Friday, February 27, 2009

Single: Bell - "Magic Tape"

Single: Magic Tape
Twosyllable Records, 2009
Rating: ****** (6/10)

Classical trained pianist turned indie-electro vocalist, Olga Bell has received quite a bit of critical praise over the last year. Her dark, atmospheric songs are perhaps what any of the last decade's Top 40 pop stars would sound like if their IQ were magically doubled. In that sense, it's understandable why she's frequently compared to Bjork, the other oddball female singer who has walked the line between pop and "WTF?" (albeit in a rather different direction).

Her new single, "Magic Tape," released this week, will be featured on her forthcoming 7" on Twosyllable Records. The record deal marks important stride for her and her band, whose only album to date was recorded partly in bedrooms, painstakingly produced with minimal resources and finally self-released early last year.

Unfortunately, from this single, it looks like all the praise and progress might be going to the band's head - the song's self-aware strangeness is rather over the top. Bell, you don't need to try so hard! We all get it! You're weird!

On the other hand, you have to admire the band's refusal to stay in any given time signature or key signature for more than a few bars. The song never settles into anything comforting and its repeated jarring is engaging on an intellectual level. It would nice to see this approach with a little more restraint in the sound bank, though, just something to tone it down enough that listeners will be able to focus.

Have some faith in us, Bell! We are paying attention!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Album: The Antlers - Hospice

Album: Hospice
self-released, 2009
Rating: *********' (9.5/10)

When I first listened to the Antlers in late 2008, I shrugged it off as nothing special, but Pop Tarts Suck Toasted was carrying on about this album at such length that I decided to give it a listen. And I was completely taken aback by what I heard.

Hospice is not only an outstanding album, it's one of the most exciting releases since the 90's. I wavered on the rating - sometimes leaning towards 10/10 to help get it into the spotlight it deserves, other times thinking 9/10 would be more appropriate - it's far from perfect and far from the level of the masterpieces it references. In the end, I settled on 9.5 - the highest rating I've given an album to date and also the first time I have ever used a half point. The reason? This album is the most worthy of your attention of any I have ever reviewed (on this blog or elsewhere) - but I don't want to believe this is as good as it's going to get. I want to believe another Loveless or Aeroplane Over The Sea is in the works, and I'm saving the 10/10 for that. But in this meantime, we have this, and this is something.

But to say I enjoy or even like Hospice would be misleading. In fact, it is easily the most unsettling album I have heard in years and for several weeks, it consumed me, even triggering the return of nightmares I thought I had shaken long ago. It's an intensely haunting, profoundly affecting album that will stay with listeners long after the final notes.

On the surface, Hospice is a concept album that intertwines stories of terminal cancer, mental illness and dissolution of a relationship into dysfunction and cruelty. Where these tales intersect is the painful truth that love does not conquer all. The record documents songwriter Peter Silberman's growing awareness of this immutable fact, revealing not only feelings of heartbreak and helplessness, but also, and most importantly, a pervading guilt. The narrator's point of view is always that of a caretaker, seeking to heal, to comfort, to save, and the entire album reads as a confession of failure.

Sonically, Hospice is a creeping ambient lo-fi, as if Radiohead had recorded OK Computer in Thom Yorke's basement. At some moments it assaults the eardrums, while at others, it replicates the shaky hum of life-support machines. But mostly, it is full of subtle sounds breaking up, faltering and struggling under the weight of the album's pain. It is this, the struggle of each sound, that sets Hospice apart from such reference points as OK Computer and Arcade Fire's Funeral. Hospice's best beats are built with shards of static and noise and mixed with such restraint that many listeners may not even notice a drum track at all. Synthesized sounds are prominent, but they never seem like a cheap trick - instead, they mimic the oppressive sterility of the album's hospital setting. The use of horns may be an overblown nod to Neutral Milk Hotel but it's restrained enough to forgive and the other sounds - the weakly bowed banjo, thudding piano chords and shivering guitars - are more inspired. All are masterfully executed.

Over the uneasy ambiance, Silberman's voice carries the album. His high crooning is clear and controlled, but although his tunes and tone are spot-on, there's something unsteady about his delivery - it's the wavering of a young voice delivering painful and personal words. And there is good variety alongside the consistency in his voice, ranging from the surprising dramatics on "Sylvia" to the intimate, homey delivery of "Shiva."

The songwriting on the album is imperfect - the often-understated melodies and the album's tempo make it hard to tie everything nicely together. I think this explains why I didn't get drawn in by Hospice's two singles ("Two" and "Bear") when they were released. But viewing the album as a whole, it becomes much more coherent. Melodies are recycled as Silberman revisits stories and ideas, and viewed in this context, most of the tracks do become memorable, each a unique step in the album's journey.

The only really bad song on the whole album is "Thirteen." The first half is an experiment in loud ambiance that doesn't seem to move the album forward. The second is a short song sung by Silberman and guest vocalist Sharon van Etten. Van Etten is a beautiful singer but the sudden introduction of female vocals is jarring, and the addition of a woman's voice to sing a song subtitled "Sylvia Speaks" takes the album's concept to a level of literalism that is, frankly, goofy.

However, this track is the only outstanding mistake. Hospice's two singles and the album track "Sylvia" are all high points, with engaging rhythms and melodies, identifiable choruses and foot-tappable tempos. And even these are outdone by less structured and more intense tracks like "Atrophy" and "Wake." Rising in and out of murky noise, these songs contain many of Silberman's most uncomfortable revelations.

"Wake" comes second-to-last and marks the climax of the story. It is the album's only true moment of absolution: "Some patients can't be saved / But that burden's not on you / Don't ever let anyone tell you you deserve this." Whenever I listen, it takes a few repetitions for the last line to really sink in, and when it does, it usually brings me to (or past) the brink of tears. Anyone who needs to hear these words needs to hear them over and over again before they can begin to believe it. And when I say "needs," I mean that - for the listeners with whom Hospice resonates (and I know I won't be the only one), this moment, this final refrain, is necessary.

But then again, it's not the final refrain. There is one more track, an understated nightmare that draws narrator and listener alike back into the album's underlying terror. It's not that nothing has been accomplished, it's just that healing is a process without an end. Hospice is mercilessly honest - scars will remain, wounds will reopen and everything will not be alright. Though the emotional strides of Hospice are immense, Silberman seems to realize they are dwarfed by the enormity of the task at hand.

A work of remarkable maturity and profound vision, Hospice doesn't sound like the product of musicians barely in their 20's. Perhaps it's the youth of the members, however, that gives the music its kick - a subtle kick, surely, but enough to hold my famously short attention. It's an imperfect work, of course, but it's still a rare and exciting accomplishment. It's musicians like these who will lead us out of indie rock's dead ends and on a personal level, who will help us mend from life's damages and carry on.

Antlers on MySpace

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dust It Off: Destroy All Monsters - Bored

Here at Radio Flyer Review, I like to tell you about the cutting edge of indie music, but I hardly ever get a chance to tell you about the great stuff you may have overlooked or forgotten from the last fifty years. So I've decided to run a weekly feature highlighting "cult classic" albums of yesteryear. Hope you enjoy!

Album: Bored (Destroy All Monsters)
Cherry Red, 1999
Recording date: 1978-1979

Talk about your cult classics! Destroy All Monsters was formed in Ann Arbor in 1973 by a group of art students led by ex-model turned artist and singer Niagara and her boyfriend Cary Loren. None of the original members of the band were musicians and their highly avant-garde early years were spent jamming with records and then descending into chaotic noise rock when the record stopped. Their only shows were played guerrilla style - setting up uninvited at parties, etc. - and they were usually promptly ejected.

