OnlineRock Blog

30 March 2012

Free Music Friday - March 30, 2012

Here's this month's selections of Free Music Friday musical picks!

1. Autechre - Tri Repetae
(free download from Noise Trade) 

For this week's free music selection, I've found something from last century to tickle your ears. Autechre has made their third album, 1995's Tri Repetae, available for free via NoiseTrade. The album is, overall, a rather mellow affair that finds ambient synths propelled along by whirrs, clicks, pops and bleeps. With the ubiquitous influence of dubstep on the modern techno scene, a long dose of mid-90s IDM is a refreshing change of pace.  

-Andrew McNair

2. Such Hounds - Self-titled EP
(free download from Bandcamp)

Need some solid, steady indie rock? New York's Such Hounds are here to help. With thick guitars, they lay down three solid songs on their new EP that give you indie powerpop with a rootsy undercurrent. Such Hounds is offering their self-titled EP for absolutely free on Bandcamp (you don't even need to give them an email address to be subjected to occasional emails -- this is as free as free gets).

-Andrew McNair

3. Niteflights - I'm Glad You're Here 
(free download from Soundcloud) 
In the mood for something a bit lighter and synthier? Niteflights can fulfill your yearning for retro-sounding synthesizers and drum machines with an EP full of plucky synthpop love songs. The EP sounds so good that you'd never guess it was done from a home studio. I'm Glad You're Here is available for free from the link above. 

-Andrew McNair

4. Retribution Gospel Choir - The Revolution
(free download from artist website)

Alan Sparhawk, best known for his band Low, has put out a new EP for his side project, Retribution Gospel Choir. The Revolution showcases Sparhawk's poppier sensibilities (which don't get much airtime in Low's slower, heavier music) with a set of four driving, catchy and straightforward indie rock songs. There's even—heavens!—cowbell. Download the entire thing for free from the RGC website.

-Andrew McNair

5. East of Underground - "Hell Below"
(click to stream or right click to save as)

The always reliable Now-Again Records brings us this awesome, skittering Curtis Mayfield cover from a group of Vietnam vets in the early 1970s known as East of Underground. Apparently, some of their songs were used in U.S. Military recruitment centers as an example of the diversity and "coolness" of the soldiers overseas. "Hell Below" was probably left out of such demonstrations, considering its challenging lyrical content, which addresses racial and political issues. Filled to the brim with nervous energy, it's driven by a funky bassline, an infectiously propulsive drumbeat and soulful falsetto vocal stylings. A compilation of East of Underground and two other Vietnam soldier bands is available here. Check out the original Curtis Mayfield version below! 

-Tomi Mendel

01 March 2012

Public Image Ltd. Returns This Recrod Store Day

By Tomi Mendel

Pioneering post-punk band Public Image Ltd. has announced they will release a new E.P. and album, their first new music since 1992. April 21, this year’s Record Store Day, will see the release of the four-song One Drop E.P., with the new record This is PiL following on May 28. Frontman John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, claims he funded the recordings out of pocket with money earned from working on an advertising campaign for Country Life butter in the U.K. In early February, the group premiered the title song, from the new E.P. on BBC radio, bringing their trademark dark, warbling, post-punk to a new generation.
“One Drop,” recorded from the BBC 6 radio premiere on Feb. 13, 2012.

Unfortunately, Public Image Ltd. has long lived in the pop culture shadow of Lydon’s other band, The Sex Pistols. While the Pistols may be the quintessential punk rock band, PiL was, musically speaking, a great deal more innovative and perhaps more influential, as well. They were one of the first bands of the punk era to start playing around with strange sounds and experimental ideas, paving the way for countless groups that followed and helping to lay the foundation for what would become alternative music and indie rock. Their unique combination of krautrock, punk, dub reggae, and art rock, proved to have quite a far reach. From an ideological perspective, their proclaimed rejection of rock ‘n’ roll was a powerful message, as well, and the symbolic significance of the ex-Johnny Rotten denouncing the music he had just created with the Sex Pistols cannot be overlooked. 

Some confused dancers listening to “Poptones” and “Careering.”

One downside to the Public Image Ltd. reunion is that most of the original members are not returning, having already left the band well before 1992’s That What Is Not. In particular, bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene are missed, crucial as they were to the band’s sound on their first, most influential albums. In those early days for the group, they were just about unclassifiable, and clearly no one knew quite what to make of them. How else can we explain them earning a surprise disco hit with the pounding “Fodderstompf” and even making an appearance (possibly the weirdest one ever) on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1980. An album like Metal Box is definitely some of the most experimental music ever released on a major label, and Wobble and Levene were major elements of that. For his part, Keith Levene’s characteristic guitar work on songs like “Public Image” clearly laid the groundwork for acts like U2. Meanwhile, Wobble’s unmistakable bass lines have made him a hot commodity in the post-PiL years, including collaborations with Bjork, Massive Attack, Primal Scream, and Brian Eno.

