Muttering Retreats Say Something, then Depart

November 10, 2008


The Muttering Retreats  – Originally uploaded by thegrue76 /TDAOC

This little Q&A with The Muttering Retreats‘ Tim Thornton unfortunately did NOT make it to (Internet)press on time, but far be it for me to deny you insight on this Cleveland-based little band that could.

Aside from playing their first Chicago venue show earlier this summer the day before Pitchfork, TMR has stayed busy this year… dropping their first proper LP (complete with adorable Wes Anderson-y art direction) and recently releasing a cover of Belle & Sebastian’s “Sleep the Clock Around” (Mediafire) — one of my personal favorites twee-as-fuck songs.  They also just learned a bunch Beck songs to perform as America’s Most Acceptable Scientologist for a Halloween show at The Beachland.

If you’re in the vicinity of Ohio in the next few weeks, make sure you stop by to catch Muttering Retreats open for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone; the band that wouldn’t stop touring, on 11/22 at Beachland.

  • The Muttering Retreats – “Sleep the Clock Around” MP3
  • The Muttering Retreats – “The Capitalist & The Communist Vie For Our Hero’s Affection” MP3 (c/o  A Cloud of Starlings)
  • The Muttering Retreats – “Pastiche” MP3 (c/o I Rock Cleveland)

 

 

And now to go back in time to late July when Tim discussed “crusty” recording, album cliches, and being in a band while also living actual lives with 9-to-5 jobs…

Arms, Distance (Brian): First of all, congrats on the release of the self-titled full album! Though, this technically isn’t your first official release — The Muttering Retreats released a limited edition tape last year didn’t you?

Tim Thornton of The Muttering Retreats: Yes. Our initial release was also technically self-titled, but it came to be known as “The Letter Tape,” due largely in part that the alphabet was a bit of a concept with the tape. [The original “pressing” featured music on side A which was then played backwards on side B. The second batch was labeled side C and D, and so on].

Roughly two weeks before our first show in April 2007, I decided that we absolutely needed some sort of product/souvenir of the show, so we cobbled together 15 minutes of audio … and we made a super lo-fi collage and put it on a 30 minute tape. The other side of the tape are those same 15 minutes, only backwards. We did three runs of the tape … but we only have a couple copies left and aren’t making any more. It’s a real ramshackle affair, I wasn’t expecting to keep it in print this long.
As for the choice on the format, it was just a foregone conclusion by that point. We wanted to have something really simple and charming that was also an artifact of a certain point in the band’s career. The super-crusty sounds on that tape really sum up what we were early off.

AD: I wanted to touch on that, actually. It seems that the use of dated technology, like the cassette tape, fits well with the aesthetic of the group. Aside from the nod to indie pop history, making tapes instead of CD-R’s is just one of the voluntarily analog, or organic, or like you said “crusty”, processes The Muttering Retreats seem to take in crafting music. Was this cultivation of your sound just a natural process, or more of a back-to-basics type manifesto?

T: It wasn’t at all a statement about analog or digital or sound clarity or any of that. All of the material on the tape had entered the digital realm at one point, so it wasn’t purism in any form. Rather, it was done as a reminder to the audience that the material on the tape wasn’t meant to be taken so seriously, as it was something cobbled together in such a short amount of time that we couldn’t really even begin to approach it as a traditionally commercially viable product.
 
AD: How does that compare to the new CD?

T: We went a totally different route. We tried to make the full length more cohesive, more of a full length statement. We really went out of our way with what might seem like minor details, such as sequencing.

We didn’t want the album to sound like we had one or two ‘singles’ and put them first on the album. We didn’t want to have a slow, sappy closer. We still fell victim to a couple of sequencing cliches, but we’re still happy with what we came up with. Also, there are a few things about the physical CD that can’t be translated over to a digital format. I won’t go into detail as to what they are, but they are all compact disc specific “Easter eggs.”
 
AD:Sounds very cool, and a nice reward for buying the actual album instead of getting a leaked copy. Hmmmm, what’s the worst sequencing cliche you can fall prey to?

