Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fifteen Bands to Watch in 2009 - Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Led Er Est - A new band in the Weird Record crowd, Led Er Est's dark electronica falls somewhere between Krautrock and goth. It's simultaneously spooky and catchy and their intriguing songs have a haunting appeal. :: MySpace

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - They're getting big in Europe. By which I mean, they are touring there eating pastries and candy all the day long. No, actually, I mean they are getting popular there. They are adorable and sweet, but they blast your eardrums at the same time. :: MySpace

Pet Ghost Project - I'm not generally a fan of solo projects and I'm definitely not a fan of bands with "project" in the name, but I am a fan of this highly creative low-fi noise pop! And I think if Justin Stivers plays his cards right, it could fare very well in 2009 indeed. :: MySpace

The Ruling Class - Britpop is back, with all its best elements in place: classic British pop melodies, rolling dance beats, soaring vocals and shoegaze-inspired guitar reverb. It's 1989, 2009 style. :: MySpace

The Spanish Prisoners - The opener of choice among NYC's most buzzed bands, these guys can't be long to follow. It may be standard angular, catchy indie rock, but it's really good and it's got potential to be better. :: MySpace

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fifteen Bands to Watch in 2009 - Part 2


Beluga - The indie-music public is obviously ready for some bad-ass female bands, and these ladies are exactly that. Moreover, they're musically original, being one of those awesome bands that's helping move punk out of the 80's and into the present day. So yay! :: MySpace

Bridges and Powerlines - There are things that annoy me about this band and things that bore me, but the good parts are really, really good and if the band continues to hone their songwriting, they may end up as one of the best indie rock bands around. :: MySpace

Depreciation Guild - Brilliant shoegaze. Yeah, they're better on records than they are live, but they'll get there. :: MySpace

Gunfight! - All the cool kids love Gunfight! and their country-slanted party tunes. For good reason. :: MySpace

It Hugs Back - Maybe a safe pick, given that they've signed to 4AD, but on this side of the Atlantic, they are still very much under the radar. Given the quality of their sweetly beautiful, carefully noisy indie pop, that won't last long! :: MySpace

NEXT>> Part 3

Radio Flyer's Christmas List!

OK, here's the list of music-related Christmas gifts I gave this year. It's too late for you to use these tips for your own Christmas shopping, but I couldn't run this sooner because some of the giftees read this blog (or claim to). So hopefully you know people who have birthdays coming up, or maybe you have gift certificates to spend. (The names are from the random name generator - I can't get enough of that thing.)

Mom & Dad
Mom likes: things she can sing along to, female vocalists, NPR, NOT "headbanging" music (i.e. everything I listen to, or so she thinks)
Dad likes: hippies, music to listen to while driving, democrats, NPR
What I got them:
- Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
- Wye Oak - If Children
- Joan as Police Woman - To Survive

Likes: feminism, female vocalists, badassery
What I got her:
- Marnie Stern - This Is It...
- Electrelane* - The Power Out

By the way, Ursula (who also likes "booty-shaking music") got me the new L'il Wayne and a CD by a band called Heathrow.

Likes: weirdos, weird stuff, music
What I got her:
- Deerhoof - Reville
- The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers

Helga introduced me to Good Music when I was 15, first by lending me Siamese Dream, then starting me on Sonic Youth, the Pixies and eventually leading me to folks like The Cure, Dinosaur Jr., Jawbreaker, Slint, Minor Threat and even Joy Division.
Likes: black clothes, Bauhaus, walls of sound, heavily produced music, history, psychology
What I got her:
- Electrelane* - No Shouts, No Calls
- Autodrone - Strike a Match
- Blacklist - Blacklist [EP]
- Blacklist - Solidaire [EP]

Wilbur is going through a really tough time.
Likes: pop, cats, Electrelane*
What I got him:
- Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream

*I just discovered Electrelane this year (as did Wilbur), which is why it's populating so much of my Christmas list.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Upcoming Shows: New Years Eve

So many bands I love are playing shows in NYC on New Year's Eve, but I can only really recommend one event because going to any of the others would mean missing this:

8 PM My Best Fiend
9 PM The Vandelles
10 PM Dirty on Purpose
11 PM A Place to Bury Strangers

Do whatever it takes to get tickets - they are kind of expensive ($25) but it's NYE in New York, so that's just how it goes. The show hasn't sold out yet, but it probably will. The entire line-up is amazing, but the real reason you must not miss this show is that it's the LAST SHOW EVER for noise pop champs Dirty on Purpose. Of course, the rest of the bands are swoon-worthy as well - the fuzzed out dark psychedelia of APTBS is always amazing and the Vandelles' massively feedback-laden, rehashed rockabilly is a great way to ring in 2009.

I'm nowhere near New York, so I guess I'll go to my grave without hearing Dirty on Purpose. But if I had known about this show before I bought plane tickets last month, I would have cut my vacation in half just to go to this. If you are in New York, you have no excuse!

Fifteen Bands to Watch in 2009 - Part 1

So you want to get ahead of the curve in 2009? Keep an eye on these fifteen bands (alphabetical over three entries) and you'll be the coolest kid in your class. Or not. But these are folks I hope are the future of rock music.

Antlers - Deer-themed names have been blessed the last few years. But more to the point, this atmospheric pop band is innovative and fun and has already captured the attention of some of the big NYC blogs. :: MySpace

Arms - Well-written songs and an excellent guitar-heavy sound should be enough for success, but it doesn't hurt that this band also has earned the interest and respect of a number of established groups. They're not a shoe-in yet, but they've got a decent chance to make it big. :: MySpace

Asa Ransom - This band is still new, but they have big plans. As I said in my live review of them, they have some things they need to work on (like melodies) - but their keyboard-heavy experimental post punk shows promise and they clearly have the drive to follow through. :: MySpace

Autodrone - Grunge-tinged dark wave-spirited shoegaze, these guys have all the talent and mainstream appeal to break through. If the fates are kind, we'll be seeing a lot more of this band. :: MySpace

Bellmer Dolls - Scoring opening slots for Nick Cave bodes well for these garage-goths. As does their superb talent and creep-chic good looks. :: MySpace

NEXT>> Part 2
Part 3

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Live: Her Vanished Grace, 28 Degrees Taurus, The Soundscapes, Dead Leaf Echo

When: 12/19
Where: Vanishing Point

Her Vanished Grace - I've seen Her Vanished Grace before and I was a little nervous to see them at Vanishing Point. They are a great band, with excellent poppy songwriting and a nice noisy sound, but when I've heard them in the past, I noticed serious pitch issues when they can't hear one another properly. But this time, despite muddy acoustics, things went well. There were a few pitch issues, but for the most part, both singers (married pair Charlie and Nance Nieland) were right on. The set included some new tunes and a lot of old favorites, and the band delivered them with their usual enthusiasm.

In a world of shoegaze revivalists, it's important to remember that HVG put out their first album in 1991, making them a first-generation band. Since that time, they've had a steady low-profile career churning out a solid shoegazey pop album every year or so and playing great shows to a small but loyal fan base around the city.

And if you catch them live, you'll see why their fans brave blizzards and monsoons to make it to every show. Nance has a way of possessing the stage, the air of a professional frontwoman who knows exactly what she's doing. As a whole, the band strikes a perfect balance between the comfortable attitude of seasoned performers and the lovable excitement of a local indie band playing for a room full of friends. It's a pleasure to watch, and of course, a pleasure to hear.

Dead Leaf Echo - A five-piece shoegaze band that's been a staple in the Brooklyn shoegaze scene for a number of years, Dead Leaf Echo was by far the most disappointing act of the night - and I'm sorry to report these problems are not specific to this show.

As I see it, one can essentially critique music on two basic points. The first is the band's sound, and here, DLE does well enough. Their walls of sound are genuinely complex and interesting, and the parts blend together well. The second (and more important) element, however, is the music's momentum. This is in the songwriting but on a smaller scale, it's also in melodies, chord progressions, dynamic contrast and so on. These are the forces that drive music forward. And here, DLE fails. Their melodies are virtually non-existent, with uninteresting, wandering vocal lines and no guitar riffs to speak of. Their chord progressions don't have any of the really driving elements like suspension, dissonance or cadences that draw in the audience through the anticipation of resolution. Moreover, their songwriting is incoherent. The only thing I can say is that DLE does use dynamic contrast well, but that alone isn't enough to move the music forward or make it engaging.

Dead Leaf Echo (photo from
Dead Leaf Echo

Interestingly, this weekend lead singer LG was ill and unable to sing most of the show, so bassist Mike DiLalla picked up the slack. DiLalla did such an admirable job delivering the songs on short notice that I thought the vocal switch had been planned and was permanent. And it would have been a good thing - the band might want to consider letting DiLalla sing more often in the future. He seems more melodically-inclined than LG and clearly has talent the band has yet to tap.

