Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Phosphorescent / Virgin Forest
@ The Bell House, Brooklyn ($10)
For a fun evening with guitars and pianos, check out this show. It's been over a year since I've heard these guys, but as I recall, Phosphorescent plays really fun indie-psychedelic-folk with an electric guitar and a Southern bent. His friends Virgin Forest will support. They play something similar to him, though less psychedelic and more pretty and folky, with male-female vocals and piano. I think they're from Georgia, and they sound it.
@ Studio B, Brooklyn ($10/$20)
Does this need explanation? Grandmaster Flash, the first and best of hip-hop.
Gang Gang Dance / Marnie Stern
@ Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn ($15)
I don't have anything on my Calendar Of Awesome Music for Saturday, but Pop Tarts Suck Toasted recommends this show and he's usually right. So check it out.
@ Cake Shop ($6)
Just as arms are a great body-part, Arms is a great band! They are fuzzy poppy indie rock with hints of psychedelia and shoegaze, and they are one of the best in their field these days. You really need to check them out before they get huge.
Album: Sonnenhuhn (That's German for "Sun Chicken"!)
BNS Sessions, 2008
Rating: ****** (6/10)
I'm slowly catching up with my reviews, but I'm still a little behind - this album was released digitally yesterday. It's not officially released on disc until January 6, though (or thereabouts - I'm not 100% certain on the date).
I already raved about my new-found love for Fun Machine earlier this month, and I was excited to hear and write about the album. But it proved a challenging task.
The tricky thing about Sonnenhuhn is that my reaction is strongly mixed. On the one hand, I'm in love. The entire record is overflowing with creativity. In fact, it doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard, and yet it totally rocks. Looking up close, there's not much I don't like - melodramtic, cheesy keyboard parts (trust me, it's a good thing here), odd, assymetrical rhythms, startling bursts of sound, tense beats, forays out of the key signature, it all works.
That the band can perform such complex, fast, syncopated pieces is astounding in itself. It's hard to actually describe the sound, but think Pink Floyd meets Queen in the year 2500 and makes robot party versions of Broadway showtunes. It's a bit like Dismemberment Plan, a bit like the Talking Heads, a bit like the Flaming Lips. Progressive psychedelic pop? Maybe?
Yes, this all sounds delicious, but when I step back to look at the big picture, it starts to fall apart. The album is a rather sophomoric effort in many ways, mostly because the band doesn't seem to know how to edit or meld their ideas into cohesive statements. Each track isn't a song, it's just a series of loose inspirations stuck together, like a stream-of-consciousness essay. The album is sprawling, and on neither a song level nor album level does the music move forward or build on itself. Specifically, I'm pretty sure you could easily take apart the phrases, rearrange them completely and have approximately the same result. In fact, I suspect the album might improve if you just put in three times as many track breaks and split up the longer songs into two or three minute segments. As it is, it's jumbled and incoherrent and doesn't reveal any larger-scale vision than "hey, this would sound cool!"
But this is still an interesting album and worth getting familiar with. Why? Because each member of this band is clearly brilliant, and I'll bet actual money they'll each go on to do great things in music, either individually or very probably, and hopefully, as Fun Machine. This band is onto something very good - their originality is outstanding and their chops are nothing to sneeze at. If their sound matures with time, they have the potential to be one of the most interesting bands of our time. (Seriously!) One day, we may look back on Sonnenhuhn and see the first glimmer of greatness. Let's hope!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I had heard The Depreciation Guild was better recorded than live, and I guess that might be true, but I think it's misleading - because live, they are still friggin' incredible. The guitar work is some of the best in today's shoegaze scene - dense and engulfing, but with a rare attention to detail. Their unending wall of sound is garnered with riffs and melodies, subtle but gorgeous. In this, they come closer than anyone nowadays (except maybe Austin's Ringo Deathstarr) in keeping alive the spirit of My Bloody Valentine. Like MBV, Depreciation Guild is definitely a two-guitar band, and they layer much more than just chords and textures.
