CIMS Recommends - February

Franz Ferdinand -
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

The BPA -
I Think We Need A Bigger Boat
Southern Fried Records

Umphrey's McGee -
Sci Fidelity

Amy MacDonald -
This Is The Life

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is music of the night: to fling yourself around your room  as you psyche yourself for a night of hedonism, for the dance-floor, flirtation, for your desolate heart-stop, for losing it and loving losing it, for the chemical surge in your bloodstream. It's for that lonely hour gently rocking yourself waiting for dawn and it all to be even again.

There's a long, weird backstory to The Brighton Port Authority (The BPA). It has something to do with some tapes found in a warehouse containing thirty years worth of electronic jam sessions voiced by pop singers from the past and, inexplicably, the present. Of course the story is bullshit. What we have instead is a brilliant and bouncy batch of new tunes by Norman Cook - A.K.A. Fatboy Slim - and a slew of guests, including David Byrne ("Toe Jam"), Iggy Pop ("He's Frank"), Martha Wainwright ("Spade"), Dizzee Rascal ("Toe Jam"), Lateef The Truthspeaker, and many more.

Mantis is the first Umphrey's McGee album to consist entirely of material never previously performed on the road, where the band rules the improv-rock circuit and plays more than 100 shows each year. Umphrey's recorded their eighth album in an unusually relaxed fashion over the course of some twenty months. Mantis began at riff level, when many of the band members presented each other with CDs containing hundreds of riffs they'd composed over the past dozen years. The best of these were painstakingly displaced, modulated, and shifted about like Lego blocks, growing from rough drafts into elegant and emotionally fulfilling tracks. The result is Umphrey's finest produced album to date.

It's no coincidence that one of the most affecting songs on Scottish singer / songwriter /teen-sensation Amy Macdonald's debut album, This Is The Life, is the trumpet-laden, atmospheric "Let's Start A Band" - a simple song, sung brilliantly, roaring powerfully in her ears and in the head, about how magic it is to love a band, follow a band, be in a band. One day she's skipping school to see The Libertines, and the next she's Scotland's person of the year. Elton John likes her too, though I bet Avril Lavene hates her guts... Probably since everyone knows Scotland is way more punk than Canada.

Ben Kweller -
Changing Horses
ATO Records

The Bird and The Bee -
Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future
Blue Note Records

Nickel Eye -
The Time of the Assassins

Of Montreal -
Skeleton Lamping
Polyvinyl Records

Even though he was more interested in The Hollies and Nirvana, it was country music that haunted Ben Kweller while growing up in Greenville, Texas. After a recent move to Austin, Kweller began thinking about the country music he couldn't escape as a kid... And rather than look back in anger, Ben decided that he would make it his own. Thus the appropriately titled Changing Horses was born, and discerning listeners will find that this new direction suits Kweller's inimitable songwriting just fine.

The Bird and The Bee's latest album, Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, is definitely new sonic terrain for the Los Angeles-based duo. While every bit as beguiling as their debut, Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future retains its predecessor's lithe melodies and Brazilian influences, but takes its stylish, '60s pop deeper into the psychedelic period of the Tropicalia era. First single, "Love Letter To Japan" is your passport to this wonderful collection of tinkling, minimal electronics, big hooks, and Inara George's (daughter of the late Lowell George) imminently playful and seductive voice.

When The Strokes' hiatus began taking longer than expected, bassist Nikolai Fraiture reached into an old shoebox of poems and rants written years ago. The lyrics and theme for The Time of The Assassins took shape from these writings, and found deeper focus thanks to his recollections of a road trip taken across the United States of America when he was just was nineteen. The Time of The Assassins was written and produced by Nickel Eye and was deeply influenced by some of his favorite artists, such as Neil Young, Frank Black, Leonard Cohen and The Kinks. The artwork is reminiscent of Lynd Ward's Gods' Man, a collection of woodcuts considered to be one of the first graphic novels. Pardon the pun and take a listen.

