Friday, May 29, 2009

Live: Holy Fuck and A Place To Bury Strangers

When: 5/22
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

Although A Place To Bury Strangers has long been one of my favorite NYC bands, I haven't actually been out to see them since the fall of 2007, when they "broke" -- thanks to a feature on Pitchfork's "Best New Music." So when I finally got to this show, a year and a half later, I was reassured (but not surprised) to see that the band's success hasn't led to musical comprise. In fact, critical acclaim seems to have helped the band fully recognize those things that has always set them apart - they seem far more focused and powerful than they did in 2007 (and they were pretty damn focused and powerful back then).

Undoubtedly one of the loudest bands in history, their noise has only intensified. Oliver Ackermann's custom-made guitar pedals - sold by his own Death By Audio - give his instrument a sound like no other. It's like one long metallic roar, more massive, more dense than anything you've ever heard - unless maybe you live on a very busy military airfield, that is. Confrontation by sheer volume isn't an idea invented by APTBS, but they can certainly join the list of bands that have pushed the approach to new extremes, a list that includes folks like The Who, The Stooges, Swans, Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine.

A Place To Bury Strangers
A Place To Bury Strangers

One of the things that makes APTBS so great is that the three musicians seem to come from very different places. Instead of meeting in middle stylistically, they each maintain their identity, crashing into each other at full force. This unusual interplay guarantees the band's unique sound. Drummer Jay Space plays relentless 16th-note-based heavy dance rhythms, while Jono Mofo's measured bass lines open up the sound, while deepening it into the lowest registers. This odd couple of a rhythm section make it pretty much impossible to say whether what you're hearing is fast or slow. Meanwhile, Ackermann's noise guitar buries heavy chords under squeals and roars while his vocals fight through the sonic combat zone undeterred.

Despite some problems from the sound booth during the first few minutes of the set, APTBS's inertia proved unstoppable. Hardcore fans would agree it wasn't their greatest show ever, but it was still a mindblowing performance. About halfway through the set, the band went into overdrive, hitting the strobe lights and letting loose. It's amazing Ackermann's guitar survived as long as it did, seeing the thrashing he gave it. Eventually his aggressive energy towards the guitar reached a breaking point and he threw it down, then dragged it around the stage by its cord.

The only mistake the band made was letting their noise jam go on a little too long. A good motto is "quit while you're ahead" - by stretching the boundaries of the audience's attention span, the band did lose just a touch of momentum near the end. Still, the onslaught was impressive, and by the time they actually exited the stage, amid deafening feedback, they'd fully recovered from any miscalculations. As always, lending to their mystique, the band didn't speak a word, just went on stage, made their noise and walked off. It leaves an impression on ya, it really does. [MySpace]

Holy Fuck followed APTBS and the combination seemed even weirder in practice than it seemed on first glance at the listing. Holy Fuck is an instrumental indie electro-dance group from Canada. But I guess it's not too strange, I know plenty of people (myself included obviously) who rank both these bands among their favorites.

Holy Fuck is one of two bands that convinced me electronic music can be good live (the other being Norway's 120 Days). All of the music is created on the fly - sure, there are sequencers and beats, but the band is constantly setting them off, inputting new samples, changing effects and creating sounds from a variety of sources. And the band members love to bob, pogo and dance to their own beats.

It's danceable music with complexity and merit, integrating a slew of rhythmic influences. The songs are loud and aggressive, but still fun. The only real problem is that the songs do get a bit "samey" and for those not dancing, the set was really too long. But as long as the front third of the audience is still jumping around, can anyone really criticize? In other words, Holy Fuck get to act like they're the shit because they are the shit. [MySpace]

With these two bands, I'd be shocked if anyone didn't get their $15 worth of awesome - maybe lost more than $15 worth of hearing, but definitely not short changed!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dust It Off: Rocket from the Tombs - The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs

OK, OK, I'm still running way behind. Dust It Off is one day late this week. My sincerest apologies...

The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs
Album: The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs
Smog Veil, 2002
Recording date: 1975

During the years leading up to the first wave of American punk, Cleveland, Ohio emerged as an unlikely epicenter of the new movement, drawing influence from and in turn influencing scenes Detroit and New York City. The two most notable Cleveland proto-punk bands, Pere Ubu and Dead Boys, were both born of the splintering of their joint prototype, the short-lived and oft-forgotten Rocket from the Tombs.

Feautring future Dead Boys Stiv Bators and Gene O'Connor (aka Cheetah Chrome) alongside Ubu founders Peter Laughner and David Thomas - not to mention Craig Bell of Mirrors/Styrenes - this reverse-supergroup provided the ideal petri dish in which to breed a completely original approach to rock'n'roll. Training so many of punk and post-punk's greatest innovators, RFTT could not have been more important.

However, the inevitable clashing of the group's creative minds tore them apart before any official recordings could be made - RFTT was doomed to obscurity, just a footnote in the history of punk. A handful of live recordings and demos floated around among collectors, but absolutely nothing was available commercially until the release of this compilation in 2002.*

Scraped together from what few recordings remained intact, The Day the Earth features early incarnations of many of the best Ubu and Dead Boys songs: "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," "Life Stinks" and "Final Solution" (Ubu), and "Ain't It Fun," "Down in Flames" and "Sonic Reducer" (Dead Boys).

Most importantly, however, the album includes a fairly extensive overview of Peter Laughner's work. Though Laughner would go on to found Pere Ubu, drug and alcohol problems led to his quick departure from the group and not long after, to his death at age 23. One of the greatest innovators in the Cleveland scene, Laughner's songs are profoundly affecting and remain the album's best tracks. In "Ain't It Fun" (written jointly with O'Connor), Laughner speaks of utter desperation and hopelessness, plunging as deeply into life's darkness as any lyricist to date. Such is the despondent resignation of the song that Laughner's prediction of his own early death sounds more tragic than haunting.

