November 02, 2009
With a slightly less crazy schedule than SXSW, at least show-wise, I headed down to NYC with the intention of hanging out. And that’s pretty much what I did. Lets start with Tuesday…
Getting in late on the bus, I went straight to Music Hall of Williamsburg for a BrooklynVegan showcase. Too late to catch Laura Marling, I did at least get a Marcus Mumford sighting. Hanging out with the Syndicate peeps we watched The Antlers blow away a packed crowd on what was supposedly one of their best ever shows. Tearing off the low-fi veil with a vengeance, The Antlers wrecked it. Sort of like Pink Floyd that’s not boring and stoner and played out. Like how they were in the 70’s probably. Next, and headlining, were Fanfarlo. Hailing from the London scene they played tight, well rounded, pop numbers ranging from booming Beirut to groovy Talking Heads. I called it a night after that and it turned out to be the earliest night of the week.
Got my badge early in the morning and wandered the swag area then headed back to McCarren Park for a Industry vs. Stations kickball match. While I was quite a kickballer in my recess heyday, it was more of a hangout than a kickball match and I was pretty distracted by all of the people to talk to. Nice way to start the week nonetheless. Joining a group headed to the Terrorbird party at Cake Shop, I jumped the L to Soho. The area outside of The Cake Shop and Pianos is notorious because there’s always something cool going on there and there’s always a BIG crew chatting on the street. So (of course) I ended up hanging out instead of going inside. I ditched the scene a few hours later to head to dinner with Shil which became (unintentionally, I swear!) a fairly romantic appetizer meal at a funny little Mexican place. That night I took the long train ride out to The Silent Barn in Brooklyn. Probably the best choice I made on a whim all week, the show with Male Bonding, German Measles, and Happy Birthday was just what I needed. Cigarettes and cheap drinks hazed the night into a perfect woozy punk show. Happy Birthday, ex-King Tuff, have just signed to Subpop and (I believe) this was their first show. Ever. Cheers to Subpop for having balls because they were awesome. Playing what can only be called pop-punk (but in the way awesome, not Blink-182 variety) they ruled. A sleepy train (and shuttle bus..Damn you MTA, why were you messing with the L train on the week of CMJ!?) ride later, I was home and passed out.
Thursday was a big day. BIG. Dragging myself out of bed to College Day I watched a couple panels. Wishing that I had seen them when I was a freshman, I ducked out with Hannah of SPECTRE to catch part of the Aquarium Drunkard party at Fontana’s. I caught the end of the Love Language set which was fine because it was the first of three sets that I saw. More on them later. Roadside Graves were next. Playing smart yet rowdy alt-country rock, they howled and stomped out an energetic set. Admirable effort was expended for that hour of the day. Ending in a song/skit in the center of the crowd, they were one of the few bands I hadn’t actually heard before the festival and I was certainly impressed. Last, before we had to get back to College Day, was Phantogram, Barsuk’s latest acquisition. The Saratoga Springs duo pounded electro-dance numbers out with crushing intensity. Singer Sarah Barthel multitasked on an extensive panel of electronics while belting out Karen O vocals.
Back at college day I hung for a while watching the CMJ awards. After which we walked to a bar called Crash Mansion to see The Love Language again. Big thanks to Jordan from the band who let me borrow his badge to get in and was a great dude. The show at Crash Mansion, despite the “bridge and tunnel” surroundings and the short stage that I’m not sure if Jordan could stand up straight on, the set was probably the best of the week. Playing two new songs that sound delightful, I’m so amped for the next Love Language record on Merge. After a Chinese dinner with Graham, Alyssa, and Becky, I headed to Brooklyn for the Mumford and Sons show. I stopped at a bar called Zebulon to meet up with Karen and unexpectedly stumbled upon Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned with their full compliment of players. We had a drink and enjoyed the Sgt. Dunbar set then walked over to Mumford.