This band has come a long way since weaning itself off the Brian Wilson / Van Dyke Parks teat. of Montreal's critical breakthrough, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? catapulted the band to the upper echelon of indie stardom. Skeletal Lamping follows things up deliciously with slinky grooves that demand a physical response. It's unpredictable, completely unique, and epic - the best album about an imaginary transsexual you'll hear all year.

Hot Chip with Robert Wyatt and Geese -

Satyricon -
The Age of Nero
KOCH Records

The Fray -
The Fray

Hoobastank -
Island Records

Hot Chip has assembled and lovingly put together a new EP with none other than the godfather of the experimental psych-prog world, Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine, Scritti Politti, Syd Barrett) and kindred musical spirits Geese. The results are several mutations of songs that are as delicate and whimsical as they are adventurous and distinctive. All in all, this is a deliciously unpredictable collaboration made in quirk-pop heaven.

Largely written in a remote cabin deep in the Norwegian woods by Satyr in collaboration with his old friend Snorre Ruch (of Thorns), The Age of Nero features eight of the heaviest songs in Satyricon's history. This is metal music in its most mature form - not as simple escapism or a form of anger management, but as a profound experience of what it's like to live in the increasingly dark age ours has become.

The Fray is a Denver-based quartet whose melodic pop-rock stylings and soaring vocals create sprawling tapestries of hopefulness and heartache. Their latest album - simply called The Fray - find the titular band delving further into their signature sound (a sophisticated, emotional blend of tinkling pianos, electric and acoustic guitars, and gentle yet insistent rhythms that serves as the ideal backdrop for Issac Slade's beautiful, pitch-perfect vocals) while also extending their lyrical themes. The world, spirituality and love are all mused upon here, but minus the distractions that typically weigh down the "difficult" second-album-syndrome.

When a band has as much success as Hoobastank, the motivation to top itself must come from within. That renewed desire can be heard from the very first notes of "My Turn," the first single from the group's fourth album, Fornever, which marks a return to the rock roots of their first two releases, the platinum-plus self-titled debut and the two-million-plus-selling The Reason. The album's emotional core can be found in "My Turn," a song inspired by a poem that was written by Doug's older brother, is an ode to everyman or woman, someone who has worked all their life and is just looking to get the rewards they deserve - much like the band itself.

Charles Spearin -
The Happiness Project
Arts & Crafts

Matt & Kim -

Willie Nelson & Asleep At The Wheel -
Willie and The Wheel
Bismeaux Records

North Mississippi Allstars -
Boulderado - Live at The Fox
Songs of the South Records

When Charles Spearin decided to start interviewing his neighbors in downtown Toronto on the subject of Happiness, he became so inspired by the natural beauty in their voices and cadence that he thought to put them with music. With The Happiness Project, Charles Spearin blurs the line between speaking and singing - life and art - and writes music based on these accidental melodies. With the help of some of his musician friends, Charles plays the instruments to match these natural neighborhood melodies and then arranged them as though they were songs - the melodies of every day life.

What the kids like to do is dance... And Matt and Kim are here to oblige. The perpetually grinning Brooklyn-based nerdy dance duo Matt and Kim return with Grand. The band spent the last 9 months recording and tweaking Grand in between tour dates at Matt's parents house in Vermont. The result is an album that takes the band's musicianship and songwriting to the next level and also serves as a glowing representation of how far Matt and Kim have come since their debut. From the anthemic opener "Daylight" to the harmony-rich atmospheric ballad "Turns this Boat Around" and demented pop of "I wanna," Grand is quite literally the sound of Matt and Kim discovering their voice.

A concept thirty years in the making, Willie & The Wheel is a collection of classic western swing songs hand-picked by the late Jerry Wexler. "Jerry wanted us to do this album and I'm glad we got to do it for him, "says Willie Nelson. "And that he heard it before he passed on." Better known as "Mr. R&B", Jerry Wexler was a great fan of the original Western Swing bands like Bob Wills, Milton Brown, Cliff Bruner - all first introduced to him while he was studying journalism in Kansas City. Such a fitting collaboration certainly begs the question as to why this hasn't happened already. We should just be glad that it did.