DAM's second era began in around 1977 when the band basically pestered Ron Asheton of the Stooges and Michael Davis of MC5 into joining. The addition of experienced rock musicians to the line-up was coupled with the explosion of the punk movement, the first scene edgy enough to connect with DAM's music. Combined, these factors moved DAM away from highly avant-garde performance art towards a more musical form of rock.

It was this greatly transformed incarnation of DAM that recorded the three singles featured on Bored. Asheton (always my favorite Stooge) uses his characteristic gritty guitar while Niagara sounds eerily like Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon. And if sounding exactly like Sonic Youth in 1978 isn't being ahead of your time, I don't know what is.

Songs like "You're Gonna Die" spew the band's typical morbid nonsense, while others seem to hint at undecipherable political points. Despite its vast musical differences from the band's early work, Bored accomplishes the same thing - providing a raw and wry commentary on music, art and society. Punk is all about stripping rock to its barest bones and rebuilding it from scratch, but few bands have managed deconstruction to the same extreme as DAM. But for all its artiness, it comes down to this: Bored is a damn fun listen!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Live: Mexico 1910

When: 2/22
Where: Brooklyn Women's Shelter Benefit @ Vanishing Point

Once again, a benefit from the Brooklyn Women's Shelter. Once again, 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.

And the music...

When I walked in, the last band of the night was already playing. Mexico 1910 (or at least, I guess that's who it was) is a four-piece band who performed wearing headlamps. It's not totally original - as someone pointed out to me, Animal Collective has done this - but it was still a pretty cool effect.

The first bars I heard were promising - triumphantly building major chords just the way I like them. I thought, 'I'm gonna like this!'

But I was wrong. It turned out the band's swell wasn't leading up to anything, just the rise-and-fall sounds that seem so integral to post-rock instinct. The music tumbled down from the momentum it had built, wandering aimlessly for the rest of the set. Any given minute of the sound could certainly be called beautiful, but strung together, the beauty was overshadowed by monotony. After a couple of minutes, I was very ready for the band to stop.

Although it can look complex and interesting, post-rock is one of the easiest kinds of music to write and play. It requires minimal songwriting skill, minimal vision and minimal true originality. Yes, it requires strong instrumental prowess, and certainly this band was talented in that regard - their equipment gave them a full palette of lovely sounds, and they found and used each one well. Moreover, it was clear the band had spent enough time playing together that they could anticipate and compliment one another effectively. All this leaves no doubt all four are musically talented, but unfortunately, they just don't live up to their potential.

It's not that post-rock is a dead end or that traditional song structures are the only way to hold an audience's attention. But finding something engaging in the wandering, instrumental post-rock is exceptional, and unfortunately, Mexico 1910 is not the exception.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Live: A.R.E. Weapons and Bellmer Dolls

When: 2/19
Where: Cameo

I wrote up the Bellmer Dolls not that long ago and was planning to leave them alone for a bit, but when I found out they were playing with the legendary A.R.E. Weapons, I couldn't pass it up. I arrived at the new Williamsburg venue Cameo so late I thought I might miss the entire show, but in fact, the first act, Services, was just finishing when I made it into the room.

Services - I'm not sure what to make of this band, having only caught the last few bars of their set, but it certainly left me scratching my head. It seemed to combine 70's style and dance moves with some amalgamation of cheap 80's synth pop, Krautrock and trashy metal. I couldn't even figure out if it was awesome or terrible. Maybe it made more sense if you saw the whole set? Or maybe not.

A.R.E. Weapons - A.R.E. Weapons were once signed to indie mainstay Rough Trade and have been a known name in the NYC underground for almost a decade. While the quality of their recorded material is spotty at best, their live show has secured their reputation among audiences at fringe of the indie music scene. I'd never seen them play before and naturally, I was intrigued.

The first word that comes to mind for the band's performance is assaultive. The sheer volume is most of that, but the sound is also heavy-hitting and the delivery intense and aggressive. The line-up has changed numerous times since the band's founding, and for this show, the band was whittled down to two members. Some research leads me to believe there are usually four of them, but having seen the band as a duo, it's hard to understand why they'd need two more people - just two of them are pretty much enough to knock you over.

With one member on synth and the other on guitar and vocals, the band sounded pretty much like no-wave synth duo Suicide - a fact the band even acknowledged at one point. They topped their electronic beats with massive, distorted noise rock, but maintained a sense of song structure and vague orientation within key signatures, an approach that made their forays into noise far more enjoyable than most bands'. The musical chemistry between the two members on stage was also exceptional. They seemed to be completely in sync with one another, complimenting one another so naturally they might have been reading each other's minds.

My only complaint lies with the vocals, which could be a bit trite at times, particularly in the lyrics. I understand the trashy, cliched pattern of the vocals was used intentionally much in the way the Ramones reference the idiocy of 50's pop. But just because it's done on purpose doesn't make it the best decision - this sort of juxtaposition is rather overdone and the songs would be better if they stood on their own merit. :: MySpace

The Bellmer Dolls - I'm afraid my assessment of this band will always be colored with nostalgia for the good ol' days. Like any band that's at its best raw and live, the Bellmer Dolls have gravitated ever so slightly towards complacency and convention with time. Their garage goth is still aggressive and their delivery still wild, but their set seems more planned now - they break far less equipment and improvise less than they once did.

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

But they still do some damage both to the stage equipment and to the audience's eardrums, and they are still very much worth getting excited about. The band debuted some new songs at the show that ultimately didn't live up to the tribal minimalism of Bellmer's early material - they were good, but didn't sound as unique. But just when I was about to get worried, the band launched into a new song that very much captures their old spirit - anchored by the tense, driving bass line, the song's bare aggression left no doubt that the Bellmer Dolls are still very much with us.

The band also played most of their best old material, snarling out classics and ending on a massive rendition of "Push, Push" which did, true to tradition, end in a lot of shit getting knocked over and broken. Maybe not as much damage as they would have done a year ago, but still, it was from the heart. And still, the band is one of the best around these days - worthy not only of an audience but of a lasting legacy in the American underground. :: MySpace

Upcoming Shows: Harlem Shakes, Swirlies, Mahogany + more

I already posted these last week, but just a reminder - these are all going to incredible shows!! I highly recommend all of them.

Wednesday, February 25
Tokyo Police Club and the Harlem Shakes @ Webster Hall - East Village, Manhattan - $18
If you missed the Harlem Shakes with Shilpa Ray on Valentines Day, then you really messed up. But all is not lost - you can still see the Shakes before they leave town. They are opening for Tokyo Police Club, another great pop band, at Webster Hall next week. It should be a very solid show. :: TPC MySpace :: HS MySpace

Thursday, February 26
Coin Under Tongue @ Cake Shop - LES, Manhattan - $7
To be honest, I don't know much about Coin Under Tongue except that it includes members of Dirty On Purpose and it's all the rage right now in the NYC underground. The second half of that doesn't really mean anything, but the first part (members of Dirty On Purpose) gives me pretty much blind faith that this band rocks. They are too cool to have a MySpace page, so I guess we'll just have to show up and see what it's all about.

