Friday, January 30, 2009

Venue Review: Mercury Lounge

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: LES, Manhattan
Address: 217 E Houston (between Ludlow and Essex)
Size: Medium (Cap. 250)
Directions: F/V to Second Ave., walk three blocks east

Acoustics: A-
Booking: A
Helpfulness to bands: A-
Atmosphere: A-

Acoustics - Mercury Lounge has good acoustics for any kind of music. I've never been in there and thought, "wow, music has never sounded so good before," but the sound is solid and the sound engineer(s) definitely know what they're doing.

Booking - Mercury Lounge is easily the most prestigious venue of its size in New York City. They can pretty much book any band they want and a good indicator of when a band has "made it" is when they first get a headlining slot there. Mercury Lounge is run by Bowery Presents, who own many of the medium-to-large NYC venues. All the Bowery venues are very concerned with profit and draw and it's hard to get a spot at any of them. However, I've still given them an "A" for booking because despite having their pick of bands, Mercury Lounge is very responsive, even to bands they are turning down. They are easy to get in touch with, communicative and open-minded, and in my experience, foster good relationships with everyone. That's a rule everyone in the music industry should follow - in the music industry even more so than other fields, a person who is nobody today could be calling the shots a few months down the line. But that doesn't seem to be common wisdom, and it's refreshing to find a venue that acts with courtesy and professionalism towards everyone.

Helpfulness - As you might have already guessed, Mercury Lounge is respectful and accommodating. Like all the Bowery venues, they have a pretty strict protocol that must be followed, but bands are their top priority - not club nights or parties - so musicians who do get booked seem to get the attention they need.

Atmosphere - It's a great space in a great location. There's nothing noticeable about the room or stage, it's just a room with stage, but it's the real deal, as historic as any place can be after only fifteen years of existence. And it's still small enough to feel intimate and genuinely indie-rock.

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Venue Review: Lit Lounge

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: East Village, Manhattan
Address: 93 2nd Ave (between 5th and 6th)
Size: Small
Directions: F/V to Second Ave., walk five blocks north

Acoustics: D
Booking: C-
Helpfulness to bands: C-
Atmosphere: B+

Acoustics - Despite copious amounts of foam attached to the walls and ceiling, Lit Lounge somehow still sounds completely jumbled. Moreover, the PA strips the richness out of vocals. A lot is lost.

Booking - It's fairly easy to get a slot at Lit Lounge, but your experience from that point is a crap shoot. They tend to throw together completely ill-fitting line-ups, you know the kind where you have an indie pop band followed by a metal band. Even if you think you've booked a full night to pick your own line-up, they aren't the best at communicating and have been known to make changes without letting bands know. It's less a problem of them being bottom-line focused and more a problem of them having employees who are disorganized and unprofessional.

Helpfulness - In addition to being non-communicative, Lit Lounge has been known to cram too many bands into to short a time, then pressure the bands to tear through their sets as quickly as possible. The venue hosts club parties on certain nights, and bands will be shut off at whatever o'clock sharp if a party is scheduled. Which is fair enough, but not necessarily the most pleasant experience, especially since the last band often starts far behind schedule.

Atmosphere - Lit Lounge is a basement bar, but club-esque, with little nooks here and there. It's still got an indie feel to it in a way and while it's nothing special, it's good enough.

Miscellany - A couple more things: The stage is very, very small. Big bands or bands with members who have contagious deadly diseases - beware! You're going to be very cosy up there. One positive, though - prices are reasonable for Manhattan, both to get in the door and to buy drinks.

<< NYC Venues: Index

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Album: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Album: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Slumberland/Fortuna Pop, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

There's probably a good reason the "twee" movement died out in the UK in the early 90's - the style, a tiny sub-sub-genre within indie pop, known for its self-consciously innocent lyrics and general cutesiness, was called "twee" after British babytalk for "sweet." (I didn't know British babies talked differently from American ones, but apparently they do.) The approach was fun, but like all small musical movements, it ran its course and had long grown stale by the time patron label Sarah Records shuttered in 1995.

But just as there came time for the "twee" fad to end, there has come a time for it to be revived. All the other movements of the late 80's and early 90's are being brought back to life these days, and that's not just out of nostalgia, it's also because enough time has finally passed to allow them to sound fresh again. With grunge, shoegaze and lo-fi on the rise, a return to indie pop is certainly due.

And if proof was wanting that it's time for a second generation of twee, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is it. With disgustingly adorable song titles like "This Love Is Fucking Right!" and "Young Adult Friction," the Pains aren't shy about their indie pop heritage. Their melodies and boy-girl vocals are shamelessly sticky sweet, but so good that you pretty much have to love them.

photo by Annie Powers
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Moreover, unlike many of the band's indie pop forebearers, the Pains aren't totally sissy - their songs may be self-awarely cute, but they bury it under layers of shoegazy, fuzzed out, super-loud guitar. To get the full effect, you really have to crank up the volume. Trust me.

The Pains aren't the first band to combine shoegaze guitar noise with indie pop melodies - in fact, the two styles were always closely linked and many bands (Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, etc.) straddled the line. But the Pains could run with the best of those - their pop is nothing short of infectious, and their noise is well thought-out, masterful and very delicious.

There are some songs on the album that I find annoying and undoubtedly most listeners will be put off by one track or another. "A Teenager In Love" misses the "catchy" mark by a ways and is just irritating, while some other songs, like "The Tenure Itch," seem to lack focus. But the best tracks, "This Love Is Fucking Right!," "Come Saturday," "Everything With You" and "Young Adult Friction," make the whole album worthwhile.

