Interview - James Mercer, The Shins

With The Shins' recent fourth studio album Port Of Morrow currently positioned in the upper echelons of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, frontman James Mercer has plenty of reasons to be cheerful. It's not a bad turnaround for the group that saw their keyboard player and drummer depart in 2009, after Mercer sidelined the group to explore his electronic interests with producer Danger Mouse in side-project Broken Bells. Now the Shins is a full-time concern again, I caught up with the singer to find out why he wrote this record solo, what prompted the change in personnel and how he ended up writing parts of the album in Elliott Smith's old house.

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Welcome to Portlandia, where Sleater-Kinney meets Saturday Night Live

Portlandia is the TV sitcom taking the American indie scene by storm. Created by Carrie Brownstein – the cult hero behind punk bands Sleater-Kinney and more recently Wild Flag – with Saturday Night Live comedian Fred Armisen, the show has got the blogosphere talking thanks to guest appearances from the likes of St. Vincent, Joanna Newsom, Johnny Marr and The Shins' James Mercer. But with the show yet to hit British shores, what exactly is it?

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St. Vincent on Gossip Girl and the indie acts taking over teen TV

St. Vincent appeared in a special Valentine’s Day episode of Gossip Girl aired last night on American TV (13 February). A little digging online reveals she’s not the first of her kind to do so – in fact, there’s in fact a long history of indie acts appearing on teen soaps that includes the likes of The Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth and The Breeders. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from Robyn and Lady Gaga, both previous guests on the popular drama, but there’s something intriguing about seeing an artist as eclectic as Annie Clark rubbing shoulders with the show’s cast of whining socialites affluent teens. How did this happen? What draws acts to these programmes? And do these cameos, as some detractors claim, cheapen the music?

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Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

It is strange to think that in the early weeks of 2012, while Lana Del Rey was cranking blogosphere buzz up to near tinnitus-inducing levels, another pouting singer of washed-out piano ballads was readying a album almost unnoticed actually deserving of that hysteria. That singer was Seattle’s Perfume Genius, who on Put Your Back N 2 It has crafted a collection of songs so arresting they seem to slow time, haunting in their emptiness and breathy anguish.


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Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory

With rock music again supposedly on its death knell, along comes Ohio foursome Cloud Nothings with Attack On Memory, their third and most abrasive album to date. Once bringers of breezy pop-punk, this new release finds the foursome sounding serious and conflicted – imagine The Get Up Kids caught in an existential crisis, glumly thrashing out their upset in bursts of power chords and strained vocals. Then crank the volume several dials.

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Interview - Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal

Hailing from Athens, Georgia, psych-pop favourites Of Montreal were founded Kevin Barnes in 1996. Having recently marked the release of their first ten albums with a special cassette boxset, Barnes and his supporting cast are now looking to the future as they gear up to release eleventh long-player, Paralytic Stalks. But how does the enigmatic frontman cope with the depression that has plagued him throughout his career? And how does the new release stack up to other releases? I caught up with Barnes to find out.

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Did Steve Jobs kill the secret song?

Over the next couple of weeks, as the year rolls to an end and music fans look back on the events that shaped 2011, you can expect to read a lot about Steve Jobs. The Apple founder died on 5 October after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, prompting a flood of tributes to the Californian and his legacy to the music world - the iPod. Jobs’ MP3 player and the accompanying iTunes store have undoubtedly changed the face of music. However, spare a thought for one of the victims of Jobs’ success - the secret song.

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A.A. Bondy - Believers

Believers sees A.A. Bondy complete a phoenix-like rise from the flaming fuselage of a stalled career as a major label artist. Having experienced the fickle nature of the music industry with failed grunge experiment Verbena in the late 90s, the Alabama troubadour retreated, as so many wistful musician types do nowadays, to a barn in the Catskills mountains near New York to explore his gentler side, penning an album full of wounded paeans to love, loss and everything in between. That album, American Hearts, was a transformation. This third solo effort, his most assured and intuitive to date, is a revelation: elegiac, tender and often achingly beautiful.

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Atlas Sound - Parallax

Just who is Bradford Cox? This much we know: he fronts psychedelic blogosphere darlings Deerhunter, teeters somewhere on the cusp of his thirties and churns out albums at a ferocious pace - this, Parallax, is his seventh solo outing if you count his various bedroom recording internet releases. The rest can be pieced together from the rare interviews he grants - reluctant discussion of how a genetic disease has twisted his body into something resembling one of Guillermo Del Toro fantastical creations. How he developed an addiction to ambient music while blissed out on painkillers after ensuing spinal operations. How somewhere in him his quirky Machiavellian wit and deep-seeded frustrations intersect: “I don’t understand what kids want any more, and I’m not interested in catering to it,” he told the Guardian earlier this year. “All they want to do is dance and fuck, and those are two things I’m completely incapable of.”

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Interview - Girls’ Christopher Owens

Christopher Owens has had quite a life. The 32 year-old Californian has gone from growing up in the infamous Children Of God cult to garage rock stardom in acclaimed four-piece Girls via bouts of drug addiction and despair. But having just released second album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Owens is proving there’s more to him than an unusual backstory and a Kurt Cobain haircut. I caught up with him to hear about the new album, his admiration for Tyler The Creator and his obsession with house plants.

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