Ok, so I have to confess, the Mumford show was definitely the only thing that I HAD to see at CMJ. After the teaser shows at SXSW, I could only imagine what they would be like with a real crowd, in a real venue, with a real sound system, and a full record. And yeah, it blew my mind. Standing in a line four-wide on the front of the stage, the Sons lifted their chins, and started the show with the album opener and title track “Sigh No More”. The four part harmonies were spot on as was just about everything else that night. Playing favorites reworked from the EPs (Little Lion Man, White Blank Page, Roll Away Your Stone) as well as new tracks from the album (Thistle & Weeds, Timshel) they hit almost everything. Thankfully, I can fill in the gaps from the couple performances from SXSW. They ended the set with a new song, yet untitled I believe that seemed to be in the place of “Dustbowl Dance”, my favorite track. Building the biggest wall of sound in the night, I swear my had was spinning after the song was over.
I trekked back to Manhattan to the Suffolk for the AAM showcase. Due to the party before, the Suffolk was behind a bit but all the better for me as I didn’t miss too much. Surf City was solid but not energetic enough to keep me interested at that time of night. Violens were awesome however and a total treat for all of the crowd that stuck it out to see them. The Suffolk is an interesting venue, it looks a bit like the Smells Like Teen Spirit video inside and definitely has potential to do some cool stuff. After the Suffolk I walked up to the Hi-Fi for the Merge/Barsuk/SubPop hangout party thing. The best end of a night all week, I had a great time hanging out and catching up. Thanks big time to the three labels for such a killer party.
I slept in. I didn’t end up back at the apartment until 7 am for reasons that don’t need to be discussed here. But a late breakfast was in order, so my buddy and I had a leisurely brunch until about 2. Then I summoned the Gods of feet and made my way back to Manhattan. I stopped first at the MOMA for Free Fridays with Jennie. I’ve never been and it was a welcome diversion from jumping right into music again. We trained down to the AAM offices after our fill of visual art for the big listening party.
This was my first listening party and I guess I didn’t know what to expect. It was lots of fun and more of basically what I’d been doing all week, hanging out (but the music was quieter so you didn’t have to yell). First up was Beach House on Subpop which sounded awesome though I couldn’t sit still enough to tell you why it was so good. Among other things, we heard the new Massive Attack, and Animal Collective EP. It was a cool event, good wine and food around, but not too much of the music was listening party material. By that I mean that I like to put on headphones and walk around listening to these artists or listen when I’m not distracted by a bunch of cool people to talk to. But it’s all good, I can wait till they get released.
I walked to the Team Clermont party at Lit Lounge next. Again, I didn’t really catch too much of the music due to some confusion about how many people could be downstairs. But Peggy Sue were delightful as much as I got to see. I ran off to Brooklyn after that to hit up Zebulon again when a group called Superhuman Happiness was playing. Under the direction of Stuart Bogie (Antibalas band leader, TV on the Radio horns), their spacey jazz was awesome. Another welcome spice to add to the seasoning for the week.
After that we caught the Love Language for a third and final time at a loft party sponsored by Brooklynvegan. This was definitely the most fun show with the band and also the sloppiest. That was the end of the music for the night.
Saturday morning was the AAM party at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I got there at 12:30ish in time to catch most of Holiday Shores. Effortless jumps of melody and rhythm built their sound into something like a less sparse Born Ruffians. Surprisingly, it was one of the best and most remarkable shows of the week. I chomped down on a bunch of free hotdogs then went back upstairs to watch Headlights. One of my favorite Polyvinyl bands, they delivered a quality set of old and new tunes. The Duchess and the Duke played next. I absolutely love their first album and am just getting into their second so it was nice (for me at least) to see they still played mostly songs from their summer ‘08 debut. They looked pretty beat but managed to put together a solid set. I hope they got some sleep before the Subpop/Hardly Art showcase that night. I watched half of the Dum Dum Girls set in the process of deciding where to walk to since the rain had started to dump again. I ended up following a big group to the Mushpot party at a bar called Matchsticks where we saw Magic Magic play smart, brass filled, indie rock.