The Depreciation Guild
Also remniscent of MBV is the drumming by Christoph Hochheim, whose rapid-fire snare fills are a decent immitation of MBV drummer Colm O'Ciosoig. But the band is not entirely an MBV wanna-be - their use of electronics sets them apart and there is something (though exactly what, I can't quite figure out) very remniscent of Radiohead.
The band only fails in the vocals. Granted, in shoegaze music such as this, singing is really not a focal point, often just another texture in the sound. But Depreciation Guild don't use it well - even as a texture, it should be an interesting one. But they are young and I have high hopes they'll get there eventually. And probably soon, given the sheer amount of talent they show on stage.
Visually, the band is appealing too. Aside from the simple attractiveness of all three members, the band has great visualization - instead of projecting some distracting film in the background, they project blocks of color that enhance without distracting from the music. Good choice!
All in all, it was an outstanding show! I'll see you all at the next one!
Monday, November 24, 2008
Album: Trying Got Us Nowhere
Fiercely Independent, 2008
Rating: ******** (8/10)
I've been following New York's electro-shoegaze duo Elika for over a year now, so I don't really have a good excuse for not getting this album review up until a full week after the official release date. Sorry guys! Without further ado...
Elika's debut LP is only seven songs long, which immediately boded well - at last, a band who can edit themselves and not dilute a great album with filler or mediocre tracks! And after a couple of listens from start to finish, I can honestly say I doubt I'll be hitting the "skip" button much, even on my hundredth time through.
My only significant complaint about the entire album is that the vocal melodies are a little dull. Singer Evagelia Maravelias has a lovely voice, and the parts she sings aren't unpleasant by any stretch, but they are just predictable and unremarkable. There's a lot of lost potential, and I wonder to what heights this band could soar if they are able to improve this one aspect of their song-writing.
But that's small beans compared to amazing sounds this band makes. The arrangements, heavily electronic, are stunning enough to send shivers up my spine. Elika crafts their textures with restraint, precision and extraordinary vision. Best of all, unlike those of so many "shoegaze" bands, Elika's soundscapes are always dynamic, gently propelling the songs forward, never once stagnating. On a broader scale, the songs are structured with care, full of remarkable contrast between swells and lulls, harmony and dissonance, convention and experimentation.
The album does falter just a little towards the end. "Let Down" is the most conventional pop number on the record. Its structure and melody may make it stand out in the context of the album, but in a larger context, these features could easily let it get lost in the hum-drum world of similar songs. The following track, "They'll Hate Us," has the potential to be one of the album's strongest, but it's damaged by a dated-sounding beat that is simply not of the caliber of the rest of the album.
But we can forgive Elika these small things, easily. Why? Because they've put out one of the most beautiful and mature debut LPs of 2008. Simply put: hats off.
Fantastic Plastic, 2008
Rating: ***** (5/10)
British popsters Bearsuit, who generated a bit of buzz on this side of the ocean during the CMJ festival in NYC, have released a new single today. The song is called "Pushover" and it's certainly an odd one.
It may be a little over-the-top, and intentionally so, but it's a fun listen. Light-hearted, danceable, and well-arranged, with a nice sing-song part midway through giving some relief from the rockin' but assaulting vocal riff that dominates much of the song. It's not going to win any awards for originality - it could be mistaken for some of Le Tigre's odder tracks, among other things (Le Tigre?! Yes, I'm as surprised as you!). What's more, this song could be dreadfully annoying if you weren't in the mood for it. But I think if the timing is right (like when you want to have a crazy one-person dance party in your bedroom - and admit it, sometimes you do), it could definitely hit the spot!
Where: The Charleston
So this past Friday night, I happened to catch the first show of a new band called Miniboone. Miniboone are an college-nerd-looking quartet, who play intellectual, aggressive, experimental pop. The best way I could describe the band is to say that it's like if the Minutemen and June of 44 formed a hybrid and then drank several gallons of espresso - but that probably doesn't mean anything to you because you probably have no idea who June of 44 were, and that's criminal - but it's not a crime we have time to prosecute in this particular post.