Friday, February 27
Swirlies + Takka Takka, Autodrone @ Mercury Lounge - LES, Manhattan - $12
The Swirlies are a classic shoegazer band from the 90's, here again to capitalize off the current shoegaze fad - and who can blame them? They have chosen well for their supporting acts - Takka Takka is a pretty straight-up weird indie rock band that's been trendy for a surprisingly long time now. Autodrone is a band that could well be on the verge of a major break-through - their 2008 full-length debut reworks the darkest of New Wave ideas into 90's shoegaze soundscapes, with a touch of grunge and even prog just to keep it rocking hard. :: Swirlies MySpace :: TT MySpace :: Autodrone MySpace

Saturday, February 28
Mahogany and Blacklist + Cruel Black Dove and Depreciation Guild @ Mercury Lounge - LES, Manhattan - $10
Go to this show! Trust me. Mahogany's dream-pop and Blacklist's dark 80's soundscapes are going to make a delightfully varied but still cohesive evening (and a busy one for James Minor, who is a member of both bands). My last live review of Mahogany is here and my last review of Blacklist is here. And don't forget, those headliners are coupled with another 80's-esque, goth-influenced band, Cruel Black Dove, as well as electro-shoegazers Depreciation Guild, one of the best shoegaze bands around and also one of the hottest NY bands of the moment. This show is really, really, really going to kick some serious ass. :: Mahogany MySpace :: Blacklist MySpace :: CBD MySpace :: DG MySpace

Friday, February 20, 2009

Release: Gracefully - The Underground Sundae

The Underground Sundae
The Underground Sundae [EP]
Self-released, 2009
Rating: ****** (6/10)

Underground psychedelic pop band Gracefully (formerly known as So L'il) released a free, downloadable EP on Saturday. Yay!

I've been a fan of Gracefully for a while now, since long before the name-change and through several line-up shifts as well. None of these changes really matter because the band's true engine is the strange and brilliant mind of its founder and (to my knowledge) only consistent member, Ben Malkin. And apparently, that remains intact.

As EPs, and particularly free EPs tend to be, The Underground Sunday seems a little unfinished. It's not Malkin's best work, but it's definitely enjoyable and very worth five minutes to download. It's also not a bad introduction to what this band is all about - dreamy, druggy, shoegazey pop.

By far, the best song of the bunch is "Spank Me Slowly," which sounds nothing like the name suggests - it's a sad, tumbling waltz with lyrics based nautical metaphors, something about being on a sinking ship. It's intensely beautiful and might even make it onto a list of my favorite songs ever.

Of course, I've had this song in my possession for a while now because the band seems to stick it on every release. And I can't really blame them - if I wrote a song this beautiful, you can bet I'd be tacking it onto everything else I did. Also, it's hard to say what's an "official" release from Gracefully. The last thing I have from the band is a CDR with no name or track listing and just a square of an apparently-random magazine page for album art. Is this an LP? Who's to say? And in the end, it doesn't matter if Malkin wants to recycle songs - after all, it's not like he's asking anyone to pay for them!

The other songs are also worth a listen. The EP gives a little more to hold on to than some of the band's work - there are more melodies and structures here that you can get a handle on. It's still very psychedelic though, so don't expect a straightforward listen. The music does meander, drifting in and out of focus and not hurrying towards any destination, but it's got enough pop sensibility to hold my attention anyway.

The only really ungrounded song is the closer, "Dear Whipping Boy," and it wouldn't be a real So L'il release without at least one formless experimental number. And although its brand of experimentalism has been done a thousand times over, "Dear Whipping Boy" is still an enjoyable listen. "Underground Sundae" is probably the strongest track after "Spank Me Slowly," with a quirky and not-quite-catchy melody over a rainbow of noisy chords.

Here's what you do: go to and download the record. Then lie down on your bed, put it on and let your mind wander. It's twenty minutes well spent.

Gracefully on MySpace

Thursday, February 19, 2009

News: Chief Bodega

A friend just sent me this story. Apparently Chief Bodega got shut down this weekend, this on the heels of several other recent raids on DIY venues around Brooklyn. Everyone visiting/running/playing at DIY venues, please keep it low-key and keep it safe - always good rules to follow, but more important now than ever.

Venue Review: Market Hotel

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: Bushwick, Brooklyn
Address: 1142 Myrtle Ave. (at Broadway)
Size: Medium
Directions: J/M/Z to Myrtle Ave., walk half a block east
Website: [MySpace]

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

Acoustics - Market Hotel is a warehouse space, and a rather oddly shaped one at that. They haven't done much with the sound so it's quite messy and echoey. But as far as industrial loft spaces go, it's not terrible either. Just so-so.

Booking - In this writer's experience, Market Hotel is not only difficult to book, they are difficult to get in touch with, period. Like a lot of DIY venues, they don't even bother to write back to say "no thanks," so it's impossible to know if anyone even checks the e-mail address. In other words, if you're not BFFs with the kids who run the place, you're probably out of luck.

Helpfulness to bands - Since everyone who plays there is buddy-buddy with the people running it, this almost isn't an issue, but I'll still tackle it the best I can. The problem is Market Hotel is laid-back to a fault, and their organization and communication is careless. That said, they do exist for bands and will do what they can to help the bands they book - just not in a very professional or orderly way.

Atmosphere - It's an industrial storage loft. What's not to love? The shows are hip, the audience is hip and everything is relaxed and music-focused, as it should be. Prices are also reasonable.

Miscellany - It's really cold in Market Hotel! I've never been there in the summer, but if the weather is even slightly brisk, it always seems about 10 degrees colder in there. Bundle up! Also, it's a DIY venue, so remember that shows won't start anywhere close to on time.

<< NYC Venues: Index

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Live: Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus

When: 2/15
Where: Bowery Ballroom

Los Campesinos!, a cute indie-pop band out of Wales, and Titus Andronicus, a ragtag gang of hardcore punks hailing from New Jersey, struck me as an odd pairing when they first announced their joint tour last fall. But they are both bands I love (both even appearing in my top five albums of 2008) and they also have in common a very young, manic, infectious energy.

I saw Titus Andronicus at Bowery in December, and my review of that show turned into a sort of essay on the evolution of punk music. This show was a rather different experience. Titus has changed in the last couple of months, or my ears have. They've added synth parts to some of their songs and overall, gained more polish and maturity in their sound. And to be honest, I was a bit disappointed by these developments. The band has lost a little of their edge as time has drawn them closer to convention.

photo from
Titus Andronicus

But don't despair! Titus is still very much punk and still played their long-winded punk numbers with intense energy true to their hardcore roots. Frontman Patrick Stickles did a stage dive as well as his usual jumping around, banging on the drums, yelling his head off and so on, with no apparent signs of tour-fatigue.

He spent a little too much of the set talking instead of playing, but his heartfelt thanks and farewell to touring companions Los Campesinos! on their final night together was very much called-for. In fact, the friendship between the bands only became clearer as members from Los Campesinos! darted on to stage during the Titus set, with Ollie Campesinos! even serving briefly as guitar tech. At the end of the set, Stickles did a farewell duo with Harriet Campesinos! covering Green Day's "Good Riddance." A terrible song, but despite the obvious tongue-in-cheek choice, it was very sincere and Stickles's gruff voice made their version far more enjoyable than the original.

When Los Campesinos! took over the stage, they launched into several songs off We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, followed by their very well-loved single "My Year In Lists." Honestly, the beginning of the set was troubling - something wasn't quite right, the parts didn't quite come together and the full effect of the songs was lost. However, as the show wore on, the band settled in and things started running smoothly. Right around the same time, about halfway through the set, all the Campesinos seemed to relax and suddenly, they were all ear-to-ear, kid-in-candy-store smiles, playing the hell out of their last show of what must have been an outstanding tour. Several band members followed Stickles in his stage diving (including Neil, guitar and all), surfing on the crowd for while before being delivered amicably back to the stage.

