album review: two cow garage – the death of the self preservation society

two cow garage @ local 506

The new Two Cow Garage starts off with a blast of static and feedback, before it gallops into opening track “The Little Prince and Johnny Toxic”, and what may very well be their finest album to date. Over the last few albums, Two Cow has polished their recording sound up, and one of my favorite things about The Death Of The Self Preservation Society is the raggedness of all of it. There’s little “cow” left in the pounding garage punk sound of these songs, with the guitars almost overwhelming Micah’s vocals in some places. That’s almost a shame, as I think it shows off how Micah’s songwriting has matured and grown. Every track on this record is double speed, Micah spitting out the words and waiting for the guitars to crash in and spit and flail in the same way.

are you, are you growing up or just growing old

It isn’t that this record is louder than previous Two Cow records; Two Cow is always loud. It’s not that Micah sounds as if he’s been gargling whiskey and broken glass even more than usual. It’s that there’s a rawness to the music that hasn’t been in the last two albums, and that rawness carries with it a sense of power, an idea that this album could be less ragged edges, more clean-cut production. What impresses me most about the raw feel of The Death Of The Self-Preservation Society is how purposeful and contained it makes the music feel. That shouldn’t make any sense, or shouldn’t be, but it is: the rawness feels deliberate, and the deliberation and preciseness of this album feels wild. It’s circular and it’s a testament to how good Two Cow are at songwriting and orchestration. A wild, ragged album can be a mess; this is a wild, ragged masterpiece.

Self-Preservation Society is shot through with a lot of the issues that crop up in Micah’s songwriting — less so in Shane’s, but not entirely not there — about mortality, and fear, and the power of wanting to live and having to struggle to get there. It’s all drugs and self-destruction and the title is apt: when you stop taking care of yourself, these rough anthems to staying alive at any cost are what you have, and they have a beauty in themselves. It’s an album I connect to deeply right now, as all of Two Cow’s albums have been at various points in my life, and I think it’s not only their best album thus far, I think it’s the most honest. It’s particular honest when the band slows down for the stunning “Mantle In ’56”, which will definitely be the centerpiece of my baseball mix next spring — an open, slowed down ode to the messes we make of our 20s, with a juke joint piano line that underscores the pain and the truth.

Two Cow always stuns me with their records, because they just keep getting better, and they just keep growing and moving forward in their music. We’re all still making messes of our lives, but Two Cow Garage is writing albums that help me figure out how to clean those messes up.

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two sentences reviews of reasonably new albums i listened to in july

the dune dogs @ berkeley cafe

Two Cow Garage — The Death of the Self-Preservation Society: not out until September, and obviously given my history there will be a big fat wordy full review later, but basically, if you’ve never heard of Two Cow Garage, this record is about to find you your newest favorite band, and there’s not a band out there that deserves huge fat success for a genius record — their sixth full length, but never mind, it’s okay you’ve been wasting your time all these years, you’re here now — more than Two Cow.

Will Schwartz — New Haircut: if Lousiana novelist Walker Percy made a stripped down acoustic album that’s just vocals and steel and melancholy fingerpicked guitar, it would be this record by Will Schwartz — it’s a deceptively simple and stripped down EP that packs an enormous punch, like Percy’s novels. Simply language and simple sounds that are absolutely rip-your-heart-from-your-chest when you listen closely. This is one of my best totally random discoveries this year thus far. Get it.

Tedo Stone — Good Go Bad: sultry, swampy eletronica-soul; a little psychadelic and a lot all over the place, but in a great way. A record that has depths and that it took me a long time to really grasp; it’s smart and the orchestration and writing are complex and unique. I’m really smitten by this record, actually — something about the piano and the organ and the guitars and the distorted vocals just sings to my soul. Get it from This Is American Music here.