It's retro, it's revivalist, but it somehow still sounds fresh and is, if nothing else, a damn good pop album that will make you smile and tap your foot.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will be released everywhere this Tuesday!

Venue Review: The Delancey

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: LES, Manhattan
Address: 168 Delancey St.
Size: Medium-small
Directions: J/F to Delancey, walk 1.5 blocks east

Acoustics: C-
Booking: A
Helpfulness to bands: A
Atmosphere: B

Acoustics - The Delancey is a basement bar and it sounds like one. They actually have some really nice equipment on stage, but the room is long and oddly shaped, and while I'm not sure if they've done the best they can with it, it's destined to sound pretty awkward no matter what. The sound isn't bad enough to avoid shows there, though - it's sloppy but far from unlistenable.

Booking - In my experience booking shows at the Delancey, the venue was easy to get in touch with, receptive, professional and knowledgeable. Bands aren't the Delancey's main source of income, so they don't freak out about draw as much as some places - of course, they want to make money, but I'm pretty sure they don't blacklist bands who don't bring enough people. In fact, they seem to be genuinely committed to having a space for creativity and community as long as there's a decent effort to bring people in and help them pay their bills.

Helpfulness - Again, a high score for the Delancey. They are very receptive to comments and complaints from bands and anxious to improve bands' experiences as well as the audience's. They are also very flexible and allow bands and promoters to run their events as they like - as long as the venue's basic expenses for the show are met, they are accommodating and easy to work with.

Atmosphere - Upstairs, the Delancey is a typical wannabe-trendy Lower East Side nightspot (which is not a compliment). But downstairs, where the bands play, there's still a bit of an indie vibe. They haven't done much with the room at all, in fact, which makes it feel genuine. It's pretty non-descript, just a room with a bar and a stage. But isn't that what rock and roll should be?

<< NYC Venues: Index

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Venue Review: An Introduction

Something I've long wanted to do on Radio Flyer Review is publish a series of reviews of NYC venues that would be useful for musicians and show-goers alike. And I think the time is right!

My knowledge isn't infinite (what?! I know!) but as far as I have experienced each venue, I'm going to give you information about booking shows at the venue, acoustics and visibility, the venue's attitudes towards draw/money/etc., and their general "vibe" based on their typical crowd, their regular events and their aesthetics. Along with whatever else I think of to tell you.

I'm going to use this post as an index and add links to each venue review as I go. That way, you'll all have a nice alphabetical list to refer back to. Stay tuned, the first will be coming up shortly!

The Annex
Bowery Ballroom
Cake Shop
The Charleston
Death By Audio
The Delancey
Lit Lounge
Market Hotel
Mercury Lounge
Roseland Ballroom
Terminal 5
Trash Bar

Upcoming Shows: Thurston Moore, Gunfight! + more

Friday, January 30

Gunfight!, Soundscapes and Quiet Loudly @ Vanishing Point - Bushwick, Brooklyn
Three bands I love (along with two bands I know nothing about) are playing at Vanishing Point on Friday. I'm going to recycle old descriptions of each band from previous posts: Gunfight! is basically hipster-party garage rock revival with a country-western bent. The Soundscapes are what it would sound like if Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore joined Yo La Tengo. Quiet Loudly features percussive rhythms, masterful blues-inflected guitar solos and awesome walking bass lines. This is going to be a fun show.

Sunday, February 1

Thurston Moore @ Glasslands - Williamsburg, Brooklyn - $7
Thurston Moore. The guy from Sonic Youth. Enough said.

Monday, February 2

Frightened Rabbit @ Le Poisson Rouge - Greenwich Village, Manhattan - $15
This is an acoustic, request-only set, which sounds like it could be really fun! Frightened Rabbit are a poppy alternative rock band from Glasgow who can be a bit whiny, but are forgiven because their songs are pretty darn good.

"Hortense", a guest contributor to Radio Flyer Review, recommends Lykke Li, the oddball Swedish pop singer who's been hailed as a slightly saner version of Bjork and one of the best break-out musicians of 2008. She plays Webster Hall on February 2 and the Music Hall of Williamsburg on February 3. Both shows are sold out, but you can probably find tickets on Craigslist. Be careful though - last time I recommended looking for tickets on Craigslist (Animal Collective at Bowery), a bunch of people got scammed. So do your homework before you fork over the cash!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Live: Sharon van Etten

When: 1/25
Where: Brooklyn Women's Shelter Benefit @ Vanishing Point

First off, let me say that this show was a benefit for the Brooklyn Women's Shelter, collecting money, clothing, food and books for homeless women. I can't find much information online, so if anyone wants to send me information about how to donate, I'll post that here. In the meantime, I did find this page for volunteers, so please consider giving some of your time.

Now, on to the music! As regular readers might guess, I'm not into singer-songwriters at all. I find the genre to be very limiting for musicians, with every available creative alley explored a thousand times over. I catch plenty of fair-to-middling singer-songwriters as opening acts or such but it's a very rare occurrence that I would actually seek one out.

But I sought out a chance to hear Sharon van Etten, because I've heard her name so many times, in so many contexts. She contributing vocals to the forthcoming Antlers album (March 3, 2009), which, as I've already hinted, is one of the best and most important records since the 90's. She's played with a number of my friends and a number of bands I love, but I'd never seen her before and I figured it was finally time.

Photo by Michael Palmieri (from
Sharon van Etten

And I can see why so many people lover her. Yes, she's still a singer-songwriter and isn't at the cutting edge of anything. But she's got an outstanding voice - rich and confident but a faint rough edge that conveys the sincerity of her lyrics. She delivers her lines with passion and simplicity, and unlike many young singers (including some who shared the stage with her Sunday), she never adds unnecessary frills.