The rough, raw sounds of the album bring to mind garage rock and the likes of the Stooges, but the artistic approach to sound and song sets RFTT far apart from any band of their era. The ear-splitting guitars on "Final Solution" sound more like a metallic demolition you might hear in one of Cleveland's factories than like rock music. Thomas's refusal to conform to any existing notions of song craft, as evidenced by "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," would not be matched by New York's art rockers for years to come.

Many years ahead of its time, The Day the Earth is an essential document in the development of American punk. And education aside, it just fucking rocks.

*One compilation was released in the 90's but the limited pressing (<1,000) was virtually impossible to find.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Upcoming Shows: X, A Place To Bury Strangers + more

TONIGHT! Wednesday, May 27

A Place to Bury Strangers, Shilpa Ray, Sisters, Coin Under Tongue @ Pianos | LES, Manhattan | $10
If this isn't the best NYC line-up imaginable, I don't know what is. Four bands associated with the always-excellent Death By Audio family = delicious. Sisters sound like Sonic Youth at their most minimalist-punk. Coin Under Tongue I haven't heard, but it's ex-Dirty On Purpose, so you know it's good. Shilpa, well, I've already explained that. And APTBS, well, one of the loudest bands you ever hear. Not to mention one of the best. [Sisters MySpace] [Shilpa MySpace] [APTBS MySpace]

TOMORROW! Thursday, May 28

Tyvek, Cause Co-Motion! @ Monster Island Basement | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $7
Tyvek are rad punks from the Midwest. When I saw them at Death By Audio, they kicked serious ass. Cause Co-Motion! are lo-fi C-86-style pop, friends and labelmates of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Crystal Stilts. Don't miss. [Tyvek MySpace] [CCM MySpace]

Friday, May 29

Beluga, Wild Yaks @ Monster Island Basement | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $8
I'm sick of describing Beluga and how much I love them. Super awesome lady punks who scream and rock out and put on a hell of a show. Check out my last review of them. Wild Yaks are one of those names I've heard, and I have a friend who really loves yaks, the species, so that seems like a good reason to catch this band too. [Beluga MySpace] [Wild Yaks MySpace]

A.R.E. Weapons @ Webster Hall Studio | East Village, Manhattan | $10
A.R.E. Weapons may have a disappointing recorded legacy, but their live show is unbeatable. Their massive electronics and noise sound like Suicide - dissonant, heavy and noisy, yet focused. They play with a rare chemistry, their improvised parts weaving together in nigh-perfection. This is the shit. [MySpace]

Saturday, May 30

X @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | SOLD OUT
One of the finest of L.A.'s original punk movement, X helped define second-wave American punk (aka hardcore) in the late 70's and early 80's. They gradually moved towards accessibility, but never sold out their edge. Though never as aggressive as southern California's hardest core (Henry Rollins's Black Flag, Fear, etc.), X were and remain badass and bold. [Website]

Sunday, May 31

X @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $27
Same as the above. Only difference: this show hasn't sold out yet. [Website]

Monday, June 1

Grant Hart @ Bell House | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $10
Ex-Husker Du, Grant Hart was the "hippie" of the group. His songs for Husker had a folksy leaning, and his solo work only takes him further down this path. Frankly, anyone who played in Husker Du (which is only three people ever) deserves everyone's undying respect. It's as simple as that. [MySpace]

Live: 28 Degrees Taurus, Blacklist

When: 5/16
Where: Cameo, Glasslands, Public Assembly

OK, I know I've fallen really far behind here, but if you can think waaaay back to a week and half ago, there were a whole ton of amazing shows in one night. Luckily, most of them were on the western edge of Williamsburg, so bouncing back and forth between venues was not all that hard.

After grabbing the first couple numbers by My Best Fiend and determining it too mellow for my mood, I crossed N 6th St to Public Assembly to catch the legendary (in my mind) Beluga for their short set. I won't bother to review these lady punks, because I've reviewed them quite enough lately. But it is safe to say I was disappointed by the venue's decision to cut the set short (presumably to make room for DJs who would spin to an empty house the rest of the night. Ugh.)

So I cut back across the street to Cameo where 28 Degrees Taurus had recently begun their set. I wrote up 28DT a while ago but it's been too long since I've caught them live. 28DT play a shoegaze-inspired rock that completely defies classification or description. It is loud, aggressive and unruly, with an arty disregard for convention.

Frontman Jinsen Liu's high-energy noise guitar duels some of the best drumming I've ever seen (yes, I said it) - Greg Murphy plays about ten thousand beats a second, never losing track of the beat and never letting up. The velocity and intensity of his drumming and nearly unmatched. Bassist Karina Dacosta keeps things under control, though, her calm demeanor and rock-solid bass lines anchoring the frantic music and providing a much-needed reference point. The vocals, shared by Liu and Dacosta, are delivered with a careful balance of passion and humor that match the oddly arresting lyrics ("Let's drink / and drive / and crash / and die / Woohoo!"). It's art and it's fun, it's edgy, it's pop and it's just a damn great show.

As they hit their final notes, I bolted in a surprisingly successful attempt to catch Blacklist a few blocks over at Glasslands. I haven't written up Blacklist in ages, and last time I did, they were playing at the acoustically-murky Vanishing Point. For all its flaws, Glasslands has consistently excellent sound, and hearing Blacklist in full clarity makes a helluva a difference. At VP, the band stood on stage presence alone, but at Glasslands, the musical merits could also impress.

Simply put, Blacklist takes everything good from the darkest side of early 80's pop and combines it into a delicious darkwave rock. And it's not dated either - though I'm pretty sure of fans of the Cure, New Order, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus and the like will love Blacklist, their dense guitars and lack of electronics set them apart and make them a fully 2009 sort of band.

On stage, the band (dressed in black, of course) command attention with their professional, almost imposing stance. They play tightly and attentively, pouring their energy not into antics but into their solid front. The band's gloomy posturing is never whiny and never fake, it's the real deal. No wonder NYC's few surviving goths flood every show - Blacklist are everything we miss.

