It’s been nearly 4 years since I last saw Man Man perform (Forecastle, June 2010) and seven years since the first time I had the pleasure of seeing them. Following that last time seeing them, Honus Honus commented in a mild-mannered fashion contrary how he liked my smile and would like to kidnap me in order to get my face on the side of milk cartons under the missing persons section. Fortunately for me that practice was stopped in the late ’80s.
On Saturday, in The Constellation Room at The Observatory, it was nice to see that the insanity never stopped. Following the arrival of Pow Pow, Brown Sugar & Shono all wearing matching backwards skeleton costumes (a departure from the tennis uniforms I’d seen a few years ago), Honus Honus arrived donning a sparkly robe in the style of a boxer or priest, back to the crowd, commanding the energy levels of the room rise to the animlaistic madness that was shortly to pursue and like a practicioner of black magic, his commands to rise had their intended effect. Launching into “End Boss” from last fall’s “On Oni Pond,” the frenzy began and left nothing wanting.
Honus Honus and Pow Pow both have such fantastic stage presence, particularly the former who reminds me of my two-year nephew at Halloween….trying on every costume and playing with every toy that he can find. That includes a space alien mask, a fur coat, a naval jacket, and of course the aforesaid skeleton costume and robe. Falling in dramatic exasperation a number times, Honus Honus and the whole band at large just seem to have so much fun performing; all actors playing the roles they’ve crated for themselves. And their fans love it…sporting warpaint, headbands, capes and a disproportionaltely high number of violations of the wearing-a-band-shirt-to-that-band’s-concert rule.
Opener Xenia Rubinos who had a very tribal, animalistic pop-singed set herself, joined for a number of songs in her own skeleton costume, dancing and acting a back-up singer to the madness happening on stage. Her drummer for the night joined briefly just long enough to stage dive.
With a 20 song set they spanned their entire discography in a strangely cohesive way considering the stylistic differences of the later two albums. While naturally the bulk of the set was dedicated to showcasing their latest, Rabbit Habbits also saw a lot of attention and the other three received at least 2 songs, largely all in their epic 7 song encore. Those in the crowd chanting “one more song” at the end of the first set had no idea what they were in store for. As the encore started with “Steak Knives” it became apparent to any Man Man fan that they couldn’t end on such a light note and that wild times were coming.
- End Boss
- Top Drawer
- Loot My Body
- Mr. Jung Stuffed
- Paul’s Grotesque
- Pink Wonton
- Head On
- King Shiv
- Piranhas Club
- Push the Eagle’s Stomach
- Doo Right
- Born Tight
- Steak Knives
- Life Fantastic
- El Azteca
- Engrish Bwudd
- Werewolf (On the Hood of Yer Heartbreak)
On Saturday night, The National played their first of two nights in the new hometown to frontman Matt Berninger; this time at LA’s historic Greek Theatre. The 6,000+ capacity was certainly a marked change of scenery from the 350 person Bell House in Brooklyn where I last caught them, just prior to the release of High Violet.
What anyone who has ever been to one their performances can attest, whether the stage is tiny or is amongst the biggest in the world, The National deliver one of the most memorable experiences imaginable. Reviews will abound with what songs they played, but I’d prefer this review to talk about the growth of a band and my experiences as a fan of that band hitting success in perfect stride. Having first caught them in Louisville, KY in 2007 (and being so enamored with the performance where my friends and I bought tickets to the following night’s performance in their former-former hometown of Cincinnati, OH) and seeing the blatant nervous ticks of a man not yet comfortable performing on a stage in front of a couple hundred people to seeing that same man, six years later, running through a sold-out crowd of 6,000 people sing-screaming all of the lyrics to their songs made me, as a fan, feel incredibly proud. There’s something about The National that creates a really deep connection with its fans which is why I think that they’ve had the success they’ve had. They’ve never had the regular radio-play outside of the KCRW/NPR/College Radio world. What they have, however, are heartfelt songs about realistic experiences that encourage fans to connect on a quasi-personal level. I hear “Apartment Story” and I picture my wife and I getting ready for hosting a dinner party. I hear “Conversation 16” and I think about loving her so much and feeling like I fail her. I hear “I Should Live in Salt” and I think about how mad she can make me. I hear “About Today” and I think about how scared I’d be to lose her. I hear “Abel” and I think of the inanity of some of my friends. I hear “Terrible Lie” and I ask myself where I’m heading. The National have written the soundtrack to our lives.
Perhaps I’m just self-centered. Hell, I am writing a concert review and somehow making it all about me. I feel like Matt could appreciate that. But the story that The National tells is a bit of the everyman story that all of its fan can empathize with and connect to. If you don’t believe me then you should have heard the chants of “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” or “I Was Afraid, I’d Eat Your Brains.” You can hear it the voices that it’s not just singing along with miscellaneous words. Everyone of the 6,000 in attendance singing along sang with true emotion. And yet the story isn’t confined to the lyrical content. The Dessner and Devendorf brothers create a mood and energy befitting and perfectly complementing the story.
If there’s one thing that The National does as good as write amazing songs, it’s put on an amazing performance. Totting around the ever present bottle of wine (which I’ve seen him share on stage with his mother, “Uncle Jack,” and thousands of adoring fans), both Matt and the Dessner brothers have learned to own the stage. A stage now outfitted with one of the most impressive and gorgeous light shows I’ve ever seen (a photographer’s dream). But, I suppose that’s what years of touring and becoming seasoned billboard-charting veterans will do. In the beginning it was largely Matt and occasional touring member Padma Newsome putting on the show, but it’s great to see that everyone is in on the show these days.
I had wondered in advance of the show whether the setlist would be “Trouble Will Find Me”-heavy, the recently released 6th Studio album. Having a catalog as deep as theirs with two releases since my last opportunity to see the band, I’d expected to hear far less of the old material. Fortunately, we were treated to a 24 song set spanning Alligator to Trouble, with, what Matt might call, a “good mixture” across the albums. The setlist was near perfect. Being a new Californian myself, I’d have loved to have heard “All the Wine” for the crowd’s reaction alone. But the closer, Vanderlyle/Crybaby Geeks, from 2011’s High Violet, was undoubtedly the highlight of the night. Stripping down to an acoustic set. For all of the raucous, and stage antics, light show, guitar-shredding, drum-deconstruction, The National is a band about the song and the fans are about right there with them. While About Today may have magically brought the crowd to a hush for those final few lyrics…”may I ask you, about today?” For Vanderlyle, the immense crowd became pin-drop quiet for the encore-closing acoustic song up until we were compelled to chant along in unison…”Vanderlyle, Crybaby, Cry…oh the waters are rising, still no surprising you…Vanderlyle, Crybaby Cry…man it’s all been forgiven, swans are a-swimming, I’ll explain everything to the geeks!” I wanted to cry myself. It was a beautiful moment. It summed up the emotions, both from a songwriting perspective and a performance perspective, of everyone taking a part in that moment.
- I Should Live in Salt
- Don’t Swallow the Cap
- Bloodbuzz Ohio
- Sea of Love
- Afraid of Everyone
- Conversation 16
- Squalor Victoria
- I Need My Girl
- This Is the Last Time
- Baby, We’ll Be Fine
- Slow Show
- Pink Rabbits
- About Today
- Fake Empire
- Mr. November
- Terrible Love
- Vanderlyle Crybaby/Geeks (Acoustic)
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down concluded their national tour with Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside on Monday night at the Troubador in LA. The tour was in support of their latest, “We The Common,” an album that shows great maturity, musicianship, and even civic-mindedness over “We Brave Bee Stings And All.” Seeing Thao on stage, it was clear where her passions now lie, namely that WTC is about a lot more than the songs on the album and Thao’s work with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners is pervasive. By 5 songs into the set, Thao had already flipped through virtually every instrument on the stage. It was impressive to behold. And yet, for all her artistic maturity, she nevertheless has been able to retain that youthful spunkiness I was first drawn to in 2008. That spunkiness was never felt stronger than when “Move” transitioned into a medley with Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy?” or perhaps on her duet with Sallie for their cover of The Ronettes’ “Be My Little Baby.” The pointedness of Thao’s songwriting is almost comically genius, with playful, scathing lines like ” I was always on your conscience, but you were only on my mind” and “don’t we live too long, don’t you wait too much” and the onstage delivery is equally ironically cute. Further, songs like “Kindness Be Conceived” translate wonderfully despite Joanna Newsom’s absence. Her time away from the spotlight seems to have done great things for her, but it’s great to have her back. Sallie Ford’s performance was equally fun, having an almost doo-wop sound and instantly danceable. Songs like “Fried Green Tomatoes,” though somewhat silly, were incredibly fun and perfectly compliments the Thao fanbase. Though I’d not heretofor known Sallie Ford, I’m sold as a huge fan.
Label: Innovative Leisure
Listen: Classixx : All You’re Waiting For (via SoundCloud)
“And you’re opening for Phoenix on their European tour after this, that’s crazy! How the hell did that happen!?”
Demarco just kinda looks at me with a grin and a shrug.
Oh, I donno. They just came to one of our shows in Paris and liked what they saw, I guess.
The cool ambivalence toward what would otherwise be a career-defining moment for an up and coming band is a good summation of Mac Demarco’s appeal; that being to forgo taking life too seriously in favor of having a good time, an approach that shines through in both his recorded material and his live show.
Mac Demarco is a young man who began making music in Vancouver years ago with his friend Alex Calder under the moniker of Makeout Videotape, before relocating to Montreal and focusing on developing his own material. Last year saw the release of not one but two albums, the vampire-glam of his debut, Rock and Roll Night Club, and the breezy, slacker-rock leaning 2.
His show on Friday, March 22nd, at Sneaky Dee’s, was the first in a series of shows he and his band played as a part of Canadian Music week before taking off to Europe for the aforementioned Phoenix tour. The sold-out set was attended by an army of young men decked out in plaid who spent the duration of the set pogo-ing manically in front of the band, while a harem of fangirls opted to sit at the bottom of the stage as if it were an altar of some sort.
I’m Mac Demarco, and this song is called ‘I’m A Man” , he announced through a toothy smile, kicking off a set that featured a healthy amount of material taken from across both of his albums.
