Monday, December 31, 2007

happy new year

Of all fifty-two weeks in the year, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day strikes me as the strangest. It's a weird sort of purgatory. The most anticipated and commercialized holiday of the season has come and gone, somewhat anticlimactically, and all that's left is the gripping revelation of how frightening time is. Like, it keeps going by faster and faster, and it won't stop, not even for a tiny second to let you catch your breath, ever. It's rude, really. But never mind. Here are a few obligatory mp3s to help you cope with the mixed regret and excitement you're feeling over the demise of 2007 and the infinite possibilities of 2008.

mp3: "January" by Ravens & Chimes
mp3: "The New Year" by Death Cab for Cutie
mp3: "The Ice of Boston" by the Dismemberment Plan
mp3: "This Year" by the Mountain Goats
mp3: "Gonna Make It Through This Year" by Great Lake Swimmers
mp3: "The Start of Something" by Voxtrot

Saturday, December 29, 2007

free music

Holidays clean out your wallet? Well, boo-hoo. Some of us never had money to begin with.

In that spirit, we present you a list:


Twelve Really Great Places to Score (FREE!) Legal Music:


The State Of Samuel - Swedish indie pop reminiscent of a one man Clap Your hands Say Yeah! Check out his album Swedish Metal Aid in addition to a liberal smattering of his other work.

Salty Pirates - Sloppy, loud, and fun. In order "to fight the commercialism that's infecting the music industry today" they're giving away their entire catalogue. Let the party begin.

Wild Geese Music - A completely free music label. Check out Micheal Bach, a Swede who does Americana better than most Americans. (And a big thanks to Swedesplease for cluing us in to this great find!)

John Vanderslice - No collection is complete without Mass Suicide Occult Figurines. It's true.

Daytrotter - Live in studio freebies from... pretty much anyone who's hip and a few people you probably haven't heard of but should. Sondre Lerche, Sunset Rubdown, Au Revoir Simone, and Andrew Bird. Oh my!

Archaric Horizon Records - A completely free label dedicated to "advancing the Experimental." Home to our friends The Dandelion Council. Download and daydream away.

Inlets - A beautiful, day-dreamy EP from Sebastian Krueger, a.k.a. Inlets, partner in crime to Feist and My Brightest Diamond. The closest you'll ever get to a "sure bet" in the indie world.

Palmer AK - You need this EP.

Chris Walla - Because ako would kill me if I left off this gem. And because I know a good pop song when I hear one.

10· Logan Whitehurst - Strange, Andy Kaufman style humor that will have you singing along for days.

11· Jens Lekman - Rare EPs and live tracks from our favorite Gothenburger.

12· David & the Citizens - Only you can prevent the spread of gloom! Download the I Saw My Reflection and Didn't Recognize Myself ep today and do your part.



Runners up: the record labels: Sure they're trying to hook you, the first one's free, then you've gotta pay. But these select few really know how to dole out the goodies.

Subpop

Barsuk

Labrador

Saturday, December 22, 2007

a very sedaris christmas (and/or happy holidays)

Sometimes...our job is made far too easy...thanks, Crumpet!

So the Would-Be Hipsters are scattering for Christmas...even though one of us is technically Jewish.

We hope, as always (or at least, like Thanksgiving, being that's the first holiday we've been in existence for) that you have a safe, fun holiday of choice. Personally? My only real danger is o.d.ing on peppermint bark, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

So, be good, do good work and keep in touch. We'll be back sometime before the new year with some more random pontification, screaming geek-girl reviews, and of course...pie

Cheers!

The Would-Be Hipsters

P.S. Must we remind you yet again that this is the finest radio program currently available?

mp3: "Santaland Diaries" by David Sedaris

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

storm watch 2007

Terror fell over the southern California region today when water - yes, water - fell from the sky. Traffic on the 405 came to a screeching halt as rush hour commuters tried to come to grips with the new, potentially deadly situation. Said one stranded motorist, "It was horrible... I had to run my windshield wipers. I mean - you plan for these kinds of things, but when they happen, what kind of reassurance can we give our children?"

As always CWBH has you covered... at least music-wise.

If you need me, I'll be outside perfecting my Gene Kelly impression.

mp3: "Spring Came, Rain Fell" by Club 8. I dare you to find a situation when Swedish pop isn't appropriate.
mp3: "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall (live)" by Bob Dylan. Metaphorical rain... ohhh!
mp3: "Umbrella (Rihanna cover)" by Amanda Palmer. Just yeah...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street

At this point, I'm convinced Johnny Depp could fly if he wanted to – he doesn't of course, least he make us feel bad for our own shortcomings. But believe me, he could do it – or anything else he elects to accomplish. Playing a homicidal barber, with a remarkable, pain drenched tenor, forcing us to take him seriously despite a horrendous fright wig? Please, that's child's play.

There are only three things that are certain in a Tim Burton film – a Johnny Depp, a desaturated color palette, and blood. Lots and lots of blood. On all three accounts, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, fails to disappoint. Depp delivers a mature, emotionally evolved performance. Characters and ghosts haunt the night, cloaked in detail-free shadow. Blood coats the screen, at one point splashing the camera. In short, this is not a film for the weak of heart.

Much of the terror is derived, as one might expect, from the simple premise of having a stranger hold a sharp object to your neck. Or more correctly, audience terror is derived from streams of characters not recognizing this hidden danger1. Burton invests himself in the same macabre love affair Todd experiences with his razors. All the shaving implements are shot in intimate close-ups usually reserved for the leading lady. At one point, Todd extends one blade to the heavens screaming, "At last, my arm is complete again!" You can almost feel Burton's glee growing in proportion to his leading man's dark side, marked audibly by the tell-tale sounds of razor sharpening. By the time the blood starts flying – and there's lots of it - the violence is almost a second thought, a release from the dreadful anticipation.

