Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Teenage Jesus & the Jerks + more

Tomorrow!! Thursday, October 1

Faust @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $20
WFMU has been one of NYC's best radio stations for the half century of their existence. Their three-day festival at MHOW is positively amazing, opening with a Thursday night show headlined by Faust. Faust, formed in 1969, was one of the first and greatest Krautrock bands, laying much of the groundwork for post punk, art rock and electronica for decades to come.

Coin Under Tongue @ Death By Audio | Williamsburg, Brookly
If Krautrock gives you a headache, check out post-hardcore sludge-punks Coin Under Tongue in their home space at Death By Audio.

Saturday, October 3

Teenage Jesus & the Jerks @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $20
WFMU does it again, bringing their mini-fest to an outstanding close. Teenage Jesus was the quintessential band of the highly arty No Wave scene in NYC in the late 70's. Fronted by the ever-scary crazed queen of the New York avant garde, Lydia Lunch, Teenage Jesus deconstructs punk music to its most intense core. The band is simply without equal.

Monday, October 5

Stupid Party @ Bruar Falls | Williamsburg Brooklyn
Stupid Party is one of my new favorites around town. Their in-your-face mess of noise boasts melodies and rhythms slammed out with sloppy passion. Uncompromising and original, Stupid Party is a must-see. [MySpace]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Live: ...and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

When: 9/19
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

There's nothing small about ...and You Will Know Us by the Trial of Dead - not their name, not their sound, not their roster and certainly not their reputation. But when they took the stage at MHOW, they did so with the air of old friends. I don't mean old friends with one another, I mean old friends with their audience. Their level of comfort and camaraderie came without a trace of pretension (which may be all the more surprising from a band with such a pretentious name).

The live band boasts six members, though the core remains founders and songwriters Jason Reece and Conrad Keely. The two have recruited a good cast to back them up. Everyone put on a great show with the exception of the second guitarist, Kevin Allen, who only lurked near the corner of the stage, unmoving in his argyle sweater. Though he is (I think) the band's oldest member aside from Keely and Reece, he seemed like a deadweight.

In complete contrast was bassit Jay Phillips, who built up so much energy he constantly seemed on the verge of doing a backflip. His huge gestures, however, were dwarfed by his huge sound and excellent playing. With Reece often behind drums and Keely restricted by his need to stay near the microphone, Phillips picked up the visual slack.

The band's duelling drummer approach was brilliantly executed with Reece and regular drummer Aaron Ford playing off one another, complementing each other's beats and rarely seeming duplicative. However, when the band swelled to three guitars (i.e. when Reece and Keely both took the front of the stage), the endeavor was less successful. There, the multiple instruments simply sounded redundant - yes, the guitar sound is rich and complex, but I've heard single guitars accomplish almost as much, when played correctly.

Trail of Dead are decidedly uncool, but have proven themselves awesome over and over again. It's nice to see such great music played some regular dudes, not conventional hotties, not pretentious snobs, but just regular, plain-lookin', normal-acting dudes in black t-shirts. And you know this band didn't make it through on some heart-wrenching backstory or by including a teen heart-throb. These guys made it on their music alone, and they still do.

The show was clearly intensely rehearsed - with such big starts and stops and especially with two drummers, precision isn't optional. However, the band was sloppy in other ways. I don't think bands should play their album cuts note-for-note. Songs should evolve over time. However, when the live show abstracts things too much, listeners who aren't familiar with the recorded material have no reference point and miss out. As Trail of Dead blurred many riffs and melodies, I wondered how much I'd like my favorite TOD songs if I were hearing them for the first time. "How Near, How Far" missed its three-note high at the end of each short phrase in the verse. This little ah-ay-ah has always made the song for me, and when Keely repeated leapfrogged right over the melody, I was left frustrated and disappointed.

Still, the show was pretty amazing. The band's good-natured, inviting atmosphere and their unabashed energy made the whole thing memorable. And true to the band's larger-than-life tradition, the set was packed full of so many huge moments that it seemed like its own grand finale - I kept thinking they were making their big exit and a second later they'd start on something even more dramatic. In that way, despite its shortcomings, it was an exciting and rewarding performance.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Live: Autolux

When: 9/14
Where: Bowery Ballroom

This review is a little late in coming, sorry for that.

LA trio Autolux make arty shoegazey music with earsplitting density under a dark haze. And as such, they aren't the most original group in the world - that sentence could describe many bands. However, Autolux stands out from the group by its maturity. They play with restraint and with the developed artistic sensibility of a band that knows its identity. They may play it a little safe, but on the other side of that coin, the quality of their songs is consistently high.

At the show two weeks ago, the band took the stage like the seasoned professionals they are. Like many shoegazey bands, Autolux aren't big talkers. However, despite minimal banter, they didn't spend the set gazing at their feet; all three members' style of playing is big, filling and overwhelming the Bowery stage.

Autolux (photo from
Autolux (photo from MySpace)

Shoegaze-inspired music has never been known for its drumming, but Autolux drummer Carla Azar clearly takes center stage (literally and figuratively). Her mechanical precision, ice cold syncopation and stunning fills are only half the story. The other half is the perfection of the tone of each drum with each stroke. She appears to have been formally trained, and if not, at least has a deep understanding mechanics and acoustics of percussion - the ride cymbal's tempered ring, the tom's rich tenor, the snare's earthy crack, every single hit is masterful. And Azar's technical skill becomes all the more impressive when she adds her powerful, tuneful singing, while never missing a beat.

As in much post punk music, the bass, rather than guitar, carries the music. Lead singer and bassist Eugene Goreshter proved himself up to the task. While the guitar (sadly too low in the mix at Bowery anyway) was busy as a noise maker, Goreshter covered the riffs and chords with deep tones but enough lightfootedness to keep the songs from getting bogged down.

Strong musicianship in terms of technical ability is not absolutely necessary for success in this style of music - knowledge of effects pedals and feedback loops can take care of a lot. But when you add skilled players to the equation, the result is more powerful, more interesting and more memorable than the rest.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Release: Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Higher than the Stars [EP]

Higher than the Stars (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart)
Release: Higher than the Stars [EP]
Slumberland, 2009
Rating: **** (4/10)

Tweegazers the Pains of Being Pure at Heart put out a surprise hit (or at least "hit" in the indie world) record this winter, but it's eight months later and for a pop band in the internet era, buzz never lasts that long. So, with an ongoing tour and year-end lists drawing ever closer, the Pains need to do something to keep their name in the press.

Sadly, instead of getting themselves arrested for doing something ridiculous or pulling some other dangerous publicity stunt, the Pains decided to call people's attention with a new release, a five song EP out this week.

