Saturday, October 15, 2011

News: Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon Announce Divorce

I don't believe in love anymore.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Upcoming Shows: Walt Mink, Screaming Females + more!

Tonight!! Thursday, July 28

Walt Mink @ Bell House * Gowanus, Brooklyn * $12
Walt Mink were a band in the 90's who were good at making music but had bad luck with record labels so nobody has ever heard of them. It's kind of like Husker Du (who shared their alma mater) or Smashing Pumpkins or Archers of Loaf - basically, fast-paced 90's alternative/indie rock but towards the pop punk end of the spectrum. ::details::

Controlled Bleeding, David Grubbs, Ryan Sawyer (Stars Like Fleas)+C Spencer Yeh+Nate Wooley @ Death By Audio * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $7
This is an amazing line-up of experimental musicians. David Grubbs was in Squirrel Bait, Gastr Del Sol and Red Krayola so he basically rules 80's and 90's experimental rock. Controlled Bleeding are perhaps a little more straightforwardly punky and the trio of Ryan Sawyer, C Spencer Yeh and Nate Wooley is an avant-garde supergroup. [controlled video] [grubbs video] [rs+csy+nw video] ::details::

Shilpa Ray (solo) @ Shea Stadium * Bushwick, Brooklyn
Shilpa Ray is one badass lady. She sings like a very drunk Janis Joplin and dances like an overly excited four year old and hates everyone but most of all, herself (or so her lyrics and stage banter would have you believe). [video] ::details::


Tomorrow!! Friday, July 29

Fucked Up, Cro-Mags, Screaming Females, Pissed Jeans @ House of Vans * Greenpoint, Brooklyn * Free with RSVP, currently at capacity!
How can I possibly explain how good this line-up is? Even major music festivals rarely boast four bands of this caliber. Fucked Up are a band of punk superheros who have reinvented the entire genre of hardcore. Cro-Mags are old school. Screaming Females may be the best rock and roll band on earth right now, with legendary guitar hero and screaming female Marissa Paternoster at the helm. Pissed Jeans are a vitrolic, self-destructive punk/noise band. Their frontman is one of the better, and more captivating, self-debasing performer (in the vein of Iggy Pop) to emerge in recent years. [fucked up video] [cro-video] [screaming video] [pissed video] ::details::

Other Shows
Black Lips @ Bowery Ballroom (sold out!) [deets]
Dez Cadena (Black Flag, Misfits) @ South Paw (West Memphis Three benefit!) [deets]
Eels @ Music Hall of Williamsburg ($30) [deets]


Saturday, July 30

Gang Gang Dance @ South Street Seaport * Financial District, Manhattan * Free!
Gang Gang Dance's experimental dub, pan-ethnic tribal trance music is amazing. Yeah, that description maybe sounds a little horrible, but they've got club dance smarts and mystique and their "world music" elements are genuine and tasteful and never about co-opting shit. [video] ::details::

Bells @ Bruar Falls * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $10
Bells are a post-rock/math-rock sort of instrumental band who know how to be loud and aggressive but also sometimes ecstatic. They are ex-Jawbox and ex-Oxford Collapse and they are as good as that sort of family tree would have you believe. ::details::

Other Shows
Gary War @ Cake Shop ($8) [deets]
Ill Fits (mems Amazing Baby, MGMT), Sundelles @ Cameo Gallery ($10) [deets]
So So Glos @ Knitting Factory ($10) [deets]
Eels @ Music Hall of Williamsburg ($30) [deets]


Sunday, July 31

Jeff the Brotherhood @ Rockaway Beach * Rockaway, Queens * Free!
You gotta go to Rockaway for this (the farthestest reaches of New York, out past JFK) but it's JEFF for FREE. Jeff are bringing rock and roll back. [video] ::details::

Yvette, Liquor Store, Dinowalrus, So So Glos (DJ Set) @ Shea Stadium * Bushwick, Brooklyn
Yvette are a heavy band I heard some time ago, kind of experimental and screaming and lots of rhythm-led stuff, if I recall correctly. Liquor Store are a blue color punk/rock band who kind of look like they're on meth (but they play too well for that to be true, probably) and put on a goddamn show. They're most like the proto-punk garage rockers (e.g. MC5) but a little lighter on their feet. Dinowalrus play experimental, psychedelic, baggy rock that you can dance to. They will make you want to do drugs, but in a fun way. [yvideo] [liquor video] [dinovideo] ::details::


Tuesday, August 2

Sugarhill Gang @ Tappan Park * Staten Island * Free!
Even Sugarhill Gang are not worth the trek to Staten Island. Sugarhill Gang are rap's first real breakthrough act, one of the first rap acts to be put on vinyl and receive proper, national distribution. They stole a bunch of shit from legit MCs and got credit because no one else had recorded it yet. But for all they're plagiarizing wannabes, you can't deny their importance in the history of contemporary pop. ::details::

Other Shows
Ettes, Heavy Cream @ Mercury Lounge ($10) [deets]
Sufjan Stevens @ Prospect Park (sold out!) [deets]
Death Cab for Cutie, Frightened Rabbit @ Williamsburg Waterfront (sold out!) [deets]
C Spencer Yeh @ The Stone [deets]


Wednesday, August 3

Big Audio Dynamite (Mick Jones of the Clash), HR (Bad Brains), Andy Rourke (The Smiths) (DJ set) @ Brooklyn Bowl * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * Sold out!
It's the dude from the Clash, the dude from Bad Brains and the dude from the Smiths. If you don't know who those bands are, you are beyond my help. [bad video] [hr video] ::details::

Other Shows
Ettes, Heavy Cream @ Knitting Factory ($10) [deets]
Sufjan Stevens @ Prospect Park ($45) [deets]
Andrew W.K. @ Santos Party House ($13/$15) [deets]
Frightened Rabbit @ Music Hall of Williamsburg ($25) [deets]


The long view...

August
4
Pygmy Shrews, So So Glos @ Shea Stadium
Anni Rossi, Dinowalrus @ Bruar Falls ($7)

5
Vaz @ Death By Audio ($7)

6
Cold Cave @ Bowery Ballroom
Crystal Antlers @ Glasslands ($10)
Total Slacker, Darlings, Beets @ Shea Stadium

7
Mission of Burma @ South Street Seaport (free!)
Friendly Fires, Cults @ Central Park (free!)

8
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

9
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

11
Memory Tapes, Bell @ Glasslands ($12)
MV+EE @ Shea Stadium
Nas, Damian Marley @ Central Park ($45)

12
Sonic Youth, Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney), Kurt Vile @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($40)

21
Rakim, EPMD @ Central Park (free!)
Jeff the Brotherhood (not headlining) @ Le Poisson Rouge ($18)

22
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

23
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

24
Cold Crush Brothers @ East River Park (free!)

25
Wavves @ East River Park (free!)

27
Male Bonding @ Glasslands ($10/$12)
John Zorn @ The Stone

29
Male Bonding @ Mercury Lounge


September
3
Weekend, Talk Normal, Brown Recluse @ Glasslands ($10/$12)

6
Les Savy Fav @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

8
TV on the Radio @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($48)

12
Blondie @ Highline Ballroom

13
Blondie @ Highline Ballroom
Peter Hook (Joy Division) @ Irving Plaza

20
Deerhoof, White Suns @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

23
The Descendents @ Roseland Ballroom

27
Swans @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

29
Marnie Stern, No Joy @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Ty Segall, The Babies @ Bowery Ballroom

30
X @ Irving Plaza


October
1
X @ Irving Plaza

3
Shellac @ Bell House ($17/$19)

4
The Horrors @ Webster Hall

15
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bell House

18
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bowery Ballroom

21
Dum Dum Girls, Crocodiles @ Bowery Ballroom
Jonathan Richmond (Modern Lovers) @ Bell House ($15)

22
The Damned @ Irving Plaza
CSS, The Men @ Webster Hall
Jonathan Richmond (Modern Lovers) @ Bell House ($15)

29
Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) @ Town Hall (sold out!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Album: The Horrors - Skying

Skying (The Horrors)
Album: Skying
XL Records
Release Date: July 26 or August or something (in the US)
Rating: ******** (8/10)

The first time I heard the Horrors, they were opening for someone or other at Music Hall of Williamsburg and I thought they were one of the worst bands I'd ever heard - a "goth" band that had probably never listened to real goth music in their lives, a band who ripped off real musicians to create an "edgy" image and used some cheap effects to try to disguise the fact that their music is as formulaic as any mainstream teen radio idol.