Thankfully Burton's glee is not without its lighter side. The clown of Sleepy Hollow, Depp is Sweeney Todd's titular angst-ridden straight man, leaving the humor to Helena Bonham Carter’s cheerfully practical yet maniacal Mrs. Lovett, and the surprisingly subdued Sacha Baron Cohen as a rival barber. However, the real supporting actor award belongs to Alan Rickman, upper-crust British accent interjecting every line with a subtle sinister subtext. Even when not perpetrating some of the film's more disturbing crimes, his very presence denotes the true embodiment of evil, cloaked handsomely in a protective patrician wrapper.

Addapted from the hit Stephen Sondheim play, Sweeney Todd proves once and for all that Burton is a master not only of style, but of substance2. Every elemental choice ties directly back to the Todds' - and by extension, the film's - moral and ethical dilemma. Even when the film dallies in the ingenues' romantic subplot, the audience is never once allowed to forget how high the stakes have become. By the time Sweeney’s quest reaches its inevitable, visceral conclusion, the audience is left exhausted, gasping, and perhaps... a bit bloody.


1. Time and time again, I find myself thankful I was born with two x chromosomes. I shouldn’t be trusted to hold sharp objects to my own neck, let alone allow an anonymous man take control of my grooming habits.
2. Admittedly this is a argument I’ve always sided with Tim Burton on... but a point - for the unbelievers - that needs to be made none the less.



Friday, December 14, 2007

end of year list #3

This was painful.

ten favorite albums

10 · Very Tiny Songs by Logan Whitehurst & the Junior Science Club
One last testament to the brilliance of Logan Whitehurst. May the giggling continue indefinitely.
9 · The Stage Names by Okkervil River
Bouncy, jangly, dark, upbeat, and beautiful in a vaguely ugly sort of way. Something of an achievement.
8 · Wincing the Night Away by the Shins
The faintly sterile quality that prevented me from fully embracing either of the Shins' previous releases is not present here. I'm a sucker for a great album opener, and "Sleeping Lessons" is definitely that. Also, the line "it's like I'm pushed on the handlebars of a blind man's bike" from "Split Needles" is one of the better metaphors that I've heard lately, for anything.
7 · In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars
It's not as good as Set Yourself on Fire. It's just not. But it's still dangerously addicting.
6 · The Flying Club Cup by Beirut
A couple weeks ago, an inexplicable and foreign weather pattern passed through Los Angeles, wherein water actually fell from the sky. It turns out that the sound of this album coming out of my car's speakers complements that phenomenon nicely.
5 · Friend and Foe by Menomena
Ingenious and absurd. And awesome live.
4 · Reunion Tour by the Weakerthans
Fact: the world is split into two camps. Those who recognize John K. Samson as the greatest lyricist in the history of ever, and those who have no soul.
3 · The Con by Tegan and Sara
Fact #2: Everything Chris Walla touches is gold. I mean, not to take anything away from Tegan and Sara themselves, who wrote and compiled a collection of layered, quirky pop songs -- easily their best effort to date -- but the production is just stellar. And so what if I'm only trying to justify the fact that I listened to almost nothing but this album for two months straight? Leave me alone.
2 · Emerald City by John Vanderslice
I'm trying to remember how I ever harbored ambivalence towards this man's music, and failing miserably.
1 · Random Spirit Lover by Sunset Rubdown
What's there to say anymore, really? If this album seems too long or too abstract or too complicated for you, listen to it ten more times. Trust me. The rewards of repeated listens here are unparalleled.


ten favorite songs

10 · "Modern Day Saint" by Via Audio from Say Something Say Something Say Something
Just a really great pop song. Wait, scratch the word "just".
9 · "Myriad Harbour" by the New Pornographers from Challengers
On an album that disappointed me somewhat, this manages to be joy, melted down and chemically manipulated into song form.
8 · "Polyethylene (Parts 1&2)" by Chris Walla from Stereogum's OKX
Oh come on, how was I supposed to leave this off? Consider it a small preview for next year, when my favorite album is a foregone conclusion.
7 · "Numbered Lithograph" by John Vanderslice from Emerald City
John Vanderslice has this way of taking universal, even clich├ęd, sentiments and making them wrenching all over again. Maybe it has something to do with the oddly specific settings his characters are cast in, but when he sings, "I've never been lonelier," you believe him.
6 · "Guyamas Sonora" by Beirut from The Flying Club Cup
If the horn section of this song (as it commences at approximately 1:04) was the official soundtrack to my life, it would be a whole lot more profound than it is now.
5 · "It's Not Worth Fighting" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin from Not Worth Fighting
This is one of two songs on the 7" single that I bought when I saw SSLYBY in April. I think it qualifies as dreamy.
4 · "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" by Okkervil River from The Stage Names
It's always a little bittersweet when an album's lone downfall is that no other song lives up to the epic perfection of its opener.
3 · "Wet and Rusting" by Menomena from Friend and Foe
When I first listened to this song after a downloading spree on the Barsuk website last December, I had no prior knowledge of the band and the song's appeal was so obvious to me that my first instinct was to classify it under "guilty pleasure". It turns out that there's absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, of course. I love it when that happens.
2 · "The Taming of the Hands That Came Back to Life" by Sunset Rubdown from Random Spirit Lover
It's incredibly difficult to pick out individual songs from this album, as it flows so magnificently as a whole. Furthermore, to emphasize the strengths of one part is to imply the comparative weakness of the others, and weakness just doesn't happen here. But this one contains a few of my favorite lyrical moments, and at least one very good question.
1 · "Naked Girl" by the Velvet Teen from The Great Beast February/Comasynthesis
I decided three months ago that this was going to be my song of the year. I couldn't renege just because it happens to be six years old.


five favorite shows

5 · Ben Gibbard @ Royce Hall
4 · Beirut @ Amoeba Records
3 · Sunset Rubdown @ El Rey
2 · The Weakerthans @ El Rey
1 · John Vanderslice @ the Troubadour


three favorite books

I was too busy keeping track of all the albums I listened to to keep track of the books I read this year. I plan to fix this in 2008. In the meantime, here are three of my favorite books on most days:

