Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Two Receivers: Dean & Britta's Back Numbers

This review appears in this week's Wireless Bollinger.

Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham have been making dreamy music for a decade, and they sound like veterans on Back Numbers. Drawing upon their experiences in Galaxie 500 (Wareham), Belltower (Phillips) and Luna (both), as well as their first outing as a duo in L'Avventura, the duo offers polished pop at a comfortably unhurried pace. The album is predominately built around digital percussion and guitar washes, with Phillips and Wareham’s restrained, somewhat world-weary voices leading to a consistently mellow sound. That isn’t to say that the album is a snoozer, more that it creates a mood and rarely breaks it.

This formula isn’t going to appeal to everyone. During the band’s performance at the Bowery Ballroom during the CMJ Music Marathon, portions of the crowd were noticeably restless but there were just as many enthusiastic fans. Of course, the term enthusiastic is relative – in this case it was just a matter of clapping a little harder during breaks – and Dean & Britta aren’t likely to attract excessive displays of adoration in the Morrissey vein. Rather, a feeling of strong-but-subtle affection is probably the best they can hope for.

It’s not just that the music is introspective rather than anthemic, or simply soft instead of loud, although that does have an effect in a live setting. Rather, the group seeks to portray themselves in a detached manner, evident from the precise photographs in the packaging to the somewhat impersonal songwriting. Although the tracks that make up Back Numbers are clearly love songs, they’re washed out, favouring mood over direct meaning. It’s an approach that will have its detractors crying aloof, while supporters might hail them as dream pop’s answer to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, with a pedigree to match. Fittingly, Back Numbers features a number of covers, and perhaps it’s because they’re singing other people’s words that some of the intensity is lost and the detachment amplified.

This isn’t to say they aren’t good, as Phillips provides some of the album’s more sublime moments. Lee Hazelwood’s "You Turned My Head Around" is one of these, containing the loudest dynamic on the album as Phillips breaks out of her well practiced purr in the rousing refrain, “And baaaaaby!” accompanied by a synth squelch. Unfortunately, this energy is quickly reeled in by overdubbing and more composed standard verses, but it’s gratifying because of its volume and the hope that around the corner there lies more dynamic shifts like it. Wareham’s nasal delivery is more of an acquired taste as it tilts between spoken lines and more melodic turns. Often, it’s most effective when it provides a backdrop, chipping in the backup vocal or playing off of Phillips’, as in the duet "Say Goodnight."

But Wareham gets in the last word on closer "Our Love Will Still Be There," which provides a glimpse into the timelessness that the duo seeks to create. “I’ll even love you if the world stops spinning ‘round,” he croons, and you’re inclined to believe him.

Phillips and Wareham epitomize longevity, and it’s admirable that they continue to make music after all these years. But their career has been based on a niche, as they seek to perfect an elusive brand of pop. Back Numbers isn’t a bad effort in the ongoing experiment, and it won’t disappoint the longtime fan, but it is unlikely to win over those that were previously uninterested.


MP3: Dean & Britta - Singer Sing
MySpace: Dean & Britta
Official Site: Dean & Britta

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reprise: The Pipettes' We Are The Pipettes

This review appears in this week's Wireless Bollinger.

For the uninitiated, The Pipettes might appear to be singing and dancing in the wrong decade – the group was even founded as an experiment by Robert Barry with the intention of reviving the 1960s girl group sound. Even the structure of The Pipettes defies contemporary standings, with three nicknamed girls – Rosay, Gwenno and RiotBecki – backed by an anonymous male band named the Cassette. Although this setup suggests insidious manufactured pop, many independent-minded publications have embraced, even championed, the group.

The key might just be those pop songs that make up their debut album, We Are The Pipettes. Although none of them run more than a few minutes, and most are about either “love or dancing,” as the group admitted themselves at a recent gig at New York’s Blender Theater, the execution is very appealing. Even without seeing the trio’s choreographed dance moves, there’s remarkable harmonizing throughout the album. Having three singers allows for both big, sweeping choruses and traded verses within a song, techniques the group use to great effect.

"We Are the Pipettes" serves as the group’s theme song, as the girls sing self-introductions. The line “We’re the prettiest girls you’ve ever met,” is subjective, but their confidence is backed by impressive vocals. Likewise “Pull Shapes” is a triumphant indicator for the rest of the album: “I just wanna move/I don’t care what this song’s about,” a fitting mantra when it’s unclear what the title means. These clearly self-deprecatory lyrics and the girl’s general bubblehead enthusiasm embellish the album’s bright, upbeat quality, courtesy of the Cassette’s lively drums and guitars – punctuated on this particular track by a violin.

