The Chrysler may not have the most tantalizing of monikers to import into America from Sweden, but you'll forgive them for the oversight when you hear their charming take on melancholy indie pop. The group -- considered a country act in their homeland -- marry whimsical, carefree, Belle & Sebastian-styled pop with the loose-goosey, drunk-at-the-pulpit, country-folk of Lambchop. The fuel that drives The Chrysler is hardly high octane. These Swedes prefer coasting when at all possible, content to soak up their dour mood in solace.

Anders Rudstrom and Pelle Lindroth -- both exceptional songwriters with a taste for quirky lyrics -- seem to be second cousins to Richard Davies. Like Davies, they often reach for the sophistication of grandiose melodies, but ultimately play the shy boy in the end. Expect the group's sullen tone to be affixed to your unconscious by lots of melodica, piano, organ, and horns.

Last year, I mentioned their EP, Blue Gold, on my Top 30 Records of 2004. Their new offering in the States, Failures and Sparks, actually predates Blue Gold by a year. It was The Chrysler's 2003 debut, and it's now being reissued in America by Galaxy Gramophone. While it isn't likely to blow many minds, it is an enticing full-length debut that proves once again that imports often trump domestics, moniker aside.

Here's one of the album's more countrified tunes, which just so happens to remind me of The Shins.

The Chrysler - "Along the Freefall"

I'm more partial to this tune, however, which reminds me of Clinic spliced together with The Concretes.

The Chrysler - "Damn Straight Evil"

For a bunch of additional songs, see their site.


What if I told you that Bomp! Records was releasing a new record by a Cleveland foursome? You would probably assume that Greg Shaw's esteemed garage rock label had stumbled upon the latest batch of Cleveland kids to channel Rocket from the Tombs and the Dead Boys. But you'd be dead wrong. The Dreadful Yawns share no common DNA with Stiv Bators, nor with the bulk of the Bomp! catalog. But lest we forget, Greg Shaw first identified a promising folk-rock group from Los Angeles in the late-Nineties named Beachwood Sparks. And before he passed away last fall, he struck gold a second time in the genre of Americana with The Dreadful Yawns.

Channeling The Byrds, International Submarine Band, The Flatlanders, and Buffalo Springfield, these Clevelanders wrap up the past in a 21st-century quilt much like peers Yo La Tengo (see Fakebook), Acetone, Iron & Wine, Bedhead, and, yes, Beachwood Sparks. A nod to VU, occasional splashes of Spiritualized-like psychedelia, a communal sound not unlike The Band, and some truly remarkable, classic songwriting combine to make The Dreadful Yawns self-titled offering one of the year's best under-the-radar records. These guys will scratch your Uncle Tupelo jones like an old black dog attacking a pesky flea. Thanks Greg, for shaking out America's rug one final time and catching this rugged nugget of dirt before it hit the floor.

The Dreadful Yawns - "Darkness Is Gone"

The Dreadful Yawns - "You Sold the Farm"

Now that I think about it, I hear some good ole fashioned Teenage Fanclub-gone-country in these tunes, too. And isn't that a lovely Neil Young-ish moment there in "You Sold the Farm"? Damn, a band that reminds me of so much, yet sounds like not much else when taken as a whole. Visit the boys here, and pick up a copy of their album -- it's good from the word go.


Break out the Q-tips, cause today's post is about Champaign-Urbana's The Living Blue. We've all heard about how sophomore albums are a bitch. But in the case of The Living Blue, it's the junior album that's tossed them into a pressure cooker. Fire, Blood, Water finds The Living Blue (formerly known as The Blackouts) jumping from a tiny indie to an established indie in Minty Fresh. Higher expectations, national tours, and a real press push will nullify any of the band's previous excuses: it's time to walk the walk dudes.

And strut they do! Hear the switchblade staccato lead guitar lick on "Serrated Friend," which sounds as if The Pretty Things got hijacked by G.G. Allin. And then check out the three-minute mark of the same song, as the group rides a crest of thumping toms into an acid-psych break that would do Dead Meadow proud. If you like your dirty bluesbreakers to have a sensitive side, too, see "Greenthumb," which is reminiscent of The Cynics when they try to sound like a rough and ready jangle-folk version of The Byrds.

