Thursday, April 30, 2009

News: Satellite Bar Opens in Williamsburg

OK, this isn't directly music news, but it's important and here's why: Satellite Bar is owned and run by Rob Sacher, who has been a mainstay in the New York indie scene for, well, a long-ass time.

He's owned several clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn included the legendary 80's goth club The Mission and the recently shuttered venue Luna Lounge. Sacher is a step ahead of the curve when it comes to local bands - he was one of the very first club owners to book the Strokes in New York, and many of the bands he's touted early in their careers have gone on to be big names around the world.

Yeah, Satellite isn't a music venue, but it does feature DJing by Sacher's own iPod. Which means you'll never have to worry about the music sucking. Never.

Also, Sacher's clientele at his previous endeavours has included everyone from Lydia Lunch to Bjork to TV on the Radio. He has a knack for creating a hip vibe wherever he sets foot, and NYC's creative edge has a knack for finding him.

See for yourself at the Grand Opening this Friday and Saturday. The awesomeness starts at 9.

143 Havemeyer Street between S 1st and S 2nd.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dust It Off: Mercury Rev - Boces

Album: Boces
Columbia, 1993

Although Mercury Rev is a widely recognized name among indie rockers, especially those with roots in the 90's, the group's first two albums - their best - have fallen by the wayside. There's a reason for that: the band lost founding member and singer David Baker to "creative differences" after the release of Boces, their sophomore effort. There seems to be bad blood, given that the band has all but disowned their first two records. The biography on the band website intentionally understates Baker's role, but there's strong evidence that he had a broad influence on the band's creative directions.

Even if it was not due to Baker's departure, there is no doubt the group took a radical turn, following up Boces with increasingly commercial, mellow, straight-forward releases, most notably 1998's highly touted Deserter's Songs. This is the Mercury Rev you are most likely to have heard; Boces has drifted in and out print with frustratingly little availability in U.S. stores.

But Boces is Mercury Rev at its finest. It's an explosion of tripped-out technicolor pop. Each tiny, quirky part falls magically into place like so many gears in a crazed inventor's masterpiece. The arrangements are at once fragmented and seamless, an effect achieved through intricate - but never dense - layers of sound.

The first song, the ten and a half minute "Meth of a Rockette's Kick," breaks too many pop song rules to count. With its length and slow start, it's a risky choice to open the album, but its bright pop melodies are masterfully spaced out with floating sections and it never once becomes boring. The whole track ends with a funky racket starring everything from trombone to saxophone to glockenspiel to piano. This outburst is pushed to its climax with the addition of bizarre sixties girl group vocals, mixed low. It's an unabashed snapshot of pop music's history at its most cheesy and its most backwards. And it is hard to swallow at first, but once the confusion wears off, it's the album's most beautiful moment.

The other tracks don't fall far short. "Bronx Cheer" is a noise-pop gem, burying an irresistible mini-melody under layers of fuzzy sound and delivering it at a deliberately breakneck speed. "Boys Peel Out" is a loungey meditation on 1950's pop culture, while "Something For Joey" and "Hi-Speed Boats" are pure pop gold. The album's central ballad, "Downs Are Feminine Balloons," playfully but sadly proclaims "if there's one thing I can't stand, it's up."

The entire album sounds like a dream, defiant of logic and explanation. But only if your dream is set in a candy shop where a hundred bright colors are a hundred different kinds of delicious. Blending the druggy sweetness of the 60's with the lo-fi noise of the 90's, Boces is a unique achievement in American underground pop, a fun listen from the first note on and an interesting record the hundredth time through.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Upcoming Shows: A Place To Bury Strangers, Marnie Stern + more

There are some OK shows this week, but none good enough for my endorsement until Friday....

Friday, May 1

A Place to Bury Strangers + Dinowalrus @ Less Artists More Condos | Greenwich Village, Manhattan | $?
This show is so badass, I don't even know what to say about it. APTBS are one of New York's finest psychedelic bands. They are loud as hell, with great melodies and a guitar sound that's basically equivilant to being run over by a train. LAMC is one of NYC's premier DIY venues run by bookers who may well be the coolest people in the entire city. It's going to fill up and then some, so get there good and early! [MySpace]

Saturday, May 2

Bellmer Dolls @ Webster Studio | East Village, Manhattan | $10
Garage goths the Bellmer Dolls are a pretty common topic on this blog. In my last live review, I remarked that this band is "worthy not only of an audience but of a lasting legacy in the American underground." I don't say things like that very often. [MySpace]

Kurt Vile @ Silent Barn | Ridgewood, Queens
It's a long trek to Silent Barn, but it might be worth the trip this time to check out Kurt Vile, who runs with the likes of Wavves, Nodzzz, Woods and the rest of the ultra-lo-fi punx who currently own the blog circuit. I haven't heard him, but he's rumoured to be on the mellow/folk end of that spectrum. But he also had the balls to release an album called Constant Hitmaker, so he can't be too wussy. [MySpace]

Sunday, May 3

Marnie Stern @ Bell House | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $13 adv / $15 drs
Marnie Stern is badassest wielder of an electric guitar that New York has seen in ages. Her album, which was the #1 album of 2008, features non-stop shredding, explosive rhythms and pop hooks that all together sound nothing like anyone else I've ever heard. For serious. [MySpace]

Monday, May 4

The Kills @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | SOLD OUT
I'm sure if you put your minds to it, you can find tickets to this sold out show next Monday. The Kills might be the only two people on earth who can make indie rock sexy, a talent they proved in 2008 with their album Midnight Boom. Their garage rock has the careful production usually reserved for electronica - I can't explain how that works, because I don't understand. I just know it does work, and it's awesome. [MySpace]

Tuesday, May 5

Lady Sovereign @ Highline Ballroom | Chelsea, Manhattan | $15 adv / $18 drs
"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Na, it's the biggest midget in the game." In other words, Lady Sovereign is one of the best garage rappers ever, period. As a white woman barely over five feet tall, she made it big in a predominantly black, male genre - so you know she's gotta kick some ass. She grew up in the same London projects as her fellow grime MCs and she's as pissed off as anyone. Don't fuck with her. Do go hear her next week at the Highline Ballroom. [MySpace]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Live: Miniboone

Sorry for the unexpected disappearance. Never fear, RFR is back! Here goes...

Where: The Annex
When: 4/20

Like many young bands, Miniboone - whom I first reviewed back in November - is still finding their identity, and since that review in November, the band has completely reinvented their sound, inverting completely the ratio of experimental punk to pop. While in November, the band was one big noise, with guttural screams outnumbering pop hooks, the band now has extensive melodies and rhythmic grooves.

Despite reinventing themselves as a pop band, however, Miniboone remains (for better or worse) at the edge. "For worse" because the compositions are rather unwieldy and epic. The structural complexity is actually well-used and the songs are relatively cohesive for their length. But it goes a little too far on too many songs for my taste, making the set too weighty to be as fun as the melodies imply.

"For better," though, because the band is interesting and doesn't sound quite like anyone else. Part of the new melodiousness comes from the increasing proportion of lead vocal duties assigned to Craig Barnes. He is more of a singer, less of a shouter, than some of his bandmates. His voice also gives the music some of its unique character, tending towards a drama not found in most post-80's pop.