As a guitarist, Van Etten is certainly able, and moreover, in her compositions, she uses unusual chords, harmonies and progressions, which make her songs stand out from the pack. Her denial of pop conventions gives her music a slightly sinister and certainly emotionally powerful undertow.

As a performer, she's shy, humble and slightly uncomfortable with attention. That would have the potential to be damaging, but she doesn't let it impact the confidence of her songs. In fact, in a way, her vulnerability enhances her performance and certainly leads to a set entirely conscious and respectful of her audience.

If you're wondering whether this has changed anything, no, I'm not won over to the singer-songwriter camp. Far from it. But if I had to pick a songwriter with an acoustic guitar to check out, Van Etten would certainly be near the top of my list. And next time she's on a bill with one of the bands I love, I'm definitely getting there early to catch her set!

Sharon van Etten on MySpace

Monday, January 26, 2009

Album: Lonely Dear - Dear John

Dear John
Album: Dear John
Polyvinyl Records, 2009
Rating: ******* (7/10)

Prior to hearing this record, I knew nothing about Lonely Dear except the name. So when I first turned on Dear John, I had no idea what to expect.

The surprise was pleasant - at first. The album starts out with two killer indie pop tracks, "Airport Surroundings" and "Everything Turns To You," both featuring massive orchestration (much of it electronic) and intricate arrangements. The production is outstanding, with a relentless attention to detail.

However, after the opening two songs, the album began to disappoint. Its many ballads have lyrics that are, frankly, unbearable. They sound like they might have been written by a precocious fifteen-year-old - faux-sophisticated but blatantly cliched and more than a little embarrassing. I'm not sure if the lyrics in the upbeat songs are actually better or if it's just easier to ignore them, but in either case, the contrast in quality between fast and slow songs on Dear John is drastic.

Lonely Dear
Lonely Dear

The record does have some good songs after the first two, though. "Under a Silent Sea" starts out gentle and with very satisfying dramatics, shifts to a blasting chorus. "Violent" has a more conventional indie pop feel to it, with a simple but entrancing bass line. The final track, "Dear John," is also charming in its way - halfway through, it morphs into a Sousa-esque military march. This and other horn-heavy arrangements are reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, which is always a plus.

In the end, I'm not sure whether to recommend buying this album or not. If you don't mind cliched wallowing lyrics, definitely pick up a copy. If you can't tolerate them, you should still try to download the album's less whiny songs - despite the lyrical shortcomings, the arrangements and melodies are enough to delight any pop fan.

Dear John hits stores tomorrow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Live: The Antlers

When: 1/22
Where: Cake Shop

I named The Antlers as one of my "Bands to Watch in 2009" but didn't consider them the top of the list in any way but alphabetically - until I got a copy of their new album, Hospice, which is due for release March 3. I'm itching to tell you about it, but I'm going to hold off until closer to the release to give you the details. I'll just say this much: Hospice has the potential to be one of the most important albums of the decade.

But putting out a revolutionary album and putting on a good live show are two different feats. I'd never caught The Antlers live before and I figured their live set must lose a lot - a lot of what's so great about Hospice is the sheer magnitude and intricacy of its noise.

Yet live, The Antlers capture that spirit masterfully. It wasn't until I watched them make their music that I realized how much of what's going on is the work of Darby Cicci, whose place is behind a guitar, a keyboard synthesizer, a microphone and a fair-sized pedal board. Cicci's attention to detail is outstanding - he constantly adjusts his synth and pedals to perfect his sound. Occasionally his fiddling led to an unbalance but his responsiveness, creativity and clear expertise at his instrument(s) were still fascinating to watch.

The Antlers (photo from
The Antlers

With the help of Cicci, the band was able to replicate the dense sound of Hospice, but the performance wasn't an exact copy of the record either. The songs took on new life on stage. The last song of the set, "Two," had a ringing undercurrent of triumph that is nowhere in the version on Hospice. Much of the rest of the set was similarly infused with a new energy, making the listen interesting even for those of us who have listened to Hospice a hundred times in the last two weeks (that'd be me!).

The band was a little mellow in their performance, but I'm not sure how typical that is - frontman Peter Silberman commented that he had been sick all week and was feeling "sedated." If the band isn't hopping around like banshees, though, it's mostly because they are concentrating on their sound, not because they aren't bringing energy to the performance. Moreover, the tightness with which they churned out their complex arrangements and their level of attentiveness to one another were exceptional.

Though all three members of the band show outstanding talent, what will ultimately carry the band to success is Silberman's beautiful voice - which is just as good delivered live as it is on the record - and his powerful songwriting. It's a haunting combination. After the show, I asked my friend what he thought. Without hesitating, he said "they're going to be massive." Let's hope so.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Album: Quiet Loudly - Destroy All Monsters

Destroy All Monsters
Album: Destroy All Monsters
Self-released, 2008
Rating: ****** (6/10)

I got my copy of this album ages ago but it's taken me a while to figure out what to say about it. The truth is, I'm not sure what to make of this band. Their influences seem to be all over the map, and though most of the bands they name on their MySpace page are somewhat contemporary experimental and/or pop acts, to my ears, Quiet Loudly's sound has more elements of 70's hard rock than anything else. Hard rock reinterpreted with psychedelic and post-rock sensibilities, but hard rock nonetheless.

Destroy All Monsters is fractured and weighty, mostly built on steady, plodding 4/4 rhythms. It's soulful and noisy, often sounding jam-based or at least improvisational, but despite this, the songs mostly maintain vision and focus. Most do wear on a bit too long but the problem is in length only, not in the cohesiveness of each track.