The EP is thoroughly disappointing. With more electronic beats and synthesized sounds, the band sounds more and more like an 80's throw-back, which is, of course, what they always were, but more subtly than this. The Pains may have been the best twee band since the heyday of Sarah Records, but "Higher than the Stars" and the Cure-esque "Falling Over" sound like any of dozens of New Wave revival bands. They lack Kip Berman's signature guitar sheen, replacing that with overused pop sounds.

"103" and "Twins" sound more like the Pains we know and love, with Berman's guitar making a buzzy, fuzzy wall from start to stop. But here, the melodies don't match those the Pains have written previously. "Twins" is, well, boring and "103" is catchy only in that it has nearly the same riff and melody as their previous single "Come Saturday." Resorting to recycled melodies only two years into their career doesn't bode well for the band. Then again, a lot of people won't notice.

The lyrics are Berman's usual fucked up, creepy words that you don't understand and assume to be sweet until you look at the lyric sheet. The dark themes should be an asset, but for some reason - perhaps because there is nothing in the music, including in Berman's singing, to indicate anything sinister - it just doesn't amount to anything.

The "Higher than the Stars" remix that closes the EP is better than the original, delving into the deeper sounds and far more interesting rhythms, thanks to dub-inspired producers St. Etienne. Still, a remix can't make an EP worthwhile, under any circumstances.

The Pains must decide whether to wallow into their indie pop until they become generic or to pursue more innovative ideas. The band has influences far broader and more interesting than the music lets on and they have the potential to evolve. If they don't, they'll have to face being forgotten as quickly as they were discovered this spring.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Album: Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains

Why There Are Mountains (Cymbals Eat Guitars)
Album: Why There Are Mountains
Sister's Den, 2009
Rating: ******* (7/10)

Earlier this year, the name Cymbals Eat Guitars suddenly began appearing in unlikely places, thanks largely to a slot on Pitchfork's "Best New Music" list. I was pretty surprised, given that when I'd first heard of the band, quite a while ago, I'd stumbled upon them entirely by accident on MySpace and had thought of them a unnotable local act, one I would have forgotten entirely if their rather unusual/annoying name hadn't stuck in my head.

Of course, when this album surfaced this spring, I was confused and surprised. And since Pitchfork said it was good, my instinct was to hate it. But I thought I'd give it a chance and review it fairly upon its rerelease. (It was self-released in January and released again on a proper label this week.) And that's what I'm doing now.

But I've struggled with what to say about this album. I'd like to simultaneously give it a score of 5/10 and 9/10 (so 7/10 is the best compromise). It's bursting with creative energy and some great moments. On the other hand, it's green from end to end. Even the album cover seems amateur and rushed.

Mountains starts off sounding pretty much like a slightly "off" copy of Modest Mouse, with a series of sudden bursts of yelling and noise. Modest Mouse remains the best reference point throughout - probably because Joseph D'Agostino's slightly-too-quirky, slightly-too-young voice is a convincing impression of MM's Isaac Brock. Obviously, I don't mean that as a compliment, but it's not the worst thing either.

As the album wears on, it sounds increasingly like a mash-up of well-selected and well-executed highlights of indie rock/pop's last fifteen years. From the Strokes-esque slick melody and guitar crunch of "Some Trees" to the lush indie pop of "Indiana," CEG cover a lot of ground and master each style with proficient musicianship and strong writing.

Unfortunately, that strong writing only exists on the smallest scale, section to section. Each longwinded track leads nowhere in particular, and the album as a whole is far more confusing that satisfying. You could cut each section out of each song and rearrange them in almost any combination for the same effect. An album should be more than just a collection of good ideas; the whole should be more than the sum of its parts. And this isn't.

There are also quite a few bad ideas thrown in, and while these are outnumbered, they will further frustrate the listener. There are way too many horn parts on the album and as in the subdued "Share," they often just don't fit. The lyrics (where I can hear them) are similarly contrived and overwrought.

What all of this boils down to is that nothing quite comes together - phrases don't form songs or songs an album, words don't quite meld with music, instruments don't lock in sonically with others, beats don't match melodies, hooks and noise don't reveal a larger vision. Everything begs the question "what's the point?"

CEG sound like a band with great promise, but one who have barely begun to iron out their identity. From moment to moment, they sound a lot like a lot of different bands, but never really sound like themselves. The band is clearly experimenting and at the same time holding something back. Mountains gives us every reason to believe this could be a great band in the making. But whether they can complete that process after being shoved into the spotlight a such a tender age remains to be seen. Let's hope so.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Wavves, Werewolves

Not a lot of good shows going on this week, at least not inspiring enough to override my lazy desire not to write up shows this week. But this weekend...

Friday, September 25

Wavves @ Market Hotel | Bushwick, Brooklyn
Wavves suck and can barely play their instruments. But they are so fuckin' awesome. They are nice kids who write catchy little songs full of distortion and play them with enthusiasm and energy. One of the best. [MySpace]

Saturday, September 26

Werewolves @ Market Hotel | Bushwick, Brooklyn
WEREWOLVES!!!!!!!! Man do I ever love this band. They are hard to describe, because their music spans the entire psychedelic spectrum, from late 60's rock and early garage rock to post punk and shoegaze. If you can imagine Kevin Shields playing guitar for the Doors, that's getting close. Basically, they've got walls of sound, shifting pitchings, measured tempos, catchy-but-weird melodies, weighty beats and a sense of humor. From noise experiments to pop tunes, Werewolves cover a lot of ground, all of it good. [MySpace]

That's it for the week, unless you want to trek out to see Stupid Party at Silent Barn on Sunday, but that's such a long trip for such a crappy venue, I can't recommend it.

News: Harlem Shakes Break Up

Somehow I missed this news this weekend. The Harlem Shakes broke up, or so it's rumored. Which really sucks since they're one of my favorite NYC bands and just seemed to be getting started. There's nothing on their myspace or their blog confirming or denying this, so let's hope it's not true.

Rawkblog clued me in.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Album: Why? - Eskimo Snow

Eskimo Snow (Why?)
Album: Eskimo Snow
Anticon, 2009
Rating: ********* (9/10)

In 2008, Ohio-born, San Francisco-based Why? generated some excitement with their indie rock-styled rap album Alopecia. Though original and ultimately one of the most interesting releases of 2008, Alopecia was not the most sophisticated of records, including quite a few skippable tracks and only a handful of really memorable ones.

It's only 2009, but Eskimo Snow could hardly be further from its predecessor. Gone are almost all traces of rap, replaced with rich indie rock and twangy hints of country and folk. And yeah, that sounds awful, but it simply blows Alopecia out of the water. Introspective and startlingly earnest, the album shows a drastic leap in maturity. (True, this was recorded at the same time as Alopecia, but it sounds eons more grown-up.)