3 · Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
2 · The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
1 · Catch-22 by Joseph Heller


three favorite movies

I may have seen three movies in 2007, but of those, I passed out during the first five minutes of one, and one was Harry Potter.

my secret superpower is:
the ability to be insecure about anything and everything. Also, the ability to shield myself with a Radiohead poster and not pass out during Sweeney Todd.


my advice to other would-be hipsters:
Wear your seatbelt. And, obligatorily: don't follow my advice.


in 2008 I might:
actually die of homesickness for the Pacific Northwest.


mp3: "Myriad Harbour" by the New Pornographers
mp3: "Wet and Rusting (LOAF: A Deli Tea Version)" by Menomena
mp3: "It's Not Worth Fighting" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
mp3: "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" by Okkervil River
mp3: "Naked Girl" by the Velvet Teen

Sunday, December 9, 2007

end of year list #1

I declare that 2007 will forever be known as “the year of the Swede.” Is it the weather? The diet? The government subsidizing? Whatever it is, they're kicking our collective American butts. Come on countrymen, get it together. Your assignment for the upcoming year? Let’s show ‘em we, too, know pretty.

This year can also be considered the year I forgot how to rock. Electric guitars? Who needs ‘em when you’ve got accordions, ukuleles, sultry piano, and…er…the Pipettes? With such beautiful, orchestral offerings from Beirut, Loney Dear, and Rufus Wainwright to smooth the way, the guitar’s sad demise doesn’t seem like such a painful departure.

The rankings surprised me. Chalk it up my perennial favorites letting me down, or failing to release an album all together. Dear Sufjan, where is my new states album? I suggest thinking outside the box - make 2008 the year of Puerto Rico. And where is the new incarnation of Beck? Someone better invite him to next year’s party. Some albums that had me salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs didn’t deliver the treat I’d been hoping. Bright Eyes forsake his angst-driven past in favor of a more “adult” sound. Ben Lee took the opposite route, embracing his cheerfulness, creating auditory saccharin.


Finally: To The New Amsterdams, Coconut Records, and Thurston Moore, I apologize. If this list were the top eleven (and believe me, I rallied long and hard for it) one of you would be joining the party.


ten favorite albums

10 · Open Field by Taken By Trees
Victoria Bergsman's solo debut is understated, to the point of childlike simplicity. It's easy to miss its emotional punch. However, give it time and a few late nights. You’ll find that writing this straightforward and affecting doesn’t need orchestration.
9 · Neon Bible by Arcade Fire
After Funeral's few hits padded by a lot of filler, I almost wrote off this gem. Stupid me.
8 · Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird
A late night, cold medication-induced discovery - who I was utterly convinced was actually Mew. Which is of course to say, the night was very late and the cold meds were very effective. Layered, introspective suave pop. And yes, the whistling's real.
7 · Bird and the Bee by Bird & The Bee
Pure electro-pop bliss. I harbor fantasies that I sing like Inara George. I’m also convinced I'm witty. I guess we all have our personal stumbling blocks. (For a +3 hipster points, pick up their newest EP Please Clap Your Hands.)
6 · Release the Stars by Rufus Wainwright
Thankfully Rufus didn’t go through with his threat to create his “introspective, striped down” album. Instead, after the somewhat disappointing Want Two, the Ru is back, bigger and shmazzier than ever. Pin on your broach collection and listen closely: you can almost hear the Busby Berkeley dance routines.
5 · Loney Noir by Loney, Dear
A Sufjan Stevens, Postal Service love child. If I’m at eating lunch at home, then it's mandated listening. I’m really not sure what would happen if I didn’t…but with pure Swedish orchestral pop this lush, who'd want to tempt fate?
4 · The Flying Cup Club by Beirut
A deep voiced, scruffily dressed indie boy takes us on a tour of 1920s Paris along with his band of merry troublemakers and orchestral chaperone Owen Pallet. It’s the budget-travel soundtrack for those of us who can’t quite yet afford the hitchhikers version of Europe.
3 · Our Ill Wills by Shout Out Louds
“Hey Bart! Alf’s back…in pog form!” When I was young and impressionable (okay, younger and more impressionable) I used to sneak out after bedtime to watch Cure music videos with my older brother. This album finds me back in my parents' living room, this time with visions of the Scandinavian midnight sun and all night dance parties dancing in my head.
2 · Dumb Luck by Dntel
One can only be distracted for so long by side projects. Yes Jimmy Tamborello’s worked with everyone in the music industry (heck, he’s probably remixed one of your band’s tracks) and released music under a half a dozen different monikers. But it’s about time he went back to his first love, or at least first identity. Turns out it was well worth the wait. Dumb Luck is a love letter to the by-products of the artistic process: lost love, squandered talent, and self-doubt. With some of Jimmy’s previous musical partners lending their vocal talents, the simple stories of heartbreak take on a painful, yet universal tone.
1 · Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman
Once again, marry me Jens. Either that or stop reading my diary. Seriously, it's getting spooky. It's been two months now since the album's release, and this pop gem has yet to find its way out of my car. Yes, I am that girl next to you in 405 gridlock, singing at the top of her lungs. Deal with it.