Sounds a lot like U2’s the Edge playing guitar on this song, don’t ya think? 

Although PiL’s later albums were not nearly as groundbreaking, Lydon and his assorted band-mates still managed a number of winning songs. “This Is Not A Love Song” is a brilliantly postmodern tune from 1984’s This is What You Want...This is What You Get that received a recent coffee-house update by French group Nouvelle Vague. 1986’s Album featured surprising appearances by Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Ginger Baker, leading to catchy songs like “Rise.” John Lydon also managed to stay on the cutting edge with some strong solo collaborations, including an early rap-rock song with Afrika Bambaata and a characteristically warbly lead vocal on U.K. electronica act Leftfield’s “Open Up.” Even though Public Image Ltd. petered off in their last few years, the new song, “One Drop” is decent and should give hope to fans. With any luck, the glut of recent indie and electronic acts that owe a debt to PiL’s music will inspire the group to do some good work. If not, we’ll all just have to give Metal Box or The Flowers of Romance another spin. 

John Lydon singing with Leftfield in 1993.

24 February 2012

Free Music Friday - February 24, 2012

Welcome, lovely children of the world, to a nice warm bath of soothing music with a little rock and roll thrown into the middle. This first artist Baobab combines elements of world music with familiar folk melodies to the delight of all; 50 Foot Wave has been doused with the spirit of generosity and is giving away their entire discography of rough/math rock for free; and you can sample the beautifully concise notes of the piano from Perfume Genius.
1. Baobab - Baobab
(free download from Bandcamp)
Baobab is giving their (well, his, since, apart from some backing vocals on one track, the effort is solely that of one Phil Torres) self-titled album away for free, and it's well worth the download. The music is a blend of modern folk and African musical idea. Gentle and pulsing, the songs are a mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation and the album finds itself at the intersection of Devendra Banhart, Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend.

-Andrew McNair

(free download from artist website)

Aside from Throwing Muses (whose demos for their upcoming album Film may be downloaded for free here: -- their first album of new material since their self-titled 2003 release), Kristin Hersh also records music with her band 50 Foot Wave (who've been a bit more active in the past 9 years). A bit rougher around the edges than the poppier Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave is straightforward rock with a slight math-rock tendency. And you can now download their entire discography for free (in both MP3 and FLAC) from their website.
-Andrew McNair

3. Perfume Genius - "Hood"
(click to stream or right click to save as) 

From LP: Put Your Back N 2 It

From his new album Put Your Back N 2 It, Seattle-based Perfume Genius gives us "Hood," an enthralling, but frustratingly short, piano ballad. Driven by tender, reverb-laden vocals, the song builds from a sparse, vulnerable sound to a brief climax of epic power. The song is little more than piano and vocals, but it's refreshing in its simplicity and leaves you wanting more. Find out all about Perfume Genius here!

-Tomi Mendel

17 February 2012

Free Music Friday - February 17, 2012

Hello Valentines, hope you had a candy-coated Tuesday. And back to the real world, we know offer a double double of great tunes. This first one is a perfect mellow number to soothe that aching heart, and the second brings you back into the daylight with a pumped up jam full of good old rock and roll.

1. Eric Chenaux - "Amazing Backgrounds"
(free download from Soundcloud)

LP: Guitar and Voice

Eric Chenaux is a Canadian dude who does some pretty neat things with just singing and a guitar. His upcoming album, aptly named Guitar & Voice, features "Amazing Backgrounds," a plaintive ballad stripped down to its core. Chenaux's guitar is extremely atmospheric, ranging from quiet plucking to fuzzed-out soloing. With its tenderly sung, gentle lyrics and warmly meandering melody, "Amazing Backgrounds" makes for a highly gripping listen. Learn more about Guitar & Voice, out March 6, here!