Though I was disappointed by the relative calm of the band's new sound, there are still hints of the band's old punk side too. It's a bit unkempt for grooving pop and it's certainly noisy. There are also the delightfully ridiculous lyrics, belted out with surprising conviction, and the bodily frenzy of the band's delivery. Though they've softened up their approach, there's a current of unabashed creativity that will keep Miniboone noteworthy no matter in what genre they eventually land.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dust It Off: Nihilist Spasm Band - No Record

No Record
Album: No Record
Allied Record Corp., 1968

Another oldie for you this week! The Nihilist Spasm Band formed way back in 1965, the year the Beatles released Rubber Soul and two years before the first official release of the Velvet Underground. In other words, in 1965, rock was in its adolescence, at most.

In the few years that followed, rock'n'roll would grow up fast, with a small but growing number of bands attempting to fuse high art with rock populism. These bands - the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and MC5, among others - would draw on the free improvisation of progressive jazz music, most notably Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Sun Ra. They would also consider developments in modern classical music from highly experimental composers like La Monte Young and John Cage, trying to inject the avant-garde ideas of these musicians into a rock'n'roll context.

But in 1965, a group of pranksters in London, Ontario formed a band that would manage to place the experimentalism of other genres in a rock context, not only in terms of musical foundations but also in terms of spirit. Unlike their artistic peers the Velvets and Beefheart, NSB did not cling to any sense of "pop," but somehow, they seem far more down-to-earth than such contemporaries. For a highly conceptual band, NSB shows little elitist artistic pretension.

Some of the lack of pretention undoubtedly stems for the fact on a technical level, NSB are godawful. While this makes the band a difficult listen, it also makes them an eerie precursor to punk - the idea that you don't have to be glamorous or technically proficient to make rock music is clearly present in their ideology. Moreover, the fact that their first record is called "No Record" is an uncanny, if not clairvoyant, foreshadowing of art-rock's future, the late 70's "no wave" movement.

It's easy to overstate the influence of NSB. Truth be told, few musicians of the 60's and 70's ever heard the band, and the first major figure to publicly acknowledge their impact was Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, not a player in the music scene until the 1980's.

Also, No Record is not really a great listen. If it were produced today, it would be nothing short of terrible. But it's a rare piece of history, and with its context in mind, the record becomes a fascinating and outstanding achievement.

The Nihilist Spasm Band is alive and well today in their hometown in Ontario, Canada. Since their inception, they've played a local show every Monday night, and those are still going ahead as they were forty years ago. Even if they did not shape the course of popular music, the band's dedication to making a racket and having fun is unparalleled, and their avant-garde approach is one that would not be matched for decades after their formation.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Oneida, Calvin Johnson + more

TODAY, Tuesday, April 21

Gracefully, I Feel Tractor @ Zebulon || Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Gracefully (fka So L'il) plays some very tripped out dream pop that, last I saw, was more agressive and uptempo live than recorded. It's crazy music with good melodies and lotsa NOISE. As for I Feel Tractor, I actually haven't heard the guy, but I've been curious for a while just because of the cool band name. [Gracefully MySpace] | [Tractor MySpace]

TOMORROW, Wednesday, April 22

Shilpa Ray and Depreciation Guild @ Bell House | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $10
If ever there was a show worth the crazy trek to Bell House in middle-of-nowhere Brooklyn, this is it. I've written two live reviews of Shilpa, one in December and one in March. Depreciation Guild haven't got much in common with her musically, but they are just about as awesome. Heavy electro-shoegazers, these guys get mile-think walls of sound out of their guitars. Two great bands for ten bucks? C'mon. [Shilpa MySpace] | [DG MySpace]

Psychedelic Horseshit, Drink Up Buttercup @ Santos Party House | Chinatown, Manhattan | $10
These two bands aren't headlining, but they are still hot shit. Psychedelic Horseshit sounds kind of like the name would imply. It's messy and loud, but with a definite pop sensibility lurking somewhere underneath the racket. Drink Up Buttercup is a more straight-forward psychedelic pop that's far less cutting edge and rather more annoying. But some folks like em. [PH MySpace] | [DUB MySpace]

Thursaday, April 23

IfWhen @ Fontana's | Chinatown, Manhattan | $7
IfWhen represents the avant-garde of the shoegaze world, something I like to call "no-gaze." It basically sounds like all of them are playing the different songs. Normally, I'm not so into the highly experimental, but there's something amazing, original and beautiful about IfWhen's music. I think they play early. Also, bring earplugs. [MySpace]

Friday, April 24

Beluga @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $7
Lady punks return to Cameo. It will undoubtedly be a lot like last time, only better. [MySpace]

Saturday, April 25

How to choose...???

Oneida @ Monster Island Basement | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Oneida play a loud-ass fusion of punk and krautrock. They could be compared to Suicide from their tight rhythms and repetition, but they're more guitar driven like that. More like Iggy Pop covering Kraftwerk. Anyway, they've been a New York City classic for years. [MySpace]

Ponytail, Real Estate @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn |
Ponytail are loud and manic, highly experimental and an outstanding live show. They made my Best of 2008 list. Real Estate are rumoured to be the shit. [Ponytail MySpace] | [RE MySpace]

Ceremony, Screen Vinyl Image and Soren Well @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $13 adv / $15 door
Three of the best electro-shoegaze bands around, with dense guitar and synth sounds, tight beats and haunting vocals. Soren Well is the most pop-accessible/happy of the bunch, while the other two - both in from out of town - have a darker side. [Ceremony MySpace] | [SVI MySpace] | [Soren Well MySpace]

Sunday, April 26

Calvin Johnson @ Market Hotel | Bushwick, Brooklyn
The original ringleader of American indie pop, founder of Beat Happing and K Records, Calvin Johnson is a character and he's got a legacy that makes it worth checking him out.

Spectrum @ Mercury | LES, Manhattan | S10 adv / $12
The main thrill of seeing Spectrum perform live is to see whether Pete Kember (aka "Sonic Boom") will finally kick off midshow. Formerly of Spacemen 3, Kember parted ways with bandmate Jason Pierce when Pierce decided to go clean-and-sober and found Spiritualized. Kember didn't kick his bad habits and despite making some valuable musical contributions with Experimental Audio Research, he's too strung out to make much sense at all anymore. Still, he's got a certain amount of cred and history to him - just don't expect coherence. [MySpace]

Monday, April 20, 2009

Live: Sisters, Pants Yell!

When: 4/11
Where: Dead Herring

Although I mainly went to the show at Dead Herring last week to check out Knight School, I managed to miss their entire set. That was partly because my friend and I got lost on the way. We thought we knew where the venue was, and ended up walking into the apartment of an elderly woman, who just stared at us from her couch. True story.

Once we found the right place, Knight School was already packing up their gear and the mysterious Sisters was taking the stage. Sisters is a two-man band that I've heard rumblings about but hadn't had a chance to check out yet. As it happens, I liked them even more than I thought I would. One of the privileged few members of the Death By Audio record label, Sisters have a certain amount of cred from that endorsement alone - before the existence of the label, the DBA family gave rise to two of NYC's best bands of the 2000's, A Place to Bury Strangers and Dirty on Purpose. That's gotta count for something.