But I kept seeing their 2009 record Primary Colours on Best of Oh Nine lists including lists by some people I hold in high regard. Like Fucked Up. I grudgingly sat down with a copy. And was astounded.

I can still hear in the Horrors what inspired my very mistaken first impression. On one level, they are a blatantly derivative 80s throwback. You'd be hard pressed to find any single element in their music that wasn't directly sourced from a UK band circa 1982 (give or take a couple years). And if I'm to be honest, that fact really does prevent this band from full-on greatness. The silver lining here is that they don't sound like most of the other bands of the moment. They sound big and their music resonates with drama and genuine pain. It's a sad truth that a band that doesn't sing about going to the beach is now exceptional. Fuck the beach. Ian Curtis never sang about the fucking beach - not because he didn't like the beach (probably) but because he knew it would be a stupid thing to sing about.

This is all kind of irrelevant because I actually have no idea what the Horrors are on about, except that it’s not the beach (probably). But what I'm saying is that the Horrors are true Romantics and are definitely not into this escapist bullshit. Romantics may be dramatic goofs, but if you can say one thing for them, it’s that they are much too busy getting their hearts broken to think about the beach.

For all its moodiness, Skying is less dark than Primary Colours. Which isn’t saying much. It also sounds much larger than Primary Colours, which definitely is saying something. Instrument for instrument, the Horrors owe their biggest debt to Public Image Ltd and Joy Division. The guitar is straight up Keith Levene (Public Image) with bass recalling Peter Hook (Joy Division) and vocals that are, at most, two generations down the musical family tree from Ian Curtain (Joy Division again). There is another band that ripped of Keith Levene and Joy Division, and they are called U2 and Skying doesn’t sound unlike U2’s first record (okay, it sounds exactly like it), even if the Horrors’ pseudo-gothic image doesn’t exactly jive with golden boy Bono. I haven’t heard anyone rip off Keith Levene quite so well since the Edge did back then (a long long time ago).

This guitar, however derivative, is the highlight of the album. It’s never high in the mix, but below the surface, it twinkles and shimmers like glowing embers. There's some Kevin Shields influence in there too, pitches bending achingly in and out of tune. The sparkling chorus on "Changing the Rain" is stunning and the melting reversed reverb on "Still Life" might take your breath away.

The synthesizers, on the other hand, are entirely lacking in subtlety. The cheesy parts may be hard for some folks to swallow, but at least the band fully embraces them. There's nothing worse than self-aware, apologetic synth pop. If you feel you have to apologize for your music, you shouldn't be making it in the first place. The Horrors offer no apologies when the blaring synth textures introduce "You Said" or when synthesizer riffs burst in rather rudely on songs like "Moving Further Away" and "I Can See Through You." Although the synths do sound modern, their parts unabashedly channel London, 1981. The band is not shy about signposting their New Romantic roots - you remember all those synth bands out of London in the early 80's: Soft Cell, Eurythmics, Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode and the rest of them? Those guys.

The vocals also owe their biggest debt to that period - direct Ian Curtis descendents though they may be, they are more dramatized and less despondent. Sure, singer Faris Badwan has anguish, but it's the anguish of a showman. The Horrors are writ large and deliver a performance, a production, drama in the sense of theatrics as well as emotion. Like so many of their influences, they draw on glam rock, which draws in turn on cabaret - it's spectacle, it's fully removed from the mundane, it's the soap opera to punk's gritty documentary.

Granted, the band has some roots in punk and garage rock as well. The Birthday Party (Nick Cave's original band) is the first example that comes to mind but the band learns from bands as far back as 60's garage rockers like the Seeds and ? and the Mysterians. But on Skying, they've largely said adieu to their grittier side in favor of a massive, polished sound. They're still noisy, no doubt about it, but they don't have a lot of rough edges left.

The most polished and least dated element in the music is the rhythm section. Just as the vocals are Ian Curtis via New Romantics, the bass is Peter Hook via U2 in as much as it tends to hang on the root a lot and sticks to a lot of quarter notes. But this sort of minimal melodicism fits perfectly with the dance-y grooves of the drums, which unlike the beatz of 1981, have the advantage of having a chance to learn from hip-hop, trip-hop and acid house (of which the last is the most direct rhythmic blueprint for Skying). They've got that whole baggy, Madchester thing down pat, especially on the slower tracks like "Changing the Rain" and "Moving Further Away."

The album boasts a decent amount of variety, ranging from the one rough'n'gritty track, "Monica Gems" to the slick "Changing the Rain," from the Telescopes ripoff "Dive In" to the M83ity "Moving Further Away." The best tracks are the biggest, shiniest, danciest, poppiest, rockin'est ones: "Changing the Rain," "I Can See Through You," "Dive In," "Still Life" and the eight minute opus "Moving Further Away." The remaining tracks are a bit less inspired but work well enough in the context of the LP.

It's hard for me to admit this album is made up entirely of recycled 80's Britishisms and that's probably because I enjoy it so very much. I want to believe in the Horrors. I want to believe they are doing something that matters. I want to believe I'm not buying into an act that merely pillaged a decade and dressed it up all as something new, but I am. And so what? I started asking myself why anyone would want to make an album that sounds exactly like early U2, but I've ended up with a different question - why wouldn't anyone want to make an album that sounds exactly like early U2. Skying isn't important. But it's so beautiful it makes my heart skip a beat. And that's not a bad accomplishment, even if it's fleeting.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Upcoming Shows: The Feelies, N.O.R.E. + more

Tonight!! Thursday, July 21

N.O.R.E., Funkmaster Flex @ Queensbridge Park * LIC, Queens * Free!!
N.O.R.E. is A.K.A. Noreaga, and he's one of the better rappers out of NYC in the late 90's. Don't underestimate the special guests either, it's going to be someone amazing. I went to another one of the shows in this series on Tuesday and I wrote about it. What I wrote should make it clear why you must go to this. It's swimming distance from Manhattan (but I recommend the F train). [video] ::details::

Other Shows
Gang Gang Dance @ Rocks Off Cruises (sold out!) [deets]
The Vandelles @ Union Hall ($8) [deets]
Haunted Houses (mems Trail of Dead, Here We Go Magic), Magik Markers @ Cameo Gallery [deets]


Tomorrow!! Friday, July 22

Death From Above 1979 @ Wiliamsburg Waterfront * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $35
This band has a very loud distorted bass guitar and a drummer who yells. They've been known to start riots (well, just once). [video] ::details::

Other Shows
Autodrone, Dead Leaf Echo @ Pianos ($10) [deets]
Magik Markers @ Shea Stadium [deets]
WU LYF @ Mercury Lounge (sold out!) [deets]


Saturday, July 23

The Feelies, Real Estate, Times New Viking @ Prospect Park * Brooklyn * Free!
The Feelies were one of the best bands in the 80's. They sounded like a more ambitious and slightly less dissonant, more poppy Mission of Burma. They play jagged, percussive post punk and held the throne in the booming Hoboken scene at the time (well, shared it will Yo La Tengo, of course). Real Estate and Times New Viking open. [feelies video] [real video] [times new video] ::details::

Andrew Cedermark (ex-Titus Andronicus), Dustin Wong (Ponytail) @ Shea Stadium * Bushwick, Brooklyn
Andrew Cedermark was in Titus Andronicus, which is one of the best bands. Dustin Wong still is in Ponytail which is another one of the best bands. Mr. Cedermark sounds all calculatedly unpolished post punk folky rock stuff. Mr. Wong feeds a guitar through a loop pedal again and again and again to make some pretty fascinating (if geeky) instrumental music. [ceder video] [wong video] ::details::

Other Shows
Young Boys @ Bruar Falls ($6)[deets]
Passive Aggressor @ Dead Herring House [deets]
WU LYF @ Knitting Factory (sold out!) [deets]
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge [deets]


Sunday, July 24

Vaz, Mattress @ Bruar Falls * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * Free!
Vaz play sharp, loud music that's kind of angry and delightfully unpleasant (that's a compliment). I haven't heard Mattress but I keep seeing their name around. This show is free. [vaz vid] ::details::

Other Shows
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge [deets]
Swirlies, Psychedelic Horseshit @ Beekman Beer (afternoon show, free) [deets]
Black Francis @ Le Poisson Rouge ($20/$25) [deets]

Wednesday, July 27

Super Big Gulp (mems Total Slacker, Beach Fossils, Oberhofer, Friends) @ Death By Audio * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $7
This is a really weird thing, it's like Todd P made a Brooklyn supergroup out of leftover buzz bands. Total Slacker are amazing. Friends (the band) are less so. I saw Beach Fossils a long time ago and didn't like it. But this is none of these bands. I don't know what it is. It costs $7 to find out. ::details::


The long view...