The Soundscapes - Who doesn't love the Soundscapes? Brooklyn-based brothers of Brazilian extraction, the Soundscapes could win audiences on their good looks alone, but they don't need to because they are also exceptionally gifted musicians. Their music is basically what it would sound like if Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore joined Yo La Tengo. Their noisy lo-fi pop has consistently excellent melodies, outstanding songwriting and beautiful moments of noise and dissonance. Their tunes are catchy but interesting, their music is loud but accessible and their live show is massively fun. Guitarist and singer Rodrigo Carvalho jumps up and down, swings his guitar around and genuinely loves every second, while brother Raphael Carvalho plays the drums with such speed and precision, you know he could out-drum most of us with one hand.

The Soundscapes (photo from
The Soundscapes

Most impressively, the Soundscapes have always sounded like much more than a duo. I've heard many four- and five-piece bands who didn't have the fullness and complexity of the Soundscapes. And since the summer, it seems they've turned their amps up even louder and started rocking even harder. They also played some material I haven't heard before and I was interested to hear that it is moving different, more rock'n'roll direction. I thought this band might fall into a rut, but from what I heard, they have it in them not only to keep playing great music, but to keep learning and growing as musicians and songwriters. Keep an eye on these two.

28 Degrees Taurus - I've been throwing the term "no-gaze" around a bit lately and 28 Degrees Taurus is another that fits it well. It's hard to describe their music - it's a shoegazey, guitar-heavy mess with rapid-fire drumming in the spirit of MBV's Colm O'Cosig. But over this, it has engaging, floating melodies and an air of rich mystery that pulls you in deep. The band keeps everything just a little off-kilter in terms of melodies, harmonies and rhythms, but they don't overdo it - the music is listenable but strange and can certainly hold attention.

The band is fun live, all delivering their parts with passion and skill. Though they ended up pausing too long between songs, they managed to keep the audience engaged through half-coherent dialogs and jokes. The members are both true musicians and true performers and I can't recommend them enough.

Albums to watch for in 2009

***Disclaimer: This is a list of albums I hope to see in 2009. Most of them haven't been announced, and probably some of them don't/won't exist. I'm not trying to start rumors, I'm just an optimist!!***

A Sunny Day In Glasgow - This electro-dream-pop outfit made some waves in 2007 and now, we have it on good authority (their own) that they are heading into the studio again. Last time I heard them, their music seemed to be moving in a more aggressive direction, which means 2009 may well blow their already-excellent 2007 release out of the water. :: MySpace

The Harlem Shakes - I'd like everyone to note that I had faith in these guys all along. And now it's official, they're back! I'm going to go freak out now (in a good way). :: MySpace

Mahogany - They are noise pop legends, and I'm pretty sure I heard them say they were coming out with something soon. In any case, at their recent show, the new material was some of their best ever, which is hard to even believe. True, they may let us down, but they also have the potential to knock our socks off, yet again. :: MySpace

My Bloody Valentine - It's possible, right? :: MySpace

Ringo Deathstarr - The next best thing to My Bloody Valentine. I think they owe us an LP. I demand an LP! :: MySpace

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - I'm confused. But hopeful. Anyway, the only thing Shilpa [ex-Beat the Devil] is better at than confusing people is putting out crazy and amazing music. :: MySpace

The Vandelles - I could swear I heard these guys were working on an album, but I'm looking all over and I can't find the info anywhere. Nevertheless, I will be surprised if we don't see something substantial soon. And I will be even more surprised if it doesn't totally kick everyone's ass. :: MySpace

Monday, December 22, 2008

Best Albums of 2008 - Part 5 - #5-1

Although this list has shifted a lot, there's never been any doubt that these five albums would top it. They are not only the best of 2008, they are a full head and shoulders above everything else.

Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #20-16
Part 3 - #15-11
Part 4 - #10-6


Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
The Social Registry

I have searched and searched for some criticism to make of this album, but I haven't come up with much. Gang Gang Dance have always been innovators, but in this release, which fleshes out their club/dance tendencies, the band has at last fully lived up to their immense potential. Saint Dymphna is one of the only true masterpieces of 2008, and if this were not explicitly a rock/pop list, this album might have placed even higher than #5.

An epic electronic album, Saint Dymphna draws on influences from My Bloody Valentine and Brian Eno to "world-beat" (in the rawest, most "tribal" sense) to trip-hop, and uses elements from each style so smoothly, you could swear each one was invented specifically to be a tool in the dub toolbox. Of all the electronic acts who are supposed to be lovable to rock critics (Aphex Twin, DJ Shadow, Mouse on Mars, etc.), this is the first one to really win me over. I'm not sure why, but I think it's because the music has genuine feeling but none of the machismo that usually accompanies it in the genre. In any case, the album shows brilliance in inspiration and meticulous care in execution. It's as close to perfect as 2008 has to offer.

Tinchy Stryder, guest rapper on "Princes," puts it best: "Oh shit! Gang Gang!"

Track picks: "Blue Nile," "Desert Storm"


Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances
Troubleman Unlimited

For all of us who thought the twenty-first century and hardcore punk would never really find a meeting point, Titus Andronicus has proven us wrong. The subversive edginess of hardcore is alive and well in Grievances, but the album is as far as you can get from revivalist - the punk of Titus Andronicus is fresh and original, smart, innovative and unrestricted by convention. It takes into account the important musical developments of the last few decades, borrowing guitar techniques from shoegazers, songwriting ideals from British indie popsters and experimentalist cues from post-hardcore burners. Punk, meet 2008. 2008, meet punk.

Track pick: "Titus Andronicus"


Wavves - Wavves

I think what's most compelling about Wavves is that its only member, Nathan Williams, delivers his songs with the confident ease of someone who knows his music could kick anyone else's music's ass. It's dope to the point where if you don't like it, everyone will know it's because you're not cool enough, not because there's anything wrong with the music. Yeah, that's not fair to say about any band, but Wavves are the best candidate for getting away with such cooler-than-you trickery since Sonic Youth's heyday.

But it's not really trickery, because the album really is that good. Wavves sounds like it may have been recorded through a jet engine - the guitars are distorted, the drums are distorted, the vocals are distorted, absolutely everything is distorted. But the pseudo-surf, pseudo-punk numbers are short and catchy, if you can make them out through the roar of static. Most importantly, the album is fiercely independent, fearless and self-assured to an degree very few bands have ever achieved.

Track picks: "Teenage Super Party," "Wavves"


Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
Wichita Recordings / Arts & Crafts

I can't possibly tell you how obsessed I am with this album. Los Campesinos!'s second album of the year, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed placed at #15 on this list, so I've already said a little about the band. While Hold On Now is a less refined effort, it won out for top spot because it's got the best songs and the higher level of originality of the two releases.

Los Campesinos! are a manic Welsh pop band that boasts seven or eight members - who all together generate a hella lot of noise. They play ping-pong with melodies, passing them back and forth, at times by the word, and there's always a half-dozen different parts at once, making this an album worth hearing many times through.

Most importantly, the melodies and hooks are hands-down the best pop music offered up in 2008. Keeping in mind I don't even nod my head at most concerts, you can take as evidence of the album's catchiness the fact that I've been seen jumping up and down like a maniac on subway platforms because this was playing in my headphones. True, the band goes right up to the very brink of overly self-aware, puke-inducing preciousness, but just when you think you're going to start hating them, they pull something else awesome out of their hat and you're back to being madly in love again. In the world of straight-up pop, this album is not only the best of the year, it's one of the best of the decade.

Track picks: "My Year In Lists" (how appropriate!), "Death to Los Campesinos!"


Marnie Stern - This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
Kill Rock Stars

No, this isn't a "worst album title" list, though This Is It would score just as well in that competition. But this is a "Best of 2008" list and this album is the best of the year. To be honest, I ignored Marnie Stern for a long time because I saw the individual name and wrote it off as "boring solo project" without giving it a try. But I heard so much about Stern this fall that I decided to give the album a fair chance - and it was not remotely like anything I might have expected. It's a high-speed riot-grrrl-inspired noise-rock explosion featuring a dozen tracks of non-stop shredding, lightspeed drumming and raging, enveloping melodies. It's like nothing I've ever heard.

I put a lot of consideration into the placement of This Is It at the top of the list, and I feel confident that this is where it belongs. The reason is simple: while most of the standout albums of 2008 will be surpassed and fade into the background of their respective genres with time, I really believe in ten or twenty years, Marnie Stern's record will still sound fresh, and that it will still have the power to move and inspire. Time might prove me wrong, but of anything released this year, it's the most worthy of becoming a classic in the world of rock and roll.