T:I think the biggest faux pas is putting your weakest song as the second to last track … I’d say that putting some of your best stuff on the second half of an album is such a great reward for listening to the whole album. One example I looked to for this album was the newest Spoon record. “The Ghost of You Lingers” is the kind of track most bands would put as the second to last track, but they put it as the second song! Such balls! Even though they put such a difficult song as track 2, they put (arguably) the best song as the second to last. “Finer Feelings” is by far my personal favorite on the record… it’s such a great example of how thought out sequencing can help an album a lot.

We really tried to emulate that brave approach, putting an atypical song as the first track, then putting a completely opposite song as track 2 and so on.

AD: To that point, it’s obvious T.M.R. has put a lot of thought into this album. From how you’ve progressed as a band, to the sound production nuances, to the art direction and liner notes. Is the release of this album a turning point for the band? … Any thoughts about the progression of
this project?
 
T: Well, the band is still relatively young. We officially formed on the second to last day of 2006, and didn’t play a show until April of last year. Releasing this CD isn’t really a huge step, but rather our biggest project so far. We’ve already got a few new, small projects in the pipeline already. We’re planning a couple of new small-run releases, including a quasi-live cassette collecting a bunch of our favorite performances and adding new material right on top of it. Also, we’re contemplating a possible collection of remixes and a 7″.

The three of us have very normal lives with the responsibilities that go with them, including 9-5 jobs, student loans, and upcoming wedding plans. [Tim and Cari are currently engaged]. We can’t live the life of a ‘career’ band, at least not in the sense that you can expect us to pack up and go on tour for weeks on end.

Right now we’re happy to play Cleveland regularly and make day trips out to surrounding cities. With gas prices the way they are, we might even be trailblazing a whole new model, but we can’t really say that it was our intention.

As far as “progression” in the band, the CD is a definite raising of the bar for us. I’m already looking forward to the next one. But we even know it’s not time to quit our day jobs.

AD: Wow, lots of stuff in the works. That is an interesting point, too — that the cost of a “proper” tour must be astronomical now with gas prices. Maybe gas sticker-shock will foster stronger musical communities, supportive hyper-local scenes, etc.

So, you’re multi-tasking this weekend too — attending the Pitchfork Music Fest while you’re in town. What bands are you most excited about seeing? Which of the bands on this year’s docket would you most want to play with? Besides Spoon I guess.

T:Personally, I would really not ever want to play with Spoon, they’re just too good. I’m excited to finally see Spiritualized. They’re a perfect example of the kind of band we’re trying to be … Spiritualized can make their songs work with a 100 piece orchestra or just a guitar and a vocal. We’re really interested in that sort of songwriting.

An obvious choice would be The Apples in Stereo, but it’s warranted, they’re a great band. Most of the bands I’m really excited to see are the ones who dare try to pull off something really unique live. Health, High Places, Animal Collective, Atlas Sound, !!!, Caribou, etc etc… all of these bands have a lot of nerve to go up and try to present (to a festival crowd, no less!) a really unique live set, and I really hand it to them for that. It’s hard enough to try to play a simple pop song to a crowd, let alone a song/set of something completely different.

Oh, and Public Enemy… just because that set is going to be the most fun moment of the summer.

AD: It’s going to be a nice three+ days of music (and people watching).

You mentioned Spiritulized songs can work simply or with lots of components–in that way, how does a Muttering Retreats set work? Your music has elements of both straight-up pop but I know you’re also big into sound experimentation. You feature a fair amount of guest instrumentals and some of the production can also be quite dense: how does all this work live?

AD: Well, sometimes it just doesn’t work. But we try, honest. Our live setup at the very beginning was very convoluted and complex, it just led to a lot of technical difficulties. We had a laptop up there, midi controllers by the drums, wires everywhere, headphones… all this stuff. That didn’t last long.