Sisters (photo from

The two play primal noise pop with good-enough (though not exceptional) melodies and solid, tightly-constructed songs. The lo-fi guitar noise and unpolished vocals are delightfully rough, and the stripped down drumming on a stripped down drumset keeps everything down to earth. Sisters are clearly performers, even augmenting their set with a little light show that included the old Butthole Surfers' trick of tucking a strobe light under a floor tom. The lighting effects were on a small enough scale that they didn't distract or overpower the music, just added visual amplification of whatever was going on sonically.

Sisters isn't one of those bands that's great because it is doing something new. It's one of those bands that's great because it's boiled down something great to its essence - Sisters is the epitome of minimalist noise pop. If that's your kind of thing, Sisters are bound to satisfy. [MySpace]

Unfortunately, it will be hard for me to review The Pants Yell! objectively, because throughout their set, my attention was constantly being drawn away from the band by some very ill-mannered audience members - you know, the type who are there for the scene but couldn't give a fuck about the music, so they shout over it the whole time. Plus a few people of the type who didn't get enough attention from mom and dad so they have to try to take attention away from the performing band by cutting up. These individuals were only a small minority of the audience, but unfortunately, I managed to place myself right in their central headquarters. In any case, I digress.

I always find myself a little disappointed by Pants Yell! Their sound is a little too spare-yet-not-gritty for my particular tastes. For a band so highly touted in the pop world, I also find their melodies surprisingly unmemorable. But they aren't a bad listen. Drummer Casey Keenan, who appears to be the only member of the band with any training or proper technique, anchors the band well so the other two can carry out their understated pop mission without a stumble.

To my ears, the music's quiet undercurrent of sadness only dampens its songwriting, but there's inevitably something rewarding about hearing a band this earnest lay it all out there. If you don't need the grungy roar of distorted guitars or the syrupy elation of uptempo melodies, this band may be for you. If you do need those things, though, Pants Yell! can be a bore, and it isn't quite my cup of tea. [MySpace]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sorry If You've Been Seeing Weird Formatting

I've been playing with the html code, and not always successfully. My apologies for everything getting messed up every two minutes.

Live: Team Genius, Action Painters and Naked Hearts

When: 4/9
Where: Cake Shop

The Naked Hearts kicked off this pretty cool poppy indie rock line-up at Cake Shop a week ago. I wasn't wild about the Naked Hearts' recent EP, but I have to say, their live show is an improvement. Shallow as this sounds, part of the improvement may have to do with the band's off-kilter good looks, but it was also partly because they gave their songs some much-needed life.

Naked Hearts (photo from
Naked Hearts

Among the songs that improved live were "Only For You," which incorporated a far heavier, hipper beat than the recorded version. "Cat & Mouse" and "Call Me" also shone. And through out, the two-piece managed to get a good sound out of their instruments, even with an glaring lack of technique.

But despite the improvements, Naked Hearts remain nothing but average - not a bad listen but not very interesting . The guitar parts consist of arpeggiated barre chords interspersed with regular old barre chords, and the drum beats are solid but standard. The sparse melodies leave something to be desired and overall, creativity is severely wanting. [MySpace]

Action Painters are a band that knows how to generate enthusiasm. They act like rock stars, and it's surprisingly convincing. Frontman Tom Haslow seems to take cues from 90's Britrock, successfully posing like a still-young version of Oasis's Liam Gallagher or the Verve's Richard Ashcroft. And like those bands, they seem to try to get by on cool points and [possibly illusory] good looks as much on as musical merit.

But in terms of musical merit, though they just play your standard poppy indie rock, they do it pretty well. Many of their songs are unremarkable, but a few are genuinely catchy little gems.

Action Painters (photo from
Action Painters

Anyway, there's nothing wrong with having more interest in stardom than musical innovation, as long as it makes for a good rock concert. Action Painters have clearly studied their stage presence and the leading would-be eye-candy, Haslow and keyboardist Allison Zatarain, are all smiles, always engaged and definitely movin' and shakin' when not busy playing and singing. Though they may sound banal to snobs (myself included), they - without blatant gimmick - put on a hell of a show. [MySpace]

The highlight of the evening was, of course, Team Genius, who won me over last year despite encompassing almost every element I hate in pop music (saxophone, hand-clapping and too many members - for a start). But I think I like Team Genius so much because of their apparent conviction that what they are doing is great, despite the fact that they are all clearly just grown-up high school band geeks. And unlike other bands consisting of overgrown band geeks (Beirut is the obvious example), they don't seem smug. Of course, there's a real danger that as their popularity and self-awareness grows, that will change. But for now, they just don't seem to realize how completely dorky their band is, and that's what makes them way cool.

It's been a while since they released their first album, and in the interim, they've reworked some of their material, keeping it fresh for fans. The changes were almost all positive - adding more subtly brilliant pieces to the arrangements and spicing things up. (The one exception was the deflated end of the band's best tune, "Take Me Home.") They also debuted some new material slated for their sophomore album. And that was pretty much what you'd expect - well-constructed pop numbers with clever orchestration. In other words, more of the same, but even more fine-tuned and delicious.

The only downside to the new songs was that the melodies weren't as strong in delivery - hopefully lead singer Drew Hermiller was just having an off night and not trying to fabricate vocal idiosyncrasies. But all in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, the band having so much fun that their enthusiasm could be nothing but infectious. They're a perfect cheer-up band so if life's got you down, go check them out this Saturday at Public Assembly! [MySpace]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dust It Off: Karen Dalton - In My Own Time

In My Own Time
Album: In My Own Time
Paramount, 1971

This is gonna be a long one, but trust me, she deserves it...

So it's tax time, and when I was trying to fill out my 1040, I had to scrounge up last year's tax documents, which I keep in my "papers I don't want to throw away" drawer. When I finally managed to locate the tax documents in the pile, sandwiched between them I found a small slip of paper that bore unfamiliar handwriting reading: "Karen Dalton 'In My Own Time' 1970?"

It took me a while to figure out where this paper had come from, but at last I recalled that over a year ago, I was chilling in Cake Shop with a friend when some music came on that caught our attention. I'd never heard anything like it. Somewhere in the no-man's land between soul, blues and lo-fi folk, the song was dominated by a voice so unique and emotive it literally took my breath away. And once I resumed breathing, I found the young man who seemed to be manning the iPod, he jotted down a name and I tucked the paper away for later.

The fact that I was so struck by Dalton's music knowing nothing about the singer's identity or the music's age (I assumed it was contemporary) proves that Dalton's merits are not dependent on her tragic backstory. But it's still a story worth telling.

A Cherokee Indian, Dalton was born in Enid, Oklahoma, at the tail end of the Great Depression. However, as a young woman, she found her way to New York City in time for the Greenwich Village-centered folk revival of the early 60's. Dalton was already an established figure within the tiny movement by the time Bob Dylan arrived in the city, and she became Dylan's immediate favorite among the first Village folkies.

Karen Dalton
Karen Dalton

But despite this, she would remain an obscure figure in music history for the rest of her life. A notoriously slow recorder, she didn't put out a record until 1969, and didn't put out In My Own Time, her masterpiece, until 1971, even though she'd been a leader in the folk revival from its earliest days. She had already begun to struggle with serious drug and alcohol abuse and after the album's release, she sank into its mire once and for all. In My Own Time would be her final recording.