Despite the dramatic stylistic shift, Eskimo Snow doesn't confuse Why?'s identity as a band, probably because founder-singer-leader Yoni Wolf has a distinct unpolished voice and a distinct lyrical style, whether he's singing or rapping his lines. Of course, he's dropped the zingers of last year ("I never said I didn't have syphilis, Miss Listless") in favor of more brooding lines ("You might find me in the white pages yet / my name is next to numbers / like someone's father's father / left listed in the book of numbers"), but if anything, he's gotten more clever. From loaded images to morbid questions, Wolf's lyrics are relentlessly smart and sincerely affecting.

These rhymes are backed mostly with piano and percussion, but with some guitars and more synthesized sounds stepping up as needed. Ever the student of hip-hop, Wolf keeps a certain rhythmic sensibility even while departing fully from the genre (for the clearest example, check "On Rose Walk, Insomniac"). The best part of the album, however, may be the melodies. Foregoing simple catchy hooks, Eskimo Snow takes on the harder task of making complex melodies while not drifting off course. And in this, it succeeds far beyond expectation, keeping each song memorable and purposeful despite the lack of short-scale repetition. After each moment of excellence, one expects something a bit weaker to follow, but every single one of the album's ten tracks is as good as the last.

Why? albums have all been frank, but until now, Wolf has diluted his vulnerability with wit and the aforementioned "zingers," plays on words and general badassery. On Eskimo Snow, he rips himself open. It's courageous and profound, as he struggles with early adulthood and its profound fears and realizations. Emotional pain, personal battles and insecurities come flooding out, all with intelligence and a very healthy sense of humor.

Mid-way through the album, Wolf muses "Saying all this in public should make me feel funny / but you gotta yield yell[?] something that you never tell nobody." A surprisingly mature, accomplished and touching album, Eskimo Snow may be an upset in critics' year-end and even decade-end lists. And you should definitely get it in touch with your ears as soon as possible - i.e. its official release date, tomorrow.


Live: Naked Raygun

When: 9/12/09
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

The number of early American hardcore bands reuniting got silly a few years ago. But as silly as it seems, for those of us who were in kindergarten or perhaps just a twinkle in our parents' eyes back in punk's heyday, it's a chance to glimpse a little of what we missed. And one of the bands I'm happiest I've had the chance to see is Chicago's Naked Raygun.

Of the many reunions I've seen, Naked Raygun seems to be one of the closest to their youthful punk origins. The band's only consistent member was only ever singer Jeff Pezzati, joined now on stage by three former Naked Raygun members from the tail end of the band's original lifetime. More melodic than most of their fellow hardcore bands, but as confrontational as any, Naked Raygun stand out in a generation of sound-alikes. Their tunefulness would be echoed on the West Coast a few years later by poppy punk-revival bands like Jawbreaker and Pennywise, but their aggressive, controversial politics set them apart from those groups as well.

Many of the 80's indie bands reunited have grown up; even most of those who still rock hard (X, Dinosaur Jr, etc.) seem more settled - just as you'd expect after twenty or thirty years. Naked Raygun, however, hardly seems to have grown up at all. Pezzati, whose personality has always defined the band, still looks like a gangly teenage punk. While at least three of the four current members - including Pezzati - have kids, they don't seem to have moved along with the rest of their generation from rebels to members of the Establishment; I bet they'd fit in better with today's nineteen-year-olds than with their fellow forty-somethings (or is it already fifty-somethings?). Aside from some apparent stiffness in the joints of the rhythm section and a few gray hairs, you wouldn't know more than two decades had elapsed since the band's peak.

Pezzati, the rare punk singer who can actually sing, was in top form, cutting loose his ambitious melodies, crouching and snarling, bouncing and hollering, like a punk singer should. He liked to give the audience a turn in the mic too. Guitarist Bill Stephens was just as lively, rocking out on a Flying V that met with the crowd's approval when Pezzati asked if it was "too rock'n'roll." Stephens is as accomplished a guitarist as Pezzati is a singer, showing punk doesn't have to be without musical skill to be legit.

The band played an excellent mix of old and new songs, but there might have been too much new if it were not for the fact that the band's recent pieces match the quality of their earlier work one-hundred percent. There isn't a noticeable stylistic departure in their newer material either. It's just more of the same kind of hard-edged anthem fans have loved since the band's beginnings.

It may not be Chicago, it may not be 1985, but it's closer than I ever expected to get.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Album: A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar

Ashes Grammar (A Sunny Day in Glasgow)
Album: Ashes Grammar
Mis Ojos Discos, 2009
Rating: ****** (6/10)

I’ve been sitting on this album for months now, listening from time to time and trying to figure out what to write. Finally, the release date (September 15) snuck right past me, and still nothing written.

Finally, I have to admit that it’s simply not a remarkable album. I’ve known of ASDIG long before I started this site, and was a major fan from the start. Their walls of electronic and guitar sounds are startling and make what feels like a physical impact (like running into a brick wall, yeah?). This coupled with an underdeveloped but clear pop sensibility made the band a quick favorite.

As such, I’ve been looking forward to this album since last fall (actually, you can read proof of that in my first RFR review ever, which was of ASDIG’s CMJ show) and when I got my hard copy and put it in my stereo this summer, I was prepared for a mind-blowing experience. Instead…nothing.

I didn’t and don’t hate this album by any stretch. It certainly has its good moments. But it’s not only fair but even necessary to judge an album based on its ambitions, and at twenty-two tracks, it’s clear this record aimed high. An album made as party music can be judged on being fun and catchy, but one like this must be evaluated for its artistic achievements, sonically and conceptually. And held to its own high standards, Ashes Grammar fails.

First of all, there is the lack of hooks and melodies to engage the listener. A few songs, starting with the unexpectedly bouncy "Failure" (already the fourth track) are head-nod-able, though you have dig through quite a bit of chaff to find them. And no matter how hard you search, you won’t find a riff in over an hour of music.

That’s not to say that melodies, riffs and hooks are the only way music can be good. Unfortunately, this album doesn’t really succeed on other fronts either. Although there is a vague sense of journey from track to track, the album doesn’t leave you far from where it started. On both the song and album levels, Ashes stagnates. A sense of composition is, quite simply, absent.

Given the CMJ set last fall and other murmurings, I was expecting an album with balls, something loud and edgy and aggressive. Instead, this sports more semi-choral vocals, gradual volume shifts and seemingly arbitrary synthesized tones. I don’t have much love of wussy music that isn’t pop, since I can’t find anything to hold on to. Songs like this album’s title track seem decidedly un-brave.

