The Due Diligence: Cigarettes and Cynicism Will Only Get You So Very Far

Isaac Gillespie may be an evil mastermind. He looks sweet and unassuming, but I think it’s just a clever guise. You see, I listened to the title track from his forthcoming album with the Due Diligence, I Will Wreck Your Life, for the first time on Friday. By Saturday afternoon, I was walking around my apartment, singing the chorus… over and over again. I try to avoid direct comparisons between bands and songs, but “I Will Wreck Your Life” compares favorably to the Felice Brothers’ instant classic “Frankie’s Gun!” in that it is a shambling good time that makes you want to sing along, loudly, about terrible things.

Also featuring players Alex P, Jo Schornikow, Morgan Heringer, Ben Sadock, Colin Fahrner, IWWYL runs the course from twangy (“Antifolk Song”) to slinky (“Uncle Stephen”) and is a delight all-around with lyrics that can be simultaneously sweet and cynical. Here’s the catch: To give this album a physical release, Due Diligence need some help. They have a Kickstarter program to raise money for a vinyl pressing of IWWYL that is … Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Photog: A Few of My Favorite Things: Nerds and Novelty Songs


This is Jonathan Coulton performing at the High Line this past April. He is the uncrowned king of the nerdy novelty song. My iTunes informs me that his genre is “Unclassifiable” which I think is an unusual misspelling of “Awesome.” My personal favorites are Code Monkey, a love song for J. Alfred Programmer; Skullcrusher Mountain, in which a lovelorn mad scientist asks isn’t it enough that I ruined a pony, making a gift for you?; and Shop Vac, a tale of suburban disaffection and despair with a catchy sing-along chorus. I’m also really very fond of his cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Baby Got Back. Those last two might not be all that nerdy but they are a whole lot of fun.

The next song on my list of favorites, MMO RPG by Alex Greenwald (Mark Ronson and the Business Intl., Phantom Planet) – truly a piece of digital ephemera, as it is, for now, only available on YouTube – explores some of the philosophical complexities of on-line gaming:


I will confess I’m not actually … Continue reading

Skip James: Never get down this low no more

It was not Nehemiah Curtis James’, a.k.a. Skip, music that first sparked my fascination with the blues musician from Bentonia, Mississippi. I was skimming through a book I had just brought home from the library, a coffee table companion to the PBS American Roots Music series, when a full-page portrait stopped my hand. The man’s stare was hard, direct, uncompromising. It was a face that revealed no secrets but hinted at stories untold. I was transfixed.

At the time, my familiarity with James was relegated to other people’s interpretations of his songs, namely Chris Thomas King’s recording of “Devil Got My Woman” for the film O Brother, Where Art Though? and the Gutter Twins’ cover of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”. That was going to change right quick.

Born in 1902 on a plantation in the Jim Crow South, Skip James’ overall story is not much different from many of the other blues musicians and “songsters” of his time and place. From early on, he wavered between music, bootlegging and the church. In 1931, he auditioned for local record … Continue reading

Roadtrippin’: Sun Studio

Some people wouldn’t understand. This is not conceit on my part but an observation based on the fact that people were all around, but I was the only one standing at the glass wall, gazing in glaze-eyed wonder. I may or may not have pressed my face to the glass. I was at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and behind the glass was a mixing board from Sun Studio. I was imagining the hands that had turned those knobs and the music that had been monitored through that console. I was transfixed.

About ten years later, driving down Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, I grew giddy with excitement when I spied the huge (and impressively accurate) Gibson guitar sign that now marks the original home of that piece of unassuming equipment I had swooned over at the Rockhall. Walking up to the old storefront studio is a little like stepping into a time … Continue reading

Obsess Much? : The Black Keys, Rhythm method

When you’re a fan of a band who have more than a couple of albums, there will inevitably be an album in the discography that doesn’t hit you quite like the others. Maybe there are a couple of songs that make you groove, but this album usually gets relegated to the bottom of the pile, given only an occasional spin. You probably even have this with your favorite band, the band you would give blood for. For instance, my excessive-to-the-point-of-being-obsequious apologies to the Afghan Whigs, but 1965 is the Whigs album I pull out the least. Even less than Up In It. There, I said it.

The Black Keys have put out six full albums and three EPs, not including BlakRoc or Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s side projects, and Thickfreakness kept sitting at the bottom of my stack. Thickfreakness, their second album and the first released on Fat Possum Records, has some very strong tracks, undoubtedly (and one of the best titles of all time). The title track, “Set You Free” and their cover of “Have Love, Will … Continue reading

Hacienda: It’s Time to Shake Ya

Hacienda will be playing the Beachland Ballroom on Saturday, June 19, opening for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. You should go see them.