July
28
Walt Mink (great 90's indie band that split up over 10 years ago) @ Bell House
Shilpa Ray @ Shea Stadium
Controlled Bleeding, David Grubbs @ Death By Audio ($7)

29
West Memphis Three Benefit with Dez Cadena @ Southpaw
Black Lips @ Bowery Ballroom

31
Yvette, Liquor Store, Dinowalrus, So So Glos (DJ set) @ Shea Satdium

August
2
Sugarhill Gang @ Tappan Park (free!)
Sufjan Stevens @ Prospect Park

5
Vaz, Pygmy Shrews @ Death By Audio ($7)

6
Cold Cave @ Bowery Ballroom
Crystal Antlers @ Glasslands ($10)
Total Slacker, Darlings, Beets @ Shea Stadium

7
Friendly Fires, Cults @ Central Park (free!)

8
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

9
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

11
Memory Tapes, Bell @ Glasslands ($12)
MV+EE @ Shea Stadium
Nas, Damian Marley @ Central Park ($45)

12
Sonic Youth, Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney), Kurt Vile @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($40)

21
Rakim, EPMD @ Central Park (free!)
Jeff the Brotherhood (not headlining) @ Le Poisson Rouge ($18)

22
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

23
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

24
Cold Crush Brothers @ East River Park (free!)

25
Wavves @ East River Park (free!)

27
Male Bonding @ Glasslands ($10/$12)
John Zorn @ The Stone

29
Male Bonding @ Mercury Lounge


September
3
Weekend, Talk Normal, Brown Recluse @ Glasslands ($10/$12)

6
Les Savy Fav @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

8
TV on the Radio @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($48)

12
Blondie @ Highline Ballroom

13
Blondie @ Highline Ballroom
Peter Hook (Joy Division) @ Irving Plaza

20
Deerhoof, White Suns @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

23
The Descendents @ Roseland Ballroom

27
Swans @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

29
Marnie Stern, No Joy @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Ty Segall, The Babies @ Bowery Ballroom

30
X @ Irving Plaza


October
1
X @ Irving Plaza

3
Shellac @ Bell House ($17/$19)

4
The Horrors @ Webster Hall

15
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bell House

18
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bowery Ballroom

21
Dum Dum Girls, Crocodiles @ Bowery Ballroom
Jonathan Richmond (Modern Lovers) @ Bell House ($15)

22
The Damned @ Irving Plaza
CSS, The Men @ Webster Hall
Jonathan Richmond (Modern Lovers) @ Bell House ($15)

29
Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) @ Town Hall (sold out!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Live: Kool Moe Dee, Marly Marl + more

When: July 19 (also known as yesterday)
Where: Queensbridge Park

Last night I finally managed to hit one of the NYC Parks Department's summer hip-hop shows.  As they've done for a few years now, they're putting on a whole bunch of old school hip-hop shows in parks every borough this summer which, if you stop to think about it, is surprisingly astute, because of course, NYC public parks are exactly where hip-hop was born.   When Kool Herc and dem came up from Jamaica and got the party started, they set up their speakers in the parks of the South Bronx, jacked some electricity from the light posts and cranked shit up.  Or so goes hip-hop's official origin myth - and it's 100% true, if a bit oversimplified.

I was a little surprised at the makeup of the audience last night, in as much as there were very few white people there.  I expected more because almost every time I ask a white person if they like rap or hip-hop, they say, "Yes, but only old school," and then ramble on about Grandmaster Flash for a while.  (Others have reported similar phenomena.)    But then again, it's always Flash and never Kool Moe Dee and Marly Marl, who were on stage last night.  Plus, most hipsters wouldn't deign to go to Queens even if they knew where Queensbridge was.  Regardless, like a typical white person, I was just as glad to be in the minority.  After all, everyone knows a white person's coolness level may increase up to 500% in situations where they are the only white person (not the case for me at this show, but I'd say I hit at least 150%) and conversely, the coolness level of a given event is diminished by each white person in attendance.

What the attendance really amounts to is probably just that the show was in a park in the un-coolest of boroughs, Queens, in a park that's sandwiched between the pristine East River and the country's largest remaining housing project.  A large part of the crowd were just neighbors stepping across the street for the free music.

But there's also a reason I bring it up, other than just to smugly let you know how super cool and non-racist I am (I go to housing projects!  Oooh!), and that's that there is a history, a community here.  The parties started in the Bronx but spread to parks in Queens and East Brooklyn including Queensbridge Park.  The Queensbridge projects have been home to a handful of important hip hoppers including Marly Marl himself, Roxanne Shante (who flew in yesterday to perform at the show), Cormega and whathisname, Nas, and back in the day Marl and co. would steal some electricity to perform just yards away from where they stood last night.  They referenced that and asked who in the audience had been there with them.  (In case you were wondering, the age of the audience was pretty well mixed so the answer, by a show of hands, was "some.")

In addition to the advertised Kool Moe Dee and Marly Marl, audiences got Roxanne Shante (as I mentioned), the entire Treacherous Three, Craig G (another Queensbridge native), Caz from the Cold Crush Brothers and if I'm not mistaken, Doug E. Fresh's son.  Of course, I missed most of it cause I suck.  What I did catch is hard to review from a musical standpoint because there's nothing to say about music that solid.  Kool Moe Dee is an indisputably great MC and was one of the predecessors to hardcore rap and he and Marl both were dead on yesterday, musically as proficient as they were in their heyday.  True to the nature of the event, they hit the classics.  The T3 were in matching white and busting tightly choreographed moves that didn't show a hint of the fact that they're now thirty years older than they were back when.

Kool Moe did speechify a little and explained to the audience how back in the good old days, MCs could have a rivalry without things turning physically violent, referring to his longstanding beef with LL Cool J.  He name-checked LL and even seemed to offer some respect to the man, but still got a dig in there too, saying the whole thing boiled down to a superstar sex icon versus a legit MC.  I'm never too keen on musicians who take the whole "gather round children, sit on my knee and let me tell you about the good old days before you whippersnappers messed everything up" approach but then again, what's a rapper to do?  The story of rap is the story of a bunch of teenage musicians being thrust, without their consent, into the role of cultural spokespeople and then blamed for everything that went wrong in black America.  Which leaves old schoolers like Kool Moe with the option of either seeming to endorse the violence of hip-hop culture in the last twenty years (which would make them both complicit in the violence and poseurs since they really weren't into that stuff) or to give moralistic lectures about fighting with mics and not guns.  If I were him, I'd go for the latter option too.

The music, though truly flawless, still takes a backseat to the show as a community event.  Forty-somethings reliving their youth, moms and dads and grandmas with kids, teens, twenty-something lesbians, little old men with picnic blankets and of course, a smattering of white folks like yours truly (for some reason, all twenty-something or sixty-something in age) the audience was a motley crew.  But for those of us who were not in New York City, nor black, nor alive in 1980, it was a real lesson, a postcard from the past to let us know how little we really know about hip-hop and yet how much there still is to believe in.  It's not ours, but the owners of hip-hop hope are willing to let us share.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Album: Crystal Antlers - Two-Way Mirror

Two-Way Mirror (Crystal Antlers)
Album: Two-Way Mirror
Recreation, Ltd.
Rating: ***** (5/10)
Release date: 7/19/11

I love simplicity. Some of my favorite songs stick relentlessly to four quarter notes, three-note melodies or two-chord progressions. The key word in that sentence is "or." Our Crystal Antlers seem to have overlooked those little two letters on their most recent bore of a release. Two-Way Mirror is devoid of harmonic or melodic interest. It does occasionally veer into vaguely interesting rhythmic territory but it's not enough to carry the album. If the opening vocal melody doesn't immediately put you to sleep, you probably need to cut down on your caffeine intake.

