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The neo-retro-AM-pop-sincere-yet-tougue-in-cheek duo of She & Him have put out out a Christmas record and that makes perfect sense. Especially when the album sounds like it was transported from the late 60's/early 70's sonic landscape where Doris Day or Jim Neighbors would feel right at home. The songs of She & Him are not just wry retro-updates though, they bring a modern sensibility that keeps the songs grounded in the twenty-tens (the future!). And on their new album, A Very She & Him Christmas the songs work much the same way. The lackadaisical vocal delivery of Zooey Deschanel works nicely on many songs, like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but album opener, The Christmas Waltz sounds almost like an out take from "Elf", especially with the minimal instrumentation. Things finally start to roll when M. Ward takes over the lead vocals with Deschanel on harmony on Christmas Wish. The song sounds more complete and satisfying, heck it even has bass and drums! The whole affair is pleasant enough--you almost get the feeling that you’re at an intimate Hollywood party, where Deschanel (the real movie and TV actress) is cajoled into singing around the fire, and “hey look, Ward brought his guitar!” Sleigh Ride and Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree even manage to sound peppy as the party moves on into the night. Then, Silver Bells brings the affair back down again with an echo-laden vocals accompanied by ukelele. I have many versions of Baby It's Cold Outside, and this one fares fairly well with the classics. The duo even manage to make it their own, but any sexual innuendo from earlier versions is stripped away, leaving a jaunty, whistling sing-along. But, I'll take the Dean Martin version, thank you. Elvis’ Blue Christmas is tough to top, but She & Him do their best, and the intimacy really works here. You can almost imagine you’re at that Hollywood Holiday party ...

There’s maybe no other musician that can match Tom Waits’ unparalleled track record. Album by album, and yes, track by track he’s been one of the most consistent artists over the last 30+ years. So, it's easy to take each new recording for granted – when you first put a new Waits’ album on you just know it’s going to be good. But, damn if his recent records don't keep getting better and better as he refines his sound and craft. Strange or maybe not so strange, Tom Waits has seldom had any "hits". At his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past Spring, he dead-panned, “They say I have no hits and that I'm difficult to work with ...

Can you believe it's already December? I certainly can’t! If you do need proof that the year is almost over though, let me point you to the plethora of Best of 2011 lists popping up all over the internet. Based on these lists, 2011 was a year hard to peg down. There was no discernable genre, style or band that became overly pervasive (the year of Gaga?) and many of the lists published so far look quite different from each other. The editors and writers at Smells Like Pop are working hard on their lists and checking them twice--we'll let you know soon who's been naughty and nice! For now, take a look at these: NPR Music's 50 Favorite Albums Of 2011 The Portable Infinite's Top Albums of 2011 MetaCritic's Best Debut Albums of 2011 – The Freshmen 15 Stereogum's Top 50 Albums of 2011 MetaCritic's Round-up of Critic's Best of Lists Rolling Stone's Best Albums of 2011 – Take it with the usual grain of salt! NME's (leaked) Best Albums of 2011 Uncut's (leaked) Best Albums of 2011 Paste's 50 Best Albums of 2011 (they're still around?) Filter Magazine's Best Albums of 2011 Mojo's (leaked) Best of 2011 List Amazon.com's Best of 2011 Music Biggest surprise for me? Wilco...

The Whole Love from Wilco starts promising and ends OK. The first song on Wilco’s latest is called Art of Almost and it begins with noisy grinding electronic noise that sounds more like Radiohead than Chicago’s favorite “Americana” band. At just over seven minutes the song sets the stage for more musical exploration, but then I Might comes bouncing in with 60s’ era perky pop – all bap-bap-bap drums, farfisa organ and even a doo-doo-doo-doo chorus. The album proceeds to move around between genres and whilst almost all of the songs are better than good, the sum total experience didn't really stay with me long. I didn't want to play it again right away like previous Wilco albums. Rather I felt obligated to listen again to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Dawned On Me is a nice “Wilco” chugger that will offend no one, but it won’t be a hit either. Black Moon is soft, sad and pretty and puts their distinctive and reserved slide guitar to good use. Born Alone, Open Mind are earnest but non-essential Wilco songs. And then, Capitol City pops on and sounds immediately like the title track to the latest Pixar movie. I actually had to look at the song title and think back to recent animated movies to see if this was indeed from a kids' movie soundtrack (it’s that corny). Standing O gets loud with a big 70s guitar riff, but doesn't get much farther than that, and Jeff Tweedy's voice sounds strained and submerged in the mix of hand-claps, and big lead guitars. The remainder of the songs are ones my Dad would certainly enjoy – they’re all likable, but not really lovable. Album closer One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) is a bit of standout mostly for the laid back delivery and playing, and the picked guitar refrain that repeats throughout. But dang if that piano couldn't be found on Bruce Hornsby album. Taken as a whole The Whole Love takes its cue from the opening song as is ultimately the Art of Almost. Smells like: [rating=7] ...