28 Degrees Taurus on MySpace

Blacklist on MySpace

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dust It Off: Wipers - Over the Edge

Over The Edge [Picture]
Album - Over the Edge
Brain Eater / Restless, 1983

The Wipers are one of the great lost bands of the American underground. Formed in the early years of West Coast hardcore, the Wipers influenced everyone from Nirvana to Beat Happening to Dinosaur Jr. Though their music is undeniably rooted in punk, it stands out from its peers by incorporating certain elements of metal and hard rock. This influence is not so much on the guitars, but rather on the wide-open melodies and moderate tempos. It's no coincidence that five years after the release of Over the Edge, the ultimate metal-punk hybrid known best as "grunge" arose in the same northwestern corner where the Wipers made their name.

But unlike in grunge, the Wipers' metal influences are subtle and restrained. Cutting any direct ties between the Wipers and hard rock is the album's pop sensibility and most importantly, its distinct DIY aesthetic. This, their third album, was released more than five years into their career, and combines the best elements of the preceding two. Their unpolished, self-produced sound, always cloaked in distortion, predicts many of the rough qualities that would later be called "lo-fi." This style was also prominent in their sophomore album, Youth of America (1981), but here it is here molded into short, focused songs. Accessible melodies help ease the listener into the album's more edgy sonic landscape.

Though some of the lyrics are lamentable ("Why do people hate each other? / Why can't we just be brother and sister? / what is this thing / human being?"), most are passable. The riffs and choruses of songs like "Doom Town" and "Romeo" are unmistakably fun, but like all good hardcore, the whole thing stinks of youth alienation and angst.

No one can blame you if you've never heard of this lost classic, but if you haven't given the Wipers a listen, now's the time! Seriously, right now.

MySpace (presumably unofficial)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Album: Passion Pit - Manners

Album: Manners
Frenchkiss, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

Boston electro-pop stars Passion Pit release their much-anticipated debut LP, Manners, today. And I despite myself, I like it a lot.

For a while, I've wondered why I prefer acts like Passion Pit and MGMT to so many of their more musically sophisticated peers (e.g. Cut Copy). There's so much I should hate about Passion Pit's hyper-poppy electronic dance music, from the cheesy, dated synth effects to the over-the-top pop cliches all over the melody. But truthfully, I enjoy it.

Now, let's get this out of the way. Passion Pit is primarily the project of one Michael Angelakos, who is something like 21 years old (maybe 22 now?). And his lyrics sound like they were written by a 21-year-old, at best. They are cramped with dime-a-dozen infantile "insights." But this is dance-pop and who listens to the words anyway? There's enough music going on that it's not hard to ignore the lyrics, and I highly recommend that you do so.

In terms of the music, however, Angelakos nails it. Yes, pop music is formulaic, but it isn't easy to get the formula this right, this much of the time. The first three tracks on the album are all bombshells, from the writ-large opening notes of "Make Light," to the children's chorus back-up vocals on "Little Secrets" and the tight layers of "Moth Wings." Even the slightly wince-inducing 80's dance beats are pulled off surprisingly well, probably because Manners doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is - a self-indulgent, artless, hook-centered pop album. (Or if it is pretending to be anything else, it's failed badly enough that it doesn't matter.)

The album does make some missteps. The first biggie is track four, "The Reeling," which falls on the wrong side of that narrow line between irresistible pop and vile top-forty-esque banality. Occasionally, the meritless lyrics also become too audible and too sophomoric to completely tune out (Exhibit A: "Swimming in the Flood," starting with the title itself). It also ends on a surprisingly weak note, "Seaweed Song," which fluctuates between annoying and unremarkable.

Still, the album's strengths compensate plenty. Most notably, the arrangements are nothing short of brilliant. The music never sits still, as layers pop in and out and vocal tracks play off one another without a moment's pause. The hooks and melodies are also exceptionally good - simple and formulaic, sure, but also irresistible. Of course, the album's break-through track "Sleepyhead" remains a strong point, but similarly strong synth riffs, unabashed high-range vocals and thoughtful composition are matched by plenty more.

This may be an album to buy tracks from online, rather than paying for the whole thing. But I'd definitely recommend you get your hands on some of it. You know what? It's called "pop" for a reason! People like it. And I'm one of those people. Anyone got a problem with that?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Live: The Vandelles + SikSik Nation

When: 5/15
Where: Cameo

I can't believe it, but looking back, I have not yet reviewed the Vandelles, one of my favorite NYC bands. The Vandelles run with folks like A Place To Bury Strangers, but their music isn't quite like anyone else's on the scene. Yes, it's pop songs laden with feedback and noise guitar, but these pop songs hearken back all the way to the 1950's and 60's, rockabilly and surf tunes at the core, despite the psych-influenced walls of sound.

The Vandelles are good on record but their live show is what's really outstanding. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the band consists of some of the best lookin' indie kids in New York. And they make the most of that fact by knocking out their tunes with maximum sexiness. They are an easy band to watch, let's just leave it at that.

The Vandelles (photo by Eileen Schwartz)
The Vandelles* (photo by Eileen Schwartz)

The Vandelles showed remarkable chemistry on stage on Friday, locking in tightly with one another and delivering one roaring number after another with compelling confidence. Cameo is not nearly a big enough space to hold this band. Though their popularity does not yet justify a major venue, their stage presence is absolutely massive. Frontman Jason Schwartz's bold posturing and bassist Lisha Nadkarni's powerful poise lend the band a sense of professionalism. In the back, Sue "Honey" Pagliorola defies her slight build and girlish looks, proving herself one of the most aggressive drummers on the scene today. She slams the drums with mechanical fury. The least immediately captivating is new guitarist Christo Buffam, but that's only because he's pouring his attentions into his guitar and pedals, painstakingly crafting the subtleties of the band's sound.