So I'll just say Miniboone play fractured, dissonant, noisy music that's guaranteed to repel most casual listeners. But this isn't a band vying for radio play, it's a band seeking to stretch the boundaries of what pop music can be. And in that endeavour, they succeed. The rhythmic complexity reminded me of early 1990's Louisville math rock (Slint, Rodan, Gastr del Sol), with always-changing time signatures and uneven, asymmetrical phrases. But compared to these meandering experimental bands, Miniboone plays fast-burning, pointed songs you'll have to concentrate to keep up with. Luckily, their animated, jumpy performance makes paying attention easy.
My only complaint about the band is that they are little over-intellectual (even their name is an obscure science reference) and I couldn't really connect with them on an emotional level. Even in fun and humorous experimental music, the ultimate purpose should be beauty and self-expression. This came through in some of Miniboone's songs, but others seemed to get too caught up in their own cerebral underpinnings to really reach a deeper level.
But I'd say, keep an eye on this band - it's a rare group that's this creative and original from their very first show.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Nouvellas - It took me a minute to figure out exactly why I hated this band so much. They imitate the sounds of 60's R&B music, with a girl group spin and occasionally a touch of funk, and they imitate it with technical precision. Then why did I spend the entire set grimacing so bad I may have dislocated a vertebra? Because, though playing "soul" music, this band has no soul. There's just no way this music came from the heart. In fact, this could easily have been a "produced" band, put together by a corporate asshole out to make a buck. I doubt that's actually the case, but that's the level of insincerity we're talking about. And relatedly, two 20-year-old white hipster girls pretending to be the Supremes should be nothing but offensive to everyone.
Mahogany - As Mahogany's hundreds of die-hard fans can tell you, this band's reputation was secured long ago. They are known for their sometimes-electronic, heavily-instrumented dream pop, combining beautiful melodies with gorgeously lush soundscapes.
But last time I heard them play, this past spring, I had reason to believe they'd lost their magic touch. The band was unable to use their laptop, which forced them to play a set of their newer, computer-free material. Most troubling wasn't any weakness in playing, but rather that most of the new songs were, well, not good. Particular due to unbearably trite melodies, the set seemed to represent a startling drop in quality from the band's earlier work.
So it was with great skepticism that I attended last night's show. And much to my surprise, I was absolutely blown away. Whether they simply reworked the material I'd heard last spring or presented an entirely different set of songs, the show was nothing less than stunning. Some of the new material, including the breathtaking second song (I don't know the name) might rival even the best of their earlier work.
Always primarily the project of Andrew Prinz, Mahogany has benefited not only from his compositional talent but also from his ability to surround himself with excellent musicians. Sharing the front of the stage with him these days is guitarist/vocalist Ana Breton, and though she's only been a member of the group for a fraction of its history, she more than pulls her weight with superb guitar work and lovely (though at this show, lamentably too quiet) vocals. Drummer Odell Nails is a gifted percussionist and better yet, he consistently looks like there is nothing on earth he would rather be doing than playing drums for Mahogany. I did a double-take when I noticed that James Minor of the goth-ish band Blacklist has taken over on bass, but it turns out he is a great fit as well. The whole band is lovely on stage - engaging, focused, passionate and fun to watch.
Kids, Mahogany is back!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Blacklist @ Music Hall of Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Brooklyn ($10)
This darkwave band will remind you of everything (at least everything gloomy) you love about the 80's, but with all of it brought up to date. They are playing with promising up-and-comers Led Er Est, among others.
Saturday, a hard decision awaits you, as at least four shows I highly recommend will be taking place...
Rasputina @ The Bell House - Park Slope, Brooklyn ($16)
These ladies have been around forever and a half, so you probably know who they are. If not, here's the story - three women hook up electric cellos to distortion pedals and play morbidly funny goth tunes. If you don't know how badass a cello with distortion can be, you'll need to check them out. Because it's something you should know.