Whereas the recorded material comes off as laid-back music not unsuitable for drinking on a porch in the summer sun, performed live, it takes on a new form, retaining the playful looseness while also gaining an electric groove a la Grease Lightning.
Having seen Demarco before, a staple of his shows for me has always been the esoteric covers he sprinkles throughout his set. He’s done stuff as varied as the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” and Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman” in the same show, and for Friday’s set he presented a cache of covers that was even more expanded and disparate. They fiddled with the opening riffs of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” between songs before launching into their first full cover of the night, a messy, adrenaline-filled take on Rammstein’s nu-metal anthem “Du Hast”. The highlight for the night in terms of covers occurred later, when the band delved into their own jangly take on Weezer’s Sweater Song. Although a lot of influence from the Blue Album can be noted in Demarco’s music, especially 2, the band made it their own by peppering the lyrics with goofy expletives, delivered by Demarco with the glee of a misbehaving 10-year-old.
The band’s endearing immaturity did not end there however, with Demarco evolving into some playground version of G.G. Allin towards the end of the set by charismatically displaying to the audience both his bare white ass (which some female audience members promptly attempted to spank), and eventually ramping up the sexual show-and-tell by pulling out his balls from his fly mid-song.
The band ended their set with “Still Together”, the closing ballad from their latest album. Demarco brought his girlfriend onstage to serenade her, however, as the band launched into a rocked-out, electrified version of the song’s bridge, the two began to make out before jumping into the audience to crowd-surf together in a display filled with the triumph of a scene taken from an 80’s teen movie. I left the venue that night covered in sweat, satisfied to have witnessed once again that Mac Demarco’s recent success is well-deserved.
[photos : John Szlazak]
It was quite easy to forget that it was a Monday night as Foxygen took the stage on March 4th at Wrongbar, opening for Unknown Mortal Orchestra at a sold-out show. The band recently released their sophomore album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, to the kind of acclaim and buzz that can hurt a band just as quickly and easily as it can help them. It being their first show here in Toronto, a sea of eager fans stood packed like sardines in front of the stage, waiting to hear Foxygen’s throwback brand of 60’s psychedelia and rock.
Having enjoyed both of their albums, I counted myself among these aforementioned eager fans, which makes the sense of disappointment I felt toward the majority of their set all the more disheartening. Normally a two-piece, original members Sam France and Jonathan Rado were joined onstage by a keyboardist, drummer, and bassist, the two to focus on vocals and guitar, respectively.
Being a band whose music is greatly indebted to the summer of love, the musicians graced the stage trying to dress the part by sporting outfits that could be considered equal parts Willy Wonka and Woodstock.
Despite these wardrobe attempts, the band came off as if they’d just raided their high school drama club’s costume room as opposed the post-modern Jefferson Airplane aesthetic they seemed to be trying for.
It was not only the outfits that harkened back to high school, as once the group launched into their catalogue it became immediate, both with regards to their music and their stage presence, that they could easily be equated with that band at the talent show who were a little too into the Beatles and Jim Morrison. France attempted to channel the essence of the Lizard King, which instead seemed to translate into forced yelps into the microphone as the other four musicians seemed to sleep through most of their songs. On several occasions, the band would start a song only to stop to exchange confused glances and shaking heads with one another before launching into another one entirely.
One would think that an apparent lack of focus would be beneficial to a band known for their messy psych jams, however it only led to guitar solos and song breakdowns that had all of the roughness and none of the fun. The band did make an effort to pull it together toward the end, an attempt which seemed to shine on the songs “Oh Yeah” and Oh No Pt. 2”, the latter being the behemoth of a closer from their new album. Perhaps it was the number of tonal shifts scattered throughout the song that left no room for goofing around, but Foxygen managed to pull it together and launch into a spirited and groovy rendition. It’s performances like that, along with their largely enjoyable recorded material, that still gives me hope that there is a good band called Foxygen, it just didn’t seem to be the one I saw onstage that night.
Despite my mixed feelings, the crowd seemed to mostly enjoy the performance, with a large fraction of them leaving the venue, indifferent toward catching Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set.
UMO is the mouthpiece of New Zealand ex-pat Ruban Nielson, who, with a bunch of guys from Portland, makes catchy, art-damaged pop songs that have the fidelity of something recorded by a tape player underwater.
The band is touring in promotion of their aptly titled second album, II, which dropped last month. Whereas their first record featured straightforward yet catchy guitar pop, the new album plays with a variety of genres as disparate as soul and psychedelic rock, influences that translated with a surprising effortlessness into the live setting.
Seconds into their set, after launching into the fuzzy opening riffs of “No Need For a Leader”, UMO had already proven themselves in many areas that Foxygen did not. At three onstage members, UMO still managed to display to the audience a sense of presence and command that, until this point, had been absent that night. From the groovy bass to machine-like drumming, they made sure that the audience immediately knew from the get-go that they meant business.
The band continued to power through their set with an energy nestled comfortably between focused and fun, playing a healthy balance of material from both of their albums. Although Nielson’s voice would occasionally get lost in the sea of instrumental noise, the consistent musicianship more than made up for this.
The band saved the best for last, launching into their signature song, “Ffunny Ffrends”, and their new single, “So Good at Being in Trouble”, to cap off their set. The highlight of their show, for me at least, occurred when the band returned to the stage for an encore, which included the band offering (for the first time live, apparently) their take on garage rocker Jay Reatard’s “My Shadow”, which despite being a cover managed to retain all of the raw energy of the original. The band followed this high-octane sugar rush with a spacey, chilled-out version of old cut “Boy Witch” before leaving the stage, however their departure was one that was well-earned.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Another warm, swirling, psychedelic, sonic cruise with dizzying atmospheric guitar hooks, washing over both brash and vulnerable sounding moody vocals from Aussie rock outfit Tame Impala. Taking cues from Innerspeaker track “Solitude Is Bliss”, Lonerism is an entire album about alienation and the power of one – what front-man Kevin Parker describes as “the idea of being someone who doesn’t feel part of the rest of the world”. Like Innerspeaker, there is comfort in this album’s nostalgia – a harmonic tribute to psychedelics pop past – with nods towards the Beatles, Hendrix and Floyd. But, Lonerism manages to ameliorate mere 60′s revisionist rock, and emerge intensely modern and new, with a sound quality only possible in 2012. Both larger in scope and sound than it’s predecessors, Lonerism drives it’s influences into an entirely new direction, making it the most immersive albums of the year.
Listen : Tame Impala : Feels Like We Only Go Backwards (via SoundCloud)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Leeds quartet Alt-J (aka ‘triangle’, aka △) not only wrote one of the most diverse and addictive albums of 2012, but successfully created a new “non-genre” genre. Exploring a variety of music styles, including pop, folk and R&B, Alt-J masterfully piece together a beautifully rounded puzzle of style and influences. Nasally, blues-like vocals gush over dark, fuzzed-out bass -lines, guitar scratching, island beats and intricate vocal harmonies that are never short on literary references or imagery and never feel over-complicated or too ambitious.
Listen : Alt-j : Fitzpleasure(remix)
Listen : Alt-j : An Awesome Wave (viaSoundCloud)
Rating: 5/5 stars
After a long three year hibernation, Grizzly Bear awakes, evolved, lurching with a thundering new record and some teeth. A record, as much about coming together as it is about falling apart, Shields is an unpredictable album that re-defines the band’s group dynamics and takes comforts in it’s own imperfections. Showcasing guitarist Daniel Rossen‘ s expressive six-string style and “psychedilic tempest” songwriting abilities, this album is a stormy swirl of aggressive guitar swells building into roaring climaxes that is quite unpredictable. But while it explores a wide range of themes, textures and sounds, it is ultimately the unpredictability that makes Shields such a rewarding listen.
Listen : Grizzly Bear : Yet Again (viaSoundCloud)
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Longtime Miami indie Goddess Chan Marshall was born again in 2012 with a short, cropped, breakup haircut and the first Cat Power album of original material in over six years. Transformed by her struggles as an artist, Marshall revisits her roots and comes into her own with this collection of moody, bluesy, songs layered by drum machines, synths and beautiful background vocals, which help showcase Marshall’s seductive, whispered croons and clever wordplay. If that isn’t enough, Marshall raps on the album and there is a surprise appearance from Iggy pop in the middle of the ten-minute Velvet Underground homage ”Nothin But Time”.
Listen : Cat Power : Ruin
Over the weekend, Discosalt attended the first ever Catalpa Festival on Randall’s Island. Two solid summer days/nights of diverse live music from an eclectic lineup including The Black Keys, Snoop Dogg , TV on the Radio and Girl Talk – all under a blue leopard print banner commanding the crowd to “DANCE BITCHES!”. Despite the rain, some poor footwear decisions and two “wham jam, no thank you ma’am” sets of Umphrey’s McGee, the NYC festival, striving to be a pioneering East Coast festival comparable to California’s Coachella and Chicago’s Lollapalooza, managed to deliver.
SATURDAY – JULY 28
8-8:45PM TV on the Radio
Having not performed in New York since September of 2011, this was a real homecoming for Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio and a real treat for the predominantly New York based crowd. After being cheered on stage by the collective fan cries of “Brooklyn!”, the band tipped their hat (and beard) to another New York musician – dedicating “Second Song”, to a “dear-departed inspiration, Mr. Adam Yauch…I would not be in New York City without the words of that man.” This was one of the best performances I’ve seen out of these guys, and in a surprisingly short set, the band managed to hit all the crowd pleasers, squeezing in “Staring at the Sun”, “Wolf Like Me” and “Will Do”.
9:30-11PM The Black Keys
The Ohio garage-rock duo (with a little help from some friends), oiled up their gritty back-to-basics blues engine with some sonic lube worthy of classic rock torque. Ripping into a seemingly endless zeppelin-esc guitar rock grab bag to draw the biggest crowd on Saturday – with plenty of audience participation na-na-na’s. In only 90 minutes, Auerbach and Carney cranked through a crunchy set of soulful modern blues rock, gunning down broken dreams and witchy women with a raw intensity that is best experienced live, and along the way nailed down some fan favorites like “Your Touch”, “I Got Mine”, “Thickfreakness”, “Girl Is on My Mind”.
