New Musics: James Vincent McMorrow

I’m not particularly fond of Ray LaMontagne and the bearded-troubadour-types. (Yeah, I get it — you look like a lumberjack but sing like Smokey Robinson.)

On three separate occasions, I’ve fumbled to bring up the Shazam song-identifying app on my iPhone only to find I was hearing this song (again). Enjoy “This Old Dark Machine” by James Vincent McMorrow.

The Spill Canvas: Here’s to the Home Team


Sioux Falls' The Spill Canvas is (from left) Dan Ludeman, Joe Beck, Nick Thomas and Landon Heil


Sioux Falls, South Dakota is hardly a hotbed for upcoming rock bands. Not for lack of effort, but it’s a community which fails to support young talent, be it musical, athletic or otherwise.

In fact, it wasn’t so long ago the mother of a highly recruited basketball player from Sioux Falls told the local newspaper, “We tend to eat our young.” It’s true. Whenever someone from Sioux Falls shows promise, the skeptics and cynics come out in droves.

The Spill Canvas somehow emerged from Sioux Falls as an altnernative band with major breakthrough potential. The four members — with whom I went to high school — dabbled in other bands before hopping aboard lead singer Nick Thomas’ pet project. The Spill Canvas, in a span of a few years, grew from Thomas’ coffee house solo set to a viable mainstream act with TRL appearances to boot.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I’ve known Thomas since we were pee-wee football teammates and bassist Landon Heil and I go back to games of NBA Jam in his basement during grade school. I never really knew guitarist Dan Ludeman, who was a year older, but I knew Joe Beck as the kid who dominated talent shows and pep rallies with his drum solos. Does they make me a homer? Absolutely.

But you can also consider me among one of the original skeptics. Not for lack of faith, but before The Spill Canvas, Sioux Falls had never seen a local band go from talent-show stages to having their one-story mugs plastered on MTV Studios in Times Square. I root for underdogs, but I never actually bet on them.

The Spill Canvas is the exception.

I met up with the guys after their show Tuesday night at the Hawthorne Theatre in Portland, Ore. and discussed the future of the band with drummer Joe Beck. Here’s what you need to know from our conversation:

They make themselves available. Thanks to strong social media savvy, The Spill Canvas are accessible by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. They’re posting photos on Twitter on a daily basis, along with giving away tickets to their shows. YouTube has been something of a TSC News Network — if there’s a big announcement, the guys take to their trusty digital camcorder and post it online. They are connected to their growing fan base.

This ain’t your typical follow-up album. In fact, said follow-up album is a mythical thing at the moment. They’ve released two EPs — Abnormalities and Realities — in the past four months. Beck says their label, Warner Brothers, has gotten behind the smaller releases in a way that models the music industry in the 1940s and 1950s: Cut a few songs, take them on tour. Cut a few more songs, keep touring. These aren’t scraps and B-sides, either. The two EPs have been some of their best work as a band and tracks like “Our Song,” “Gateway Drug” and “Dust Storm” sounded exquisite live.

Being from Sioux Falls is good and bad. Beck acknowledged there was heavy eye-rolling a few years back when they band left Sioux Falls to better pursue their dreams. However, he points being established in Sioux Falls, SD is much more original than Los Angeles or Brooklyn. The band is proud to call Sioux Falls home. In fact, three of four members spent the past year and change in Sioux Falls while resting from touring and recording. (Beck lives in Nashville, Tenn. where his girlfriend is set to graduate from Belmont University.)

Fame hasn’t gone to their heads. The band has been touring together for almost six years, so pardon them if post-concert antics are kept to a minimum. After the show back at the Doug Fir Lounge, we stand around a fire pit and talk up-and-coming bands and artists. It’s a sedate conversation with a group of guys who look more like they survived another eight-hour shift at their work-a-day job. Then you remember they’re major label recording artists headlining a national tour. In a few months, they’ll be playing with the Goo Goo Dolls and Switchfoot. For all intents and purposes, these are the biggest celebrities I know and they couldn’t be more unassuming.

Most fans probably feel like they went to high school with a band like The Spill Canvas. I’m proud to say I did. They’ve quickly become one of my favorite bands, regardless of personal association. Beyond their music, I respect their hustle. They are a success story who come from a place where there’s all too few.

Weekend Soundtrack: The Heavy

It took a Cadillac commercial for me to discover hipster favorites Phoenix and their catchy single “1901.”

It took another car commercial — this one, for the Kia Sorento — to discover The Heavy.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I like to go through the top 200 albums on iTunes every Saturday. If there’s a band I haven’t heard of, I give them a listen. I clicked through a few songs from The Heavy’s album, The House That Dirt Built, and then I recognized this single from the Kia commercial.

I don’t get caught up in that fuss about “selling out.” Bottom line is their album is really, really cool. It’s a lot of dirty, funky, bluesy noisy rock that acts like kerosene poured on bad intentions. Makes me want to be a part of a heist or something.

Check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

Pass on the Sorento, though.

Must Hear Now: Broken Bells

Before you get to talking Grammys at the office today, check out the new single “The High Road” from Broken Bells, a super duo featuring James Mercer, the lead singer of The Shins, and producer Danger Mouse. This way, you can shift topics when your rube co-workers start waxing poetic about Taylor Swift for the six millionth time.

Also, fun thing to do on the Monday following the Grammys: Keep an eye on the iTunes Music Store. It’s always fun seeing who surges up the albums chart since so many people use the Grammys to gauge what’s “good” in music.

Weekend Soundtrack: Kid Cudi

When Kid Cudi pairs up with MGMT, only good things can happen.

Yeah, Cudi’s the consummate pothead and can’t go a song without pushing his pro-weed agenda, but “Pursuit of Happiness” features that big, whirling sound that made his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day a mainstay on every Top 100 list of 2009.

This song and album will improve your weekend by at least 13%.

Weekend Soundtrack: Phoenix

I’m late to the Phoenix party, but it’s true that their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was probably one of the best albums of 2009. (Hence, all the top 10 list mentions.) I’d heard their track “1901” in a Cadillac commercial, but for the most part, wrote them off as another hipster collective with tight jeans and bad intentions.

False. Phoenix is great.

They just might shake out to be the Kings of Leon of 2009. By that, I mean Phoenix isn’t exactly new on the scene, but this outstanding album will easily thrust them into the mainstream and win over the hearts of 16-year-old girls everywhere. I guess what I’m saying is if it works for the kids, it works for me.

It’s going to be a rainy one in Portland this weekend. This is my soundtrack for a rain-soaked weekend stuck in doors, spent cleaning and blogging and eating the same old same old with my good friend Chuck.

Have a listen. Buy the hype. As they so often say in Portland, “Cheers.”: