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CIMS Recommends - May 2009

CIMS Recommends - May

Ben Harper and Relentless7 -
White Lies For Dark Times

Depeche Mode -
Sounds of the Universe

Silversun Pickups -
Dangerbird Records/ADA

Steve Earle -
New West/RED

Ben Harper met guitarist Jason Mozersky in the late nineties, when the lead singer of Mozersky's then band, Wan Santo Condo, was working as a van driver shuttling bands back and forth to the venue for a Texas promoter. He asked the then captive Harper, "Can I play you my demo?" Harper obliged, and in his own words "was blown away," and helped the band secure a record deal. The two reunited in the summer of 2008 just to jam and write songs together, and emerged with a new sound, a new band, and enough tracks for an album. White Lies For Dark Times is a timeless rock record, with a cohesive collection of music that is as raw, unrelenting and thunderous, as it as it is arrestingly haunting and emotional.

The one and only Depeche Mode are back with Sounds Of The Universe, which may just be the band's best work in over a decade. If Playing The Angle, wasn't enough to convince you that the band's creative juices were once again freely flowing, then one spin of new single "Wrong" will eliminate any further doubts. Sounds Of The Universe reunites Depeche Mode with producer Ben Hillier (Blur, Doves, Elbow), who previously produced their 2005 album Playing The Angel, who once again provides a dark, gospel-like atmosphere that, the band had been hinting at for years. The results are as forward-thinking as they are steeped in a starkness that is quintessentially its own.

The Silversun Pickups sound is a city itself and on the new album, Swoon, we tag along on a schizophrenic taxi ride to the dark side. For Swoon, the aperture of the band opened up and allowed for possibilities the band never imagined. Swoon is a thick, layered listen, burgeoning with rich strings, crunchy guitars, and spaces of introspection in the middle of chaos. For every grand concert hall built from a gentle string swell, like on "Catch and Release," Swoon burns it down in a conflagration of noise, scorching with searing bass and growling guitar, as on "Panic Switch." It's a wonderful racket -- and you need it.

You can always count on Steve Earle for a good quote: "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." Townes is 15-song set is comprised of songs written by Earle's friend and mentor, the late singer-songwriter, Townes Van Zandt. The songs selected for Townes were the ones that meant the most to Earle -- the ones he personally connected to. Some of the selections chosen were songs that Earle has played his entire career ("Pancho and Lefty," "Lungs," "White Freightliner Blues"). He learned the song "(Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria" directly from Van Zandt.

Bob Dylan -
Together Through Life
Columbia/Sony Music

Young Love -
One Of Us

Manchester Orchestra -
Mean Everything To Nothing
Columbia/Sony Music

Various Artists -
Playing For Change

Bob Dylan's latest album, Together Through Life (produced by the mysterious Jack Frost), was prompted by the composition of a new song, "Life Is Hard," which was written for a forthcoming film by French director Oliver Daham (La Vie En Rose). From that one composition 10 new songs came a flowing, including "Beyond Here Lies Nothin" and "It's All Good." Sonically, Together Through Life is another souvenir from Dylan's Never Ending Tour down Memory Lane, combining disparate elements of Chess Records, Tejano Blues, and The Canterbury Tales. Most of the album's lyrics were co-written with former Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, so it's a bit like his "Theme Time Radio Hour" but with side of peyote.

Dan Keys, like so many starry-eyed indie rockers, left behind his life and band in Austin, Texas for a chance to screw around in New York City. He had a room, a job busing tables, and a bunch of country-tinged rock songs that, no doubt infected by the NYC vibe, found new life in the studio -- becoming more danceable, unpredictable, catchy and even anthemic. Perhaps turning 21 and going to bars had something to do with it, too.... Regardless, these songs became One Of Us and Dan Keys became Young Love. Perhaps dreams really do come true...