The album does occasionally shine. "Failure" is a welcome relief from monotony, and "Passionate Introverts" is the closest the album comes to meeting my expectations. Sadly, the few good tracks are diluted by the sheer track count on the album, and finding them buried in the snooze-fest hardly seems worth the effort.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dust It Off: Swell Maps - Jane From Occupied Europe

Jane From Occupied Europe (Swell Maps)
Album: Jane from Occupied Europe
Rough Trade, 1980

Among the many bands inexplicably overlooked today, none are more inexplicable than Swell Maps. The Maps emerged in the creative explosion in early post-punk UK, and their name is hardly obscure among British indie rockers. However, Americans rarely think of the Maps when considering the best and most influential post-punkers.

But Swell Maps were among the very best and without question among the most influential. Two of the greatest American indie bands of all time, Sonic Youth and Pavement, have cited Swell Maps as a pivotal influence in their careers. And listening to this, the band’s masterpiece, there is little question why.

Jane from Occupied Europe brims with creativity, bouncing from experimental ambience and krautrock to poppy little numbers that sound more like American 90’s lo-fi than anything in their own time. Much of the creativity and variety is no doubt due to the band’s mix-n-match arrangement, with all members contributing to writing at least some songs, no member writing on every song and instrumental and vocal duties divided differently for each track.

Despite all this, there’s also a certain consistency to the tracks. Sonic experimentalism defines even the most accessible of tracks ("Cake Shop Girl," "Helicopter Spies," etc.) while in even the most krautrock-inspired pieces have a certain messy, human warmth. Even "Mining Villages," a brief recording of a typewriter and almost kazoo-like noise, has an accessibly, populist sensibility. With unpolished production, garage-style minimalism and punk energy, the entire album strikes an outstanding balance between the arty avant-garde, and the banging fun of rock.

The real highlight of the album is the final bonus track included on the 2004 Secretly Canadian release, “New York.” The massive sheet of lo-fi guitar is over a decade ahead of its time, complemented by a half-shouted rhythmic melody and crashing drums. Swell Maps have clearly beat bands like Pavement at their own game, at a time when the leaders of 90’s indie rock had probably yet to learn cursive and the state capitals, let alone guitar.

While researching, I found another interesting and thorough blogspot review, so if you'd like to read more, check it out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Live: A Place to Bury Strangers + Nine 11 Thesaurus, Reading Rainbow

When: 9/11
Where: The Maze @ Death By Audio

Another day, same maze. The first band I saw on Friday was the hip-hop crew Nine 11 Thesaurus. I was surprised to see a [black] rap group in midst of a [white] indie rock hipster crowd, but it wasn't as awkward a situation as it could have been. Normally, indie rock culture seems to do all it can to skirt around the issue of race, which of course only makes the potential for antagonism worse. However, at this show, mutual respect seemed to be the rule. As for the music, it was pretty hard-edged East Coast rap, though poppy enough to avoid alienating listeners. The beats were unremarkable and the rapping was nothing special. However, the group's rowdy, enthusiastic delivery made up for some of the set's less exciting aspects. [MySpace]

Next up, in the back room, I was able to get a good view of Philadelphia duo Reading Rainbow. Their minimal, noisy garage rock was enjoyable, but I was saddened by the thought that in two weeks, I won't remember them. Minimalist drumming + minimalist guitar + rough-around-the-edges songs is simply one of the most common formulas in post-2000 indie rock, and with so many folks on the bandwagon, you'd have to do something pretty spectacular to stand out, no matter how genuine and solid your music. [MySpace]

I think some other bands played but I had to get some dinner and just made it back in time to secure a spot in sight of the stage for the already-legendary A Place to Bury Strangers. From where I stood in the maze, I could see singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann much of the time and occasionally glimpse drummer Jay Space. They pumped the front of the house so full of fog from a smoke machine, however, that even the few of us whose view wasn't completely obscured by the walls of the maze could barely make out the band.

Two words came simultaneously to describe the show - visceral and visual. The former is just the impact of the sheer volume, pealing feedback and roaring distortion from Ackermann's custom pedals, along with intense, ice-cold, break-speed beats. The latter, however, is a bit of a bummer, given that most of the audience couldn't appreciate the visual components. From where I was standing, however, the visual attack was one of the most notable of the show.

As a general rule, APTBS uses strobe lights to bring things up a notch for the closing parts of their set, and while I'd always thought this was effective, seeing it in such a small space, in such densely smoky air, brought the concept to a new level. Part of me thinks bands shouldn't rely on visual props, and while APTBS's music can stand on its own, it definitely sounded weaker to me when I closed my eyes.

However, during this show, the murk and the strobe suddenly made perfect sense to me. I have a hard time looking at strobe lights and usually avert my eyes, but this time, I made myself stare straight onto the stage. APTBS thrives on overloading its audience with sonic stimuli, and when coupled with a visual overload, this can basically cause an altered state of consciousness. Distortion on a guitar is created by bombarding a circuit with an electric current beyond its capacity. In a similar way, APTBS attacks your brain with too much for its circuits to handle, and the result is a feeling of utter detachment from the surroundings and total physical and mental immersion in the music as it unfolds.

The only band I've seen with a similar psychological effect is My Bloody Valentine, who, of course, accomplish the same thing to a far greater degree (and generally without relying on visuals). MBV redefined what a concert experience could be and APTBS seems to have taken up their mantle in pushing these extremes. They haven't broken new ground yet, but they may well be on their way. [MySpace]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Live: Gowns, Pterodactyl at "The Maze"

When: 9/10
Where: The Maze @ Death By Audio

Death By Audio has recently filled its small two-room space with a wall-to-wall maze. If you're having trouble imagining how such an installation would work in a small music venue like this, there's a simple explanation - it doesn't work. It's a neat idea, and I haven't minded so far seeing shows there, but there's no bizarre trick you're failing to think of, the reality is simply that unless you find a spot good and early and hold your ground, you won't be able to see the bands.

The first band I found in the maze, after making my way to the back room, was Pterodactyl, down one member, tucked in an opening center of the passageways. I thought perhaps Ptero's two-man line-up was to accommodate the utter lack of space in maze's center, but rumor has it, guitarist Jesse Hodges missed the show at the last minute, due to an emergency, which probably explained why the remaining duo sounded underrehearsed.

The band wisely chose to build their music on anticipation rather than attempt watered-down versions of their usual outbursts. It wasn't nearly as satisfying as their normal set, especially only half a drum set (snares off, too, for no apparent reason) and barely an inch to move round. I was glad I'd seen the band before and knew their songs well enough to appreciate the adaptations - this certainly wouldn't have made so strong a first impression as the first time I did see them. But you've gotta give them some credit for pulling it out at all - once again, the band shows their capacity for doing a lot with a little. [MySpace]

The highlight of the night was Gowns, a West Coast band that only passes through down every year or so. I hadn't seen them before, but I'd heard good things from trusted sources, so I had high expectations. But apparently, not high enough. I was simply not prepared for a band so relentlessly creative, measured and intense.

