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Pre-order the new Gordon Withers album

Copyright Cathy Seeley

Back in 2007, cellist Gordon Withers recorded an album of Jawbox covers, showcasing the compositional strength of the group’s literate D.C. post-punk/hardcore. As someone who played the cello growing up (and occasionally since then), Withers’ talent and ingenuity made me green with envy. He captured their melodic grace, their stabs of dissonance, and their emotional core, taking interesting and unexpected approaches to translating J Robbins’ vocals, Robbins and Bill Barbot’s parrying guitars, and Kim Coletta’s rolling bass lines. It’s the sort of project that usually sounds more interesting on paper than in actuality, but Withers managed to make it compelling.

If the achievement alone wasn’t enough, all proceeds from Jawbox on Cello: A Benefit for Cal Robbins went to J’s son, Callum Robbins, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Withers wasn’t alone in his charity—there was a great 2CD compilation, bands like the Dismemberment Plan, Snapcase, and Arcwelder reunited for shows, and hey, you can donate directly as well—but his album was such a unique, personal tribute.

All of this lead-in brings me to his new album, which is now available for pre-order. But it’s no normal pre-order. The album has been recorded—by J. Robbins, of course—but the mastering and physical pressings still await funding. This is where you come in. If Withers gets $2,500 by October 14th, the album will happen. The range of donations is tantalizing— for starters, a buck gets your name’s in the liner notes, a fiver gets you the mp3s, eight bucks gets you the CD, ten gets you the vinyl and two bonus tracks. Past that, things get progressively more interesting. For $50 you can get the vinyl and either a custom piece of artwork from Dave Gonzalez or a cello-ized song of your choice. (Rodan’s “Darjeeling” is awfully tempting.) $100 gets you both. For $500, you get everything plus a solo performance from Withers in your house for you and your friends and even a cello lesson if you want. It’s an impressive array of options.

Withers is currently halfway there, leaving over $1200 to go. Not to sound like a broken record about supporting music, but this pre-order is a perfect opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. I’d love this sort of funding to become commonplace, so help Withers set a great, encouraging example.

Moonlighting from Pinebender

Pinebender live at the Prairie House in Bloomington, IL October 19, 2002

Although I’d prefer news of a follow-up to their outstanding 2006 album Working Nine to Wolf, two members of Pinebender have solo projects coming to fruition, neither of which channel their musical day job’s penchant for slow, epic noise-rock. (Think Dinosaur Jr. 45s played at 33rpm.) Guitarist/vocalist Chris Hansen is moonlighting as Paletazo, with four songs up on his MySpace page and a show on November 10th at Schuba’s in Chicago. Paletazo confirms my suspicion about Pinebender’s songs: Chris Hansen’s songwriting is solid enough to stand up even without the threat of guitar bluster. (See the thoroughly quiet “Peterson Home” from their 2003 album The High Price of Living Too Long with a Single Dream for concrete evidence.) “Nothing Wrong with Love” in particular is worth a few spins. No word of any pending record release.

Meanwhile, guitarist Stephen Howard steps into the frontman role for Quieting Syrup, best described as slowed-down bedroom-pop for the bedridden. Considering that he started out as Pinebender’s drummer and took over the role of baritone guitarist after Matt Clark left for Iowa, this change in roles isn’t surprising. His debut, Songs About a Sick Boy, will be released soon on Lovitt Records. It’s listed on Lovitt’s site, but I don’t think it’s available to preorder yet.

As if his solo debut wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Howard is also now a member of Tight Phantomz, a 70s-hard-rock–informed group fronted by former Lustre King guitarist Mike Lust and supported by former Hurl, Taking Pictures, Milemarker, Thee Speaking Canaries (etc.) drummer Noah Leger. They haven’t released anything since a 2005 EP, but I’ll probably check out their next album if Howard’s on board.

While I’m all for Hansen and Howard spreading their musical wings, I hope this trend doesn’t slow the already glacial Pinebender release schedule beyond the typical three-to-four year period.

Temporary Residence Limited to Release Eluvium Vinyl Box

Official Eluvium site

I’ve done a good job sticking to my wait-for-the-vinyl policy since I adopted it a few years ago, but one artist that constantly tempted me to break ranks and buy CDs is Eluvium. I kept hearing rumblings about a possible vinyl box set from Temporary Residence Limited, but his catalog—especially the layered brilliance of 2005’s Talk Amongst the Trees, the solo piano of 2004’s An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, and the symphonic leanings of 2007’s Copia—is so consistently great that I felt guilty for only owning his split LP with Jesu, nearly caving to pick up those releases. (I still haven’t picked up Miniatures, Matthew Robert Cooper’s first release under his actual name, but I’ll order it from Gaarden Records sooner or later.)