Although the next track, "Why Did You Stay," doesn’t break the two minute mark, it slows things down, with Rosay taking over lead vocals. About halfway through, after the some back-and-forth lines, the other girls insist, “But he was so sweet.” The music disappears momentarily as Rosay replies, “Well, I’ll had just about enough of sweet.” It’s never established who “he” was, but again, the specifics are secondary to the dialogue, a back-and-forth style that works throughout the album. The latter characters, a schoolmate named "Judy" and a scholarly fellow who “knows all about the movement of the planets/But he don’t know how to move me” on "ABC" are rudimentary sketches. Combined with the brevity of the songs, it’s clear that the Pipettes won’t win people over with lyrics alone, but they don’t have to when they’re so relentlessly hooky.

Perhaps the most risqué of the tracks is the bluntly titled "Sex," but the girls make wonderfully tangential reference to the topic, quoting a guy that promises conversation but “Let’s stop with all the talking/Because there’s no need for any talking for what we’re about to do,” later making his case worse by saying, “Now please don’t take this the wrong way/But my ears are getting sore.” These conversational verses are complemented with the breathless chorus, “Just rest your pretty head,” and this two-pronged approach is hard to resist.

Overall, We Are The Pipettes will please those who appreciate female-fronted pop. Even those that aren’t enamored with the genre may find something to appreciate. The Pipettes aren’t in a band just because of their looks, and there’s real musical merit to their album, each girl demonstrating talent with their vocals. While it’s easy to dismiss something so apparently contrived, those that look beyond their prejudices will find something that’s quite authentic.


Some international versions of the album ship with these two bonus tracks, and the entire record sounds a bit different than the original UK version. It's definitely an incentive to give it another spin or hear it for the first time.

MP3: The Pipettes - Really That Bad
MP3: The Pipettes - Your Love For Me (Demo)
MySpace: The Pipettes
Official Site: The Pipettes

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Interlude: Tweecore

It was another Friday night at the Bowery Ballroom, and possibly my last concert in a concert-filled year. Things have winded down over the last few weeks, and with finals looming, that's probably for the best. Los Campesinos! was one of my discoveries over the summer, and after being unable to get into their Mercury Lounge show, it was really nice to see this date at the end of the year. I had the pleasure of interviewing the band right before things kicked off, and look for a feature soon. The openers were, as is often the case, unknown to me, but that's hardly a bad thing. Tom Vu was also there.

Johnny Foreigner
Birmingham, England trio Johnny Foreigner began things with a bang. Complementing ragged guitar and bass with yelps, the band played like a more concentrated Los Campes!, although perhaps without the pop sensibilities. Admitting that they didn't have material for a full forty minute set, the band bantered good natured with the crowd, talking poorly (but jokingly, we hope) of their hometown and kidding that the next song was a "power ballad)." The problem is, nothing in their catalog really resembles anything like that, and I'd like to see the band get a little more accessible without losing their characteristic chaos.

The Spinto Band

Delaware's the Spinto Band brought cheery - perhaps too cheery - power pop, saturated with sing-song choruses in which anywhere from two to four members sang. Despite the twinkly guitars, there was usually a solid undercurrent of drum and bass, given their vaguely twee sound a decent backbone. It was satisfying at first, but the samey songs got a bit tiresome. Unfortunately, their stage presence only exacerbated the experience. They talked nonsense about replacing words that rhymed with "spray" with "spray," and quite unnecessarily demonstrated how to do so. Not really the city to demonstrate this in, I'm afraid, and the rest of the crowd seemed pretty nonplussed. I'm pretty sure there's much fun to be had with this group, as evidenced by the big cheer went up during one of their songs, but I think I'll stick to the albums.

MySpace: The Spinto Band
Official Site: The Spinto Band

Los Campesinos!

The seven member strong Los Campesinos! filled the stage, and their songs filled the venue. Prior to the show, I was a bit worried that they wouldn't have enough material, and while the set lasted less than an hour, I think we all left feeling satisfied. Los Campes! have a sound that won't appeal to everyone; I wouldn't blame you if it just isn't your thing. But the band brings such a great enthusiasm to the stage, and that their songs, energetic to begin with, before as infectious as ever. There was a sizable crowd to the left that was really getting into it, not really moshing, but just hopping up and down. Ever so often I'd glance over, and there would always be at least a few people in motion, growing in number if the song was particularly lively.

Without diminishing the irreplaceable atmosphere of a live concert, I think that the crowd's reaction is as great a testament as any to the power of the internet. Correlating online buzz with a packed crowd isn't terribly unique; much of the venue selection is based on this calculation. But it's incredible that a band would go from MySpace to playing in front of crowds around the world in such a short time, and to their credit, they're all clearly very grateful for it. Singer Gareth was extremely humble and thankful, but his timidity in between songs didn't affect his energy, as he moved about the stage and eventually went into the audience. Harriet's violin playing was especially nice, as on record, giving their cacophony the perfect highlight. She also sang with keyboardist Aleks, providing some pretty harmonies that softened Gareth's more accented delivery. They've got a great dynamic, and I'm sure they'll be back next year to bigger and more excited crowds.