Photo by Grace deVille (from
Los Campesinos! (photo by Grace deVille)

The set list was amazing, featuring pretty much every song I really wanted to hear (except "Drop It Doe Eyes") and ended with a really beautiful rendition of "Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks." I don't know if what happened during that song was planned but it certainly seemed spontaneous. Gareth and the other fronting Campesinos went to the edge of the stage, standing on the monitors and singing the final repeating line to the audience. After a minute, members of Titus Andronicus and the other Campesinos wandered up one by one to join the chorus, sharing microphones and really pouring themselves into the moment. Planned or not, it felt like a surprisingly profound and personal moment between the bands and the audience. It was an amazing closer.

So what about the encore? I didn't believe they could follow up that ending, but sure enough, they trooped back on stage and played one final number, their early single "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives". After the end of the vocals, Gareth walked around the stage collecting every microphone he could find and placing all of them in front of the guitar amps, until the room was awash in a wall of sound. The members exited one by one, leaving the guitar pedals to roar alone for a few minutes before the sound shut off.

Los Campesinos! are a very young band, and while I expected a tight and energetic delivery and some youthful showmanship, the band's two powerful closing moments revealed a maturity I could not have predicted. Here is a band that plays for its audience and both as performers and as musicians, can put on an outstanding concert. And it seemed to be built sincerely on the warmest of feelings for each other, for their music and for their fans. From a bunch of college-aged kids, this is an incredible accomplishment. Hats off!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Album: Soft Black - The Earth Is Black

The Earth Is Black
Album: The Earth Is Black (and Other Apocalyptic Lullabies for Children)
Plays With Dolls Records, 2009
Rating: ******* (7/10)

After my tepid live review of Soft Black last fall, frontman/songwriter Vincent Cacchione made the arrogant - or ballsy - move of asking for my opinion on his 2009 record, The Earth Is Black (released today). Arrogant in that he seemed to think he could win me over, but ballsy to ask for an (inevitably public) opinion from someone he knows won't hold back harsh words.

Given this history, I wish I could come down strongly one way or the other on this album, but unfortunately, my reaction was a bit mixed. I can say definitively, though, that I did find it much more satisfying than the November show - as an album, it makes clear what Cacchione is trying accomplish in his music and ultimately, it succeeds in its mission.

A cohesive record, The Earth Is Black is immediately reminiscent of country-rock classics like Neil Young. But there's something more beneath the surface, a hint of Young's more edgy contemporaries - the Stooges and even the Doors are lurking in the background here. I suppose there are also pieces of psychedelia (think Grateful Dead) but that seems more deliberate and less integral to the album's ultimate vision than the touches of garage rock and under-the-radar pop.

The album boasts masterful songwriting throughout, with title track standing as the most memorable example. The sonic experimentation of "The Flesh Of The Sky" is also a highlight - it is definitively post-punk, but somehow fits smoothly with album's overarching late-60's attitude. The second half of the album can also hold its own. "The Lions" is a notably pretty little number, while "Did You Put A Spell On Me?" rocks hard as it branches out in new noisy directions.

However, some tracks fall short of that mark. "I Am An Animal" is the most disappointing example - this clearly should have been an album highlight. Instead, the sparse arrangement in the verse makes the song a glaring weak point. In pitch and tone, Cacchione is a fine singer, but his voice simply isn't rich enough to carry the song. The songwriting is still solid, and the arrangement is a good idea in concept, but the execution only highlights Soft Black's amateur side.

Thankfully, that side is well hidden for most of the rest of the album. Despite some weak moments, The Earth Is Black is a mature and accomplished record. I don't think Soft Black has peaked yet - the album's shortcomings reveal problems that a musician as talented and eager to improve as Cacchione will be able to fix with time.

Stylistically, Soft Black may not be for everyone. But if you've always wondered what it would sound like if Neil Young or James Taylor had joined a garage rock band from Cleveland in 1972, grab a copy now!


News: Wavves Tour Dates

OK, these dates were announced a while ago, but I just got to thinking. And after spending an entirely weekend of my life (the one before last) trying and failing to make it to any of four Wavves shows, I am definitely not messing it up next time. And neither will you, if you take a good look at this list now!

Mon., 3/16 - Phoenix, AZ - Trunk Space
Wed., 3/18 - SXSW - TBA
Sun., 3/22 - Dallas, TX - Lounge on Elm St
Mon., 3/23 - Knoxville, TN - The Pilot Light
Tue., 3/24 - Chapel Hill, NC - Nightlight
Wed., 3/25 - Harrisonburg, VA - The Blue Nile
Thu., 3/26 - Baltimore, MD - The Zodiac
Fri., 3/27 - Philadelphia, PA - The Marvelous Music
Sat., 3/28 - New York, NY - Cake Shop
Sun., 3/29 - Brooklyn, NY - Market Hotel
Mon., 3/30 - Rochester, NY - The Bug Jar
Tue., 3/31 - Toronto, ON - Sneaky Dee’s
Wed., 4/1 - Detroit, MI - Magic Stick
Fri., 4/3 - Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle
Sat., 4/4 - Milwaukee, WI - The Project Lodge (UWM)
Sun., 4/5 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry
Mon., 4/6 - Fargo, ND - Aquarium
Wed., 4/8 - Olympia, WA - The Northern
Thu., 4/9 - Seattle, WA - The Funhouse
Sat., 4/11 - Portland, OR - Holocene
Sun., 4/12 - Davis, CA - DAM House
Mon., 4/13 - San Francisco, CA - Bottom of the Hill
Wed., 4/15 - Los Angeles, CA - The Echo
Thu., 4/16 - Irvine, CA - Acrobatics Everyday
Fri., 4/17 - San Diego, CA - Casbah

Wavves is awesome. If you didn't know that, check out my short album review here.

Upcoming Shows: Werewolves, Harlem Shakes, Mahogany + more

Thursday, February 19
Werewolves @ The Annex (Club NME) - LES, Manhattan
If you have been paying attention, you already know all about the Werewolves. If not, start here. I cannot recommend them enough. :: MySpace

The Secret Life of Sofia @ Bell House - Gowanus, Brooklyn - $5
I feel like I never pimp this band enough, but TSLOS, despite the rather obnoxious name, is a great band. They play shimmering, lonely noise-folk that will draw you in without your even realizing it. :: MySpace

**Update - Apparently TSLOS released a free EP today online, which I totally overlooked until I saw it on I Rock I Roll. I'll give you the lowdown soon, but in any case, I guess this show will involve songs from that release so check it out.**

Friday, February 20
Weird Owl (CD Release Party) @ Union Pool - Williamsburg, Brooklyn - $8
I just reviewed Weird Owl, so check it out here. :: MySpace

Saturday, February 21
John Joseph (Cro-Mags) SPOKEN WORD @ Webster Studio - East Village, Manhattan - $10
I have no idea what this is going to be like, but I do know it involves a member of the Cro-Mags, one of the greatest hardcore bands of all time. It's probably worth checking out.