Top-notch musicianship is not lacking from any of the four. The band's rhythms are unusual, but the term "syncopated" would be misleading, since most beats the term has been applied to are light-footed, and the Vandelles are anything but. Their syncopation so heavy, it obliterates the beat for everyone - except, apparently, the band, who somehow always reemerge from such passages as tight as ever.

I could go on and on, but I'll leave it there for now. Definitely, definitely, definitely a band to watch.


Next up was SikSik Nation, a Detroit-based psychedelic trio making their first-ever stop in New York City. I didn't have the highest of expectations (for no reason except that I don't usually), but I'm very glad I stuck around for their set! It's easy to forget there's an indie-music world beyond the New York-Boston-DC axis, if only because there's so much going on here. But a band like this, fresh from Motor City, illustrates how insular the East Coast can be. Though the components of SikSik were not particularly original, their music explores a different alley from those inhabited by their New York counterparts, giving indie-psych fans a breath of fresh air.

The band's sound is more spacious than the shoegaze-inspired East Coasters', with more room for the listener to jump right in. Instead of arty noise rock, their music gains its kick from ever-so-slight nods to the garage rock that once made Detroit a rock music capital. Their playing was tight but flexible, working in the unearthly sounds of a theramin and a restrained amount of electronics while still kickin' it out old-school.

SikSik isn't groundbreaking, but they're solid and satisfying, and an hour in their audience is an hour well spent. Come back to New York soon!


*The original guitar player (second from left in this picture) has been replaced with the talented Christo Buffam, but the only picture I could find with him kept looking really pixelated. Sorry!

Live: Vaselines, A Place To Bury Strangers + more

TODAY! Monday, May 18

The Vaselines @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | SOLD OUT
If you're not already aware of the Vaselines reunion, you gotta get with the picture! This classic indie pop group, highly touted by Kurt Cobain (according to Wikipedia, he named his daughter after one of the band's founders), will be gracing New York for the first time since in like 20 years. (OK, yeah, they also played at Bowery last night. Sorry I didn't give you all a heads-up.). If you put your mind to it, I'm sure you can find some tickets.

Wednesday, May 20

Psychedelic Horseshit, Sisters @ Union Pool | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $7
I have yet to catch Psychedelic Horseshit live, but they are rumoured to be good and pretty much sound like their name would imply - ultra-lo-fi pop-psych. I enjoyed Sisters last time I heard them, and since getting their album, I'm liking them more and more. Definitely don't miss this. [PH MySpace] [Sisters MySpace]

Thursday, May 21

Pterodactyl, These Are Powers @ Glasslands | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | FREE!
Pterodactyl are my new favorite NYC band. I liked their last show, I like their new album, and in general, I think they are brilliant and one of the more original groups in Brooklyn these days. I don't know nothin' about These Are Powers, but "Jasper" says they are noisy and good, and I'd believe that. [Ptero MySpace] [TAP MySpace]

Friday, May 22

Crocodiles @ Studio B | Greenpoint, Brooklyn | FREE!
Crocodiles are the latest shit out of Sand Diego. Despite their frequent claims to the contrary, they do sound just like the Jesus & Mary Chain. But that's cool. RSVP to if you wanna go. Which you do. (Thanks Brooklyn Vegan!) [MySpace]

Saturday, May 23

Holy Fuck, A Place to Bury Strangers, Crocodiles @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $15
Do I really have to explain why this is amazing? Holy Fuck play the kind of electronic music that's amazing to watch live. APTBS makes some of the loudest, heaviest guitar sound around - shoegaze/psych/noise rock that feels like getting crushed by a brick wall. (That's a compliment.) Crocodiles, well, I just told you about them in the paragraph above. To get all three of these bands in one night is well worth $15. [HF MySpace] [APTBS MySpace] [Crocs MySpace]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Live: Magik Markers

When: 5/9
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

I dropped by MHOW last weekend to hear the Magik Markers, an opening act for Ghost. I didn’t know much about the group except that it was meant to be occasionally sexy and occasionally experimental noise.

I didn’t catch the whole set, but I must say, the part I heard was disappointing. The melodies were bland at best and there were about no hooks. The noise jams were self-indulgent and uncontrolled. In other words, I was bored.

There are definitely some really good things about the band. Most of the songs are driven by bass riffs and only augmented by the minimalist guitars. Elisa Ambrogio’s compelling voice fits uneasily - but deliciously - over the music’s snarl.

The band members either have no idea how to play their instruments or they prefer to play "poorly" by traditional standards - particularly Ambrogio, who seemed to be playing drop-D power chords with her thumb most of the time. (I know at least one guitar teacher who would have cut that thumb right off.) I could be wrong about the tuning, but I’m definitely right about the thumb. But that’s not meant as an attack. If she can get the sound she wants like that - maybe even needs to get the sound she wants like that – awesome!

The band were also terrific on stage. They threw their whole bodies into their playing – thrashing, twisting, keeling – and their activity gave the set some of the expressiveness the music itself was lacking. They delivered their music with power and confidence, laying the parts down like concrete bricks.

In the end, the musical deficiencies really ruined the set for me. Thurston Moore may like this band, but his taste is kind of iffy at times, and I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. The Markers may be great performers, but their music has almost no merit – it sounds good, but it offers little originality, and nothing to hold the listener’s attention.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

News: Annex or Fat Baby Closing?

The Gothamist reports that "an off-Ludlow music venue with high ceilings, a mezzanine, a basement, and a capacity of 300" is selling off their lease. As they point out, the only two places that fit this description are the Annex and Fat Baby. My guess is the Annex, because it seems a bit empty there lately and Fat Baby has a big line of generic post-collegiate kids outside every weekend. Either way, no big loss to New York - all the cool has been tapped out of these places ages ago, if it was ever there to begin with.

