Tuesday, April 29, 2008
This writeup is part of NYU's 2008 Battle of the Bands.
Grace Weber and Julian Waterfall Pollack are both accomplished musicians in their own right, but together, they create an effortless, extraordinary kind of music.
The duo met last year as freshmen in Goddard residence hall, where they instantly began writing music, and the rest is history.
Their jazz-inflected songs are slick, self-assured compositions. Weber's astonishing voice is the centerpiece, and her singing is consistently excellent. She's naturally gifted, and some of the most exciting moments occur when she hits that diva-patented high note. But she doesn't have to; her voice is just as impressive when it's restrained.
Pollack adds delicate piano-playing and sings along on "Watchin' The Days Go By." Occasional acoustic guitar and drum beats spring up, but the foundation of each song is on vocals and piano accompaniment. Despite this relatively limited palette, the music is lively and intricately arranged. No matter what your personal tastes, it's difficult to not be impressed with Grace and Julian.
They ended up placing second in the competition, and I definitely recommend a listen. I thought this would be just a usual assignment, but it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. And that's one of the best parts about this job.
MP3: Grace and Julian - Hold My Hand
MySpace: Grace and Julian
Official Site: Grace and Julian
Thursday, April 24, 2008
After three semesters, I've finally got a slot on WNYU, NYU's student-run radio station. I host the Friday edition of The Sound Between, from 2-4 pm EST, which can be streamed live on the site. Tune in tomorrow if you're able to, and you can always check out any show in the archives. Here's a tracklist from last week's show, and a couple ways of listening. Enjoy!
1. Kelley Polar - Entropy Reigns (In The Celestial City)
I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling [Environ]
2. Los Campesinos! - Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)
Hold On Now, Youngster... [Arts & Crafts]
3. The Rosebuds - Get Up Get Out (Justin Vernon of Bon Iver Remix)
Sweet Beats, Troubled Sleep [Merge]
4. Eisley - Sun Feet
Like The Actors EP [Reprise]
5. Mike Caro & Franck Garcia - Always You
Pain Disappears [Buzzin' Fly]
6. Maurizio - M4
Feeling Strange (Mixed by Jennifer Cardini) [Kompakt]
7. Destroyer - Blue Flower / Blue Flame
Trouble In Dreams [Merge]
8. Nicole Atkins - Maybe Tonight
Neptune City [Columbia]
9. The Forms - Bones
The Forms [Rebel Group]
10. Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper
The Midnight Organ Fight [Fat Cat]
11. Junior Boys - Like a Child (Carl Craig Remix)
Sessions (Carl Craig Compilation) [!K7]
12. Miracle Fortress - Have You Seen In Your Dreams
Five Roses [Secret City]
13. Foals - Balloons
Antidotes [Sub Pop]
14. Melon - Nitzi
Boogybytes Vol. 4 (Mixed by Ellen Allien) [BPitch Control]
15. The Dodos - Fools
16. Sally Shapiro - Let Go (Lindstrøm Remix)
Remix Romance Vol. 1 [Paper Bag]
17. Dawn Landes - Bodyguard
Fireproof [Cooking Vinyl]
18. The Raconteurs - Salute Your Solution
Consolers of the Lonely [Warner]
19. Sasha Funke - Mango
Mango [BPitch Control]
20. Bodies of Water - I Guess I'll Forget The Sound, I Guess, I Guess
Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink [Thousand Tongues]
21. Chris Walla - Sing Again
Field Manual [Barsuk]
22. Autechre - The Plc
23. Cut Copy - Hearts On Fire
In Ghost Colours [Modular]
Stream the show here.
Download the show here.
My second column is up at NYU Local. The topic is raves, both the silent and traditional kind:
"[U]nlike your indie rock event, where even nodding along is discouraged, this should not be a spectator sport. There’s no reason to feel self-conscious—aside from a handful of skilled individuals, no one at these things can actually dance. The emphasis is definitely on enthusiasm, rather than proficiency."