Track picks: "Transformer," "Steely"

That's it! Comments welcome!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Best Albums of 2008 - Part 4 - #10-6

We're getting to the good stuff now...

Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #20-16
Part 3 - #15-11


The Crystal Stilts - The Crystal Stilts [EP]

The Crystal Stilts have made some big waves this year with their simple, measured pop songs, which sizzle with distortion, ring with indie dramatics and have so much reverb, they may have been recorded in a cave. Yes, I know they put out a real album in 2008. And that album, Alight of Night is more polished and more cohesive than the self-titled EP. However, this collection of songs was the more exciting of the two. While on the album proper, the Stilts could consistently be mistaken for the Jesus & Mary Chain, the EP shows a broader range of influences and a lot greater diversity between songs. Alight of Night shows what the Crystal Stilts are, but The Crystal Stilts shows what they could be.

Track pick: "Converging in the Quiet"


Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
Kill Rock Stars

Just because Deerhoof have put out better albums in the past doesn't mean their 2008 release isn't better than the vast majority of albums this year. Offend Maggie is a less focused and slightly more conventional effort than their masterpiece Reville, but it still features their signature angular guitars and oddball childlike melodies. And the album includes some of the band's best experiments in dissonance and contrast. Moreover, the band's extraordinary originality hasn't faded, and Offend Maggie makes it clear why Deerhoof have become one of the most venerated experimental acts of the decade.

Track pick: "Offend Maggie"


Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Subpop Records

If you haven't heard of the Fleet Foxes by now, just pick a random blog post from 2008 from any music blog and you'll probably get something about this band. I thought I would dislike them, but after I gave them a fair listen, I have to say, their album has certainly earned much (if not quite all) of its praise. A down-home folk album with definite roots in spirituals and hymns, Fleet Foxes is far more tame than most of what gets my attention. What's edgy and interesting is that no one else is making quite this kind of music these days, at least no one with a recording contract, a tour manager and some indie rock cred. The record is a confident and cohesive collection of songs, and though the band's vision may not do much to push the envelope, they execute it with such a polished ease that it's no wonder this has been one of the stand-out records of the year.



Foals - Antidotes
Transgressive Records

I'm jumping on the bandwagon again on this one, but I'm feeling increasingly confident in my decision to like this band - already Antidotes is in regular rotation on my iPod, not in consideration for this review but because I really want to hear it. The album is most notable for the constant, complex interplay between guitars, bass and drums, each of which play "lead" parts that could alone propel the songs. Together, the parts lock into tight tracks that never grow boring. And over it all soar pop-friendly but original melodies that make it hard to tear yourself away.

Track pick: "Red Socks Pugie"


MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Red Ink/Columbia

MGMT exploded into the mainstream in early 2008 for very good reason. Their super-catchy, radio-ready electronica has more rock sensibility than any club music since the early 90's Madchester scene. Catchy beats, irresistible melodies and masterful keyboards drive the whole richly-varied album forward. With obvious roots in psychedelic and Britpop music, MGMT has created an album lovable by everyone from club-rats to Flaming Lips junkies to anglophile rock snobs.

Track pick: "Kids"

NEXT>> Part 5: #5-1

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best Albums of 2008 - Part 3 - #15-11

Here's the third installment...

Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #20-16


Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Wichita Recordings / Arts & Crafts

This band surprised everyone by releasing two full albums in 2008, both of them gold. We Are Beautiful, the second of the two, curbs some of the manic pop expressions of the first and shows the band's more mature and steady side. In slowing things down, they bump up against a few more indie rock cliches, but the album is still beautifully crafted. Their richly-orchestrated pop and youthful, emotional vocals combine to make this one of the best albums of the year.

Track pick: "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed"


The Kills - Midnight Boom
Domino Records

"Sexy" is the adjective of choice in describing this album, and it's entirely deserved. Midnight Boom is an indie rock album, but it has the meticulous production of electronica/dance and the catchy beats to match. Delivered with confidence, the songs are hip and fun, but not without their tender moments. It's album of contradictions - down-to-earth but smart, gritty but polished, sophisticated but accessible - and it doesn't sound like anything else in 2008.

Track pick: "U.R.A. Fever"


Wye Oak - If Children
Merge Records

This duo won me over when I saw them live a few weeks ago. While they intially come off as gentle and folky, Wye Oak can crank it up too. The result, so far, is this gorgeous debut (originally released before 2008 but re-released on Merge Records to a much wider audience this year). Its noise-folk ranges from homey, comforting acoustic numbers to towering cliffs of sound. Each composition is well-conceived and over it all, both members deliver some of the year's best lyrics. (If you can listen to "If Children Were Wishes" without crying, you probably have no soul.)

Track pick: "Family Glue"


Tears Run Rings - Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never

I said this album might not be in the top "dozen or so" albums of the year, but that was before I'd listened to all the competition. On this dazzling debut, TRR have matched and even surpassed the quality of most their early 90's shoegaze influences. Always, Sometimes is nothing revolutionary, but anything that can stand on a level with best of Pale Saints or Slowdive is worth serious attention. For those not familiar with these bands, imagine a series of shimmering soundscapes and entrancing melodies so rich that they seem to build another world around you, a dense forest of sound blanketed in somber beauty. This is nothing but pure shoegaze heaven.

Track pick: "Fall Into Light"


The Manhattan Love Suicides - Burnt Out Landscapes
Squirrel Records/Magic Marker Records

This collection of EPs, singles, radio sessions and other rarities is so packed with music that it clocks in only seconds short of the 80-minute mark. And astoundingly, almost all of the album's 27 songs are pop gems in their own right. Massive feedback and distortion drench the entire record, but the songs themselves are tightly-constructed two-minute catchy pop numbers reminscent of classics like the Beach Boys. The MLS are far from the first band to use this template, but they are one of the best in recent years, never wavering as they churn out one bright melody after another.

Track pick: "Johnny Boy," "Keep It Coming" or really any of them. They're all good.

NEXT>> Part 4: #10-6
Part 5: #5-1

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Albums of 2008 - Part 2 - #20-16

Hey! This is part #2!

PREVIOUS>> Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up


Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Fight
FatCat Records

This rather conventional pop record just managed to squeeze on the list on the merits of both songwriting and sound. I was a bit surprised, since Glasgow breeds almost exclusively boring and overrated bands, but this one actually knows how to rock! Particularly notable, the guitar arrangements are driving and innovative. Yeah, the words are a bit whiny, but most bands' lyrics are, and at least these are from the heart. It's all-around solid pop album with a rough-shod Scottish attitude, perfect for crying in your beer to, but also suitable for rocking out.

Track pick: "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms"


Why? - Alopecia
Anticon Records

I thought about not considering Why? for the list because as I explained, I've left out rap albums. However, a full listen revealed as much indie rock as rap here. Either way, it's a great album of well-performed music, with interesting hip-hop rhythms, beyond-solid drum and guitar work and bold originality. For Ohio-born former high school band dweebs, these guys are pretty ill.

Track Picks: "The Hollows," 'The Fall of Mr. Fifths"


M83 - Saturdays = Youth
Mute Records

If this album's finest moments were more indicative of its overall quality, it would have fallen much higher on the list. M83's electronic shoegaze creates some of the most stunning walls-of-sound of the year, and some of the most interesting hooks too. The album includes too many skippable tracks to win out against the other albums on the list, but if you're thinking of picking up a copy, do it! It may not be solid throughout, but the good stuff is some of the best music out there these days.

Track pick: "Kim & Jessie"


Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual
We Are Free Records

Ponytail has beat out Women for the "Best Blatantly Experimental Indie Rock Band That Put Out An Amateur But Promising Release In 2008" award, because while I can compare Women to other post-rock bands, Ponytail goes in a more original direction. I'm not sure how to describe it without making it sound dreadful, and indeed, if you can't handle edgy, you may want to steer clear. High-speed noise rock from guitars and drums plus random whooping and wailing doesn't sound like a good idea, but Ponytail makes it work and makes it awesome. And their entirely fearless approach to musical innovation makes me suspect this may be only a first hint of something truly great.



The Dodos - Visiter
Frenchkiss Records

I tossed this album on the "annoying" pile when I first heard it, but something (I don't remember what) made me go back and give it another try. And yeah, it has its annoying moments, but they don't do anything to counteract the much more important moments of simple, pure beauty. In 14 tracks of percussion-driven indie folk, the Dodos spin quiet tales of love, heartache and regret, without being remotely cliched or whiny. The careful arrangements are so subtle that they might be overlooked if it weren't for the album's consistently killer songwriting. A quirky charmer indeed!