Sunday, February 22
Team Genius @ Glasslands - Williamsburg, Brooklyn - $6
I've been trying to encourage everyone to check out this band for a while now. There are a whole bunch of people in the band and they play a whole bunch of instruments and make really pretty, fun, comforting pop music. Like the grown-up version of Los Campesinos! You can find my review of their last show at Glasslands (along with a review of their debut album) here. :: MySpace

I'm going to get a bit of ahead of myself here, but I'll repost closer to the date for these ones:

Wednesday, February 25
Tokyo Police Club and the Harlem Shakes @ Webster Hall - East Village, Manhattan - $18
If you missed the Harlem Shakes with Shilpa Ray on Valentines Day, then you really messed up. But all is not lost - you can still see the Shakes before they leave town. They are opening for Tokyo Police Club, another great pop band, at Webster Hall next week. It should be a very solid show. :: TPC MySpace :: HS MySpace

Thursday, February 26
Coin Under Tongue @ Cake Shop - LES, Manhattan - $7
To be honest, I don't know much about Coin Under Tongue except that it includes members of Dirty On Purpose and it's all the rage right now in the NYC underground. The second half of that doesn't really mean anything, but the first part (members of Dirty On Purpose) gives me pretty much blind faith that this band rocks. They are too cool to have a MySpace page, so I guess we'll just have to show up and see what it's all about.

Friday, February 27
Swirlies + Takka Takka, Autodrone @ Mercury Lounge - LES, Manhattan - $12
The Swirlies are a classic shoegazer band from the 90's, here again to capitalize off the current shoegaze fad - and who can blame them? They have chosen well for their supporting acts - Takka Takka is a pretty straight-up weird indie rock band that's been trendy for a surprisingly long time now. Autodrone is a band that could well be on the verge of a major break-through - their 2008 full-length debut reworks the darkest of New Wave ideas into 90's shoegaze soundscapes, with a touch of grunge and even prog just to keep it rocking hard. :: Swirlies MySpace :: TT MySpace :: Autodrone MySpace

Saturday, February 28
Mahogany and Blacklist + Cruel Black Dove and Depreciation Guild @ Mercury Lounge - LES, Manhattan - $10
Go to this show! Trust me. Mahogany's dream-pop and Blacklist's dark 80's soundscapes are going to make a delightfully varied but still cohesive evening (and a busy one for James Minor, who is a member of both bands). My last live review of Mahogany is here and my last review of Blacklist is here. And don't forget, those headliners are coupled with another 80's-esque, goth-influenced band, Cruel Black Dove, as well as electro-shoegazers Depreciation Guild, one of the best shoegaze bands around and also one of the hottest NY bands of the moment. This show is really, really, really going to kick some serious ass. :: Mahogany MySpace :: Blacklist MySpace :: CBD MySpace :: DG MySpace

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Gift For You!!!

You all know by now I'm not the type to unauthorizedly distribute music, but it's a special occasion. So for a limited time only, a couple of gifts for you. One a little snippet from a very old bootleg of my longtime favorite band, the other a classic tune to keep you company this weekend...

Happy Halfway-Through-February Day!


Friday, February 13, 2009

Radio Flyer's Recommendations for Valentine's Day Blues

Hi everyone,

Sorry if you've been trying to avoid the fact that Valentine's Day is this Saturday - but you were bound to be reminded somehow, and how better than Radio Flyer Review's Valentine's Day recommendations? I have identified which recommendations fit with which circumstances and have included a key so you can figure out which music will match your situation. If you're planning to have a happy Valentine's Day with your significant other, sorry, but this list is not for you.

*Music for the broken-hearted
**Crying in your beer music (a specific subdivision of music for the broken-hearted)
#Music for the angry and bitter
+Music to make you feel good about being independent (I don't have much of this because I really don't own or listen to much music to make anyone feel good about anything, but I tried...)

In no particular order:

1. Rid Of Me by PJ Harvey #
Break-up albums don't come angrier than PJ Harvey's masterpiece. Every line of every song is pretty much another kick in the face whoever it was who pissed her off. There's something darkly empowering about the album, but it never once feels good. Of course, the title track takes the cake: "I'm gonna twist your head off, see? / Till you say don't you wish you never never met her."

2. "In My Life" by the Brian Jonestown Massacre #
This has got to be my favorite bitter break-up song in the indie rock canon. "I'm gonna take you out / I'm gonna make you cry," etc. Word of advice: never break up with Anton Newcombe.

3. Country Music ** (and sometimes #, +)
The entire genre of country music (well, at least all of it that isn't completely crap) is made for this situation. It's hard to go wrong, but if you really have no idea where to start, I'd suggest going back to the classics, either the genre's leading ladies (Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt) or even back to Mr. Johnny Cash himself. But really, just about anything from the genre will do.

4. "Fuck You (An Ode To No One)" by the Smashing Pumpkins and "Violet" by Hole #
Pumpkins' leader Billy Corgan was once romantically involved with Hole's Courtney Love, and rumor has it, they wrote these songs to/about one another, obviously post break-up. Seems like there may have been some hard feelings.

5. No Shouts, No Calls by Electrelane *
I know, I know - will you shut up about Electrelane already!? The answer is no, I won't. I love this band and I can think of very few lyricists who capture heart-break as honestly and accurately as Verity Susman. If this album isn't enough for you, also try "Birds" off The Power Out ("It's not that I can't go on without you / Got a lot of things to do / I'm busy, busy all the time / Still I can't stop thinking about you")

6. "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms" by Frightened Rabbit **
Hands down, the best crying-in-your-beer song of 2008. Key lyric: "I'm not ready to see you this happy"

7. Pre-war blues *,#,+
There's something very cathartic about hearing someone 80 years go saying exactly what you're thinking now, and particularly saying it on a crackly old recording over some nice guitar lines. There's a lot to chose from here, but here are some recommendations:
> J. T. Smith - "Howling Wolf Blues" (*) or "Heart Bleeding Blues" (*,#)
> Lucille Bogan - "You Got To Die Some Day" (#) or "Lonesome Midnight Blues" (*)
> Martha Copland - "I Ain't Your Hen Mr. Fly Rooster" (+)
> Robert Johnson - "Love In Vain" (*)

8a. Disintegration by the Cure *
This is an obvious choice, but still merits mentioning. One of the greatest break-up albums ever, this is perfect for crying your eyes out to for hours on end. Track picks: "Pictures of You" and "Disintegration"
8b. "Doing the Unstuck" by the Cure +
This isn't exactly a happy song, to say the least, but in a way, it can be helpful to have a I'm-Getting-Over-It song from someone you know feels just as miserable and hopeless as you (in this case, Robert Smith). Yes, it's sarcastic, but there's something empowering about it anyway.

9. Late 90's American indie pop *,#
For some reason, at least in the US, the late 90's were a great era for honest, direct lyrics. Some examples to get you started:
> Magnetic Fields: "I Don't Believe In The Sun" (*) or "I Don't Want To Get Over You" (*)
> Quasi: "I Never Want To See You Again" (*,#)
> Elliot Smith: "Somebody That I Used To Know" (#) or "Everything Reminds Me Of Her" (*) (OK, these weren't technically released in the 90's, but what's a couples months' difference?)

10. "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You" by the Ramones +
It doesn't get more direct than this.

Last resort...
Now, I happen to know a lot of people going through a really hard time right now, be it the stupid holiday this weekend, the economy, or just a string of bad luck. Now, I really hope none of you reading this are bad off enough to take these recommendations, but sometimes you just need music that's as low and messed up as you feel. So just in case...

For the very, very sad: Things We Lost In The Fire by Low

For the very, very angry: I'll Sleep When You're Dead by El-P or Broken by Nine Inch Nails (cliches exist for a reason!)