The last two decades of Dalton's life are relatively undocumented. After years of struggling with addiction, illness and financial ruin, Dalton died of AIDS in 1993. At the time of her death, she was homeless. (However, contrary to many reports, she spent her final weeks not on the streets but in the care of longtime friend and fellow musician Peter Walker.)

In hindsight, it's easy to find Dalton's personal tragedy foreshadowed in her music, but it's also important to remember that even if her life had taken a different course, In Your Own Time would remain one of the most powerful recordings of its time.

Dalton has been primarily classified as folk because it's in the folk community that she found acceptance. However, her music has as betrays a much greater influence of motown, soul and country blues than any of her folk comptemporaries'. She also developed a close relationship with the Holy Modal Rounders, linking her to the New York art-rock scene that would give rise to the Velvet Underground.

In addition to being an exceptional singer, Dalton was also a talented twelve-string guitar and long-neck banjo player, and throughout the album, her skills are backed by a wide variety of instrumentation. Some songs are richly orchestrated, others feature only Dalton's banjo or guitar as backing, which allows some tracks to sound like early soul, others like old-timey blues and yet others like the folk bands with whom she is most commonly associated.

Unlike most folk revivalists, Dalton didn't write her own material, but her versions were anything but derivative. The most obvious example, "When A Man Loves A Woman," is a completely different song when Dalton sings it - completely different from Percy Sledge's original R&B version, that is. (To compare it to the cringe-inducing Michael Bolton version is like comparing apples and oranges. Actually, more like comparing apples and the War of 1812.)

The most important piece of Dalton's unique music is her voice, which bears an often-noted resemblance to Billie Holiday's - rich and deep, yet weary and almost distant. At times, the music is profoundly relaxing; at others, it is tortured and haunting. The sweet sigh of "Something On Your Mind" is music to come home to, while "Same Old Man" would make a better soundtrack for suicide.

The album features only two true folk songs. The first is "Katie Cruel," an enigmatic Scottish ballad: "When I first came to town / They called me the roving jewel / Now they've changed their tune / They call me Katie Cruel." The song never explains what changed, but it's thick with regret and betrayal. Even more chilling is "Same Old Man," an adaptation of a little-known folk song, which included what could fittingly have been Dalton's last words:

"My mind is failing and my body grows weak
My lips won't form the words I speak
I'm floating away on a parallel plane
New York City won't see me again"

The injustice of Dalton's obscurity and her tragic death overshadow her intensely affecting and beautiful music. Isolation rings through in every note. It's too late to undo the cruelty with which life treated her, but it's not too late to pay tribute to one of music's greatest overlooked greats. May she never be forgotten and may her soul rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Release: Project Jenny, Project Jan - The Colors [EP]

The Colors
The Colors [EP]
Might Records, 2009
Rating: ****** (6/10)

Project Jenny, Project Jan is a name I've been hearing more and more over the last few months, and hearing they were putting out an EP (basically a tide-me-over until their proper LP release), I decided to finally see what all the fuss is about.

At the heart of it, the two-man PJPJ is not my kind of music. Like so many other electro-indie-dance-rock hybrid, uber-hipster bands (yes, that's an official term for them), PJPJ are fun in a rather lighthearted way and while I like my music to be fun, I also like it to be more emotive than your typical party tunes. So on my personal scale of I'm-kind-of-embarrassed-to-admit-I-actually-like-this (e.g. MGMT, Passion Pit) to I'm-annoyed-that-people-who-make-such-annoying-music-are-allowed-to-live (e.g. Cut Copy, Crystal Castles), PJPJ falls somewhere pretty near the middle.

What's good about them is their wide variety of styles, which will probably earn them some Cut Copy comparisons down the line (and has already given rise to plenty of Beck references). The first and last tracks are not quite club material, but are definitely coming from an electro dance-pop point of view. However, the almost tribal "You Said" betrays a heavy "world" influence, while the vocals on "Caller ID" are simply old-school rap.

The world and hip-hop sounds and the masterfully restrained vocals give the band some emotional depth that their peers lack. And in addition to seamlessly cutting diagonal across every established genre they can get near, PJPJ has excellent arrangements with a close attention to detail. Their heavy use of guests adds intriguing vocal and sonic textures to the tracks. It's definitely music that draws you in.

Unfortunately, the EP is weak in melodies, mostly using trite, obvious lines or too-cool-to-sing monotones. The instruments don't provide a lot of hooks either, so there's just not much to hold on to. However, the widely varied tracks fit together coherently - The Colors is no classic, but it's definitely got enough things right to introduce the band's style and tide over its hungry fans until their LP release later this year.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Venue Review: Bowery Ballroom

<< NYC Venues: Index

Location: LES, Manhattan
Address: 6 Delancey St. (at Bowery)
Size: Medium-Large (cap. 550)
Directions: J/M/Z to Bowery, walk half a block east; or F/V to 2 Ave, walk three blocks south and half a block west

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

Acoustics - The acoustics aren't particularly amazing in this space, but they are definitely adequate. I've never had any problem hearing the bands distinctly. I have heard some problems with the mixing there, but that's the exception, not the rule. At least for some shows, they have more than one person working sound, which ups your chances of hearing each other well and sounding great on stage.

Booking - I've never booked a show at Bowery Ballroom, it's slightly out of my range. But the booking is the same for all Bowery Presents venues, so (again) 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. Bowery Presents likes to sell out, so if you can't draw at least a few hundred, I wouldn't bother asking about Bowery Ballroom. If you can, though, it's easily one of the best venues of its size in the NYC area.

Helpfulness - I have no first-hand experience with this, but I've never heard any complaints.

Atmosphere - Bowery Ballroom is in slightly shabby shape, which really just makes it more cool and indie. It's got a mostly wood interior, which definitely helps with the acoustics. Visibility is great and the people who work there are generally pretty cool. I've never seen an unnecessarily rough bouncer or anything like that, which speaks pretty well to the vibe in general. Everything is place so you can hear music and have a good time.

<< NYC Venues: Index

Upcoming Shows: MDC, Mecca Normal + more

This is the most old school week ever, especially for punk rockers. (And if that's your thing, also check out Dead Milkmen and Meatmen tour schedules this week.)

