Song, by Toad

Posts tagged jeffrey lewis and the junkyard

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Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard, Seth Faergolzia & Viking Moses – Live at the Third Door, Edinburgh, 26th October 2011

 Well well well, this was really rather excellent.  I went along to an absolutely rammed Third Door last night (you know, that place which used to be Medina, but now has a brand spanking new soundsystem, which is excellent news for Edinburgh gig-goers) for an absolutely cracking three-band bill, and a forceful reminder that I have been rather neglecting Jeffrey Lewis for the last couple of years.

Viking Moses – I am really pleased Viking Moses rather randomly turned up on this bill, because he was absolutely excellent at Rob St. John’s album launch last Saturday, but I felt a bit weird reviewing one of my own gigs, so it’s nice to have the chance to put that right here.

Once again, Brendon was brilliant.  His songs have that old fire-and-brimstone gothic folk feel to them, and the wild mood swings of his delivery, from a tender croon to a distressed wail, keep you in a suitably ambiguous sense of uncertainty.  He doesn’t seem to sing songs so much as he seems to simply think in music, and when he lets it spill out, this is what we get. It was another performance which was both intense and whimsical, and full of charm.

Seth Faergolzia – I know almost nothing of Faergolzia’s previous band, Dufus, beyond the reverence in which they are held by certain friends of mine. I am definitely going to be putting an end to that ignorance though, because this was fantastic.  A little like Viking Moses and Jeffrey Lewis, the personal charisma of the man himself was absolutely central to the performance.

He varied from the sentimental to the outright bizarre, at times reminding me more than a little of Fife-based Fence hero Gummi Bako.  There were acoustic guitar songs, supplemented with a thumping kick-drum when real emphasis was needed, and a couple of absolutely masterful monologues, delivered over a pre-recorded track of wonky electronica.  The best way I can think to describe these tracks is to try and conjure a slightly woozy chip-tuner after a few too many beers, slurring a half-remembered version of Tom Waits’ Diamonds on My Windshield.

It’s not unusual for people from bands to be kind of cringeworthy when they dip their toes in this kind of territory, but this was absolutely inspired, and by some miracle seemed to fit perfectly with the rest of the acoustic stuff.  And when he ended the set duetting with Jeffrey Lewis on a song called Weird Old Toad… well, it was like I was being personally serenaded!

Jeffrey Lewis – As for the man himself, well I left with something of a guilty conscience actually.  I thought Lewis’ previous album Em Are I was pretty good, but not really much better than that, so I ended up taking my eye of the ball a little as far as his recent stuff goes.

Well he has a new album out now, and although I don’t know it yet, and although he played a considerable number of old songs last night, I realise I have allowed myself to become a little lazy about a fantastic artist.

Having seen Withered Hand put in a truly excellent performance at the Queen’s Hall on Monday, the comparisons are pretty clear: a talent to be gulp-inducingly touching and laugh-out-loud funny in the same song, and to base their lyrics so heavily on pathos without ever seeming self-indulgent or self-pitying clearly applies to both artists.

The band switched seamlessly from a wistful sway, to frantic lunacy, to playful larking, and in general they neatly reflected the way that Lewis himself seems to have perfected that way of dropping all sorts of thoughts into his music, whilst always maintaining an odd unity of feeling, from the random spoken word histories of Marco Polo set to a cartoon slideshow, to exhortations not to waste your life as time ticks away from you, to a joyous (and recurring) cover of the Bob Seger System’s 2+2=?

And somehow the tangents on which they embarked never seemed incoherent or messy, it just all fit well together, presumably because deep down the entire project is based pretty honestly on the character of Lewis himself, and however much this kind of honesty in music is rarely ever entirely unguarded, his work seems to have a kind of frank integrity and gentle humour which lets him pull off things other artists could never get away with without seeming just a little too intense or self-regarding.

Being one of the best lyricists around and having the ability to write a seemingly endless supply of hummable tunes presumably helps too.

Jeffrey Lewis – You Don’t Have to Be a Scientist to Do Experiments on Your Own Heart

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Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Roll Bus Roll

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Live in Edinburgh This Week – 24th October 2011

 If you get this in time, then turn off the internet and scarper down to the Queen’s Hall right now, as they will be screening the Sigur Ros movie INNI tonight, starting at 19:30, with live performances by Meursault and Withered Hand immediately afterwards.