Mean Everything To Nothing, the second album from Manchester Orchestra, is everything you want a rock record to be: raw, urgent, emotional, and 100 percent authentic. The blistering opener "The Only One" immediately gives way to the propulsive "Shake It Out" and the torrential first single "I've Got Friends," followed by the anguished "Pride" and the menacing "In My Teeth," before slowing down on the darkly funny "100 Dollars." Then the album pauses and downshifts into less relentless yet equally gripping territory on songs from "I Can Feel A Hot One," to the ruminative closer "The River." The drama is magnified by the fact that the album's first six songs bleed into one another without stopping. The breakneck pace is both exhilarating and exhausting -- especially in contrast to the album's darker second half. Check this out!

Playing for Change began a decade ago, the brainchild of Grammy-winning music producer and engineer Mark Johnson. "I was in a subway in New York and I heard these two monks playing music," he recalls. "There were about 200 people who stopped to watch, didn't even get on the train. And it's the music that brought them together." In the years that followed Johnson traveled the globe to record little-known musicians for what would become Playing for Change. He worked with Bono and Keb' Mo, too. Playing for Change is a CD / DVD some of the music he encountered along the way. A full-length film is coming soon.

Chairlift -
Does You Inspire You

Metric -
Metric Music/Redeye

Lady Sovereign -
Midget Records/Caroline

Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band -
Outer South
Merge Records/ADA

Brooklyn's Chairlift play a thoughtful, dream-filled pop music, combining the timelessness of unforgettable melody with spare and sophisticated production, a meta-psychedelic worldview, and a classical avant-garde sensibility resolutely and merrily embracing the future. Chairlift is expansive and cinematic, its name evoking an ever-changing vantage point rising (or falling) above the ground. When it came time to write and record the songs for Does You Inspire You, the band's debut album, the members of Chairlift drew on a vast array of pop influences, finding echoes of country-western ("stiff boots and rawhide") pathos in "Don't Give A Damn," a swaying emo-samba in "Make Your Mind Up," and an ironically sunny evocation of love's turmoil in "Bruises."

Fantasies was written mostly in exile in Argentina with only a piano and guitar, recorded mainly at the band's own Giant Studio in Toronto. It's gilded surfaces and textured density - a heady amalgam of psychedelia, electro and rock - evoke a certain dream like quality. Metric made a point of taking their time with the writing process on Fantasies and many of the songs were road tested between recording sessions. Says guitarist Jimmy Shaw: "The whole time I could hear the sound I wanted in my head-- really big and really dreamy." Fantasy's gilded surfaces and textural density -- a mix of psychedelia, electro and rock -- have been worth the wait.

A 5 ft 1 pixie with giant passion, ambition and sheer raw talent, if there is one theme running through the magical existence of Lady Sovereign, then it's that of being a fiercely independent creative spirit who, one way or another, was born to be different. "I'm not your average rapper. I've always felt that I'm different to everyone else and I never approach things the way everyone else does. It's without trying. I don't understand it." But playing in the big leagues wasn't all it was cracked up to be -- in fact, it cracked her up. So Sov packed it in with Def Jam, reconvened with her old mates, started her own label, and went back to making records on her own. The result, Jigsaw, is the sound of The Midget reborn.

While touring in support of his last solo album, Conor and the Mystic Valley Band began writing new songs as a team (with matching satin jackets to boot). The fruit of that labor is Outer South. Oberst's songwriting and delivery remain an engaging presence, but the addition of songs by Taylor Hollingsworth (the band's secret weapon), Nik Freitas, Macey Taylor, and Jason Boesel make for a multi-textured and colorful collaboration -- think of it as their Big Pink... Or simply think of it as Outer South. Bright Eyes it ain't... And they wouldn't have it any other way. Check it out... And, while yr at it, check out the band's documentary, One Of My Kind -- which is currently streaming for free.