Secret Life of Sofia + Naked Hearts @ Union Hall - Park Slope, Brooklyn ($8)
The Secret Life of Sofia play pretty, sparkly, layer-y indie folk rock that everyone loves. The Naked Hearts play catchy, loud, excellent noise pop. You'll like both of them.
Depreciation Guild @ Vanishing Point - Bushwick, Brooklyn ($?)
This is one of the best shoegaze acts around these days. A little electro, but still enough guitar to make a girl like me happy. Thick, bending, distorted, layered guitar. Yum.
Ifwhen @ Studio B.P.M. - Williamsburg, Brooklyn ($8 ~suggested)
"No-gaze" band Ifwhen will destroy everything you thought you knew about music with their avant-guard electronic noisefest. But in a good way. Bring earplugs.
Where: Cake Shop
Electronic duo Zaza caught my eye a while back, but this Sunday at Cake Shop was the first time I'd had a chance to hear them live. The two official members were joined by Kurt Feldman of the Depreciation Guild and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart on a spartan two-drum set, adding a touch of raw power to their electronic beats.
Zaza isn't exactly my "thing," it turns out. I'd liked them better recorded, but live, they were too lacking in structure to really draw me in. But that's just a personal preference - if you are a fan of bands like Can and Suicide, you will definitely want to check these guys out. A clear attention to detail goes into the crafting of their textured soundscapes and both members are clearly gifted at synthesiser and guitar alike.
The highlights for me were the complex and tense bass lines, which propelled forward songs that might otherwise have stagnated. The vocal lines were unremarkable and flat, but their atmospheric quality shows potential if the singer (whose name I cannot find anywhere, sorry) is willing to expand his range a bit. Frustratingly, though the electronic beats were well-composed, the sound quality was cheap - vintage and campy gear can be great for synths but for drum machines, it is often damning. However, it won't take much to change that problem if the band decides to do so.
Most promisingly, a few times during the set, the band tried experiments with dissonance and resolution that were, in the context of their dreamy sound, nothing short of stunning. I'm not hooked, but if the band keeps pushing their music forward, I will be soon.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Where: Vanishing Point
I have to say, BNS Sessions, for a crazy little inbred label/collective, has an absolutely outstanding roster, including some of my long-time favorites like the Werewolves and Phonograph, and at least one new (as of this show) love, Fun Machine.
Soft Black - I'd been looking forward to these guys because they run not only with the excellent BNS crowd but also the new NYC indie pop kids. So I was a bit disappointed when their set started out as competent but entirely generic indie-rock. About halfway through, however, things improved, starting with a hushed tranced-out jam number that was surprisingly enjoyable (this from a reviewer who has no patience whatsoever for tranced-out jam numbers). After that, the band managed to kick it up a notch with songs reminiscent of the best of American guitar-driven post punk (Dinosaur Jr. but with a Mekons-esque touch), and while it didn't get me psyched for more, I certainly enjoyed listening.
Werewolves - I've said a lot about this band already, but this set merits mention. The first half did nothing but reinforce my love for them, but the second half, which involved the band sitting on the stage playing with their pedals, was really a waste of time. If this was the first band to make rhythm-less, melody-less noise for 20 minutes, it might have been cool, but at this point, it's cliched even when luminaries like Sonic Youth do it. These guys simply haven't earned the right, and they weren't even moving, so it was nothing but boring for eyes and ears alike. Also, it's rude to intentionally play a room-clearing set when you're not the final band of the night. I still love the Werewolves, but they need to learn some manners and some self-restraint.
Gunfight! - Said by everyone to be the nicest guys in the entire East Coast music scene, Gunfight! drew the biggest crowd of the evening by far. Their music is basically hipster-party garage rock revival with a country-western bent. Think about it this way - what the White Stripes do with blues, these guys do with bluegrass. It's not really my style, but the band certainly succeeds in what they set out to do. Their songs are fun, well-written and well-performed, with the band clearly having even more fun than their audience is (a lot), forming their own mini mosh-pit on stage, jumping around, attacking each other and just generally making a party of it. Keep an eye on these guys, they could make a splash!