MP3: Los Campesinos! - Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)
MP3: Los Campesinos! - We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives
MySpace: Los Campesinos!
Official Site: Los Campesinos!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ghost In The Shell: Burial's Untrue

This review appears in this year's final Friday issue of Washington Square News.

The London electronic producer Burial released sophomore album Untrue to an overwhelmingly positive reaction, with a preliminary internet buzz and write-ups in prominent publications. It's an unexpected response to a record as difficult as Untrue, but one that's justified. While the album is far from immediate, it is full of strangely beautiful soundscapes.

After a brief introduction, "Archangel" begins the album with a bold statement, as a looped, painfully romantic voice confesses over a stuttering break beat. While the lyrics are simple ("Loving you/Couldn't be alone") and the percussion is mechanized, the song conveys real emotion.

The rest of the album expands on this template, filtering elegantly cathartic lines such as, "I envy you," "You lied" or "I can't take my eyes off you" through hazy atmospheric effects. Words aren't necessary on "Ghost Hardware," which is built around shimmering vocals that float above its steady clank of sound, the only solid element in the mix. The distortion clears on the latter half of "Shell of Light," as soulful singing provides a tranquil moment, but it's once again swallowed by the rest of the album's moodiness.

The result is an intensely nocturnal work that acts as a cohesive mood piece, divided into tracks as a formality. It's unnecessary that Burial reveal his true identity, as his music is impressive no matter what influenced its formation. Untrue is an unconventional album, but one that's starkly poignant.


Burial needs to tour, but he probably won't. Maybe take a page out of Daft Punk's book and dress up to hide your identity? Read some interviews at Hyperdub's blog and Blackdown.

MP3: Burial - Ghost Hardware
MP3: Burial - Shell of Light
MySpace: Burial
MySpace: Hyperdub
Official Site: Hyperdub

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Shout Out Loud: Yelle's Pop-Up

This review appears in this week's Wireless Bollinger, which also contains a fine piece on Tegan and Sara from Joe.

2007 has been a French electronic renaissance. With House godfathers Daft Punk playing in steel pyramids to huge crowds and newcomers Justice emblazoning their cross motif across the world, it’s apparent that the 4/4 beat is as popular as ever. The release of Brittany native Yelle’s Pop-Up seems perfectly timed, but it’s probably more of a coincidence than some sort of marketing ploy.

Yelle’s rise to prominence came about in a manner that’s become almost routine in a grassroots digital environment. After posting a vulgar song entitled "Short Dick Cuizi," which insults a member of the Parisian group TTC, onto MySpace and garnering thousands of plays, Yelle would eventually be signed by Source etc, a French division of EMI. That song would eventually become "Je Veux Te Voir," a song that borders on absurdity, with allusions to everything from Hummers to French Fries, but one that remains thoroughly entertaining.

The title itself (trans. "I Want to See You") reinforces the fact that Yelle is a singer, not an introverted pair of producers, and capable of injecting personality into each track. Instead of relying on obscure vocal samples or a rotating list of collaborators, Pop-Up is anchored by Yelle’s voice. The album is not merely another anonymous dance party soundtrack, but the work of a single singer, albeit one that doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Despite lyrics sung entirely in French, Pop-Up’s straightforward song titles provide even a rudimentary Francophile with a general impression of each track’s meaning, which is generally some reiteration of boys, girls and love. Those looking for deeply insightful songwriting should look elsewhere; it is apparent that the album’s resonance will come from its basslines, not its lyrics. Yelle’s mantra seems to be that sheer catchiness trumps subject matter, and she has the production to back it up.

"Ce Jeu" (This Game) begins the album on a pretty note, as Yelle sings winsomely over a recurring synth hook; "A Cause des Garçons" (Because of Boys) adds a snarling bass to the mix, and it’s unsurprising that the Parisian electronic label Kitsuné recently released a remix EP of the track. "Tristesse / Joie" (Sadness / Joy) begins in melancholy form, with a restrained, regular beat, but Yelle’s vocals eventually build to an anthemic chorus, courtesy of overdubbing. "Tu Es Beau" (You Are Beautiful) might be guilty of cliché, but its delicate arrangement and swooning effects are notable as one of the more emotional moments on the album.

Yelle seems comfortable in the role of chanteuse, and it’s unfortunate that the role isn’t fully explored throughout the album. But notions of sentimentality dissolve with Yelle’s breakthrough single "Je Veux Te Voir," which is as effective as ever in reminding the listener why she’s releasing an album at all. The song’s eviscerating synth lines and militant percussion fit well with Yelle’s chants, and the beat’s only interruption occurs when her voice is chopped up into sample sized pieces.