Of those adjectives, intense is probably the most important. This band could rank just after Slint and Joy Division in a contest of most horrific portrayals of the inside of psychological deterioration. If Gowns' three members are not deeply disturbed individuals, then they may have missed out on lucrative acting careers - but I think their performance was indeed sincere, especially principal singer and guitarist Erika Anderson, who seems to pour the darkest corners of her psyche out into the mic in each song.

The lyrics, so far as I could catch them, seemed a little over-the-top in their melodrama, touching on cliches a little too often for comfort. In contrast, their music never approaches cliche and shows outstanding restraint. Anderson's singing is strong enough and she bold enough to let it loose with only the faintest instrumental backing, faint synth chords and guitar hum shifting towards increasing dissonance as the true psychological trauma of the songs unfolds. When the band does pick it up and rock hard, they rock hard well, with crunchy guitar, powerful drums and concise melodies.

Despite some disappointing lyrics, seeing a band this courageous, this willing to turn themselves inside-out on stage, and to eschew musical conventions in favor of new ideas - all this is a rare experience. The sonic minimalism leaves the band nothing to hide behind. The best art comes from admitting vulnerability, and in this regard, Gowns are far closer to an artistic ideal that most musicians will ever be. [MySpace]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Album: Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Popular Songs (Yo La Tengo)
Album: Popular Songs
Matador, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

This album came out on Tuesday, when I reviewed two other albums. I meant to do two on Monday and one on Tuesday, but then Monday ended up being a holiday (I forgot) and so I'm a bit behind. Please forgive me.

Yo La Tengo have been playing for a quarter of a century now, and over two and half decades and dozen LP releases, YLT have established a contradictory pattern - never staying the same and never changing. On nearly every release, the band has pushed themselves to try new, potentially scary ideas - they never let themselves get too comfortable.

On the other hand, none of the ideas they introduce are truly radical. Think of Yo La Tengo as explorers, heading out in directions from their base camp - as opposed to those explorers who pick up their tents every night and settle down somewhere completely new. This approach isn't good or bad - on the one hand, YLT will probably never revolutionize indie music. On the other hand, they will never give in to the temptation to try arbitrary, artless crap just to keep an "edge."

Unlike the band's last release, 2007's I Am Not Afraid of You..., Popular Songs returns to the denser soundscapes of the band's best work (I Can Hear the Heart... and Painful). However, the band's new direction is immediately clear, when Ira Kaplan's opening lines are accompanied by a wealth of strings. Strings and organ are prominent on many tracks, while the band's more light-hearted quirkiness can only be found in a couple of songs. Kaplan's vocals even seem a bit jazzed up and the whole album is darker and more serious than the group's previous work.

Not shying away from a big un-"indie" sound, YLT here demand respect from a broader audience than ever. Moreover, the rich orchestration is always blended into YLT's typical murky, ambient guitars. The production is deep, dark and cozy - I don't know if the recording was analogue, but it certainly has that organic feel.

However, the release is sadly lacking in catchiness and rockingness. "Nothing to Hide" kicks serious ass, and "If It's True" keeps the tempo while Kaplan and drummer Georgia Hubely pass the vocals deftly back and forth. However, most of the tracks are much more low-key. For example, the pairing of a sweet, introspective song sung by Kaplan (#7, "I'm On My Way") and one sung Hubley (#8, "When It's Dark") remind us that it's not only the band that's lasted twenty-five years so far, it's also Kaplan and Hubley's marriage, and they seem as deeply in love as ever.

The worst news about this album is that it not only follows a YLT tradition of ending albums with incohesive jams, it takes this problem to a new level by closing out with three tracks ranging from nearly ten minutes to nearly sixteen minutes long. Like "Spec Beebop" and "Night Falls of Hoboken," these songs are self-indulgent. They must have been fun to record, but they aren't fun to listen to - as foreground, they are too long and repetitive, as background too droning and predictable.

Anyone familiar with Yo La Tengo will be used to this kind of thing, though. And anyone familiar with Yo La Tengo can tell you it's worth plowing through the bullshit to get those perfect, slow-pop gems. If you're new to YLT, don't start here, but if you're already a fan just hungry for more, you're in luck.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shows You Should NOT Attend This Fall

As you probably noticed, there are a ton of awesome shows coming up this month and later in the fall. Here's what you should avoid:

Sept. 9 - Boredoms @ Terminal 5
The Boredoms are probably the greatest noise rock band ever. Terminal 5 will make them inaudible. Skip it!

Sept. 17 - Horrors @ Bowery Ballroom
Unless you go to hear Crocodiles, who are good but not great, skip this show. I heard the Horrors open for someone or other recently, and they were miserable. Just boring, wanna-be-goth-but-have-no-idea-what-that-means generic rock band. Skip it!

Sept. 18 - Trail of Dead, Secret Machines @ Webster Hall
Don't skip these bands, skip this show and catch them the next day at Music Hall of Williamsburg, which is smaller and has immeasurably better acoustics. Unless you really want to see Youth Brigade on Sept. 19, in which case, this is the best you can do.

Sept. 24 - Japandroids @ Mercury Lounge
I loved Japandroids until I saw them live. If you like this band, buy their record and avoid their show at all costs!

Sept. 25 - Yo La Tengo @ Roseland Ballroom
Roseland Ballroom is a creepy, corporate place that's still somehow dirty and has absolutely miserable acoustics. The show is almsot $30, and as great as Yo La Tengo is, you can see them under better circumstances for less money if you're patient. It's not like they're likely to break up - they've been a band for close to thirty years now. Skip it!

Oct. 4-7 - Sufjan Stevens @ Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sufjan is good, but these "small venue" shows (at 500-cap. venues, small is always a relative term) are way overhyped. Anyway, you can't get tickets even if you want to (they've basically made scalping impossible), but at least feel better about not getting tix, because it's just not worth all this buzz.

Nov. 11 - Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. @ Terminal 5
If you go to this, you will just cry and/or put your fist through a wall out of frustration, because you will not be able to hear anything of two of the greatest indie bands in American history. Terminal 5 may have the worst acoustics of any venue building in human history. It's defeaningly loud yet paradoxically inaudible. You'd have better luck hearing the bands inside a giant jet engine. Skip it!

Upcoming Shows: A Place to Bury Strangers, Naked Raygun, Zeros + more!

