In the last year, Elf Power released a fine new album, as did Of Montreal, who I don't have to tell you have gotten absolutely huge in recent years. You couldn't turn on the TV without hearing Apples in Stereo on commercials for Samsung, Dodge and, now, Pepsi's rebranding; and The Music Tapes' Julian Koster, who released a Christmas album of music played exclusively on the singing saw (The Singing Saw at Christmastime, Merge, 2008), put together the first-ever Elephant 6 tour. Dubbed The Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour, the outing included members of the Olivia Tremor Control, the Gerbils and Elf Power; it was perhaps most notable for the re-emergence of Jeff Mangum, the genius-in-hiding behind Neutral Milk Hotel who performed a couple of that band's songs for the first time in years.
Back to The Music Tapes. Last year, the band released Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes, its second album, a full nine years after its debut. While most E6 bands use 4-track recorders and such, on its latest album, the band got crazy steampunk, recording elements on wax cylinder and "a 1930s Webster Chicago wire recorder." Koster has in the past invented mechanical machines to perform musical parts, and this time around, he's come up with the "7 Foot Tall Metronome" and the "Orbiting Human Circus Tapdancing Machine," referred to in The Music Tapes' bio as "new band members."
So, what does it sound like? Well, diehard E6 fans are probably used to the art damage on display on Clouds and Tornadoes, but for the rest, I imagine it might be a bit tough to get through. First, there is the issue of Koster's voice, which can be charitably described as a warble. And musically, it would be tough, I imagine, for anyone to describe this album without using the word "ramshackle." There's usually an acoustic guitar or banjo up front with Koster's vocals, and a variety of sounds--strings, horns, lots of singing saw--that drift in and out. Some songs crackle like the surface noise on an old piece of vinyl, prominently enough that the sound becomes something like an additional instrument. "The Minister of Longitude" is one of the most straightforward songs on the album, as it features drums, a chugging rhythm, something like a chorus and a nifty horns-and-drums breakdown, while "Tornado Longing for Freedom" is a bit more typical, as Koster strums his banjo like a guitar while singing a pretty, forlorn-sounding melody, and a mix of mostly indeterminate instruments swells and ebbs.
Given Koster's contributions to Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and their abundant musical and vocal similarities, it's tough to listen to The Music Tapes without thinking of Koster as a poor man's Jeff Mangum. But if you can resist that urge, and enter the proceedings with some patience, there's an awful lot worth discovering here.
The Music Tapes perform at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Friday, Feb. 13. Nana Grizol and Brian Dewan open the all-ages show at 9 p.m. Admission is $8. For more information, call 884-0874.
It all goes down at 10 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14, at Bsnsns Sawmills, 657 W. St. Mary's Road, No. C7. Admission is $3. For further details, head to the Sawmills MySpace page.
Last year, the pair released their own debut album, Fire Songs (Vanguard), of which Kristine Peashock wrote in these pages: "The melodic vocals and the pleasant, smooth instrumentation can lull one into a dreamlike state and belie the fact that there is actually some pretty masterful song-crafting going on. It's easy to not pay full attention to Fire Songs and instead just let Chandra and Leigh's voices wash over you. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on how you like your music: Do you prefer an electrical jolt, or a warm bath you ease into?"
Next week, the duo will release a new live EP, Live at Fingerprints (Vanguard), but before that, The Watson Twins will perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Friday, Feb. 13. Andrew Collberg and Cathy Rivers open the show starting at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8. For more info, call 798-1298.
The Derailers' latest album, last year's Guaranteed to Satisfy (Palo Duro), winningly adds some '60s-pop flourishes à la the Beatles to the mix, and you can expect to hear songs from it when the band performs next Thursday, Feb. 19. Mark Insley opens the show at 9 p.m., and admission is a 10-spot. Vaudeville is located at 110 E. Congress St. For more information, call 622-3535.
Straight outta Youngstown, Ohio (just like Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini), brothers Gil Mantera and Ultimate Donny comprise Gil Mantera's Party Dream, who perform mostly humor-filled, '80s-style-but-updated synth-pop, though they're not above a respectful cover of Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me." Oh, and they're hella fun live. They'll be at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, Feb. 18. Opening at 9 p.m. are locals 21 Pump Street and Mike Superhero, the self-proclaimed "Optimus Prime of lyrics and rhymes." Cover is five bucks; 622-8848.
Writing about The Ways We Try (Bar/None, 2006), the debut album from Philly-based folk-pop singer-songwriter Birdie Busch, the Village Voice called it "one of the slyest neo-folky records in recent memory, its blues loopy and eccentric, and its simple melodies often as inspired as Syd Barrett's." What they didn't mention was her lovely, crystalline alto, which will be on display as Busch makes her Tucson debut at The Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St., on Monday, Feb. 16. Also on the bill: Golden Boots and Naïm Amor. Things should start around 9 p.m. Admission is free for all ages, but tips are appreciated; 623-7621.
More notable shows this week: Blind Divine, Ensphere, The Static Session and Threefold Fate at Club Congress on Friday, Feb. 13; Band of Annuals, Leslie and the Badgers, and The Fell City Shouts at Plush on Sunday, Feb. 15; Joshua Radin, Meiko and Jesse Harris at Club Congress on Sunday, Feb. 15; the Rockstar Energy Drink Taste of Chaos Tour featuring Thursday, Four Year Strong, Bring Me the Horizon, Pierce the Veil, and Cancer Bats at the Rialto Theatre next Thursday, Feb. 19; Murder by Death, The Builders and the Butchers and Fake Problems at Club Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 17.