Read the rest here. Some more selections below
This feature appears in Wireless Bollinger.
During a Halloween show in Ireland, Les Savy Fav singer Tim Harrington was up to his usual shenanigans.
“Tim was in a bat costume. He dressed up and he was hanging from the rafters, head first. Some people were holding his feet. The people let him go and he fell two feet and landed on the crowd, and the crowd carried him on stage with their hands,” says the band’s bassist, Syd Butler.
When Les Savy Fav play a live show, people expect excitement. When he isn’t in costume, Harrington often isn’t wearing a shirt at all. But the wardrobe, or lack thereof, doesn’t affect his ability to connect with the crowd.
“He’s pretty phenomenal how he relates to the crowd and the crowd relates to him. People want to be part of his antics, and the more they respond to his creativity,” says Butler.
On April 29th, the band will commemorate their New Year’s performance at New York’s Bowery Ballroom by releasing their first live album, After the Balls Drop. It is the follow up to last year’s Let’s Stay Friends, the band’s fourth studio album.
Butler described the recent creative process as a more controlled affair compared to previous albums. “In the past we would go make a bunch of noise and edit from the noise,” says Butler, comparing the finished product with Frankenstein.
Let’s Stay Friends was different. “We slowly over the summer started putting some things together, basic ingredients,” says Butler, using a drum beat or guitar line as an example. Harrington writes all the lyrics, which come from personal experience, according to Butler. The band also had a comfortable amount of time in the studio, using two sessions of three weeks from Thanksgiving 2006 to April 2007. The album was released to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Not bad for a project that was never supposed to be more than a fun hobby. Les Savy Fav’s four members met at Rhode Island School of Design, forming in 1995, with decidedly casual goals. “We didn’t consider ourselves a real band,” says Butler. Eventually, the band relocated to New York City, during a time that the music scene was simmering.
“There are so many bands in New York, it’s hard to keep up with all of them,” says Butler, but he mentions Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol as major players during Les Savy Fav’s development. Although these two neighbors have achieved worldwide success, Butler is far from jealous.
“We didn’t want the same things that they did,” says Butler. Perhaps a telling contrast is each band’s current label status. Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their second album through the major Interscope Records, while Interpol signed to Capitol, a division of EMI, for their third album. Meanwhile, Les Savy Fav’s longevity led to the creation of Frenchkiss Records in 1999, a label owned and operated by Butler.
This independence has enabled Les Savy Fav to carve out a place in the nebulous Brooklyn scene. “It definitely helps with the communication and expectations with all the bands,” says Butler, who cites the Dodos as a recent example of success. He also speaks warmly of the Bowery Presents, who treat the band as if they are “part of the family.”
I many ways, the decision to release music independently is not so much rebellion as an acknowledgment of the realities of the music industry. “Huge bands and majors have it a lot harder because their expenses are higher,” says Butler. He believes putting up a large sum of money upfront is detrimental to the long term growth of a group. Les Savy Fav’s development has been “slow and steady,” however, relying on regular touring and album releases. “The expectations stay the same throughout our career, keep it interesting and fun onstage,” says Butler.
The band did go on hiatus in mid-2005, understandable when considering its members’ additional interests. Harrington works at VH1, Jabour as a creative director, and Haynes curates an art gallery in North Carolina. Butler remains tasked with operating Frenchkiss. These “day jobs” have allowed the band to function as a more creative pursuit, rather than the role of breadwinner.
And even after thousands of records sold and infamously bizarre concerts in front of huge crowds, Butler hesitates to declare Les Savy Fav a complete success.
“Even today, I don’t know if we’ve made it,” says Butler. “We don’t travel on a bus. We keep it as simple as possible.”
Syd also likes hockey. Les Savy Fav is playing Coachella.