Track picks: "Walking," "Jodi"

NEXT>> Part 3: #15-11
Part 4: #10-6
Part 5: #5-1

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best Albums of 2008 - Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up

Here it is, the long awaited list! Well, it begins after few little notes, anyway.

Little note #1: You may have noticed that I just started the review in late October. Prior to that time, I wasn't paying much attention to new releases, so I've had a lot of catching up to do to get this list together. During that process, my brain ended up very cluttered, so I had to just eliminate some contenders for the sake of sanity. I just didn't have time to listen to it all this year. So here are the rules I made:

 a. It has to be at least partly rock/pop, which in this case includes some electro and folk, but excludes most rap, blues, country, "world," etc.

 b. No albums by "established" bands, which I defined as anyone who's been in the top hundred or so on the Billboard charts prior to 2008. That ruled out a lot of folks who would might have made it otherwise (Nick Cave, Portishead, Metallica, the Verve, etc.)

Yes, this is all very arbitrary and it's not ideal. But I started off too far behind, and I only have two ears and twenty-four hours every day to listen to all of this.

Little note #2: In general, this is a "Best of" list but it's got elements of a "favorites" list, in that some albums that were probably really great were too low key for me and my short attention-span (I'm thinking of Beach House, Grouper, etc.), so those didn't make the cut.

I tried to look for the most original, exciting albums more than for the most solid, most pretty or most polished - but obviously, these are all factors.

Little note #3: I always love comments! What did I miss? What's overrated? Share with the class!

OK, let's get started! First up, here are the albums that didn't make the top 20 (mostly on counts of originality) but deserve an honorable mention anyway:

Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward
The Big Sleep - Sleep Forever
The Black Angels - Directions to See a Ghost
The Crystal Stilts - Alight of Night
Deerhunter - Microcastle
The Raveonettes - Lust, Lust, Lust
The Ruling Class - Tour De Force [EP]
Werewoves - ES [EP]
Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
Women - Women

NEXT >> Part 2: #20-16
Part 3: #15-11
Part 4: #10-6
Part 5: #5-1

Guest List: Top 5 Albums of 2008 (Pancho's List)

OK, here's another guest list for you, this one from my friend "Pancho" (thanks again, automatic name generator). Pancho plays bass guitar and sometimes writes reviews for legitimate music sites. (I can't tell you what, but you've probably heard of them.)

Pancho says:

I don't listen to a ton of new albums. I am an itunes picker and chooser and playlist maker, and I mostly listen to older stuff, but here you go:

1. TV on the Radio - Dear Science . . . Are they more like Earth Wind and Fire or Radiohead? They are most like TV on the Radio and way better than Talking Heads. This group is completely in control of their sound at this point, original and wholly relevant. Incredible concert in Brooklyn this year.

2. Nick Cave and the Badseeds - Dig Lazarus Dig . . . This one really rocks; the Grinderman project wore off on Nick and the result is a really funny, vivid rock and roll album with the literary effect still intact.

3. Karniege and NASA - From the Left . . . Progressive, psychedelic hip-hop in authentic and meaningful form. Like lunchroom boom-bap on acid. Really smart and thought out and tough as hell.

4. Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull . . . This might be one of the most boring instrumental albums ever made but I still really dig it. I think it's the piano flourishes that do it for me - they add this tiny little metallic sheen. If you have the time to listen to it, go ahead. Did this album even come out this year? Or was it 2007?

5. Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak . . . . Kanye West fools a lot of people again by hiding a ton of musicianship, thought, and gigantic pop appeal in another somehow fascinatingly self-indulgent album. In case you can't hear the groove, listen to "Heartless" in your car. (If you don't have a car, buy one.) In case you don't catch the pop appeal, listen to the most seemingly retarded song such as "Robocop" twice and then catch yourself singing it on the subway and dying to listen to it again.

Honorable mention to Metallica for Death Magnetic, which you need to listen to more than once to understand what they pulled off. Seriously, it's a miracle that they made not only a decent album but a really good one that basically, jammed alll the way throughout. Kirk Hammet, as someone put it on a youtube comment, "still has the moves," definitely the star of the album and the least irritating member of Metallica.

Shout out to Isaac Hayes who died this year and dwarfs everyone on this list with a shadow the size of Jupiter. "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic" and "Do Your Thing" are a good starting points if you've never indulged in this phenomenal music. The latter finds him as easy to agree with as James Brown (that's right, Ike) and possibly even more so, which is no easy feat.


The first guest list is here.

Guest List: Top 10 Albums of 2008 (Salvador's List)

My list is almost ready for you all, but in the meantime, I've asked a couple of my more musically-inclined friends to contribute lists of their own.

So here's guest list #1. I won't tell you the author's name (let's call him "Salvador" - thanks random name generator, he'll hate that!), but I will tell you he's a guitar player and songwriter. I've also put in his notes.

Here it is!

10. Voyager One - "Afterhours In The Afterlife" (i just discovered them a few months ago)

9. Portishead - "Third" (they did it again)

8. The Charlatans - "You Cross My Path" (i think it's their best record since the 90's)

7. The Music - "Strength In Numbers" (i always LOVED this band)

6. Glasvegas - "Glasvegas" (i didn't like them before, but recently i started to adore this band)

5. James - "Hey Ma" (one of the greatest comebacks ever)

4. The Raveonettes - "Lust, Lust, Lust" (great, solid album)

3. Radiohead - "In Rainbows" (it's just so beautiful)

2. The Ruling Class - "Tour de Force" EP (they are gonna be HUGE soon)

1. The Verve - "Forth" (no question)

Stay tuned, I've got another one or two guest lists coming up.


Five Unjustly Overlooked Albums of 2008 - Part 2

I didn't forget about this list! If you missed Part 1, check it out. Now here's the other half:

She Keeps Bees
Self-released, 2008

Nests isn't an album that hides behind effects pedals or clever song titles - it's just a series of songs sung over frill-less guitar and drums. And that's what makes its quality so impressive. The album hinges entirely on the singing and songwriting of founder Jess Larrabee, and she delivers. I've seen a lot of reviewers try to classify She Keeps Bees as an indie rock album, comparing the music to the White Stripes (which is not inaccurate, I guess), but what it really is is back-to-the-basics alternative blues. There's an indie rock sensibility to it, but the songs themselves are skeletal blues numbers.

Larrabee's voice alone could carry the album; she's a singer of rare talent. However, the guitars and drums, though clearly there to support her singing, are also brilliantly gritty. A self-assured, solid, no-nonsense album, Nests deserves a listen.


The Secret Life of Sofia
Seven Summits
Self-Released, 2008

OK, I'm kind of copying Pop Tarts Suck Toasted here, but I was into this band way before I started reading PTST. The Secret Life of Sofia is a folksy band from Brooklyn, but "folk" may be misleading, because unlike most folk music, TSLOS's music is thickly layered, complex and brooding. I don't think a comparison to Radiohead would be out of line.

Seven Summits is a concept album that tells a series of stories about mountain-climbing. Yeah, it's as odd as it sounds, but in the end, the stories meld into a much larger commentary about human vulnerability, survival in a world one can't control, the drive for exploration and the need to aspire to goals we may not even understand. There are things I don't care for in the album, but in concept, the album embodies a bold vision, and in execution, it delivers beautiful and profound music that will seep deep into your soul.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

E-mail Subscription Now Available

Hey everyone!

A bunch of people have been asking me about getting the review delivered by e-mail. So I figured that shit out and the feature is now available. It sure puts on the pressure to not screw up the first time I post things, though!

To subscribe by e-mail, just put your e-mail address in the form on the right. It's so easy!!


Upcoming Shows: Oasis, Marnie Stern, Her Vanished Grace and more

Tonight!! Dec. 17

Oasis @ Madison Square Garden / $40-80
Do I need to explain this?

Tomorrow, Thurs., Dec. 18

If you want pop...

+/-, Pattern Is Movement, the Ladybug Transistor @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) / $13
Three great bands will sing you catchy tunes all evening long.

+/- :: Pattern Is Movement :: The Ladybug Transistor

If you don't want pop (or at least not happy pop)...

Bell, Holy Hail @ The Bell House (Park Slope, Brooklyn) / $8
If you want New York's latest in weird, dark, experimental music, this show is for you. Two bands with an electronic edge, one with an uncanny resemblence to Bjork.

Bell :: Holy Hail

Fri., Dec. 19

Her Vanished Grace, 28 Degrees Taurus, the Soundscapes @ Vanishing Point (Bushwick, Brooklyn) / $??
Three of my favorite bands, one of my favorite venues. All edgy, shoegaze-inspired noisy pop bands. Go to this show!