And as for the rest of the week’s gig round-up, it’s actually quite an eclectic one this week, with noise, classical and antifolk on the calendar, all within a few days of one another.

But enough chit-chat, I need to shower and get out the door quick-smart or I shall miss the start of the movie.

Monday 24th October 2011: Sigur Ros ‘INNI‘ screening at the Queen’s Hall, followed by Meursault & Withered Hand.

Umm, I think I already covered this one, didn’t I.

Tuesday 25th October 2011: ASTRO, Okishima Island Tourist Association, Muscletusk at Sneaky Pete’s.

I don’t know too much about this one I have to confess, and I actually am not even entirely sure I myself would enjoy it because I’m a bit of a pop kid at heart, all told, no matter how much distortion and reverb I tend to like it slathered in.  But Braw Gigs have been doing an amazing job putting on noise and experimental shows around Edinburgh in the last year or so, and this is their latest.  Follow the Sneaky’s link to read the promoter’s description of the night, which will tell you more than I ever could.

Wednesday 26th October 2011: Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard with Seth Faergolzia (of Dufus) at The Third Door (formerly Medina).

Jeffrey Lewis is a bit of a hero, basically.  He is one of the sharpest wits around, whose songs can be by turns bleak as hell, or drenched in pathos. The Third Door have installed a brand spanking new sound system in the old Medina, and suddenly we might have a new and decent venue on our hands, because the actual space down there has always been good.

Saturday 29th October 2011: The Rose Street Quartet RSE CONCERT – Music for Strings, Voices, Organ & Percussion at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral.

This particular listing, I have to confess, is pure nepotism.  I happen to be pals with a couple of members of the Rose Street Quartet but, as Pete said when he suggested I list this particular event, people might fancy a bit of a change and it will be a pretty varied programme, so if you don’t like any particular part they’ll be moving on pretty sharpish. So if you fancy a change from the drearie indie pish (copyright Mrs. Toad 2006) I tend to recommend here, then get along to this instead.

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Toad Top Twenty 2009 – 16-20

16.Richard HawleyTruelove’s Gutter
There’s something incredibly intimate about Richard Hawley.  See him perform, and he’s a lively, witty raconteur, but on record that is all dialled back to a deep, comfortable and incredibly domestic sort of warmth.

Richard Hawley – For Your Lover Give Some Time

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17.AA BondyWhen the Devil’s Loose
AA Bondy has similar qualities to Richard Hawley, in that he conveys a confidential sort of intimacy, but there is a lot more weariness about this stuff. It didn’t really make much impact on me the first time around, I have to confess, but the general aching sadness of this record is just inescapable.

AA Bondy – False River

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18.The Flaming LipsEmbryonic
I confessed in my review that I don’t love every song on this by a long shot, but the almost confrontational refusal to be inhibited or even all that disciplined has resulted in an album with a real feeling of integrity and individuality.

The Flaming Lips – See the Leaves

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19.Jeffrey Lewis & the JunkyardEm Are I
Jeffrey Lewis has a lovely turn of phrase, and a habit of simply following his trains of thought wherever they might lead.  I’d maybe call this album a little inconsistent, but when it’s good it really is excellent, and Lewis himself is so personable as a narrator that it’s hard not to warm to his music.

Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Whistle Past the Graveyard

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20.AmbulancesThe Future That Was
I really enjoyed their live performance at Sneaky Pete’s in August, and I realised then what I like so much about this band: restraint.  There are an awful lot of them, but they keep everything really tightly under control.  The album is like that too – an economically assembled and really well executed record of guitar-based indie music.

Ambulances – Cease to Exist

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Song, by Toad Festive Fifty 2009 – 36-50

36.Wild Beasts – All The King’s Men
The vocals are weird, but there’s something about a large chunk of this record which I find absolutely compelling.  I love Ben’s voice, for starters, and this song probably highlights it better than any other.

37.Virgin of the Birds – Ilona, You Should Still Be My Vampire Attendant
Quite apart from the weird start, this is just a song based around a single, simple, brilliant hook.  So infectious I simply can’t stop humming it to myself.  And he’s playing a gig at our house on New Year’s Eve, if you fancy seeing him live.