Some music journalists -- hell, most of 'em -- can't tell the difference between The Hives, The Strokes, and The Mooney Suzuki: it's all "garage rock." But real fans of the genre know that there's more varieties of garage rock than flavors at a Baskin-Robins. The Living Blue are out on the fringe, assembling their influences -- ranging from psych and freakbeat to Television and '80s SST -- into something unique by today's standards. Listening to Fire, Blood, Water is like watching Blue Cheer fuck the brains outta Mudhoney. And it's HOT. Get your voyeur on:

The Living Blue - "Serrated Friend"

The Living Blue - "Greenthumb"

The Living Blue - "Wishlist"

Visit them on the web, but be sure to check them out live. Like any great garage rock band, they do their best work on stage, not in the studio. Over the next week, they'll be in Denver, Seattle, Portland, and the city of angels. Check out their site for more info.


A funny thing happened on the way to the new My Morning Jacket album, Z. Jim James decided to go all Zooropa on us. The stylistic shift is so prominent at times on Z that I question whether RCA slipped James a Flaiming Lips roofie before he headed into the recording studio.

For starters, gone are the electric guitars in all their glorious southern rock bombast, and missing is the reverb that coated It Still Moves like honey fresh from the hive. For seconds, James has adopted a more synthetic, atmospheric stadium rock sound, a la U2 or Mercury Rev. What he used to accomplish with natural reverb he's now accomplishing through keyboards and effects pedals. And for thirds, James fucking cut his long, flowing mane! The nerve!

Possibly, the departure of founding guitarist Johnny Quaid has had a noticeable affect on My Morning Jacket. I have to wonder if Quaid left because he wasn't comfortable with this new direction. I know I'm not. Songs like "Off the Record" are simplistic to a fault and come across with a sort of stale, bland coolness, as if James is trying too hard to impress both the alt-radio crowd and the hippie jam band sect.

Oh, there's still plenty of sweet soul in James' voice, which is the only thing that now drips with reverb. "Anytime" is one of the best songs James has penned, and "Lay Low" could rent a room on It Still Moves. Combine those two with the album's closing one-two punch, "Knots Come Loose" and "Dondante," and you've got the makings of a humdinger of an EP. But I just can't get into the rest of the album; it just feels like plastic where previous efforts felt like pine. And there's nothing that guest appearances by M. Ward or Andrew Bird can do to rescue it.

For a sampling of old and new, check out "Anytime" (the old) and the Flaming Lips-like "Wordless Chorus" (the new). I actually like "Wordless Chorus," but it just doesn't feel like "home". It's basically James' usual stab at reggae, but redone for a 21st Century electronica-dub sampler. And what is up with all that yelping at the end?

My Morning Jacket - "Wordless Chorus"

My Morning Jacket - "Anytime"

Truth be told, I was so in love with It Still Moves that I'm not sure that anything Jim James could have pulled out of his hat would have compared favorably. So I suppose you should take my minor rant with a grain of salt, or whatever. Find MMJ on the web here.


The story of Tom Rapp's sensational pair of folk albums -- 1967's One Nation Underground and 1968's Balaklava -- really begins with Bernard Stollman. Stollman founded ESP-Disk in the early-Sixties out of what he felt was necessity -- there was simply too much good music that would never be recorded and released without his help. In truth, that might have been a stretch of Stollman's imagination, but who can fault the naïve music fanatic? Through his label, such luminaries as avant-garde jazz musicians Pharaoh Sanders and Sun Ra, folk-rock radicals the Fugs and The Holy Modal Rounders, and proto-punks The Godz found their way to the confused, startled masses. Pearls Before Swine -- essentially Tom Rapp and a small ensemble of musicians flavoring his folk songs with banjo, oscillator, clavinette, English horn, and other such decidedly non-rock instruments -- might have been ESP's most accessible artist, which is saying something. Thanks to a reissue by ESP-Disk, you can now hear The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings of Pearls Before Swine, which amounts to One Nation Underground and Balaklava on one CD.