TOMORROW, Tuesday, April 14

Wye Oak @ Bell House | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $12
Wye Oak are a really amazing noise-folk band from Baltimore who alternately make nice sweet songs and a really lot of noise. And sometimes they do both at the same time. Consisting of two amazingly gifted musicians, Wye Oak was rightfully the buzz of last year's CMJ Music Marathon. Check out my last live review of them for more information. [Website] [MySpace]

Wednesday, April 15

Nada Surf @ Bell House | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $15
Bell House has it going on this week! Nada Surf have been around forever. I know this, because many years ago, my very first band did a cover of their classic song "Popular." (However, we hesitated to perform it live since our vocalist would kind of go nuts and start screaming names of specific people we went to school with. But I digress.) With their slightly punky indie rock, Nada Surf have only improved since their initial hit (yup, "Popular"), with their quality steadily on the rise for at least 15 years now. [Website] [MySpace]

Thursday, April 16

Throbbing Gristle @ Brooklyn Masonic Temple | Fort Greene, Brooklyn | $35 (Sold Out??)
I would be remiss not to tell you that classic industrial band Throbbing Gristle is doing their first East Coast show in ages this Thursday at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. An offshoot of Krautrock and its unhuman electronic beats, industrial music was largely defined by Throbbing Gristle in the mid-70's. Without them, you'd have no Big Black, no Nine Inch Nails, probably even no Depeche Mode. And they have a reputation as an amazing live act, far exceeding their recorded material. Still, thirty-five bucks ain't cheap. [Website] [MySpace]

?? Rumanian Buck @ Southpaw | Park Slope, Brooklyn | $8 ??
I can't figure out whether or not this show has been cancelled. I think it has, but it's worth looking into further, because Rumanian Buck features members of Big Sleep and the late Beat the Devil, two of NYC's best edgy, hard-rockin' bands.

Friday, April 17

Of Montreal, Janelle Monae, The Ladybug Transistor @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | SOLD OUT
Wow, this is a monster of a line-up. Honestly, I stopped liking Of Montreal when they stopped being a creepy little twee band, but they do know how to incorporate a trumpet into a pop song, so they're clearly doing something right. The worst thing about them nowadays is that their stage performance is super gimmicky and lame - but they've kind of made up for that this time around by inviting two killer openers. Janelle Monae is a richly-talented singer who I've been rooting for way back before any of y'all knew her name. Her southern roots mixed with funk mixed with indie rock sensibility make her sound pretty hard to describe but pretty awesome to listen to. And the Ladybug Transistor, well, they're NYC's quintessential indie pop band and nothing short of irresistible. Together, the three acts have a lot of variety but a lot of great pop moments that make surfing craigslist for a ticket worth your while. [OM Website] [OM MySpace] || [Monae Website] [Monae MySpace] || [Ladybug Website] [Ladybug MySpace]

Saturday, April 18

MDC (unplugged) @ ABC No Rio | LES, Manhattan | $7 | 3 PM
MDC @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $10 | 8 PM

MDC are one of the great classics of American punk, a West Coast hardcore outfit who were contemporaries and equals of fellow San Franciscans the Dead Kennedys. You have two chances to see them Saturday, both in intimate environments. True to hardcore tradition, both shows are ALL AGES. [MySpace]

Asa Ransom @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $?
It's been a long time since I last checked in with my pals Asa Ransom, whose keyboard-driven, aggressive, experimental punk is comparable to Pere Ubu in no small way. Their live show is outstanding and their music is cutting edge. [Website] [MySpace]

Monday, April 20

Mecca Normal (K Records) @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $8
Mecca Normal is a classic K Records band, and while K Records is most famous for its wussy twee pop, Mecca Normal are far more badass than their label would imply. Though formed in 1981, the band didn't hit their stride until the late 80's and early 90's, when they combined the sounds of their scene - indie pop and early riot grrrl - with the more experimental sounds of noise rock, post punk and no wave. Check it. [MySpace]

The Bronx @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $15
The Bronx are the leading hardcore band of the moment, so if the K Records crowd is too pansy for you, stop by here instead. [Website] [MySpace]

Friday, April 10, 2009

Album: Woods - Songs of Shame

Songs of Shame
Album: Songs of Shame
Woodsist, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

This is my second post about Woods in a week, but for good reason. Their newest album, Songs of Shame will be released by their own label, Woodsist, next week.

Woods are a psychedelic folk-pop band that sounds like the ghosts of the Byrds - similar earthy pop delivered in a high register, but overshadowed by a haunted, otherworldly sorrow. Their lo-fi aesthetic doesn't use blanket static - there's not much distortion at all, except on an occasional lead guitar. Instead, they are lo-fi in a way that sounds distant (like the songs of a distant future's distant past) and secretive (there's a hint of something behind the music that you know you'll never understand).

Songs of Shame certainly shows the band's evolution since their last LP, 2007's At Rear House. Most importantly, they've branched out melodically. On Rear House, numerous songs follow the same melodic contour laid out in its first track, while on Songs of Shame, the songs are far less formulaic. This also means many of the melodies are more subtle and less immediately memorable than the songs on Rear House, but if they draw you in more slowly, they also draw you in more deeply.

The album opens with "To Clean," one of my favorite Woods tracks ever, followed by the excellent "The Hold," which contrasts a typically beautiful Woods melody over a very odd rhythm on tuned drums. Track three, "The Number," is also a Woods classic to-be, and again, features a masterfully composed tune. Later on the record, "Military Madness" (a Crosby, Stills and Nash cover) and "Rain On" are the most captivating songs. The cover is brilliant, mostly because Woods's unique sound guarantees they will reinvent any song they play, even from another band who mixed psychedelic, pop and folk influences.

There are even more indulgent experimental forays here than on Rear House, most notably the nearly ten minute long instrumental centerpiece. The song is much too long and repetitive for someone of my attention span, but it definitely has its moments of beauty. Still, it doesn't do anything unexpected, just trances out, swells up and then dies down. It's not bad, but it's not much of a contribution to the indie canon.

If this is your first time listening to Woods, I'd recommend checking out In Rear House first (also available from Woodsist). It's more accessible and a better introduction to the band. But you might as well get both at once, since once you check out Rear House, you're going to want more. And this, the artistically stronger album, is bound to captivate anyone familiar with the mysterious charm of Woods.

Woods on MySpace

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Live: Crocodiles + more (Guest Review!)

My friend "Jasper" has been eager to contribute something to the review for a while now. So here it is at last, his Radio Flyer debut:

When: 4/4
Where: Pianos

Piano's show this past Saturday, headlined by San Diego's Crocodiles, was one of the most highly-buzzed in NYC and I was excited to see (and review) it. A note about the line up: though Monokino was listed as the first band on the schedule, the band I saw sounded and looked nothing like them (according to Myspace). I could not figure out who it was, but suffice it to say they played solid but unremarkable Indie Rock with its fair share of minimalism and distortion: well paced songs that held my attention throughout the set but failed to stay with me much afterward.


Admittedly, metal is not my thing, but I'll do my best: Tweak Bird consists of a guitarist and drummer, both of whom sing, and together manage to create quite an impressive amount of sound. Other than that, they seem to be a pretty typical metal band with many genre characteristics familiar even to non-metalheads: a heavier sound and slower tempo than punk, more virtuoso guitar work, drawn out songs with long instrumental sections and lyrics depicting a fantasy world. To their credit, they held my attention for a while and even got my feet a-tappin', although their leaden sound eventually began to drag. Still, the fact that they appealed to me at all is a good sign and it's probably not a bad idea for anyone seriously into metal to give them a listen. [MySpace]


San Francisco (NTP's home turf) is a beautiful city and among all that fog and ocean breeze and multicolored Victorian architecture, one can lose touch with reality. Such must be the case with this band. Men in gowns, vocals that varied between a squeal and a roar, and a saxophonist in a monkey mask are some examples of this band's total weirdness. And I'm all for total weirdness - when it says something, that is. It's not that New Thrill Parade has nothing to offer; they all play quite competently, and there were even moments when I found myself getting into the bizarre groove of their quasi-orchestral goth rock. But as the set wore on, the music proved to be just as excessive and tiresome as their style. I wish I could tell you more about their sound, but quite frankly, it was pretty unmemorable. Never have I seen or heard something that was so totally over the top without being the least bit edgy. If there was a point to this overwrought and drawn-out freak show I missed it, and came out too bored with the whole thing to look any further. [MySpace]


I had a lot of reasons to look forward to the set of the latest buzz-band, Crocodiles: they've been compared to Jesus and Mary Chain, they are a favorite of one of my favorites, No Age, and I found their myspace samples totally addictive.
So did Crocodiles live up to my inflated expectations? For the most part, yes. The comparisons you may have heard are apt: Crocodiles sound like JAMC with the beat turned up and the noise turned down just enough to make you want to move your feet, clap you hands and maybe even sing along. Still, the show could certainly damage some eardrums - the noise is more emphatic live than on their myspace tracks, with louder feedback playing over those catchy melodies and with long, loud interludes and outros totally absent in the recordings.