SUNDAY – JULY 29
So…the last time I saw Matisyahu perform, he was an Orthodox Jew. Now, he’s ditched the Chassidic shtick for a clean shaven look, crowd surfing and inviting female audience members to dance on stage with him. “No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me … no alias.” His face is smooth, but his voice is even smoother, as Matisyahu managed to skank out some new gems off his new album and revisit some old classics – playfully chastising the audience for requesting “King Without A Crown” and “One Day”, saying – “Obviously I’m going to play them, Those are the only two songs everyone knows”.
6:15-7PM Matt and Kim
Matt and Kim definitely win the festival award for funniest stage banter …or drummer Kim Schifino has revealed a horrible case of tourettes. “I know what you’re thinking, we’re a little out of shape, I’ve been doing exercises, though — something called a Kegel…because I want to fuck the shit out of you tonight!” When Kim wasn’t shouting “fuck” or “shit”, she was shouting, well “fuck” or “shit” or restarting “Daylight” after hitting Matt’s keyboard with her sticks. “I get crazy with the sticks and I just have to hit shit”. The band left the stage thanking the crowd for taking their 2012 virginity.
7:45-9PM Girl Talk
In my next life I want the energy level of DJ superstar – Greg Gillis. The one man mash-up party monster (along with a crowd of 20 or so aggressive people dancing non-stop around Gillis) drew the biggest crowd of the day and did not disappoint. Gillis performed an hour plus set of dozens of effortlessly produced classic hip-hop, pop and rock mashup-style remixes – including everything from M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” mash with Ice Cubes “It Was a Good Day” to Nirvana, Notorious B.I.G, Elton John and the bounce friendly Nine Inch Nails “Wish” mashed with Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone”. There were lights, confetti, inflatable animals, balloons, balloons filled with confetti, toilet-paper guns, crowd surfing and enough sweat and bouncing to make a porn star blush. Gillis closed the high energy set with his version of Gun’s and Roses “November Rain”, as confetti rained down on the crowd.
9-9:40PM A$AP Rocky
I was really rooting for A$AP Rocky… that is, until, the air horn. The upcoming 23-year-old Harlem rapper, rocking a “Fuck Swag” T-shirt and signature skinny Jeans, spent more time shouting over his own backing tracks and firing off bullet sound effects, whistles and air horns, than he did rapping. While surrounded by a stage entourage that never consisted of less than 8 people at one time, the image conscious A$AP Rocky told the crowd – “people used to fuck with us for wearing skinny jeans around 2004. Now we’re right here with our skinny jeans and you embrace that shit”…well…how about embracing some music.
9:40-10:45PM Snoop Dogg
Interspersed by pre-recorded blacksploitation inspired skits on a giant projection screen – which included the Doggfather firing an assault weapon at the crowd, smoking weed and taking out a “bitch” – was a crusty old man dancing, a Lady of Rage appearance, a furry Nasty Dogg with an eight-foot long stuffed penis and a giant spliff, a cloud of weed smoke and of course Mr. Snoop Dogg backed by the original Dogg Pownd, performing the 53- minute gangsta rap classic – Doggystyle. The set was on point as the entire crowd, even security, could be spotted singing along with the familiar sounds of “Gin and Juice”, “Murder Was The Case,” “Serial Killer,” “G’z and Hustlas” and, of course, “Doggy Dogg World.” Snoop ended the Doggystyle set declaring – “I ain’t stopping, I’m like the bunny, I keep going and going”, just before coming back with two encores- a Pharrell-assisted “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Young Wild and Free” as his DJ played Wiz Khalifa verses. Unfortunately, Snoop’s alter ego Snoop Lion never made an appearance.
Then….there were these people…
Chromeo DJ Set
The Chromeo DJ set on July 8th felt just like that – a DJ set. Regardless, good times were had by all – even the Ottawa Police and fathers of small children. Chromeo plays their next show July 28th in Sacramento (with instruments).
For more information visit: Chromeo.net/tours
‘If I had known Deltron was playing’, a statement heard from a Snoop Dogg attendee following the Snoop Dogg show on July 10th. I think it would be safe to say that Deltron had some competition that night, with Snoop playing on the main stage and El-P and Killer Mike playing at Ritual nightclub nearby – but never the less, the fans did come out.
The excitement level was high before the show even began. Fans spoke about the legendary album that came out over a decade ago, reminiscing about how they found out about the trio and wondering what Deltron 3030’s new music would sound like. I personally found out about Deltron through Tanner Hall’s pioneering ski segments (circa 2002) and found some fellow skiers in the crowd that night that were just as enthused as I was.
The ‘Deltron Orchestra’ came onto stage and sat modestly while the crowd roared with anticipation. This was followed by Kid Koala then by Dan the Automator (rockin’ tails) who kicked things off with an instrumental to get the crowd going. Then all of a sudden, like a lion out of a cage, Mr. Del the Funkee Homosapien graced the stage accompanied by Dan the Automator conducting the Deltron Orchestra.
They played the classics like ‘Mastermind’, ‘Things you can do’ and ‘Virus’ off the Deltron 3030 album. They played some new songs off of ‘Event II’ coming out in August. They even ended things off with ‘Clint Eastwood’ by Gorillaz, which I think was the highlight of the night since it caught everyone off guard. Apart from Del battling with the extreme volume of the orchestra on some songs, this was a show with no sad faces – all members of Deltron delivered and I predict that ‘Event II’ will be of epic proportions.
They continue their tour at ‘Rock the Bells‘ in San Bernadino, August 19th.
For more information visit: www.kidkoala.com
The kid who never left summer camp
It started off with an exciting interaction between musician and fan that you see little of these days; a guy who went into the crowd, shot streamers, played humorous videos and got the fans involved – In every single song. The over-involvement and camaraderie with fans brought me back to an awkward phase in my life; a time of dirt-staches, first hairs, under confidence, and no-reason-boners (NRB’s). Rich Aucoin brought me back to summer camp – circa 2001.
His motivational, ‘you-can-do-it’ attitude reminded me of the camp counsellor who eats, sleeps, and would even die for camp (if it came to it). The one who counts down the days in which he can once again take part in the mind-moulding process of young pre-teens. Not to say that Rich Aucoin didn’t have his songs but the show grew tiresome when every song consisted of the same crowd/chorus involvement and motivational slogans.
All things aside, the Halifax native is a promising musician with foot stompers like ‘It’ and ‘Push’ and the fans that liked him, loved him to death. I don’t think this will be the last you will hear of the CMW indie award winner and I am intrigued to see what he comes up with in the future.
For more information: www.richaucoin.ca
Usually when David Gray comes through the capital he plays at the intimate and high class venue known as the National Arts Centre. At the NAC people are accustomed to wearing fancy clothes, drinking expensive wine, sitting down while the musician plays and erupting into a unison of applause when the song finishes. Singing is frowned upon and dancing is strictly forbidden and punishable by death.
Last Friday marked the first time David Gray has not played at the NAC in Ottawa and the first time he’s ever played at Bluesfest. There was singing, there was dancing and there were a lot of first timers to the Englishman’s bobble-head style, but he was of no disappointment to them. He played songs from ‘White Ladder’, ‘Life in Slow Motion’, ‘Draw the Line’, and his newest album ‘Foundling’. At the end of the show the crowd shouted for an encore, but because of strict festival scheduling, the encore was not possible.
David finished off his tour in Shelburne, Vermont on Saturday and has no other tour dates planned yet.
For more information visit: www.davidgray.com
Rating: 4/5 stars
Label: Dead Oceans
Back with a second album of thoughtful new themes, Sun Airway’s Soft Fall, out October 2nd on Dead Oceans, takes us to an ethereal layer between worlds. The sonically inspiring sub-strata of Soft Fall began in songwriter/producer Jon Barthmus’ house in Philadelphia. Classical foundations were chopped, dissected, and sewn back together by a string quartet in one recording studio, with live instruments overdubbed in another, then re-edited and assembled back at home by Barthmus. David Wrench (Caribou, Bat for Lashes, Bear in Heaven) took it all to new heights with some masterful mixing.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Continuing their open-ended and forward-thinking music policy, the next release on OWSLA sees the label pull another left turn as they welcome veteran French DJ/producer collective Birdy Nam Nam to the fold. Vocals on two tracks are done by the legendary Teki Latex, head honcho of Sound Pellegrino and member of French electro/hip-hop outfit TTC. Across four albums and numerous EPs, the quartet made up of Crazy B, Pone, Need and Lil’ Mike have persevered in their efforts to push new sounds, epitomizing the label’s anything goes approach. The Jaded Future EP features three original productions from the crew as they use their hip hop background as a jumping off point to explore different refractions of their multi-faceted sound and comes backed with a varied array of remixes.
Title track ‘Jaded Future’ sees the group laying down thick synth waves over a skittering 808 southern-style beat, warping the melodies and vocals with trademark turntable manipulations to give the track its swing. The track gets handled by UK rap upstarts Foreign Beggars who re-wire the original, swapping verses dexterously over a low-slung instrumental, while thePelican Fly remix takes the stripped down rap fundamentals and reworks them into an amorphous club instrumental.
Up next ‘Goin’ In’ heads directly for the floor, ramping the energy with its jarring rhythm, descending synths and pitched-down vocals. Label head Skrillex turns in two remixes here (his first since the legendary Levelstake); his ‘Goin’ Down’ mix (the title being homage to Yung Joc’s 2007 trap classic) supercharges the original with siren-like synths, staccato snares and 808 bass while his ‘Goin’ Hard’ mix ups the tempo as he fires off a snarling drum & bass production with breaks, razor -sharp synths and rampant energy. The track also gets the remix treatment from fellow countryman and Clek Clek Boom main man French Frieswho reworks it into a deep and deadly percussive banger.
Rounding out the EP is ‘Cadillac Dreams’, a syrupy joint that pairs lush, expansive pads with screwed vocals. Culprate’s restless rework jumps from swinging rap to rapidfire breakcore percussion and back without ever losing its footing while A$AP Rocky collaborator Soufien 300 completes the package staying true to the spirit of the original while drawing it out into a languorous G-Funk haze.