Fun Machine - I am not sure how this band has flown under my radar for so long. I guess I just had them mixed up with other bands that have "fun" or "machine" in their names. But that's a shame because this band is awesome! They took two easy shortcuts to my heart - dividing lead vocal duties and changing time signatures often - but I think I would have fallen in love even without that. Their songs are incredibly carefully crafted, true multi-part compositions, but they almost never lost their pop appeal or failed to hold my interest (and my attention span is not really generous by any reckoning). The band performed amazingly tightly given the rhythmic and compositional complexity of the music. And like all the bands of the night, they were fun to watch too! This band is immediately jumping to my short list of NYC favorites.
I picked up a load of CDs at the show so stay tuned for some BNS album reviews coming up.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Where: Cake Shop
So if you've been paying any attention at all, you'll know R. Stevie Moore did a late night set at Cake Shop last night. I braved a nasty migraine and went, and it was so worth it. This was, without a doubt, one of the best concerts of my life.
Moore looks like Santa Claus if there was no Mrs. Claus to nag him about a haircut and if Santa wore a hip-hop style Brooklyn basketball warm-up suit. Unlike a lot of older musicians (he's only in his mid-fifties but has been putting out albums since the late 60's), Moore hasn't lost his edge - undoubtedly because his edge was always based on him just doing whatever the fuck he wanted to.
R. Stevie Moore
Regarding the music, Moore's songs are genre-defying, completely bonkers and excellent gems of American underground pop. There's country there and lo-fi, and punk and powerpop, with spoken word and folk and psychedelic too and a lot of other things you can't quite put your finger on - think Bob Pollard meets Big Star meets the Ramones meets Johnny Cash meets 13th Floor Elevators. OK, never mind, imagining that isn't worth the effort - just listen to the man and you'll see what I mean.
As for the performance, it featured all sorts of antics, some planned, some not. Moore interacted a lot with his lamentably small audience and reminded us all that he's as much a performer as a musician. From bad puns (Proposition 8 = Preparation H?) to trying to eat his lyric sheets (and then tossing the spit-covered page out to the audience), Moore was having fun and making sure everyone else did too. He chided the audience for their youth, heckled back a heckler, ranted incoherently, stopped playing mid-song to take his own picture with the audience and retook it when it didn't come out well enough.
The musicians who joined him on stage were, needless to say, seasoned professionals whose tight playing was all the more impressive because they had to follow Moore's erratic lead and because Moore writes hundreds of songs a year, which doesn't leave them with much time to learn them. Most importantly, they were all clearly having a blast, especially the drummer who looked on the verge of busting a gut the whole time.
If you're in New York and you missed this show, you made a terrible mistake - but you can learn from it, just don't miss your next chances: Maxwell's (Hoboken, NJ) on Nov. 30 and Death By Audio (Brooklyn) on Dec. 4.
On that note, did anyone see the Sea and Cake last night? How was it? I'm guessing this is their last tour.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Album: Secrets Are Sinister
Original Signal, 2008
Rating: ******** (8/10)
As I promised yesterday...
Longwave have been around a while now, and they've been to the brink of making it huge in the past (in 2003, the band was signed to RCA and opening for acts like the Strokes), only to fall back into relative obscurity in recent years. But their fourth full-length release, Secrets Are Sinister, may well be what finally pushes this group over the final hurdles and onto the charts.
The album opens with a crushing wall of sound that sounds like the best of early Smashing Pumpkins, and indeed, when the vocals come in a few bars later, I could swear this was a song by the Pumpkins' groupies the Silversun Pickups. But there is a lot that sets this song apart from those bands - while the guitars are at times very early-90's, they also ring strongly of 70's guitar rock, from the Who to Pink Floyd.
