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2008: My Favorites

TV Blinded Me With Science

My favorite major release of 2008 was TV on the Radio’s Dear Science. Holy crap, was I unprepared to deal with the magnetic, schizophrenic brilliance of that album. I tried to listen casually — you know, in the car, while doing the dishes, etc. — but I soon found myself up late at night, incapacitated by the weight of big-ass headphones, wide-eyed in wonderment and smiling in the dark.

After bumping hip-hop newcomer Kid Sister’s tune “Beeper” on the daily, I spent an unprecedented amount of time — and a sickening level of ass-kissing — trying to scam an advance copy of her debut LP, Dream Date, from better-connected industry friends. Though it won’t be released until March 2009, Kid Sister’s playful, fly girl charisma permeates every song on the debut, and this hip-hop cutie has the skills to back up her Next Big Thing hype.

There were some hot reissues this year, including R.E.M.’s Murmur, Verbena’s Souls for Sale, A.A. Bondy’s American Hearts and the remastered Replacements discography. All were greatly appreciated — and rocked accordingly.

The best concert I saw in town was Sharon Jones at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room in January. I knew she would be good, but I had no idea how good. The sold-out, sticky, sweaty, shoes-off, swinging hair, soul-filled basement show had me jumpin’ and forced my booty to do things heretofore unthinkable. Hallelujah.

Locally, I still crush on Bunnygrunt, the Humanoids, Sex Robots, Rum Drum Ramblers and Pokey LaFarge. I’ve seen each about 27,856 times this year and I’m still amazed at the spirit and passion their performances ignite. In addition, I can’t say enough good things about the Livers. This extraordinary rock duo is relatively new, but it consistently churns out one of the most exceptional live acts in the city.
— Jaime Lees

[“the RFT’s music writers weighed in on what they liked this year” – HERE]

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SXSW: The Random Picture Post

These snaps were just too hot not to post.

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Dead Confederate
WHEN: Wednesday, March 12, 11p.m.
WHERE: Stubb’s BBQ, big outside stage
NOTE: This band opened for R.E.M. (Athens represent) and might have been the best surprise of the festival. Read our coverage here.

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: AA Bondy
WHEN: Thursday, March 13, about 9:30p.m.
WHERE: The gorgeous poolside rooftop stage of a heavily sponsored free party.
NOTE: This was one of 12 AA Bondy shows in a 3 day time span in Austin.

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: downtown Austin, TX, view from the AA Bondy rooftop show
WHEN: Thursday, March 13, late night
WHERE: at 3rd Street and Guadalupe looking East
NOTE: There should be more rooftop shows. Always.

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Autolux’s Eugene Goreshter
WHEN: Friday, March 14, afternoon
WHERE: Red Eyed Fly backyard venue
NOTE: Goreshter’s amazing vocals on Autolux albums? Not studio magic. Dude actually sings like that.

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, solo show
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, mid-afternoon
WHERE: Garden Party (read: gorgeous yard), the French Legation Museum
NOTE: J Mascis is a God among men (who just happens to use a baby pink Razr as his preferred cellular device.)

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Thurston Moore and the New Wave Bandits
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, afternoon, slot after J Mascis
WHERE: East Austin, French Legation Museum
NOTE: Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore stole the show with his expansive talent and boyish charm. Read our coverage here.

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: The Breeders
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, about 9p.m.
WHERE: Waterloo Park, north of downtown, 2nd stage
NOTE: Two Deals are always better than one. Read our coverage here.

photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Kid Sister at the Fool’s Gold Showcase
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, 1a.m. (after Flosstradamus, before Chromeo)
WHERE: Volume nightclub, next to the told Emo’s on 6th Street
NOTE: Kid Sister claimed she was crunk but she still held down her raps with a little help from brother Josh “J2K” Young (of super-fly duo Flosstradamus) as back up.Category: Music, Reviews, SXSW, Snapshots

Interview with A.A. Bondy


AA Bondy reinvents himself as an indie-folk artist

By Jaime Lees
Published: February 6, 2008

Though few outside of the indie circuit recognized Verbena, critics and fans hailed the group as the second coming of Nirvana. The comparison was easy to see — and not just because former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl produced the band’s 1999 major-label debut, Into the Pink. When Verbena emerged from Bir­­m­ing­ham, Alabama, in the late ’90s, its sound was dark, powerful and based on a foundation of big pop hooks. Lead singer Scott Bondy in particular came across as very Kurt Cobain-esque, with his lazy, marble-mouthed singing style, snarky attitude and bleached-blond hair. These days, Bondy is all grown up and no longer playing the role of snotty rock kid. Performing solo under his birth name of AA Bondy (the initials stand for August Arthur), he composes enchanting, elegantly sparse indie-folk music. The songs often feature just his voice and an expertly strummed guitar, with the occasional hint of mournful harmonica and handclaps used as percussion.

When he tries to explain the difference between the louder Verbena and his current stripped-back project, Bondy confesses via phone, “I don’t really know what I was doing before.”

He’s certainly figured out what to do on his solo debut, American Hearts (which will be re-released on Fat Possum Records in April). Hearts is a bewitchingly beautiful album that’s been embraced as an impressive contribution to the world of nü-folk — largely because the songs don’t sound like the “unplugged” indulgences of a former rock guy. They’re not stripped down; they’re just not decorated with unnecessary wrapping. The songs overflow with unflinching sincerity, and the tiniest details — like the delicate noise of fingers sliding across guitar strings — stand out and seem purposeful.