Rating: 5/5 stars
No one could accuse Dirty Projectors leader David Longstreth of doing the same thing twice. Swing Lo Magellan is a poetic art-pop album, matching warm and personal music with outlandish intellectual ideas that is eclectic, without being esoteric. For a band constantly experimenting with their own sound, this album is no exception. More “beat-driven” and accessible than any Dirty Projectors previous albums, Longstreth has cited a slew of influences here, ranging from Nirvana, Lil Wayne, Michael Jackson, Neil Young, En Vogue, Blind Willie Johnson to classical composers Arnold Schoenberg and György Ligeti…and maybe even a little Dylan.
Listen : Dirty Projectors : Gun Has No Trigger (via SoundCloud)
Rating: 5/5 stars
If ’sleep is a welcome gadget’ for Canadian electro-pop duo Purity Ring, then Shrines is what pop dreams are made of. Together, Corin Roddick and Megan James blaze fearlessly into the future with clean pop melodies that conjure surreal dreamscapes of the arcane. Roddick lays out a dense ephemeral fog of sensual beats underscored by Megan James fearful and fragile voice, driven by corporeally obsessed lyrics that are appealing to both hip-hop and french house enthusiasts, alike. On Shrine, Purity Ring utilize technology to create a sound that is, surprisingly, the complete antithesis to the future – an album more about bodies, than computers.
Listen: Purity Ring : Ungirthed
Listen: Purity Ring : Lofticries
Listen: Purity Ring : Obedear
Listen: Purity Ring : Fineshrine
Rating: 4/5 stars
Bravestation may be the future of indie pop. The latest worldbeat torch bearers combine the ambient textures and spaced-out guitars of New Wave sheen with vibrant harmonies and tribal percussion to achieve a sound both immediately familiar and new…with mystery.
Back in 2010, the band released a self-recorded/produced EP, which i(heart)music called “one of the best albums of the year…occupying a space somewhere between The National and The Killers,” and The Toronto Star lauded for its “airy, sidewinding mini-epics”.
Equally acquainted with Foals and Fear of Music, this quirky “tribal pop” Toronto foursome have released their debut album – Giant’s & Dreamers. With ‘Giants & Dreamers’, Bravestation dive even deeper into their realm of sonic exploration and imagination. The song-writing and recording process began over a year ago, with each member capturing ideas in isolation on their home computers; the resulting demos shared in a communal online space for collective sculpting. An independent one month tour of the United Kingdom in June 2011, following an invitation to play the main stage at North-East England’s largest music festival, Evolution (alongside Iggy and The Stooges, Two Door Cinema Club & The Kills), provided a great opportunity to road test the new material in front of a foreign audience; before returning to Toronto to finish the album in basements, bedrooms and Canterbury Studio. This constantly shifting discourse led to the revisiting and reshaping of ideas over time which contributed to the new material’s unique complexity – adventurous artistry, filled with visions of fantasy and a future that struggles between dystopia and utopia.
The album, including recent singles ‘Western Thrills’, ‘Tides of the Summit’ and ‘Signs of the Civilized’, can be streamed on the band’s Bandcamp page. If you missed the videos for ‘Signs of the Civilized’ and ‘Western Thrills’, these can be seen on the band’s YouTube page.
Radiohead Live June 6, 2012 @ Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
My brains have been scrambled. Radiohead probed my mind… and I liked it.
Radiohead may actually be dark scientists, merely posing as musicians who are highly adept at their craft. Operating at forbidden frequencies, and unlocking aural sequences the equivalent of cosmic code breaking, it seems plausible that this band could cause a cataclysmic celestial event. An event, where formulas and proofs replace measures and movements and theorems and algorithms, substitute tempos and time signatures.
Radiohead was the band that sold us jazz by convincing us it’s rock. But, after witnessing their experimental mastery onstage, a more fitting decree is – Radiohead is purging our arcane notions of dance music and reprogramming it into something unearthly, maybe even a little unnerving ( like a college student’s introduction to David Lynch). The truth is, Radiohead is alien. The band speaks an entirely different language than most of us, and live, summon an other worldy sound -both unnerving and beautiful. I heard the death rattle of a thousand dying star systems. Felt the rumblings of an astral anomaly and ancient planets violently rotating. I heard all earthly matter beautifully swirling towards a wormhole, being replaced by antimatter as it enveloped all it touched. I heard the sound of the apocalypse, and Radiohead were the end of music on earth. The effects this sonic experiment, caused audience consciousness to disintegrate. From the front row to the lawn, everyone seized and convulsed in unison, as if losing control over their bodies and minds.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Label: Italians Do It Better
Portland’s Chromatics are yet another band to return to the 2012 musical landscape, after a long hiatus. Matured and introspective and heavier on male vocals, Kill For Love plays out like a warm ocean breeze after dark – a long way from the band’s punk inspired beginnings. With haunting guitar riffs, simple synths, gentle vinyl crack sounds and a re-named Neil Young cover that opens the album, Chromatics craft a dark and beautiful album with cinematic scope.
Listen : Chromatics : Into the Black
Listen : Chromatics : Kill for Love (via SoundCloud)
We Are Serenades‘ [Adam Olenius and Markus Krunegard and friends] are snazzy dressers, and great performers. On May 9th, at Mercury Lounge, the lovechild of Shout Out Louds and Laakso, put on an incredibly fun and technically inspired show – performing a collection of synth-inspired folk songs – ranging from, the beautiful harmonies of “Daydreaming” to the off-tempo-yet-incredibly-fun “Weapons”. I found it funny – a Swedish band performing in the States, sang back-to-back songs about Mexico – opening their set with “Criminal Heaven” [the song from which the album takes it’s title] and ending on Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind”. It also dawned on me that “All the Words” will play at my wedding this summer. Check out some images from the show below:
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Label: Polyvinyl Records
Of Montreal veterans may approach this album, as I did, with excitement and expectations for a mélange of bold, curious, and catchy tunes. Instead, Paralytic Stalks – their eleventh album – presents itself as a challenging patchwork of peculiar hymns and raw lyrical admissions, sprinkled with a few catchy hooks.
Those who became acquainted with the band in their early days as part of the Elephant 6 Collective know that evolution is nothing new to Of Montreal. What may surprise, though, is just how far Paralytic Stalks strays from the accessible, indie-pop ballads of yore, like The Party’s Crashing Us Now.
Kevin Barnes, the multi-talented vocalist and instrumentalist behind this nine-track album, pushes the envelope to extremes in this genre-bending release that ambles from gaudy ‘70s disco to pseudo-country twang. It’s apparent from track one that Barnes has used this album as a personal therapy session, unleashing his innermost thoughts as if he’s on the therapists’ couch.
Spiteful Intervention starts off with a somber, imposing verse before segueing to an energetic, camp chorus. Despite the melodic shift changes, Barnes maintains his classic party trick of juxtaposing morose lyrics on a twee musical background as he exclaims, “I spend my waking hours haunting my life / I made the one I love start crying tonight / And it felt good”. If you’re head-bobbing to the beat then these tidbits of penance may easily slip by, but they shouldn’t because this is what Of Montreal does best.
Next, you’re time warped to the age of disco in Dour Percentage, which draws heavy influence from the Bee Gees. Fast-paced, energetic and bordering on disco- bubblegum pop, Barnes emulates the signature falsetto voices of the brothers Gibb to a tee. The track stands out from others in that it is enjoyably chipper, if a bit ridiculous. Fans of the band’s older track ‘Brush, Brush, Brush’ will appreciate this ditty and have it stuck in their heads in no time.
A recurring theme across the album is that of love and honesty about relationships – including that of Barnes’ wife, Nina. We Will Commit Wolf Murder is the mesmerizing masterpiece of the album. With so much puzzling anarchy, this is one of the few songs that is very well structured. Barnes writes an open letter of love and yearning as he croons the line, “Lately you’re the only dancer I believe in” with an emotional credibility that leaves the heart heavy. It manages to tightrope beautifully between soft cantos and energetic bridges to create a symphony that is simultaneously galvanizing and analgesic.
The theme of love continues in Malefic Dowery, which describes a relationship that has turned mundane over time, evidenced by the lyrics “Now we’re a bore, we’re afternoon TV”, sung with palpable resignation. As the song reaches its peak, Barnes hauntingly sings “Once more I turn to my crotch for counsel / and it won’t disappoint me”, leading to questions of what might have been in his bloodstream.
The closing track, Ye, Renew the Plaintiff, moves away from the more sober songs above into an angry, jumpy piece that is nearly nine minutes long. Dedicated to Barnes’ wife, this honest tune reads like a diary entry before ending with a two minute long kaleidoscopic outro. While making this song was probably cathartic for Barnes, it’s more than a chore to listen to as you trudge through his sonic mental
Barnes has stated in interviews that Paralytic Stalks is meant to be taken in its entirety. The overall experience of the album leaves no grey zone. Patience to process it as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts, might be asking a lot of most listeners. Bottom line: you’ll either find it avant-garde and eccentric, or messy and unmerciful.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Label: Sub Pop
Beach House’s Alex Scally describes Bloom as “a huge crystal, spinning in a cave with Star Wars figurines.” The quintessential summer album, Bloom is heavy on melody – elevating the bands breezy sonic themes into an intoxicating collection of atmospheric organ and reverb-drenched guitar songs, still grounded by the bands signature vocals.
Listen : Beach House : Myth (via SoundCloud)
We were then given Sennheisner headphones, motioned into the theater and seated in tiny “space pods” – [ side note: I probably should have worn sweatpants and not the skinniest pair of jeans I own, but I digress]. Kid Koala took the stage, accompanied by his daughter, Maple, sitting contently in the chair beside him. Then, with a giant smile, Kid Koala proceeded to blow every mind in the crowd, as he performed a magic show on his turntables that would make David Copperfield green. It is incredibly rare for a musician to give so much of themselves to the audience. While most Dj’s and musicians stand on stage trying to act as cool as humanly possible, Kid Koala appeared with no pretense; more like a friend – sitting in his living room – doing what he enjoys doing most. This was what made the show such an awesome experience.