Pet Shop Boys -

Gliss -
Devotion Implosion
Cordless Recordings/Ryko

William Fitzsimmons -
Sparrow & The Crow
Mercer Street/Downtown/Fontana

Meg & Dia -
Here, Here, and Here

In a career spanning over 2 decades, the duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (A.K.A. Pet Shop Boys) have created some of the most beloved and recognizable hits in the world ('West End girls', 'It's A Sin', 'New York City boy', etc.), Filled with sparkling state of the art pop songs, Yes is an affirmation of The Pet Shop Boys' knack for mixing innovative artistry with exuberant commercial appeal. Produced by the acclaimed Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Cher, Kylie Minogue, Saint Etienne), the album features guitar work by ex-Smith Johnny Marr and orchestral arrangements by Owen Pallett (Last Shadow Puppets, Final Fantasy).

Gliss is hazy experimental and delightfully wrecked pop. You will want to make out with Gliss. Gliss will turn you on with their fuzzed-out guitars and Krautrock rhythms. Gliss will love you back. Gliss have a dark side. Devotion Implosion feels like the morning after. Gareth Jones is pretty cool for working with Gliss... And Depeche Mode, Liars, Wire, Nick Cave, etc. Gliss is swirling ominous fuzz, an overdose of sound, chaos, dark propulsion, beauty, rock 'n' roll excess -- all drowned in aural leisure. Gliss is shattered soundscapes that melt you into a Devotion Implosion.

William Fitzsimmons' path into music was likewise unusual -- forsaking the hobby for many years to work with the mentally ill and pursue an education in the field of mental health. After becoming a practicing therapist, William returned again to his love of crafting and playing songs. William draws from the early folks stylings of his mother's music, and the embellished instrumentation of his father's classical records. The result is an amalgam of Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, and the late Elliott Smith, not only for his unique style and skill in writing and proclivity to deal with substantive and evocative subject matter, but also for his use of organic and colorful melodies and arrangements. The Sparrow And The Crow has all of this in more. It's gorgeous and worth your attention.

Seeing the world is an eye-opening experience-especially if you grew up in the tiny town of Draper, Utah-so it's no wonder Meg & Dia's new album, Here, Here and Here, paints a portrait of what life has been like for this hard-working band as they've toured for the past two and a half years in support of their 2006 debut album Something Real. Despite being fronted and named after sisters Meg and Dia Frampton, Meg & Dia is very much a collaborative effort between five individual musicians. With Here, Here and Here, this group of five friends has begun to evolve into the kind of musicians they want to be.

Tinted Windows -
Tinted Windows
S Curve/Caroline

Mike Farris -
Shout! Live
INO/Columbia/Sony Music

Easy Star Allstars -
Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band
Easy Star/RED

John Scofield -
Piety Street

Tinted Windows is an unlikely supergroup comprised of Taylor Hanson (lead vocals), James Iha (guitar), Adam Schlesinger (bass), and Bun E. Carlos (drums). James, Adam and Taylor started kicking around the idea of writing and recording some songs that would set Taylor's unmistakable voice against some loud guitars. They also talked about fusing the sounds of power-pop, rock and New Wave of the late 70's and early 80's, which they all loved, with the more modern rock and pop sounds of their own groups. "We talked about everything from The Buzzcocks to The Knack," says Iha. "And, of course, Cheap Trick." Tinted Windows kind of sounds like you'd expect -- surly power pop with a bubblegum edge that will satisfy past and former tweens as well lovers of Perfect Pop for Now People.

Over the course of several months at the legendary Station Inn, SundayNight Shout! became a staple of must see entertainment for the people of Nashville and beyond. Mike Farris working off the critical acclaim and strength of Salvation In Lights created a musical and spiritual celebration that combined traditional southern black gospel mixed with Stax R&B and old fashioned roots music into a sound that has become uniquely his own. The Mike Farris experience can only be realized live and this recording over a period of four Sunday nights is a testament to that. As a document, Shout! Live proves this music is not limited or defined by any one genre as evidenced by his audience that ranges from the teen to the baby boomer.