ten favorite songs

10 · "The Moat" by Palmer AK from AK Final EP
Eric Howk’s got everyone at CWBH drawing hearts in the margins of our math homework.
9 · "The Art of The Quick Draw" by The Minor Canon from No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
Proving that even the most painful of recognitions can sound pretty when delivered over a swelling horn section.
8 · "While You Were Sleeping" by Elvis Perkins from Ash Wednesday
Honestly? I have no clue what this song is about. But the world he creates is so soothing I want to live on repeat in this hypnotic lullaby.
7 · "I Defy" by Joan As Police Woman from Real Life
The ex-girlfriend of Jeff Buckley and Anthony ratchet up the emotional intensity as they peel back their lovers’ skins to “kiss the real you.” The result is one of uneasy beauty.
6 · "Cycling Trivialities" by Jose Gonzalez from In Our Nature
Haunting. Is there another word for what he does? This time, Jose outdoes himself with his longest track to date, echoing uneasily into an unknown future.
5 · "Colleen" by Joanna Newsom from Joanna Newsom And The Y's Street Band
Searing, yet playful, Joanna spins another unforgettable yarn of love, loss and beauty.
4 · "Everything I Cannot See" by Charlotte Gainsbourg from 5:55
Untrained emotive wailing, lyrics written by Jarvis Cocker, all performed over a long lost Air track. Why wasn’t I born French?
3 · "Paris Is Burning" by St. Vincent from Marry Me
Story as old as time itself: Girl joins Sufjan Steven’s band of merry pranksters, girl learns ropes of storytelling and songwriting, girl graduates from group to become a dazzling artist in her own right.
2 · "Amsterdam" by Peter Bjorn and John from Writers Block
The younger, introverted but gifted sibling of "Young Folks."
1 · "Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig" by Jens Lekman from
Night Falls Over Kortedala
The best way to touch your heart/is to make an ass of myself. The anthem for the year…and quite possibly my entire adult life.



five favorite shows


5 · Peter, Bjorn and John @ The Roxy
4 · Jens Lekman @ The Troubador
3 · Joanna Newsom @ Walt Disney Concert Hall
2 · Rufus Wainwright @ The Hollywood Bowl
1 · Interpol, Taken By Trees and Modest Mouse @ The Accelerator Music Festival



three favorite books


3 · The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
2 · Looking For Alaska by John Green
1 · King Dork by Frank Portman



three favorite movies


3 · Lars And The Real Girl
2 · Darjeeling Limited
1 · Paris J'taime



my secret superpower is:
The ability to speak any language at moment's notice. They call me Linguistic Girl! It does nothing in my quest to fight crime...but I always have a great time at dinner parties.

my advice to other would-be hipsters:
Advice redacted due to on-going quarter life crisis. Please check back for 2008 “best of” list.


in 2008 I might:
find some sort of meaningful, full-time employment. Then again I might strap my guitar to my back and flee like a feral rat into the night.



mp3: "Plasticities (live)" by Andrew Bird
mp3: "I Am John (live)" by Loney,Dear
mp3: "Everything I Cannot See (live)" by Charlotte Gainsbourg
mp3: "Paris Is Burning (live)" by St. Vincent
mp3: "Friday Night At The Drive In Bingo (solo)" by Jens Lekman

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

the dandelion council


Four years ago, if you had asked me about electronica, I would have thought of heavy nightclub trance beats and cringed. Then, two things happened: I spent a semester in France during the height of Air’s Talkie Walkie promotion, and I met my dear friend Pip Craighead, a.k.a. the Dandelion Council.

The Dandelion Council, lead by Pip and his revolving band of merry sidekicks, draws inspiration from the hills of Altadena; so much in fact, early drafts of the band's mission statement claimed that rather than original works, they were simply covering tapes found buried deep in the hillside, circa 1970.

Despite band-fueled rumors of borrowing a page from their forebears, the Dandelion Council is nothing if not a creative, unique endeavor. Electronic beats are merged with ethereal human voices, the laughter of children, and sampling from nature. Nature is a huge theme: inspiration is taken from summer nights, fields of grass rippling in the wind, the smell of wet earth, lens flares, sunsets, cricket songs, fireflies, and the friendships that share in them, all ultimately pointing back to the glory of their creator.




Be sure to catch the Dandelion Council live:

December 8 2007 at 7th Annual Holy Chaos Music Festival
3700 E Sierra Madre Blvd,
Pasadena, California 91107
Cost: $5


Tell 'em the Would-Be Hipsters sent you.


As for me? I guess I can say I like electronica. Trance on the other hand? Not so much…


mp3: "In The Rainbow Forest" by The Dandelion Council
mp3: "Red Sunset" by The Dandelion Council

Sunday, December 2, 2007

heartworn highways

It's December, which means that even in Los Angeles we can now sort of pretend that it's almost maybe the time of year to wrap oneself in soft blankets, curl up in front of the fire, eat way too much pie1 and cookies, listen to comforting music, and try to resist the impulse to change your last name, relocate to another planet country, and pretend you never met any of those crazy people who claim to be related to you. Or is that just me?

Another common symptom of this time of the year is nostalgia. Luckily for us, there's Hacktone Records, which resurrects forgotten albums of past decades and re-releases them to hopefully find new and perhaps more profound relevance in modern times. One of these projects is Heartworn Highways, a soundtrack painstakingly compiled from the 1976 Americana documentary of the same name.

It is at this point that it may become necessary to trade in that imaginary fireplace for an imaginary campfire.

As someone who has long been a self-proclaimed American history geek and relishes history in most of its forms, the realization that I've never really contemplated the history of American music as an isolated entity is kind of disturbing to me. You can feel it pulsing throughout these songs -- written and performed by various artists: Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, David Allan Coe, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and others -- even though, by 1975, the lifestyle they consciously or subconsciously sought to evoke had long since vanished.2

With dialogue interspersed throughout the twenty-six tracks, the album itself becomes its own sort of documentary, one that for me, personally, recalls actual people and places not so dissimilar. (I spent a brief interlude of my post-high school life working as a groom at Emerald Downs in Seattle. Many of those characters still exist -- horse people don't change very much.) As I said, remembrance is in many ways what this time of year is all about, and it's fitting that the album's culmination is on a Christmas Eve thirty-two years ago.

mp3: "Silent Night" by Rodney Crowell (and friends)

1Wait, did I just say too much pie? Surely that's not possible.
2In effect, that makes this nostalgia for nostalgia. I love it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

jose gonzalez @ the henry fonda

It is a well-known fact that things taste better when obtained for free. More importantly, though, is of course the matching theorem: music sounds better when it’s free. A big thank you to KCRW and to my fellow Would-Be Hipster who won the tickets and then promptly ditched us to lie on her cootie filled deathbed1.