For the better part of a decade The North Mississippi Allstars have been wowing rock fans with gritty, forward thinking blues rock on both LP and through their seriously electrifying live show. Boulderado - Live at The Fox captures North Mississippi Allstars at the pinnacle of the heralded "Keep the Devil Down" tour. The tour supported the first release on the band's own label (Songs of the South Records) Hernando. The twenty tracks that span Boulderado - Live at The Fox make it undeniably clear why North Mississippi Allstars are one of the greatest live bands working today.

In This Moment -
The Dream
Century Media

Theresa Anderson -
Hummingbird, GO!
Basin Street Records

Dan Auerbach -
Keep It Hid

Jeb Loy Nichols -
Parish Bar

For In This Moment, the dream was always to become a worldwide phenomenon and that is something that will never fade, especially with this new effort. If you haven't heard of In This Moment, it won't be long until you do because this band is at the brink of greatness. Now the group is poised to take their already stellar career to soaring new heights with their aptly titled sophomore release, The Dream, which is a dynamic, hard rock opus that proves mature well beyond their years. The Dream is a testament to the band's songwriting prowess and stunning frontwoman Maria Brink's captivating voice.

Theresa Anderson's Hummingbird, Go! evokes a distinctly unique universe via its inventive songs. From the funky backbeat, pizzicato plucking, and vocal leaps of "Birds Fly Away," to the smoldering "Locusts Are Gossiping," with its interwoven vocals - as haunting as any Bulgarian choir - and percussive clicking reminiscent of chattering insects, each cut vibrates with polychromatic detail. (It's pretty, too!)

While working on The Black Keys most recent album, Attack & Release, Dan Auerbach was also writing songs that would become Keep It Hid - his solo debut. "This record is a mixture of things I like to listen to, psychedelia, soul music, country harmonies," says Auerbach. "I wanted a live, organic sound. Nothing was too plotted or planned, just a lot of spontaneity." That vibe will no doubt please Black Keys fans as well listeners who like their albums lush and loose. Dig it.

A modern-day Renaissance Man, Jeb Loy Nichols is a musician, songwriter, and visual artist whose creative path has taken him from his birthplace in the Midwest, to London, and rural Wales. Parish Bar "was made at home, over the past couple years, in between other projects. Some of the tracks came quickly, other tracks crawled into being, a layer at a time," explains Jeb Loy Nichols. "[It's an album that says] 'This who I was and who I am!' No big deal - just relax and have a good time.'"

Andrew Bird -
Noble Beast
Fat Possum

Various Artists -
Miles From India
Four Quarters Entertainment

M83 -
Saturdays = Youth

The Ting Tings -
We Started Nothing
Columbia/RED Ink

Noble Beast consists of 14 original songs that find Andrew Bird on top of his game. As usual, Bird handles violin, vocals, whistling and guitar, while receiving live back up from  cohorts Martin Dosh (percussion, looping, keys), Jeremy Ylvisaker (guitar, bass, organ, shortwave) and more recently Mike Lewis -- plus a supporting cast including Kelly Hogan, Todd Sickafoose, and the band Lonely Dear. You need this.

On Miles From India, the music of Miles Davis is our common language, and thus becomes the basis of communication in this idea of an exploration of reconciliation of two unique cultures -- North American and Indian. As Miles' music and former musicians span the history of Modern Jazz, the musicians from India span the history of Modern Indian Jazz and Classical Music. The exact performance language is passed between musicians in the traditional way via the oral tradition, so common in our development of knowledge as to refine the sound and direction of any given musical moment.  Check it out.

