectious summer track from Sweden's Pets to be released on their debut album this autumn on April 77 Records -- trust us, you will be hearing a lot more about Pets in the months to come!
Pets (Official) | MySpace | April 77 Records

"Summers" - Loney, Dear
Track for the season off the release Dear, John from Loney, Dear, the alter-ego of Swedish multi-instrumentalist / songwriter Emil Svanängen. Be sure to catch Loney, Dear on an extensive North American tour this autumn!
Emil shares his top summer tracks with What's on the Hi-Fi here.
Loney, Dear (Official) | MySpace

"Golden and Green" - Builders and the Butchers
An unusual new song from a great sounding new band from the great Northwest.
The Builders and the Builders (Official) | MySpace

"Joints" - Holly Miranda
Off of her Sleep on Fire Ep this Tennessee gal shows some real chops on this song.
Holly Miranda (Official) | MySpace

What's On The Hi-Fi...Bowerbirds

Upper Air
Dead Oceans (2009)
Download: "Northern Lights"
On their sophomore release Upper Air, Raleigh, North Carolina band Bowerbirds mature their homespun, American roots sound into territory untouched by the likes of kinsman such as Bon Iver and Bonnie “Prince” Billy. While both these artists’ sounds are fascinating, they can, at times, be confused and slightly impenetrable. However, Bowerbirds’ Beth Tacular, Phil Moore and Mark Paulson, establish a wonderful connection to a more bracing sound on this record that shares a tone with the Dodos and the Fleet Foxes rather than the aforementioned glumsters.

Standout songs include the accordion driven “Beneath Your Tree”, the measured brilliance of “Ghost Life” and “Northern Lights” sweet, simplicity reminding one of Whiskeytown’s finest efforts. On all three songs (and the album in general) the band provides a soft but intricately layered timbre that is full of life, love, lament and melody.

Upper Air is a very fine album that holds up and becomes more nuanced after repeated listens and will make it onto our hi-fi for the rest of 2009 and beyond.

Bowerbirds (Official) | MySpace

Summer Tracks with Antonio Luque of Sr. Chinarro

Sr. Chinarro's leader Antonio Luque is a true cult figure on the Spanish underground scene. Since the early 1990's, Sr. Chinarro has undergone various configurations, and the group has released a prodigious catalogue of acclaimed ironic indie-pop releases. Antonio is a rare talent, whose strength lies in subtle songcraft, often evoking the imagery of Andalusia and stories of childhood.

At their best, the Seville-based group's songs are luminous adventures, coupled with simple, yet surrealist, storytelling -- gently reminding us of our fondest memories.

2003's El Ventrilocuo de Sí Mismo, one of Sr. Chinarro's most paired down and melodic releases, remains one of our favorite summertime albums.

Antonio shares with us a few of his top tracks for the summer.

"The Summer" - Yo La Tengo
I´m not sure if they composed that song or it´s a cover. I heard it for the first time in summertime, of course. I really like acoustic recordings, because only the good songs can pass the test of being naked.

"She´s Still Suffering" - Cass McCombs
I discovered Cass McCombs' music in the summer of 2007. This album, Prefection, is a masterpiece for me, and this song seems to me to describe things that happened to me as a logical consequences of whatever happened to me those crazy months, my last summer of an already wasted youth.

The Queen is Dead - The Smiths
Every song on this historical album come to my mind from the summer of 1986, when I went to the nearest shop on a stolen bicycle to buy it. I listened to "Bigmouth Strikes Again" in a very commercial radio station. The whole album wasn't what I expected. It was (is) much better than I imagined.

"Loser" - Beck
I spent the summer of 1995 in a villa with air conditioning, watching MTV (not smoking crack, thanks). That song was a kind of revelation about how to sell what seemed impossible to sell. And in a really funny way. In July 1997 I went to a Beck's gig in Dublin. Another beautiful summer.