I talked to Kid Koala a.k.a Eric San after the show and he let me in on some details for the upcoming Deltron 3030 Event II – the sequel to the legendary Deltron 3030 album- which will be released in July, as well as, 12 Bit Blues another album coming out on Ninja Tune in the fall.
Here is a song called “3 Bit Blues” which appears on the upcoming album 12 Bit Blues.
You can also listen to a couple songs off the Space-Cadet album below [disclaimer: the tracks on this album are so relaxing, I haven’t been able to make it through the album’s entirety without being lulled to sleep].
If you have the opportunity to check out Kid Koala’s “Space-Cadet Headphone Experience” show, you should not think twice. I left the show feeling so inspired, that I immediately went home and turned on my MPC [MIDI Production Center]. After a 2 month creative drought, I quickly chopped up some samples, remembering how good it feels to create music you can call your own.
Rating : 5/5 Stars
Label: Fat Possum
Spaceman Pierce has landed. Sweet Heart Sweet Light may amount to the best (certainly, the most accessible) Spiritualized album since 1997′s pill-infected Ladies and Genteman We Are Floating in Space. A surprisingly uplifting eulogy to classic rock’n’roll, elevated by sweeping church orchestras and choirs. This is less of a departure album, and more a refined statement. The album art, Huh?refers to Jason Pierce’s mental state while mixing this album over an eight-month brain-fogging hospital stint, fighting degenerative liver disease with experimental chemotherapy treatment. Rebounding from the experience, Pierce emerges anew – crystal clear and grounded. Singing, once again, about Jesus, fast cars, pimps, fire, pain, death and depression, but this time around with both feet on the ground.
Listen : Spiritualized : Hey Jane (via SoundCloud)
We caught Starfawn again last night at Spike Hill opening for and outshining Something in Spanish. We first learned about Starfawn a few weeks ago at Lit Lounge when they performed with Teeel and we’ve been huge fans ever since.We gave you the history behind the band when we posted the Teeel remix of their set-closer “Greenlight.”
Something in Spanish
[photos: Cory Greenwell]
Other Lives were at the Bowery Ballroom on Friday night as part of their first major venue headlining tour. Coming off of their tour with Bon Iver, Other Lives will be beginning a ten day stint supporting Radiohead. A big step for any young band, but to kick off Radiohead’s first US tour since 2008, it will be huge. The exposure that they’ll get out of this tour will be incredible and it couldn’t happen to a more talented group of musicians.
I last caught Other Lives at Mercury Lounge back in June (Review), but the professionalism at the Bowery showed a definite level of maturity.
[photos: Cory Greenwell]
The Drums performed a 4 song set last night (Valentine’s day) at W.I.P. (short for Work-in-Progress & owned by the proprietors of the Greenhouse). We caught The Drums last at CMJ 2010 (Photos). Starting roughly an hour late a midst the bottle-service-heavy underground art house (even if a bit contrived), The Drums tore through perennial favorites such as “Best Friend” as well as their more current hit “Money” and the dancing made me really miss the days of Mondo at Don Hills.
Catch the photos from last night’s performance below.
[photos: Cory Greenwell]
Rating: 5/5 stars
Label: Fat Possum Records
While most husband-and-wife indie pop duos can induce nausea, Denver’s buzz band Tennis, deliver effortless lo-fi beach pop that is as romantic as the nautical adventure spawning the duos collaboration. Produced by Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), Young and Old is grounded in a retro sensibility that surfaces extra layers of vocal harmonies, jangly guitars and 60′s organ from beneath the fuzz pedal. A sincere sophomore effort that maintains the simple songwriting beauty of Cape Dory – a collection of songs about love, loss and inertia. But, this time around, there is much more anxiety and volume, ensuring each song has more depth and texture.
Listen : Tennis : Take Me Somewhere (viaSoundCloud)
No one is able to share spot-on observations about indie/punk/rock show culture and speak-sing about it, in as interesting a way as Craig Finn.
The voice of Lifter Puller, The Hold Steady, and most recently, Craig Finn and Some Guns – the 41 year-old Brooklyn-ite, by way of the the Twin Cities and Beantown, is by far one of the most entertaining, interesting and smartest songwriters of the last 10 years. A former punk club-poet/bar-band bard from Minnesota, Craig Finn moved to New York, formed The Hold Steady, and spun a musical career waxing philosophical about life, death, drugs, girls, God and personal survival – flawlessly enunciating every word over timeless classic rock-inspired bar band riffs, rhythms, and melodies.
Craig Finn’s lyrics and sound are ideally crafted for long, lazy, summer road-trips, hopping in and out of no-name corner bars and sun-drenched music-festivals, gunning down late-night vices and secret lovers. Sounding less like a washed-out, lo-fi, indie-popster drifting towards the beach, Finn is Kerouac’s Sal Paradise embodied – watching the American landscape zoom, and blur past, in a drunken montage of brilliant color.
On Clear Heart Full Eyes – the solo album recorded during a five-month break from The Hold Steady, Craig Finn delivers THE definitive Winter record. A collection of distinctively American tales of woe, broken promises, shattered dreams and heartache, accompanied by eerie, twangy, lap-steel guitar and alt. country swirls, that come together to conjure a barren, winter sky…but stay Positive! Finn sure is. In fact, Finn can’t help himself from staying positive. Even when it sounds like his heart has been broken, he’s lost a friend or his faith, Finn’s clever wordplay gleams light into these gloomy tales, which, in the end shine with possibility – as does the album.
– Casey Bowers
Album – Craig Finn : Clear Heart Full Eyes
Label – Full Time Hobby
Release date: January 24, 2012
Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars
[photo: Cory Greenwell]
Evan Kaloudis at OneThirtyBPM reviews Jeff Mangum Live October 29th, 2011 at Town Hall in New York.
Years ago when I began diving into the world of indie rock, I ruled out the possibility of ever seeing Neutral Milk Hotel or the reclusive Jeff Mangum — in any form — perform live. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea would be seen by many as the “crowning gem” of the genre and since the band’s breakup, Mangum had been as elusive a figure as any, only showing his face at Elephant 6 reunions at random.
In recent years, however, Mangum began poking his head out of his shell, first by playing Neutral Milk Hotel songs at others’ shows, to playing full sets unannounced, to playing ATP and embarking on a small tour of his own. About two weeks ago he even stopped by Zuccotti Park for a brief performance at Occupy Wall Street. Naturally, after missing him at ATP, I had to catch him in New York.
I trekked out into the snowy New York night (the first pre-Halloween snowfall since 1958!) and made it to New York City’s Town Hall theater just off of Times Square. The Town Hall hosts a wide array of events including Broadway shows, choirs, orchestras, jazz bands, comedians — hell, you can even catch Rush Limbaugh there at the end of the month (I implore you not to). And while the venue often does do acoustic shows like this, I didn’t really expect to be seated for this momentous occasion.
Opening for Mangum was Ólöf Arnalds, an Icelandic singer-songwriter, who alternated between guitars and a ukulele-like charango. She performed in both English and Icelandic, bantering with the audience throughout her songs as she plucked her strings and arpeggiated her chords before entering into the next verse. The 35-minute set was certainly soothing, and truly showcased Arnalds’ talents — especially her closing: a mic-less, a cappella version of an Irish folk tune — but I couldn’t help but feel anxious throughout the whole set, eagerly anticipating what was to follow.
Mangum soon appeared on stage and the entire theater erupted in applause. Then — absolute silence as he opened up with Aeroplane‘s closer “Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two.” Perhaps it was out of awe, or maybe it was just he nature of the venue, but for his first three songs (“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “Song Against Sex”) there was complete silence except for applause between songs. Mangum commented, “You don’t have to be so quiet,” and went into “Gardenhead” as the cheers began.
Next was the eight-minute epic, “Oh Comely,” which yet again brought the crowd to silence as Mangum clenched his eyes shut and bellowed through the darkness of the theater, going the extra mile by holding notes before carrying into the final section of the song.
After another solemn number, “I Love the Living You” (a Roky Erickson cover), Mangum returned to Aeroplane again with “Ghost.” The silence had become prevalent again, leading Mangum to engage the audience to get them to make some noise: “Now fucking sing!”
The cheering and banter from there on continued, with the audience’s singing becoming more and more amplified as Mangum played through all parts of “The King of Carrot Flowers” without break, and climaxed with his last song of the set, “Holland, 1945.” As he played those opening chords the room suddenly came alive; it seemed as if ever single person in attendance knew all the words as was singing along. It was truly an enthralling moment.
After a standing ovation, Mangum returned with “Two-Headed Boy Pt. One” and b-side “Engine” before taking off into the night, leaving the audience standing and cheering for a good five minutes before they were disappointed by the sight of tech crew taking his set-up apart.
Although the audience lulled at times, Mangum put on a fantastic performance and managed to get us all roaring together to make for a truly ghostly experience. Despite this all — and it pains me to say it — Mangum’s “dee-dees” will never compare to Scott Spillane’s trumpet work, and however great the songs stood on their own, a full-backed band performing them would be worlds apart. Unfortunately, I don’t think a full reunion will ever happen.
Hopefully I’ll be eating my words in a year or two’s time.
Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Song Against Sex
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
I Love the Living You (Roky Erickson cover)
A Baby for Pree
The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One
The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three
Two-Headed Boy Pt. One
Release date: October 11, 2011
Label: Thril Jockey
We Were Promised Jetpacks: In the Pit of the Stomach
Label: Fatcat Records
Release date: October 4, 2011
When people think of Scotland, three things come to mind – kilts, haggis and the Loch Ness monster. This is a fact and to be honest, it’s quite comprehensive. But after spending a decade living there one year, I quickly realised that beyond prehistoric urban myths and (surprisingly delicious) sheep innards, Scotland has a thriving music scene with a wealth of burgeoning talent and a handful of next-big- things.
For the uninitiated, We Were Promised Jetpacks (WWPJ) build on the reputation of fellow countrymen, like Belle and Sebastian and The Fratellis, falling somewhere along the spectrum between the formers’ poetic melancholy and the latters’ sanguine sing-alongs. Their debut album, These Four Walls (2009), put the Edinburgh-based quartet on the map, seeing them tour America and later open for Jimmy Eat World. Several singles achieved commercial success and served as soundtrack fodder for U.S. TV shows and a film (okay, so it was Hall Pass, but still).