Whereas the doomy synthetic romance of M83's earlier work hinted at a fetish for Eighties goth staples such as Sisters of Mercy and The Cure, their album Saturdays = Youth finds the band taking a stroll on the sunnier side of the decade with it's chiming astro-pop. Tears For Fears, Cocteau Twins, as well as classic John Hughes teen movies such as "The Breakfast Club" and "Sixteen Candles" (The red-haired Molly Ringwald look-alike on the cover is no mistake) play a huge part in this romantic 80's homage. But isn't a throwback - it's a love letter. You need this.

Touted as a must-hear by industry symposiums and kids on the corner, The Ting Tings intuitive pop noise is about propulsive energy, positive thinking and smashing up a couple of rules along the way. Be forewarned: Sexy thrills contained within.

Jose Gonzalez -
Live at Park Ave

Lisa Hannigan -
Sea Stew
ATO Records

Fucked Up -
The Chemistry of Common Life

Old Crow Medicine Show -
Tennessee Pusher

In his teens, José Gonzalez learned how to play classical guitar and some time later, when he was part of one punk band and one hardcore band, he sat at home writing low-voiced pieces on his guitar. It's within these disparate influences where no doubt González developed his considerable charm - and that gift is captured beautifully on Live At Park Ave. Live At Park Ave. is a wonderful portrait of the artist at work while giving an intimate performance at the titular record store in Orlando, Florida. Tracks from both Veneer and In Our Nature are represented - and you can only pick it up at indie record stores like this one!

Lisa Hannigan started her singing career at the age of 6 as the fairy on top of the Christmas tree in the school play. Although she still remembers three quarters of the words, she is no longer convincing as a fairy. A chance meeting with singer-songwriter Damien Rice led to a long period of collaboration and development. Lisa spent the next few years touring the world, meeting wonderful musicians and writing songs. When this collaboration came to an end after seven years, Lisa was left with a notebook of songs and the desire and confidence to put them onto a record. After spending a happy month stitching the lyrics onto rough cotton, and picking out the many references to the sea in the lyrics, Lisa decided to call the album Sea Sew. That's the story. Now go listen.

Fucked Up's new album, The Chemistry Of Common Life, synthesizes all the Canadian Punk Rock Giants' diverse impulses into an expansive epic about the mysteries of birth, death, and the origins of life (and re-living). Merging elements of hardcore songwriting with up to 70 tracks of guitars, organs, winds and vocals, (including 18 guitars on the first single, the fatalistic "No Epiphany"), the music remains iconoclastic and startling, with Pink Eyes' vocals front and center. Though Fucked Up remain punks at heart - if quixotically diverse ones - they have created a great, weird, heavy record that stubbornly sticks in your brain and your heart. This is one of 2008's most epic records and you're a fool to not check it out. Essential.

From busking in the streets of Nashville to headlining the historic Ryman Auditorium, Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) have come full circle playing their own brand of American roots music with a rock and roll attitude. They've even inspired The Village Voice to predict, "Fame will soon lift her skirt for the band." And with its new album, Tennessee Pusher, it looks like she's about to give those boys said golden view.

Late of the Pier -
Fantasy Black Channel

Ruthie Foster -
The Truth According to Ruthie Foster
Blue Corn Music

Heartless Bastards -
The Mountain
Fat Possum

The Submarines -
Honey Suckle Weeks

Late Of The Pier's music is almost impossible to describe, pushing stylistic boundaries to the edge of no control. Produced by superstar DJ-producer Erol Alkan, Fantasy Black Channel is huge both in scope and ambition, an exuberant rush of glam, psychedelia, nu-wave, dance punk, metal and madcap sci-fi experimentation. Not every band can throw shards of Zappa, Queen, Eno-era Roxy Music, Prince, Gary Numan, DFA, Bloc Party and The Klaxons into a blender and come out with something as defiantly unique and grandly anthemic. If you are madly in love with Cut Copy, Justice and the like then you'll find a lot to love with Fantasy Black Channel. Do check it out!