MP3: Les Savy Fav - Sweat Descends (Live)
MySpace: Les Savy Fav
Official Site: Les Savy Fav
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Hi. I'm going to (attempt to) write a weekly column over at NYU Local, published on Thursdays. Here's this week's theme:
"The DJ mix is the knob-twiddler’s answer to the heart-on-sleeve mixtape. You won’t hear much romantic exultation, but you should get a good sense of the mixer’s tastes, as well as a number of fresh cuts to check out. There’s unique pleasure to be had in sitting down and hearing an hour’s worth (or more) of sequenced music with seamless transitions. In the shuffle-happy environment we live in, that art form is a rarity. Fortunately, while albums may be endangered, the mix is remains very much en vogue."Read the rest here. Stream some tracks below.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
This review appears in Wireless Bollinger.
Wednesday night is a terrible night for a concert. Sandwiched between obligations and more obligations, the middle of the week probably does not fit anyone’s ideal of a relaxing night at the local venue. Thus, it was somewhat surprising to see a band such as Beach House sell out the Bowery Ballroom. That’s not a knock on their quality, but rather a distinction. The duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand create music that’s best enjoyed alone, not pressed against your fellow listeners.
“Thanks for being patient,” said opener Luke Temple by way of introduction. The statement rang true throughout his set, as his slow burners became more effective with each moment invested. Although far from arresting, each twangy song seemed to grow in impression. There were moments when one’s mind would wander, and then subconsciously sync up with Temple’s acoustic guitar or banjo plucks. His four man backup band – drummer, guitarist and two keyboardists – lent a soft but essential accompaniment. Dual backup vocals created a particular haunting moment halfway through the set. But Temple’s first impression proved prophetic: his last songs cut the hardest, with the volume swelling.
MP3: Luke Temple - Private Shipwreck
MP3: Luke Temple - Someone, Somewhere
MySpace: Luke Temple
Official Site: Luke Temple
Papercuts was a woozy, spiritual kin to the headliners. Singer Jason Quever’s wistful vocals meshed with a comfortable bass drone and washed out guitar. An organ-sounding keyboard and minimal percussion completed the mood. It was dream pop at its haziest, with lyrics secondary to melody. The simplest analogy is: Papercuts is what Beach House would sound like if they were a band and upped their tempo. Such a scenario turned out to be quite imaginable – Alex Scally was playing keys during the set and Victoria Legrand was invited onstage for the band’s last song, adding wordless vocals.
Beach House reappeared dressed in white. The normally sparse Bowery stage was bedecked in their carefully selected trappings: a painted screen of waves and a toy swan. The lighting was more subtraction than addition, with only hints of color amidst a sea of darkness. Legrand played keys with surprising energy, tossing her mane of long hair and swaying to the beat. Scally was more introverted, leaning over to fiddle with gear, concentrating on his guitar or briefly adding backup singing. Quever would add percussion at times, but his role seemed largely perfunctory as the same reverberating beat started off each song.
Unfortunately, the set did suffer from homogeneity. While one could hardly expect excessive energy, there wasn’t much to be surprised about. The music was gorgeous, with Legrand’s bewitching voice floating above the band’s aural dreamscape, but it didn’t gain much compared to the studio albums. Perhaps the most interesting development was Legrand’s outgoing banter throughout the set. She introduced the band’s cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Some Things Last a Long Time’ in a fake drawl, then wondered aloud why she had been using that voice. She later said, only half-jokingly, that she had stolen the swan from Connecticut, and would continue to steal from the neighboring state.
All in all, it was an enjoyable show, but not a revelation. It probably did little change anyone’s opinion of the band, whether positive or negative.
MP3: Beach House - Gila
MP3: Beach House - Master of None
MySpace: Beach House
Official Site: Beach House
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
This review's a long time coming, sorry. I'd like to rewind it back to the end March - an eternity ago, for sure, but it was definitely a memorable show. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Snaith, and mentioned the band's live set in passing, but nothing quite compares to experiencing it. I believe there was a third artist that was supposed to play, but somehow he got bumped, so the show started at 10 pm, which is pretty late, even for the Bowery Ballroom.