The big question, as with most second albums, is whether In the Pit of the Stomach is a display of maturity or a sophomoric slump.
The opening track, “Circles and Squares”, starts with a cacophonous intro and immediately it’s apparent that compared to These Four Walls, vocalist Adam Thompson is lacking his former energy and passion. Confusingly, it somehow manages to gracefully evolve and ramp up to a powerful crescendo. The reward is a beautiful, contemplative instrumental ending that ultimately saves the song. Nonetheless, noticeable dissonance at Track #1 is never a good thing.
“Act on Impulse” is arguably one of the best tracks on the album. The addictive opening of punchy guitar riffs and drumming goes on for over two minutes and is gentle, upbeat and calming. An ethereal cadence and the songs’ raw lyrics show just what WWPJ is capable of, proving also that Thompson does indeed have the ability to stir emotions without needlessly yelling.
Expectations are lowered in “Through the Dirt and the Gravel”, which is chaotic and frenetically paced. Thompson’s vocals are grating and dispirited; one gets the feeling he can’t wait for this song to end either. While bassist Sean Smith and guitarist Michael Palmer struggle to salvage and inject some much-needed energy, the track sounds like something from a high school battle of the bands.
If you listen to just one song on In the Pit of the Stomach, make it “Sore Thumb”. This autumnal anthem is a modern-day lullaby for 21st century youth. To the social media weary, the indifferent, the young-and-already-blasé, and the confused and searching – this song is yours. It magically encapsulates the orchestral grandeur of Arcade Fire and fuses it with the strengths and personality of WWPJ, notably the exuberance that was abundant in their debut album. The result is nothing short of a poignant indie masterpiece fit for heavy rotation.
Like my year abroad in Scotland, the album avoids any middle ground, favouring an emotional rollercoaster approach instead. Thrilling highs or dramatic lows. Love or hate. Fish or chips. So what’s the verdict – sophomore slump or does WWPJ soar up into the strata? It’s actually not easy to tick either box definitively. In the Pit of the Stomach lacks the gumption and cohesiveness of These Four Walls, which was full of youthful vigor. It is decidedly the awkward, evolving adolescent phase of the band, and while there are moments of beauty and revelation, the underlying discordance shows that WWPJ are still finding their feet. But then, aren’t we all?
The real weight of Cox’s work comes from the sense of isolation he creates on Parallax. Where most albums involve the world outside the artist, this album feels completely on its own, a summary of Cox’s stream-of-consciousness style of song writing and perfectly arranged instrumentals. While piecing the tracks together doesn’t necessarily reveal a coherent story or theme, the tone and rhythm of each song, strings together in movie score-esque pattern. Infectious guitar chords on “The Shakes” are echoed deep within the closing track “Nightworks,” in a tangentially related but familiar way. There’s a pattern to so much of Cox’s work, but it’s never boring or predictable. The subtle piano keys on “Mona Lisa” differentiate it from the rest of the album, but the same guitar effects are present along with Cox’s echoing vocals.
The album’s highlight, which truly showcases Cox’s ability to arrange and perform a song, is “Te Amo.” One of the best tunes this year, “Te Amo” has a simple lyrical structure, but is amazingly complex and breathtaking when taken as as a whole.The scaling piano keys at the beginning are entrancing, compounded by the slam of a drum that all lead into the explosion of Cox’s vocals. “We’ll have such strange dreams,” Cox sings in the third verse, the tune, by this time, having fallen into a hypnotic pace. On its own, the tune is perfect. But even as it transitions to the next track on the album, you can hear how it fits perfectly within the context of the rest of the album. And that’s where “Te Amo” excels: in its ability to stand alone as a great single, without retracting from the contained experience of Parallax.
There’s usually little to be learned from an album’s cover art, but Parallax has a story to tell. Cox, grabbing the microphone, standing half-lit and alone, is presented in his truest form. While his other projects also flourish, Cox is at his best when solo, left unaffected by outside voices and concerns. His ability to write hermetically, and at the rate and range at which he does, proves Cox to be an important, if fringe, member of the modern music scene. Parallax challenges current experimental pop music’s tropes and habits, vastly exceeding all expectations as one of the best albums this year, and certainly the best of Cox’s already-storied career.
– Erik Burg
Label: What’s Your Rupture
Release date: June 21, 2011
Anger, anxiety, maladjustment and nihilism are all impulses that legions of teenagers combat daily. In Copenhagen, four teens are not merely scrapping against these demons, but waging an outright war on them.
Meet Iceage: a Danish punk outfit, whose rowdy live shows have delineated them the poster children for a “new cult of violent youth” – just have a scroll through the bloody post-show photos on their blog.But their new album New Brigade, substantiates the band as much more than a group of gashed-head exhibitionists and young, brash, noise makers. In a musical climate so over-run with baby-soft indie pop, New Brigade is a refreshingly angry, visceral exercise in contained chaos and high-octane energy output. The album is a post-punk call of arms for loners and anarchists, alike, and easily one of the best punk records I’ve heard in years.
[rating: 5 stars]
M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Release date: October 18, 2011
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is twenty-two tracks of flawlessly crafted synth, drenched in intrepid, day-glo, art-pop scenery, barring a wasted moment. What M83 (Anthony Gonzalez) has accurately described as “Very, very, very epic.”
The double-album experience marks M83’s sixth record release, and an ambitious one at that. Siting Billy Corgan’s twenty-eight-track, nine times platinum, alternative magnum opus Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, as inspiration, more evoking of The Breakfast Club Soundtrack, Anthony Gonzalez, forges his ongoing love affair with dreams and the magical escapism of his youth into seventy-four minutes of bittersweet nostalgia, reconciled through epic dance jams. The result, is a very long, polished bedroom recording, you can bounce and sway to, contrived as a listener album, not a consumer.
Thematically, this is an album romanticizing youth; utter isolation, ecstatic joy, heartbreak and self-discovery. The first record follows one character’s longing for a relationship to finding love (even if it only lasts two songs), through a period of self-mourning, and new dawn and redemption.
While this is very much a unified album, almost every song on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming beautifully occupies a space all it’s own. The stand-out single and notably, one of the most redeeming singles of the year, “Midnight City”, is a humid, adrenaline-driven dream of a song, unlike any of M83’s previous work. Here, Gonzales’ voice is extremely compelling, less of a whisper than usual and more of a throaty cry, as eerie vocal harmonies, haunting sub-textures and synthetic strings adeptly sweep you into a highly danceable urban groove, swimming in broken neon light. M83’s signature dream pop aesthetics are all here, but each track feels larger and more bombastic than ever. “Reunion” is an effective track, ruminating on familiar territory from 2008’s Saturdays=Youth; nostalgia for youth, only this time around with heavier soaring synths. And, there is no better example for magnifying the familiar than on “Wait”, with it’s wistful Pink Floyd-like acoustic guitar riff, and high-pitched vocals elevating the song into something bigger and better than any songs off Gonzale’ previous albums.
Hurry up, We’re Dreaming, like almost every “indie” album recorded this year, adopts nostalgia as the basis from which to create, but what makes Gonzalez unique is his ability to dig deeper into the music and memories of his youth and not only move forward with it, but transcend it.
Starfucker, also known as STRFKR, formerly briefly known as Pyramiddd, performed to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night. A far cry from the Nachbar show I organized in 2008 (link) and even the Mercury Lounge performance of 2009 (link). How things have changed…bigger venue, bigger sound, bigger crowd, and even a bigger band…but there was one major deficiency. Ryan, the face and frontman of Starfucker, is gone. Starfucker may have started as a solo project of Josh’s, but for anyone who had seen them live, Ryan was the center of attention. For those that had never seen Starfucker before, the absence is really no loss. The band sounded fantastic, Shawn and Josh both stepped up to share duties that the comically bad dancer Ryan once alone bore and had I not known better I would think they’d spent years with this approach. Call me an old man, well-removed from the loop, as I was unaware that in early August, Ryan had announced his departure from the band to focus on his solo career. It’s unfortunately hard to recover from an unexpected blow of that caliber. I wasn’t prepared.
Nevertheless, the band DID sound amazing. Starting off with the their first ever single, German Love, the band instantly drew the crowd in. Though in essence a simple and pure pop song, when combined with a rad laser show, harder-than-anticipated synth beats, and a crowd of primarily 18-20 yr olds, a pit was bound to erupt. It was, in fact, in many ways, one of the most aggressive shows I have seen in New York, and it was from the first note. My girlfriend and I were literally forced from front row, center stage to fifth row, stage left by the time German Love had finished. Growing up going primarily to punk shows, I loved it. The energy of the band and the crowd ramped up quickly and never faltered. My concern that the show would lack energy, sweat and dancing without Ryan was quickly alleviated.
New York’s Caveman played a sold-out recordless record release party last week (9/15) for the digital release of their debut album “CoCo Beware” on Magic Man! Records (which you can get here). Packed with psychedelic pop jams from beginning to end, we were ecstatic for the chance to catch these guys live. Their show contained a visual component which was relatively nondescript, but which worked nicely to light the stage in a beautiful way while not distracting the audience from the focal point of the performance, namely the music. Frontman Matthew Iwanusa’s vocals contain traces of the nostalgia that seems to pervade every fuzzy shoegaze band since 2008…which is, of course, essentially every “new” band since 2009…but only ever so subtly and in hearing them live, I felt as though harmonically the vocals were aimed more at creating a mood than a mentality. Anyone you speak to will tell you that if you like Grizzly Bear, you’ll like Caveman, however in a live setting, while a great deal of the albums texture does come through that invariably draws the Grizzly Bear references, I found Caveman to provide what was, for me, a significantly more engaging and exciting performance. Iwanusa alternated between a standing drum and guitar and on songs such as “My Room” and “Great Life” launched into ferociously heavy tribalesque drum tirades turning the otherwise melancholic and hushed songs into truly dance-worthy jams. It’s rare to find a band with such sweeping and beautiful sounds to also have the pop sensibilities that Caveman has, and perhaps the best example is “Thankful.”