"I Should Have Known" - Lonna Kelley
I think this is the CD I listen to the most often this summer. I discovered her music a couple of years ago, maybe less. My friend Fernando Vacas, who released this recording in Spain, gave me a copy. I usually don't pay attention to any CD which is given out for free. In this case, it would have been an awful mistake.

Sr. Chinarro (Official) | MySpace | Mushroom Pillow

Listen to “Los Angeles” MP3

Summer Tracks with Emil Svanängen of Loney, Dear

Loney, Dear (perennial favorite here at What's On The Hi-Fi) is the alter-ego of one-man band Emil Svanängen. To the uninitiated, Emil is a remarkably talented Swedish multi-instrumentalist (piano, clarinet, acoustic guitar...) and one hell of a songwriter. Emil has an uncanny ability to pair beautiful lyrical tales, which are at once sad and hopeful, with winsome and organic multi-instrumental pop -- an arresting and instantly appealing combination.

Don't miss the chance to catch Emil (and band) on an extensive North American tour this autumn (with a one-show stop in London on 10 September).

Also, look for the excellent track "Summers" from Loney, Dear on our inaugural and soon to be released podcast.

With summer (supposedly) upon us, Emil shares with us a few of his top tracks for the season.

"Du Och Jag" - Allan Edwall
Swedish actor singing his own songs.

"Bach Goes to Town" - Benny Goodman
What can I say.

"Unrequited" - Brad Mehldau
Amazing song, the peak is when he decides to switch hands and start playing a tenor melody while he plays a vast arpeggio in the right hand.

"Schlafenzeit" - Unknown, but probably played by Karolin Broosch.

Any solo by Per "Texas" Johansson (Swedish reed player).

Loney, Dear (Official) | MySpace

Listen to “Summers” MP3

What's On The Hi-Fi Talks To The Antlers

The Antlers are like the little band that could. Sneaking in the back door of success, as frontman Peter Silberman puts it. As the follow-up to their 2007 effort In the Attic of the Universe (though they also released 2 EPs – Cold War and New York Hospitals in 2008), Hospice has been making the rounds and garnering accolades from critics and fans alike.

Originally a bedroom project of Pete Silberman, The Antlers have come of age as a 3-piece band of unquestionable talent and merit. The songs are like long runways with huge take-offs. They cram a ton of melody into songs that drip of heartbreak and loss and manage to make this heavy subject matter “hummable” (if that’s even a word). The first time I heard the song “Two”, I had to go back and hit repeat multiple times. It’s like Silberman suggests in the lyrics, “… this all bares repeating”.

The Antlers are an impressive band and have put together an album that matters. It's a soundtrack to watch the falling of the autumn leaves.

Pete and co. took some time out of their busy touring and writing schedules to answer some questions for us here at What’s On The Hi-Fi.

So, ‘Hospice’ marks a turn from solo work to a group effort. How did you all come together, and how have you found the transition?
We came together rather randomly, around the time I was looking to stop doing all this by myself and start including other people, working with other people, exchanging ideas with other people. It wasn’t necessarily an easy transition - I’d gotten used to working by myself, and things started escalating soon after more people joined. But, I think we had a relatively easy time compared to a lot of other solo-projects-turned-full-band. Ultimately, becoming a band was the best thing we could have done.

‘Hospice’ seems to be getting a lot of love from both fans and critics alike. How are you dealing with all the attention?
It’s weird, I sort of feel as though we snuck in through the backdoor. It’s been sort of backwards the way everything’s happened, but there’s been time to settle in to whatever it is that’s going on. There’s been very surreal, intense times throughout the past couple of months, but at the moment, I think we’re in the middle of it. I don’t think we’ll necessarily understand until we’re out the other side.

Originally you self-released this album. Now you guys are going with Frenchkiss. How did that come about?
We’d reached the limit of what we were able to do ourselves. It was fun running our own little operation -- assembling CDs and mailing them out, taking orders, being our own everything. But, it got to the point where the time wasn’t there. We were playing ten times the shows we were used to and wanted to focus on that, and eventually, writing and recording new things. The more things picked up, the less able we were to do this all ourselves. Around that time we met Frenchkiss, and it felt like a perfect match.