Her Vanished Grace :: 28 Degrees Taurus :: The Soundscapes

Sat., Dec. 20

Quasi with Marnie Stern, Crystal Stilts @ Knitting Factory / $20
This sounds too good to be true. An all-time indie rock great hosting two of the year's finest indie acts? Please check with the bands/venue and make sure I didn't just dream this.

Quasi :: Marnie Stern :: The Crystal Stilts

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Split Single: "Stomach Worm" - It Hugs Back and "Wolfie" - Ray Rumours

Spilt Single: "Stomach Worm" / "Wolfie"
Too Pure Singles Club
Rating: ******* (7/10)

Lately, I've been trying to expand my new-music horizons beyond New York City, and it was this endeavour that brought me to the UK's Too Pure Singles Club. Though it sounds like a screwed-up dating service, it is in fact the last surviving fragment of the Too Pure record label, a very small branch that sends its members new music by limited edition 7" vinyl every month and that seems to have a good track record of highlighting promising UK up-and-comers.

This month, the club releases a split single between It Hugs Back and Ray Rumours, each covering other Too Pure bands.

It Hugs Back decided to cover the catchy tune "Stomach Worm" by Stereolab. Stereolab is known for their quirky, pattern-driven pop and IHB's version of "Stomach Worm" matches the original in the rolling, pulsing beat. As a general rule, the best cover versions involve reinvention of a song, so I was initially disappointed that IHB retained so much of the original. That said, if you're going to do a copy-job, Stereolab is not easy music to recreate and this single does an admirable job of capturing the original spirit and complexity of the song.

It Hugs Back (picture from
It Hugs Back

More importantly, there are ways in which IHB makes this song their own. Of course, their slightly-raw indie male vocals stand in contrast to the odd-but-polished female vocals of the original. More importantly, thanks to their guitars, their version is fuzzier, noisier and rougher around the edges. Sure, we've all heard more exciting covers, but by slightly circumventing the bubbly sheen of the Stereolab version, IHB have created a single that's fresh and fun.

Ray Rumours, the indie folk songwriter also know as Ros Murray, selected the song "Wolfie" by Scout Niblett as her contribution to the split. It's not a very risky choice - another female singer-songwriter armed with guitar. (How cool would it have been if she had done the Stereolab cover instead?!) But Murray goes further than IHB at reworking her chosen song - while Scout Niblett's version is aggressive and openly bitter, Murray's interpretation is gentle and more mournful than anything.

Ray Rumours (picture from
Ray Rumours

It's not my favorite pick for a song because it hinges more on its lyrics than its melody, which, while subtly pretty at first, is limited and rather dull by its tenth or so repetition at the end of the song. Murray's version does well given the restrictions of the song, though. Replacing Niblett's sparse electric guitar with a tightly finger-picked acoustic, she delivers the song with a softness, giving the words a sense of introspection that you'll find nowhere in the original. Overall, her unique voice and particular guitar technique makes this "Wolfie" distinctly a Ray Rumours song.

As a split, it's an all-around solid release, and well worth a couple bucks to download (I am under the impression that it will be available on iTunes soon) or even to get on the vinyl if you're into that. For more information, check the Too Pure Singles Club MySpace page.

It Hugs Back - MySpace
Ray Rumours - MySpace

Monday, December 15, 2008

Live: Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers

I was pretty excited to finally see Shilpa Ray with her new band (namely Shipla Ray and Her Happy Hookers) this weekend at Santos Party House. But I was also dubious. Would this really do much to mend the broken heart I got from the break-up of her previous ensemble, Beat the Devil?

In short, yes. The music was a bit different from her last project, as one would expect. There was less of a bluesy feel, and instead there was a hint of something jazzy. Jazzy??? Yeah, it sounds odd to say, but the instrumentals had that sort of gloss to them. Of course, the overriding post-punk influences remain predominant, and in a very twisted way, you could call the music "neo-soul" too. But classification is kind of pointless when it comes to artists like Shilpa.

The set itself started out with a series of songs that were enjoyable but not memorable in any way. I was a mite disappointed, but about a third of the way through the set, the band kicked it up a notch and started playing one badass number after another. The individual songs aren't at the level of Beat the Devil's yet, but it's a young band, and judging from this show, they'll get there (and beyond) very soon.

The "Happy Hookers" are an incredibly tight band, though it's no surprise Shilpa would surround herself with great musicians. One song started off with about a 16-bar drum solo. Now, please understand, I hate drum solos. Which makes this an extremely rare exception - it was an interesting and compelling start to the song, thanks to drummer Josh Fleischmann's ability to gauge and hold the audience's attention. The rest of the band was on an equal level both in professionalism and in talent, and they all put on an engaging and passionate show that was exciting to see.

Of course, the real highlight was Shilpa herself, one of the best frontpersons I've ever seen. Her singing is excellent, though not beautiful - she wails, growls, yells and moans so much that I had a sympathetic sore throat by the end of the show. She plays a hand-powered harmonium (like a huge horizontal accordion) and when she's not throwing her back into that, she's bouncing around the stage and generally freaking out. She even graced the audience with one all-out dance routine, Shilpa-style - which is to say, she jumped up and down while flailing her arms at random. As a front-person, she's witty, entertaining, and above all, energetic. What more could you want?

If you missed this show, shame on you, but just try to make her next one. She does a solo performance at Public Assembly in Williamsburg on December 23 and the whole band will play the New Year's Eve party at Monkeytown this year, so mark your calendars!


Radio Flyer's Desert Island List

I've been working really hard over the last few weeks to get caught up on all the notable music of 2008 so I can give you a kick-ass Best of 2008 list (oh, do I love lists!) but I have a lot I still need to get through. So, to speed things along, I cleared everything off my 4GB iPod, and filled it with all the 2008 albums I have. I had 1 GB left over and a few minutes to fill it with all of the "old" music I didn't want to leave home without.

And after I finished, I realized I had essentially created my "desert island" list, the music I would take into exile with me if I were only allowed 1 GB (how 21st century is that?!) for the rest of my life. And I think the list is rather different than what it would have been if I had been consciously creating a "desert island" list for others to read. Here's what made the cut:

- Electrelane - The Power Out, The Greater Times
- Guided by Voices - Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes
- Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures and thirteen miscellaneous songs
- My Bloody Valentine - Loveless, Tremolo
- Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and seven miscellaneous songs
- The Pixies - Come On Pilgrim, Doolittle, and eight songs from Surfer Rosa
- Skip James - four miscellaneous songs
- Slint - three songs from Spiderland
- The Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream and fifteen songs from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
- Sonic Youth - twenty miscellaneous songs
- Stone Roses - "Don't Stop" and "I Am The Resurrection"
- The Stooges - four miscellaneous songs
- Walt Mink - twenty miscellaneous songs
- Yo La Tengo - thirteen miscellaneous songs

I'm pretty surprised at some of the things on there, like Stone Roses and Yo La Tengo, and I'm also surprised I'm now OK leaving home without the Velvet Underground.

If I had time to weed some of the dud songs out of that list to make more room (or if I actually got 1.2 GB on my desert island), here's what would have been next:

- Big Star - fifteen miscellaneous songs
- Company Flow - six songs from Funcrusher Plus
- Echo & the Bunnymen - "Thorn of Crowns"
- Jawbreaker - nine miscellaneous songs
- Mercury Rev - "Meth of a Rockette's Kick" and "Coney Island Cyclone"
- Minor Threat - three miscellaneous songs
- Mississippi John Hurt - three miscellaneous songs
- Nick Drake - "Road" and "Which Will"
- Ride - "Leave Them All Behind"
- The Velvet Underground - three songs from The Velvet Underground and Nico

Well, there you have it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Live: The Bellmer Dolls

When: 12/11
Where: The Studio at Webster Hall

After a week of going to shows of bands other people like, it was nice to get back on familiar ground. But a lot has happened in the garage-goth world of the Bellmer Dolls since I last saw them - they scored opening gigs on Nick Cave's East Coast tour, they added a fourth member and their bassist, Anthony Malat, shaved his sleaze-'stache. Let's tackle these points one by one.

With regards to the Nick Cave tour, it's just one more way in which the band is moving towards a more established and professional existence. While all the Dolls are experienced musicians, the band itself has always had an extremely raw edge. At a typical show, frontman Peter Mavrogeorgis would randomly add parts to the songs, climb out into (and onto) the audience and accidentally break everything on stage in his passionate freak-outs. Yeah, like I said, a raw edge. And I was afraid to see them this time around, because I thought maybe they'd finally lost it.