After the Mushpot party, my luck started to turn and I wasn’t able to get in to a few of the shows I tried and ended up in the rain wandering for a bit too long. Eventually I sorted out my stuff and went to 92Y in Tribeca for the BQE screening with Sufjan. DM Stith, who is signed to Asthmatic Kitty, opened the second screening of the eclectic night with his airy arrangements augmented by a group of musicians including some from the OSSO string quartet who played next. OSSO recently re-imagined Sufjan’s electronic concept album based on the signs of the Zodiac Enjoy Your Rabbit. I really wasn’t expecting to go see a string quartet at CMJ but they were extremely skilled players and it was once again something fresh. Sufjan was there emceeing the night in his endearingly awkward way. He introduced the BQE movie as “30 minutes of traffic” and thanked the audience for being up for it. And basically that’s what the movie was. He did a very good job with it though and it didn’t seem trite or get boring. The soundtrack live with the movie would be pretty amazing, but the movie is definitely worth seeing on its own.
After the BQE, which ran until 2:30 or so, we raced to the Lakeside Lounge for the obligatory end of CMJ hangout. It was great to see everyone once again before trips home. And now it’s time for SXSW!
October 26, 2009
Electric Tickle Machine – “Part of Me” – Blew it Again
You best be gellin’ when you stomp to this song because it stomps HARD. The catchy rocker stands up and out on their release. Cheering the two sides of relationships, you’ll find something you can relate to in the drawled truths, syllabic melodies, and (oh too cute!) handclaps.
The Heavy – “How You Like Me Now?” - The House That Dirt Built
Fans of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears or Sharon Jones will get into this Mars Attacks! ® blues storm from Spaceship Earth. A hip blaster jangle guitar line builds with sleazy afterburner horns to the funkiest ride since Milkquarious. Insanity runs in the veins of The Heavy like fellow Tom Waits worshippers Man Man. Anti-gravity never sounded so good.
Zoos of Berlin – “Black in the Sun Room” – “Taxis”
Follow a deranged military conductor around the battlefield while the marchers step lively to 2/4 bass. Next, slap a strokes bumbersticker on the back of your beat up Toyota halfway covering your Interpol sticker from high school. Find a delay pedal and play a trumpet. Ok. Now listen to what you did while playing Beatles Rock Band. Oh wait, you’re too late. Apparently this band called Zoos of Berlin did that and put out an album. For fans of Elephant 6, and the aforementioned Strokes and Interpol.
Death Cab For Cutie – “Meet Me on the Equinox” – Twilight: New Moon Soundtrack
Probably the hottest topic in major indie music at this moment, the second installment of twilight has gathered itself quite a set of vampires to sink their fangs into the project. Regardless of how you feel about Twilight, some of these songs are pretty stellar including this Death Cab song. It sounds like an instrumental idea from Narrow Stairs that didn’t get used and was repurposed with appropriate lyrics for the coveted opening track slot. I’m betting the smell of cash overwhelmed the garlic smell in the stigma behind the series, and even vampires like cash. “Everything, everything ends” sings Ben Gibbard in the chorus of “Equinox” and one hopes that he’s talking about the Twilight series.
The Clientele – “I Wonder Who We Are” – Bonfires on the Heath
Opening the album with a starry-eyed, snow laden, winter warmer, The Clientele are up to their old tricks making epic lounge music. When the next episode in Lounge Lizard Larry comes out, they will be on the soundtrack. Mixing lazy Pink Floyd jam with cheeky (Flight of the Conchords?) melodies, The Clientele burns in embers.