The subject matter on the album is pretty heavy. Can you talk about how this project came to be and the imagery behind the songs (i.e., Sylvia Plath, Kettering, hospitals, etc)?
A whole mess of things came together at once to make Hospice. It was a lot of things, events, people. Unexpected parallels between fiction and reality. Hesitation.

What’s next for the band?
We’re leaving for tour soon, for about two weeks, then we’re going to keep doing that for a long time I imagine. Leaving and returning and leaving and returning. We’re starting to write songs again, after a long writing hiatus.

What’s on your hi-fi at the moment?
I’m listening to The Runners Four by Deerhoof right now, and I’m suddenly loving it. Been really into The Rural Alberta Advantage’s album too. For the most part, though, I’m only listening to The Temptations. I’m not really sure why.

Listen to “Two” MP3

The Antlers (Official) | MySpace

What's On The Hi-Fi...Sébastien Schuller

Sébastien Schuller
Pias / Le Village Vert/Green United Music (2009)
Download: "Open Organ"
Sébastien Schuller's second album Evenfall is full of understated moments -- an impressive nuanced effort of restrained melodies. The Parisian's second release is decidely less electro-oriented than his debut "Happiness" and continues to reflect this occasional soundtrack composer's love of melancholy soundscapes.

is rather neatly divided into two parts, opening along more organic lines and then evolving to incorporate chilly synth beats and warped vocal effects. The stunner "Open Organ" builds determinedly on waves of strings and horns, and all the while Sebastien's vocals remain reservedly pitched, gradually walking you to the edge of Sebastien's lyrical cliff.

Following the sober ballad "The Border" and the wisp of a demi-psychadelic instrumental "New York", the second half of Evenfall changes direction slightly and sees Sébastien bringing muted glitchy beats and effects into the works. On the particularly strong track "Last Time", the plaintive vocals seem to be engaged in a clever game of tag with the backing track which only catches up as the song winds down, all finally collapsing to catch their collective breath. The album closer "High Green Grass", sees the album come full circle, returning to a more paired down vocal style and backing piano chords, slowly building on beats which are never allowed to dominate.

As an album, Evenfall awakens rewardingly over time and draws the listener in with its evocative and spectral beauty.

For the keen observer: you might recognize the sleeve's distinctive collage style from Agnes Montgomery, who also created the great piece "Pool Party" for the cover for Panda Bear's Person Pitch.

Sébastien Schuller(Official) | MySpace

Listen to “Open Organ” MP3

What's On The Hi-Fi...Little Boots

Little Boots
Elektra Records (2009)
Download: "Stuck On Repeat"
Released a month ago in the UK, Little Boots’ Illuminations EP made its stateside debut, and it shows itself to be an enjoyable and stimulating electro-pop indulgence. Much as there was a wave of white neo-soul singers coming from parts outside the U.S. to take over the pop scene in 2006 - think Winehouse, Adele, Duffy and others - a new neo-glam look and retro synth dance sound has emerged in the wake of Lady GaGa and Ladyhawke's popularity which includes the likes of La Roux and most recently Little Boots. Like the Brit-soul slingers before them, the gals following in this vein have a pleasant magnetism in their party girl with a brain tracks.

For Little Boots, a/k/a Victoria Christina Hesketh, much of the EP rides the line between Anita Ward’s classic "Ring My Bell" and Giorgio Moroder 80's synth sound. She shows a lot of style and panache throughout each offering with standouts coming on “Stuck On Repeat”, an impulsive sidewalk dance stomper, and “Magical” featuring a pure Trinere-esque early 90’s dance club beat.

This is not a serious album by any means, but it proffers a rewarding opportunity to relax and get into a party mood.

Little Boots(Official) | MySpace