TOMORROW! Thursday, September 10

Gowns, Pterodactyl @ Death By Audio ("The Maze") | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
I've already told you so much about Pterodactyl and how their wild arpeggiated guitars, unrepeating drums and manic hollering add up to something pretty awesome that doesn't sound much like anyone else. I haven't seen Gowns yet, as they live in California, but it would seem they make similarly edgy, minimalist noise rock, though perhaps in a less manic and more unsettling. We shall see. Oh, and Death By Audio is a maze now. [Gowns MySpace] [Ptero MySpace]

Friday, September 11

A Place To Bury Strangers @ Death By Audio ("The Maze") | Williamsburg Brooklyn
It's such a rare opportunity now to hear APTBS play a small venue or a DIY venue. Not only is DBA the best small DIY venue in town, it's also the band's home. The music collective that runs the venue was started by APTBS's Oliver Ackermann and you know they'll be at the top of their game playing in the place they got their start (and I'd assume, where they still rehearse). Ackermann founded DBA as a custom pedal factory and that's important because it's the custom pedals that make APTBS a stand-out band - the sheer metallic roar and Himalayas' worth of feedback. In other words, bring ear plugs. Heavy-duty industrial ones. [MySpace]

Saturday, September 12

Naked Raygun @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $15 adv./$18 dos.
Naked Raygun was the essential hardcore band in Chicago in the early 80's. Melodic and arty, but with all the fast-loud spirit of other early hardcore bands, Naked Raygun remain one of the greatest examples of American indie ever. [MySpace]

Sunday, September 13

Feelies @ Southpaw | Park Slope, Brooklyn | $25
I think $25 is too much to pay for a show, even for the band that invented jangly Hoboken pop in the 80's. If you've got the cash, though, and you like sweet melodies, simple songs and smiles all around, check it out. It's a double set, so you will get some bang for your buck. [MySpace]

Monday, September 14

Autolux @ Bowery Ballroom | LES, Manhattan | $15
Autolux play wall-of-sound dream pop, but with balls. Basically, people who like shoegaze-influenced alt rock (Catherine Wheel, Trail of Dead, early Smashing Pumpkins, etc.) would be hard put to find much better than this. [MySpace]

Tuesday, September 15

Zeros + Jemina Pearl @ Southpaw | Park Slope, Brooklyn | $15
Zeros are one of the original LA punk bands from the late 70's/early 80's. In addition to being one of the great American punk bands, they are one of the only still touring with the original line-up intact. So if you weren't going to shows in southern California in 1978 (or you were and you want to relive it), this is your chance. Opening is Jemina Pearl of the now-defunct, very young, very talented punk outfit Be Your Own Pet. [MySpace (unofficial)] [JP MySpace]

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Album: Vivian Girls - Everything Goes Wrong

Everything Goes Wrong (Vivian Girls)
Album: Everything Goes Wrong
In the Red, 2009
Rating: **** (4/10)

Shockingly, the new Vivian Girls album, out today, doesn't quite live up to its name, "Everything Goes Wrong." Several things go right, though not quite enough to push this album past a 4/10 score.

In general, Everything Goes Wrong follows very much in the minimalist vein of the band's earlier releases - distorted guitar played poorly, basic 4/4 beats and wannabe-endearing off-key melodies. However, simply by virtue of having to play a lot since their bizarrely ungrounded success last year, the Vivian Girls have got some much needed practice and have improved astronomically. They've started occasionally writing melodies with more than three notes and they even have a couple of real riffs!

The best song on the album is, far and away, "Double Vision," which features a simple but solid riff and a damn decent melody. Though the song does wear on significantly longer than it should, it actually doesn't grow completely stale - it picks up a bit near the end and thus propels itself forward. "The End" and "Before I Start to Cry" also have reasonable melodies and enough going on to maintain interest.

A number of other songs are more disappointing. "Desert" starts with a riff that sounds like, well, the first riff you might come up with when plunking around, possibly while watching TV - in other words, it doesn't seem to have had a lot of thought put into it. Then, the seong seems to redeem itself with a enticing vocal melody in the verse, only to launch into an unlistenable chorus a minute later.

As within this song, within the album as a whole, for every good moment, there are two rotten ones. Songs like "When I'm Gone" and "You're My Guy" feature melodies that make me want to jump in front of traffic to avoid ever hearing again. Despite ranging from tolerable to nauseous, the songs all basically sound the same and after listening to several in a row, I can feel my brain cells dying.

Of course, the lyrics are worst of all. Whether or not it's part of the band's highly affected aesthetic, writing lines that sound like the musings of a particularly not-bright fifteen-year-old is not excusable. It's best to try to tune the words out, or, as with nails on a chalkboard, best not to get within earshot in the first place.

Kudos to the Vivian Girls for putting out an album that has a several listenable tracks. Keep working and you'll be slightly above average before you know it! (And the funny thing is, I don't mean that nearly as meanly as it sounds.)


Album: Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II

Only Built for Cuban Links II (Raekwon)
Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
Ice H20, 2009
Rating: ********* (9/10)

The world has been waiting fourteen years for this follow-up to Raekwon's 1995 solo debut, which was hailed as one of the best rap albums of all time. Raekwon, who got his start in the Wu-Tang Clan, is known as Raekwon the Chef, and OB4CL I chronicled the drama of trafficking coke in intimate detail. Unsurprisingly, OB4CL II returns to these themes, with unsubtle song titles like "Pyrex Vision," "Baggin Crack" and "Ten Bricks."

However, the album seems more linked to the Wu-Tang debut 36 Chambers than to Raekwon's earlier opus. References to the themes and lyrics of that album abound. The entire original Wu-Tang Clan except U-God appears as well - even Ol' Dirty Bastard makes a posthumous appearance on "Ason Jones," a startlingly frank and loving tribute to the WTC founder. (The beat was also laid down by hip-hop master J Dilla before his own untimely death in 2006.)

OB4CL II features relatively few surprises - it remains in the general Wu-Tang style and, as expected, features some of the best hardcore rapping ever recorded. At twenty-three tracks, you'd expect some filler and the types of interludes used by Wu-Tang in the past. However, all two dozen tracks are full-fledged songs, if not all of consistent quality.

When I first listened to the album, the first two tracks didn't play and I didn't notice, so I started with "Sonny's Missing," an extremely (perhaps gratuitously) violent song with a spare, deep, dark beat and naked vocal attack. When I discovered the album actually followed the WTC tradition of including an introductory track, I was disappointed to learn OB4CL II hadn't broken the template at all. The album is simply and sadly not earth-shattering, no matter how good the tracks.

The second song, "House of Flying Daggers," features WTCers Inspectah Deck and Method Man in a well-executed throw back to 36 Chambers, made even edgier, darker and more aggressive. Unfortunately, some of the later WTC-centered tracks grasp less successfully for this hard-edged sound, ending up muddled or stale - "Black Mozart" and "Kiss the Ring" seem confused and overwrought, while "New Wu" slightly misses the (admittedly high) mark.