I discovered Jose Gonzales in the most organic way possible… a recommendation and an invitation from a friend, only a few hours before seeing him live. I was in France, it was six months before his debut Veneer would reach stateside, thus for once making me cool simply by being at the right place at the right time. Proof positive lightening doesn’t strike twice. The show was a veritable Scandinavian smorgasbord, opened by Norway’s Ane Brun, and closed by Mugison from Iceland. Jose, representing Sweden, was sandwiched in the middle, a filling that was pure love. Or more correctly, it's introspective auditory equivalent. Parked at the merch table after the show, I frantically chased my dwindling supply of Euros around the bottom of my purse and bought a copy of Veneer.

With the new album, the beautiful In Our Nature, some may argue all Jose’s music is a guy with a guitar, that he's unable to evolve due to the simplistic limitations of his genre. To them I say, first of all, you're really stupid for putting such a high premium on evolution. Secondly, I'll agree. Yes, Jose does fall victim to the "guy with a guitar" stereotype...at least occasionally. But he’s a guy with a guitar and enough raw emotion and passion to take down an elephant -- provided said elephant had just gone through a painful breakup or was feeling particularly hormonal.

Live, Jose and his guitar are an emotional powerhouse. Although beautiful, and well crafted beyond fault, music isn't the main focus. With closed eyes and low soft voice, Jose takes the viewer on a journey, questioning the nature of love, devotion, and inherent human goodness (or lack of). The addition of percussionists on this tour only seems to drive home his more biting statements. Jose may be an artist whose music is a work of beauty, but he's also experienced the darker, heartbroken side of life. It's this dichotomy that drives his work and leaves the concert attendee not commenting on the show but considering himself.

With music personalized to the listeners' personal paradigms, it seems only appropriate that these epiphanies should take place on a darkened stage, the spotlight serving as a ghostly back light for Jose's profile. Jose is master of the auditory experience. Visuals? Now that's up to you. But don't worry. While not exactly deep2, we've got an amazing visual accompaniment to get you jump started.



1. Stay strong our fallen partner in geekdom!
2. We're called the "Would-Be Hipsters" ...what exactly were you expecting?

mp3: "Hand On Your Heart (Live)" by Jose Gonzales
mp3: "Heartbeats (Live)" by Jose Gonzales

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

palmer, ak

We would-be hipsters talk a lot about offering baked goods to indie rockers. We occasionally talk about offering alcohol to indie rockers. But the one person we've ever honestly considered sending a teddy bear to is Eric Howk.

Howk is probably best known as a guitarist for Seattle indie-pop punk sextet the Lashes, an amazing band powered by insanely catchy hooks, great riffs, confetti and, apparently, belt buckles. Earlier this year, Howk (occasionally known as Eric Lashes in a very Ramones sort of way) severed his spine, and has been wheelchair-bound since. He is, however, proof positive that you cannot stop the rock. Or, in the case of his side project, Palmer, AK, you cannot stop the indie.

Named for one of the small Alaskan towns Howk grew up in, Palmer, AK's music is comfortable, sweet, and occasionally as twee as this LA girl assumes a small northern community would be. The sound, however, is bigger – Howk plays everything on his first EP, a four-song, cassette-tape-recorded effort, which is to say that he plays nearly every instrument you would ever need, and a few I never knew one would need. (Someone who's not a Decemberist plays the melodica? Who knew.) There's a little bit of a 60s folk rock vibe to the chord changes that makes it feel familiar, but in an oddly fresh way. And, there's whistling. AND! A singing dinosaur. No, serioiusly.

Acoustic guitar, great melodies, chipperly lovelorn lyrics, all delivered by a cute boy. Really, what more could you possibly ask for?*

* The correct answer, of course, is pie. Hey Eric, next time you're in town, the lemon meringue is on us – we'll see you at House of Pie.

mp3: "Nate's Song" by the Lashes
mp3: "Revelry" by Palmer, AK

Monday, November 19, 2007

happy thanksgiving!

Have a safe and happy (American) Thanksgiving. We hope you get a slice of pumpkin pie, tofurky wing and thigh...whatever's your thing.

Now stop networking for the week, turn off the computer and enjoy the tiny break before the real madness begins.

Love,

The Would-Be Hipsters


P.S. While you're in your tryptophan-induced state of giving, don't forget your best sources for entertainment (other than us of course!) NPR and This American Life.

mp3: "Pilgrims Progress (live on This American Life)" by Sarah Vowell

Friday, November 16, 2007

dali @ lacma

It should be noted that I work as a production artist for an interactive design firm. What this means is that I spent all of last week designing cell phone wallpapers out of Warner Brothers cartoon characters, and concepting menu comps for an upcoming Bratz Kidz straight to DVD feature. Needless to say, when I was invited to the LA County Museum of Art, I jumped at the chance to see real art that lives in frames.

The collection at LACMA is filled with old friends I don't visit nearly often enough. (Ceci N'est Pas Un Pipe has been spirited away somewhere since my last visit. I hope it didn't feel abandoned by my inability to drop by more often....) But stealing the spotlight until January 6th is a Dali exhibit that is decidedly intense. We arrived at one o'clock on a Saturday, and the gallery was packed, the museum-goers forming a queue through the first room that moved like the line for Splash Mountain at Disneyland. And given the subject matter of dead insects, melting people, optical illusions, and many, many phalli, the situation seemed both oddly fitting and totally absurd.

Several films and clips are shown in the gallery, including 1929's Un chien andalou. Forgive me if I spoil the movie for you, but I think my favorite part of the whole experience was the unified gasp of unsuspecting art fans as a razorblade slices through an eyeball in the opening scene. (Having seen the film in an art history class my first year in college, I knew it was coming, but still had to watch.) Even more bizarre, however, is the truly surreal Disney-produced Destino. Concepted and begun in 1946, this six-minute animated film was completed in 2003, and is full of disembodied eyes, desolation, nudity, and "uh, what?" moments.