As a whole, the album is mind-blowingly creative, with completely fresh and interesting ideas around every corner. Unfortunately, as with a lot of creative bands I've reviewed in the past, Quiet Loudly hasn't edited themselves well. The ideas are raw and unworked, and quite a few parts were included that don't seem worthy of the album. Particularly, there is a lot of arpeggiated guitar I can't quite get behind - it sounds random, like the chords you play when you're really tired and mindlessly plucking your guitar while thinking about something else (and by "you," I mean "I"). Not every idea that sounds cool needs to become a song.

The band gained some major brownie points with me by naming their album "Destroy All Monsters," which means they either share my love for my favorite obscure 70's art rock band or they share a taste in b-movies with my favorite obscure 70's art rock band. Either way, awesome.

However, they subsequently lost some major points with me when I found the last track of the album to be a Lou Reed cover. It's actually a pretty decent cover, a kind of spooky version of "Walk on the Wild Side" but covering the Velvet Underground or early Lou Reed is a big pet peeve of mine. It is always a poor decision because these songs have been so influential and so often covered that there is absolutely nothing new to say about any of them.

In the end, though, Destroy All Monsters is an excellent showcase of Quiet Loudly's talent as musicians and creativity as composers. The good songs make the album worthy of your attention. Just don't expect a smooth ride when you listen. Following your wackiest inspirations can be a bumpy road, but ultimately it's rewarding. For better or worse, it's a rough and raw, an appropriate snapshot of a band's first strides. And I'm already looking forward to seeing where the next steps will take them from here.

Upcoming Show: ESG - This Saturday!!!

OK, so yesterday, my friend was just telling me had to check out this band ESG who kind of ran with the No Wave crowd back in the early 80's. The four sisters from the South Bronx played a stripped-down, rhythm-focused funk that through odd twists of fate captured the attention first of the NYC No Wave scene and later of Factory Records in the UK.

ESG's innovative combination of rhythmic influences from the Rolling Stones to James Brown to Latin dance was profoundly influential in post punk, hip hop and club music. Sampling from ESG became a hip hop standard in the 90's, much to the group's frustration - they saw no money from the use of their work.

Over the last thirty years, ESG has flickered in and out of existence with slight line-up changes (most recently adding the daughters of founding member Renee). And apparently, I chose the perfect time to check them out, because when researching them last night, I was very surprised to stumble upon a current flier.

Show info:
ESG is playing Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St.) this Saturday at 10 PM. Tickets are kind of expensive ($20 adv/$25 door) but considering the band's historical significance and the fact that they are completely amazing, you'd do well to scrape together enough for a ticket. There are a number of other acts on the bill as well including Salvatore Principato of Liquid Liquid. It's not to be missed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Animal Collective, Mahogany + more

Tomorrow, Wednesday, 1/21

Animal Collective @ Bowery Ballroom - SOLD OUT
Check Craigslist. There should be some tickets around. MySpace

Thursday, 1/22

The Antlers + The Naked Hearts @ Cake Shop - $7
I'm listing the Antlers first because they are so amazing. However, despite my negative review of the Naked Hearts EP (for which this is the release party), they are pretty delicous live, so stick around and catch both bands. Antlers MySpace :: Naked Hearts MySpace

Friday, 1/23

Ponytail and Pattern Is Movement @ Bell House
Great experimental rock that's got a hint of pop but is way out there. A great combination, both bands are worth checking out. Ponytail MySpace :: PIM MySpace

Saturday, 1/24

The Spanish Prisoners @ Cake Shop - $7
I still haven't had a chance to catch the Spanish Prisoners live, but everything I know about them and everything I've heard recorded sounds promising. This band is up-and-coming fast, so check it out while they are still playing tiny venues for under $10. It probably won't last long. MySpace

Tuesday, 1/27

Mahogany + Cruel Black Dove + The Soundscapes @ Santos Party House - $8/$10
Last time I heard Mahogany, they blew me away with their shimmering dreampop. The openning acts are also great, so be sure to check this out. Mahogany MySpace :: CBD MySpace :: Soundscapes MySpace

Album: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion
Album: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Domino, 2009
Rating: ********* (9/10)

Easily the most anticipated release of 2009, Merriweather Post Pavilion is around the fifth or sixth album from the Brooklyn-based Animal Collective. Most of their half-dozen releases have been greeted with massive acclaim, but none more so than this, which has been lauded as the band's finest achievement to date.

I can't speak to that, because I'll admit I'm not all that familiar with the band's earlier work. What I can say is that it's an outstanding album, and one you should get your hands on soon.

I'm not going to the extreme that some reviewers have (I think the folks over at Pitchfork have started a cult or something), but it's definitely worth a lot of the excitement it's generated so far. This is psychedelic pop at its best, with melodies that could compete in the UK's 1960's and rhythms that draw equally from New York City club tracks and Afro-caribbean radio hits. Most impressive of all is the production - every voice and every effect is honed with such care that the album is unbelievably near to sonic perfection.

The other aspects of the album aren't as flawless - there are tracks that will probably get more skips than listens as the album's novelty wears off, and there are melodies and compositions that become irritating or unfocused, but those certainly constitute a small minority of the album. I have no doubt that songs like "My Girls," "Summertime Clothes" and "Lion in a Coma" will be listened to and loved for many years to come. What's more, the album as a whole will rightfully hang on to its anticipated status as a classic of experimental pop, earning Animal Collective once and for all a place alongside Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips and the rest of the great wacky popsters of the American underground.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Release: The Naked Hearts - These Knees [EP]

These Knees
These Knees [EP]
Self-released, 2009
Rating: ***** (5/10)

I never mean to solicit submissions that I'm going to write negative reviews of, but sometimes, you can't predict a disappointment. Such was the case with the Naked Hearts EP, which will be released tomorrow (Jan 20) on limited edition vinyl.