For the utterly miserable: Still by Joy Division or Spiderland by Slint

Thursday, February 12, 2009

News: Santogold Changes Name

Pop singer Santogold, whose ridiculously poppy pop seduced more than a few embarrassed indie rock fans in 2008, is changing her name to Santigold after being sued by a jeweller, filmmaker and infomericial salesman named Santo Gold. Weird.


Upcoming Shows: This Weekend

Two really great shows this weekend, don't miss them!

Saturday, February 14
The Harlem Shakes (!!!!!!!) and Shilpa Ray @ Southpaw - Park Slope, Brooklyn - $10
This show, presented by BAM as part of its "Sounds Like Brooklyn" Festival, is going to completely kick ass. The Harlem Shakes are one of my favorite NY bands and this is their first show in town since 2007! They have a new record coming out soon, so presumably they'll be playing material from that. Bright, fun pop music you can't resist. And I've told you lots about Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - check out my live review if you want to know what to expect.

Sunday, February 15
Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus - Bowery Ballroom - LES, Manhattan - SOLD OUT
Don't let this show being sold out keep you from going. I'm sure you can get some tickets on craigslist or just about anywhere else. (Also, if you have extra tickets, let me know!) Los Campesinos! are the funnest pop band in a long time and put out two of the best albums of 2008. Titus Andronicus, a revisionist hardcore punk band, are slackers because they only put out one of the best albums of 2008 - but it was a really good one so I guess they are still worth checking out. Seriously, this show is going to be extremely high energy and massively fun.

Live: Sore Eros and Super Vacations

When: 2/7 (actually the wee hours of 2/8)
Where: Market Hotel

In yet another chapter of last weekend's epic tale, "Radio Flyer Attempts To See A Show By Wavves And Repeatedly Fails," I caught half of the after-midnight show Market Hotel, featuring two bands I had never heard of before (and not featuring Wavves, at least not before I lost consciousness around 4 AM).

Super Vacations - Super Vacations, the first band of the show, took the stage close to 2 AM and played pretty fast, loud, borderline-punk songs. I'm sorry to say that for a really talented group of musicians, these guys make a pretty poor band. The guitarists especially showed potential - their parts were interesting, and they totally nailed them. However, the drums and rhythms were boring at best, and the vocals added exactly nothing to the music. Sung through a instrument mic (apparently the band's choice since the subsequent bands used a standard dynamic vocal mic), the vocals had no melody or beauty but weren't energenic enough to approach punk either. They seemed irrelevant to the songwriting and only detracted from the mood.

Writing off the vocals and rhythm section as a loss, I wondered if the guitarists, paired with another set of musicians, would make a good band. And even there, I was forced to answer "no." Despite the individuals' talents, the parts simply did not compliment each other in any way, or come together for some larger purpose. The whole was far less than the sum of its parts and while it was not at all a painful listen, it was certainly something of a waste of time.


Sore Eros - And now for something completely different. A poorly named band (it's a palendrome, woah), Sore Eros is highly experimental ambient noise-folk, and my reaction was very mixed. The performance itself was interesting, with the band's members lurking in the shadows, mimicking the dark depths of the music. However, one member sat on the floor (at least I think it was a member, I couldn't see if he was playing anything) and that really irked me. Something about bands where members sit on the floor, it just seems too casual and presumptious, almost disrespectful and certainly awkward.

In terms of music, the band had some great moments of noise. One member, if I'm not much mistaken, was playing a theramin, which marks the first time I've seen a performance on the instrument. My instinct is to cry "gimmick" but honestly, the sound was just right for the music. It certainly wasn't played masterfully - that's a near impossibility - but it didn't need to play precise notes and rhythms to fill its purpose in the music - adding ghostly tension to the sounds.

All in all, the band didn't add up to what it should have. The sound was unrefined and unedited, with good ideas tossed in willy-nilly with weaker ones. I think the band could probably benefit from taking a step back and really hearing their music from the outside - they were probably following the feel of it, but what feels right to play doesn't always sound interesting to the audience. Nevertheless, I'll say these guys have potential, and if their sound matures, they could turn out to be a pretty interesting bunch.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Live: Beirut

When: 2/7
Where: Brooklyn Academy of Music

I've never been really into Beirut, but I ended up with a ticket to this very sold-out show, so I figured I'd go see what all the fuss was about.

As it so happens, the band isn't really my "thing" - they use a variety of brass instruments to an extent and in a way that reminds me of high school concert band. When Neutral Milk Hotel uses horns, it's completely cool, but Beirut not only borrows the instrument from wind ensembles, but also takes some cues from their song-writing and technique. As a matter of personal preference, I wasn't digging it. More importantly and damagingly, Beirut also used an accordion on most songs. Accordion is not my favorite instrument to say the least, and having heard Beirut, I don't think fits well with horns at all -- too many sharp, harsh sounds. The constant nods to European folk music seemed a over-the-top and didn't always add to the songs.

That said, I'm completely down with the ukulele. I thought it was used very appropriately!

As performers, Beirut certainly gets an "A" for effort. They put on a pretty good show, with a lot of passion and energy. They have the slightly cocky attitude of a band that's been pretty successful for a while now, but it's hard to complain about it - they certainly still put a lot of themselves into the performance.

Photo from Kristianna Smith (from
Beirut frontman Zach Condon

For songwriting, Beirut is excellent, with a lot of variety, great melodies and careful arrangements (despite the iffy choice in instrumentation). Zach Condon's voice is a little melodramatic, but I liked that about it. He had the balls to really go for it instead of trying to be cool and mumbling his lines like so many male indie rock singers. All the instruments, despite my feelings about their use in the first place, were also played with accuracy and confidence, never missing a note.

For the last couple of numbers, the band brought out a strange orchestra/concert band to back them up. I didn't catch who they said the orchestra was but it looked like older high school or younger college students. They didn't have the best stage presence, varying from completely passive to obnoxious and disrespectful. Without a conductor, they were rather lost, always on the verge of falling apart. They didn't add a lot to the music, perhaps because they were mixed too low against the band, and the whole act of bringing them on stage seemed like an unnecessarily grandiose and gimmicky gesture that did more harm than good in terms of the true quality of the music. Bad choice, Beirut!

One other small complaint - the band played a four-song encore. No one is that good!

All in all, I wouldn't go back to see them, but despite my qualms, I enjoyed most of the songs. So if pseudo-French, pseudo-Gypsy indie folk is your thing, then Beirut is your thing. And if so, then they are definitely worth catching live - just preferably without the high school honors band cramping their style!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

News: Antlers Announce Tour Dates

Hey kids! I've been telling you a lot lately about The Antlers and how they're the greatest thing since sliced bread/OK Computer. Their forthcoming record Hospice easily deserves to be considered one of the defining albums of the decade. Yes, I really mean it!

Anyway, I'm going to wait until closer to the release date for Hospice to give you a proper review, but in the meantime, East Coasters, Midwesterners and Southerners, be sure to mark your calendars!

3/9 - M ROOM - Philadelphia, PA
3/10 - METRO GALLERY - Baltimore, MD
3/11 - BLACK CAT (BACKSTAGE) - Washington DC
3/12 - NIGHT LIGHT - Chapel Hill, NC
3/13 - TIN ROOF - Charleston , SC
3/14 - tba
3/15 - ALABAMA MUSIC BOX - Mobile, AL
3/16 - SATURN BAR - New Orleans, LA
3/17 - BOONDOCKS - Houston, TX
3/18 - 3/22 - SXSW - Austin, TX
3/24 - tba
3/25 - NORTHSIDE TAVERN - Cincinnati , OH
3/26 - CAFE BOURBON ST - Columbus, OH
3/27 - BRILLOBOX - Pittsburgh , PA

Also, if you want to be sure to get your copy of Hospice as soon as possible, you can pre-order here.