Rapp's songs speak to gentle psychedelia and fierce, vindictive folk-rock in nearly equal measures. A line can certainly be drawn directly from Rapp to Dylan and other popular folk-rock acts of the time, hence lending Pearls Before Swine at times a more welcoming sound. "Another Time" is reminiscent of the somber folk of Nick Drake; "Playmate" is ripped right out of Dylan's songbook; "There Was A Man" is a classic folk song in the Joan Baez mold; and "Suzanne" is a subtle reinvention of the Leonard Cohen song. But Rapp was far more "out to sea" than Dylan and his more commercially viable brethren ever hoped to be. The fact that Rapp's music has fallen on mostly deaf ears over the decades is not a testament to its quality; rather, Rapp's vision for his art was a complex one that included far more raw, reactionary emotion -- and often times sophistication -- than, say, Blonde on Blonde. Not to mention acid-induced fuck-with-the-brain calamity.

See the five-minute long "I Shall Not Care," whose song credit includes early-Twentieth Century sentimental poet Sarah Teasdale and "Roman/Tombs." The song begins as a harmless Simon & Garfunkel-esque acoustic folk tune. But listen to the lyrics, a lift from Teasdale: "When I am dead and over me bright April shakes out her rain-drenched hair, though you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care." Try squeezing that onto an AM radio dial in 1967. The song then abruptly cuts to a second segment as if someone had bumped the needle on the turntable. Scatterbrain electric blues with howling organ screech for 30 seconds as Rapp channels a long-lost jam session from The Band. That gives way to the song's core: a droning, percussive, middle eastern rant, which steers the listener as off-course as possible. A minute-and-a-half later, The Band kicks back in before fading back into the song's opening statement for the final minute.

Sure, Rapp may be boldly esoteric and downright psychedelic at times, but that doesn't mean that he's a flakey freak folker whose music comes across as simple curiosity in the year 2005. Rather, he's quite poignant and relevant -- even still. Take with you this lyric from the fiery anti-government jam "Uncle John": "You stand up on the platform with the flag wrapped all around you. You tell us that the Bible says to fight for it -- we're bound to. But the red's for the blood we lose. The white's for the gauze they use to cover burned-out blackened men. The rest is for the bodies numb and blue." Hard to argue with that, regardless of date.

The following are hardly Rapp at his most accessible, but they're interesting songs nonetheless.

Pearls Before Swine - "Uncle John"

Pearls Before Swine - "I Shall Not Care"

For more info on Tom Rapp and Pearls Before Swine, see this or this or even this.


Sorry I've been missing in action lately. Lots of good reasons: I'm helping to build a radio station, work has been keeping me busy, there's playoff baseball on TV and my Redbirds are once again in the hunt, and there's been a flood of good concerts in my humble little town. Why just last night I caught The Mountain Goats, and over the past few weeks I've seen Catfish Haven, Sufjan Stevens, Saturday Looks Good to Me, and Dungen--to name but a few. (That doesn't even count the ones I missed: Xiu Xiu and Sleater-Kinney chief among them.)

In case you're curious, Dungen is without a doubt the best rock band on planet Earth right now. Seriously, their live show is simply psychedelicious. I took a rookie with me -- a guy who isn't necessarily a big psych rock fan and who had never heard Dungen -- and he was blown away, too.

Coming up, I've got Spoon and Cat Power (pictured above) to look forward to. Unfortunately, Cat Power isn't touring with her new Memphis session musician backing band. Still, she'll be playing material from her forthcoming release, The Greatest, due out in January. The title track makes me incredibly anxious for the real deal. Check it out:

Cat Power - "The Greatest"

Everyone is saying that this song is Chan Marshall gone Dusty Springfield. At any rate, it certainly is a striking song with Chan's familiar worn-in feel, and you gotta love those "Moon River"-ish strings! Peep Cat Power on the web.

Coming next week: My thoughts on the new My Morning Jacket record, a bit about the new album by The Living Blue, and a second look at '70s garage rock from India.