Of course there are paintings, notes, sketches, letters, storyboards, set decorations, and a phone made out of a lobster, each more bizarre, visually compelling, and uneasy than the last. The reactions of my fellow museum-goers seemed to range from awe to disgust. Even my fellow would-be hipster was surprised to find how viscerally disturbing the images were – she saw them as sexually charged, violent, and misogynist. I saw nothing of the sort. Well, okay, there's a lot of phallic imagery, and a lot of – what's the female equivalent of phallic? There were several uteruses, anyway, and one particularly intriguing piece, The Invisible Man, wasn't trying very hard to hide its sexual imagery. But I was looking at it more as a visual vocabulary, wondering what it was Dali wanted to say with his work that involved so many ants. It's much more about pushing boundaries to me. I'm not sure what boundaries though. Probably all of them. It's definitely an exhibit worth going to - even if you discover that you don't really like Dali, they've got The Persistence of Memory. As a warning, it's smaller than you think it is. Just like most rock stars....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

finally

The title of this entry is in no way meant to sound disgruntled, but rather celebratory that two years of waiting have at long last resulted in this beautiful, beautiful moment.

Now that I've oversold it totally...Today that most beloved of record labels, Barsuk, posted an mp3 from Field Manual, Chris Walla's upcoming solo album. It's called "Sing Again". A live, acoustic version of this song has long floated around the internet, and if you're familiar with it, this will be even more startling. If not, and you're a geek like me obsessed with both extreme contrast and putting everything in its proper context, then download that original version (provided below) and listen to it first.

It should also be noted, for the sake of that aforementioned love of mine, context, how much has heretofore been made of the reportedly political tone of the album in the wake of the drive seizure scandal. All this time I've been wondering if I'm the only one who cares what the album actually sounds like. Now I have one-twelfth of the answer. The lyrics are decidedly pointed, yes, but the evolved version of "Sing Again" also evokes bright colors and the urge to bounce around your living room. It's as satisfyingly layered and detailed as you'd expect from a man who also makes his living so conscientiously producing other people's records.

Some might call this overanalysis for one lonely mp3 -- especially when there are still more than two months to go until the release of the entire album. I call those people meanie-heads and I refuse to let them ruin my joy.

mp3: "Sing Again (Live)" by Chris Walla
mp3: "Sing Again (Album Version)" by Chris Walla

Sunday, November 11, 2007

jens lekman @ the troubadour

Subtitle: Svensk indiepop rockar fett!

In an effort to mix things up, I asked honorary Would-Be Hipster Erin if she’d like to add a guest commentary about Jens Lekman’s Saturday night show at the Troubadour. This lead to several minutes of her squealing, repeating "Jens" at an increasingly frantic pitch, and violent hand-flailing.

It is in that spirit that I present my completely objective review of the evening:

Dear Jens,
Marry me. No really. Marry me. Yes I realize this is an ill-advised idea, what with your cutting off of digits and my sad ability to take a prat fall at any given moment. Ours will truly be a blood-soaked courtship. But surely after your last album hit the top of the charts in Sweden you can afford the bubble wrap and band-aids needed to make this affair work.

Yours very truly,

L

Needless to say it was an evening of cute, started off my my newest favorite band Throw Me The Statue, a Seattle based collective fronted by Scott Reitherman. Newly signed to Secretly Canadian, their goal is to make the audience love them...naturally making them perfect touring mates for Jens. After sprinkling the audience with hand-held shakers and poppy hooks, even the few die-hard hipsters present made awkward attempts at dancing. Be sure to watch out for the debut album in February 2008, and remember, we here at the WBH wholeheartedly endorse twee-twinged angst.

Jens and his ever-adoring girl band took the stage to the strains of a Tough Alliance in matching, embroidered outfits, looking like runaways from a Sound Of Music stage show. The theatrics only snowballed from there, as the band stomped, danced, and emoted their way through the major hits of the ridiculously wonderful (and still unrecognized by mainstream America) Night Falls Over Kortedala. While the high level of musicianship allowed for almost a note by note recreation of the album versions, theatrics were the name of the game. "The Opposite of Hallelujah" was interjected with a live sample of Chairman of the Board's "Give Me Just a Little More Time," complete with interpretive dance. Any time not playing an active part, Jens' band frolicked, lending the stage the atmosphere of a retro dance party.

One of the night's many highlights came when Jens explained the story behind "A Post Card to Nina," a story I've only heard through a slightly drunk Swedish translator. "So it's very easy to get to Berlin from Gothenburg, it's only a twenty-hour bus ride...which costs about five dollars less than the forty-five minute Rhine Air flight," Jens begins. Once there, he's picked up by his lesbian pen-pal Nina, who takes him to her father's house for some "vegetarian German food...which was a completely foreign concept to me at the time." Before she opens the door to his flat, the story becomes like "a scene out of Buffalo '66...only German," when Nina admits, "I told them we were engaged." After the next verse Jens goes on to tell the next crisis in his growing French farce when Nina's father tells him, "I found you on the Internet - you have a beautiful voice." Jens smiles and adds, "At this point I start blushing...because it's true." By the time he gets to the song's conclusion, the audience is laughing and cringing right along with him.

Like Throw Me the Statue, Jens relied heavily on audience participation, encouraging clapping, singing and dancing. In an unprecedented display of affection, the entire capacity of the Troubadour broke out into dancing during "Friday Night at the Drive in Bingo" (Hipsters dance? Who knew?) and the "bommb boomb boom" heartbeat chorus on "Sweet Summers Night on Hammer Hill" was deafening. The love was mutual. After a particularly rousing audience-sung chorus, Jens paused, blushed, and told us, "You're the best audience I've ever had." Ah shucks, Jens, I bet you say that to all the anonymous rooms of strangers you play for.

