I'd seen Mia Doi Todd

I'd seen Mia Doi Todd five or six times before last night and, save for one exception, her shows had been strictly solo affairs. I think that's a big part of why they'd been consistently great. Vocal melodies and inflections are at the center of her older music, and the spare accompaniment at the shows - usually just quiet acoustic guitar or piano - let her voice carry everything live. It worked quite well. When a band entered the picture on The Golden State and its release party at the Fez, it felt forced. The instruments were getting in the way of her voice on the older songs, recast for TGS.

Last night was the second time I've seen Mia play with a band, and it was much better. Her set focused on the just-released Manzanita and the extra musicians feel much more natural on the new songs. Though the vocals aren't as ambitious, the songs are more fleshed out with little details like the handclaps on "Tongue-Tied" going a long way live. The older songs were stripped down as usual, with Zeroone's "Merry Me" and "Poppy Fields" ending the show beautifully. Overall I didn't find myself as consumed by the live show as usual, but I sense the new approach may make for more interesting studio efforts.

I was really impressed with The One AM Radio's opening set. The rich sound of Hrishikesh Hirway's guitar really hangs in the air live - lots of reverb perhaps, but don't quote me - and he also sings a good distance away from the mic. The net effect would be to give it all a very "far away" sound - except that the rest of band (stand-up bass, 1-2 violins, the occasional saw) feels very immediate. The contrast works really well, especially with glitchy laptop beats also in the mix. 33.3's old drummer Steve Walls joined in for a couple songs, which was a nice surprise. I've seen The One AM Radio a few times, and each has been better than the last. I'm excited to see where they go next.

The Wind-Up Bird (AKA Joseph Grimm) started the night with what was actually my favorite set. Grimm also used to play in 33.3 and Arcaro (who could ROCK), and The Wind-Up Bird sounds nothing like either of them. In this Stylus interview, he mentions Fennesz and early Oval as influences and you could definitely hear it. His set was basically one long laptop piece, slowly building from a few slight sounds to a dense web of noise with live vocals throughout. He was set up in the center of the floor, and everyone was sitting around him. I'd never seen anything like it at the Mercury Lounge, but it was essential to hear his quadraphonic setup - speakers were mounted in all four corners of the room. With the sounds swirling around, it was pretty damn cool. I've listened to his 2003 full-length Whips three times today, and I like it a lot. I'll be at his next NYC show for sure.

Mia Doi Todd will be playing the Mercury Lounge tonight to promote her new record Manzanita, just released on Plug Research. Early word on the album has me excited to hear it, but I wouldn't be nearly as big a fan of Mia's music if not for her live shows. Though her studio efforts are certainly good, only sometimes have they captured the magic that runs through her music live - 1999's Come Out Of Your Mine and her Dntel collaboration come to mind. Her uniquely beautiful voice is amazing to hear in person, especially with her stripped-down arrangements. You can stream excerpts of Manzanita here, though the sound quality seems a little shoddy. This MP3 of Come Out Of Your Mine's "Spring" sounds better, but it can't match the real thing. Mia goes on at 10:30.

The One AM Radio (AKA Hrishikesh Hirway) will be one of the opening acts tonight. I'm not sure if he will be playing with his band or not, but Hrishi's recent music has married the hushed balladry of Iron and Wine with glitchy beats - as you can hear on "Untied" (MP3) from his great last record A Name Writ In Water. He's currently promoting On the Shore of the Wide World, an EP of remixed songs from that album. It features an impressive cast of collaborators, including Daedelus, John Tejada, and Caural. He goes on at 8:30.

Pop springs

I think I can safely say I've probably heard most of the "big" albums released in 2004: Fiery Furnaces, Arcade Fire, Interpol, Wilco, etc. And I'm confident that I listened to enough '04 albums to come up a respectable, if obligatory, top 10 list. But I continue to discover other great 2004 releases that I passed over for one reason or another or just discovered recently. A few days ago I wrote about Engineers and their excellent Folly EP, released in September. Today I'm listening to The Marlboro Chorus and their highly enjoyable second album Youth Medium.

Marlboro Chorus are a four-piece from Davenport, Iowa who've released a couple of EPs and two full-length albums. In almost every article I've read about them, the sound of Elephant Six collective is dropped as a reference point. So if you're a fan of that sound, you should check these guys out.

While I often struggle to describe a band's sound without resorting to comparisons (as I did above), bands themselves often skip the whole attempt and venture into free association rambles. Marlboro Chorus's record label, Future Appletree has a particularly interesting example of this:

Pop springs...from the most unlikely of places. Under cushions, under chairs, in stories from old women and dogs.

Pop finds these four gentlemen on the prowl for crafty songs, materialized from wood and electric power (120 vac). B. Patric, "The Emperor" Justinian, Rudie Reyhons, and Rick. Guitaring, drumming, tinkling pianoesques, and crooning. See ourselves, our silly lots, our sad story. Slice together, mix, and seperate. Together they sing and bang, wax and waxer, travelling the amateur sailing circuit in search of inspiration. From canvasses full of wind to the drunken captains everywhere, the song is the song...pop springs...The Marlboro Chorus

I don't know what this tells me about the band, but it sure sounds fun.