38.Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt.2 (EP Version)
Meursault releasing their singles so late in the year has really fucked with my lists.  I love Nothing Broke, and both of the Williams Henry Miller on it, but the single version just blows this clean out of the water and the poor little acoustic version has ended up exiled to No.38.  It’s non-lyrical vocal bits which make this – the sort of deflated sigh of dismal unhappiness in between verses – just brilliant.

39.Withered Hand – Providence
Erm, nothing to say about this actually.  It’s just ace.  Dan’s slightly peculiar lyrics, the borderline-Hawley guitar strums, the vocal harmonies… who knows what makes this song so good.  Like all his music though, it just makes you like the guy.

40.Timber Timbre – Magic Arrow
Spooky and weird.  That kind of describes the whole album, but the repeating bassline and the insistent rhythm give this one a sort of sinister purpose of its own.  One of the discoveries of the year, as far as my ears are concerned.

41.Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – To be Ojectified
There are a lot of songs about ageing and mortality on Em Are I, but this is one of the saddest and most resigned.  It’s like a cross between a stream of consciousness and the gradual deflation of an airbed, and ends up being both maudlin and comforting.  Which is to say that the lyrics are a bit on the horrible side, but the delivery is sympathetic and warm.

42.Broken Records – Wolves
Broken Records (and many of my other friends, like Sparrow & the Workshop and Withered Hand) suffer a bit in this year’s Festive Fifty because many of my favourite songs on their album, like A Good Reason, were actually featured in demo version on previous year’s lists.  This song, however, did not, and is one of the highlights of their album for me.  By the time everything gets going it’s just a fury of a song, and cannot fail to remind of how brilliant these guys are on stage.

43.Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber
It’s an odd subject, and the story is almost as compelling as the music itself.  There was a bit more full band stuff on vs. Children, and I’ve heard older fans complain about this, but the drum beat and the repeated, yet unintrusive chime of the piano in the background of this song are both lovely.

44.Alela Diane – White as Diamonds
This is fucking stunning and would have been in the top five had it not been for those goddamned bastard cymbals, which time has done nothing to soften.  The acoustic Daytrotter version of this song is one of the loveliest things I’ve ever heard.

45.Broken Records – Out On the Water
Hmm.. am I allowed to include this, given it was out last year?  Fuck it, I love it when a band whose live set is mental and reckless suddenly slow it down and play something surprisingly gentle. Here this is performed live at the Bedlam Theatre early last year – bloody great:

46.Wild Beasts – Hooting And Howling
A bit like other songs of theirs on this list, I don’t know whether I love the vocals, the laid back but nevertheless quite danceable beat or that really nice guitar sound they have.  Cracking album.

47.The Leisure Society – The Last of the Melting Snow
The Leisure Society made a bit of a rod for their own backs with this song.  By virtue of its Ivor Novello Award nomination it shot a tiny band on a tiny label right into the limelight, and infortunately the rest of their material just didn’t cut the mustard.  The album was just plain weak, and I found myself forgetting about this song because of it, which is criminal because it is absolutely brilliant.  There is a reason it got them so much attention.

48.Jesus H. Foxx – I’m Half the Man You Were
For a band with two drummers and four guitarists to make such nuanced and subtle music is downright weird.  This is probably ‘the pop song’ from their fantastic Matter EP, and that head-nodding rhythm and the gorgeous vocal lead out make this one of my favourite songs of the year.

49.Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers – Beating St Louis
Shilpa Ray’s voice plus accordian.  Job done.  Honestly, for someone with pipes like these to be accompanied by the macabre accordian moaning which dominates this song is simply a cast-iron recipe for Toad-pleasing.

50.The Smiles and Frowns – Mechanical Songs
Another song which sound like it would be drifting around the abandoned site of a funfair which had gone horribly wrong, this song is from the band’s excellent debut, and also available on eminently desirable white vinyl 7″.  Buy one, and make your friends slightly nervous by playing it all the time.

Download the all these songs as a zip file by clicking here.

1-10 / 11-20 / 21-35 / 36-50

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Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Live, Cabaret Voltaire Edinburgh, Monday 31st August 2009

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[This review was very kindly written by Dylan from Blueback Hotrod.  He was initially down to photograph the show, but I just couldn't get there in time so he ended up being there by himself and was nice enough to review the gig for us.  Thanks very much!]