Here's the original story.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dust It Off: Blind Mr. Jones - Stereo Musicale

Stereo Musicale
Album: Stereo Musicale
Cherry Red, 1992

I haven't been doing enough shoegaze in the "Dust It Off" feature and Salvador thought I should write up Blind Mr. Jones this week. I agree.

The way people talk about things now, it sounds as if there were only ever about a half dozen influential shoegaze bands. But the style is more than just My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive and among the oft-forgotten is Blind Mr. Jones. This band, like most classic shoegazers, formed in England in the early 90's, put out a couple of albums and dissolved into obscurity.

Stereo Musicale, their first album, stands out from the shoegaze pack through its use of flute, but it also distinguishes itself by hinting at Celtic and Nordic roots, folk music and an overall sense of wintry isolation. It sounds like it could have been written in a snowbound cabin at the edge of the sea. That said, it's still uptempo noise-pop - moody, perhaps, but not depressive.

The album opens with a beautifully dense instrumental before the vocals enter in "Spooky Vibes." The male vocal harmonies and subdued melodies distinctly follow British tradition, but the prevalence of minor keys adds an unusual urgency. The songs get a little "samey" as the album wears on, but the stormy soundscapes are fantastic throughout.

From the remote "Small Caravan" to the sweeping sounds of "Unforgettable Waltz," Stereo Musicale is must-have for shoegaze enthusiasts and, at the very least, a great listen for everyone else.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Album: Meat Puppets - Sewn Together

Sewn Together
Album: Sewn Together
Megaforce, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

Seminal cow-punk freaks the Meat Puppets were one of American punk's earliest and most important groups, back in the early 80's glory days of Black Flag's SST label. Though they helped jumpstart the hardcore scene, the Puppets have always been far more relaxed than most of their West Coast peers, drenching their music in country and psychedelia to the point that it's only recognizable as "punk" by its historical context.

A lot has happened since those days, though. The lines between indie and mainstream have blurred and American punk has undergone a disturbing metamorphosis to become "alternative rock." And in this new context, the Puppets seem to have had some trouble getting their footing.

Sewn Together is the second album since Kirkwood brothers Cris and Curt reunited in 2006. Their 2007 release, Rise to Your Knees, hearkened back to the Puppets' best era but fell short of the excitement of their SST records. On Sewn Together, the band takes a different tack. Following a label change (their sixth move in as many albums), the Puppets recorded their most polished, commercialized music to date.

I'm not one to begrudge a band the use of technology out of some false nostalgia, nor am I one to criticize a band for relying heavily on the producer's engineering to shape their sound. But fans of classic Meat Puppets material will likely be disappointed. In addition to the slick production, Sewn Together has toned down both the velocity and the volume of the band's earlier work. Everything is cleaned up and consequently, it's far less in-your-face than the old material.

Now, if this is the band "selling out" and attempting a commercially viable album for once in their careers, I really can't hold it against them. After all, they deserve some fans and some money for all they've contributed to the evolution of rock music. And if this is how they have to get it, so be it. Or maybe it has nothing to do with moving units, maybe they just like the way this sounds. And that's fine too. It's a totally solid album and would be from any band - it just might not appeal to the same crowd as did, say, Meat Puppets II.

And the Puppets haven't lost any of their real strengths either - as always, they boast masterful songwriting, addictive melodies and some stunning lead guitar. "Blanket of Weeds" boasts a brilliant guitar line and well-conceived stops, as well as some cool sonic disintegration at the end. "Sapphire" and "Go To Your Head" waltz through slow 6/8 rhythms, while "I'm Not You" launches into a high-speed two-step (and sounds more like classic Meat Puppets than anything else on the album).

As the album wears on, it becomes slightly less worthy of note. None of the songs clock in under three minutes (compared to their first two albums which had one song between them over the three minute mark). That's not inherently bad, but some of the songs on Sewn Together do drag on too long and end up stagnant. The arrangements are also rather monotonous. There's quite a bit of piano and even some whistling on the album, so there is variety between the songs. But within each track, all the instruments tend to just carry on together right through doing about what they did from the start. This might work with shorter songs, but in the three to five minute range, it's hard not to thirst for something less predictable.

Despite the lack of momentum on some tracks, though, Sewn Together is a great album. Few songwriters can match the Kirkwood brothers and that alone could carry the record. This album may not be the dream of old-school fans, but its more tempered psychedelic country twang will bring a new audience into the fold.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Live: R. Stevie Moore

When: 5/8
Where: Cake Shop

It's been a while since I've checked in with the great R. Stevie Moore, so I thought I'd better head down to Cake Shop Friday and see what's new.

What's new is that he's got a slightly different line-up - there were some the same guys up front, but in the back, Mr. Chuckles (that's the name my brain gave to the previous drummer, probably NOT his real name) had been replaced and the rhythm section had been augmented by some guy with long gray hair and a bunch of auxiliary percussion instruments. I hate to criticize Moore or his band, since they are so richly deserving of respect, but I have to say the new drummer is a step down from Mr. Chuckles and the hippie percussionist was really superfluous, or would have been with a more agile drummer behind the kit.

This set was a little slower than last time's, and tended more towards the bluesy / good ol' rock'n'roll side of things, which isn't my personal preference (I like the more pop stuff and the more punk stuff, anything fast) but I can't really complain because it was still damn good. There was variety too, with a few classic Moore tunes from back in the day, a couple of straight-up pop songs and one real R&B number.

This time around, Moore's audience was more sophisticated and more supportive. There were a lot of musicians in the crowd, including one of my longtime heroes, Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley. (I'm 90% sure it was her, especially because her bandmate/hubby Ira Kaplan is producing Moore & co.'s upcoming album. Kaplan was probably there too, but I didn't see him.) With this kind of audience, Moore didn't really have the chance to be as antagonistic as usual, which was actually kind of disappointing - Moore is one of those musicians who thrives on conflict. But it was also nice to see him getting some serious respect from some serious musicians.