The Bellmer Dolls (photo by Tim D. Richardson)
The Bellmer Dolls

They haven't. Sure, it was inevitable that they'd lose some spontaneity, and as expected, their performance is decidedly more self-aware and less genuine, but their posing is always interrupted by Mavrogeorgis's genuine insanity. Mavrogeorgis seems to be one of those extremely rare musicians whose mind is formatted for music and only music - you can see that he never stops thinking and that fresh inspiration never stops coming. He'll be playing guitar, then suddenly get an idea to go bang something out on the keys, then scramble over to the microphone for some impromptu howling. If you compare most bands' live shows to the Bellmer Dolls', the difference is similar to the difference between viewing a finished painting and watching the painter put brush to canvas. Sure, this time around, Mavrogeorgis was more careful not to break everything and some of his moves seemed decidedly more planned, but in the end, it was still the Bellmer Dolls I know, exuberant nihilism and all.

As for the new member, I had my doubts. I was worried he would close off the band's open sound, limiting their creativity and moving them away from their previous originality. But I need not have worried about this either. The newest Doll, Gabriel (I don't know his last name), played with honed restraint, never once overplaying either with excessive volume or with unnecessary complexity. He's a brilliant addition to the line-up - good choice, Dolls!

As for Malat's moustache, yes, I missed it. (And note here, I don't usually talk about a band's fashion choices, but since Malat is a stylist, it's pretty appropriate this time.) Anyway, nostalgic though I may be, he looks good without it too. And he still bends around like a demonic Gumby when he plays, and in the end, isn't that what really matters?


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Five Most Overrated Bands of 2008

5. Chairlift - OK, I don't dislike this band, they are OK. So I feel a little bad putting them on this list. But I do think they are overrated. I was disappointed to no other songs in their repertoire to live up to the beautiful simplicity of "Bruises", the iPod commercial song that pushed them into the spotlight. They have potential, but the hype is just too much. Their compositions are incoherent and their melodies are mostly bland. For the record, "Bruises" is undeniably lovely, another great pick by Apple's marketing people.

4. Cut Copy - These guys were overrated before 2008 too. They are creative, sure, but does that make up for being dreadfully irritating? I believe pretty strongly that all music, even the fun stuff, should have an element of beauty - or at the very least, sincerity. I haven't found that here.

3. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago is an album made by its backstory. It's not a soul-baring masterpiece, it's a series of whiny cliches (starting with the album title), all lumped together into poorly-constructed melodies and mediocre-at-best guitar work. The lyrics are especially dreadful. And the backstory isn't even that great. Isolated in the woods of northern Wisconsin? Uh, this isn't Nunavut or something, the most isolated it gets in Wisconsin is like twenty minutes outside of town. Living his parents' cabin? Seriously? That's barely a step up from living in their basement, and if it were me, I wouldn't brag about it in an international press release.

2. Vampire Weekend - This reminds me of pseudo-ska music. Enough to make this the most obnoxious band of 2008. Please make it stop.

1. Vivian Girls - I get that they are supposed to be cute girls who are not very good at their instruments, like an indie pop / punkgaze version of the Shaggs. Which definitely sounds cool. But so far, I just don't like them. In records and in performance, they're tediously boring. I hate to rag on my fellow female musicians, but I really don't get it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Upcoming Shows: David Pajo, Shilpa Ray, Bellmer Dolls and more

TONIGHT, December 12 - there's only one choice:

Jealous Girlfriends @ Webster Studio - $10
If you feel like going to a concert tonight, go to this one.

TOMORROW, December 11 - it's a toss up between two...

Bellmer Dolls @ Webster Studio - $8/$10
Bellmer Dolls are those garage goth geniuses I've been trying to tell you about. This is their first show in a while, and you have to see them live to get the full effect. :: MySpace

Suicide + Spanish Prisoners @ Europa - $22
Suicide are the legendary synth duo who helped establish the No Wave movement in New York about 30 years ago. They are still badass and they have invited up-and-comers the Spanish Prisoners to open. ::MySpace (Suicide) // :: MySpace (Spanish Prisoners)

Friday, December 12

Shipla Ray and Her Happy Hookers @ Santos Party House - $8/$10
Shilpa Ray of Beat the Devil has a new band and they are awesome and crazy like the last one. It's hard to describe the music, you'll have to hear it for yourself. Think blues meets post-punk meets escaped mental patient (and upon meeting, they have a fight to the death). :: MySpace

Saturday, December 13

Drink Up Buttercup and the Spanish Prisoners @ Cake Shop - $7
Two trendy bands, one trendy venue. Wear hipster-repellant. :: MySpace (Drink Up Buttercup)

Sunday, December 14

David Pajo + Men & Women @ Knitting Factory (Old Office) - $5
David Pajo, like David Grubbs, is one of the great leaders of 90's experimental rock. A member of Slint, Tortoise and The For Carnation (and more shamefully, Zwan), Pajo's resume is basically unbeatable. And it's only $5. :: MySpace

Drink Up Buttercup and War On Drugs @ Union Hall - $10
Two super-trendy bands (again). Wear hipster-repellant (again). :: MySpace (War On Drugs)

Live: Deerhunter and Violens

When: 12/8 at the Stereogum award thingy
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

Finally bringing my long run of shows by trendy bands to a close, Stereogum hosted some awards thingy and invited Deerhunter and Violens to play.

As with all the shows this week, I was more excited to hear the opener than the headliner. I've been pretty crazy about the Violens for a while now, but hadn't caught them live. The songs I'd heard online and around were really great New Wave gems that managed to maintain the spirit of the genre but make it fresh for 2008. Or that's what I thought.

Violens (photo by Tom Hines)
The Violens

But the show was a complete disappointment. What I heard wasn't updated New Wave at all, it was a string of early-80's cliches, and on a more basic level, the pieces really didn't come together. The drummer was particularly weak - his playing was fine, but his beats short-changed songs that could have been made a lot better with the right groove. Likewise, the guitar parts were not great to begin with and were rather poorly executed. Moreover, the band was not fun to watch. They didn't move much, and they spent way too long between songs - mostly due to the fact that apparently the guitar player 1. had to change guitars for every single song (was this supposed to impress people?) and 2. could only afford one strap between all three guitars. Whatever their reasons, it was unprofessional, obnoxious and disrespectful to the audience.

The Violens were best when they were loudest and darkest. At those moments, their weaknesses seemed to fade and everything would come together. But those parts were lamentably few. Sure, the songs that sound strongest recorded (notably "Lightning Lightning") sound good live, but it wasn't worth listening to the others to get there.

I was about to get pissed about wasting $16, but I figured I'd stick around and hear Deerhunter. I had them down in my mind as overrated and uninteresting - initial attempts to listen to their album failed to pull me in and I hadn't bothered to go back to it. But since I was there, why not see what all the fuss was about?

Deerhunter (photo by Loreana)

And it was great! I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful walls of sound, and quickly came to appreciate the songs' innovative compositions. Sure, I've heard better, and I don't think this band isn't worth quite all the hype (it's a lot), but I was pleased to learn that they've certainly earned some of it. Though they have some moments when their vision falters, their best moments are still outstanding.

As for the performance, I'd give it mixed reviews. I would have thought over a year of pretty serious success would have made the band feel more at home on stage, but they still looked young and uncomfortable. It seemed like they were genuinely trying to put on a good show, but there was a lot of rigidity and inhibition preventing them. Maybe I'm misinterpreting, but in any case, they need to get used to being professionals and start acting like they own the stage. Cause they do.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Live: Love Is All, Crystal Stilts and Cold Cave

Next in the stretch of shows featuring 2008 buzz bands was the Love Is All show featuring opening acts Crystal Stilts and Cold Cave.

I'd never heard of Cold Cave and I came in probably two-thirds of the way through their set. From what I heard, they play synth-made electronic dark wave that falls at the high end of run-of-the-mill - nothing original but certainly well-executed with lush, layered sounds. Their performance style involved the three members standing perfectly still, spaced out Kraftwerk-style along the front of the stage. It's not the most interesting thing to watch, but it works for them, helping them cultivate their dark, subtle atmosphere. All in all, it was alright. I wouldn't be surprised if this band becomes rather popular, but I'm not going to place a vote either way.

The band I was really there to see was up next, the heavily-hyped post punk outfit the Crystal Stilts. The band gets frequent comparisons to Joy Division,and watching them live, I could see why. On their recordings, the Jesus & Mary Chain-styled guitar wins out and their songs sound pretty much like Psychocandy outtakes. But live, it's easier to see the comparison of the Stilts' frontman Brad Hargett to Ian Curtis (it's more in his delivery than his voice), and bassist Andy Adler does sound a bit like early Peter Hook.