The night ended with a solo version of "Pocket Full of Money" where, in a master class of sing-alongs, Jens managed to coerce the audience, not only into singing the low part while he riffed on the high vocals, but to clap and pull out the Throw Me The Statue shakers for one more run.

It would be far too easy to end this rant with an incoherent, giddy closing rant about the cuteness of the evening. Instead, after seeing the power Jens welds over his audience, I'll close with a warning to the full-fledged hipsters of the world: BEWARE! You may not be as cool as you think you are. At any given corner a Swedish indie-popper could be hiding, forcing you to gleefully dance to his sunny take on realistic life issues. Take care my friends. Take care.

mp3: "Maple Leaves (live)" by Jens Lekman
mp3: "Your Arms Around Me (live)" by Jens Lekman
mp3: "Lolita" by Throw Me The Statue

Friday, November 9, 2007

joanna newsom @ walt disney concert hall

I'm secure enough to admit I have a Seinfeld-style girl crush on Joanna Newsom. I'm also a big enough wimp to admit Ys opener "Emily" makes me cry like a baby...every time. Much to the amusement of my mother, who funded this outing as the ultimate mother daughter event, this show was no exception1.

Joanna Newsom at the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the proof that sometimes talent really does rise to the top. Only a year and a half ago, I saw her at The Echo, in a show that included a twenty-minute tuning session (much to Joanna's mortification) and a ten minute, mid-set pause where the sound tech frantically searched for a way to drown out the frequency that was pumping, not lovely live harp music, but Mexican rock through the venue speakers. You've come a long way, baby.

To see Ys preformed live in its entirety is poetry in action. From its gestation period, as played solo at the aforementioned Echo show, to the condensed band version, to Friday’s 29-piece orchestral version, two things are abundantly clear: Joanna is a freaking genius story-teller, and, when creating what's essentially a five movement symphony, Van Dyke Parks is the best wingman in town. Joanna's not just out to play pretty music, she's exploring birth, life, death, and everything in between. The fact that she's been so successful in this exploration at the age of twenty-five is something I will never cease to marvel at and resent.

After taking us through the gut-wrenching, hour-long journey of Ys, Joanna returned to the stage in a short red party dress, neatly symbolizing a shift in mood. Likewise, the music was lighter as she played the linguistically-playful Milk-Eyed Mender. With a voice smoothed by almost three-years of constant touring, the material took on a considerably more sophisticated sheen. Peppered with die hard fans, the audience burst into applause at the beginning of every song as Joanna introduced newly rearranged versions of old favorites "Bridges and Balloons," "Peach Plum Pear," and a country-twinged version of "Inflammatory Writ."

The evening's encore ended with Sadie2 and an, as-of-yet untitled piece. Similar to in length and subject to Ys, the mystery song also recalled some of Milk-Eyed Mender's light-hearted wordplay. Having conquered the worlds of child-like innocence and world-worn beauty, the song hinted at an intriguing marriage of the two, a place where Joanna's muse might take her next. Wherever that next place might be, it's Joanna's ability to turn any concert into an emotional landmark that guarantees that we'll always be there to meet her.


1. No it is not hip to be seen in public with your mother. Do it anyway! She misses you.
2. Thinking it was about her dead dog, Sadie, like Emily, made me cry like a baby...until a show at the El Rey last year when Joanna clarified it was a song "about loving and appreciating people while you still can." While I'd like to say I no longer cry at the thought this song... well that would be an outright lie.

mp3: "Bridges and Balloons (live)" by Joanna Newsom
mp3: "Peach Plum Pear (live)" by Joanna Newsom

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

shout out louds @ the henry fonda

According to the July 2007 official census, Sweden has 9,031,088 citizens. Judging by the number of times Sweden has been, and will be mentioned in this blog, it is my un-official estimate that two-thirds of the population are involved in music. This is, again, just an un-official estimate.

By now, it’s obvious that I love the Shout Out Louds. They could spit on me and hit me with their guitar heads, and I’d probably mention that while the music was outstanding, the stage banter could use a bit of work. What did they do to earn such blind adoration? About three months ago, they wrote an album that perfectly dovetailed with my current life phase. For me, Our Ill Wills will always be cider and midsummer, midnight sun and Debaser, quarter-life crises and fruitless job hunts...hey somethings don't change much in three months, do they? Music love, like the reporting here at Would-Be Hipster, is far from objective.

With that caveat firmly established, Monday’s show at the Henry Fonda was awesome. Even after seeing SOLs a few months ago (at the height of my belief that the band had been sneaking into my room reading my diary Scooby-Doo style), I still found it in me to nod my head awkwardly and grin like an idiot. If I ever get too jaded to appreciate repeated viewings of my favorite musicians, I want someone to smack me.

The evening's highlight was easily the final three songs. Seemingly shy Bebban (regardless of actual personality, I always equate her with fellow Swede Victoria Bergsman) stepped to the front of the stage to croon “Blue Headlights.” Performing live, there’s an aching quality to her voice - when she asks, “We are good people aren’t we?/ Do you know?” one has to wonder: does she mean it? Of course, SOLs aren’t ones for overt pontification. Immediately after her solo, Bebban announced, in halting English, that the next act was Irish. Another set of accents, in the form of two Irish brothers, joined the stage and the band broke out into “Streams of Whisky.” The riotous drinking song segwayed into percussive, heavy “Tonight I Have To Leave It,” the evening's pre-encore closer, complete with frolicking, multiple drummers, falling keyboards, and crowd surfing. Crowd surfing, for what I can tell, is one of the best arguments for becoming a rock star in the first place. Attempt it to these mp3s at your own risk.

mp3: "Time Left For Love (live)" by Shout Out Louds
mp3: "Tonight I Have To Leave It (live)" by Shout Out Louds

Monday, October 29, 2007

final fantasy @ the troubadour

The fact that I went to a concert last night came up in conversation twice at work today. "Who'd you see?" "Final Fantasy. He's a gay Canadian violinist with distortion pedals." "...oh...." It's when I begin describing the musicians I see that conversations tend to veer back towards job tickets and the proper hex code for broadcast white. I didn't even bother to explain the overhead projector.