Two-Way Mirror is, primarily, an exercise in late 60's psych rock cliches. Most of the riffs, many of the melodies and nearly all of the beats sound familiar. However, those cliches are filtered through modern sounds - that sort of strained, shouty male vocal that's dominated indie rock since punk, and a lotta noise. Despite these 2011 touches, though, the album sounds dated and frankly, dated to a time when rock music kind of sucked, when psych rock started to get really bloated, when Jimi was dead and the Dead were taking over. Listen to the opening notes of "By the Sawkill" and tell me you haven't heard it before. It's like friggin Santana, only at least he was a) better and b) doing this shit in 1970, when people didn't know any better. It was a primitive time back then, before people knew about punk rock and computers and haircuts.

That said, I've probably knocked these kids enough. There really are some cool moments on the album. The droning synth-and-drum interlude "Way Out" is brilliant and original and not 1970 at all. "Summer Solstice" is less exciting but at least sounds modern with its post punk drums and murky mix. In fact, it sounds kind of like the Arcade Fire, which in 2011 is better than sounding like Santana.

"Always Afraid" sounds pretty par for the album until it's taken over by some avant jazz saxophone which is rarely a good idea but miraculously works here and puts the band on a completely different level. It's the beginning of a triumvirate of inspired songs. The next track, "Knee Deep," accomplishes what the rest of the album is probably trying to accomplish, which is a fresh, if not radical, noise-and-chaos take on a familiar form. It wallows in that form, but it's also bold enough to have something new to say about it. However, no track on the album holds a candle to end of this brilliant triptych, the breathtaking "Sun-Bleached." A smoldering guitar, faintly warbling organ and subdued voice bleed together in a song so stunningly dissonant it really, genuinely makes me cry.

Unfortunately, this late piece of pure brilliance doesn't end the album. There's another song, "Dog Days," which sounds like what you'd think a song called "Dog Days" would sound like, which is to say, not very exciting. I'm sure it sounded pretty gnarly to the band when they wrote it after smoking a lot of weed. But the whole point of weed is that it makes boring shit seem interesting, and well, my dear antlers, I'm sorry to tell you that this song isn't up to snuff without chemical enhancement.

The Crystal Antlers obviously have something going for them. Otherwise, they could never have written anything as simple and arresting as "Sun-Bleached." The sonic components are pretty well in place throughout the album, actually - cut the reverb (which isn't as obscene as most recent bands' anyway) and they'd be just the right kind of noisy. The only missing piece to this puzzle is song-writing. But unfortunately, that's a pretty important piece and all those 1-4-5 chords and melodies are enough to bore ya to tears.

Hopefully, "Sun-Bleached" is enough to tide us over until these guys learn how to write.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Live: Ringo Deathstarr, Heaven, Dead Leaf Echo

When: July 3
Where: Shea Stadium

How do I get so far behind on these?!

So some shoegaze bands played a show.  The Vandelles played first which is weird because they never play first and are far too good to play first.  So anyway, I missed their set as did most people.  LAME.  Anyway, some of their badassery was captured on video, which is cool but may make you (me) regret missing it all the more.

The next band to play was called Heaven.  They're a sort of obscure shoegaze supergroup with a member of Ambulance Ltd and one from the Big Sleep/Snowden.  Someone was telling me they had a member of Swervedriver, but I don't think that's true.  It does look like two members played on Swervedriver's Adam Franklin's solo record so that's probably the origin of that story.  One of them has also played with Dean & Britta (of Galaxie 500/Luna) so basically, what this means is that in their niche genre, they're about as pedigree as you can git.

They're newish and they were pretty good.  Interestingly, they were by far their best when they were doing more ambient, hazy muzak than when they tried to get all songy.  And this is coming from someone who has absolutely no patience with that wishy washy stuff.  Which means two things: 1) they were really good at that wishy washy stuff and 2) they were really not great at more beat+plus+melody, faster paced songs.

At their subtler moments, though, the band was transcendent.  Really spiritual stuff.  Which is why I started like shoegaze in the first place (well, that and it's loud).  It was in these moments when the not-very-groove-centric drummer was at his best, laying down massive slabs o' drum.  Likewise, the vocals shined in these not-trying-to-be-catchy moments - there was something very genuine and natural about them.  [video]

I wrote up Dead Leaf Echo pretty recently and I don't really have anything to add.  It's just nice to finally see all their pieces fall into place.  By the way, if you were wondering where the awesome bass was coming from (as the people behind me during the set were), the band is sans bassist, but their stuff sounds way better than your average prerecorded bass line.  That's because they stacked several layers of properly studio-recorded bass on the track.  Then, they routed the recording through a proper bass amp in addition to the PA.  Which is freaking brilliant.  It was, in fact, the best prerecorded bass I think I've ever heard.  [video]

Of course, all of the bands were just building up to Austin-based shoegaze gods Ringo Deathstarr.  This band makes me swoon.  Their guitar can obliterate your speakers and ear drums.  (In the best possible way.)  This rich guitar, full of phantom melodies and shifting pitches, is straight out of Loveless, but the vocals are more tuneful that My Bloody Valentine's, a lot closer to the good old pop tunes of the Jesus & Mary Chain (who ripped them off the Beach Boys, but that's neither here nor there).

"Jasper" once asked an Austin shoegazer of his acquaintance about the band and was informed that everyone in Austin thought they were a joke and "that girl doesn't even play an instrument" or something like that.  If that was ever true, the joke's now on him.  "That girl," bassist Alex Gehring, is sick.  She's an absolutely great bassist - her lines simultaneously groove deeply and punch you in the chest.  As is typical in the genre, the bass carries a lot of melody while the guitar becomes sheer roar.  Meanwhile, electro/dance-derived icy beats from drummer Daniel Coburn make the whole thing sound a lot like "Soon" (you know, that last song on Loveless that's everyone's favorite MBV song ever).

But what's really great about Ringo Deathstarr isn't that they write amazing songs and get mindblowing sounds out of their instruments.  It's that they're genuinely insane.  Cracked.  Unhinged.  Pure batshit out of their mind nuts.  Which is what made this one of the most punk rock shoegaze shows of all time.  I mean, first of all, in direct defiance of the name of the genre, guitarist Elliot Frazier at several points leapt into the audience midsong.  Then at some point, they invited a bunch of people up on stage (primarily from the previous bands) and somehow things devolved such that both the guitar and drums had been seized by people who weren't in the band at all and the music fell apart in chaos.  But that's not the insane part.  The insane part is that after the song finally stopped breathing, Gehrig insisted that her two bandmates return to their instruments to finish the song (which had veered in the direction of crazytown before its as-recorded coda).  Coburn, I believe, thought the set was over and had gone to the bathroom so the band announced that they would wait (and therefore all of us would wait) for the drummer to return to the stage.  So everyone stood around awkwardly for a few minutes, and then Coburn showed up and they immediately launched into the song where they'd left off.  For about twenty seconds, until the song was over.

I mean, who does that?  Only a true genius.  And only by accident.  It was, obviously, one of the best endings to a show I've ever seen.  And I've seen a lot.  [video]....[more video]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Upcoming Shows: Patti Smith, Company Flow + more!