Venue Review: Terminal 5

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
Address: 610 W 56th St (between 11th & 12th Ave)
Size: Large (Cap. 3,000)
Directions: 1, A, B, C or D to Columbus Circle, walk three short blocks south and three and a half long blocks west.

Acoustics: F
Booking: A
Helpfulness to bands: N/A
Atmosphere: B

Acoustics - Terminal 5 is a narrow, deep rectangular room with three stories of balconies. A lot of the interior design is done with metal, which means the music is inevitably drowned out by its own echoes. In fact, this is probably the muddiest sounding venue I have ever set foot in - you don't go there to hear your favorite band, you go there to see them while you unrelatedly have your eardrums pierced but the unintelligible din.

Booking - I've never, ever booked a show at Terminal 5. It's a big venue for big-name bands and each show there has a high cost that must be met by high ticket sales. Of the Bowery Presents venues, Terminal 5 houses the highest-profile shows. But the booking is the same for all Bowery Presents venues, so allow me to repeat what I wrote for Mercury Lounge: 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, they are 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. If you're reading this blog for booking advice, you're probably not at the level Terminal 5 expects, but at least if you give it a shot, they'll be nice!

Helpfulness - I really have no experience with this, though my guess is that they treat bands very well.

Atmosphere - The interior seems like it was designed to create the poorest acoustics possible, but in fact, it was designed to look cool, and it does look cool. I'm more of a fan of the grungy, down-to-earth places, but for a modern rock venue, this place is certainly attractive. Visibility isn't great if there is any crowd at all, but other than that, it is not a bad place. And it's a little less creepy (less corporate, less disconnected) than most venues of its size and prestige. It's not worth going to shows here due to the sound, but if you have to, at least your eyes will be happy.

<< NYC Venues: Index

Live: Conversations With Enemies

When: 2/6
Where: Goodbye Blue Monday

I'd never heard of Conversations With Enemies until last weekend, when I stumbled upon their show in Brooklyn and thought I'd have a listen. Hailing from Philadelphia, the band plays pretty nondescript indie rock, but they do it quite well.

A four-piece, CWE played tightly, not as virtuosos but as a well-rehearsed, well-prepared band - I bet they could play those songs in their sleep. But they weren't sleeping, and in fact, brought a lot of energy to the stage, exchanging a criminal number of unabashed smiles with each other and the audience throughout the set. The songs themselves were extremely likable, often with three of the band's four members singing together in charmingly sloppy harmonies. The lyrics all revolved around stories about vampires, zombies and love, and were, of course, tongue-in-cheek - but not without a level of sincerity.

The band didn't do anything particularly fascinating - their beats and rhythms were basic 4/4 time, their melodies major-key and their arrangements strong but not notable in any way. They also seemed to neglect the keyboard - for most of the set, it did little more than take up space on stage. The few keyboard riffs that actually came to the fore were charming and it was a missed opportunity not to have more prominent keyboard lines more often.

All in all, it was an enjoyable set by a very enjoyable band - nothing to freak out about, but definitely not a bad way to spend an hour!


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Venue Review: Trash Bar

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Address: 256 Grand St. (between Driggs & Roebling)
Size: Small
Directions: L to Bedford, walk ten blocks south, then two blocks east

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

Acoustics - Oddly enough, for a really crappy, small, back-of-bar venue, this place has great sound. The music is quite clear - though muffled if not loud. But obviously, it's gonna be loud. The equipment isn't great, but sound people seem to be competent enough to make up for it.

Booking - It's easy to book a show there, but they're one of those places that puts together line-ups of completely unrelated bands. They can be accomodating if you have more than one band you want to play together, but they don't seem to pay much attention or communicate well, so they may end up screwing you over. In this way, they're pretty much exactly like Lit Lounge - changing line-ups and set times without notifying bands, etc.

Helpfulness - This venue does not help out bands much before the show (see above) and they aren't much better on the day of. The sound engineering is done well enough, but there's not really any other support. You're pretty much on your own.

Atmosphere - It's a biker bar. I don't know what else to say about that. The location isn't convenient, but on the upside, shows and drinks are pretty cheap.

<< NYC Venues: Index

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Live: Thurston Moore and more

When: 2/1
Where: Glasslands

OK, when I listed this show in my last "upcoming shows" post, I didn't really explain what kind of show it was. It wasn't until I was on my way over on Sunday night that I realized I should have given more warning. I used to be neighbors with Thurston Moore and his wife and bandmate Kim Gordon in the wee town in New England where the two now live. Thurston was always playing shows around the area with various people no one ever heard of. So I forgot to mention that when Thurston plays a small arthouse venue like Glasslands, and when he has a bunch of names you have never heard before on the bill, it's going to be a noise/art rock/experimental/freeform set. He's not going to be playing songs from Psychic Hearts. He's not going to be playing "songs" at all.

So sorry if anyone went to the show unprepared! My bad!

Sunburned Hand of the Gene Moore - I arrived during the set of this band (actually called, separately "Sunburned Hand of the Man" and "Gene Moore" - Thurston's brother, rumor has it). They were rather uninteresting noise rock, with nice solid walls of sound but nothing that hasn't been done before. They made random loud sounds with guitars and electronics, occasionally accompanied with an arrhythmic drum beat for a few seconds at a time.

The trouble with noise as a musical genre is the same as what I said recently about singer-songwriter music - every possible creative avenue has been explored, and originality is next to impossible. Sunburned Hand of Gene Moore was decent, with nice walls of sound, but it was nothing I hadn't heard before.

John Olson with Okkyung Lee & C.Spencer Yeh - John Olson is from Wolf Eyes, one of the very worst bands I've ever had to sit through. This set was nearly as painful - it seemed completely random, for the most part. The strings were off-putting, and Olson just messed around with a bunch of equipment with no apparent larger vision than doing shit that sounds kind of "cool." In contrast to the previous act, however, this group seemed to do their best at their quietest moments. Then there were flickers of subtle beauty that were definitely not accidental.

Tovah D-Day - I assume that's who this next act was, anyway, since they are the only other folks on the flyer. There were two of them, an older man playing autoharp and a younger woman with a bunch of electronic equipment, a tin can and a metal wastebasket with springs strung across it. Of all the acts (Thurston excepted), this was definitely my favorite. The autoharpist gave hints of actual harmonies and real notes, while his partner's the bizarre equipment made well-conceived sounds. It seemed to me that she had taken the time to identify the noise makers that would make exactly the kind of noise she envisioned. It was still an improvisational set, but it seemed more purposeful and the result was more satisfying and interesting than the goofing-around style of the preceding groups.

Thurston Moore and Mats Gustafsson - This set started with Moore attacking his guitar with pieces of metal while Gustafsson made some brutal shrieking noises on a baritone sax. Eventually Gustafsson migrated to some electronic equipment and then back again to his sax, while Thurston finally ditched his guitar and went straight to the source, attacking the amplifier by picking it up and slamming it down until the chair it had been resting on was in shambles.