With over a dozen credited producers, the tracks lack some cohesion. Marley Marl's lazy, minor-key guitar loop on "Pyrex Vision" is followed by Icewater's overdone, orchestral production on "Cold Outside." Scram Jones's melodic sense makes a poor chaser for Allah Mathematics' "Mean Streets" and Dr. Dre's chilled out grooves rest uncomfortably in the midst of a distinctly East Coast album.

The more melodic songs are the most incongruous on the record. "Cold Outside" is a beautiful tune, but trumpets and grandiose production cost it its edge. The female R&B vocals on "Have Mercy" seem half-baked. In general, Icewater-produced songs seem greatly overdone in their heavy orchestration - part of WTC's appeal, and indeed part of the appeal of hardcore rap in general, is its raw minimalism. While the richer backing tracks work in a few places, like the highly dramatized "Canal Street," they mostly just gum up the works.

Better are the stripped, straight-forward beats of "Penitentiary" and "Broken Safety." The former builds painful levels of tension with a fast, high piano pulse on a single uncomfortable interval throughout the entire song. The latter rests on a scraping, metallic bass on the upbeat and little else. "Surgical Gloves" is also worthy of note - the Alchemist's production features cold chiming as if from a video game.

Though most of the songs on the album are excellent, "House of Flying Daggers" and "Canal Street" are both stand-out tracks with enough pop appeal to stick in your memory but enough edge to stand with the WTC's best. "We Will Rob You" is not the best song by any stretch, but the clever humor of the lyrics and the ability to recall the referenced rock song while still sounding like a Raekwon album are certainly worthy of note.

The single strongest track is probably "Broken Safety," which distills the spirit of East Coast rap to its purest form. Guests Jadakiss and Styles P share Raekwon's mic and prove themselves worthy of the role. Straight-forward, unembellished and in your face, "Broken Safety" represents the best of its genre.

"Kiss the Ring" makes for a poor closer, burying talent bellow a jumble of half-articulated ideas. Luckily, the album's bonus track, "Walk with Me," makes a much better finale. The ethereal singing and sparkling wind chimes in the background certainly set it apart, but all the components come together to make a cohesive and powerful statement.

After the disastrous 8 Diagrams, Wu-Tang members have been trying to prove they still have balls. Some of the graphic lyrics in OB4CL II seem unnecessary, especially as Raekwon has nothing to prove. Still, this is probably the heaviest Wu-Tang project to date and in this case, that's a very good thing. As "Broken Safety" explains, "Fuck savin' hip-hop, we bringin' the streets back."

Wu-Tang Forever.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Live: Lightning Bolt + Teeth Mountain

When: 8/31
Where: Broadway Backyard, Bushwick

On Sunday, while all the wussy kids (including Jay-Z and Beyonce, apparently) went to Williamsburg Waterfront to check out snooze-pop band Grizzly Bear, the cool kids hopped on the J train to Todd P's new vacant lot of choice, Broadway Backyard in Bushwick. It speaks to the quality of the bands playing that many of Brooklyn's best musicians turned out to see the show, including Shilpa Ray, Pterodactyl and some of the Death By Audio folks. Meanwhile, the Vivian Girls and the rest of the Woodsist/In the Red/whatever clan where nowhere to be seen. (I'll you decide whether or not that speaks to the quality of the music too.)

Since I attended the Woodsist/Captured Tracks festival at this space earlier this summer, I knew the acoustics to be surprisingly sound. Despite being outdoors, and therefore losing controlled resonance and instead gaining late, loud echos off the train tracks and buildings, the music is blasted loud enough to remain clear and full.

When I arrived, Todd P's ipod was playing in alphabetical order (Weezer, Wipers, Wipers, Woods, XTC) but before we got to find out if he owns any ZZ Top, Teeth Mountain took the stage. Teeth Mountain play repetitive, percussion-driven fusion music, which puts them definitively in a camp with the likes of Aa and Gang Gang Dance. It's not all drumming though (neither are those bands) but includes noise guitar, bass and saxophone as well as some electronics and homemade devices.

On the percussion end, the beats were pretty cool. One of the two drummers was a chick and I'm always happy to see lady drummers because there are so few. On an array of snares, tom-toms and roto-toms, the two percussionists overlaid some sweet, grooving polyrhythms. They did seem a little underrehearsed and definitely lost track of each other a few times, but they covered it up well - you'd only know it by their facial expressions.

The rest of the band were less notable in musicianship, but not half bad either. As I mentioned before, they played a pretty wide bunch of instruments, mostly in a noise-rock kind of way - I don't think I heard a single tuneful line. Despite my limited tolerance for this sort of "experimentalism" and my extremely limited tolerance for saxophones, I rather enjoyed the noise coming from the front half of the stage.

The band definitely drew from influences around the world. On one song, roto-toms resemble tabla drumming and as "Jasper" pointed out to me, one of the instruments in the front was making a sound like a heavily distorted sitar. While the beats remained largely in the realm of generic "tribal" (am I the only one who finds use of this term offensive?), there were hints of West African and Latin inspiration scattered in.

However, overall, the songs weren't much different from one another and within each song, repetition was the dominant force. That sort of repetition doesn't hold my attention, though I recognize some people are into it. I ended up feeling bored and disappointed, but if you do like hearing the same two bars over and over again (and trust me, I know a lot of people who do), this is one of the best bands you'll find in the scene today. [MySpace]

Of course, I, like everyone else, was really at the show to see the legendary Lightning Bolt, a drum and bass (not drum'n'bass!) duo from Rhode Island. Despite not having a proper guitar in their ranks, Lightning Bolt makes amazing guitar music. How? Well, quite simply by playing the SHIT out of a bass guitar.

Bassist Brian Gibson plays his guitar in an alternate tuning which allows for a greater range in pitch, and is known to string his high A (a G in normal tuning) with a banjo string. Everything Gibson plays is heavily distorted, which gives weight to overtones and further expands the range of frequencies blasting out of his amp. (I also thought he had an octaver, but I might just have been hearing that banjo string's tone. If anyone knows, I'm interested.)

Moving smoothly from riff to chord to bassline, Gibson never rests. He even often plays frenetic, crunch-metal guitar riffs in the highest registers while simultaneously hitting bass notes on beat one of each bar. I'd guess you'd need about three typical bass players at least to cover the ground Lightning Bolt covers with one.

Lightning Bolt
Lightning Bolt (picture from

But that's not even the highlight. The drumming is. Brian Chippendale's noise drumming is relentless sixteenth and thirty-second notes, polyrhythms and fills at about 200 BPM (that's fast). If you're prone to headaches, I'd warn you to skip this band. Actually, Chippendale's incessant rimshots on a very, very tightly tuned snare were giving me a bit of a headache myself. I'd love that to drop a little in pitch, but it's not Lightning Bolt without that particular snap.