On stage, Crocodiles presented themselves with an unusual balance of endearing charm and cool aloofness, an apt compliment to caustic yet irresistible sound. Lead singer Brandon Welchez hopped around with an almost awkward but infectious enthusiasm, but he never removed the Ray-Ban knock-offs that distance him just enough to keep you from forgetting that he's probably cooler than you. Guitarist Charles Rowell sported an identical pair, bopping to the beat in a slightly more understated but still energetic manner.

Crocodiles played a short set - about half an hour - the only parts of which I did not recognize were those noisy interludes. Even as these became amelodic, however, they never lost the beat or veered off into the formlessness of noiseniks like Sonic Youth. Rather, Crocodiles manage to stay just this side of the noisy/melodic threshold, appealing to an edgy, experimental sensibility while remaining listener-friendly to more conventional tastes.

One drawback of the performance: although the music includes a great deal of percussion and electronic effects, the only instruments on stage were the guitars wielded by the band members (mostly solely by Rowell). While it makes sense that electronic effects would not be produced live, I would have like to see them bring on an in-the-flesh drummer much like such highly respected acts as Wavves and Crystal Castles do in live shows. It would have made the show more exciting and visually balanced.

It's still too early to tell if Crocodiles will achieve something truly groundbreaking or momentous. What is apparent is that they live up to the impressive hype they've garnered and I look forward to seeing/hearing more of them in the near future. [MySpace]

Upcoming Shows: Real Estate, Bob Mould + more

TONIGHT, Thursday, April 9

Bob Mould @ Joe's Pub | E Village, Manhattan | $20
Bob Mould, the main songwriter behind Husker Du and an accomplished solo musician, will be playing Joe's Pub tonight. It would be difficult to overstate the influence Mould and Husker Du had on the development of American independent rock music. With his deeply personal lyrics and poppy yet thoughtful melodies, he's a songwriter of rare talent and inspiration to countless others.


Action Painters, Team Genius, Naked Hearts @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $8
This is an outstanding line-up! Action Painters play your typical indie rock, but far better than most of their peers - they are one of New York's best. Team Genius has long been a favorite of mine on this blog - a multi-instrumental pop group that can warm even an icy heart like mine. And while I wasn't wild about the Naked Hearts' last release, they are a great live band, a gritty boy-girl duo (plus drummer) with noisy, catchy rock songs you won't forget.

Action Painters MySpace | Team Genius MySpace | Naked Hearts MySpace

TOMORROW, Friday, April 10

Beluga @ Pianos | LES, Manhattan | $10
I just wrote up Beluga! If you're too lazy to read that, they are a mostly-female garage-punk band with songs that are at once melodic and aggressive and a front-woman who screams her head off and writhes on the floor. Can you think of anything better? Seriously, can you?


Saturday, April 4

Pants Yell!, Knight School @ Dead Herring | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $?
Pants Yell! are a super-fine pop band from Boston who seem to have been laying a bit low lately, but are now back to be awesome again. I don't know Knight School but I've had them recommended by a very reliable source - I can't tell you who without giving away my identity (at least to him), but trust me, he's someone with good taste. A band called Sisters are playing too and I can't remember what I know about them, but I think it's something good. Plus, though I've not yet had occasion to go to Dead Herring, it's rumored to be one of the best DIY venues in town.

Pants MySpace | Knight School MySpace

Real Estate @ Pianos | LES, Manhattan | $10
Real Estate is the very latest buzz-band from the Woodsist clan (Wavves, Vivian Girls, Woods, etc). They are hot shit, but not so hot that you can't see them at a place like Pianos - and they aren't even headlining. Get 'em while they're fresh! Errr...something.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dust It Off: The Adolescents - The Adolescents

he Adolescents
Album: The Adolescents
Frontier Records, 1981

Although the Adolescents are considered a classic band of the early 80's West Coast punk scene, outside of punk cirles, they've never acheived the same level of recognition as their peers Black Flag, Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys - to name a few. That's despite the fact that this, their first and best album, was recorded and released before Black Flag's masterpiece Damaged and Minor Threat's first EP. It also easily predates the first proper releases by their venerated Orange County peers Social Distortion, DC's seminal Bad Brians and L.A.'s Descendents. The list could go on, but my point is simply that though the Adolescents were influenced by all these bands, they mastered and honed the style, recorded it and sent it out into the world while many of the groups who touched off the hardcore movement were still just beginning to get their shit together.

On the surface, The Adolescents sounds exactly like you'd expect from early hardcore - simple, fast and loud. But a closer attention to detail reveals that even as the hardcore was only beginning to define its identity, the Adolescents were already pushing its boundaries. Their arrangements are far more complex than the three-chord constructions of their contemporaries, and their songs are augmented with slower sections and even guitar solos, both big no-no's in the original hardcore rulebook.

But despite that, The Adolescents don't sound like a proto-punk band still filtering out the excesses of arena rock - the complexity never seems self-indulgent and never takes the focus off the music's loud-fast core. The Adolescents sound like a band that has fully grasped the essence of hardcore punk and its implications and moved on to expand its horizons, all by 1981.

Nor do they sound like a punk band that has overthought its sound and lost its spirit. The truly "adolescent" yell of Tony Cadena (who was just 18 at the album's release) is geniune.

The album gets off on the right foot with the opener "I Hate Children" (final line: "Kill all children dead!"). Anthems like "No Way" and the more lyrically thoughtful "Ameoba" are classics. The common themes like rejection by peers ("No Friends," "Creatures") and political repression ("Democracy") make plenty of appearances, but they stand alongside more personal lyrics. The anguished chorus of "Who Is Who" proclaims "the walls are closing in on me / I don't know what to do," while the fictional drug addict in "Self Destruct" admits "Crying, I'm sorry, I'm out of my head."

The album's true peak is its centerpiece "Kids of the Black Hole," a whopping five-minute track that despite its length, doesn't back off the high-speed attack of the rest of the album. Lyrically, the song is a potent tale of the depravity of youth culture, taking to task both their peers and society as a whole for leaving an entire generation directionless, drug-dependent and without a future. Musically, a two-note lead sounds like Joy Division on speed, while a careful arrangement keeps the song interesting throughout its entire span - a good five times the length of most hardcore songs.