"Amour du Sol" (Love of the Ground) embraces sunny Europop, while closer “Jogging” is a cheerleader-style house track that, although fun, isn’t the most impressive finale. Still, it’s a fitting way to end an album that won’t appeal to everyone. Yelle is a solid pick for fans of singers with a healthy dose of the electronic, but it's unlikely that she'll persuade anyone who's wary of her style to embrace it.

Ultimately, Pop-Up is like a piece of multicolored candy: hardly nutritional, but definitely sweet.


MP3: Yelle - A Cause des Garçons
MP3: Yelle - Je Veux Te Voir
MySpace: Yelle
Official Site: Yelle

Friday, November 30, 2007

Interview: José González

This feature appears in today's Washington Square News.

Heartening news, fellow students: If the school thing doesn't work out, you can always follow in José González's footsteps.

González broke out of his native Sweden with the release of his 2005 debut album, "Veneer." But when he realized he could not play music and maintain his studies in a doctorate program in biochemistry, he choose the guitar pick over the test tube.

This versatility translates to his music. González is often compared to the late acoustic master Nick Drake, but strangely enough, he started his musical career playing bass for hardcore bands as a teenager.

It's difficult to recognize this influence on his second album, "In Our Nature," which is based on the same sound of "Veneer" - soft acoustic guitar and hushed vocals. But González hasn't completely shed his more abrasive roots, especially lyrically. On the album's first track, "How Low," González sings the line, "Absorbed in your hustling/Feeding a monster."

"The lyrics came out similar to what I used to write in the hardcore band, this kind of angry and accusing tone," González said. His rage isn't directed at anyone in particular, as he describes parts of the album as "yelling in the air about humanity in general."

Not satisfied with catharsis, González was also influenced by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion," and ethicist Peter Singer's "Practical Ethics." "I like playing with symbolism," González told British music mag NME. "On this album I've wanted to bring out the primitive aspects of human beings."

Recordings took place again in his hometown of Gothenburg, but the process evolved despite the territorial confines. "Veneer" was more or less a solo project, with only Stefan Sporsen contributing on trumpet. For the new album, González enlisted percussionist Erik Bodin and singer Yukimi Nagano, members of the band Little Dragon.

The two have also joined González on his current tour, but will miss the last four shows so they can play in their own group. Although he has years of experience playing alone, González said it is difficult to entertain an audience for more than an hour.

González keeps the audience's interest by performing other artists' songs. He covered everything from Kyle Minogue's "Hand On Your Heart" to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." After receiving positive feedback for his live cover of Massive Attack's "Teardrop," González said he felt comfortable enough to include it on his new album.

Although substituting the spacious drum machine beat for González's guitar plucks was not much of a divergence from the original, González's only fear was that the track would sound too forceful on an album characterized by restraint.

"It had almost a grunge element to it," González said.

His original success stemmed from doing covers, and had much to do with a cover of fellow Swedes and Mute labelmates the Knife, toning down the synth-pop song "Heartbeats." The track gained popularity through radio play in Sweden before it was picked up by shows like "Scrubs," "The O.C." and a Sony Bravia television commercial, a move González has mixed feelings about.

"I don't really like commercials at all," González said, but he felt the advertising move was justified "as long as it's not too controversial and it's done tastefully."

When he isn't supporting his own releases, González plays in the instrumental trio Junip, a project he plans to focus on next summer. He has also contributed to Zero 7's 2006 album "The Garden," and in what was perhaps poetic justice, the album included a denser reworking of "Crosses," which originally appeared on "Veneer." His extensive involvement in music is a testament to his commitment to the art.

"Ideally, music would just spread wildly and get to the people that are interested without invading," González said, though he added that he's still opposed to illegal downloading if it goes against the artist's wishes.

But on a more universal scale, González is an egalitarian at heart.

"I see very positive tendencies of culture and education becoming less expensive and more accessible to everyone," González said. "In the long run it would be a better world if there was more cultural exchange."

González, with his Swedish home, Argentinean roots and forays into both electronic and acoustic styles, practices what he preaches.


Thanks to Chris and José, who plays at Webster Hall on December 9th.

MP3: José González - Teadrop (Live)
MySpace: José González
Official Site: José González

Yeah: Daft Punk's Alive 2007

This review appears in today's Washington Square News.

Despite not releasing a proper album since 2005's "Human After All," Daft Punk has become more relevant in the last two years. In the midst of a successful 2007 tour, the Parisian house duo commemorated their hometown show in June, releasing a recording of the performance as Alive 2007.

Instead of a straightforward set list, the album features tracks welded together, as the group mixes two or more songs in each sequence. Opener "Robot Rock/Oh Yeah" begins by sampling "Robot" and "Human." As the rest of the instrumentals arrive, the two samples overlap. It's a fitting introduction to a performance that melds mechanical beats and distorted human voices, just as the duo performs in trademark robot suits.