Our live set depends on our resources. Sometimes there’s a drum set, sometimes not. Sometimes we’ll need a sax, other times a clarinet will do. Recently, we’ve even been messing around with completely re-arranging songs… adding new parts, having someone else sing, playing it faster/slower/on different instruments…

A lot of bands are out there with six or more people up on stage and we simply aren’t one of those bands, though I could see people making that assumption listening to some of our songs. Every once and a while we’ll get someone extra to come up and play drums or trumpet or something, but it’s less often than you might assume by listening to the CD.

We’ve all been getting into the business of making a bit of a soundscape under our songs. There’s a bit of that on the record, but it’s something I like to create in a live setting using loops and such. Chris is currently working on a setup that will allow him to make loops/soundscapes of his violin and piano, but that project is still in the works.

Advertisements

Boys & Girls Mix

August 28, 2008

For a while I’ve been wanting to make a mix of bands that swap vocals between guys and gals, but, as I really like that sound, I feel like I have too many songs that fall under that category. Like, ya know, Belle & Sebastian, Stars and half of my itunes.

 

So, for this ‘lil boy/girl mix I was trying to avoid some of the obvious tracks, but they pretty much seeped in anyway. I also tried to stay in the folk/pop vein so you’re going to miss some of those great hip-hop/electro girl/boy vocals, namely: Positive K’s “I Gotta Man”, Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, Postal Service’s “Nothing Better”, Streets’ “Get Out of My House”.

 

Because of the inherent drama of boys and girls harmonizing, most of the songs have some “relationship” content, be it lovey-dovey or breakup-y. Also, it makes for a pretty even-keeled, laid-back type mix and one which you should be careful while listening to if you’re driving and feeling a bit sleepy. So, after all that, enjoy!

 

  1. Intro – The Pixies
  2. Handle with Care – Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
  3. Two Ways – The 1900s
  4. Honey Child What Can I Do? – Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
  5. Who Were You Thinkin’ Of? – Biirdie
  6. Secretly Minnesotan – Tullycraft
  7. Death to Los Campesinos! – Los Campesinos!
  8. Say Yes if You Love Me –  Acid House Kings
  9. PS (Interlude) – The Books
  10. Happy New Year – Camera Obscura
  11. Can’t Ever Sleep – Saturday Looks Good To Me
  12. Friday Night – Elephant Parade
  13. Jorge Regula – The Moldy Peaches
  14. Come Back From San Francisco – The Magnetic Fields
  15. Souvenirs – Architecture in Helsinki
  16. You Really Gotta Hold On Me – She & Him
  17. All You Need Is Hate – The Delgados
  18. Know-How – Kings of Convenience
  19. Les Etoiles Secretes – Ida
  20. Ghosts Are Good Company – Bishop Allen
  21. Ice Storn, Big Gust, and You – Tilly & The Wall

The Zipped File & Album Art can be found on Mediafire here:

http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=992c799b40f3f811dfbd00fb952479db185df0bdeae2cf0b  

 


Take Heart Brett…

August 7, 2008

you could’ve wound up in Minnesota.


Church Rock Epiphany

July 18, 2008

 Well, it’s not necessarily a NEW idea, but it’s still a pretty novel concept.  I recall early tweer-than-fuck Belle & Sebastian holding concerts in churches, and I think Arcade Fire decided to do some of their Neon Bible shows in church too (obvious much?). 

As of recently though, many bands have made the move to use churches as recording spaces rather than venues.  The aforementioned Neon Bible, and B&S’s Lazy Line Painter Jane EP were both recorded exclusively in churches — both to great effect.  Off the top of my head, I The Decemberists also recording Picaresque in a church as well.

 

 (L) Low plays cathedral, (R) Belle & Sebastian flier

Anyway, this is a LONG way to get around mentioning that I just saw Cleveland’s The Muttering Retreats play at South Union Artsyesterday (interview with T.M.A.’s Tim Thornton to be posted soon). Aside from S.U.A. being the first German-language school ever built in Chicago, it also operated as the Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church before South Union Arts took over the space… the highlight of the cathedral is a GIANT NEON CRUCIFIX… more creepy than the one from Se7en.  Jealous much, Arcade Fire?  You shoulda played here.