The band performed amazingly - given the sheer intensity of the music, they don't really have the option to be average. Chippendale appeared as usual in a mask holding a small microphone in place against his mouth. His yells into this microphone are then fed through some serious effects and the result is a series of unintelligible cries punctuating the music. At times the band seems to overuse their vocals when they are more distracting than productive, but if they insist on having vox, this is the way to do it.

The crowd went wild (obviously), with a mess of a pit in the front and a steady stream of stage divers taking particularly adventurous spinning leaps off the stage. The long set undoubtedly left the moshers exhausted, but well satisfied.

I've got some respect for Grizzly Bear, but c'mon, they couldn't hold a candle to these guys. Lightning Bolt is what rock music is meant to be. [MySpace]

I should also mention Lightning Bolt is coming out with an album this fall. I don't have a copy yet, but I'll definitely try to get one and write it up before the release. I'm pretty sure it's going to kick ass.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Live: True Womanhood + French Miami, Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt

When: 8/28
Where: Death By Audio

I know this review is going to make me sound like a grumpy old man who got up on the wrong side of the bed last Friday. And you could argue that's entirely accurate. So be it.

When I came into Death By Audio, Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt was less than halfway through their set. This "band" was "playing" their "music" while dancing around in huge costumes in the audience. I'm not against music being fun or funny, but I think it should always have some artistic merit, something deeper, something personal, something meaningful. Instinctively, I feel the same way about shallow music that I imagine deeply religious people feel about cartoons mocking Jesus or Mohamed. Let me reiterate: there is plenty of fun, even funny music I like (I swear), but when the music is just a cheap vehicle for soulless cliches, I don't find myself feeling particularly amused.

Costumes are a cheap and obvious gimmick, no matter how elaborate. And though no doubt TPDR is eager to distract listeners from their build-yr-own-dance-tune songs (the musical equivalent of cookies you made in your Easy-Bake Oven), it's sad they couldn't find something a little more original to divert our attention. My Lame-O-Meter is officially broken.

Next up was French Miami and because of some various stuff, I was kind of in and out during their set. I know I had things to say about them, but I didn't write it down right away and I can't quite remember what my overall impression was. Their spazzy, punkish rock is very pop (maybe occasionally to a fault) but the band members have an impressive ability to occasionally play more than one instrument at once - usually guitar (tap on with the left hand) and keys (with the right hand). Some of the keyboard parts and melodies get a little annoying, but there are some hands-down beautiful guitar riffs and melodic hooks. It's not original, not at all, but it's spirited and well-done. [MySpace]

The real highlight of the night, of course, was DC's True Womanhood. Radiohead is the unmistakable reference point in describing this trio's sound. Thomas Redmond's wide-ranging, otherworldly vocals do sound like a carbon copy of Thom Yorke's. The comparison doesn't end there, however - the band's half-electro/half-live percussion features uncomfortably lurching breakbeats similar to Radiohead's post-OK Computer work. The combination of uneasy singing and frantic, unstable beats certainly puts the listener on edge - in a good way.

The meat of the band's sound comes from bass player Melissa Beattie. Since Redmond's guitar is often lost in experimental noise or drifting in a heavily-reverbed stratosphere, the bass carries the hooks, establishes the key and chords and drives the music forward rhythmically. True Womanhood sounds rich, but if it weren't for Beattie's exceptional playing, it would be unlistenably thin.

True Womanhood
True Womanhood (photo from

Drummer Noam Elsner is responsible for much of the music's intrigue as well as its appeal. The jerky asymmetry of his aforementioned breakbeats sound dancey - but I dare you to try it. His unconventional kit included a junior-high-quality tympanum (aka kettle drum). At first, I thought that was a pretty stupid idea, given that it was a larger timp tuned down and played with wooden sticks - so it just sounded like a bad floor tom. However, after a while, I noticed Elsner placing a variety of cymbal/bell instruments on top of the drum and playing them. The drum gave them a deep resonance and while I'm not sure it's worth hauling around a 100 lb instrument, I've got to admit it's cool.

The band wants for some originality, but their songs are powerful and memorable and their stage presence intense and captivating. Look for big things from these guys. [MySpace]

Oh, I almost forgot my other mean old man rant. There were a bunch of emergency blankets (you know, those really shiny ones) around the venue, which I guess probably had something to do with TPDR's set. During True Womanhood, some people thought it was fun to play with them, which maybe it was except they made what seemed to me to be a really loud crinkling noise that really distracted from the music. Do what you want during sets, but try to keep it quiet, please. Some of us old folks are hard of hearing and can't make out the band so well anyway!!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Upcoming Shows: Raekwon (!!!!!!) + more

TOMORROW! Wednesday, September 2

Titus Andronicus, So So Glos @ Secret Project Robot | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $9
Hardcore punk updated for 2009. Two of the best and not at all mean folks. [SSG MySpace] [TA MySpace]

Thursday, September 3

Darlings @ Cake Shop | LES, Manhattan | $7
Darlings are some crazy mothafuckas who play messy, unpredictable, loud indie rock/punk. I reviewed them in July. [MySpace]

Saturday, September 5

Phosphorescent @ Music Hall of Williamsburg | Wmsburg, Brooklyn | $13
Ages ago, I accidentally went to a Phosphorescent show. I'd never heard the name, but I liked the music. It's got a rootsy feel that points to southern roots, but it's also got a lot of drunken-ish yelling and noise, with some great melodies that could fit in with the best of late 90's indie rock (which was a good era for melodies in indie rock, if you were wondering). [MySpace]

Grooms @ 502 West 25th Street | Chelsea, Manhattan
Less Artists More Condos was one of NYC's best DIY operations and one of many DIY venue casualties in recent months. But the mastermind of LAMC is carrying on with his booking operations and has set up this lovely night with up-and-comers Grooms (fka Muggabears), who blend dark, experimental guitar sound with memorable melodies. The band's debut album, due out later this fall, is sure to make a splash. [MySpace]

Tuesday, September 8

Raekwon w/ special guests @ Santos Party House | Chinatown, Manhattan | $30 SOLD OUT
In a night hosted by P Diddy, Wu-Tang member Raekwon will celebrate the release of his LP Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, perhaps the most anticipated rap album of the decade. It's predecessor, released fourteen years ago, was hailed as one of the best and most influential gangsta rap albums ever. Raekwon will be joined by fellow Wu-Tang alums Ghostface Killah and Method Man and legendary rap artists Talib Kweli and Busta Rhymes, among others. Shockingly, this doesn't seem to be a private event. Unsurprisingly, tickets sold out earlier this afternoon (while I was putting this post together, sorry). If you can score tickets, just remember these rappers aren't joking - they and the members of their inner circle not only lived the gangsta lives they describe, they still live it. In a venue this intimate, you should be prepared for an experience that stands in contrast to, say, your typical indie rock show.