Following the widespread critical and commercial success of 2003's Dub Side of the Moon and 2006's Radiodread (which tackled Radiohead's OK Computer and earned praise from Radiohead themselves), the Easy Star All-Stars are back with a complete reggae re-imagining of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band, features guest vocals from an impressive list of reggae, dancehall and dub greats including Steel Pulse, Matisyahu, Michael Rose (Black Uhuru), Luciano, U Roy, Bunny Rugs (Third World), Ranking Roger (English Beat), Sugar Minott, Frankie Paul, Max Romeo and The Mighty Diamonds. Best enjoyed with a little help from your friends.

Possessor of a very distinctive sound and stylistic diversity, John Scofield is a masterful jazz improviser whose music generally falls somewhere between post-bop, funk edged jazz, and R & B. With the release of Piety Street, Scofield takes his music to a new place. "I'm just shifting the balances for this one," he says. "I launched a personal search for musical inspiration beyond the standard 12 bar blues and found it in "old time gospel" music - the closest relative to and inspiration for the R& B that we all love. I've always treasured Gospel but never really dug deep into it.  My search led to countless songs that really move me. It's really powerful stuff. Of course, it will be Gospel done my way - all the arrangements are mine. "

Doves -
Kingdom of Rust

Two Fingers -
Two Fingers
Paper Bag/Fontana

Shout Out Out Out Out -
Reintegration Time
Normals Welcome Records/Ryko

The Audition -
Self-Titled Album

It's been practically five years since the world last heard from The Doves. In that time we've had two records a piece from U2 and Coldplay (who, like U2, worked with Oblique Strategist, Brian Eno).  And now that The Doves are back with Kingdom Of Rust, longtime fans may be shocked to hear that this long-awaited opus is not filled with flag-waving anthems but, rather, is an album that out-Enos Eno. Kingdom Of Rust is the most atmospheric and daring record The Doves have made thus far. There are big choruses to be sure, but you have to dig them out of the golden atmosphere that hovers over each track. There is nothing wrong with your headphones: This is the sound of a band taking chances without loosing its way. It's a soul record for your head.

Two Fingers are Brazilian beat-adventurer Amon Tobin and Joe "Doubleclick" Chapman. The pair met when Tobin lived in Brighton and bonded over an interest in music that ran way beyond the boundaries of "electronica". In Montreal they applied production techniques associated with UK styles like drum & bass to the template of hip hop. When rapper Sway heard what was brewing, he flew straight out to Montreal and recorded seven tracks, showcasing a harsher, more serious side of his flow. The remaining rhythms were voiced by sometime Missy Elliot protégé Ms Jade and dancehall legend Ce'Cile. A couple of instrumental rhythms were added and Two Fingers was complete -- and it deserves your attention.

Shout Out Out Out Out emerged from the frozen north of Edmonton, Ontario as an all-rhythm section, high-kicking, collection of local rock stalwarts, diving headfirst into the world of electronic music as a formidable force and a live spectacle from the get-go, with two drummers, four bass players, and an entirely appropriate mountain of analog synthesizers. Like in every band's not-so-secret dream, local support grew to national buzz, national acclaim grew to international buzz, etc. Lyrically though, darker themes are explored, connecting those who listen closely enough to decipher the vocoded laments (we're talking Kraftwerk here, not T- Pain) with themes of disillusionment, debt, and inner struggle. Shout Out Out Out Out use dance music to help themselves and their listeners lighten the load of a heavier existence.

Self-Titled Album.  The title is a reflection of a band meeting its own high expectations. On their third offering for Victory Records, The Audition have avoided the third-album jinx and produced an irresistible album that is part fighter, part lover, and all Self-Titled. This Chicago quintet has garnered many definitions of what their sound is: pop, punk, dance, rock - take your pick. Truth is, they've earned every one of them, blending smart pop lyrics and grooves with memorable guitar licks and addictive beats. Self Titled Album is the quintessential pop-rock album of 2009, jammed with radio-ready singles and party-soundtrack songs that will appeal to fans above and below the 20-year mark.