It’s no surprise that Caveman are so quickly generating buzz instantly upon the release of their debut and have gained places opening with the likes of The War on Drugs, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and the White Rabbits. These guys put on one hell of a good show. Abandoning the sold out crowd with a deafening reverb, Caveman returned to the stage to perform one last unplanned nonalbum song “Wasted Life.” Our recommendation, be sure to catch Caveman at CMJ next month, you won’t be disappointed.
St. Vincent: St. Vincent
Label: 4ad Records
Release date: September 13, 2011
Annie Clark is a woman of almost painterly beauty who would, in all likelihood, cut a bitch if she needed to. Beneath her gracefully composed chamber pop lies a scratchy, violent underbelly. With Strange Mercy, Clark achieves the perfect balance of porcelain elegance and distorted ugliness she’s spent three albums working to hit. Serrated guitar and some seriously agitated synthesizers—the coda of “Surgeon” sounds like something off a particularly wigged-out Bernie Worrell record—rip straight through strings, woodwinds and Clark’s own crystalline voice, leaving fractures in the delicate arrangements that take on a skewed sort of loveliness themselves.
– Matt Singer
[rating: 5 stars]
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
Release date: June 21, 2011
When Justin Vernon holed himself up in a remote cabin, writing For Emma, Forever Ago, there is no way he could have foreseen the span of impact his album would exonerate, nor could anyone else. Like a folk story echoed from generations ago, the goal was to hibernate and purge a year of personal trouble, pain, lack of perspective, heartache, longing, love, loss and guilt into a deeply affecting nine-song avalanche of gorgeous, fragile catharsis. A year later, he would be taking calls from Kanye West, summoned for an indie all-star team recording eighties inspired love songs, releasing an auto-tuned EP, and closing Coachella.
After three years, Bon Iver, Bon Iver arrives into a world not only aware of it’s conception, but anticipating it’s birth with yearning. Thankfully, fans of Vernon’s lauded but comparatively skeletal predecessor albums, will not be disappointed. Bon Iver, Bon Iver masterfully combines the fruit of these labors,“bringing it all back home”. Like For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon’s unmistakably earthy voice feels warm and personal amidst the minimalist composition residue lingering on this album; the organic sound of drumsticks bumping together, fingers sliding along a fretboard, all nestled inside a new collection of quietly introspective folk songs like “Holocene” and “Towers”. The guitar at the beginning of “Holocene” is even reminiscent of Vernon’s pre-Bon Iver solo track “Hazelton” and there are post-rock echoes of Vernon’s experimental side-project Volcano Choir on songs like “Perth”, which transcends conventional verse and song structure. Even more, striking comparisons can be drawn to the Blood Bank EP, whose auto-tune legacy is, once again, re-visited with surprisingly tactful results.
But, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is built on a much more vibrant and lush linchpin than anything prior. These arrangements are more sophisticated and robust, and flourish from a consistent reciprocity of warm, beatific instrumentation consolidated by studio finesse. On the dramatic “Wash.”, Vernon’s virtuosic falsetto co-exists elegantly alongside the steady rhythm of keys before being tirelessly joined by separate layers of bold instruments punctuated by horns and synth. The song titles on Bon Iver, Bon Iver are named for, or reference actual locations; a wash of memories from places visited or dreams of places to go. But unlike Band of Horses or Sufjan Stevens, these songs are less about the geography or culture of specific locations and more about breaking away to a state of mind; living outside yourself and finding beauty in that space.
For an album written about escape, Bon Iver, Bon Iver puts forth a valiant effort at staying the course.
BATTLES: GLOSS DROP
LABEL: WARP RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 6, 2011
How many bands can you think of that lost their lead singer and didn’t completely fold? Probably not many. But for Battles, the show goes on after the departure of Tyondai Braxton, the central figure of 2007’s break-out album Mirrored. As you’d expect after such a line-up overhaul, Gloss Drop is noticeably different from its predecessor, though many of the qualities that made their debut such a hit are still at play: high energy, strong musicianship, and an abundance of addictive weirdness.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Braxton’s presence isn’t missed here, because it is. But the remaining members of the band – Ian Williams, John Stanier, and Dave Konopka – have done a fantastic job of brining in outside vocalists to complement their groove-heavy, mathematical-leaning sound. “Ice Cream,” a track that’s been kicking around for a while now, is one of the best examples of this, welcoming Matias Aguayo to the microphone to lay down crisp, almost ska-inspired vocals that wildly flirt with the frantic, rhythmic instrumentation. Later, the band collaborates with Gary Numan, Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, and Yamantaka Eye on the elborate closer “Sundome”. And remarkably, these guest spots rarely sound like guest spots at all. Each of these artists blends so well- maybe it’s the production, maybe it’s the way the record was arranged, or maybe Battles just have keen ears for what precisely fits their aesthetic- that Gloss Drop sounds every bit as cohesive as Mirrored (even if there are less vocals.) It also helps that these featured artists were used in moderation. Only a quarter of the tracks have outside hires and each guest appearance is nicely bridged by the group’s quirky instrumentation, which prevents the album from sounding like an off-beat collaboration.
Yet, while there is no distinctly weak track on the album, there are, at points, moments that repeat, or songs that go on for longer than necessary. To put it another way, at times, Gloss Drop plays like a jam band with experimental, math-rock tendencies. “Futura” is one track where this really jumps out. For more than half it’s duration, the track is intense and gripping. But at some point around it’s final two minutes, the song starts to lose traction. The rhythms and cadences of the instrumentation might actually be duplicating but it sure sounds like that’s what’s happening. By no means does this wound the album as a whole, but it does grow sort of tiresome; just as it can be exhausting to hear a band stretch a three minute song into a 10 minute song in a live setting. It’s a bit of overkill- especially when a track like “Dominican Fade” proves they don’t always need to go the excessive route.
Most bands ravaged by turnover would have simply fallen off the face of the Earth, but it almost feels like the remaining members of Battles thrived on the challenge of picking up the pieces and carrying on. Depending on your own personal metrics, it’s entirely plausible to discover that this record is actually better than the first. It isn’t flawless, to be sure, but Battles have surely survived the wreckage with minimal scarringl with a successful album that asserts there’s more to come.
DAWES: NOTHING IS WRONG
LABEL: ATO RECORDS/ RED
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 7, 2011LABEL: ATO RECORDS/ RED
When Taylor Goldsmith rips into a staccato-laced solo toward the end of “Fire Away” on Dawes’ second LP, Nothing is Wrong, the band emphatically declares their expansion. With more time to write and focus their efforts, Dawes managed to honor their modern, Laurel Canyon country folk by adding moments of increased muscle and bright, new flourishes to their striking harmonies within a wider palette of sound. While“Fire Away” burns with more power live, here the track is subdued. Working withinthis template of reverent albums androcking live shows the band has, for the second consecutive time, created an album that crackles with pristine sound andcarries an instantly classic resonance in its powerful intimacy. Even the packaging and gatefold lyric book (in the vinyl version) echo the simple clarity that pulses through this band’s sound.
Nothing Is Wrong kicks off with“Time Spent in Los Angeles,” a nearperfect slice of quintessential Dawes that aches and echoes the struggle of sustaining relationships while living on the road. Lead singer and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith shines right off the bat, flaunting his uncanny ability to resolve a melody with the best. “My Way Back Home” is the first new example of a Dawes calling card on the new record. Plaintive, majestic and sincere, their ballads display an inherent musical patience. Couple this restraint with a vintage, honest heart andthe ability to craft warmly rich hooks, and surrender is only natural. Dawes couldn’t fake it if they tried.
It is rare for such a young band,drummer Griffin Goldsmith is only 20, to play with such earnest focus and pitch perfect tone. Music seems to float effortlessly from their core. And lyrically, Goldsmith continues to build a reputation forbeing wise beyond his years. Singing ina plaintive call on “My Way Back Home:”“If I can place it all together /Make out the nature of the call / I start to feel the love and the silence / That was always at theroot of it all.”
“Coming Back to a Man” was originally played as a ballad at the tailend of the North Hills tour, but now hasmore of a barnstorming, country feel to it due to its punchy drum work. The bounce and the timeless harmonies of “How Far We’ve Come” signal a progression forthe band. Like the perfect soundtrack for an intimate pool-side barbecue, the song unfolds in such a delightfully ageless waythat its catchy phrases, warm piano, and buoyant hum simply feel like home. Letout a celebratory sigh as the band sings “The only point of clocks and maps / The only point of looking back / Is to see howfar we’ve come.”
“Moon in the Water” strongly suggests a nod to a 70’s singer-songwriter style reminiscent of Jackson Browne with more gorgeous piano work and a melody that slowly seeps in. It is a track that exemplifies Nothing is Wrong’s ability tofoster deeper appreciation after repeated listens. Because the strong songwritingrelies on traditional country rock structures,but imbues them with lucid, melodic work and incandescent harmonies, some songs only reveal their true powerin time. An easy-going playing style is afactor as well. Their style doesn’t try toimpress with technical flourishes, rather itslowly burrows into your pores with narya note wasted or misplaced.
Dawes’ talents have recently been stamped by two rock legends thattapped the LA youngsters as a backingband for hire. Robbie Robertson askedthe four-piece to help him promote Howto Become Clairvoyant, his first LP in 20 years, and Laurel Canyon-icon Jackson Browne lined them up to support him onan upcoming tour of Spain. Those gigs,coupled with an opening slot on Alison Krauss and Union Station’s “comeback”tour, rave reviews from national and underground publications, and a burgeoning reputation as a full throttle live band, has Dawes primed to thrive. With Nothing is Wrong’s ability to fire poignant and lasting musical arrows straight from a heartof gold, Dawes signals they are here tostay.
– Chirs Calarco
For me, YACHT has always beenone of those bands that is better in myhead than in reality. That isn’t a slight,mind you. See, Mystery Lights is a solidrecord, but it’s easy for judgment toremain unclouded when the phenomenal“Ring the Bell” and “The Afterlife” areyour memory’s sticking points. And so,with such great tracks as benchmarks,the excitement of gearing up to listento the band is often disproportionate tothe consistency of the catalog. But withShangri-La, that disconnect has fadedsignificantly. In fact, while moving at amuch steadier pace, YACHT has comeup with their best work to date.