The O’s — Thunderdog: deeply earnest — but not uncharmingly earnest — banjo heavy roots rock. There’s a bit of early Old 97s to the rhythms of the songs, and a bit of the Band, and a bit of my beloved Jones Street Station on their first record. There’s a lot of influences and styles going on, and some work better than others, but none fail; all of the tracks on this record have at least one thing, and most have more, to recommend them. The songwriting is strong, and I think could get stronger. I’d like to see them live, see how some of these songs go over in front of an audience.

Kent Goolsby — Trophies of Youth: good old-fashioned honky tonk, and spectacular, hook-filled songwriting, from the ex-Only Songs frontman. This skips and sings with steel and slide and twang, and is truly one of those records from this year that’s going to be missed by loads of people who would love it, but don’t know about it. So now you know about it.

two cow garage @ local 506

two cow garage @ local 506

two cow garage @ local 506

two cow garage @ local 506

Setlist: Lucy & the Butcher Knife / Sally I’ve Been Shot / Glass City / Should’ve California / Gerri / Folksinger’s Heart / Soundtrack To My Summer / Humble Narrator / [new song – “rich girl”] / Come Back To Shelby / No Shame / Mediocre / Swingset Assassin / [new song – growing up or just growing old] / Bastards & Bridesmaids / / [this was a cover? maybe?] / My Great Gatsby / Skinny Legged Girl

micah schnabel — i’m dead, serious

micah schnabel @ slim's

Micah Schnabel — I’m Dead, Serious. Out now.

In case you’re unfamiliar with my feelings about Micah Schnabel and his songwriting, you might want to go spend some time with the thousand words I spent on his first solo record, When The Stage Lights Go Dim, or the second thousand I spent on Two Cow Garage’s 2010 release Sweet Saint Me.

I thought about just turning on the camera on patti lee, my iMac, and filming a ten minute video of me waving my hands like an idiot, in lieu of this review, but while that might have conveyed how desperately I adore it, it wouldn’t have necessarily conveyed how fucking brilliant Micah is on this one, every single lyric and every single musical choice. I’ve always compared Micah to Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem, because they’re both terribly clever songwriters, sometimes too smart for their own goods, and definitively prone to dropping as many references as possible in their songwriting. It’s one of the few complaints I’ve repeatedly heard about Gaslight’s 2008 masterpiece The ’59 Sound, that it’s too clever, too much wearing of influences on a sleeve, but I love it for that, because Brian Fallon does it flawlessly. Brian Fallon can get away with that.

So can Micah, maybe even moreso than Brian can.

Continue reading “micah schnabel — i’m dead, serious”

micah schnabel @ tir na nog

micah schnabel @ tir na nog

There aren’t a lot of people for whom I’d drive to Raleigh, to see them play a 45 minute set, on a weeknight; maybe four or five bands of the 2500 in my iTunes, and two or three solo acts to boot. But Micah Schnabel (and his band Two Cow Garage) is one of them, because Micah is one of the best songwriters working today, and also one of my favorite people. He didn’t disappoint last night — he’s doing a handful of fly-by-night solo dates in early promotion of his second solo record, the upcoming I’m Dead, Serious, and last night’s set was primarily songs from that disc. (Record out sometime this fall on Suburban Home Records. Whenever Micah finds art that is bloody enough for his taste, I would assume.) Y’all know that I flat-out adored Micah’s 2009 solo debut When The Stage Lights Go Dim, and I think this new one, if the songs he played last night are any indication, is going to be amazing.

He’s also the only person in my life who would write a love song and called it “Sid & Nancy”, and that’s only one reason why this album is going to be fantastic. The rest of it has to do with the way Micah writes upbeat songs about functionally terrible relationships and broken hearts and the way that being a musician fucks you up immeasurably but kind of in a good way. Seriously, he’s fantastic, and if you don’t believe me, go pick up last year’s Two Cow album Sweet Saint Me, which was my 2010 album of the year by a large margin.