Tonight!! Thursday, July 14

Patti Smith @ Castle Clinton * Financial District, Manhattan * Free!!
Patti Smith is a poetic lady who helped invent punk rock in the 70's. She's kind of weird. [video] ::details::

Superchunk, OFF!, Lemuria @ House of Vans * Greenpoint, Brooklyn * Free (with RSVP)
Over the last decade, pop punk has got a bad name. But these three bands are not to blame. Quite the opposite in fact. Lemuria, who are opening, are my personal favorites. [lemuria video] ::details & rsvp::

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts @ Seaside Concerts * Coney Island, Brooklyn * Free!!
This is another lady who invented punk. She was young and in L.A. and her band, the Runaways, were one of those bands with a Svengali sorta manager who liked to use teenagers like pop idol puppets. But Joan Jett had a mind of her own from the very beginning and regardless of her status as an icon, she's a true musician at heart. ::details::

Other Shows
Marly Marl @ Music Hall of Williamsburg [info]
Tune-Yards @ River Rocks - Pier 54 (Free!) [info]
Gary War, Pop 1280, K-Holes @ Union Hall ($8) [info]
Yvette, French Miami @ Death By Audio ($7) [info]


Tomorrow!! Friday, July 15

Radio Dept, Asobi Seksu @ South Street Seaport * Financial Distract, Manhattan * Free!!
These are two shoegaze bands with a dash of indie pop and a dash of post rock. Or, for the less nerdy, they make pop songs but have a lot of layer-y guitar and stuff. [radio video] [asobi video] ::details::

Other Shows
My Teenage Stride, Woven Bones, Easter Vomit, Teen Witch @ 285 Kent ($10) [info]
I'm Turning Into, Dinosaur Feathers, Shark? @ Monster Island Basement ($5) [info]
Heaven, Andy Rourke (of the Smiths) DJ Set @ Glasslands ($10)


Saturday, July 16

Company Flow, Juggaknots @ Santos Party House * Chinatown, Manhattan * $20
Company Flow are, without the slightly doubt, the greatest underground rap group of all time. They broke up over a decade ago but apparently, they're playing a show Saturday. It's hardcore East Coast 90's rap with extreme lyrical density. Co Flo's lyrics are smart and brutal and they deliver them with unparalleled polyrhythmic complexity. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! ::details::

Other Shows
4 Knots Festival: Titus Andronicus, Black Angels, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces), Obits + more @ South Street Seaport (free!) [info]
Pygmy Shrews @ Union Pool
Oneida @ Monster Island Basement ($10) [info]
Unstoppable Death Machines @ Saint Vitus Bar (Greenpoint, BK)


Monday, July 18

K-Holes, Hunters, Zulus @ Death By Audio * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $7
These dark noise rock / punk / postpunk bands are three of the very best in New York. Hunters have one of the best live shows I've ever seen, too. [k-video] [hunters nonvideo] ::details::


Tuesday, July 19

Kool Moe Dee @ Queensbridge * LIC, Queens * Free!!
Kool Moe Dee is one of New York's longest standing, most respected MCs. His show promises to be among the best of the NYC Parks Department's absolutely massive, jaw-dropping (and free!) hip-hop series this summer. ::details::


Wednesday, July 20

Torche @ Music Hall of Williamsburg * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $15
I don't usually like "stoner metal" but Torche infuse their sludge with enough pop appeal and enough energy to make them absolutely delicious. Don't let the genre put you off - if you can scrape up $15, this show is totally worth it. [video] ::details::

Other Shows
Ema, Talk Normal @ Glasslands ($10)
Fiasco, Web Dating @ Shea Stadium
Conversations With Enemies @ Death By Audio ($7)


The long view...

July
21
Funkmaster Flex, Nore(aga) @ Queensbridge (free!)
Gang Gang Dance @ Rocks Off Cruises
The Vandelles @ Union Hall ($8)

22
Death From Above 1979 @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($43)

23
The Feelies, Real Estate, Times New Viking @ Prospect Park (free!)
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge (sold out!)

24
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge
Swirlies, Psychedelic Horseshit @ Beekman Beer Garden (free afternoon show!)
Black Francis (Pixies) @ Le Poisson Rouge
Vaz, Mattress @ Bruar Falls

28
Walt Mink (great 90's indie band that split up over 10 years ago) @ Bell House
Shilpa Ray @ Shea Stadium

29
West Memphis Three Benefit with Dez Cadena @ Southpaw
Black Lips @ Bowery Ballroom


August
2
Sugarhill Gang @ Tappan Park (free!)
Sufjan Stevens @ Prospect Park

6
Cold Cave @ Bowery Ballroom
Crystal Antlers @ Glasslands ($10)
Total Slacker, Darlings, Beets @ Shea Stadium

7
Friendly Fires, Cults @ Central Park (free!)

8
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

9
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

12
Sonic Youth, Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney), Kurt Vile @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($40)
*CANCELED* Streets, El-P @ Terminal 5

21
Rakim, EPMD @ Central Park (free!)
Jeff the Brotherhood (not headlining) @ Le Poisson Rouge ($18)

22
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

23
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

25
Wavves @ East River Park (free!)


September
8
TV on the Radio @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($48)

23
The Descendents @ Roseland Ballroom

27
Swans @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

30
X @ Irving Plaza


October
1
X @ Irving Plaza

4
The Horrors @ Webster Hall

15
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bell House

18
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bowery Ballroom

22
The Damned @ Irving Plaza

29
Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) @ Town Hall (sold out!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Live: Shellshag, Unstoppable Death Machines, Fiasco, Chicken & Whiskey

When: 7/2
Where: Silent Barn

There were so many things to be confused by upon walking into the latest Shellshag-curated show at Silent Barn, it's hard to know where to begin.  The band playing first (mid-set when I walked in) consisted of a couple of 250 lb, heavily tattooed, heavily tanned biker-ish dudes playing a bass guitar and a keyboard respectively (and their less noticeable but similarly presented drummer).  And when I say keyboard, I don't mean synthesizer.  I mean electric piano.  The gentleman on the bass had long hair and was wearing overalls with one side undone, and no shirt, while the keyboardist (and lead singer) sported a wife-beater and mullet.

Their small audience, who on average were about fifteen years their juniors, were jumping around enthusiastically when they suddenly plunged into a brief but surprisingly faithful cover of "A Whole New World."  The song from Aladdin.  Aside from the singer's gruff voice, it was pretty true to the Disney original, but somehow fit with the rest of their blue collar hair-punk (like hair-metal, get it?).  The band, as it happened, were called Chicken & Whiskey and it was one of their first ever shows (or so I was told).  And you know what?  They were good.  Everything about them was just right - their not-so-typical-for-the-Brooklyn-DIY-scene appearance, the balance of their masculine sound and look with their not-so-manly keyboard and cover song selection, effortlessly tight, effortlessly and subtly melodic.

It's no surprise that when they finished their set, the audience called out for more songs.  They're exactly the kind of songs you want to hear more of when you go to a place like Silent Barn.  Then several audience members began calling for the band to "freestyle."  And guess what!  They did, and they were good at that too.  [old video]

I've seen Fiasco many times and for all the band is impressive, the most enduring impression they made on me was as being a band of unequal skill.  Not unequaled, unequal.  While Jonathan Edelstein and Lucian Buscemi split guitar, bass and vocal duties, Edelstein's parts always outmatched Buscemi's.  The band was great but it was frustrating to think how much better they would sound with two Edelsteins.

I didn't really have that issue at Silent Barn.  Silent Barn is a stageless and equipment-strapped DIY space and while there are certainly worse acoustics to be found in the city, the audio isn't exactly pristine either.  As such, I couldn't hear the minutiae that revealed the band's lopsided skills and was free to simply enjoy their energy.

All that aside, Fiasco are good at what they do.  And what they do is awesome.  Their incredibly fast and complex parts (often involving finger-tapping on guitar) flip between time-signatures without losing their brutal force.  It's not the newest trick in the book, but it's a pretty good one.  And one that's beyond the technical prowess of most bands as young as Fiasco.

I've only seen Unstoppable Death Machines once, and that was also with Fiasco.  They are a duo with a setting that's nearly identical to Lightning Bolt - two guys, one bass, one drum kit, an echoey mic in the mouth and a whole lot of distortion.  For all that, though, they sound pretty different from Lightning Bolt, who thrive on sheer speed.  UDM's songs are more like, well, songs.  Their tempos are slower and their rhythms simpler.  Of course, they don't have the sheer originality of Lightning Bolt, but on the other hand, their music is easier to enjoy.  And regardless of who they're not, they are pretty fucking ferocious.

Amid the massive distortion and skull shattering feedback, an interesting thing happened - the audience lifted the drummer and drumkit in the air at the end of the set.  The drummer hopped on someone's shoulders while various other people lifted his snare and cymbals in reach.  It reminded me, oddly, of the dinosaur rock bands and their interminable drum solos, during which the drummer's platform would rise up above the stage for an unlistenable ten, fifteen or twenty minutes.  But while the drummer's levitation evoked such concerts, in a strange way, it was exactly the opposite.  This is DIY and it's the opposite of a Rock God solo.  Not only did the bass continue in its assault, but also those drums that could not be lifted were taken over by various audience members who pounded wildly on them for a good ten minutes.  While the aerial rock drummer rises above the audience a show of superiority and separation from mere mortals, UDM's altitude was a part of the absolute annihilation between performer and audience. [video of a previous show at the same venue]

Or, more to the point, it was fucking fun.