Interview by Alexander Laurence / Photo by Angel Ceballos

Anika aka Annika Henderson used to be a political journalist and travel back and forth between Bristol and Berlin. She also went to college in Wales at some point and organized shows there and was a DJ too. As she was booking and promoting bands for clubs in Wales , Anika decided to try out for a band Beak> that was looking for a singer. The fellows in Beak> decided to stay instrument and to create a whole new record with Anika. They recorded the Anika in twelve days with no overdubs. They picked a bunch of cover songs including “Terry” by Lynn Ripley, “End of The World” by Skeeter Davis, “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan, “I Go To Sleep” by The Kinks, and “Yang Yang” by Yoko Ono. There were a few original songs like “No One’s There” and more. The stark confrontational style was very apparent. Anika was in the US early this year as a DJ. But now she is touring with a full band and even playing some festivals like ATP and Moog Fest. I got to speak with Anika right before she started her tour in America. AL: How are the shows going? Anika: We had one so far at Le Poisson Rouge in New York. It has been going reasonably well. We are on are way to Princeton. We are playing with Factory Floor and Dirty Beaches. We added a show at Glasslands since we are coming back to NYC anyway. We have toured extensively in Europe. We played a lot of festivals in Spain, France, and Switzerland. It’s harder to come over here because you have to deal with visa issues. AL: How has the response been to music? Is there much difference in playing France and America? Anika: It depends on what people like. You get cultural differences across France the same way you do across America. It will be interesting to see what happens when we play different parts of America. It was a surprise to see how exciteable New Yorkers were the other night. We will see how the LA shows goes. AL: I heard that people were yelling out between songs in New York? Anika: Yes. It was mental. It was crazy. AL: When many English bands come over here, it’s often singers like Coldplay and Keane. It’s like emotional English ballads…. When someone doesn’t do something like that…. Anika: Actually some of our songs are based on stuff that Keane and Coldplay do. We want that kind of atmosphere. It’s great.

For those unfamiliar with one of Portland’s more prominent bands, it may be surprising that Talkdemonic has gone so far while forgoing the presumed necessity of employing a lead singer. Rather than relying on vocals as a counter-point to their musical meanderings, the band (Kevin O’Connor and a host of instruments) placed a spirited viola player (Lisa Molinaro) at center-stage, relying on the lyricism of the instrument to bring balance and warmth to the cool leanings of the band’s electronic heart. From the start, they captivated audiences, earning Willamette Week’s number one band designation in 2005 (with more than double the votes of the next contender, the none-too-shabby Viva Voce). Now, after a tour with Modest Mouse and most recently with the passionate Handsome Furs, the band is set to release its fourth full-length album next week with Ruins, confirming that the band’s novelty is also the source of its durability. Within the first minutes of immersion into the newest album, one is struck with the sense that the band is aiming to forge a new path for themselves. Their approach has been dubbed “folktronic” in the past, a label highlighting the genre-bending tension in their work, and which more or less effectively depicts a sound encountered in the band’s last two albums. With Ruins, however, the band dumps the first half of the label--perhaps a wise move given that you can’t throw a stick in their home city right now without hitting someone in a folk-something band. This new effort is more fully in the realm of electronica, albeit a rootsy one, as in hearkening back to the roots of the form in Kraftwerk and Neu!. The first song of the album, “Slumber Verses,” launches with foreboding in stark and spare synth sounds before ushering in the familiar somberness of the viola, and then grinds it all down in a shower of sparks and distortion. The dark effect continues through the title track, then changes course in “Revival,” showcasing a lighter tone, the viola lilting in a float from left speaker to right and back again. Where the album lingers in simplicity, with percussion from a basic drum kit, most often electronic undertones suggest something more complex and concerning. “Cascading” is aptly named, evoking a waterfall soundscape, while “Midnight Pass” is dark and brooding, electric guitar (or amped up viola?) adding a touch of menace. At the end, “Palace Walk” brings out the sum of the elements, weaving it all together for a lovely jaunt. With all the depth of the album, I am once again struck by the sense that Talkdemonic has had to work harder than most to create their sound. Where many bands distract the listener from simpler instrumentation with their vocal tracks, Talkdemonic adds layer upon layer of synthesized and acoustic sounds to create richness. I can imagine that some might fault the album"s Autobahn-esque style; one could also point out that “City Sleep,” for instance, starts out more than a little like a fellow Portland band’s “Godless.” But...

