Staff Trax: Happy Birthday, The Walkmen, Stars, Sarah Jaffe, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and, uh, Rammstein?

Welcome to Staff Trax, the weekly feature here on DC9 where we shed some light on the music we've been enjoying of late, regardless of the touring or album release schedules that tend dominate our coverage. Consider this a chance to get some more insight into our personal tastes. And a chance to slam us for our crappy ones.

Happy Birthday - "Subliminal Message"

In blog years, Happy Birthday's already kind of ancient. The Vermont trio, which features past J. Mascis collaborator Kyle Thomas up front, released its self-titled debut for Sub Pop back on March 16--or, in short, just in time for SXSW and all that the crazy Austin fest entails. And, sure, that was a long time ago in Internet years. But it couldn't have worked out better for the band: Back in Austin, Happy Birthday was one of the most talked-about bands around. And for good reason. Its debut is a killer release--one of my favorite of the year--filled with catchy, lo-fi pop anthems like "Girls FM" and, my favorite, "Subliminal Message." Give the above clip a watch to see the band performing "Subliminal Message" for the folks over at Insound. And, if you dig it, go download the original, album version for free, via Stereogum. I don't doubt that you will: The "To your heaaaaaaaaaaaaaart" bit in the chorus alone makes this song worth your while. --Pete Freedman

The Walkmen --  "Stranded"

There is no doubt that I'm a Walkmen super-fan. I have all of their records--even the rare ones--and I've gone through two Walkmen bumper stickers on my car, which is either a testament to my fandom or to their poor choice in bumper sticker manufacturers. That confession should serve as a warning that my recommendation of their new song "Stranded," from their forthcoming John Congleton-assisted album, Lisbon, is a completely biased one. The song is a somber, trumpet-led anthem with a chorus that would inspire the listener to march bravely to their certain death--especially when mashed-up with, say, Bill Pullman's famous Independence Day speech. Some in the office say this song sounds like Sting's "Fields Of Gold"; others say it reminds them of the classic, Mexican folk hit, "La Cucaracha." I say it sounds like the promise of yet another amazing Walkmen record. --Daniel Hopkins

Stars - "Fixed"

With all due respect to Amy Millan, I usually find myself gravitating towards Stars' songs that Torquil Campbell sings on; I'll take his "Reunion" over her "Ageless Beauty" when it comes to listening to Set Yourself On Fire. But when I heard this song from their latest (The Five Ghosts) for the first time last week (and subsequently saw the video for it between sets at The Hold Steady's Granada show on Saturday), I found an exception. In many ways, this song reminds me of both Jimmy Eat World's "If You Don't, Don't" and Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." Hopefully Joe Satriani hasn't heard this song yet. --Eric Grubbs

Sarah Jaffe - "Watch Me Fall Apart"

Sarah's gotten quite a bit of press lately, and deservedly so, for her debut full-length, Suburban Nature. But no one seems to be saying anything about this absolute gem of a track from the album. Most of the songs on Suburban Nature date back to very early in her career and life as a songwriter, and this seems to have a touch of the first break-up, first real-life disappointment in it--and it comes off as unbelievably honest. If there's such a thing as a perfectly crafted song, then this is it. --Lance Lester

The first single from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's upcoming, sophomore album sounds pretty encouraging. I caught the band at SXSW a couple years ago (hopelessly crowded) and again at Lola's last year (discouragingly uncrowded), and really like their take on '80s, shoegaze-y pop. There's a lot of influences you can hear in their music, and the first that comes to my mind is a kind of happier Ultra Vivid Scene or boy-fronted Lush.  Anyway, here's the video, and it's laden with expensive, eye-catching effects. --Doug Davis   

Rammstein - ""Feuer Frei!"

Recently, while on vacation, my son and I found ourselves with nothing better to do than watch Vin Diesel in XXX. Hey, give me a break: My kid is 13 and nothing suits him better than explosions, scantily-clad chicks and Vin Diesel kicking some serious Russian ass. Anyhow, when the legendary German industrial band Rammstein makes an appearance early in the film, my son goes, "Hey! It's a German version of Ministry!" Yes, I've raised him well. And the song that Rammstein performs, "Feuer Frei!," is actually quite good. I wish my own dad would've introduced me to stuff this good when I was a teenager. --Darryl Smyers

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs

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