I have nothing new to say about Shellshag, having reviewed them 8,000,000 times before.  If they don't make you smile, your face is broken.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Album: Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

Last Summer (Eleanor Friedberger)
Album: Last Summer
Merge
Release Date: 7/12/11
Rating: ****** (6/10)

Eleanor Friedberger is the singer from Fiery Furnaces, the band that brought you Blueberry Boat, the world's first ever concept album about, er, a blueberry boat. And in answer to your question, no, no one knows what a blueberry boat is, nor what it has to do with a lost dog, tacos and the album's other jumbled subjects. What we do know is that Blueberry Boat was one of the freshest, most original albums of the last decade.

It's not that Last Summer is lacking the elements that make Fiery Furnaces great. Friedberger's rich voice, the relentless quirkiness, the effortless mid-song genre shifts - all of that is here. But where Fiery Furnaces exude a disarmingly pure sense of purpose and charming lack of self awareness, Last Summer sounds a mess. Friedberger can't seem to make up her mind if she wants to create art or play pop music. Of course, art and pop are inseparable, but the two nevertheless unravel here; rather merging, Friedberger's impulse toward the tuneful and her arty sensibilities sound conflicted and each hampers the other rather than enhancing it.

At least, sometimes it does. There's a lot of good ideas here and nothing here to indicate that Friedberger won't get them sorted out by her next release. "My Mistakes" opens the album rather abruptly - without any semblance of an intro, the first sound of the song (and the album) is Friedberger's voice launching into Verse One. Although the song is not lacking for production, the endearingly clunky synth should put a smile on your face. Sadly, the first misstep is a doozy - a reverbed smooth jazz saxophone solo. Whether it's an ironic statement or a post-ironic statement or no kind of statement at all, it's pure shite.

The saxophone solo illustrates exactly where this album goes wrong. The homey, intimate feel of the album, combined with its refusal to observe the boundaries of genre, should make it a winner. However, it veers too sharply in both directions. The experimental elements sometimes (as with the saxophone) sound forced and superfluous, while the singer-songwriter pieces bring the album - at moments - to the brink of sounding generic.

The album has some bright spots, though. The simplest parts are often the best - the first two thirds of the melancholy "Scenes from Bensonhurst," the tempered psych-folk of "One-Month Marathon" and the textbook disco of "Roosevelt Island" (where Friedberger's very un-textbook vocals save the song from being obnoxious, despite its shameless disco groove). "I Won't Fall Apart on You Tonight" is kind of rocking, even. Of course, the spell of such moments is always rudely interrupted by something corny and over-the-top. Knowing Fiery Furnaces, corny and over-the-top could be lovable. But, whether from too much self-awareness or not enough, it just isn't.

Friedberger uses Last Summer as an opportunity to showcase her impressive skills as a vocalist, but like any truly talented singer, she has no need to overdo it. In that sense, the album is exactly what it should be, a chance for Friedberger's curious voice to explore the world outside her brother's avant garde compositions (her brother being the other member of Fiery Furnaces, of course). In addition to having a distinct and powerful voice, Friedberger sets herself apart with her unusual cadence, melodic but conversational and often divorced from the beat in its rambling.

Turning away from the Furnaces' drug-addled nursery rhymes, Friedberger uses her solo album to explore more conventional subjects like regret and New York (the album is packed with Brooklyn/NYC-centric geographic specificity, including no less than two song titles). It's not quite as interesting as the mad whimsy of Blueberry Boat, but Friedberger still seems legitimately off her nut and her take on even the most mundane of subjects is still a bewildering barrage of stream-of-consciousness associations. As in Blueberry Boat, you can follow strands of stories and themes but the connections that seem so clear in Friedberger's confident delivery are, upon closer inspection, entirely inscrutable.

Those who keep listening through the embarrassing arrangements that define much of the album will be rewarded for their patience. The second to last song, "Owl's Head Park" is promising but its cool is spoiled by yet another nauseous saxophone. But the album finally redeems itself with the closer, "Early Earthquake." Starting with simple vocals over click-clacky percussion, the song warms with a restrained choppy rhythm guitar. Instrumental voices slip naturally in and out around this simple skeleton, a waft of feedback, a simple lead guitar and most notably, a harmonica, all executed with exquisite taste.

There should be no doubt, at this point, that Friedberger is a talented musician with a rare spark of originality. Her first solo outing shows that she's far more than just an instrument of her madman brother's wild genius; she is, as we were already pretty darn sure, an equal genius in her own right. But extracted from the creative partnership of Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger seems a little at sea. (The same could be said of some her brother's solo ventures.) Her creativity and god-given musical ability can't fail, and Last Summer is nothing if not promising. It's just going to take a little while for Friedberger to find balance on her own.

Stream the album here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Album: Grooms - Prom

Prom (Grooms)
Album: Prom
Kanine Records
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Rating: ******** (8/10)

To cut to the chase, Grooms' sophomore full-length is startlingly great. The album oozes the professionalism and confidence of a band that - finally - knows exactly what they're trying to do. It is refreshingly original and strikingly mature.

Grooms still often evoke Sonic Youth in their odd dissonance, the guitar (and vocals) often transcending key signatures to create mysteriously, deliciously warped harmonies and scales. Still, compared to their first album, Prom owes relatively little to Sonic Youth or anyone else for that matter. It's not hard to name reference points (Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Microphones, My Bloody Valentine, the Notwist), but Prom could only have been made by Grooms.

The album announces its identity immediately - "Tiger Trees" opens with a foreboding military march, traced out not by the thud of drums but rather by shards of static, then explodes into a wash of noise. It's that rare sort of noise that doesn't depend on volume as its primary ingredient, the kind you can find in albums by Eric's Trip and the Microphones and very few others. It's a sort of quiet roar that evokes mountains and oceans. It doesn't sound murky but it's nearly impossible to figure out exactly what is going on.

That sort of masterful engineering is coupled with noticeably electrodance leaning elements such as the relentlessly elliptical acid house bass on the title track, the sputtering drums of "Imagining the Bodies" and the industrial beat in parts of "Into the Arms." These elements recall Radiohead, with their deep, post-dub, asymmetrical b-lines, but they are always balanced with organic elements. Likewise, when the guitar drifts off into space on the slow "Expression Of," the bass is at its most earthy.

The album is impressively consistent - none of the tracks feel like filler, either in that they are underdeveloped or in that they don't fit with the record overall. The explosive, melting-out-of-key "Aisha" balances the gentle, sad ambient-folk of "Psychics." In "Sharing," Grooms take a cue from My Bloody Valentine circa 1988 with bassist Emily Ambruso's only lead vocal, a sticky-sweet indie pop song swimming in blurry, underwater noise.

My only major complaint about the album is that the vocals are too far forward in many songs. Some of the middle tracks ("Imagining the Bodies," "Skating With Girl") are about right, but many songs, including the first two (otherwise, the album's strongest), simply seem to have vocals pasted over the top. While everything is a whirl of sound, Travis Johnson's vocals are bizarrely exposed - which might work if they were better but realistically, vocals are not the band's strongest suit. They aren't bad, by any means, but the melodies are a little underdeveloped and Johnson's voice just a little thin in contrast with the rich tapestry of the instrumentals.