The standout track on this album is, hands down, "Satellites." There is no reason on earth this song couldn't hit the Top 40 charts. The heavy sections are shoegaze-inspired alternative rock in its finest form (think Catherine Wheel), while the softer chorus is heartbreakingly beautiful. Lyrically, Steve Schlitz is at his best here, warm and emotional without being banal.
The subsequent tracks "The Devil and the Liar" and "Life Is Wrong" take the band in different directions. While not Secrets' strongest tracks, these songs do round out the record nicely (though I would have liked to hear "Life Is Wrong" as an album closer instead of a centerpiece). Then the band is back to their old tricks with the simply outstanding "Eyes Like Headlights" and "I Don't Care." The album ends a bit awkwardly on the 80's-esque title track "Secrets Are Sinister," which, while a fine song, doesn't seem to fit as a closer. But then, it doesn't much matter, since you're going to start the CD over when it ends anyway.
Secrets Are Sinister is an ambitious and professional project and shows the band at a level of maturity and confidence that could take them all the way to the top. It has its weaknesses - the oft-cliched lyrics come to mind - and it isn't at the cutting edge, but it's the kind of solid guitar-heavy pop that leaves you satisfied.
The album hits the shelves TODAY!
Monday, November 10, 2008
How to chose? Well, R. Stevie Moore is a piece of pop history. I haven't heard the fellow live, but I imagine he will be playing short, quirky vocal-focused genre-crossing pop songs. The Sea and Cake have been around a while too, but aren't old enough to be your grandpa. Expect them to play instrumental-focused experiments with crazy beats and some jazzy influences, not to mention some strange pop melodies tossed in for funsies.
R. Stevie Moore
Cake Shop (152 Ludlow St., LES)
The Sea and Cake
Music Hall of Williamsburg (66 N. 6th St., Brooklyn)
9 PM >> start time for opening acts
Album: Strike a Match
Rating: ******* (7/10)
This isn't the first review I've done of New York four-piece Autodrone (see my live review here). That's partly just due to timing, and not really a creepy obsession on my part, but this band is definitely worth getting excited about.
Autodrone plays a heavy, dark shoegaze, with biting edges reminiscent of alternative metal and post-hardcore - imagine if Page Hamilton or Omar Rodriguez-Lopez played lead guitar for Lush. Though not cutting-edge, Autodrone stands apart from their peers in that all four members of this band are true musicians, evidenced by the relentless complexity of Strike a Match.
The album starts out with the dense, guitar-driven title track which takes all of its spirit from the dark pop of the 1980's and all of its sound from the guitar rock of the early 90's. While the opening track is somewhat limited in its power, the band uses this blueprint on several of the subsequent songs with more success. "Final Days" stands out as an example, featuring some of Katherine Kennedy's most compelling vocals, from her tense, driving monotone in the song's opening bars to her passionate, wailing chorus.
I'm a stickler for songs, so I feel compelled to report that several tracks on the album are filler. But while I won't endorse this, these tracks (primarily "100,000 Years of Revenge" and "Rose Has No Teeth") actually do add to the cohesiveness of the record, making it a true album with a unifying vision, not just a scattered collection of songs. And the instrumental sonic experimentation of "Moth of July" is just plain beautiful.
The order of tracks on the album left me a little uncomfortable, with the album's most upbeat numbers falling at tracks 10 and 11. I think I would have liked to see these songs a bit earlier on, where they could have broken up the near-formulaic similarities of the earlier tracks. But placing these songs at the end does add a concept-album-esque arc to the album, bringing an unsettling and dark journey to a warm and comforting close. If that was the intention, it falls a little short with better transition needed (the major keys seem a little jarring at first), but at the very least, it's interesting.
The stand-out track on the album is, without a doubt, "Sometime." The song, propelled by Dennis Lehrer's rumbling toms, emerges out of a beautiful cloud of sound. Jeremy Alisauskas's always superb guitar truly shines here. Sparkling gently in the verse, it swells to a roar and then bursts into a frantic and beautifully-executed prog-metal riff throughout the chorus.