"Touch It/Technologic" is built on the rhythmic chant of the former, while acknowledging the Busta Rhymes song "Touch It," which contains a sample of "Technologic." The prominence of vocals distinguishes Daft Punk from many of its peers, and the fact that other artists sample the material is a testament to Daft Punk's success. But instead of resting on their laurels (or laptops), the duo's bold mixing makes Alive 2007 an exciting experience, even for fans who have been listening to their songs over the last decade.

For those who missed out on Daft Punk's tour, Alive 2007 is a solid substitute. But we have to wait and see if they can match the quality of past work on their next album.


Studio B hosts a record release party for Alive on December 7th. Daft Punk's Electroma will be screened at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on December 22nd.

MP3: Daft Punk - Robot Rock / Oh Yeah
MP3: Daft Punk - Around The World / Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger
MySpace: Daft Punk
Official Site: Daft Punk

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interview: Tegan and Sara

Tegan Quin appreciates music. Along with her twin sister Sara, she’s been writing songs throughout the last decade, but the duo isn’t limited by their immediate material. They’ve covered everyone from Bruce Springstein to Rihanna, enlightening the young and obscure-minded alike. They’re as well connected as some of their fellow Canadians, but their unique personalities and style have made them easy to appreciate, but impossible to duplicate – twin aside.

Tegan and Sara began recording their most recent album, The Con, in January 2007. However, they began the process long before they entered the studio, demoing extensively after tour support for their last album So Jealous ended. These seventeen demos convinced Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla to get involved with the project. Tegan described his approach as preserving the positive qualities of the demos and building on them. They recorded vocals at Walla’s Portland, Oregon studio, the Alberta Court, over a month and a half, and later added drums and bass at the nearby Kung Fu Bakery.

They also had additional musicians contribute. The Rentals’ Matt Sharp, who played Moog on So Jealous, returned, switching to bass because the sisters were already using their own keyboards. AFI’s Hunter Burgan also played bass, and Death Cab’s Jason McGerr played drums after Walla sent him the demos. They also enlisted Ted Gowans, who is part of the touring band, to add instrumentation. “I love all his weird, quirky parts and he doesn’t overplay and he really accents the all the different stuff we’re doing,” says Tegan.

As with the production of So Jealous, the recording process was captured on film. Although, Tegan wasn’t always pleased with having a camera in her face, she still saw it as a positive experience.

“I regret it every time we do it. But I’m going to love it I know twenty years from now. It’s going to be amazing to have all those tapes and to have documented the whole process. It’s also really great to put out that stuff for the fans. It’s something else to put your energy into. In the past I’ve been so obsessive about the records and about how they sound and I get really stressed out and to have something else to funnel my excess energy into made the whole process like a fun thing to do instead of work,” says Tegan.

The effort is consistent with their DVD release, It’s Not Fun, Don’t Do It. Along with a collection of music videos and a recording of their February 16th, 2005 show at the Phoenix in Toronto, it features extensive commentary and a selection of photographs that transverse their career. Tegan explains that this effort as an outgrowth of her own expectations as a fan.

“When I buy bands’ extra additional footage and it’s five minutes of grainy, weird, narcissistic interviews and then their music videos I feel so disappointed. I want to see how they made the record and what they’re like and what the band dynamic’s like, so we really document as much of that as possible. I think we’re the kind of band that you can buy the record and that’s it and just love the record and be done with it, but once you see us live and you see all the funny little videos and watch the movie and go and look at the DVD, you end up starting to feel like you know us,” says Tegan.

One band that echoes the sentiment is Florida’s Against Me!, and Tegan appears on their album New Wave with the track “Borne on the FM Waves of Heart.”

“I interviewed them at Warped Tour last year in Vancouver. We were all kind of mutually gushing and then I made a joke about how they should ask me to play on the new record. Three months later, they called and said that they wanted me to sing on a track that Tom had written and I was like, ‘I’m so in,’” says Tegan. She compared Against Me!’s steady growth in fanbase over multiple albums and the way they interact with their audience to her own experiences, which involved creating their own niche instead of latching onto a preformed one.

“We’ve always been excluded from every scene because we’re so different, we didn’t fit in the indie world and we didn’t fit in the rock world and we didn’t fit in the folk, singer-songwriter world. I didn’t feel like we had a home and in some weird way I relate more to the Against Me! and Death Cab for Cutie and Dashboard Confessional of the world. That DIY, emotional relationship with our audience is exactly what we’ve been doing in the last ten years,” says Tegan.

It’s an attitude that embraces the internet’s independence, and the band has recently seen the benefits of connecting with its audience, and the power of the web.