Still, for an album as bold and original as this, you gotta hand it to these guys. Prom is a keeper.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Upcoming Shows: The Wake, Grooms + more

Tonight!! Thursday, July 7

Ex-Humans, Liquor Store, the Fucking Ocean @ Death By Audio * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $7
This show is gonna be rad.  It's punk music and it's brutal. Ex-Humans make catchy but not-nice garage punk.  Meanwhile, the Fucking Ocean are as cool as their name - that post-hardcore combination of sheer punk energy with the intensity, weight and complexity of metal (up to a point).  One could call it noise rock.  One must call it sick. [ex video] [liquor video] [the fucking video] ::details::

Other Shows
School Knights, the Hairs, Radical Dads @ Shea Stadium
Mahogany @ Webster Studio


Tomorrow!! Friday, July 8

The Wake @ South Street Seaport * Financial Distract, Manhattan * Free!!!
The Wake are a British post punk band who were signed to seminal UK post punk label Factory Records, the imprint most famous for Joy Division.  They are moody sonsabitches who sound like a not-quite-so-good Joy Division, like everyone else on Factory at that time.  BUT being not quite as good as Joy Division is something even the best bands must live with (as a young Bono once noted).  The Wake are also an indie pop band who were signed to seminal UK indie pop label Sarah Records, the label that brought us twee (shambling, anorak) pop.  Their later work fit in well on Sarah, but it did retain some of the post punk darkness that had dominated their early records.  And although they became "indie pop," only later in their original lifespan, they were both indie and pop from the beginning, constructing masterful pop songs from the get-go.  Along with Josef K, The Wake are the missing link between the gloom of 1979 post punk (Joy Division, Public Image Ltd) and the shambling pop of 1987 (Heavenly, the Field Mice).  The two most important original members are reunited and you should go hear them.  Anyway, it's free.  C'mon. ::details::

Other Shows
Balun @ Cameo ($8)
True Womanhood @ Shea Stadium
10,000 Maniacs @ City Winery
Xray Eyeballs, Beets, PC Worship @ Death By Audio ($7)


Saturday, July 9

Grooms, Pterodactyl @ Death By Audio * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $7
This is Grooms' record release show.  Grooms are a dissonant experimental band that sometimes sound like Sonic Youth. They're pop smart, though, with hooks aplenty, even if those hooks are a bit disorienting.  Pterodactyl are a noise rock band who lace three vocal lines around rapidly twinkling (often) tapped guitar.  They've slowed down their frantic pace to give their post punk inclinations room to breathe and have been playing around with deeper, lazier grooves.  (They've got a surprisingly good calypso-inflected song.)  But even at their more relaxed pace, they've still got more energy than...CodEdison?  Sorry.  I need to learn not to start metaphors I can't finish.  [grooms video] [ptero video] ::details::

Other Shows

Ted Leo @ South Street Seaport (free!)
Pop 1280 @ Bruar Falls ($8)
10,000 Maniacs @ City Winery


Sunday, July 10

Pow Wow! @ South Street Seaport * Financial District, Manhattan * free afternoon show!
This show isn't exactly to die for, but it's free, which makes it infinitely more appealing.  Pow Wow are a pretty good young indie-pop/noise-pop/lo-fi (otherwise known as typical indie rock) band who are fun and good at writing songs. [video] ::details::


Tuesday, July 12

Animal Collective, Black Dice @ Prospect Park * Prospect Park, Brooklyn * Sold out!!
Animal Collective are a band who make strange noises with synths and their own vocal chords (among other things).  They are dorky and like animals.  You've probably heard of them because they're very famous.  Black Dice are a highly experimental avant-noise thingy that personally I'm not that into.  I mean, I'm not that into Black Dice, I'm very into experimental avant-noise thingies when other people do it.  But Black Dice are respectable at least. [animal video] [dice video] ::details::

Cold Cave @ Knitting Factory * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $15
Cold Cave are a loud synth band who want to make your ears bleed but also want to make you dance.  They're very 80's British synthpop, but their music has also got a no wave flavor in their icy, inhuman sound.  Their melodies are delicious but something going on is unsettling.  In a good way. [video] ::details::

Anni Rossi (not headlining) @ Glasslands * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $10
Anni Rossi is a lady who plays viola like it's an electric guitar.  If I told you how cool she was, you probably wouldn't believe me so you'll have to find out for yourself. [video] ::details::

Other Shows
Slick Rick @ Crotona Park (free!)
Hilly Eye @ Bruar ($6)
Bill Callahan @ Bowery Ballroom


The long view...

July

14
Patti Smith @ Castle Clinton (free!)
Joan Jett @ Coney Island (free!)
Tune-Yards @ River Rocks (free!)
Marly Marl @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Gary War, K-Holes, Pop. 1280 @ Union Hall ($8)
Superchunk, Off!, Lemuria @ House of Vans (free with RSVP!)

15
Radio Dept., Asobi Seksu (shoegaze/ambient pop) @ South Street Seaport

16
Company Flow (without the slightest exaggeration, the greatest underground rappers of all time), Juggaknots @ Santos Party House ($20)
4 Knots Festival: Black Angels, Titus Andronicus, Obits, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) + more
Pygmy Shrews @ Union Pool
Oneida @ Monster Island Basement

18
K-Holes, Hunters, Zulus @ Death By Audio ($7)

19
Kool Moe Dee (one of the first and best rappers of all time) @ Queensbridge (free!)

20
Talk Normal @ Glasslands ($10)
Torche @ Music Hall of Williamsubrg

21
Funkmaster Flex, Nore(aga) @ Queensbridge (free!)
Gang Gang Dance @ Rocks Off Cruises

22
Death From Above 1979 @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($43)

23
The Feelies, Real Estate, Times New Viking @ Prospect Park (free!)
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge (sold out!)

24
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge
Swirlies, Psychedelic Horseshit @ Beekman Beer Garden (free afternoon show!)
Black Francis (Pixies) @ Le Poisson Rouge
Vaz, Mattress @ Bruar Falls

28
Walt Mink (great 90's indie band that split up over 10 years ago) @ Bell House
Shilpa Ray @ Shea Stadium

29
West Memphis Three Benefit with Dez Cadena @ Southpaw
Black Lips @ Bowery Ballroom


August
2
Sugarhill Gang @ Tappan Park (free!)
Sufjan Stevens @ Prospect Park

6
Cold Cave @ Bowery Ballroom
Crystal Antlers @ Glasslands ($10)
Total Slacker, Darlings, Beets @ Shea Stadium

7
Friendly Fires, Cults @ Central Park (free!)

8
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

9
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

12
Sonic Youth, Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney), Kurt Vile @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($40)
*CANCELED* Streets, El-P @ Terminal 5

21
Rakim, EPMD @ Central Park (free!)
Jeff the Brotherhood (not headlining) @ Le Poisson Rouge ($18)

22
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

23
Deerhunter, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) @ Webster Hall

25
Wavves @ East River Park (free!)


September
8
TV on the Radio @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($48)

23
The Descendents @ Roseland Ballroom

27
Swans @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

30
X @ Irving Plaza


October
1
X @ Irving Plaza

4
The Horrors @ Webster Hall

15
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bell House

18
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bowery Ballroom

22
The Damned @ Irving Plaza

29
Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) @ Town Hall (sold out!)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Live: Fucked Up and Jeff the Brotherhood.

When: 6/25
Where: 285 Kent

Sadly, I missed Iceage at the Fucked Up/Jeff show.  But I did catch Jeff the Brotherhood, Nashville 4realz brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall.  Jeff the Brotherhood recently released their second album, an unabashed (and entirely self-aware) celebration of rock'n'roll cliches.  Their riff-centric psychedelic punk is criminally catchy, with exaggerated weight, excessive effects and extreme rockstar posturing.

At 285 Kent, Jeff played a great selection songs from both albums and played them well.  But somehow, I feel like Jeff are less than they once were.  I don't want to be one of those resentful motherfuckers who talks about when such-and-such band used to be good, back before they were so popular.  And it's an easy trap to fall into - shows are more exciting when you're lucky enough to stumble on something brilliant before anyone else notices it.  It's impossible not to miss the intimacy of those tiny shows, with 15 people instead of 500.

But my excitement over Jeff isn't just losing luster out of nostalgia for ye good olde days.  There are a couple of other factors at play here.  One is simply that Jeff are a bit superficial.  Of course, that the genius and joy of Jeff - they make rock music fun again.  But like any fun music, it fades over time and you move on to the next catchy thing. Which isn't to say that Jeff's music is disposable.  They aren't some one-hit wonder whose albums will show up en masse in used music shops in a year, the original owners completely forgetting the existence of the records the minute they walk out the door.  No.  I think people will keep Jeff's LPs and will throw them on from time to time and love them every time.  But few people will return to the LPs with the sort of urgency that draws people back to the greatest of albums.  That sort of emotional urgency, after all, would be a total buzzkill and ruin everything Jeff are trying to do.  So it's fine.  But it is the sort of infatuation that, despite what we might have thought in the heat of the moment, is far more about the thrill of discovery than it is about the potential for enduring, life-altering love.