-Tomi Mendel

2. The Black Box Revelation - "High on a Wire"
(click to stream or right click to save as)

LP: My Perception

Tight pants, motorcycle boots, and leather jackets are not things I usually associate with Belgium but this duo from Brussels has just changed all that. These 20-something years olds have already released three albums of gritty, fuzzy, and awesome rock'n'roll tunes. So, everybody dust off those distortion pedals from your high-school garage band days and jam along to the some good ol' rock. For more on The Black Box Revelation check out their webpage

-Ana Diaz

16 February 2012

Where Would We Be Without Alan Lomax? Opening The Vaults

By Tomi Mendel

On Monday, January 30, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress announced that the entire, enormous archive of music, film and photographs compiled by the late folklorist/archivist Alan Lomax will be made freely available online by the end of February. This exciting project is the spiritual completion of Lomax’s vision for a “global jukebox” of all his field recordings, an idea which he promoted until his death in 2002. Now, for the first time, his archive, which includes a whopping 17,000 music tracks, will be easily accessible for music and history fans everywhere.

I hope Lomax’s record collection is better organized than mine.

Alan Lomax is unquestionably one of the most important figures in 20th century music. It certainly is not difficult to find effusive praise of the man. Brian Eno said that without Lomax, “It’s possible that there would have been no blues explosion, no R&B movement, no Beatles and no Stones and no Velvet Underground.” According to Studs Terkel, “What Caruso was to singing, Alan Lomax is to musicology.” 

Lomax is also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, as well as a National Book Critics Circle Award, for The Land Where the Blues Began, an account of his experiences recording in the Mississipi Delta in the 1930s and 1940s. Beginning as an assistant to his father John Lomax in the ‘30s, Alan helped record music performed by the forgotten members of society: prisoners, cowboys, fishermen and many others. In doing so, he brought to light a rich history of traditional music and culture, often hiding in plain sight right here in the United States. Notable artists first recorded by Lomax include Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie, two giants of the music world with legacies of incalculable influence. 

Lomax was a musical performer, as well.

These efforts to give voice to the marginalized were no easy task. With the horrible, ugly race relations of the era, the white Lomax would sometimes get his (often black) artists and himself in trouble for their social interactions. In The Land Where the Blues Began he tells of the need to converse with performers’ in the dark and hidden from view, for fear of being seen “fraternizing” or even shaking hands. Later, he recalls getting himself in hot water with a local sheriff by respectfully addressing blues legend Son House as “Mister.” Luckily, both the performers and Lomax were able to overcome these difficulties and create a vast treasure trove of traditional music not only in the United States, but in the Caribbean and Europe.

The Land Where the Blues Began, Lomax’s award-winning book.

It should be noted that Lomax was not entirely a heroic, benevolent figure, controversial in some circles where people feel that he exploited performers for his own gain. Still, wherever you stand on the question of Lomax’s ethics, one cannot deny that his archive of recordings helped provide the spark for the American and British folk revivals, as well as the world music craze, leading to artists like Bob Dylan, clearly one of the most influential figures in popular music history. 

In England, the new-found national obsession with classic American folk songs led to the creation of Skiffle, a pre-rock genre where artists like Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, and John Lennon got their starts. Obviously, Lomax was not the only field recorder and archivist working in those times, but he was certainly a significant and, more importantly, prolific figure. Much more than a mere recording technician, Alan also contributed to public knowledge of these works with his writings, as well as a series of radio shows and television programs throughout his lifetime.

Lonnie Donegan, Skiffle’s biggest star, covering a Woodie Guthrie song in awesome fashion. Check the drum solo.

These types of folk recordings have been a major influence on music artists for generations. Their visceral rawness and authenticity leaves an unshakable mark on any listener. Traditional music has touched not only Americana artists like the Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen, but also rootsy indie folksters like Bonnie “Prince” Billy. In addition, the efforts of Lomax and others to preserve and distribute folk songs from outside of the U.S. and Europe touched artists ranging from Van Dyke Parks to Paul Simon to Talking Heads. Covers of songs recorded by Lomax and his father show up in truly unexpected places, like Ram Jam’s goofy rock anthem “Black Betty,” or Moby’s dance hit “Honey.” 

Blam-a-lam! James “Iron Head” Baker with the original recording of Black Betty. You can find Lomax himself performing it on Spotify.

While the musical artists deserve the greatest credit for actually performing the songs, Lomax and his archivist peers provided an endlessly important service in preserving them and making them available for public education and enjoyment. Despite the mass of immeasurable lasting influence on modern artists, Lomax’s greater achievement is physical rather than abstract: the actual archive of music, films and photographs that preserve forever the unique voices of our world. To record is the quintessential act of modern existence, and there are few recordings more significant than those which illuminate the rich history and incredible talent of marginalized or forgotten cultures and traditions. In short, the approaching availability of Lomax’s entire archive of recorded material is an occasion worth celebrating whole-heartedly. 

Bessie Jones’ “Sometimes,” recorded by Lomax in 1960, is the basis of Moby’s “Honey.”