“We just went and did a European tour and it was all sold out, and we didn’t even put ads out. It was just listed on MySpace. The credit’s due to the audience; people are creating their own scenes and their own industry online. I don’t agree with downloading and music being so cheap and free and turning our industry into a bit of a garage sale sometimes, but I do agree with fans having power and control over what they want to hear. That’s why satellite radio and internet radio make so much sense than a modern rock station that’s playing the same ten songs over and over again, and beating them into you. I think the fans are taking the control back and I like that,” says Tegan.

However, she’s not quite ready to support musical anarchy.

“I’m reluctant to say that labels should be gone, because I think labels create the marketplace and the value in music by spending all this money,” says Tegan, who has a positive view of their new label Sire, a division of Warner. “For a major label, they still have so many indie bands. They’ve been really good, very hands off. We handed them a finished record and they put it out. No one’s really micromanaging us, which I enjoy. I like the freedom.”

Still, freedom has its downsides.

“Two of the people in our band are huge Radiohead fans and they went and downloaded the record and they didn’t pay anything for it. They both ordered the box set, but I was just like, ‘You fail!’ This one time you had an opportunity to put money in their pockets and you chose not to. We all laughed about it but I felt really sad because even our favorite bands are worth nothing to us, because we’ve got a culture that’s convinced that we’re rich,” says Tegan.

Music’s status as a commodity has become increasingly tenuous, and while there’s incredible opportunity for an artist to be discovered, translating that recognition into a stable lifestyle is incredibly difficult. Despite Tegan and Sara’s longevity and recent success, it’s apparent that their profession remains far from easy. But the fact that they continue to evolve and grow is a testament to their qualities not only as musicians, but as human beings.


Thanks to Tegan and Brendan for making this possible. Here's the band's appearance on XPN at the World Cafe in Philadelphia, recorded on August 3rd, 2007. Enjoy!

1. Intro
2. Dark Come Soon
3. Banter - Sick Day
4. Like O, Like H
5. Hop A Plane Intro
6. Hop A Plane
7. Banter - Tragedies
8. Back In Your Head
9. Interview
10. The Con
11. Banter - Karaoke Package
12. Where Does The Good Go
13. Walking With A Ghost
14. Banter - Thank You
15. Living Room

Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: Tegan and Sara
Official Site: Tegan and Sara

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interlude: Back In Your Head

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, if applicable. Mine was, as you probably guessed, enjoyably unproductive. Before the hibernation began, I had the great pleasure of finally seeing Tegan and Sara. They played at the Hiro Ballroom in early August, but the show sold out almost immediately, and I missed out. Thankfully, they announced a gig at Webster Hall shortly afterwards, and after three months, the night finally arrived. It was pretty clear from the moment we entered that I wasn't the only one with great anticipation, as the place was already packed. But first, the openers.

Northern State

Upon hearing Northern State described as a female rap trio, I was pretty wary. The only rap I can seem to appreciate is the sinister, atmospheric variety, a style that seemed far removed from whatever it was this group was offering. I guess one benefit of this bias was that I wasn't terribly disappointed when the trio, who was joined onstage by a drummer and guitarist, more or less fit my expectations. That's not to say the set wasn't at all enjoyable. "Good Distance" is a decent pop song with enough offerings of synth and energy to recall CSS, and a few others had at least as much singing as rapping. I also have to give the girls credit attempting to enliven the crowd, urging us to "take off some layers" and do some cardio to their quasi-dance songs. And yes, Hesta Prynn (of Scarlet Letter allusion) was probably pointing to my camera when she joked, "Photo Op!" in between songs. Overall, I was pleased by the inclusion of the occasion hook, but there are vocalists out there that are simply more appealing to me.

MP3: Northern State - Away Away
MySpace: Northern State
Official Site: Northern State

Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara are one of the few groups I really got into through live recordings. Although their albums are quite enjoyable - This Business of Art remains a personal favorite, and I'm impressed with how they've developed a distinct style over the last two releases - the live setting allows their awesome personalities shine through. There is no one out there that charms the crowd better, and the night was no exception. Opener songs "Dark Come Soon" and "Like O, Like H" seemed rawer than on record, and set an intense mood, as red lights saturated the stage. But the banter kept things personable, as Tegan recalled their first gig in New York, which took place in 2000 at the Fez, which is now closed. Playing to a small crowd and hearing the regular rumble of the subway apparently wasn't the only thing they had to deal with, as their tour manager apparently didn't fit the mold of a nurturing, father figure type.

After some more new songs, the sisters delved into their back catalog, playing "Monday Monday Monday" from their 2002 album If It Was You. Aside from fitting well with the day of the week, it was a nice look backwards, and just another reminder of how long they've been around. Sara would expand on that, describing a young girl who recognized her as a "singer that was on MTV." Upon verifying it through a third party, Sara recalled saying that she felt like forty to which the credulous girl replied, "Really?" (They're in their twenties, for the record.) The upbeat "Speak Slow" allowed the backup band of keyboardist Ted Gowans, drummer Johnny Andrews and bassist Shaun Huberts to really rock out, and Huberts would eventually switch to a synth on the dark, breakbeat-driven "Are You Ten Years Ago." This electronic presence, while not dominating the mix, would seem almost unthinkable a few albums ago, but it's nice to see the band branching out.