I've caught one end or the other of a Naked Hearts set numerous times because they tend to play shows with many of my friends and many of my favorite New York bands. I've always really enjoyed what I've heard of them, noisy pop with male-female vocals and great crunching guitars. So when I heard they were releasing an EP, I was pretty eager to have a listen.

But when I put my copy on, I kept waiting for the band I liked to kick in. Instead, I just got a dime-a-dozen indie rock band with mediocre melodies and a cliched sound. Amy Cooper has a strong voice and thankfully sings most of the record. However, co-frontperson and singer Noah Wheeler leaves quite a bit to be desired in pitch and tone. The songs aren't bad, but they are completely unmemorable - there are probably hundreds of local bands who have accomplishments at the same level.

The one exception is "Call Me," which, while not groundbreaking, is by far the record's most satisfying track. The melody is catchy and delightfully gritty and the subtle guitars provide perfect support for Cooper's voice. I'd skip the EP, but if there's ever an opportunity to download the album track-by-track (which sadly I don't think is included in release plans), this song is definitely worth a buck to add to your collection.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Live: Coyote Eyes

When: 1/15
Where: Vanishing Point

I went out last night with the intention of checking in on El Jezel, a band I haven't heard since I started this site (and consequently have never had a chance to write up), but when I got to the show, everything seemed to be running about an hour and a half behind schedule, and since I have a job that requires me to wake up in the mornings, I had to leave before El Jezel took the stage.

It had been a long trek (stupid subway problems) and I was pretty bummed - but the night was saved when the next band took the stage. They are called Coyote Eyes, and I'd never heard of them before. It was a happy discovery!

Coyote Eyes are not the greatest thing since sliced bread, they aren't even particularly innovative or unique. But that doesn't matter, because they are, quite simply, a damn good listen. Their fragmented rock has catchy hooks and melodies, but it stays interesting and edgy through controlled forays out of traditional scales. Using dissonance in pop music is one of my favorite indie rock tricks when it's done right - that is, when it doesn't sound accidental or random - and Coyote Eyes are one of the few contemporary bands I've heard pull it off in this style, this well.

Without a doubt, my favorite songs were those sung by bassist Marta. She has an exceptional voice and brilliant melodies. Guitarist Manny Nomikos shares lead vocal duties and his songs, while not really bad, were certainly far less memorable. His more enjoyable contribution to the music came from his guitar parts - and what I kept noticing about those was his unusual and satisfying approach to rhythm. It wasn't that the rhythms were particularly complex, it's that they were interesting, well-conceived and made use not only the moments of noise but also the moments of empty space.

My one big complaint - the songs were almost all too long for the accompanying ideas. Like so many bands, Coyote Eyes seemed nervous that we might overlook something, but I'd rather overlook a great part than have that part driven into the ground from too much repetition. The band is new though, and with time, they may learn to edit themselves more carefully. And even if they don't, I'd still like them - they've got a lot of heart and a lot of good ideas and they are worth checking out next time you get a chance!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Live: Los Campesinos!

When: 1/14
Where: SoundFix Records Cafe

Los Campesinos! are a Welsh pop band that made my "Best Albums of 2008" list not once but twice (placing at #15 and #2). Their songs are pretty much irresistible, with rich orchestration, bright melodies and an attitude that draws equally from punk and twee (though the music is definitely neither one).

I thought there were eight Campesinos, but it turns out there are only seven, and for the present tour, their numbers have dwindled to six - the violinist was apparently too ill to travel. Still, it's a pretty big band with pretty complicated arrangements and I wasn't expecting their live show to live up to their records in terms of detail and precision.

But it did - it even surpassed the recorded material at times! Because the members of the band are all so young, it's almost disorienting to see how well they play - they achieve a level of tightness you would expect from much more seasoned musicians. This was made possible by a rock-solid rhythm section of high-speed drums and steady, dominating bass. However, the most impressive musicianship in the band certainly came from the guitars - both guitarists delivered their complex parts with outstanding ease, reacting to the rest of the band and churning out fresh ideas without missing a note.

Los Campesinos! (photo by James Perou, from
Los Campesinos! (notice how Gareth is wearing a Bikini Kill shirt)

The band is massively fun to watch too. Drummer Ollie banged some parts out on the piano that happened to be stored next to his drumset, while singer Gareth grabbed some extra sticks and pounded on the cymbals. They were playing on the fly, having fun and still taking the performance very seriously. They stumbled a few times - mostly because they hadn't even rehearsed without violin and were just discovering new holes in their music as they went along. Things got messy at times too, but never out of the band's control, and anyway, Los Campesinos! aren't supposed to sound tidy.

The set list was killer:
1. Death to Los Campesinos!
2. My Year In Lists
3. All Your Kayfabe Friends
4. ??? (didn't know this one)
5. You! Me! Dancing!