Thankfully TRL came through with that proposed vinyl box set, setting up pre-orders at the beginning of the month for a seven LP book that should be delivered before Christmas. Dropping $120 on the vast majority of Eluvium’s catalog (minus that split LP with Jesu, since it already appeared on vinyl, and Miniatures) made my stomach turn as I processed my pre-order, but at least I won’t feel guilty when I see CD copies of Talk Amongst the Trees at Newbury Comics. Given that this is a limited edition of 1000 and TRL followers hoard vinyl like gemstones (I’ve seen the 2LP of Tarentel’s From Bone to Satellite near $100 on eBay), I anticipate it selling out before long. Here are the details of the pressing:

Each record is packaged in its own full-color jacket, featuring exquisite new artwork from Jeannie Lynn Paske, drawn exclusively for this set. The seven jackets are then bound into a beautiful dark green hardbound, linen-cover book, with metallic gold foil stamping and embossed text on the spine, and a beautiful full-color print embossed into the front cover. The inside front cover includes a removable old-fashioned library card, complete with personalized signatures from the artists and designers involved in the creation of this package. The final name on the library card will belong to the purchaser, hand-written and dated when purchased. The inside back cover includes a mind-blowing 12x36" foldout double-sided full-color poster insert, featuring more artwork from Ms. Paske.

Other notes gleaned from the TRL forum thread on the release: the individual albums will not get separate vinyl pressings in the future; each record will be 140 grams, since 180 gram LPs would rip through the packaging; “Behind Your Trouble,” the song from Eluvium’s Travels in Constants EP, was too long to fit on a side of vinyl and was not included; and TRL has a miniscule profit margin on this release. I wish more bands and labels rewarded fans’ patience this well.

The Slow Trickle of Ghost Wars Songs Continues

Arlie Carstens of Ghost Wars, image appropriated from MySpace

Ghost Wars, Arlie Carstens' post-Juno project with Eric Fisher of Damien Jurado's band, added two more songs to its MySpace page, bringing the grand total to six. The newest entries are "Divide and Conquer," a Hüsker Dü cover that “we slowed it down till it sounds like a Nick Drake song,” and "The Conductor," a lingering piano ballad. To those scoring at home, two more songs recallling the spacious feel of Juno's "The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow" and Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, like previous Ghost Wars songs "Virginia Long Exhale" and "Lay Down Your Weapons." If you're hoping for a Juno-esque guitar epic, have patience: I understand that more guitar-centric tracks wait in the wings.

If this glacial release of music seems cruel, here's a brief recap of why there isn't a tangible copy of Ghost Wars music in my (or your) hands right now: Carstens and Fisher had recorded the album on Fisher's laptop, which was stolen from him at a Jurado show in Toronto. The back-up external hard drive had data corruption issues, leaving them with raw, unorganized data. (Whether I would buy an album of such sounds is debatable.) Given that the project involves a wide variety of collaborators in a number of locales, the process of re-recoding this material has been arduous, but Carstens and company have been back in the studio several times since the hard drive disaster.

I'm still holding out a spot on my year-end list—whichever year it may be—for the (hopefully) inevitable Ghost Wars LP, given the strength of the available tracks, but I do wonder how much longer I'll have to wait.

Errors Album Details

Electronic post-rockers Errors have finally announced the details of their forthcoming full-length, It Is Not Something, But It Is Like Whatever. Ten tracks, including "Salut! France," come out later this spring on Rock Action. They've uploaded an album preview of sorts to their MySpace account, which consists of a high-hat only version of one of the songs. I can only imagine that this is a first.

Amazing comment from Mogwai guitarist and Rock Action impresario Stuart Braithwaite: "I think we might need to have wee chat about that album title boys."

New Bottomless Pit Songs and Album (Plus Bonus Site Update)

Here’s a heads-up for Silkworm/Bottomless Pit fans: Bottomless Pit has three new songs streaming from their MySpace page. All three are Tim Midgett vocals, which is a bit surprising given the even split of the four tracks from the band’s CD-R (and the usual Midgett/Andy Cohen equilibrium on Silkworm records), but hardly a detriment given the songs’ uniform excellence. “Leave the Light On” is my immediate favorite, a dynamic, emotional rave highlighted by a closing flurry of guitar, but “Repossesion” and “Winterwind” both bring back some of Midgett’s usual vigor. Think his peppier numbers from Libertine with more of an ’80s New Order approach. The forthcoming album, Hammer of the Gods, will feature eight songs and will soon be available for preorder on double LP (with two songs per side at 45 rpm), so keep an eye out for it. Given that I’ve heard seven of the eight tracks, there isn’t much mystery left to unveil, but these new songs solidify the album’s place in my year-end thinking.

In unrelated news, I hope to finally implement some long-awaited changes to this site in the next few weeks. This will involve a server change, so if the site is down for a day or two, there’s your explanation. After the server change, I should have “clean” urls for all articles, meaning that awkward page names like index.php?id=68 will be a thing of the past. Additionally, I hope to make the archives considerably easier to navigate by differentiating some of my lazy category headings (like the nearly 30 posts I have under “music”), adding a specific archive pages, and maybe, just maybe, giving my photography actual pages. Other hopes/dreams that will more likely not come to fruition: a new (or at least modified) site design, more ongoing memes like iPod Chicanery, an update of my best of the 2000s, and a personal top 100 of the 1990s.