James Husband – “A Grave in the Gravel” – A Parallax I
In the first 30 seconds of this song you will be confused. Switching from classic rock guitar and drum clicks to vocals Ed Droste might be singing in the shower, it defies logic. Into the chorus it becomes clear when you remember that James Husband’s real name is James Huggins III and oh yeah, he is most commonly found touring with Of Montreal. The Elephant 6 association can be heard in the varied recording techniques throughout the album. For fans of David Bowie, Of Montreal, and Elf Power.
October 19, 2009
Check the blog for more than just reviews this week as we'll be reporting from the CMJ festival!
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – “Know Better Learn Faster” – Know Better Learn Faster
I love it when second and third albums live up to the standard set by the first. A feat that seems to be less and less common these days. The title track to Thao’s star studded second full length sounds like a single off of Andrew Bird’s Mysterious Production of Eggs. And it should because Bird himself is the man behind the bow swooping in and out of the picture. Bird joins Blitzen Trapper, Laura Viers, Horse Feathers and Tune-Yards as guests on KBLF. Not to take the attention away from the woman of the hour, who once again brings dark subject matter to life with airy, fast paced melodies. Listen for Thao’s guitar work that’s more prominent on this recording. She WAILS live.
Bear in Heaven – “Fake Out” – Beast Rest Forth Mouth
Cracking into the ice cube tray on Bear in Heaven’s second release, I finally understand. Their new songs have a point, a shape that wasn’t there last time. Instead of trying to freeze a bucket of water, they went to the store and bought themselves the aforementioned trays. The shortness of the songs is probably their biggest asset in a genre that frequently allows for drawn out sleepers. Think Yeasayer or Animal Collective writing songs using instruments again instead of loops.
Free Energy – “Free Energy” – Free Energy EP
Time for some classic rock throwback Dazed and Confused style through a 90’s pop punk lens. I mean…the cowbell!...Signed to DFA they must be some kind of legendary party starters to fit in along the dance heavy roster. Cheers to youth, immediacy, and massive nights fill this near perfect “dudes-in-a-car-going-somewhere-fun” anthem. Expect a full length sometime soon.
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – “Death By Dust” – Summer of Fear
The dude does what 90’s Dylan tried to do. Mashing mumbled words out through his teeth, wavering from the shouts of the Boss to the intimacy of Berninger and the National, MBAR’s (for short) voice is as versatile as it is emotional. With a troubador vibe, MBAR is one of the hardest working touring musicians on the road making friends in all the right places (TVOTR, Grizzly Bear) who all contributed in some way to this Saddle Creek debut
October 12, 2009
Mumford and Sons – “The Cave” – Sigh No More
Easily the most exciting band in the music world for me right now, their debut album just dropped in England but we’ll have to wait till 2010 (?) to get it in the states via Glassnote. An unbelievable mix of Arcade Fire, bluegrass, and a little Fleet Foxes, Marcus Mumford has put together a masterpiece. I like to imagine the album brewing for years while Mumford played alongside Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn in the London Folk scene that exploded last year.
Rubik – “Karhu Junassa” – Dada Bandits
Finland’s best kept secret for years, Rubik combine a mess of influences into an original pop jungle. Imagine Sigur Ros’ Jonsi singing with Wolf Parade as they cover a Queen song. Karhu Junassa races through land and city scapes to a godlike festival drenched in confetti. Can’t wait to see how it translates live!
A Place To Bury Strangers - “Keep Slipping Away” – Exploding Head
Dubbed “the loudest band in New York city” after their breakout self titled album in 2007. There’s nothing minimal about this band. On nearly every track a monolith of sound extends straight from the speakers into your head. Which is why this new album title is more than apt. On “Keep slipping away” the band takes a surprising turn with a New Order like, post-punk, underwater dance anthem. A repetitive guitar groove pushes the song along with a ridiculously long echo on the last word of every phrase. It’s a welcome step in a new direction.