Years ahead of its time, Adolescents is an essential album of early 80's American punk. It's also a rare musical acheivement for its genre, one that could appeal to a broad audience far beyond hardcore's usual boundaries.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Live: Tyvek, Woods, Nymphets

When: 4/1
Where: Death By Audio

When I walked into Death By Audio last Wednesday, the Nymphets were already on stage - just a girl on drums and a guy on guitar, both yelling their heads off. Their songs were short and their lyrics simple and to the point (for example, the repeated line "I don't wanna live on Earth anymore"). They aren't the first band of their kind, but they seem to have a genuine grasp on punk minimalism, and how that means everyone can have a lot of fun and make noise. Thumbs up. [MySpace]

Apparently, there was another band after them called Changing Holes, and I must have been there when they played, but I have no memory of it whatsoever. Which doesn't speak well to them.

Third in line was Woods, my latest obsession. They play simple, lo-fi pop, but not in the distortion-and-feedback sense of lo-fi. Their clean guitars and vocals aren't buried under anything heavy, but rather (as I said before) it's as if they are under water - the songs are distorted not in a fuzzbox way, but in the way water distorts the appearance of things beneath it. There is an element of mysterious, otherworldly beauty in the sound.

Though often described as “folk,” Woods are best classified as pop, with uptempo songs and sticky-sweet melodies. They sound a lot like the Byrds, or even the Hollies, but turned inside out and cooked into some Jell-O.

As performers, the band was pretty average, kicking out some hot guitar solos and some satisfying noise but not really doing anything out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, the most interesting part of the performance took place out of sight of most of the audience, myself included. The band's fourth member was crouching on the floor with what appeared to be a vocoder (or talk box or something of that nature) and a bunch of electronics.

Whatever he was doing, it helps explain the eerie, unidentifiable quality of the recorded music. (In case you don't know, vocoders and talk boxes use the voice and the movement of the mouth respectively to shape sounds, emitting ‘half human, half machine’ sort of tones.) Whatever this device was, he had it strapped over his mouth, a disturbing gesture. In the audience, all you know is there's somebody kneeling on the stage with something reminiscent of a gas mask or an old medical device obscuring half his face. Gimmicky? Maybe, but it's also effectively intriguing, not to mention creepy as hell.

While having melodies that will be stuck in your head for weeks, prettied up even further with subtle vocal harmonies, Woods sound weird in a way I can't quite identify. It's not just the quirky falsetto of the vocals (a trick used by plenty more conventional bands like Dirty On Purpose), there's just something different about this band. Something too subtle to be revolutionary, but distinctive enough to make this one of the most outstanding and original bands of our time. [MySpace]

Closing out the night came the much-hyped Tyvek, a Michigan-based punk outfit that kicks quite a lot of ass. The band stays true to the fundamental American punk tenant of playing loud and playing fast. There's some quirk in their music, but it's not that the music has been overthought, it's just that these kids have as much rage as the Sex Pistols, but they aren't leather-sporting punks from the London slums, they're awkward Midwesterners.

When I say rage, though, I don't mean it's sheer hardcore-thrashy-screaming anger - Tyvek is FUN. The new(ish) bassist Shelley Salant is a particularly interesting presence on stage - she looks detached, which just makes it all the more striking when she shreds her lungs yelling back-up vocals. Drummer Matt Ziolkowski plays standing up like Mo Tucker, only when he does it, he pogos like a maniac. And frontman Kevin Boyer, despite his bookish looks, rips the show to shreds and lights it on fire with his aggressive performance.

The music is solid. Like the first act of the night, it's nothing completely new, but Tyvek definitely knows the wild recipe of anger and fun that makes good punk good (similar to the combination of anger and fun of yelling "fuck you" at your high school principal the day after graduation). Their music is certainly not minimalist - it even includes keyboards, but it's still raw and has a very sharp edge. [MySpace]

Monday, April 6, 2009

Live: Wavves, DD/MM/YYYY

When: 3/30
Where: Mercury Lounge

After numerous failed attempts to see Wavves live, I finally caught them last week at Mercury Lounge. Wavves, the ultra-lo-fi punk/surf/pop of San Diego's Nathan Williams, has been one of the most exciting musicians to appear in the last few years.

The band (Williams and a touring drummer) slammed out a short set of many of the best tunes off both his recent albums, along with one or two I didn't recognize. As I was hoping they would, Wavves struck the perfect balance of cool and enthusiasm, devoid of the lazy, entitled attitude of some of their colleagues (cough cough crystal stilts cough cough). They had energy, but still had a confident ease that's particularly striking given their obvious youth.

Technically, Williams is terrible - he's been touring for two months and still, his simple guitar parts aren't quite down pat. He's got a nice voice but had trouble more than once hitting the right notes. And all of this just makes him even more awesome. Because this is lo-fi, this is punk rock, and that's what makes Wavves so great - they are exactly what punk is about - kids flipping a finger at convention and pretension and just rocking the fuck out!

Of course, that's not to say Wavves is without talent - quite the opposite! They are not technically proficient instrumentalists, but Williams's songs are outstanding pieces, little fragments of pop that never overstay their welcome. And while his use of noise is definitely not new, he somehow manages to deconstruct even further the sounds of his noise-pop antecedents (Jesus & Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Guided By Voices) and his loud-as-hell minimalism is the most youthful, badass, refreshing music I've heard in ages.

Between two songs, Williams's phone started ringing. The audience, heckling him about his youth, asked if it was his mother. It was. For anyone nostalgic for the good old days of the early 80's, when second generation American punk was still pure, when it symbolized an alternative world for misfits just coming of age, Wavves may well be the greatest thing since the Wipers and Minor Threat. [MySpace]

Next up, the confusingly titled DD/MM/YYYY, a math-rock ensemble from Canada. Their jarring experimental sounds were heavy and fast, but despite that, I couldn't get interested, just annoyed. That's because a whole generation of bands, among them some of my favorite groups ever, played exactly this style of music - only way better - back in the early 90's. Any of these bands could kick DD/MM/YYYY's ass - June of 44, A Minor Forest, Chavez, Polvo, Rodan, Bastro and of course Slint, to name a few. But most of these 90's bands never got due credit and have been almost entirely forgotten in the years since their demise.

So, while DD/MM/YYYY may not be bad, they seem like a big step backwards to anyone versed in the history of this style of music. Yes, they play tightly through ever-changing time signatures, they make nice noises and slam out some sweet dissonance. But it's only a weak imitation of what came before. If you need to see this kind of music live, I guess it's the best you'll do. But on record, this is kid's stuff - hit up the old catalogues at Touch & Go and Quarterstick for the real deal. Trust me. [MySpace]

Friday, April 3, 2009

Live: Primal Scream

When: 3/29
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

Thankfully, I didn't get around to buying tickets for Primal Scream's Webster Hall show on March 28 for a while, and in the meantime, they announced a second date - at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, a much more hip and intimate setting. I booked that ticket right away.