Though far from perfect, Strike a Match proves Autodrone to be a band of remarkable skill and great promise. They have what it takes to make it big, so keep an eye on them in 2009.
Strike a Match hits the shelves tomorrow. Autodrone is also throwing a release party this Thursday at the Annex, so if you can wait an extra two days to get your hands on this, you can grab your copy there.
Where: Sound Fix Lounge, Williamsburg
When I heard Longwave was doing an acoustic set at a cafe this weekend, I certainly raised an eyebrow. If you're not familiar with Longwave, you'll have to trust me that they are not an acoustic band. They are known for their wall-of-sound, effects-laden guitar music. Unplugged, I was curious what would even be left.
As it turns out, a lot. Acoustic sets by electric bands usually involve everyone strumming their acoustic guitars just like electric ones and hoping the audience can imagine what effects would kick in where. But unlike so many bands, Longwave took the time to write new arrangements for the show, transforming their songs into something completely new but equally beautiful. Replacing overdrive pedals with ukulele and a full drum-kit with shakers and a snare drum, the band's acoustic set-up allowed their songwriting to come to the fore.
All of the members showed great restraint in never overplaying, even when members had to sit out. The set was refreshingly short and while I would have loved more, it's nice to hear a band limit themselves to the songs that they know are good for the show. I left the concert impressed not only with this band's musical talent but also with their outstanding respect for their fans. If all musicians were as considerate as these, concert tickets would be worth their prices and the world would be a much kinder place.
[I should mention that this show was in support of Longwave's new album, officially released tomorrow. I'm going to try my best to get an album review up very soon, so stay tuned.]
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Album: Team Genius
Rating: ******* (7/10)
Team Genius plays some of the most shameless pop you'll hear these days, so if you get embarrassed for over-the-top cheesy pop acts, prepare to cringe. They do just about everything a band shouldn't - they use saxophone, trumpet and mallet percussion, crank out some serious falsetto, clap their hands, snap their fingers and, most grievous of all, have eight (eight!!!) members. By all counts, I should despise them.
Instead, I can't turn them off.
The first bars of the album sound like the Bee Gees singing a song by Postal Service, but the track slowly blossoms into a beautifully comforting anthem. And it just gets stranger from there on - the album's ten songs are a hodge-podge collage of styles, with hints of everything from cajun to opera, cowboy-folk to disco, celtic to showtunes, gospel to arena rock.
Some songs, like the aggressive dance number "The Wise Ones All Give Up", are accessible, but others can be off-putting on the first listen. But give them a chance to grow on you - there's not a single bad song in the bunch. The final track, sung by what could well be the whole band, sounds like the triumphant song of good friends on the way home from the neighborhood bar. It's the perfect closer to this album of cheering comfort-pop.
Live, Team Genius wasn't as satisfying as the record. The band wasn't as tight as they should be, occasionally falling out of sync and struggling to meld their various parts. The problem was only aggravated by poor mixing - the lead vocals were too loud, while most instruments and additional vocals were hard to hear distinctly.
That said, the band is fun to watch. They act like what they probably are - a group of friends doing what they love and having more fun than should be legal. Their frequent instrument changes made the set dynamic and interesting throughout. Except for an entirely uncreative Velvet Underground cover, the songs were all enjoyable, even exciting, to hear performed.
Perhaps with more rehearsal, the band can achieve on stage what it accomplished on its album - but even if not, they are worth checking out. Live or on your iPod, Team Genius will make you feel better about life. So if you need some cheering up, check out the record or catch them live this Saturday at Union Hall!
**As a final note, someone should take up a collection to buy Team Genius an orchestral glockenspiel. Their child's set of bells isn't cute enough to justify the poor sound, and such catchy glock parts should never suffer such a clanky fate!