The bottom part of the set featured their two recent singles. The explosive title track of The Con, one of the most immediate songs off the record, was very gratifying to hear live. Although the sheer amount of instrumentation did overwhelm the vocals a bit, it was one of the highlights. Prior to "Back In Your Head," Sara discussed a school shooting that took place in Montreal, and how relieved she was that Tegan wasn't living in an apartment close by. Although it was a bit of a downer, it reemphasized how close the sisters are, even if they sometimes clash on stage, and how reciprocal their relationship is. Perhaps even more impressive was how they managed to convince the crowd - this is New York, after all - to remain (almost) completely silent during the encore break. In a recent interview with NPR, they described how the encore has become routine, but by having the crowd save all their cheering until the band reappeared, the moment was made special again.

And cheer we did, especially when they played "Walking With A Ghost," and much to my personal satisfaction, their cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella." Another oldie in "Living Room" closed out an immensely entertaining set. The amount of concerts I've gone to has made the whole experience somewhat routine, but this was something else. The great banter, the enthusiastic (and cooperative!) crowd, and finally hearing some of those songs made the night really special. I can't wait until they come back, and knowing their persistence, it won't be too long.

I managed to track down a recording of the aforementioned Fez set, all the way back from October 22nd, 2000. I'm happy to report that their banter was just as great back then, and as you might recall, that year's Subway Series gave them some additional material. I've also included a few tracks that you might not have heard before. Also, look for an interview with Tegan shortly. Enjoy.

MP3: Tegan and Sara - Back In Your Head (Morgan Page Remix)
MP3: Tegan and Sara - Umbrella (Rihanna Cover)
MP3: The Broken West - Back In Your Head (T&S Cover)

1. Frozen
2. Proud
3. My Number
4. Hype
5. One Month
6. Not With You
7. Buried Alive
8. Freedom
9. Come On
10. Goodbye
11. Superstar

Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: Tegan and Sara
Official Site: Tegan and Sara

Monday, November 19, 2007

Interlude: Smoke Detector

All you can eat sushi is amazing. All you can eat sushi followed by a trip to the Bowery Ballroom is one solid night. Alas, my culinary excess meant I was, again, late to the venue, although the 10 o'clock show time mitigated that a little. The packed room was also a nice change from some of the leaner starts I've witnessed (usually when the openers get on before nine).

The Golden Dogs

Again, I was left wanting more after only catching the final two songs from the first of three sets, as Toronto's the Golden Dogs played exuberant power pop that won me over in the short time span. Keyboardist Jessica Grassia was particularly energetic, marching out in place while alternatively banging a tambourine and keyboard. The band placed signs reading "Yeah" and "Dynamo," and presumably other words, reminiscent of their videos for "Construction Worker" and "Never Mean Any Harm." Lead vocalist Dave Azzolini fell to his knees during the finale, understandable after such an intense set. Unfortunately calls for more didn't lead to anything, but I'm happy to report that their recorded material is as appealing, and if anything, a little more polished than their live sound. It isn't often that I say this about the opener, but the Golden Dogs were probably the best discovery of the night for me.

The Willowz

The Willowz are from Southern California, and they have fittingly southern sounding rock. Singer Richie Follin brought a distinct twang, both in stage banter and his curious delivery, which at times sounded like that of Danielson. But guitarist Aric Bohn was the most compelling member of the quartet, twirling his guitar around in between string slashes. While they weren't particularly innovative, it was a shame to hear someone in the crowd yell, "Go back to Cali!" Unfortunately, the band may have reacted a little excessively, spending a good couple minutes talking about the heckler, which is probably what he wanted in the first place. It did get a little tiresome towards the end, but it's more of a matter of whether you like their style than any detraction as far as quality.

MP3: The Willowz - Evil Son
MySpace: The Willowz
Official Site: The Willowz

Electric Six

Electrix Six ringleader Dick Valentine is something else. Near the start of the set, he said that Larry King had died, which turned out to be a blatant lie. He would later comment on politics, apparently some theory on how everything is made out of hemp. His geography was equally questionable, thanking the openers as bands from "California, Canda" and "Toronto, United States" respectively. On a note of personal endearment, he kiddingly (?) picked on the drummer, whom he mocked as someone who "never had to work for anything," apparently because of his Westchester County origin (a place I reside in while not at school). I was left feeling very puzzled, but kind of like the guy.