Primal Scream, like many bands driven by midlife crises, is looking a bit haggard these days. Their heavy drug use can't have helped either, and anyway, the band formed almost 30 years ago, in 1982. But despite their years, Primal Scream rocks hard. Integrating acid-house dance beats into poppy rock music, Primal Scream established themselves the ultimate British dance-pop group of the early 90's. However, despite their club-derived beats, Primal Scream's live show proves that they are definitely a rock band. From Andrew Innes's blistering guitar solos to Darin Mooney's massive drum sound, this is rock'n'roll.

Singer Bobby Gillespie carried the show with an energetic performance - he clearly aims to please his crowd. Innes did his part too, wielding his guitar like an AK-47 and just generally rocking it out old-school. Meanwhile, the rhythm guitarist (who was this? anyone know?) and bass player 'Mani' were also playing to the audience, while Mooney and keyboardist Martin Duffy lay low, focusing on their instruments.

The band stumbled a few times, but in a way, that was a positive thing - it's nice to know even rock legends make mistakes. The set was a good length and featured some lesser known songs alongside classics like "Movin' On Up." The audience took on vocal duties for part of "Rocks" and engaged the band in some friendly banter between songs.

Most importantly, the band was having unbelievable amounts of fun. They clearly love being on stage, love playing their music and above all love the admiration of their audience (who, in turn, clamored for a physical brush with greatness every time a member approached the edge of the stage). These guys were born to be rock stars, but they don't seem to take this for granted - pouring themselves into every song, pulling any crowd-pleasing stunt that pops into their mind and keeping the spirit alive for almost three decades. Though not my favorite band to listen to at home, Primal Scream and their powerful showmanship made an impact - next time they come through town, look for me in the front row.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Live: Efterklang and Shilpa Ray and more

When: 3/28
Where: Mercury Lounge

Oh Land, the opening act, featured three female vocalists singing over mediocre electronic beats. The whole thing, right down to front woman's Nanna Oland Fabricius's avant-garde fashion, seemed like an overwrought Bjork reference. It wasn't a bad listen - they are all good singers - but it was way over the top. [MySpace]

As you might guess, I really went to the show to check in with Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers after their triumphant week at SXSW. Though down one Happy Hooker (Soft Blank's Vincent Cacchione was not present), the band rocked harder and tighter than I've heard them before. Some of the antics were slightly toned down, since they weren't the headlining act, but Ray did spend a lot of time screaming "fuck you" repeatedly into the microphone - not at the audience, but rather with them (at least in spirit).

Ray's music doesn't sound weird at all, but it's surprisingly difficult to classify. It's a distillation of everything from blues, soul and jazz to punk rock. The band was tight last time I saw them, but this time around, they were even more engaging, with the remarkably talented rhythm section knocking out some smooth grooves under Ray's Joplin-esque growl. The melodies and songs, even those I'd heard before, seemed more focused, and the set's momentum made the final numbers feel simply immense.

All was delivered, of course, with the band's characteristic energy, intense yet fun. Ray engaged her hecklers between songs and when not playing her hand-powered harmonium, danced around the stage with some classic Shilpa moves - that is, the moves you'd imagine from a seven-year-old who's just downed a cup of espresso. After SXSW, the general consensus is that this band is headed for great things. I told ya so. [MySpace]

Next up was guitarist and singer Peter Broderick. Sorry to be harsh, but yawwwwn. If you're into pretty singer-songwriter stuff, I don't think it was bad. But personally, I was bored after the first two bars.

I'd never heard the headliner Efterklang before, though I'd gathered they were some sort of Scandanvian post-rock ensemble. I was prepared to be bored, but several people encouraged me to stay. And it was apparent Efterklang is a favorite among fellow musicians - the audience included members of Los Campesinos! and the National among others.

I've said many times that post-rock is a largely played-out style, so I was surprised to hear Efterklang breathe new life into the music. Not that they are doing anything completely original, but they are certainly doing it better than most. Their vocal harmonies are stunning and their math rock tendencies are first-rate, grooving naturally in time signatures like 9/4 and 13/8 (I think). The songs are also well-written and unlike most post-rock, don't wear on interminably - they explore an idea to its fullest, then stop.

Efterklang (photo by Nan Na Hvass)
Efterklang (photo by Nan Na Hvass)

As I had been told, Efterklang's live performance was excellent. At first, it seemed like the band (swollen to seven members on stage) was taking itself rather seriously, but between songs, their banter showed them to be approachable, sweet and not without a sense of humor. The music's complexity required concentration, but there was still a decent amount of movement and the band's energy and focus was plainly visible. Also, as with a band who knows how to get innovative sounds of a slew instruments, it's fascinating to see how their affects are accomplished, using everything from trumpets to kazoos. [MySpace]

Though Shilpa Ray was an odd pairing with the rest of this experimental Dutch set, I'm glad they chose it - I not only got to see a great show but also discovered a new band I'll be listening to for a long time.

* * * * * * * * * * *

P.S. >> I forgot to tell you the best part about Efterklang! They are the first rock band I have ever seen use proper technique on the jingle bells. Seriously!

Dust It Off: Ut - In Gut's House

Sorry folks, Dust It Off is a day late this week - I had no internet access for most of yesterday. Here goes...

In Gut's House
Album: In Gut's House
Blast First, 1987

Formed at the tail end of New York's late 70's No Wave scene, Ut captured the avant-garde noise of their colleagues, but throughout the 80's, they tightened the sound and perfected the use of contrast - dissoanance and resolution, melody and drone, composition and improvisation. The all-female three-piece didn't release much recorded material in their early years, but in the second half of the 80's, they put out a series of excellent records showcasing the style they'd spent half a decade crafting.

In Gut's House is the peak of their efforts. Technically a double EP, the album kicks off with "Evangelist," one of the group's most accessible and best tunes. It may be a misleading as most of the following songs are considerably less melodic, but on the other hand, it warms the listener up, easing them into the angular experimentation of the subsequent tracks.

Ut's music draws heavily on Sonic Youth and particularly the Velvet Underground, and manages to predict the sounds both of early 90's math rock and early 90's riot grrrl, two genres usually considered miles apart. In Gut's House has the jumpy, sparse guitars of the soon-to-be-invented math rock, accompanied by pounding toms that never fall into a set rhythmic pattern for more than a few bars. The vocals are sometimes coherent, welcoming melodies, but at other times, they are yowls, screeches or chants, much like the young feminist bands that would form in the Pacific Northwest just a few years down the road.

And despite all the flexibility of their relatively unstructured songs, Ut maintains coherence and a sense of focus throughout the album - the tension and release, the sudden veering from beauty to ugliness, the detailed arrangements, everything indicates that this was an album made with a unified vision and careful planning.

"Homebled" is a particularly interesting track. It sounds like a completely fried Velvet Underground trying to play a folk ballad. It even includes John Cale's signature electric viola sound. (Well, in this case, I think it might be a violin, but same idea.) The vocals would be conventionally pretty if they and their backing instruments didn't keep falling apart.

While confrontational like their No Wave peers, Ut also gives the listener more inroads and moments of true beauty than the orginal New York No Wavers, perhaps translating the movement's experimentalism more accessibly than anyone besides Sonic Youth. And unlike Sonic Youth, Ut never enjoyed commercial success and certainly never scored a major label deal. But despite their unending obscurity, the band has made its mark upon modern indie music and should be a feature in every art punk fan's collection.

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