Official Site: F*ck Buttons
One of the most insightful things that Dan said when I interviewed him was, "It's never going to be the kind of music that's going to be hyped." That's true - although critically respected, Caribou isn't going to ever going to become a buzz band in that way. That's a shame, because that means that a large number of people will be missing out. But on the other hand, I think those that do experience the music, particularly live, will gain an appreciation that's much longer lasting. Caribou is still in the midst of their tour - derailed for a couple days by drummer Brad Weber's broken wrist, but back on track. If you have a chance, absolutely see them. At the very least, check out Andorra.
MP3: Caribou - Melody Day
MP3: Caribou - She's The One
Saturday, April 12, 2008
This review appears in Washington Square News.
The second album from the Australian trio Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours is a nostalgic blend of electronica that is simultaneously retro and futuristic. This combination seems inevitable, as DFA maestro Tim Goldsworthy produced the record and singer Dan Whitford is a graphic designer and DJ. If those credentials aren't enough to elevate the release over its dance-punk ilk, the songs of "Colours" can certainly speak for themselves.
Though it appears to be just dance music on the surface, the album has substantial emotional depth. Whitford's vocals quaver with romanticism, and the instruments shimmer with uncertainty. The first single, "Lights and Music," demonstrates this appealing combination with its lyrical longing and melancholy synth flourishes. It is far more interesting than sugary pop songs but still catchy enough to inspire dancing. The sadness only seems too profound when things become shaky, as on the vaguely gothic "So Haunted."
Cut Copy has done an excellent job of avoiding the tired keyboard rock of the last few years, creating an album that is both accessible and ambitious. It isn't the most adventurous foray into the genre, but it's an enjoyable one. With this album, Cut Copy has made a name for themselves in an unlikely but fitting musical avenue: sophisticated synth-pop.
Cut Copy plays at the Bowery Ballroom on May 14th.
MP3: Cut Copy - Lights and Music
MP3: Cut Copy - Feel The Love
MySpace: Cut Copy
Official Site: Cut Copy
Friday, April 11, 2008
This review appears in Wireless Bollinger.
Mark Pickerel is a wanderer. He was the original drummer in the band Screaming Trees, whose singer, Mark Lanegan, has recently reinvigorated his career through the Gutter Twins. Pickerel has also strapped on the guitar for various musicians, appearing on songs by Brandi Carlile and Neko Case. Cody’s Dream is the second album for his most recent project, dubbed Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands, the troubadour bringing together no less than six other musicians, along with a handful of additional guests. The result is an album that’s heavily populated, but somewhat detached.
Stylistically, this is very much an alt-country record. The title is an allusion to an imagined character that embarks on a journey. The album cover contains a silhouetted house, with a train billowing smoke as it passes by. The back is even more explicit, with a lone figure, baggage in tow, standing forlornly between rows of leafless trees and naked power lines. But if one opens up the tri-fold packaging, a more complete picture emerges. Black and white photos of a rapturous crowd sit behind vintage ads that declare, “Play Guitar In 7 Days Or Get Your Money Back.” It’s unclear whether Cody’s seeking rock stardom; but a single photo of Pickerel, bathed in blue light and with guitar in hand, suggests that he’s still chasing the dream.
Perhaps reading this far into the packaging is a mistake. However, since the album is supposedly a narrative, there’s something to be said for context. Themes of travel, loneliness and abandoned relationships filter through, perhaps as much autobiographical as imaginary. Still, the narrative style offers a certain distance, and Pickerel is a skilled storyteller. His lyrics flow amidst the stream of guitars and percussion, and he sings with conviction that his story is worth telling.
There’s a consistency to the album, aside from the tempo changes. The National’s Boxer comes to mind, although Pickerel’s subject matter is less invested, substituting personal intensity for more dispassionate observation. Unfortunately, Cody’s Dream doesn’t resonate as much as a result. But from a purely aesthetic standpoint, it is easy on the ears – there’s a dark beauty to Pickerel’s croon and the melancholy of the instrumentation.