Los Campesinos! are going on a tour all over the South and Midwest, so don't miss them if they come your way. For the New Yorkers who missed this show, don't worry - they play again on Valentines Day and the day after at Bowery Ballroom with the mindblowing Titus Andronicus. See you there!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Guest Post: How To Like The Ramones

In response to my post yesterday, my friend "Pancho" sent me some helpful tips on how to like the Ramones. Here's what he wrote:

They are stupid, naive juvenile delinquents from the 50s who have a fast look and sound and are the four coolest guys on Planet Earth. Their leather jackets rule; their haircuts rule; their guitars rule. Their concerns are the most pressing on Planet Earth; hanging out at the beach, hanging out with girls, hanging out sniffing glue, hanging out getting shock treatment, hanging out in the park after dark, hanging out pretending to be Nazis, hanging out mythologizing themselves as this great rock gang with a legion of followers, and of course, not hanging out with you. Melodies? Forget about it. "Yummy Yummy Yummy" is the melody that may have inspired them the most. When you fuse this with the volume and aggression of Ron Asheton's guitar, well, it's fucked up and way hipper than thou, even though we're talking about four unemployed construction workers from Queens. Yes, the Ramones are a total art accident and thank god. They are indeed a gang, they are rock and roll, they are America, they are speed, they are poets, they are hopelessness, they are hopefulness, they are the best day you ever had, they are your insanity, they are the 50s, they are the 70s, they are the future, they are New York. They are dumb and brilliant. They are Phil Spector and Lou Reed. They are straight guys who hustle, Jewish Nazis, leftists and conservatives, united by Sha Na Na, the British Invasion, complete creepiness, desperation, sick humor, and hate. Most of all, they are worthless punks with naive hearts and bad bad brains. They bring you the profound in the simple--"chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum/sun is out and i want some"--"met her at the Burger King/Fell in love by the soda machine," "gabba gabba we accept you/we accept you/one of us--and the darkness in your idyllic manicured world--"Get the glory/Like Charles Manson," "hey ro-me-o/I don't wanna go/down to the basement," "you're a loudmouth baby/you better shut it up/I'm gonna beat you up." Who are they? They are the Ramones. The key to enjoying the Ramones is to stop thinking and maybe even to stop listening. At least stop listening for music. They are about feeling good. They are about celebration. They celebrate being an outsider and an insider. They celebrate their awkwardness and anger at their awkwardness. They celebrate love and insanity most usually in the same song. They celebrate being cool but also being themselves. They are the sickest pop joke ever, catchy and anthemic, with rallying cries that no one got behind until 30 years later. They are self made but also made by Queens, made by CBGB's, made by the places they made. Melodies? I take that back-maybe. Songs? Oh yes. A template? To die for, impossible to duplicate. The Ramones are damn impressive. They are our rock treasure. But gabba gabba hey, don't listen to the Ramones to be impressed. Listen to the Ramones to love your life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Top Five Bands I Should Like But Don't

OK, I've been contemplating publishing this list for a while, but I've been hesistating, partly out of fear of misunderstanding. These are bands I respect a lot and want to love. But on an emotional level, I just don't like them. I know, I'm missing out!

5. R.E.M. - I don't get it. This is the only band on the list that I don't own albums by, but I've given them lots of listens, especially because people are always playing them for me, trying to win me over. I want to like them, but they don't hold my attention, just annoy me and then fade into the background.

Number of albums I own: 0

4. Nirvana - After listening to Nirvana intensively while working on a term paper about Kurt Cobain in college, I started to come around to appreciating the band, but I still can't stand Nevermind. It just seems whiny and dull to me. And it's probably the most important album of the last quarter century!

Number of albums I own: 3

3. Radiohead - I've tried so hard to love Radiohead, I bought a bunch of their albums when I was in high school and listened to them all the time. I convinced myself and others that Radiohead was one of my favorite bands, but the reality is, I never enjoyed it. I find OK Computer depressing, but only vaguely so, not in a way I find moving or even interesting. I could come around to some songs on The Bends, but try as I might, I've found it completely impossible to warm up to OK Computer.

Number of albums I own: 3

2. The Smiths - I couldn't begin to the count the number of times I've been told I'd really like the Smiths. I really disliked them when I first heard them as a teenager, but as I became more open-minded, I expected they would grow on me. They haven't. I get really annoyed after a couple of songs and have to turn them off. For some reason, I can't stand Morrisey's voice.

Number of albums I own: 1

1. The Ramones - I know. The RAMONES. How can a wannabe-punk such as myself dislike the greatest punk band of all time? The truth is, I've never been crazy about what happened between the Stooges and the advent of hardcore, but the Ramones remain my least favorite band from the era. The truth is, most of their melodies either bore or annoy me. I know they are worth my respect and love, and I hope with time, I'll come to understand what other people see in this band. But for the time being, I just don't get it.

Number of albums I own: 2

This list is a work in progress, in that I hope it will grow shorter with time. Suggestions, anyone?

Upcoming Shows: Shilpa Ray, Los Campesinos and more!

Tomorrow!! Wednesday, 1/14

Los Campesinos! @ SoundFix Records - Williamsburg, Brooklyn - FREE
I almost don't want to tell you guys about this one, because I'm going to have to fight off enough of a crowd as it is. But I decided to do the right thing and let you know. The band that put out not one, but two, of the best albums of 2008, Los Campesinos! are a whole bunch of Welsh kids who play really addictive pop music. They are doing a free in-store performance tomorrow at SoundFix before they head out on US tour. A great band, a tiny venue, and no charge - it doesn't get better than this! MySpace