Since her beginnings in a small Texas town, through her musical studies at college, and through the process of becoming a professional musician, Ruthie Foster's pure voice has been taking her to new places and higher heights. With The Truth According to Ruthie Foster, Ruthie Foster has finally arrived. This extraordinary songwriter/performer tackles life's big issues throughout her sizzling new album. On it, Ruthie repeatedly testifies to her core message - that through all of the ups and downs of living, you must stay true to yourself. The pain as well as the joy of love, the strength it takes to weather life's challenges.

As a songwriting teenager during a time when GBV and Brainiac were packing local bars and three of the Breeders were still in town, Erika Wennerstrom used to sneak into clubs to check out the scene. Years later Wennerstrom developed her songs and unique voice, calling it The Heartless Bastards. Two albums (their debut, Stairs and Elevators is a must) and one line-up change later, The Heartless Bastards are back with The Mountain, which is perhaps Wennerstrom's most personal work to date. Recorded with Mike McCarthy (of Spoon fame) The Mountain is the aptly named sound of a band on the precipice of greatness.  Gritty, raw and real, this is an album you need to know.

The Submarines recorded Honeysuckle Weeks as summer vines blossomed and the sun coaxed green grasses up around the stones leading from their East LA home to their garage-turned-home-studio. Honeysuckle Weeks is the first record couple, John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard, wrote collaboratively - their first album, Declare A New State, was written separately during a breakup and recorded upon their reunion. And judging by The time-warped "1940" and "The Wake Up Song" (which portrays a couple's start to the day), kissing and making up never sounded so good

Trey Anastasio & The Undedect -
Original Boardwalk Style - Live in Atlantic City
Rubber Jungle Records

AC Newman -
Get Guilty

Fiction Family -
Fiction Family
ATO Records

Original Boardwalk Style - Live in Atlantic City, a live album from Trey Anastasio and the Undectet, benefits the Seven Below Arts Initiative, a program established by Trey in 2006 to foster artistic development and support arts education in the state of Vermont. The album was recorded at the House of Blues in Atlantic City, NJ on December 30th and 31st of 2006, coming at the end of the band's holiday tour and marks the culmination of a long year of touring and growth as what began as a six-piece sextet in the beginning of the year had progressed into a full-force eleven member Undectet. Original Boardwalk Stylefeatures over 75 minutes of music that features raw energy of a well-oiled band at the top of its game.

Get Guilty showcases beautifully A.C. Newman's (of New Pornographer's fame) fascinating blend of catchiness and impenetrability - witness the first single, "The Palace At 4 A.M.", a Top 40 sing-along that name-checks a Donald Barthelme short story and talks of Polynesian dives, bingo, and bombs.  "Thunderbolts" is from the point of view of a gang of young troublemaking gods, and "Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer" distills the 1967 film "Le Samourai" into a simple tale of indecision. Get Guilty sounds familiarly lush but not overworked, and even intimate.  Dramatic themes recur - change, water, self-doubt, gods and prophets - yet an optimistic beauty prevails. Oh yes you need this!

Fiction Family is the duo Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek. Both Watkins and Foreman being vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, took turns singing lead vocals and they both played several instruments on each song including guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, baritone ukulele, piano, organ, mandolin, steel guitar, 12-string guitar and more. Nickel Creek fiddle player Sara Watkins is also featured on several songs. Fiction Family was recorded and written in parts over the span of three years with no real deadlines, while still touring with their respective bands. Intimate, accomplished and full of invigorating hooks and unlikely turns, Fiction Family is a group you'll wanna hear a lot more from.

The Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) is a group of some of the best independent music stores in America. CIMS was founded in 1995; its current membership is made up of 29 accounts that handle 47 stores in 21 states. Many of the accounts have been recognized by the music industry and their local communities for their outstanding dedication to customer service and developing artist support.

Each member is bound by its shared love of music, a reputation for great selection and customer service in its community, yet each CIMS account is as unique as the market it represents. Most importantly, CIMS member stores continually seek to challenge the jaded, color-by-numbers advertising and marketing of other retailers.