What, you need more than that? My say-so isn’t good enough? Fine, how about this.


Hacienda have shown up on NTSIB a couple of times before, in association with Dan Auerbach, but they deserve a little spotlight of their own. The band is comprised of the three Villanueva brothers – Rene, Abraham and Jaime – and their cousin Dante Schwebel and have been getting good buzz from People With Good Taste (like Hear Ya and Aquarium Drunkard). Their work with Auerbach – he has produced for them and took them on the road as his band for his solo tour – has surely helped them get noticed, but it’s their own talent that’s getting them talked about. If you are familiar with Dan Auerbach’s solo album Keep It Hid, it only takes a moment of listening to understand why Hacienda was the perfect choice for Auerbach’s touring band. They are steeped in a ‘60s … Continue reading

Obsess Much? : Dan Auerbach never stops

Okay, in terms of making this Cadillac Sky Week at NTSIB, this may be cheating a little, but since it’s my blog and you can’t stop me…

Dan Auerbach – of Akron, Ohio’s the Black Keys, if you don’t know by now – loves music. This may seem an obvious thing to say about a musician, but it’s more true of some than others. To quote the man himself from his Nonesuch feature page, “I’m pretty obsessed with making music and with recording, I’m always thinking about it. It drives my family crazy. But it’s what I do.” Auerbach likes being on both sides of the recording console and in his “spare” time, he lends his help, and his home studio, to a long list of bands. Here is a gathering of Auerbach-produced songs from bands ranging in vibe from bluegrass to blues to punk.

Cadillac Sky – Nashville, Tennessee

Obviously, we here at NTSIB love these guys and encourage you, again, to pick up their new album, Letters in the Deep, and catch them live if at … Continue reading

Ponderous Wank: Music as Identity

For better or for worse, music has become inextricably linked to identity and image. Bands in certain genres are automatically tagged with certain traits by listeners. A “sound” may be attributed to a band based on their geographical location – the Seattle sound, the Philly sound, etc. And skimming through a few band pages at MySpace, one will find it easy to determine the sound of many bands solely from the art and images displayed (tip: if you display individual, name-tagged images of each of your band members accompanied by a photo of the band in a “fun” pose together, you will probably not be mistaken for a particularly experimental or progressive act).

This image tagging trickles down to the listeners and is sometimes forcibly taken up by listeners. Kids seeking their identities will lock themselves in their rooms with music for hours and will often emerge outfitted in the trappings of the music they have found the most relatable to their life or to the life they want to have. Cliques are formed. The punk kids won’t … Continue reading

Rebirth of the Cool: Grown So Ugly

Back to the blues we go for this installment of Rebirth of the Cool.

The story of Robert Pete Williams echoes the story of many of the great bluesmen: born in Louisiana in 1914, Williams grew up poor and uneducated. He was discovered in Angola prison, while serving time for killing a man, by a pair of ethnomusicologists who pressured the parole board for a pardon. He played the 1964 Newport Folk Festival alongside the likes of “re-discovered” greats like Skip James, Son House and others, heralding the height of the 1960s blues revival.

“Grown So Ugly” is probably Williams’ best-known song, thanks to the next two acts we’ll talk about. Williams had a percussive style of guitar-playing and his singing style could call up the grit of Howlin’ Wolf one moment and the haunting falsetto of Skip James the next.

I’ve Grown So Ugly – Robert Pe…

In 1967, Captain Beefheart brought his Magic Band and his husky yelp to the song and turned it into a jazzy cry.

Grown So Ugly – Captain Beefhe…

The version recorded … Continue reading

Royal Bangs: We don’t know shit about cars.

I bumped into Patrick Carney the other day, and we got to chatting about music, as we are wont to do.

Pat said, “April, you have wicked taste in music: you should be listening to this band on my label. They’re called Royal Bangs, and they’re amazing.”

“Well, Pat,” said I, “you have good taste, too, so I will give them a spin.”

Then we hugged, and I returned home to download some Royal Bangs.

This is all true except the part where Patrick Carney and I know each other and have ever carried on a conversation.

(I know I’ve been giving a lot of space to Dan lately, but I think you are way rad, too, Pat. And I usually think drummers are nutbags.)

Both Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, the Black Keys, have great taste in music, and they use their knowledge and connections to get good music into your hands – Dan with his invitation-only studio Akron Analog and label Polymer Sounds, Pat with his label Audio Eagle.

When you listen to the player on the Audio Eagle MySpace page, … Continue reading