The band delivered raucous dance-rock, much in the same vein of the few songs I am familiar with, the flamboyant disco inferno "Danger! High Voltage" and the absurdly danceable "Gay Bar." Since that first album Fire, the band has been quite prolific, with releases each of the last three years. I wouldn't agree with Dick's belief that four albums elevates them to rock legends, but there was clearly a dedicated fan base in attendance. Perhaps a little too dedicated, as the moshing was a little out of control, missing the point that it's supposed to be confined to those that want to do it.

Still, major kudos during the encore, when Dick sat on the edge of the stage and eventually coaxed a couple audience members to sway by his sides. You rarely get that kind of crowd interaction - or appreciation - and while I was still a bit annoyed by all the physical slamming, I'm a bit more inclined to believe that the band is worth all the effort - and pain.

More photos at the MuseBox Blog.

MP3: Electric Six - Danger! High Voltage
MySpace: Electric Six
Official Site: Electric Six

Friday, November 16, 2007

Interlude: Murder On The Dancefloor

Monday night was a month in the making. The Pipettes, shortly after delaying the stateside release of their excellent album We Are The Pipettes, postponed their tour after having paperwork issues. I'm all for securing our borders, but polka-dotted indie popsters don't really strike me as a threat. Wait aside, the trio (and their backup band, the Cassettes) finally made it to NYC again, albeit at a different venue in the Blender Theater. I didn't really discuss said venue the last time I was there, so I will now. At 23rd Street, it's a bit further uptown than the cluster of Lower East Side dives, but the trip's nothing the 6 Train can't handle. It's kind of interesting in that the back half of the space is seated, while the front (thankfully) resembles the traditional standing space. The lighting's nice and bright, and the sound is pretty good. All in all, not a bad place to see a show. Kyle was there, too.

Unfortunately, we arrived only in time to catch the last song and a half from Monster Bobby, the nom de guitar of Robert Barry, one of the musicians in, and some might say mastermind behind, the Pipettes' backup band. In that short time span, he made a solid impression. At first complementing acoustic strumming with electronic effects, Bobby would then switch over to microphone while letting the beats run on. Perhaps most endearingly, he delivered a steady stream of tongue-in-cheek banter, describing one of his songs as an inevitable top 40 hit, and later saying his name slowly because of an apparent misunderstand in Texas. It's a shame it couldn't have gone on for longer.

Monster Bobby has an album out entitled Gaps.

MP3: Monster Bobby - The Postcard
Myspace: Monster Bobby

Nicole Atkins

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Nicole Atkins play at the Bowery Ballroom, and seeing her name added to the bill was a pleasant surprise. It was particularly gratifying to hear the audience's positive chatter after the set, despite probably being unfamiliar with her music for the first time. Nicole's voice is stunning in the way it erupts, and even with the crunchy guitars and percussion courtesy of her backup band the Sea, her vocals were the clear focal point of the performance. I don't think I've ever heard a stronger voice.

But it wasn't just the music that was good. From the moment Nicole stepped on stage, she was completely charming, kidding that she didn't realize how short Monster Bobby was while she raising the microphone ("Just sassing!"). When water (or beer) somehow drenched the front of the stage, Nicole gingerly lifted a very wet setlist, later saying, "Do you guys remember that scene in Almost Famous where the guitarist gets electrocuted?" A segement of the crowd cheered her New Jersey origins, (her new album Neptune City is named after the town in the Garden State), but it's clear that you can appreciate her no matter where you're from.

Check out a great performance of "The Way It Is" on Letterman.

The Pipettes make me nostalgic. There isn't anyone out there now that can come off as so unabashedly pop, but still seem genuine. A recurring sentence during the night was, "I don't know of anyone who doesn't like them." Well, aside from those guys that hand out visas. Seeing RiotBecki, Gwenno and Rosay dancing and singing in astonishing unison makes me wonder if I can ever stand seeing guys slouching over guitars again. The synchronized dance moves may come off as a gimmick, but as far as I'm concerned, one of the most important things about performing live is compelling the crowd, and that definitely does it. The girls have splendid voices as well, trading lead vocals and harmonizing as adeptly as they dance. Thus, they can be forgiven for relying on the Cassettes for most of the instruments, although Rosay would play the keyboard a few times, as on the ironically inoffensive "Sex."

The insertion of some new songs kept the crowd on its toes, but the songs are, as the band admitted themselves, generally about dancing or love or both. Despite this and more than a few quick two minute songs, it was tremendously entertaining throughout, and the crowd was very into it from start to finish. It's really not that revolutionary; a 1960s reference is pretty much obligatory even if you weren't alive then, but more power to the Pipettes because they can pull it off. Speaking of which, "Pull Shapes" has quickly become one of my favorite pop songs, and with its built-in clapping segment, it was a huge crowd pleaser. I can't wait for them to come back (again).

MP3: The Pipettes - Pull Shapes
MP3: The Pipettes - Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me
MySpace: The Pipettes
Official Site: The Pipettes

"Clap your hands if you want some more."
The encore was "ABC" and "We Are The Pipettes."
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