Thursday, 1/15

She Keeps Bees, Virgin Forest and Sharon van Etten @ Glasslands - Williamsburg, Brooklyn - $6
Glasslands is a pretty cool little venue, though rather hard to find (use your ears!), and I'm pretty sure it's the perfect fit for this line-up. It's small and intimate, with a very artsy vibe. She Keeps Bees are the most notable act of the night, a powerful duo that does ass-kicking blues from an indie-folk perspective. Virgin Forest, assuming they haven't changed since last I saw them, is a folksy band from down south who play sweet songs with piano, finger-picked guitar and male-female vocals. Sharon van Etten is a singer-songwriter I've heard a lot about but never actually checked out. Everything I've heard has been positive though, so she's worth a try at the very least. She Keeps Bees MySpace :: Virgin Forest MySpace :: Sharon Van Etten MySpace

My Teenage Stride and El Jezel @ Vanishing Point - Bushwick, Brooklyn - $??
If the Glasslands show sounds too low-key for you, try this one. My Teenage Stride are an indie pop band that I grudgingly like a lot and El Jezel play a ambient post-rock that still manages to be pop. I've heard both these bands perform well despite adverse conditions, so it seems like a safe bet that this show will rock. MTS MySpace :: El Jezel MySpace

Friday, 1/16

The Raveonettes + Zaza @ Webster Hall - East Village, Manhattan - $20
I can't quite recommend spending $20 to see the Raveonettes, but if you really feel like going to a show Friday and money isn't an issue, check them out. The Raveonettes are one of those bands that play conventional songs under a consistent layer of crackling fuzz, a formula that never seems to get old. One of the opening acts is Zaza, a talented electronic duo who I reviewed a couple of months ago. So if you decide to pay the $20 and go, go early and get some extra bang for your buck. Raveonettes MySpace :: Zaza MySpace

Saturday, 1/17

Frightened Rabbit @ Bowery Ballroom - LES, Manhattan - $13 adv/$15 door
In my Best Albums of 2008 list, I said that Frightened Rabbit was one only decent bands to ever come out of Glasgow, Scotland, and I'll stand by that statement. They play conventional indie rock, radio-ready and far from innovative - but the songwriting is solid, the sound is rich and it's just enough drunken Scottish swagger to win over my skeptical heart. MySpace

Sunday, 1/18

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers @ Mercury Lounge - LES, Manhattan - $8
I've told you about Shilpa Ray and how she's awesome. As great as she is recorded, her live show is even awesomer. Here's my account of her last show. Let me be clear: DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW! I don't care if your wife is in labor, I don't care if you have to break out of your cell on Rikers to get there, stop making excuses and GO TO THIS SHOW. MySpace

Monday, January 12, 2009

Live: Quiet Loudly and Pet Ghost Project

When: 1/11
Where: Arlene's Grocery

Last night, I stopped by the Petting Zoo benefit show, the proceeds from which will help provide shelter and care for homeless animals. The Petting Zoo seems to be good people and they have good taste in music, so if you missed the show, you should check out the organization and maybe even make a donation here.

Quiet Loudly - Quiet Loudly is a three-piece band from Brooklyn. I've been aware of them for a while now - they are in the Gunfight! extended family (sharing a bass player), and I first heard their demo late last summer. Since then, the band has self-released a whole album. They sent me a copy with a really lovely note, but I've been too busy to give it a proper listen - which means last night was my first exposure to most of their new material.

And it's good news! Though the demo was decent, it didn't hold my attention, and I certainly didn't think of it as anything to write home about. But I must say, the newer material is promising! It rocks harder and the songs sound much more focused, but the band hasn't broken with their signature angular, experimental style.

Quiet Loudly

One complaint: Quiet Loudly needs to learn to edit themselves - it sounds like much of their writing comes by accidentally playing around on guitar instead of from some vision or unifying idea. That sort of jamming may sound spontaneous and cool, but it's not that great, because the whole comes out to be less than the sum of its parts - in other words, cool-sounding sections can add up to a pretty incoherent song.

However, the weak moments didn't define the show - the music's percussive rhythms, masterful blues-inflected guitar solos and awesome walking bass lines made the majority of the set engaging and fun. What's more, as I indicated, the newer songs have begun to address some of the band's biggest problems, so things look even brighter for the future. Even if this band hasn't quite got it down yet, they are original and talented and definitely worth checking out live.

Quiet Loudly MySpace

Pet Ghost Project - WTF? I've heard one of this band's albums and I was pretty much in love with it - tightly-constructed songs, amazing sounds, strong melodies - some maturity and editing was needed but the band sounded like one of the most promising lo-fi acts I've heard in a long time. I even put them on my list of bands to watch in 2009.

So, what the hell happened last night? That's not a rhetorical question, I really want an answer! The band had very serious pitch problems with both vocals and guitar, they fell out of sync, the music was rambling and hard to follow and the whole thing sounded like the bands I used to hear in high school - an amateur mush of early 90's influences. Yes, I know lo-fi is meant to be messy, but this was something else entirely. How can a band of four obviously talented musicians with a known repertoire of great songs put on a show like this?

I really don't know what to think. Maybe they were just having a bad night. I'll give them another try and report back, but for now, I'd say there are better ways to help animals than to listen to these guys.

Pet Ghost Project MySpace

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Album: Panda Riot - She Dares All Things

Album: She Dares All Things
Self-Released, 2007/2008
Rating: ******** (8/10)

I try to focus on new releases in this review, but I didn’t have a chance to write this one up in a timely manner, since it came out well before I started the site. And I really want to write it up anyway, because I’m pretty damn sure you’re going to love it.