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
R. Stevie Moore
R. Stevie Moore has been making independent underground pop since the 1960's. Recording and releasing most of his music himself, Moore established a DIY aesthetic that would eventually be the hallmark of lo-fi, the dominant movement of American indie pop. Moore's music itself isn't lo-fi, but in his recordings, you can hear the beginnings of the intentionally messy and proudly raw sounds later adopted by the likes of Sebadoh and Pavement. Even the use of basic multitrack recording equipment like Moore's has become a badge of honor among American indie bands from Guided by Voices to the White Stripes.
Moore's releases number in the hundreds if not thousands, so of course, there's a lot of dud songs in there, but the average quality is surprisingly high. The variety among the releases is itself amazing, with genre-crossing composition at times akin to Beck's. Experimental but accessible, his pop music has always been forward-looking, innovative and fun.
NEWS: R. Stevie Moore is playing November 11, 2008 at Cake Shop in NYC. See you there!
Mirrors (a.k.a. the Styrenes)
Of the many groups immediately preceding the punk movement, few have been more forgotten than Mirrors. Part of the Cleveland scene that hatched the Electric Eels, Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu, Mirrors formed in 1973, recorded a small amount of material (the majority of which went unreleased until 2001), then changed names and directions and continued into the 1980's at the Styrenes.
Mirrors play a raw, aggressive proto-punk like the Stooges or the Electric Eels, but with more thoughtful experimentalism than these bands, borrowing from early Pink Floyd as well as the Velvet Underground-inspired Cleveland and Detroit scenes. The intellectual approach of Mirrors to the subversively raw proto-punk of their peers in many ways predicts the post-punk movement, which would add the very same slowed-down thoughtfulness to its punk roots. Intelligent and creative, Mirrors included touches of prog rock and noise in their music, but they never once forgot to rock out.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Where: Metropolitan Social Club
The hippest Halloween party in New York this year has got to have been the loft party at the Metropolitan Social Club featuring three of New York's best bands tearing it the hell up.
First up: the all-around solid Asa Ransom, featuring brilliant interlocking bass and keyboard riffs that somehow blend naturally into punk-derived drum and guitar arrangements. The band sounds basically like Pere Ubu with more sweeping keyboard lines - singer Jacob Bills yelps and croons like an only slightly saner version of David Thomas. The only real problem with the band's set was that the first actual vocal melody didn't show up until about two-thirds of the way through, and the monotone made many should-be-great songs fall flat. But even with that, these guys were fun to hear - and even more fun to watch, rocking out, climbing on amps, the whole deal. Confronted with that level of enthusiasm, it's pretty hard not to enjoy every second.
Asa Ransom was followed by the mostly-female modern punks Beluga. Raw and powerful, the band shows a definite Nirvana influence, but thankfully, they draws on the Nirvana's updated punk aesthetic and not Cobain's whininess. There is absolutely no room for whining in Beluga's tightly wound, in-your-face rock'n'roll! Simply put, these ladies (and one dude) are badass as fuck.
One plea to the band, though - please MOVE. While Isabel has enough energy to make up for a hundred zombies, her enthusiasm just accentuated the others' tepid performance - while she rushed the crowd, jumped up and down and even rolled on the floor, her bandmates barely moved. Ally, on back-up vox and guitar, eventually started rocking it out, but the bass player didn't lift a foot and guitarist Stefania hardly swayed. C'mon people, this is a show - so show us!
But in the end, I want to say that despite the problems, the band deserves a cheer! They are exactly what punk should be in 2008 - smart yet raw, subversive, edgy and hella fun.
The final act of the night was the Werewolves. I've already given them a rave review but their live performance deserves a slightly altered (but still glowing) commentary. On recordings, the Werewolves show some definite shoegaze roots, from Jesus & Mary Chain noise to Kevin Shield's pitch bends, but live, the band sounds much more like the child of 1970's underground rock. Biting guitars, vocals with the attitude of early Stooges Iggy Pop, and just a tinge of goth tossed in to throw us all of the trail. As always, it's impossible to classify this group. All I can tell you is that I like them and I'm beyond curious to hear whatever they do next.