With this new record, YACHThasn’t so much reinvented its sound,but rather, better channeled the old one.Shangri-La remains heavy on percussionand electronics, and retains plenty of popelements, but it has managed to mature;to bring them all together cohesively,while shaking off much of the band’s tendencyto meander off into filler-country.With “Utopia” and “Dystopia,” the first twosongs on the tracklist and two of the bestcuts the band has ever recorded, YACHT lays all the necessary groundwork forwhat’s in store, both sonically and thematically.A glimpse of the album’s coverhelps drive home the songs’ thematicelements. The cover is a map full of roaringterrain and flowing rivers titled Utopia(er, VTO PIAE), which, along with someof these tracks – not just the first two,though those are the ripest examples -highlights exactly what the band aims todo: to use their music as a vehicle for amake-believe spot on the globe wherethings are just a little bit brighter, and alittle less hostile. And, like watching themiles drop on your GPS, listening tothese tracks steadily builds toward thedestination.
In many respects, Shangri-La isa lot like those old drugged up hippierecords that have since become synonymouswith Woodstock and tie-dyedpeace symbols. Though there are a lotof religious references, the lyrics don’tpreach; instead, they offer a welcoming‘whoever-you-are-and-whatever-youbelieve.’“Tripped & Fell in Love” is allabout cherishing family values, whichfits in nicely with some of the brother/sister sentiment sprinkled throughout the LP. And while it isn’t the premiere songon the album, “Paradise Engineering” isthe most apt example of what’s happeningon Shangri-La. This is also the mostLCD Soundsystem-esque track from aband that has garnered comparisons tothe recently defunct outfit. On this track, Claire Evans rants and raves more thanshe sings, though her delivery is poisedand poignant. As the title suggests,she effectively spends this song layingout her proposal for a better livelihood,while inviting her listeners to join her.
YACHT has yet to fulfill all of itsenormous promise. But it’s taken marvelousstrides and formulated a brilliant poprecord; one full of imminently enjoyablemessages and melodies that no doubtdeserve repeated listens. And, if youare one of those people who look to thisband as a potential replacement for thenow-departed LCD Soundsystem, well,Shangri-La certainly instills hope. And ifyou aren’t, then, as this record suggests,you’re just as welcome so long as youcome in peace.
[rating: 4.5 stars]
Shabazz Palaces: Black Up
Label: Sub Pop
Release date: June 28, 2011
Black Up is a hip-hop album that sounds unlike any other hip-hop album this year. Borrowing from African roots, jazz, ambient, electronic and dub-step and led by enigmatic Seattle based rapper Ishmael Butler aka ‘Palaceer Lazaro’, once ‘Butterfly’ of Digital Planets, Black Upis both dense and dissonant. This is a sonic move reminiscent of early Wu-Tang and J-Dilla mixed with the atmospheric magic of DJ Shadow, sounding at once throwback but some how still miles ahead.
Release date: June 7, 2011
When something seems too good to be true, it likely is – or so goes the old adage. When “Go Outside,” the debut single from New York twosome Cults, was unearthed back in February 2010, the track elevated Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion to instant hype band status – but the question of how they might grow after such an impressive start remained. How could this pair, so heavily indebted to the bubbly radio pop of the 1960′s and 70′s, flesh out their sound and retain the same magic? Turns out, the answer is pretty simple: just stick to the script.
See, Cults aesthetic isn’t much of a mystery. Oblivion lays down the arrangements on a foundation of guitar and percussion, then rounds things out with an assortment of peripheral gear and technique that includes bells, xylophones, piano, and light distortion to simultaneously identify the sound with throwback hits of past generations and modern indie rock’s latest trends. Over all of this Follin’s sugary sweet voice floats, ripe with innocence and curiosity. Her style borrows from old Motown and R&B singles, often replicating the stuff you’d hear if you dropped a couple of quarters into one of those table jukeboxes they have at retro diners. But this is obvious – it’s the same stuff we heard on “Go Outside” that made us question sustainability in the first place. The thing that sells the band, that really ignites and extends the magic, is the hidden evil lurking behind their pretty, peppy, cuddly outer shell.
“Abducted,” a single released in April that went a long way towards proving the band wasn’t just going to be a one-off outfit, begins with chugging guitar and the sound of far-off voices. Later, similar voices resurface in the aforementioned “Go Outside,” as well as “Most Wanted,” and, easily an album standout, “Oh My God.” These voices, as it turns out, belong to neither Follin nor Oblivion, but rather to famous cult leaders Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and Patty Hearst. Coupled with lyrics about growing up, daunting feelings about a relationship’s nebulous future, and even substance abuse, the contrast between content and sound gives the band the sort of inner turmoil we appreciate in the characters from our favorite movies. Their seemingly innocent, playful melodies paint Cults as well-intentioned folks, but like the songs, dig a little deeper and you’ll find skeletons below the surface. This isn’t glorifying darkness though, but rather a reminder that sometimes wonderful things are born out of tumultuous events.
But on an album of phenomenal tracks, perfect for summertime, the best comes in the form of “Bumper,” a he said/she said song that analyzes a crumbling relationship from the perspective of both inside parties. Follin’s voice is great, but the effect gained from tossing the microphone back and forth is what really sets this song apart, giving it a sound unique to any other on the record (though it adheres to the general blueprint). It’s also chock full of great quotes: “I threw his shit on the floor,” Follin sings with the sauciness of a tried and true diva, while Oblivion snaps back, “she rushed me out the door.” Later, it gets better, with Folin reciting “I’ve had it up to here/I can’t take this anymore,” only to have Oblivion fire back with the hilarious and identifiable “if she’s this crazy now/there’s no telling what’s in store.” In between each of these exchanges, Follin’s vocals flutter around in re-verb in the background, simply offering up “la la la la la.” Again, it’s a whole dynamic of pretty sounds laced with venomous subjects that gives the band not only it’s identity, but also a fountain of ways in which to stretch that identity.
Any apprehensions about whether or not Cults could turn “Go Outside” into a successful, full-length should hastily be put to rest. In every feasible way, Cults punctuates the discussion. Not only that, but it illuminates a promise that Follin and Oblivion may have many more indelible, pop treasures still to come.
My Morning Jacket: Circuital
Label: ATO RECORDS / RED
Release date: May 31, 2011
Experiencing a band in a live setting is almost certain to change your relationship with their music. Of course, the way in which it might change isn’t static. A great show could ignite a long-lasting listening binge, while a sub-par outing could shelf a band’s records for a spell. But sometimes things can change in unsuspecting ways. For me, My Morning Jacket is an example of such a strange case. After seeing them play Merriweather Post Pavilion in May 2010 — a brilliant show by any measure — it become difficult to get back into their studio recordings. They have such a powerful live presence that, who knows, maybe listening to their albums couldn’t quite measure up. And so Circuital arrives in a unique way for me: a brand new album from a beloved band tasked with reigniting a love for all things studio, a record challenged by the lofty expectations of one sensational live performance.
My Morning Jacket named their new album Circuital because they viewed it as something of a return to a previous point in their careers. They returned to Kentucky — specifically a church gymnasium in Louisville — to record this one, landing them in a similar setting with familiar surroundings. Interestingly enough, depending on which song you’re listening to, the album sounds like one of two things: a quiet ode to the days of It Still Moves and Z or a confident respone to critics who dogged the exploratory sounds of Evil Urges. Even more interesting is that it’s the latter that leaves the biggest imprint, while the former mostly comes and goes without a whimper, sounding uninspired and repetitive.
“Victory Dance” is one track that reflects back on the band’s earlier days with success, building an entire song around triumphant horns that act as the soundtrack to a large scale celebration. But from then on, any attempt to replicate their past achievements seems fuzzy at best. The title track gets better and better with each listen but still can’t escape classification as a fairly standard Southern rock anthem, while “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” is a painfully cheesy slow burner that only highlights the way in which Jim James’ songwriting has changed over the years. Gone is the unbridled, unrivaled romanticism of “I Will Be There When You Die”, replaced by gushy swoons over places without disease and need for authority. The sentiment isn’t bad, but the way it’s all arranged makes it difficult to take seriously. Of course, at least it leaves a mark. “Slow Slow Tune” and “Movin’ Away”, which run out the album’s final nine-plus minutes, can’t say the same. A couple of other tributes to My Morning Jacket of the early-2000′s, these songs end the album doing what the band no longer does best. There was a time where the band was essentially James’ personal creative vessel, making the slower songs a lot more affective. Now though, as the band has grown and evolved, they’re much better suited for thicker instrumentation and grander arrangements. They can still knock a mellow tune out of the park here and there, but that’s not their predominant strength in 2011. For them to close out that way causes Circuital to fade away rather than burn out, an unfortunate turn for a band capable of so much more.
It’s not all disappointing though. In fact, there are some phenomenal songs on this album. Coincidentally, these are the ones where the band sounds as large as they’ve become, where they indulge their influences and play for a stadium rather than a smoky bar. “Outta My System” is a highlight, a compact radio-ready track with a defined climax and without wasted airspace. This one, unlike some of the slower throwbacks, operates with a pop aesthetic in mind, cutting straight to the point and crossing the finish line. It just feels like there’s less pretense going on. “Holdin’ on to Black Metal”, meanwhile, sounds like it could have come straight from the Evil Urges recording session, a potpourri track that takes some time to sink in, but ultimately winds up as one of the album’s most rewarding cuts. Along with “You Wanna Freak Out”, there are certainly highlights here. In fact, these three tracks are greatest hits material. The stuff around it though… well, that just mostly feels in the way.
Circuital feels like an album torn between two places. Clearly the group feel indebted to their roots, which means they’ve also got an appreciation for the fans that were with them from the start because of a certain sound. But at the same time, tracks like “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” (and everything they did on Evil Urges) suggest they don’t want to spin wheels either. They want to take their sound down different avenues — and clearly, they’re more than capable of doing it. It’s a difficult place for a band to find themselves in, loyal to home and intrigued by what the road has to offer. If Circuital is any indication, the time may have come to pack up once and for all and explore what the world has to offer.