If you are a fan of My Bloody Valentine, it’s easy to describe Panda Riot: you know that last song on Loveless? Well, that’s what they sound like. If that doesn't mean anything to you, imagine the main shoegaze hallmarks – fuzzed-out guitars, dense walls of sound, understated vocals, notes bending in and out of pitch and ungodly amount of reverb – all of that, plus a dancey, trip-hop inspired beat. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

Panda Riot obviously isn’t the first band to incorporate these elements, but they are, without a doubt, one of the best bands of the bunch. Most praiseworthy are their solid waves of guitar, which could easily knock a shoegazer off his gazed-at feet. The vocals are simple and mixed low, but they are confident and most of the time, they propel the songs forward very well.

It’s not a perfect album, but most of the problems come not from anything bad, but rather from missed opportunities. The band could definitely benefit from using more dynamic and self-standing bass lines. Most importantly, they could improve their use of rhythm in all parts. That includes the drum-machine-generated beats, which tend to use pretty conventional patterns. It also includes the guitar, vocals and bass, when seem a little over-infatuated with quarter-notes. In some cases, steady 4/4 rhythms are charming, but in others, they just feel like lost potential.

As with most shoegaze, the music is a bit formless on both the album level and the song level, but it still maintains a poppy feel that will hold your attention. And sure, there are some unmemorable songs on the album - but for the most part, Panda Riot achieves good variety, some songs heavier and fuller, some more electronic, some with more open space, some with more emphasis on the vocals.

All in all, it’s an impressive album and even a valuable contribution to the shoegaze/trip-hop genre. Pop-accessible but experimental, catchy but thoughtful, it’s music just about anyone could enjoy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Guest List: Top 7 Albums of 2008 (Hortense's List)

Another guest list, another turn on the random name generator. Here it is:

1. Youth Novels by Lykke Li - Okay.... Cute voice, talented writer and a damn good dancer! Not to mention she is smoking hot! My favorite album of 2008. Listen to: Little Bit

2. Volume One by She and Him - This album was surprisingly made by Zooey Deschanel (girl from winter passing, elf) and M ward. It has a 60s feel to it and I find it rather relaxing to cook/bake to. Don't make fun of me until you try it.

3. Exit Strategy of the Soul by Ron Sexsmith - This album is timeless, classic and beautifully composed.

4. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver - This album is slow, yet moving. As a whole, it keeps your attention by building up each song.

5. Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes - The name totally fits the band. When I listen to it, I just imagine lots of little cute forest animals gathering and singing like a chorus. Very pretty blended high vocals.

6. Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust by Sigur Rós - Ok, I was a bit confused when I first heard this, because I'm used to just putting on a Sigur Rós album and relaxing. This one has a fewupbeat songs in the beginning of the album, but they put you in such a good mood you have to like them. Towards the end, you can relax again, because the album finishes off with beautifully soft songs.

7. Lesser Matters by the Radio Dept. - This album was close to not making my list because I thought it came out in 2007. However it was released on Jan 1st, 2008, so HA! It just made it! This album has a lot of great songs. My Favorites: Keen On Boys, Why Won't You Talk About It, and Lost and Found.

On a side note..... Lykke Li will be performing at Webster Hall on Feb 2nd.. Definitely worth seeing! Happy New Year Everyone.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Arms, Depreciation Guild, Pet Ghost Project + more!

Tonight, 1/6

Arms @ Pianos - LES, Manhattan - $8
I've been telling you about fuzzy indie rockers Arms and how you should check them out. Here's your chance. ::MySpace

Thursday, 1/8

The Depreciation Guild @ Bell House - Park Slope, Brooklyn
Another one of my bands to watch in 2009, Depreciation Guild really stands out from the bazillion other "shoegaze" bands. Their detailed guitar work creates lush, dynamic walls of sound, and once you crawl inside, you won't want to leave. ::MySpace

Friday, 1/9

Bear Hands @ Webster Studio - E. Village, Manhattan - $10
Bear Hands are hyper-conventional (though very solid) indie rock, with a slight pop-punk flavor. They are completely digestible for mainstream radio audiences but skillful and just innovative enough to appease a more indie-minded crowd. ::MySpace

Bridges and Powerlines, My Teenage Stride @ Union Hall - Park Slope, Brooklyn - $8
Yet another one of my bands to watch in 2009, Bridges and Powerlines play jumpy indie rock with a strong pop sensibility. My Teenage Stride plays sweet, tightly-locked indie pop that's fun and mostly pretty damn good. ::B&P MySpace ::MTS MySpace

Saturday, 1/10

Team Genius @ Lit Lounge - E. Village, Manhattan
[Please double check this show exists before going. It shows up on some listings and not on others.] I've told you about Team Genius before, in fact more than once, so I'll just let you look at that to see what they are all about. The main appeal of going to this particular show is to see how they are going to fit eight members on a stage that's not much bigger than your average broom closet. Anyway, they play fun, comforting pop music that it's hard not to love. ::MySpace

Sunday, 1/11

Pet Ghost Project, Quiet Loudly @ Arlene's Grocery - LES, Manhattan
For the first time in recent history, Arlene's has decent bands playing. Yet another of my picks for 2009, Pet Ghost Project is some great American lo-fi pop, with strong melodies, fuzzy guitar and innovative compositions. Quiet Loudly is a very experimental pop band, with jagged guitar riffs and driving rhythms, and I highly recommend checking them out - they are better live than recorded and it's worth giving them a chance. Plus, the whole thing is a benefit show for an animal shelter, so not going would be like kicking puppies in the face: wrong. ::PGP MySpace ::QL MySpace

I added MySpace links to old posts

My apologies, I've gotten lazy linking you to the bands I write about, but I just went back today and added links to my 2009 lists:

Albums to watch for in 2009

Fifteen bands to watch in 2009:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Sorry I didn't do it in the first place, but better late than never, eh? Check out the links and give the bands a listen!