And Moore didn't completely calm down just because people were more receptive. He continued with his half-coherent ramblings between songs, and worked up a lot of anger spitting out his more political lyrics. He was also not wearing any pants, just boxers. So he's still punk rock, like he's been since long before punk rock existed and like he will continue to be forever. Because doing whatever the hell you want to is what punk is all about. And that's exactly the kind of punk Moore's been letting loose since 1968. Respect.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Live: The Kills

When: 5/4
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

The most common adjective describing the Kills 2008 album Midnight Boom has been "sexy." Indie rock, sexy? Yes, friends, it's finally been achieved. The band's arty garage rock is smart but accessible, edgy but not pretentious, and a welcome break from most of the vapid bullshit that goes on in the indie scene.

As a duo, the Kills use the whole stage and seem hyper-conscious of the possibilities the space offers. From the first note of their massive opening rendition of "U.R.A. Fever," the two took the stage by storm. It's a cliche expression but never so true as here: they acted like they owned the place - and that sort of confidence compels respect. Even their obviously semi-choreographed moves were delivered with such passion and conviction that they seemed less contrived than most other bands' more spontaneous gestures.

And their antics fit the tight post-punk edginess of their sound to a T. Allison Mosshart walked in agitated circles around her microphone like a untamed tiger in a cage, and when she lit up a cigarette, she smoked it with the fidgety intensity of someone in the midst of a nervous breakdown. More than that, though, she always focused on the audience, climbing on monitors and making the front rows go wild. She is the perfect image of tension, skittish and knotted around her guitar.

And though calmer, her co-conspirator Jamie Hince does little defuse the show's nervous energy. His moves are deliberate and restrained, which only winds the tension tighter. Like Mosshart, he also likes to play to the audience, leaning over the edge of the stage to address the excited fans below. On the sad ballad "Black Balloon," Hince receded into the shadows at the back of the stage, while on "Hook and Line," he took the front to bust some bizarre moves.

The Kills
The Kills

The interactions between Mosshart and Hince, playing off the music's obvious sexuality, made the show. During "Last Day of Magic", the two placed their microphones close and facing, singing the song to each other, at times only inches apart. During another song, Hince walked across the stage to pull Mosshart's hair while she sang.*

The band played most of the tracks on Midnight Boom and a few others. Sadly, they skipped "What New York Used To Be," despite it being a pretty obvious choice for this tour stop. But they covered the best of their other tracks, and despite having a prerecorded rhythm section, they used different mixes to rework each song into something large enough to fill the space. It was not a carbon copy of the album at any point.

Unfortunately, the performance was interrupted by several unwanted presences on stage. The first was an overzealous guitar technician who apparently really wanted to be seen on stage with the Kills. Mister Eager Beaver rushed Hince at any sign of a technical problem and continued to pop out uninvited throughout the show, despite Hince's obvious attempts to chase him away.

The second unwelcome presence was more interesting. Music Snobbery was closer to the center of the action and his account is a bit more detailed. Judging from what he says and what I saw, Hince attacked a heckler with his guitar and eventually brought him on stage to make the attack easier. Between songs, the offender suddenly leapt up and went after Mosshart. Whatever his intentions, he was a really creepy guy and Mosshart was pretty freaked out - you know, like you are when some creep tries to assault you. The overzealous guitar tech jumped in the middle and a split second later, Hince had the guy by the collar, lifting him and slamming him repeatedly into the speaker (and this was not a particularly small guy!). After he was done with the slamming, Hince threw the jackass head first into the crowd, where he landed skull first. Throughout the whole scene, the venue's security team was nowhere to be seen.

Music Snobbery is a bit angrier at Hince than I was. Yeah, he shouldn't have engaged the guy in the first place, but let me tell you, if anyone ever went after my band's singer, the guy would get worse than a mild concussion. Hince's instinctual protectiveness of Mossheart was really sweet and the fact that he can kick someone's ass when the situation requires? Badass. And kinda hot.

After that incident, the Kills did what they could to recover the momentum and finish out the encore, never disappointing the audience who had come to see them make their music.

I came away from the concert liking the Kills far more than ever before. And I liked them a whole lot before, so that's saying something. [MySpace]

* I found it interesting to learn that despite the music's intense sexuality, Hince and Mosshart have never been romantically involved. That chemistry is all musical. And that just makes the whole thing cooler.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Glenn Branca, Mike Watt and more

TONIGHT!!! Thursday, May 7
Whatever you do tonight, you'll be kickin' it old-school.

Glenn Branca @ Issue Project Room | Gowanus, Brooklyn | $15
Glenn Branca. If you don't know who that is or why he's awesome, you need to go out and do some reading. Starting (but not ending) with this little paragraph. Glenn Branca is an avant-garde composer, a punk rocker, a minimalist innovator and one of the biggest of the big names in the legendary "no wave" movement. Branca reinvented the electric guitar, using alternate tunings and extreme volume to generate completely new tonalities. Some of the most innovative guitar players of the 80's and 90's first cut their teeth with Branca, a list that includes Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo and Helmet's Page Hamilton. He'll be playing one of his classic compositions, "Lesson No. 3," at IPR. Really, you should go.

Eddie & the Hot Rods @ Southpaw | Park Slope, Brooklyn | $14
Eddie and the Hot Rods were once upon a time the Sex Pistols' biggest competitors. As it turned out, Eddie was just a pub rock band while the Sex Pistols invented British punk, but then there couldn't have been a British punk scene if it hadn't been for aggressive pub rockers like these, who pushed the boundaries of British rock in rawer, wilder directions. And for that, we all owe them at least $14 and two ears for a night.

Fear @ Europa | Greenpoint, Brooklyn | $25
Twenty-five bucks is a lot, too much for me to strongly recommend this show. But if money is no object, then you better check it out. Fear are a classic West Coast punk outfit, one of the first and one of the most aggressive. They make most hardcore punks look like fluffy kittens.