I’m starting this review at the end of the show, because, for me the defining moment of the evening’s entertainment was watching the faces of the security staff standing at the back of the stage turn increasingly thunderous as Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard crashed through Cabaret Voltaire’s 10pm curfew and gleefully played an extra half-hour of encores, much to the delight of the genuinely adoring crowd.

I honestly believe that, before they finally left the stage in a howl of feedback, the band were mere moments away from having the power pulled and being physically carried from the stage by the burly bouncers.

And that, for me, was quite a nice little allegory for the anti-folk movement which Jeffrey Lewis spearheads, and the regard in which it seems to be held by the public at large. The non-initiated will look on in frustration; confused and even occasionally annoyed, while the true believers respond rapturously to the performers’ harmless and playful naughtiness.

I should make it clear that I’m not an expert on Jeffrey Lewis and his work, but I’ve picked up bits and pieces here and there. What I’ve heard so far has been perfectly pleasant while never really setting my world on fire; and I must admit that I find my opinion hasn’t really changed much following the Cab Vol show.

Don’t get me wrong, it was good fun and a great performance from a tight and entertaining band. Lewis might seem an unlikely showman, skinny as a rake, shaggy hair thinning under the spotlights, and apologising for wearing one of his own promo t-shirts for the show (apparently it was laundry day and he couldn’t find a “laund-o-mat”.) but he worked his audience like an old stager. The short snappy songs, of which there seemed to be dozens, leapt unpredictably from acoustic folk numbers, to acappella rap, to garage rock wig-outs, Lewis’ jumbo-bodied acoustic guitar sounding remarkably raucous and grungy with the pick-up turned way up.

JEFF_0002On a couple of occasions during the set, Lewis took the opportunity to narrate some of the surreal yet witty comic books he famously writes, flicking through the pages of oversized hand-drawn comics, holding them up for the audience to see, in what seemed to be something of a tradition judging by the dog-eared and sellotape-patched condition of the books. It was a nice touch and served to highlight the narrative quality to Lewis’ lyrics, the imagery in his songwriting also described in short detailed vignettes which seem to reflect a comic-book style of story-telling.

There was a lot to like about the gig, but I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed that I haven’t walked away from the venue eager to investigate Jeffrey Lewis’ work with more urgency, considering the renown in which he’s held. I’m left admiring his talent as a wordsmith and storyteller, but those words don’t really hold much emotional resonance for me. I’ll no doubt happily enjoy whatever might drop into my lap from this likable troubadour in future, but – with a twinge of regret – I find I’m not really excited enough to rabidly chase down every last morsel of his work that I can..

Jeffrey Lewis – Don’t Be Upset

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Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Whistle Past the Graveyard

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Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Em Are I

Jeffrey Lewis

Musically, it’s hard to say that this is pushing anything anywhere.  It’s just Jeffrey Lewis doing what Jeffrey Lewis does, with little that will bring any sonic surprise to those people familiar with his stuff already.  There are a couple of what I suppose I would call straightforward rock ‘n’ roll songs on here, which is where his more raucous material seems to be moving these days instead of the punk-folk aesthetic of earlier releases, but this is a pretty fine distinction.  The gentler ballads and clattering singalongs still form the solid core of this album.

So why is it good?  I’ve absolutely no fucking idea, but it most definitely is.  This is an excellent record, despite being pretty straightforward and predictable in most ways.

Maybe it’s because with Lewis there appears to be almost no fourth wall.  There is no obvious shield of artifice between him and his audience, so maybe this means that I am judging this album less on the music, and more on the basis of my relationship with Lewis himself.  Basically, he seems like a nice guy; he’s literate, witty, self-deprecating and thoughful, and this all comes across very strongly in his lyrics.

This album is almost like having a late night pub conversation with the man himself.  It and he are both just likeable; thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time and, as a bonus, set to a backdrop of good music.  There are songs on here I am less keen on, but that’s the case with every Lewis album I’ve ever heard.  This is just good, in the plainest and most straightforward way possible.  Enjoy.

Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Whistle Past the Graveyard

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Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – To Be Objectified

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