Still, this doesn't fully explain my discontent. Yes, the sun has set on my initial crush, but the shows still seem emptier than they should.  And this is why: Jeff used to be showmen.  It's not that they aren't now, but they don't have the FLAIR they used to.  After all, the first time I saw Jeff in a "big" (400+) venue, Jake stood atop a huge amp giving a five minute guitar intro, visible in flickers from Jamin's barebulb flashlight.  Jeff still know how to build suspense and how to please a crowd, but they've scaled it back.  Note: I am absolutely NOT advocating for bands to do five minute guitar intros standing atop their amps.  But Jeff are different - what they do works because of their shameless willingness to revel in rock'n'roll stereotypes like a dog rolling around in dead fish. Like Queen or the Mars Volta, they are the kind of band you should be thankful exist and should be just as thankful only exist once (but not quite as extreme because if you heard another band that sounded like Jeff, it would just sound lame, not mortifying or terminally obnoxious).

So, Messrs. Orrall, what gives?  Why no grandstanding?  Why no crazy lighting?  If you're gonna own that shit, own it.  Otherwise, turn off the flange pedal.  And please, don't turn off your flange pedal!  You have a mission to complete and we're so close!  Granted, no one who hadn't seen the band back when would know any air had gone out of the balloon - but Jake and Jamin, you and I happen to know you can do even better.

And then, Fucked Up, billed as "secret guest."  What can I write about Fucked Up that I have not already?  Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham went running all the way through the crowd and out the door at one point - if I had to guess, I'd guess he was going to give hugs to the folks working the door.  It was the first Fucked Up show where I heard bassist Sandy "Mustard Gas" Miranda step up to the mic, but I'm guessing it won't be the last, since extensive female vocals were needed on Fucked Up's recent rock-opera LP.  She was hard to hear but otherwise excellent.  There was good pit going too, if you like getting thrown around and drenched in other people's sweat - and if you don't like that, why are you in the pit?  It goes without saying that the band was impeccable.

Where Jeff are a fleeting infatuation, Fucked Up are more of long-term relationship material.  Theirs are the albums fans will return to with emotional urgency.  They are the heralds of a new day of hXc punk rawk, the ragged band exploring new frontiers most of us never would have thought existed.  Both bands are important and both have relevant - and rare - missions.  Having indulgent, shameless, rock'n'roll fun is underrated and underdone and we need Jeff to remind us of that.  But Fucked Up, with their boundless passion, sincerity and sense of purpose, will make the more lasting mark.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Upcoming Shows: Total Slacker, Ringo Deathstarr + more!

Tonight!! Friday, July 1

Dinowalrus, Total Slacker, Soft Black @ Monster Island Basement * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $6
This sure is an odd bill - these bands have almost nothing in common.  Except that they're rad.  Dinowalrus play baggy psychedelic music that's equally experimental and danceable - like the mutant disco of early 80's New York but generally less angular and more lush.  Total Slacker play sloppy, offkey songs about tacos, except that they are secretly not sloppy at all and actually boast one of the greatest young guitarists out there, the wild, boyish, floppy-haired Tucker.  They destroy things and set them on fire (literally) and are generally the best live band on earth right now.  I haven't checked in with Soft Black in a long time, but last I heard them, they sounded more or less like a blend of all late 60's rock - that sort of country/folk/psychedelic stuff - but with occasional hints of post-punk influence.  It's not earth-shattering but they do it right. [dino video] [slacker video] [soft video]

Other Shows
Ceremony @ Death By Audio
Cro-Mags @ Bowery Ballroom
Nobunny, TV Ghost, Shellshag @ Knitting Factory ($12)
Thermals, Big Troubles @ Bell House ($15)


Tomorrow!! Saturday, July 2

Shellshag, Fiasco, Unstoppable Death Machines @ Silent Barn * Ridgewood, Queens
Shellshag are a duo who have a sort of maternal/paternal role in NYC punk.  Their music is simple and fun and the band is usually pretty drunk by the time they hit the stage.  Fiasco are some youngsters who play ridiculously complex math rock/hardcore.  Unstoppable Death Machines are a drummer and bassist who have about the same set up and the same volume as Lightning Bolt.  This show is gonna be rad. [shell video] [fiasco video] [unstoppable video]


Sunday, July 3

The Vandelles, Ringo Deathstarr, Dead Leaf Echo @ Shea Stadium * Bushwick, Brooklyn * $8
Three of the best shoegaze/psych bands around.  The Vandelles play 50's rock songs through sheets of white noise, while Austin's Ringo Deathstarr follow more in the pitchbending footsteps of My Blood Valentine.  Dead Leaf Echo feature lush, sparkling guitars but surprisingly punchy songs. [vandelles video] [ringo video] [dead video]

Other Shows
Panda Bear, Ducktails @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (sold out!)


Monday, July 4

Summer Jam III: Liturgy, Sightings, PC Worship and more @ Shea Stadium * Bushwick, Brooklyn * $10 (afternoon show!!)
This little festival should be pretty rad, starting at 3 PM and running into the evening.  There are loads of bands but the best ones (as far as I know) are the cross-over black metal Liturgy, the noise/no-wave Sightings and the lo-fi meets free-jazz PC Worship. It's a diverse bunch, but they're united by their noise and avant-garde sensibilities and the fact that your parents probably wouldn't like any of them. [liturgy video] [sightings video] [pc video]


Tuesday, July 5

Mazes, Hairs, Country Mice @ Glasslands * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $10
Decent indie pop if you're into that kind of thing.


Wednesday, July 6

Zs @ Public Assembly * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $10
Zs are an experimental noise band who play largely (but not exclusively) instrumental pieces that sound like a hybrid of Glenn Branca, Black Dice and DJ Shadow.  Or in other words, they write symphonic sonic collages of noise, a dissonant patchwork of free jazz, shimmering guitars and slick beats. [video]

The Ladybug Transistor, the Beets @ Knitting Factory * Williamsburg, Brooklyn * $12
The Ladybug Transistor are a seasoned indie pop band who have more than earned their stripes (err dots?). They've got a new record out this summer.  [video]


The long view...

July
7
Liquor Store, Ex-Humans, The Fucking Ocean @ Death By Audio ($7)

8
The Wake, Weekend @ South Street Seaport
10,000 Maniacs @ City Winery

9
Ted Leo @ South Street Seaport (free!)
Grooms, Pterodactyl @ Death By Audio ($7)
10,000 Maniacs @ City Winery

12
Animal Collective @ Prospect Park (sold out!)
Cold Cave @ Knitting Factory ($15)
Slick Rick @ Crotona Park (free!)

14
Tune-Yards @ River Rocks (free!)
Marly Marl @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Gary War, K-Holes, Pop. 1280 @ Union Hall ($8)

15
Radio Dept., Asobi Seksu (shoegaze/ambient pop) @ South Street Seaport

16
4 Knots Festival: Black Angels, Titus Andronicus, Obits, Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) + more
Pygmy Shrews @ Union Pool

19
Kool Moe Dee (one of the first and best rappers of all time) @ Queensbridge (free!)

20
Talk Normal @ Glasslands ($10)
Torche @ Music Hall of Williamsubrg

21
Funkmaster Flex, Nore(aga) @ Queensbridge (free!)
Gang Gang Dance @ Rocks Off Cruises

22
Death From Above 1979 @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($43)

23
The Feelies, Real Estate, Times New Viking @ Prospect Park (free!)
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge (sold out!)

24
Heartless Bastards (acoustic) @ Mercury Lounge

28
Walt Mink (great 90's indie band that split up over 10 years ago) @ Bell House

29
West Memphis Three Benefit with Dez Cadena @ Southpaw
Black Lips @ Bowery Ballroom


August
2
Sugarhill Gang @ Tappan Park (free!)
Sufjan Stevens @ Prospect Park

6
Cold Cave @ Bowery Ballroom
Crystal Antlers @ Glasslands ($10)

7
Friendly Fires, Cults @ Central Park (free!)

8
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

9
The Kills, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers @ Terminal 5

12
Sonic Youth @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($40)
*CANCELED* Streets, El-P @ Terminal 5

21
Rakim, EPMD @ Central Park (free!)

22
Deerhunter @ Webster Hall

23
Deerhunter @ Webster Hall

25
Wavves @ East River Park (free!)


September
8
TV on the Radio @ Williamsburg Waterfront ($48)

23
The Descendents @ Roseland Ballroom

27
Swans @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

30
X @ Irving Plaza


October
1
X @ Irving Plaza

4
The Horrors @ Webster Hall

15
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bell House

18
Wild Flag (ex-Sleater-Kinney) @ Bowery Ballroom

22
The Damned @ Irving Plaza

29
Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) @ Town Hall (sold out!)