TOMORROW!!! Friday, May 8
Seriously, how to choose?!?

Mike Watt & the Missingmen @ Mercury Lounge | LES, Manhattan | $15
Mike Watt was one of the first and most important players in the West Coast hardcore scene. Unlike Fear (see above), however, Watt didn't amp up the machismo of hardcore, he amped up its brains. As a member of the revolutionary trio the Minutemen, Watt broadened the musical and intellectual horizons of punk by making music that was lyrically thought-provoking and political and sonically challenging and diverse. Since then, he's continued to push the boundaries in fIREHOSE and
this, his new project, the Missingmen. [MySpace]

**CANCELLED** The Antlers @ Cameo | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The Antlers' lo-fi, ambient electronica is the saddest music around. They are one of the few truly innovative bands in the New York scene and their recent album Hospice is one of the most profound contributions to indie rock in the last decade. [MySpace]

Coyote Eyes, Pow Wow, My Teenage Stride @ Lit Lounge | $6*
Good cheap fun! It's worth the six bucks despite being in one of the worst venues in town. Coyote Eyes sound like Sonic Youth but with prettier singing. They are minimalist, they are loud and they are very worth checking out, since they could take off any day now. Pow Wow just got named one of L Magazine's "Eight Bands You Need To Hear," which is frankly kind of silly because they are entirely typical. But that doesn't mean their lo-fi pop isn't great. It's actually lovely! (Just not "top eight" lovely.) And My Teenage Stride, officially the first band I reviewed on this site, are an indie pop mainstay in New York, with some of the best songwriting and best melodies around. If you catch all three bands, that's only $2 a pop. Not too shabby. [CE MySpace] [PW MySpace] [MTS MySpace]
**UPDATE: Apparently, Coyote Eyes and MTS aren't playing. In a typically irresponsible gesture, Lit Lounge has just forgotten to update their calendar. Bummer.**

R. Stevie Moore @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $8
Good ol' R. Stevie is the punk rock Santa Claus. He's been making lo-fi pop music since he was a kid, putting out his first recordings in the 1960's. Phenomenally gifted and perpetually overlooked, Moore is justifiably pissed off, and his bitterness is especially justified when it comes out in his kick-ass punk-rock power-pop performances. His last show at Cake Shop was one of the best shows I've ever seen ever. A true forgotten pioneer, Moore is well worth checking out. [MySpace]

Saturday, May 9

Real Estate, So So Glos @ Santos Party House | Chinatown, Manhattan | $10 *
Real Estate are the latest buzz-band out of the no-fi/neo-punk crowd that brought us the likes of Wavves, Woods and Blank Dogs. Real Estate fall at the slow, hushed end of that spectrum and while their recorded material can be rather boring at times, the very little I've seen of this band live makes me think they're good on stage. The So So Glos, on the other hand, take a more direct route to punk rock - fast, loud and rude. [RE MySpace] [SSG MySpace]

Monday, May 10

Woods, Times New Viking @ Market Hotel | Bushwick, Brooklyn*
I'm not a huge fan of TNV, to be quite honest. The constant comparisons to Guided By Voices are just not accurate; see, GBV were great because they wrote great pop songs, and TNV, for all their cool sound, just don't write great songs. So the real reason to go by this show is psychedelic folk-pop quartet Woods. In my last live review of them, I called them "one of the most outstanding and original bands of our time" and I'll stand by that statement. [TNV MySpace] [Woods MySpace]

Wednesday, May 12

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | SOLD OUT
You should track down some tickets to this show. Tweegaze heartthrobs the Pains will be celebrating their (brief) homecoming after an extensive national tour - and right before an extensive international tour. Their songs are way too cute, but so well written that they're hard to hate. And a seamless wall of distorted guitar noise covers everything - bring earplugs. [MySpace]

*This is seems to be a week of bands and venues not working in tandem, and there is some conflicting information about these shows, so you may want to try to confirm they are happening as scheduled before you make a trek to the venue.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dust It Off: The Godz - Contact High with the Godz

Contact High with the Godz
Album: Contact High with the Godz
ESP-Disk, 1966

It’s hard to believe, but since 1966, no one has managed to take the edge off the Godz. The experimental pop band (not to be confused with the 70’s metal band of the same name) formed on New York’s Lower East Side in the mid-60’s, contemporaries of the slightly less obscure Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders. Together, these art-pop bands laid the groundwork for the advent of underground rock and for the use of ugliness-as-confrontation-as-art in a fully pop music context.

While it’s hard to say whether the Godz in particular directly influenced many of the bands that followed them, they certainly set in motion new ideas that would echo through music right through punk and up to the present day.

Contact High with the Godz is a 25-minute study in willful incompetence. You’ll think there couldn’t be anything more out of tune than the guitars – until the vocals come in. Drummer Paul Thornton crashes erratic single-instrument beats in purposefully unsteady tempos under the enthusiastic autoharp strumming of Jay Dillon. The "singing" sounds alternately like the wailing of a drunk cowboy and the absent mumbling of someone alone in his house who’s forgotten he was singing at all.

The songs are positively gems. From "White Cat Heat" (in which the band makes the sounds of, well, a cat in heat) to "May You Never Be Alone Like Me" (featuring an atonal fluttering from what seems to be a child’s recorder flute), each track is memorable. "Godz" features the band repeating their own name in different voices over a single irregularly-strummed chord. The aptly titled "Squeak" involves a violin played Godz-style, which to say it’s even more painful than your next-door neighbor’s eight-year-old son’s first viola lesson. And who can’t relate to the sentiment of "Lay In the Sun"? The song’s only lyrics: "All I want to do-oo-oo / Is lay in the sun."

It’s not all vapid nonsense either. First, the sprawling folk inflections and up-tempos make this undeniably a pop record, even if it’s the kind of pop that only one in a hundred people could even bear to listen to. And as such, the Godz predicted everything from punk to twee, all based on a populist confrontation of the exclusive gestures of mainstream rock. After all, could anything be more DIY than recording and releasing an intentionally unlistenable, proudly unprofessional pop album in fuckin’ 1966?