 

(L) South Union Arts in Chicago, (R) Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible cover art

So yeah, Indie Rock in a church is an interesting experience.  Which is now why I have to mention that both Jenny Lewis and “slowcore” legends Low, will be playing what Oh My Rockness is referring to as “Epiphany” in September.  Epiphany is, indeed, Epiphany Episcopal Church on 201 South Ashland.

Easter Worship 

(L) Epiphany, (R) Jenny Lewis


2006 Albums of the Year, Late As Usual

January 28, 2007

Top Albums 2006

Ahhhh! It’s the obligatory “end of year list,” and obligatorily posted late, by moi. Okay. I would like to mention that I can only rank albums that I’ve actually listened to. Here’s 10 (+5) albums from 2006 I’ve listened to a lot and have actual insight on:

Preface: In keeping with the concept of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not” I will say that The Arctic Monkeys are good, and that they deserve to make any and every “top 10” list.

1. Hot Chip, Hot ChipThe Warning

Oh Man. You can’t hate on this CD. This is the kind of record that changes people opinion on a “sort” of music. I.E., my friend Jimmy’s 30-something pseudomentor Chad (that’s his real name). Chad said something like… “I really like that ‘Hot. Chip’ song. Even though it’s kind of, ‘dancey’.” Join the club Chadly! The LP is just too catchy, too poppy, too funky, too damn fun to categorically deny because of dudes with keyboards and silly mustaches.

Free mp3: “And I Was A Boy From School”

2. The Hold SteadyBoys And Girls In America

Everyone’s afraid to put this album at number 1. It SHOULD be. (Hypocrite warning). This is an album I would recommend, without hesitation, to anyone. It’s a straight-ahead rock n roll album… which I thought didn’t exist anymore. I thought every band needed some sort of concept, prepackaged backstory, or clever nod to whatever retro-trend in the band is aping. The Hold Steady has straight-up rock swagger that reminds me most immediately of Guided By Voices. But the content… oh my… the tales Craig Finn talk/sings are wonderful. They’re the kind of personal/universal “‘member when?” youth stories everyone relates to even if you’ve done nothing of the sort: Betting on ponies, drinking, smoking, troubled kids, raging parties, first loves. All of them done in this anthemic, Glory Days-meets-Chuck Klosterman type storytelling. Indifferent to cliché, Finn’s immediate literature reference, “…There are times when I think Sal Paradise was right,” sets a tone for a terrific and shambling LP.

Free mp3: “Killer Parties”

3. Junior BoysSo This Is Goodbye

This is a sexin’ album. It’s an album by and for th’ sexin. I didn’t think Junior Boys would be able to top their previous release, Junior Boys – Last Exit, but they did… well… he did… as one half of The J.B. left before this album got made. Yet another reason why the band can’t be mentioned without a casual name-drop of sonic frères’ m83. This stuff blows m83 out of the water. Transcendental, groovy, electronic but deeply soulful, the understated crooning (and sometimes just cool breathing) of hit single  “In The Morning” would have to be my favorite single of the year.

Free mp3: “In The Morning”

4. HeadlightsKill Them With Kindness

“Kind of a new record slipped into a list old safe ones… verrry PUSSY!”. Ha. Guilty. I got this record very late in the year, but, as Last.FM would testify, I’m enjoying very very much. Nothing exciting has come out of champaign, IL since, ohhhh… Braid, until now. I’m a sucker for girl/boy vocals, and this was THE album for me in the last few months. Think Stars (especially Amy Milian-like vocals, minus all the fatalistic/melancholic/depressive lovesickness, then sprinkle with a few exciting influences… occasional Mates of State keyboard fun, some navelgaze dabbling, a track that reminds me a bit of Broken Social Scene, and that standard “We’re twee But We’ll Include One Adorable Techno Track To Show We Can Do It” song. (Ahem, Belle and Sebastian – Electronic Renaissance, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – Topsy Turvy). Check ‘em out.

Free mp3: “Owl Eyes”

5. The Radio Dept.Pet Grief

Tim (The Muttering Retreats) turned me on to these guys. What a fabulous album. It’s this kind of new wave revivalism that makes me despise legwarmers and oversized belts a little less. It’s tough not to “influence pick” on the album, but it wonderfully re-creates a poppy The Jesus and Mary Chain thang in a haze of keyboards and drones and looooooooove.