There's a lot of new music preview streaming out there on the interwebs right now, and many of them are sounding quite nice. There's going to be some great releases this month! But, before we get into the list o' links, here's a cool new video from Portland's Nurses, filmed and edited by the band: I've said this before, but the NPR Music site (National Public Radio--the one the Republican's want to destroy) is awesome. There's so much great new music streaming that it could easily be your primary source for music news. And new stuff is constantly being added. What's there right now? The new Wilco album, The Whole Love. I've only listened once, but the Wilco gang are getting experimental again and it sounded great. Next up? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is finally back with fourth album, Hysterical and it's a nice return to form capturing the energy and spirit of their acclaimed first album with a more nuanced sense of control and song craft. Check it out! There's so much more to listen to at the NPR site (like Harold Budd, Neon Indian, the Tiny Desk Concert Series, and the streaming radio show from Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton) but let's finish here with the new LP from St. Vincent – Strange Mercy. It's everything you'd expect from Annie Clark – edgy and intense music, beautiful vocals, and haunting imagery all blended together to make great songs, and a great new album. Want to stream entire new albums by Wild Flag, Eleanor Friedberger, The Music Tapes, or The Ladybug Transistor? Well, lucky for you they are all on super-cool label, Merge Records founded by members of super-cool band Superchunk. Happy Streaming! – SLP...

The daytime MusicFest NW shows broadcast live on KEXP have been great so far, and since I had my kids with me and the shows are all ages, I decided to bring 'em along. My son’s opening soccer game took precedence in the afternoon, so unfortunately we missed the Antlers noon-time set. Avi Buffalo was playing next, so after some cajoling, arm twisting and watching a couple of videos of the band, we hit the Doug Fir. I have to admit it was kind of fun showing the kids around the venue that I normally only visit late at night. We got some ice waters and settled into the lounge in back for the 30 minute set. Avi Buffalo as a band are young, and really just kids themselves, but the songs written by Avi Zahner-Isenberg (many recorded in his home studio) have  traces and seedlings of many older artists carried within – musicians like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and even the Pixies (Avi was wearing a Pixies t-shirt). The "pop" songs were all very pleasant and sometimes more complex as both time and chord changes borrowed from jazz crept into the mix, especially on their final song. All in all, the kids liked the show – my son even a little more than my daughter. I think she saw through my clumsy attempts at getting her to start music lessons again by pointing out the cool drummer and bassist, both girls. Not the kids first concert (that was X/Knitters when they were just wee-nippers) but a fun afternoon of music. Afterwards we walked across the driveway to the MFNW Poster Show where poster artists from all over were selling limited edition concert posters – groovy stuff, though some might have been rated PG-13. Avi Buffalo's debut, self-titled  album is out now on SubPop....

Actually, there was nothing horrible about the 30 minute mid-morning set by UK goth-synth-shoegaze-pop phenom, The Horrors. Except that it could have been a little longer and the drums could have been a little softer. The Horrors wear their myriad influences proudly on their stylish sleeves, often times sounding (add looking) like the more up-beat cousins of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They combine vintage synths, throbbing bass and fuzzed-out wall-of-guitar in a style all their own, while still feeling like the latest band in an evolutionary progression of british rock. See them tonight at Midnight at Dante's. Really. Go see them--they’re great live. [gallery link="file" columns="6" orderby="rand"] ...