Katie Melua -
Universal Motown/UMGD

MxPx -
On The Cover II
Tooth & Nail/EMI

A Camp -
Nettwerk/Sony Music

Ida Maria -
Fortress 'Round My Heart
Upper 11/Mercury/Fontana

Katie Melua was born in Georgia (former USSR) in 1984, growing up under the communist regime in the capital, Tbilisi. !)" The past years have been quite extraordinary for Katie (now 24). She has had a Dutch tulip named in her honor, met and played for Nelson Mandela in South Africa visiting his AIDS charity, has become a hard working Ambassador for Save The Children, raced at 160mph around Grand Prix, flown a plane, learned to dive and parachute freefall, set a Guinness World Record for deepest underwater concert (19 miles under water on a gas rig in the North Sea), and picked up various prestigious awards within Europe. Oh: And Katie's third studio album, Pictures, confirms Katie's status as a unique and remarkable vocalist, and reveals the third chapter of what is destined to be a long musical career.

MxPx have elected to create another covers album, the 1980s-centric On The Cover II, which comes nearly fifteen years after its predecessor. As to why the band chose to do another collection of MxPx renditions of favorite songs, bassist/lead vocalist Mike Herrera sums it up efficiently, saying, "The fans kept chanting, 'One more covers album!'" "Our fans have been asking us to do another cover record for almost a decade now," confirms guitarist Tom Wisniewski. "We've always put it on the backburner but we finally just decided that it'd be a fun thing to do." If one thing is for sure, MxPx and On The Cover II bounce -- making for a real treat on the ears.

In late 2007, for no particular reason, A Camp was taken out of storage. This time around, what the first album had been to the country the second was to the urban back-alley, past and present. If A Camp's first record was a mash up of Americana and minimalist eclecticism, Colonia draws from a wider set of colors, drawing on historical imagery -- from the opium den to the Belgian Congo, from the Namibian desert by starlight to Victorian New York by gaslight, and the Bowery of the '70s by neon. If the debut album wore an air of wood, hickory and snow, Colonia is electricity, wig powder, and laudanum. Joan Wasser, Nikolai Dunger, James Iha all guest.

Like the Norse warrior maiden Freya, 24-year-old Norwegian rocker Ida (eee-da) Maria is a force of nature, a goddess of love, fertility and sexual desire who led the Valkyries into battle, a fearless fighter who, paradoxically, has a passion for romantic music and flowers. With Fortress Round My Heart, Ida Maria presents her artistic vision to the world. Do not pass go and head straight to her U.K. hit single, "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," which catapulted the critically acclaimed Fortress straight into the British Top 40, prompting comparisons to female vocal sirens like Janis Joplin, Nico and Chrissie Hynde. Do check it out.

The Vaselines -
Enter The Vaselines
Sub Pop/ADA

Cage The Elephant -
Cage The Elephant

FM Static -
Dear Diary
Tooth & Nail/EMI

Paper Route -
Universal Motown/UMGD

The Vaselines area group long celebrated by musicians and music enthusiasts across genres and across the globe, including super-fan Kurt Cobain. Enter The Vaselines is an opportunity for those already familiar with the Scottish band's brief career to delve deeper into their body of work, while those new to their music can experience firsthand why so many hold them in such high regard. This new collection is effectively a deluxe-edition reissue of the seminal 1992 Sub Pop release The Way of The Vaselines with a new title and new cover art, both from the band, and a whole lot of new material (the entirety of the 17-song second CD/third LP has been added). Basically, it's everything plus never-before-heard demos and live recordings from 1986 in Bristol and 1988 in London. Epochal, brilliant, effing essential... You need this!!!