If Micah’s solo disc isn’t in my top three this year, you guys might want to check and see if I’m dead. (Full set here.)

two cow garage @ kings

two cow garage @ kings

My beloved Two Cow Garage is touring as a three piece these days; subtract the keys, and their punk rock roots — and I wrapped myself up in Black Flag and I flew it as my own — start showing in a completely obvious way. They played for a scorching hour last night, Micah and Shane throwing themselves all over that big stage and Cody behind the drums, grinning like a jack-o-lantern and keeping them both on pace and under control.

I kept a setlist but then I dropped my phone and popped the battery out before I hit save in Evernote, so I lost it. But I can tell you that they did “Swingset Assassin”, a gorgeous almost a capella version, and “Should’ve California”, which made me cry, two of my favorite of Micah’s songs that they don’t drag out much these days. The crowd was still too small, but too small does mean “Two Cow takes requests”, which I never complain about. They sounded fantastic, as always. They’re great humans, as always. It was a lovely, lovely night.

Full photo set here.

top ten shows of 2010

superchunk @ the cradle

Today kicks off a couple of year end lists; tomorrow you’ll get EPs and tracks, and next week, a massive list of albums the making of which may make me more insane than usual, but which will be thorough if nothing else. Today, though: today you get my Top 10 Live Shows of 2010.

I saw 72 shows in 2010; less than 2009, but more than 2008. And, to my great delight, I didn’t see a single show I would say was a bad show, either. So making this list was hard; after the top five, all of which were standouts, there was a whole pack that could have populated 6-10. Some of these shows are here because of both the sets played and the nights themselves. And Brian & Dave have sat at the top of the list since January, when they were the first show I saw in 2010. Here’s hoping that I get to kick 2011 off with some shows as amazing.

(Not included: the 10th Annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Because Bristol is so far and away more amazing than anything else I do at any point in the year. And no single show can ever compete with a Bristol lineup. Even if I did get punched during the Truckers’ set this year.)

  1. Brian Fallon & Dave Hause solo acoustic at the Black Cat, Washington, DC. This was my comfort go-to live set all year; Brian’s opening monologue about marriage and not cheating us out of our ticket price would have sold me, but the cover of “Ball & Chain” at the end, ugh.
  2. Two Cow Garage w/ Dave Hause at Kings Barcade, Raleigh, NC. The band that put out my favorite album of 2010, plus Dave Hause, who we are all learning is essential to good things happening. Needs more Dave Hause everywhere.
  3. Justin Townes Earle w/ Caitlin Rose at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. Startling and stunning and gorgeous.
  4. Drive-By Truckers two-night stand at the Lincoln, Raleigh, NC. After these two sets, I smelled like beer for three days and felt like Mike Cooley had been punching me in the face all weekend. In the best way.
  5. The National w/ Owen Pallett at Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC. For the a cappella set-closing version of “Vanderlyle Cry-baby Geeks” alone, but also for everything else.
  6. Ha Ha Tonka opening for Rocky Votolato at Local 506, Chapel Hill, NC. An opening set on this list? Yes. I’d been waiting more than a year to see them, and they were so far and away better than I had even hoped for, it made my heart soar.
  7. Superchunk at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. The album release show was more polished, but lurching, deep-cut-playing, shaking-off-the-rust Superchunk was more fun.
  8. Stroke It, Noel: a Fully Orchestrated Performance of Big Star’s Third at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. Break my heart, why don’t you.
  9. Malarkeygras w/ American Aquarium, Red Collar & Paleface at the Pour House, Raleigh, NC. The cover of “Thunder Road” that night was why I live where I live.
  10. Frightened Rabbit w/ Maps & Atlases & Bad Veins at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. Hearing “My Backwards Walk” live was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.

Behind the jump, one photo from each show, except the Brian/Dave show, because I didn’t shoot it; the only show I didn’t shoot all year. Instead, you get a photo of Dave Hause from the Two Cow set. Substitution!

Continue reading “top ten shows of 2010”