I like the Stilts, but I worry they are sliding from self-assurance to apathy and this show did little to reassure me. It was evident that they'd been playing a lot of shows lately. Yes, there was a nice level of comfort and professionalism on stage, but the other side of the coin is that they brought a sense of fatigue and lack of spontaneity. In the end, though, it was forgivable (at least this time around), since they were still having fun and making an effort to put on a show.

The Crystal Stilts (photo from
The Crystal Stilts

In terms of the music, it's rare to see a band with a male singer who can actually sing. On their instruments, the band was more amateur. That's part of their charm but it can be overdone. For example, I have no issue with Frankie Rose's decision to play drums standing up like Mo Tucker, but her improper grip on the sticks made her playing sound noticeably weak. Moreover, the rough-around-the-edges, militantly-simplistic songwriting that made the band noteworthy in the first place may soon become a real bane if they let it tie their hands. This is a great band, and I really did enjoy the show, but it's increasingly clear that they are falling rather short of their potential. Their hype can get them a little further, but if they don't push themselves much harder, their momentum will die out fast.

Headlining the show was Swedish pop band Love Is All. I listened to their album and found it to be pretty generic indie dance-pop. I didn't dislike it, though, and I thought I detected an artistic edge to the music. Live, however, any hints at some sort of intellectual artistry disappeared, and the generic quality of the music came to the fore. Moreover, the music's complete lack of emotion and depth became intensely evident to me. Dance-pop isn't really the most soul-baring of genres but it's quite possible to give it some trace of human feeling without making it less fun.

Love Is All (photo from
Love Is All

Adding to the horror, the band includes a saxophone, which is probably the single worst instrument ever invented. I can count on one hand the number of bands who have effectively used saxophone in contemporary pop music. (Yeah, this isn't one of them.) I did appreciate the bass and drums, however, which duplicated the quirky drive of electronica but with all the richness of a live performance. Still, that wasn't enough to make up for the problems and I left halfway through the set because it was really depressing me. There's a fine line between cheerful-and-fun and obnoxious-and-shallow, and Love Is All lands squarely on the wrong side.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Live: Titus Andronicus VS. A7 Club Tribute (a.k.a. Radio Flyer's weekend in punk!)

This past weekend was probably the punk-heaviest of my life. Friday, I saw up-and-coming modern punks Titus Andronicus playing with Wye Oak and O'Death, and Saturday, I stopped by the A7 Club tribute show at Knitting Factory.

Who: Titus Andronicus
When: 12/5
Where: Bowery Ballroom

Who: 30+ bands (I only caught a few) paying tribute to legendary NYHC club A7
When: 12/6
Where: Knitting Factory (all three floors)

I don't go to punk shows often because I rarely find them interesting. I actually really love punk and hardcore, but not much has happened in the genre since the mid-80's. That's because the scene is often dominated by traditionalists who aspire to recreate the raw brilliance of that 1977 to mid-80's era. And there's nothing wrong with that, it's a great era. It's just that nostalgia-driven music can't surpass the original, so I don't feel pulled to take an active interest when I can just go home and put some Minor Threat on the stereo. But that's just me.

And being me, I'm pretty excited about Titus Andronicus. Why? Because they are among a small group of bands who, seemingly independently, are dragging punk into the 21st century. The band is not afraid to mix their hardcore with folk and country twangs and ever-so-faint nods to indie pop (in songwriting) and shoegaze (in guitar technique). On a personal level, it's not my favorite music but it's certainly very interesting. For the first time since the early 90's, someone is making punk fresh.

Titus put on a great live show, and the energy is definitely that of a punk band. You know how you see all those pictures of old-school bands where someone with an electric guitar is jumping a good four feet above the stage? Well, I had never seen in it real life until Friday, and that may have been the highlight of the whole show for me. (Is that superficial? Maybe.)

Sadly, the set was interrupted by a handful of rude and belligerent audience members who ruined a big part of the show for those of us unluckily located in the midst of their fighting. But Titus isn't to blame just because some losers happen to like their music - their performance was outstanding and I was relieved when their arrogant, rock-star attitudes translated into not apathy but badassery on stage. What fun!

Titus Andronicus (photo by Maryanne Ventrice) Urban Waste
Titus Andronicus
(Photo by Maryanne Ventrice, not taken at the Bowery show)
Urban Waste
(A classic A7 band)

The next day brought me to the A7 tribute show, which, to be honest, I only attended because I was helping a friend out with some gear. In terms of punk, it couldn't have been more different. A7 was one of the most important clubs in the early 80's NYC hardcore scene, and Saturday's shows featured bands who had played there along with a few more recent followers. So where Titus Andronicus is unabashedly modernist, the A7 bands are unabashedly traditionalist. One guitar player summed it up: "This is how it was done twenty-five years ago, and this is how it should be fucking done now!"

I'm not going to review the show because I'm not really qualified to do so. I definitely enjoyed it though, and I will say, the crowd was a hundred times nicer than the previous night's. There's something to be said for punk traditionalists - for one thing, they know how to start a mosh pit without injuring people (which was how the problem in audience at Titus Andronicus began). For another thing, they know how to have fun and make great music, even if it's nothing new. I don't share their opinion that music should be frozen in time circa 1983, but it's kind of nice to know that someone will be keeping the tradition alive.

Live: Wye Oak

As I told you, Friday kicked off a whole string of shows highlighting some of the best and some of the trendiest bands of 2008. First up, Wye Oak and Titus Andronicus opening for O'Death at the Bowery Ballroom. I'm going to do something a bit odd and split the review of the show into two posts. (You'll see why when I put up the second one.) So, for now, Wye Oak...

Apparently, when this Baltimore duo played at the CMJ festival in October, everyone there completely lost their shit about how good they were. I, however, wasn't among that audience, so Friday's show was my first real experience with the band. I expected to enjoy them, but not much more. I was worried the one-hand-on-drums-one-hand-on-synth technique might be gimmicky, and in general, I thought I would get something a little low-key for my tastes.

Wye Oak, I stand corrected. Sure, these guys spend some time making the quiet, pretty, folky music I'd been expecting, but then all of a sudden, they rock the fuck out. The balance was just about perfect, and they one of those rare and delightful bands who successfully use contrasting dynamics to propel their songs forward without losing coherence. In other words, Wye Oak blew me away.

Wye Oak (picture from their myspace page)
Wye Oak

I was also struck by both members' technical ability. Jenn Wasner not only sings beautifully, but she can play the hell out of her guitar. Equally talented, Andy Stack managed the superhuman feat of playing synth and drums simultaneously as effectively as if he'd been two people. And it turns out, it wasn't gimmicky at all. In fact, the band drew so little attention to it, I wouldn't be surprised if half the audience never noticed the peculiar set-up.

The entire set was excellent. My only concern was that the new songs were less coherent in their composition than the older ones. I'm hoping this is because the band is still working them out and not because their inspired songwriting is wearing thin. I suppose we'll have to wait for the next release to find out for certain, but I have faith the band will pull through. With this level of talent and passion, how could they not?


Friday, December 5, 2008

Interesting Link: Women in Rock

I'm always up for more rants about women in music and the lack thereof. Check it out: "Women Lawyers, Bankers, and Presidents? Sure. Women Rockers? Not Just Yet."

Just got my Guitar Center catalogue. It featured pictures of about a dozen men and not a single woman. Way to go, Guitar Center, way to go.

Yeah, it's changing. But very slowly. And outside of the indie world, the situation is entirely dismal. Still.

(Thanks to Largehearted Boy for posting this link.)

Five Unjustly Overlooked Albums of 2008 - Part 1

OK, I'm still trying to get my best of 2008 lists together, but here's a little something to tide you over. Five albums that didn't get the buzz they clearly deserve, in no particular order...

Tears Run Rings
Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never
Clairecords, 2008

OK, I'm not ranking the albums on this list, but if I were, this would be #1. It's beyond disappointing that even though everyone and their grandmother is in a self-proclaimed "shoegaze" band these days, one of the very best actual shoegaze bands of the year has gone virtually unnoticed. Sure, they got some blog mentions around the time of the album's release this spring, but I haven't seen it on any year-end lists, even for top debut albums. Granted, it may not be in the top dozen or so records of the year, but on longer lists, the omission of TRR is glaring.

In terms of the actual music, the record is spine-tinglingly gorgeous shoegaze that follows more in the path of Pale Saints, Slowdive and Opal than that of My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus & Mary Chain. It's a long album and it may not hold your attention all the way through, but the best moments (and there are many) are some of the most profoundly beautiful in shoegaze music's past ten or fifteen years.