Photo from
Thurston Moore

Noise-wise, it wasn't that different from what the other bands had done - but it had something they all lacked: it was punk. This is the punk-rock spirit, this is subversive, this is what's at the core of rock'n'roll - not that you necessarily have to break shit to be punk, but it's not a bad means of self-expression. Especially when it's accompanied by closely-controlled, frantic sonic experimentation that leaves your audience's ears ringing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Venue Review: The Charleston

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Address: 174 Bedford Ave. (between 7th & 8th)
Size: Small
Directions: L to Bedford
Website: [MySpace]

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

Acoustics - The acoustics in the Charleston are atrocious. It's an unfinished basement and it sounds like an unfinished basement. Which is great if you're nostalgic for your friends' bands' shows in high school (and sometimes I am) but not if you actually want to hear the music. Moreover, when I've been there, the sound engineer on duty has done little to fix the situation, often making it worse by basically not paying any attention to the bands.

Booking - The Charleston isn't too hard to book, but they are surprisingly concerned with draw for such a crappy venue. Which is fine, of course - they want to make money, but it certainly doesn't add any joy to playing there. They do seem to encourage bands to find a logical line-up and will give bands as many slots as they want for their friends to play, which avoids some of the problems I mentioned at Lit Lounge (and many other venues I have yet to write up) where you have death metal and indie pop bands playing back to back. That happens at the Charleston, but not as much as some other spots.

Helpfulness - Did I mention the sound guy doesn't pay attention? Because let's start there. The venue is really not accommodating to bands or their audiences, and does little other than allow them to show up and play. The upside is that they are somewhat flexible in their arrangements. However, they have hardly any equipment to speak of, so you'll have to bring everything along.

Atmosphere - Well, like I said, it's good for your nostalgia for the shows in your friends' parents' houses' basements that you went to when you were 15 (assuming you were into music back then), and that's actually not a bad feel. It's very legitimate, there is no gimmick, and that's how an indie rock venue should be.

That said, the visibility is awful - there's no stage so you can't see the band unless a.) you're standing in the front row or b.) either you or the band is freakishly tall. Also, if you're a band, beware - most of the times I've been in the Charleston, there's been severe amounts of water dripping from the pipes above - I don't know if there are actual leaks or if they just collect a lot of moisture, but it's a miracle we haven't all been electrocuted, standing in puddles while hooked up to amplifiers. Well, I guess in that sense, it takes you back the high school basement shows too. And we survived those. Mostly.

<< NYC Venues: Index

Live: Weird Owl, Insouciant, Gunfight! and more

When: 1/30
Where: Vanishing Point

In case you haven't noticed, I always make a point of going to shows that have anything to do with the BNS Sessions family. The main reason is that when the Werewolves aren't playing, they usually go and hang out, and I can be in the same room with them and pretend I'm their friend.

So that's how I end up at the shows of a bunch of bands I just heard, like this one, which featured Gunfight!, the Soundscapes and Quiet Loudly. Luckily for you, dear readers, it also featured two bands brand new to this author, so let's start there.

Insouciant - This band hails from New Jersey and while I may have heard the (rather poorly chosen) name before, I knew nothing about them. And in theory it was the kind of music I should have liked - experimental, with definite allusions to math rock and Sonic Youth. But so many bands have made just this type of music that it's become entirely cliche. It came off as disjointed and unfocused, a mush of 90's pre-post-rock influences, swallowed and spat out undigested. (Sorry, that was a gross metaphor, yeah?). They also had four people on stage and it took me a while to even notice this because I could only hear three parts at a time - the band definitely didn't use its resources (i.e. four people) effectively.

Photo from

The one really good thing I can say about this band is that their delivery was surprisingly aggressive. They yelled and howled, smashed their drums and cranked it up loud. Without that, the set would have been miserable - instead it was enjoyable, if unmemorable. ::MySpace

Weird Owl - Now, in contrast, here's a band I theoretically shouldn't like. Weird Owl basically plays Southern/hard rock, which is a genre whose most classic albums I might dabble in but that I would otherwise never seek out. But Weird Owl made me think twice about that attitude - they played tightly and confidently, and their songs were solid. I was surprised when I realized I was actually really enjoying their set.

Photo by Miss Molly (from
Weird Owl (photo by Miss Molly)

After a while of listening, I also realized that this wasn't exactly your typical hard rock, because the band uses a wall-of-sound technique. The friend I was watching with said it was kind of psychedelic, and I definitely agree. There's some Pink Floyd in there, in the density of the sound. Whatever the combination of styles, it definitely works. ::MySpace

Gunfight! - I reviewed these guys not too long ago. This show was the same, only better - louder, more energetic, much tighter and with even better stage antics. Those included one member standing on his amp, and amp-climbing always wins me over. Also, last time I wrote them up, I wavered on classifying them as "cow punk," because it wasn't quite punk rock. But this time around, even though the band still doesn't fit neatly under a label, there was no doubt they could out-punk most of us any day. ::MySpace

Soundscapes - They haven't changed much since last time I wrote them up. They are still amazing. The only thing that has me slightly worried is that they have a little less energy on stage than they did when I first saw them a year ago. I hope it was a one-night fatigue and not a sign that their shows are becoming too routine to them. But anyway, "less energy" is a relative description, and compared to a lot of bands, these guys are still bouncing off the walls. ::MySpace

Quiet Loudly - Quiet Loudly, whom I reviewed not long ago at all, debuted a bunch of songs at this show. I'll wait until their next album is finished (it's already in the works) to give you the details, but their newest stuff rocks hard and heavy and meanders less than their first attempts. That's good news, so stay tuned. ::MySpace

A final rant, if I may. I'm sick to death of projections behind bands. I think it's basic biological fact that visual stimuli trump auditory stimuli and the result is that all the pictures whirling around behind the band are detracting from the music, not adding to it. Whether it's art films or Windows Media Player "visualizations," it's really starting to make me miss the good old days when you'd actually watch the bands do their thing.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Wavves, Shilpa Ray, The Pains + more

Thursday, February 5

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers + the Soundscapes @ Le Poisson Rouge - West Village, Manhattan - $13
Thirteen bucks is a lot, so you may want to hold out and catch these bands at a later time for less (both have more NYC shows coming up). But I thought I'd mention it because if you've got the money, this will undoubtedly be the coolest place to be this Thursday night. You can read my last review of Shilpa here and my last review of the Soundscapes here. :: Shilpa Ray MySpace :: Soundscapes MySpace

Friday, February 6

Wavves @ The Market Hotel - Williamsburg, Brooklyn
WAVVES is the project of Nathan Williams, who is some kid from California who doesn't give a fuck that it's 2009. It could just as well be 1979 or 1989 or 2029, his music is timeless and it's what rock music should be. He plays something you could call noise-punk or noise-surf, massively distorted numbers with classic short pop songs buried somewhere beneath the fuzz. He also throws in some electronic-ish experimental songs to round things out. His last release made my top five records of 2008. :: MySpace

Saturday, February 7

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart + Depreciation Guild, Cause Co-Motion! and Zaza @ Mercury Lounge - LES, Manhattan - $10
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is a tweegaze band and they are putting out a record tomorrow. I already reviewed it for you here. Depreciation Guild is a wonderful shoegaze band (and cute boys to boot). My last live review of them is here. Cause Co-Motion are a somewhat overrated but still highly enjoyable noise-pop band who play a lot of songs clocking in under two minutes. Zaza is an electronic duo that sounds like Suicide. My last live review of them is here. :: The Pains MySpace :: Depreciation Guild MySpace :: CCM! MySpace :: Zaza MySpace