The way Bondy constructed Hearts reflects this simplistic style: He recorded it in a rickety old barn next to his house in New York. (“It’s a really good-sounding barn,” he says with a chuckle.) Perhaps as a result, Hearts‘ lyrics are also unadorned and straightforward, relying heavily on the polarities of good vs. evil, apathy vs. love and God vs. the devil. Still, Bondy finds plenty of room for shrewd statements (“Love, it don’t die/It just goes from girl to girl”) and optimistic observations (“The barroom is filled with the joy/Of making old friends.”)

Many of Hearts‘ songs also carry a twinge of the ’60s protest vibe — meaning that the Bob Dylan comparisons are inevitable. It’s no surprise that Bondy has absorbed a penchant for clever lyrics; he cites Tom Waits, Nina Simone and Tom Petty as classic favorites. But of these influences, he fondly explains, “You can’t really speak to the nature of what makes things special. But whatever does make things special doesn’t really matter. I guess for a listener you just know it is special to you — and that’s all that matters.”During live shows, Bondy is frequently accompanied by his wife, Clare Felice, who plays the organ. She’s from the same family that produced the up-and-coming Americana band the Felice Brothers — a group Bondy lovingly refers to as his brothers and source of inspiration.

Jaime Lees: The stuff you’re recording seems very… like, if someone walked into your house, you could be sitting there playing it.
AA Bondy
: Yeah, I could.

It seems very intimate — like you’re not putting on a kind of show.
Yeah, those songs could exist without any other accompaniment. And they were written that way. Which is one of the main differences between this stuff and anything that happened before it. Those other songs weren’t brought to the light of day in that fashion. They were always pieced together. They were… like, a guitar part always came first. They never started with, like, basically a finished song. Which all of these songs did. They were finished songs that things got added to — or didn’t.

Is it scary for you to stand up there alone?
When I first started playing by myself, I’d played tons and tons of shows with a band. I didn’t even understand how freaked out I was. If you’re getting up on stage with a band, it’s like you’re part of a team. But once you get up there by yourself, it’s totally different. ‘Cause you’re responsible for it all. I like it better. It’s more thrilling, at least. I don’t get too freaked out anymore, but I used to. When you’re by yourself, it’s so much easier.

How is your writing different as you’ve gotten older?
I actually write songs now. [Laughs] You know, I don’t just, like, play a guitar part and put some stuff over it. I just know that it feels completely different than it used to. It feels like there’s something contained inside of it, as opposed to being like a shell.

The topics seem pretty grown-up — relationships, war. Do you feel like you’re getting something out? Does it make you feel better?
Maybe it makes me feel better only in the way something gets completed that I’m somehow satisfied with. Not in the way that I’m saying something, you know. Like, it could be a song about a pile of leaves that I lit on fire and I could feel just as good about that as if it was, like, a so-called song that had something to say.

8 p.m. Wednesday, February 13. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 314-773-3363.

>> EXTENDED INTERVIEW HERE <<

  • 02-06-08 Riverfront Times (St. Louis) – article link
  • 02-07-08 reprint in the Pitch (Kansas City) – article link
  • 03-27-08 reprint in the Dallas Observer (Dallas) – article link
  • interview outtakes here
  • AA Bondy – MySpace

2007: My Favorites

2007: The Year in Movies and Music
By Jaime Lees
Published: December 19, 2007

LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled 2005 release stands as the album that made me finally, truly believe in new electronic music. But Sound of Silver was a huge step up — and my ultimate album of 2007. It had everything I wanted: fun, super-fresh style, beauty and plenty of beats. “All My Friends” is elegant and touching, “Someone Great” is bloop-bloop perfection and the hand claps and joyous shouts of “a-woohoo!” in “Watch The Tapes” are majorly addictive.

Still, my favorite part of the music year was when an android stork dropped down from outer space and delivered us Radiohead’s In Rainbows. The media hullabaloo surrounding the surprise release sucked me in whole (because I’m a dork and I love shit like that). And while I remain fascinated by the band’s alien marketing techniques, the album had the chops to back up the hype. It’s pretty, glitchy, bittersweet and epic — in short, everything you would expect from a Radiohead album. However, In Rainbows is instantly more accessible than Amnesiac, Kid A or even Hail to the Thief. Around the same time as the album’s release, the band started leaking performances on its Web site, including live versions of album tracks and my new favorite cover ever: Radiohead playing New Order’s “Ceremony.”

My heart swelled with pride when the Arcade Fire released Neon Bible, and then both fans and critics welcomed the album’s lush, bountiful orchestration. Arcade Fire fans have formed a near-cultish church surrounding the band, but their worship might be justified. “Intervention,” “Ocean of Noise,” “(Antichrist Television Blues)” and “My Body Is a Cage” are nothing short of magical and could easily be mistaken for the rapturous hymns of a new religion. Everyone was primed for a backlash against the indie darlings, but you can’t argue with songs this beautiful.

As far as independent releases, at the beginning of the year I was gifted with an advanced copy of AA Bondy’s recently released American Hearts, and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. The solo singer-songwriter put aside his former life as the lead singer of scorching glam-grungers Verbena in favor of a more earthy, exposed adventure. Bondy composes lonely tales of complicated redemption, teetering between the delicate confusion of Dylan and the hopeful pride of Springsteen. His soulful voice is soothing and softly Southern, making American Hearts a perfect Sunday-morning album.

I also happened upon tons of great local releases this year. The Humanoids’ Are Born is my favorite; the songs are pure punk and the band straight-up shames most other locals with its energy and authenticity. Rats and People’s The City of Passersby is dense and enchanting, and quite a few songs on the Bureau’s We Make Plans In Secret deserve repeated spins. Finally, Riddle of Steel’s 1985 wasn’t released until the end of this year, but I can safely predict that it will rock me through 2008. (click to read all)
— Jaime Lees