Team Genius
Team Genius
Self-Released, 2008

I gave this record a pretty warm review not too long ago and since writing that, it's only continued to grow on me. Basically, Team Genius is like your mom's macaroni and cheese - maybe not your all time favorite food [album], but when you need comfort, it's the perfect thing to warm you up inside and make everything seem OK. NYC reviewers should have made more noise about this release instead of freaking out about the Vivian Girls all fall (barf), but at least you and I know better!


Trying Got Us Nowhere
Trying Got Us Nowhere
Fiercely Independent, 2008

Another album I wrote up recently, I can't believe I haven't heard more about Elika's debut LP, especially in the NYC-based blogs. Their shoegaze-inspired electronica is simply miles better in its execution than the overwhelming majority of the band's peers. I've said it before: this is, hands down, one of the best debut albums of the year. Wake up, people!


Stay tuned for Part 2...

UPDATE: Here's part 2!

News: Dirty on Purpose hangs up their hat

Sad news, friends. One of New York's best, Dirty on Purpose, has just announced they are calling it quits. Over the last six years, DOP's innovative take on shoegaze pop has been an inspiration to many of their NYC colleagues and has won critical praise from all corners.

Dirty On Purpose

They will play one last show together on New Year's Eve with two of my very favorite NYC bands, A Place to Bury Strangers and the Vandelles. It will be at Mercury Lounge, starting at 9 PM. It's going to be an outstanding show, probably one of the best of the whole year. In other words, don't miss this show for anything! DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW! Got it?

And buy tickets in advance, it will sell out.

Dirty on Purpose - MySpace (I'm going to try to include more links for streaming and info about bands from now on, by the way.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm trying to do computer things that are difficult

Hi everyone,

I just added some helpful (I hope) feed links on the right-hand side to make subscribing to the review a bit easier. Also, I added some links to the bottom so you can get in touch more easily. But this is all using html which I don't know very well, so please, please, please let me know if the links or buttons don't work or don't display right.

Thanks and enjoy!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Album: Suturee - Suturee

Album: Suturee
Self-released, 2008
Rating: ******* (7/10)

I'd never heard of Suturee until they sent me a note a couple of weeks ago suggesting I might enjoy their album. I had low expectations, but I couldn't turn down their promise of male-female vocals and shoegaze-inspired sound. Plus, the band is in New York via San Juan, and I have a soft spot for any band with Puerto Rican roots.

The band only broke one promise - I could hear scarcely any trace of "shoegaze" influence in their music. And that's not really surprising, given the abuse that term faces nowadays. And it's just as well that the band isn't shoegaze, because what they do is certainly better without yet another forced homage to My Bloody Valentine. Suturee plays sweet, slow lo-fi underground pop, like Luna, Low or Mohave 3, and they do it very well.

As for the male-female vocals, they are exactly what I was hoping for - beautifully rough around the edges in terms of harmony and rhythm, with a gentle-but-raw tone in both voices. Most of the vocals lines have both singers together, but the arrangements of the two parts aren't always so simplistic - they come in, drop out, diverge and reconnect with near-perfection.


The album itself is solid, though not without its weaknesses. Most glaringly, there's not much variance between the songs - if you hear one, you have a good idea what you'll be in for for the rest of the album.

The opening two tracks are outstanding. In the first, "Afraid of Hands," the band shows their Puerto Rican heritage by slipping into the traditional Spanish scale - but even this they do with moderation and restraint. Number two, "Detain," has a gorgeous melody, but the subsequent couple of tracks slide towards banality in their arrangements and melodies.

However, Suturee returns full-force after a brief piano interlude (called "Wait Less" and I'm a total sucker for puns), with the excellent song "Me to Meet" which stands apart from the rest by its faint sashaying rhythm.

Everything on the album illustrates restraint, thought and a keen sense of beauty. It's not revolutionary, but it's well-executed and I definitely recommend a listen. It will make your ears happy, I promise.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Upcoming Shows: Deerhunter, O'Death, Mercury Rev and more!!!

There are so many amazing shows in NYC in the next week that if you don't live in New York, I don't recommend you read on, as it will be too depressing for you. And if you do live in New York, I recommend you sit down before reading this, as you might pass out.

The real party starts Friday, but first...

Gunfight! @ Rehab Fontana's, LES, Manhattan ($8)
Gunfight! is a great band I already told you about.

She Keeps Bees @ Zebulon, Williamsburg, Brooklyn ($?)
This band makes indie, bluesy, acoustic-ish, very very lovely music.

Blonde Acid Cult @ Mercury Lounge ($12)
Fans of Primal Scream, the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses probably already know all about BAC. If you are into that kind of thing, they are pretty much the best thing since the early 90's in Manchester.

OK, take the next two nights off, because...

Friday, December 5
O'Death, Wye Oak, Titus Andronicus @ Bowery Ballroom, LES, Manhattan ($12 adv / $14 door)
THE CONCERT OF THE YEAR (MBV reunion excepted), this show is headlined by O'Death, folky, punky rockers that won our hearts a couple of years ago. But the real highlight is that O'Death have chosen as supporting acts two of the hottest bands of 2008 - Wye Oak, the lovely indie-folk sweethearts that dominated the blogs during CMJ and Titus Andronicus, modern indie-pop-inspired punks and darlings of Pitchfork Media. DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW.

Yeasayer, Chairlift @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Brooklyn ($15)
So if you aren't missing the show at Bowery, you'll have to miss this one. Which is fine, because both of these bands are overrated.

Saturday, December 6
A quiet day. You can catch Yeasayer (sans their more-popular-than-they-are supporting act Chairlift) at Music Hall of Williamsburg or Nada Surf (sans Bear Hands) at Bowery Ballroom, but I wouldn't bother. Instead, check out these smaller-scale events:

Bridges and Powerlines, Naked Hearts and more @ The Delancey, LES, Manhattan ($8)
Both Bridges and Powerlines and Naked Hearts are great up-and-coming New York City poppy, noisy indie rock bands. [Update: 1. I thought this was a show by Jezebel Music, but their schedule doesn't have it. 2. The Spanish Prisoners are on some schedules (e.g. the venue's) but not others (e.g. their own). Don't get your hopes up, but do check back for an update.]

Phonograph @ The Studio at Webster Hall, East Village, Manhattan ($8 adv / $10 door)
Phonograph is southern-country-tinted indie rock of the highest order. I highly recommend checking them out.

Sunday, December 7
This is one of those days where your heart is going to break because you are only one person and cannot be in more than one place at a time.

Love Is All, Crystal Stilts @ Bowery Ballroom, LES, Manhattan ($13 adv / $15 door)
Love Is All and Crystal Stilts are two of the very best bands to surface lately. Love Is All plays arty, energetic music and come all the way from Sweden. Crystal Stilts play arty, energetic music and come from Brooklyn, but they are getting really famous now so don't count on hearing them around town a lot in the future. For fans of Joy Division, Jesus & Mary Chain and the like, attendance is required.

Mercury Rev, Dean & Britta @ Highline Ballroom, Chelsea, Manhattan ($25)
I still maintain that Mercury Rev hasn't been as great since David Baker left the band (which was in the mid-90's, I know) but they are still amazing masters of neo-psychedelia, just a little less engaging. Dean & Britta is Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500, Luna) and Britta Phillips (Bell Tower, Luna). They make quiet and gentle but upbeat pop music that will melt your heart.

Nada Surf, Bear Hands @ Webster Hall, East Village, Manhattan ($25)
Nada Surf have been around forever. They will play again (and probably for under $25/ticket), so I wouldn't make this show a priority. Bear Hands are a promising new band to keep an eye on, but they aren't the most original group in the world. I wouldn't recommend this show because it means missing the above two.

Creaky Boards, Soft Black @ Union Pool ($8)
OK, if you really don't want to deal with a huge crowd and huge venue, you can go hear these guys. Indie pop with a 70's rock spin to it.

Monday, December 8
Deerhunter, Violens @ Music Hall of Williamsburg ($16 adv / $18 door)
One more jaw-droppingly-good line-up to round out the week. Deerhunter are hypnotic experimental rockers that are absolutely worshipped by fellow musicians and critics alike. Violens are one of the very best New Wave-revival bands, because their music is a unique and modern interpretation, not just a copy of early 80's sound. They are getting very popular very quickly, and for good reason!

Don Caballero @ Europa, Greenpoint, Brooklyn ($12)
If you can't stand experimental music like Deerhunter, unfortunately, I can't offer you an escape because the only other show that can compete with the show at Music Hall of Williamsburg is Don Caballero, improv-based post-rockers from the 1990's, second only to the legendary Slint in the early 90's math rock movement, featuring brilliantly and deliciously shifting time signatures and key signatures.

Yeah, I won't be sleeping this week. It's going to be worth it.