Free mp3: “Against The Tide”

6. DecemberistsThe Crane Wife

Mad props for jumping to a major label and putting out an uncompromised LP, especially 10+ minute song sagas. Though, Castaways & Cutouts and Her Majesty… are still my personal favorites, Colin Meloy & Co went from your libraries favorite chamber pop band to a synth-soloing Genesis-nodding pop/progrock hybrid — quite a feat. And a little unsettling.

Free mp3: “Sons & Daughters”

7. The PipettesWe Are the Pipettes

I think, technically, this album hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet. I don’t care. Good music travels fast. Records labels can’t control product if the fanbase or buzz is large enough. The Pipettes bring back that girl group era to modern-times, a-lah Camera Obscura, but where C.O. delivers wispy lovelorn tunes with some occasional twang, The Pipettes have style, sass, swagger (and handclaps) to spare. The Pipettes – Your Kisses are Wasted on Meis a gem among an album filled with…well… other gems. The only downside is that the “we all have slightly different personalities and dress in polka-dots” seems suspiciously like a marketing ploy, you really can’t hate on these girls. 1 year from now, the re-united The White Stripes will have the Pipettes open for them. I predict it… it will come true.

8. Isobel Campbell & Mark LaneganBallad of the Broken Seas

When Isobel left Belle and Sebastian I was 95% sure her success would nearly match that of Looper. I picture, mid-Storytelling tour, Stuart Murdoch turns to Isobel on the tour bus and “Oi, Ah quite like your voice eeen that, buh eeets a bit wyrd, ya know, that one song you du, ‘The Sunrise Song’, eh?” Isobel promptly gives Stu’ the finger, jumps off the bus with a small, adorable, Scottish-looking suitcase, meets Mark Lanegan in a cowboy bar near the airport, and after a weekend in a motel, they decide to record an album. Isobel then flutters her eyes, forgets Mark for 3+ years and gives him a ring when she gets board spooning her cello.

Free mp3: “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me”

9. TV on the RadioReturn To Cookie Mountain

Good, solid album, and a welcome return after a disappointing debut LP. I feel this one was a bit over buzzed, but it’s still incredible. A good listen, all the way through, the standout being the rollicking, driving assualt of “Wolf Like Me”. It’s SO hard to tell people there’s an indie band who combines, art-punk, trip-hop and Peter Gabriel and have them still pay attention to you. But, the word’s out on them, there will have to be no convincing.

Free mp3: “Wolf Like Me”

10. IslandsReturn to the Sea

Who woulda thunk it??? Especially now that all The Unicorns are dead. Turn the weirdness level down about two-notches, and what appears but yet another fabulous pop band out of Canadia. But to be honest, I kind of miss the previous weirdness levels, but their beginnings of silly instrumentation, deliberately incomplete songs structures, and childish deliveries allowed the .666Unicorns to flank the standard pop-rock formula and conquer all. Now… about Th’ Corn Gang.

Free mp3: “Jogging Gorgeous Summer”

Honorable Mentions:
11. Belle and SebastianThe Life Pursuit
Free mp3: “White Collar Boy”

12. Sufjan StevensThe Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from Illinois Album

13. Jenny Lewis With The Watson TwinsRabbit Fur Coat
Free mp3: “Rise Up With Fists”

14. José GonzálezStay In The Shade

15. Camera ObscuraLet’s Get out of This Country
Free mp3: “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”

Mad shoutouts to an indie kids’ savior: The Hype Machine.

And the blogs I stole mp3’s from:
http://skyscraperlife.blogspot.com/
http://www.girlpants.org/  (not making this one up, promise)
http://res1999.blogspot.com/
http://www.michaelmieler.com/blog/ Mike Went West
http://timedoor.textdriven.com Timedoor
http://tracemyface.blogspot.com/ Red Blondehead
http://www.blogotheque.net/sommaire.php3 La Blagotheque