Cage The Elephant is a Bowling Green, Kentucky-based five-piece band consisting of Matt Shultz (vocals), his brother Brad (guitar) and their friends Daniel Titchenor (bass), Lincoln Parish (guitar) and Jared Champion (drums). Matt, Brad and Daniel grew up on an alternative religious commune started by their ex-hippie parents. Pop music was strictly forbidden so their discovery of key punk and rock influences was covert and somewhat recent. The essence of Jimi Hendrix, Green Day, White Stripes and Kings of Leon, among others, fuels Cage's libertine, over-the-top rock explosions. The band is already big in the U.K. (naturally), so it's only right and natural that they get love on this side of the pond, too. Dig it.

What's the difference between FM Static and Thousand Foot Krutch? Singer-songwriter Trevor McNevan and drummer Steve Augustine lead both bands, but the former is a side project to the latter. In fact, the public has shown center-stage love for each act's efforts, from FM Static's summery punk-pop to TFK's more autumnal, metallic rock. More than anything, having two names makes it easier to take some fun creative chances --like pursuing the idea for a concept album where every lyric is the innermost thought of a soul-searching teenager. With spot-on relatable happenings and character confessions of Dear Diary, a project whose special story can only be unlocked as it happens, from song one to song ten.

(The story of Paper Route, as told by Chad Howat) "I was tired. So it seems fitting that this story begins underneath my bed. You may picture me crawling below my mattress, but in reality my bed is about 6 feet above the ground-enough space for a small iBook and some cheap monitors. When I couldn't sleep, I'd descend my steps and make music all night. I programmed, played bass, synths and even snuck into an undisclosed location masquerading as a music student to record piano. JT Daly, a close friend and old band mate, started coming over to sing, sample, and play toy keyboards. After a month or so went by, Andy Smith, another close friend and ex-band mate who lives above me, started coming downstairs and contributing vocals, guitar, harmonica, and some synths. A band had naturally formed between the three of us."

Crocodiles -
Summer Of Hate
Fat Possum/RED

Bat For Lashes -
Two Sunst

Madina Lake -
Attics To Eden

Crocodiles' songs began slinging across the Interweb after their friends in No Age named the band's song "Neon Jesus" as one of their Top Ten shredders of 2008. Stereogum said they were "The Velvet Underground swinging Jesus and Mary Chain." Really though, Crocodiles are just a great new rock duo hollering some fine tunes. Crocodiles debut album, Summer of Hate, is born of the same alienation and frustration that fueled the group's initial pairing. Poppy vocal melodies are crushed with harsh electronic drums or lifted and left floating in spaced-out noise and echo. Loud, wiry guitars jab wildly like mutant synapses skirting along a tightrope drone. Sound familiar? Sure, but with so much swagger you're gonna love it anyway.

Two Suns, the latest album from Bat For Lashes, was written and recorded around the world, from Big Sur and the Joshua Tree desert in California to the rolling Welsh countryside and the city sprawls of New York and London. It includes appearances by Brooklyn's finest psychedelic experimentalists, Yeasayer, who provide bass and beat programming... But the real thrill comes by an appearance from legendary singer / songwriter Scott Walker also sings on album closer "The Big Sleep'. As with her previous album, Fur And Gold, Bat For Lashes chose to co-produce Two Suns with David Kosten (AKA Faultline). A chanteuse with a gift for haunting melodies, beautiful backing bands, and a headdress full of surprises, Bat For Lashes guarantees satisfaction. Highly recommended.

Attics to Eden is an album that proves maturity comes with experience. With it, Madina Lake, one of rock's most promising young acts, takes the listener on a unique auditory voyage across layer upon diverse layer of sound. The 12 songs on the album -- including "Never Walk Alone," "Let's Get Out of Here," "Legends," and the guitar-less "Friends and Lovers" -- are replete with otherworldly atmospherics, epic guitars, intricate and oftentimes punishing drum-work, melodic choruses, imposing bass lines, audacious instrumentation, and unpredictable, inescapable vocals. The second act of a trilogy, Attics To Eden begs you to get caught up and sucked in.

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.