I've been smitten with Sweden's Dungen since Day One. I'm a sucker for hook-driven psych rock, especially when it's given a folk nod every other song. So, discovering Dungen (pronounced "Doon-Yun") has been sort of like falling in love with psych rock all over again. There are few modern bands that do psych rock quite so well, or with such a genuine interest in not updating the sound, look, or feel of vintage turn-of-the-Seventies psych. I suppose that could classify Dungen as a dreaded retro-rock band, but whatever. They're fucking great in my book, and my book is the only one that I read with any regularity.

While their debut self-titled album (released in 2001) and their third album, last year's excellent Ta Det Lugnt, have been in print over the past few months, their second album, released in 2002 and titled Dungen 2 (on vinyl) or Stadsvandringar (on CD), has been out of print and a costly buy on eBay. It's finally seeing a U.S. release on CD today, thanks to Astralwerks. So, here's a sample from that album, which I would say as a whole is a bit more mellow and dreamy than Ta Det Lugnt, but equally as good and not without its rockin' moments. As a bonus, I'm also including a song from the domestic re-release of Ta Det Lugnt, as that version of the CD comes with a bonus five-song EP that is also available in limited quantities as an independent 12-inch.

Dungen - "Stadsvandringar" (from Dungen 2 LP, otherwise known as Stadsvandringar CD)

Dungen - "Jamna Plagor"> (from Ta Det Lugnt bonus EP)

The latter tune showcases the band's continent-hopping obsession with garage psych, as it feels flavored more by Latin or possibly Brazilian psych. Good stuff! If you're into seeing bands perform live, you might want to check out Dungen as they tour the States over the next couple weeks. See the "news" section of their site for dates. I'll be at the early show in Chicago -- just look for the slightly balding, bearded, tall dude standing near the front of the stage rockin' out.


Sorry that I've been out of commission the past week. The tooth problem is resolved, and hard food can be consumed once again. I'll be busy this week, too, trying to get a new community radio station on the air. But I hope to make at least a couple posts, including this one. While I'm apologizing, I should also admit that I probably write too often about bands from the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar stable. But fuck, they do have a good number of exciting bands under contract: Antony & the Johnsons, Jens Lekman, Magnolia Electric Co., Richard Swift, Black Mountain, Oneida, Nagisa Ni Te, Okkervil River, and Richard Youngs to name a few. The A&R guy over there should get a gold star. Plus, Secretly Canadian also reissued those Swell Maps albums this year.

Well, add another log on the fire: Chicago's Catfish Haven. I know...that doesn't sound like something you'd care to listen to, right? Catfish Haven is probably named for a trailer park in Missouri and grew up worshiping Joe Cocker. Well, you're right (at least on the trailer park end of things). Keep reading, though. It gets better. The trio consists the strong-armed strumming of acoustic guitarist/vocalist George Hunter, the paint-by-numbers bass work of Miguel Castillo, and the ample drumming of Ryan Farnham. Tis nothing fancy by Yes standards, but collectively this group's sound just fits snuggly together like a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best. To continue the beer comparison, Catfish Haven are hardly the Tucher of beers, but you don't need to flavor them with an orange slice to enjoy them, either. Rudimentary rock & soul is too generic, but that's the best quick descrip that I can come up with.

They've released just an EP, Good Friends, but have plans for another 7-song EP in January followed by a full-length in the spring. I just caught them in concert last week and was completely floored by how much the band's sound has progressed since their debut EP, and how consuming they are in person. That's not to belittle their recording -- which as you'll hear shortly is fantastic -- but some bands simply are LIVE bands first and foremost. Not just because I could see that the singer wears a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots falling apart at the sole and pulls his shoulder-length hair back in a pony tail, but because they own the stage while they're on it. Like Sam Cooke (in Harlem, not at the Copa) as channeled through the Silver Bullet Band, Catfish Haven just oozed energy and blue collar soul. It takes guts to play this kind of music for unassuming indie rock snobs, and to pull it off convincingly. The only modern band I can think of that's attempting something similar (if somewhat more chic) is Spoon.

Turn it up! Way up!!

Catfish Haven - "Please Come Back"

See them on the web or definitely catch them live this month if you're lucky enough to live in Oskgosh, NYC, New Haven, Detroit, Cleveland, or Chicago. And if you live in Champaign-Urbana, join me in pleading with the local promoters to bring them back, now!