It’s difficult to rank this album without a wide body of knowledge about country music. It’s reasonable to say that fans of Neko Case, or even those that are flocking to the Gutter Twins, will not be drawn in easily. The genre remains an acquired taste, and it would be inaccurate to say that Pickerel differentiates himself to the point where he exceeds its musical boundaries. But for those who give the album a chance, there’s much to enjoy.
MP3: Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands - Cody's Dream
MP3: Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands - Let Me Down Easy
MySpace: Mark Pickerel
Official Site: Mark Pickerel
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The electronic producer-artist brings to mind a reclusive, bedroom-dwelling soul, who is more at home twiddling knobs, unseen, then actively preening at his or her audience. Live sets often do little to diminish this persona. When you go to a dance to a lone DJ, you'll generally see said DJ bent over, intent on a laptop or turntable, with hardly any crowd interaction. Two recent projects have found one method of breaking through this mold: bring friends.
Hercules and Love Affair is the brainchild of Andrew Butler, featuring a variety of guest vocalists. The marquee name is Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons, at first an unlikely associate of the dancefloor. Antony is better known as a tortured soul who sings fragile, intricate songs - passionate but hardly workouts. That changes with "Blind," a sublime marriage of dynamic production and Antony's quaver. But that's only the start of collaborations, with lesser known Nomi and Kim Ann Foxman also contributing. Perhaps their self-titled album is overrated, but it definitely deserves to be heard.
MP3: Hercules and Love Affair - Blind
MP3: Hercules and Love Affair - Iris
MySpace: Hercules and Love Affair
Official Site: Hercules and Love Affair
Boom Bip has always been an unpredictable. From the heartbreaking restraint of "The Matter of Our Discussion," with Nina Nastasia on vocals, to more straight-forward hip hop, the California producer is difficult to pin down. His partnership with the more gregarious Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, dubbed Neon Neon, condenses his adventurism, but doesn't quite tame it. There's a swagger to their debut, Stainless Style, and a number of strong, soulful pop songs. First single "Racquel" builds surely into a strong groove, while "I Lust U" partners Rhys with singer Cate Le Bon and robotic beats. The whole album doesn't hold up quite as well, but there are plenty of highlights.
MP3: Neon Neon - Racquel
MP3: Neon Neon - I Lust U
MySpace: Neon Neon
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
This semi-rant appears in the newly launched NYU Local.
Your favorite band is in town. If the promoters are doing their jobs, you’ll know a couple months before the show. You’ve got two courses of action: stomach the surcharge and punch in your ticket purchase online or take a walk of variable length to the relevant box office. But wait – what’s this? The show is 21+!
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of knowing an artist is playing in town, but that you can’t get in. Depending on your tastes, this scenario may occur infrequently. The Bowery Presents empire is relatively forgiving when it comes to age restrictions. If you can vote, you can probably enter one of their venues. But if you decide to take the scenic route and purchase a ticket at their Manhattan box office, don’t expect to be able to enter after 7 p.m.
That locale, the Mercury Lounge, is one of the more hallowed sites of the Lower East Side, with a huge stage and intensely intimate set up. It’s also clearly a bar, squeezed against the corridor before that big stage. Perhaps the venue wants to lower liability costs – there’s apparently a greater insurance price tag when minors are allowed inside. And ultimately, it comes down to economics: one underage patron is one less customer for an overpriced drink.
Similarly, the typical ticket to a dance-oriented venue like Studio B or Hiro Ballroom is around $10. This light asking price comes with the assumption that the majority of the crowd will stop by the bar. In some cases, drinks will even be free for a couple hours, to increase turnout. Sometimes, there won’t be a cover at the door and there will be a drink deal. It almost seems that it’s not about the music, but rather the booze.
That isn’t the case. The DJ set is inherently different from the ordered setlist of your typical hard-working band, and it won’t appeal to everyone. But it has just as much musical merit. Excellent artists – Gui Boratto, Ellen Allien, Trentemøller, Lindstrøm – have played recently or will be playing soon in New York City. But what is quite possibly their only stateside appearance for the entire year will be blocked off to anyone without the proper ID, fake or otherwise.