Daniel Johnson – “Without You” – Is and Always Was
Still working hard in his nearly elder days, Daniel Johnston has released not only a stellar full band album of new material, but also a personally illustrated iPhone app that’s actually pretty fun. There’s no more true love in the end for Johnston, “Without You” is a pokey stomp cheering the freedom of the suddenly single. Keeping his classic, endearing vocal style and cheeky lyrics, Johnston puts on his Bright Eyes (Digital Ash… era) cap and rocks out in the name of bachelors.
Tim Williams – “Oceans” – Careful Love
This New York singer-songwriter’s third album built around themes of death and happiness comes just after his intensive heart surgery. For fans of A.C. Newman and Ryan Adams, his accessible melodies and charm will cure your woes. “Oceans” bumps along with a danceable beat but primarily rides the wave of an excellent refrain.
Headlights – “Secrets” – Wildlife
Headlights summery Midwestern indie pop is never in short supply. WICB loved their last album, rocking the single “Market Girl”. “Secrets” runs circles, guitar chasing synth and vice versa, while singer Erin Fein coaxes answers chanting “Tell me…tell me” in a woozy carousel spin. Listen to Headlights shine to help you find the last field of wildflowers before winter.
October 05, 2009
No Age – “You’re a target” – Losing Feeling EP
One of fall’s most highly anticipated EP’s and only planned release from the L.A. duo this year is all the talk. Playing simultaneously as one complete song or four separate songs, the EP crosses from nearly Brian Eno levels of ambience to catchy as ****, glossy punk rock. Of course we’re all over the catchy part, check out the great guitar slides in each refrain and get ready to uncross your arms and nod your head with vigor.
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – “103” – Higher Than The Stars EP
Following up their widely acclaimed debut album this February, Pains come back with a collection of tunes that vary widely in style. Turning off the distortion for the title track and channeling Scotland’s underappreciated 80’s pop group, Orange Juice on “Falling Over”, Pains is proving that they are not a one dimensional band. That being said, we didn’t get enough of the fast-paced shoegaze before so listen to “103” for more pop goodness.
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons - “Born Again” – Death Won’t Send a Letter
Cashing in on the folk-rock revival, Cory Chisel arrives just in time with his soulful voice to wow fans of Conor Oberst, Wilco, and Delta Spirit. Growing up, Chisel played soul music with his family for “as long as he could remember”. Much of that leaks into “Born Again”, the first single from his RCA/Sony debut. Yet another group to strap on the cowboy boots for.
Lou Barlow – “The Right” – Goodnight Unknown
Leader of seminal indie-rock group Sebadoh and founding member of Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow, has released his second solo album on Merge records. Barlow said these new songs came after listening to a lot of Panda Bear and The Knife and calls the album a clash between his late work with Folk Implosion and early work with Dinosaur Jr. I’d agree wholeheartedly. “The Right” has electronic elements but relies mostly on acoustic sounds to build a composition as layered as Stephen Merritt’s masterpieces. A little like the Jason Lytle album, but more relevant and progressive.
Califone – “Ape-like” – All of My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Califone leader Tim Rutili (Red Red Meat) is a madman with a mission. His new project, All My Friends…, is not only an album but a horror movie soundtrack. A horror movie made by the band and in which the band are the main actors. “Ape-like” is a stomp-clap number with a melody that toes the line between blues and folk. Cathcing the ear with unconventional sounds, “Ape-like” will be stuck in your head until their performance (along with movie screening) at Cornell Cinema on Oct. 16th.
The Avett Brothers – “Slight Figure of Speech” – I and Love and You
Twisting your way through The Avett’s major label debut might be a tougher maze than you might imagine. Producer Rick Rubin has put his teen-pop, Ben Folds, sheen on the Avett’s always sincere roots punk. Opening like an old Lucksmiths’ track with a bouncy bass line, the track quickly moves into a stop-start coaster ride with an extended bridge section featuring a super fast moving hip hop verse(?). Interesting to say the least, I’m curious to see how music consuming public takes this new chapter of the Avett Brothers.