And beyond that, there’s a subtle emotive dimension to the album. When the band asks, "Is one plus one really two?" it’s not obnoxious, it’s pathetically existential. And the mournful religious musings of "May You Never Be Alone" end the album in a self-mocking but very real sadness.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Live: Cinemasophia, Ceremony

When: 4/25
Where: Cameo

When I headed over to the Vanishing Point Presents show at Cameo, I was hoping to catch the second act, Ceremony, but when I arrived, the set was already running behind and the opener, Cinemasophia, was still on stage. I’d had no intention of checking the band out, but I was pleasantly surprised to find I quite liked them!

They have a shoegaze side to their music, which is undoubtedly how they ended up on this bill, but their post-rock rhythms set them apart from the pack. The band’s male-female vocals were lovely, contrasting dissonance with harmony to propel the music forward. Crashing, heavy jolts give way to sweeping melodies. Shimmery guitars and ricocheting drums kept the music lively.

Cinemasophia (from

But even during the set, I had the sad thought: “I really like this! I wish I would remember it a month from now.” Although lovely, Cinemasophia doesn’t offer much you won’t forget. The statements simply aren’t extreme enough and even though there may not be too many bands that sound just like this, the components are all so familiar that they fade into the background. Cinemasophia is a great listen, but they’ll need to push their own boundaries if they want to make their impact last. [MySpace]

The next band was the well-loved duo Ceremony (not to be confused with the hardcore band of the same name) on a rare trip up from their home in Virginia. I was excited to finally hear them live, but I must admit, I was slightly disappointed. Though the dark, heavy, shoegazey beats and noise were as great as anticipated, I was expecting a whole hell of a lot more reverb. I’m not sure if I just had the wrong idea about what this band would sound like or if the venue simply couldn’t or didn’t put the proper effects on the PA.

Whatever the case, the vocals were delivered dry and had a rough, indie rock sound to them. It might have been cool if done differently, but the contrast of the ragged vocals over the highly polished and mechanized sound was awkward and dampened the music’s strengths – in other words, the down-home vocals took the bite out of the sound.

Also, it was disappointing to see how much of the band’s music was prerecorded. The night’s headliners, Screen Vinyl Image (whose set I missed this time) make similar music and manage to create a great deal of it live instead of just hitting a “play” button. Hearing so much of overall product pre-made took some of the excitement out of the show, making it rather dreary.

That’s not to say Ceremony is bad! Their recorded material is strong and their live performance has a delightfully massive sound, like running your eardrums over with a steamroller – earplugs are required. The beats, though pre-programmed, were strong and kept the music tense and dynamic. Despite disappointing my admittedly high expectations, the band’s got a lot to feel good about. [MySpace]

Monday, May 4, 2009

Live: Pterodactyl & Oneida

When: 4/25
Where: Secret Project Robot

To celebrate the release of their new LP Worldwild, Brooklyn-based Pterodactyl threw a major bash at DIY space Secret Project Robot, headlined by the longtime NYC rockers Oneida. The combination makes sense because the record was released by Brah Records, the label owned and run by the members of Oneida. But it also makes sense because of the striking musical parallels between the two groups.

Pterodactyl plays a skittering experimental rock, built around the extensive repetition of rhythmic, tense riffs. Despite all the repetition (which is a red-flag word for me when I see a review), the music is crammed full of twisted pop hooks and astonishing harmonies. The rhythmic interplay of major-key guitars is reminiscent of the best of Television – cutting distortion on nimble, interlocking arpeggios. At other times, they ring or snarl, hum or clang.

Pterodactyl (from

The multi-part vocal arrangements are creative collages of hollers and chants. The band’s willful disregard of key signature makes their music deliciously dissonant and makes the resolution into harmony all the more stunning. Holding up the foundation is a frantic clatter of drums, careening though jolting shifts in time signature at 100 mph. And though it’s sometimes buried under discord, distortion and fury, the band keeps afloat a thread of bright pop melody.

And true to the music’s joyous rage, the band members deliver with passion and heart, screaming, contorting and strangling their guitars into submission. At this show, the band performed behind thin veiling curtains (on which video was projected). It was somewhat of a needless gesture, but the band were active and visible enough that it did not detract, just added a slight air of mystery. And all the setup is irrelevant when the music is that good. [MySpace]

Oneida has been around the area for about a dozen years, but though far longer established, they are a natural fit for Pterodactyl; the two bands aim for the same thing – rhythmic, repetitive, loud music adorned with a tangle of pop hooks.

However, they start in two completely different places. While both give hints of krautrock influence, Pterodactyl’s approach seems to have its roots in punk and indie rock, most clearly through the shrieking delivery and math-rock-esque rhythm section. Oneida’s music, in contrast, shows more hints of prog metal and industrial. Their guitars have more weight and the use of electronics makes their music colder and rather more ominous than that of their younger counterparts.

I prefer Pterodactyl’s approach to Oneida’s, but I think that’s a matter of personal preference. Oneida doesn’t have the hints of jubilant melody that Pterodactyl does. Their live songs wore on rather longer and the repetitions extended beyond their life, with changes coming too slowly and too subtly for someone with my attention span. With far more and longer instrumental sections, Oneida offered little for me to hold on to.

However, the band has a dedicated following of fans who filled art-house space with genuine excitement. Looking around, it seemed to that when Oneida hit home with someone, they really hit home. The expressions on the bobbing heads indicated this wasn’t just a “liked” band, it was a favorite band.

If you’re not great with a heavy repetition-to-melody ratio, Oneida might not be the band for you. But if you enjoy the longer trances of Suicide, Can or Neu!, if you like to lose yourself in psychedelic trance-dance and rock out, Oneida is sure to please. [MySpace]