But what’s really illogical is when a venue that is normally 18+ will have a 21+ show “just because.” Autechre, a British electronic duo, will play a show on April 15 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, another Bowery Presents venue. The show was originally 21+, to my dismay, but was changed to 18+, selling out quickly thereafter. What was the point of having it as 21+ in the first place? It’s not as if a venue closes down the bar when they host a show that isn’t 21+, so what’s the point of keeping age restrictions at all?
I would love to see a statement from the venues explaining the logic of 21+. Surely if controlling alcohol access at an “all ages” venue as massive as Terminal 5 can be done, a much smaller venue can do the same.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
This review appears in Wireless Bollinger.
The neon lights on the Webster Hall marquee were inexplicably turned off. Perhaps the weather had something to do with it: it was dark and dank, with rain lashing down. But whatever the reason, it provided the ideal space for an evening of condensed darkness.
Los Angeles quartet Great Northern opened on a stage flooded with crimson light. Their dream pop-inflected songs landed heavily in the dramatic lighting, but the band’s dual vocals carried their melodies upward. Keyboardist Rachel Stolte shared singing duties with guitarist Solon Bixler, their voices rough, but melodic. The set began with slow, cyclical inevitability, gaining velocity as the band progressed through each song. ‘Home’ was the apex, as the band pierced the instrumental drone with an anthemic chorus and guitar pyrotechnics. But naturally, such heights couldn’t be sustained indefinitely, and the group descended in the latter part of their set, settling into a languid, but comforting, groove.
MP3: Great Northern - Home
MySpace: Great Northern
Official Site: Great Northern
The mood only deepened when the Gutter Twins assumed the stage (following an intermission that included a bass-heavy playing of the Knife’s "Heartbeats"). Although there was a sizeable backing band, all eyes were on the duo of Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan. They were a study of contrasts. The ebullient, if no-nonsense, Dulli greeted the crowd theatrically, while Lanegan gripped his microphone stand stoically, speaking only once to introduce his partner. But musically, both were on the same wavelength, recreating their recently released album, Saturnalia, in all its morose glory. "Idle Hands" was a raucous highlight, and surprisingly melodic, despite the guitar assault.
But with such deep back catalogues – Dulli with the Afghan Whigs and the Twlight Singers, Lanegan with Screaming Trees – they didn’t just content themselves with album material. The two borrowed from nocturnal masters Massive Attack, covering "Live with Me," its heartbreak substituted for something more mournful. Dulli would later trade his guitar for a keyboard, singing Jose Gonzalez’s "Down the Line," a vastly different construct from the Swedish string-plucker’s original creation. The most immediate change was speed, and Dulli urged the crowd to clap along to the frantic beat. And lyrics were seldom more appropriate: “Don’t let the darkness eat you up!”
In ways, it was a throwback to the duo’s heyday. With complete disregard for New York City smoking laws, the band – with the exception of Lanegan – puffed away onstage, tossing exhausted butts onto the stage floor. More often than not, a spark played between Dulli’s fingers, even as he strummed. The encore break was also somewhat old school, as Dulli returned onstage alone. He reminisced about when crowds weren’t automatically given an encore, and with some effort managed to get the audience to a respectable level of noise.
Ultimately, it was a show with few surprises. Even for the newcomer, Dulli and Lanegan have established personas that become apparent quickly. However, their longevity is a testament to their continued creativity, and there’s something to be said for familiarity.
Here's a set of covers they did, dating way back November 9th, 2005. It was recorded at Villaggio Globale in Rome. Check out music is art for some more songs and enjoy!
1. Front Street
2. I'm On My Way (Mahalia Jackson)
3. Dollar Bill (Screaming Trees)
4. Strange Fruit (Billie Holliday)
5. What Jail Is Like (The Afghan Whigs)
6. Papillon (The Twilight Singers)
7. Autopilot (Queens of the Stone Age)
8. Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Leadbelly)
Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: The Gutter Twins
Official Site: The Gutter Twins