The would-be hipsters first discovered Final Fantasy, nee Owen Pallet, through a couple of visiting Swedish friends who dragged us to the outskirts of the downtown LA arts district last year to a tiny bar with a stuffed polar bear looming over the bartenders. Underlit with red bulbs, a small blond man with a violin proceeded to blow us away with his ability not only to play amazingly, but to sample himself, create amazing, lush loops, and turn his violin into everything from a percussive instrument to a ukulele to a cello, all while singing and screaming some of the most absurd, whimsical, and heart-wrenching lyrics. Oh, and the boy clearly has daddy issues.

He has since graduated to the Troubadour, where he was granted access to a keyboard and an overhead projector. The almost-piano synthesizer serves not only as a stand for the bottle of red shared between Pallet and his projectionist, but as a wonderful counterpart to the violin; he manages to accompany himself by pressing buttons in his mess of pedals and cords with his socked feet. With his pirate-striped shirt too long in the back and the hole in the right sock and his nervous energy, it's almost like watching a 12-year-old cousin's violin recital in your aunt's living room. If, of course, your cousin happens to be made of awesome and tour with Arcade Fire and record with Beirut.

Last night's set opened with the glorious "He Poos Clouds" and a sheet of construction paper with the words "Final Fantasy's 8 Schools of Magic" cut from it was placed on the overhead projector. Thus began the epic evening of quirky cutouts, psychedelic drawings, magic theory, D&D references, and "intimate songs":

"Everywhere else people have been asking for the Mariah Carey cover, but here in LA, everyone's requesting the real intimate songs. You need to stop watching YouTube and find some intimacy. Not from me, of course...." He knows LA hipsters so well. So, um, here's a video.



Lots of amazing new stuff was played as well, and we're looking forward to the soon-to-come album. Whatever it may be called. Whenever it may be released. Check out Tomlab for updates and old albums.

It should also be stated that there were two openers. I have little to say about them except:
· Nifty started out intriguing, but ended with me needing a drink and at least one other would-be hipster contemplating suicide1.
· Cadence Weapon was a clean cut Canadian rapper, and his DJ is a psychotic little man, and they like to scream about selling real estate. Cadence Weapon joined Owen onstage for a song. We think it was a cover. But they hadn't rehearsed, and it fell apart spectacularly, so much so that no one's sure what song it was. We've got some truly amazing, easily recognizable covers to share, though.

1. Note From LMS: 5 stages of opener dissatisfaction: Curiosity, Confusion, Frustration, Anger, Desire to drink and/or box the ears of the person next to you.

mp3: "Fantasy" covered by Final Fantasy (originally performed by Mariah Carey)
mp3: "Peach Plum Pear" covered by Final Fantasy (original by Joanna Newsom)

Monday, October 22, 2007

sunset rubdown @ the el rey

Trait common to hipsters and would-be hipsters alike: procrastination.

This show was on Friday; the words to describe it have heretofore escaped me. This is for a couple of reasons, I think, but neither because it was exceptionally wonderful nor exceptionally terrible. Sunset Rubdown, a side project of Spencer Krug (best known for his excellent work with Wolf Parade) is one of those bands that defies description. Most succinctly: they are pop music on crack. More eloquently rendered: they are an amalgam of instrumentation and melody that coalesces to create an effect not dissimilar to pop music on crack.

A few weeks ago, the band released an album called Random Spirit Lover on the unpronounceable Jagjaguwar Records. This album is outstanding. All the crucial elements are there: abstract lyrics, seamless transitions, song titles almost Sufjan-esque in length and absurdity. Sunset Rubdown make me feel like the star in my own fantasy epic, and I have always wanted to be the star in my own fantasy epic.

I was nervous about the show, however. The scope of their albums is such to make one wonder how it translates live, if at all. I needn't have feared. The band opened their set with the album-closing title track from their 2006 release, the exquisitely titled Shut Up I Am Dreaming, and the building tension and loveliness of the song was captured perfectly, albeit in somewhat-abbreviated form. In an inversion that pleased me, the regular set finished with the song "Stadiums and Shrines II", the same album's first track. Other great highlights include the continuous performances of "For the Pier (and Dead Shimmering)" and "The Taming of the Hands That Came Back to Life," the latter of which contains probably my favorite lyrical moment from the new album1:

She said: My sails are flapping in the wind
I said: Can I use that in a song?
She said: I mean, "the end begins"
I said: I know, can I use that too?


Additionally, "Stallion" made the piano-phile inside of me very, very happy, and it ranks, furthermore, among the more sonically perfect things I've been privileged to absorb in person. "Marching Bands of Manhattan" performed by Death Cab for Cutie still wins, but competition is always healthy.

1Not including all the "la la la"s and "ba da da"s, because listening to Spencer Krug sing nonsense words is just about the greatest thing ever.

mp3: "Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days" by Sunset Rubdown

Sunday, October 21, 2007

los angeles is burning

Shortly after awaking late on this lazy Sunday morning I received a phone call from a fellow would-be hipster informing me that Malibu is on fire. For those not in the greater Southern California area, every October we get hot, dry, miserable Santa Ana winds (also known as Devil Winds in many cultures, and occasionally North-Easters, I believe) and the hills burst into flame. And once fire seasons starts, I have to listen to a select group of songs. I have to. It's like a compulsion.

mp3: "Los Angeles is Burning" by Bad Religion, 'cause, well, obviously
mp3: "Cinder and Smoke" by Iron and Wine, which is achingly beautiful
mp3: "Catch My Disease (live at KCRW)" by Ben Lee, in which the foolish boy states, "She told me 'bout the winds from Santa Ana / And that's the way I like it"

(I also tend to use the word "burninate" a lot more than is probably socially acceptable, and play Trogdor over at Homestar Runner. I think it's a coping mechanism. Or maybe just me being bad people. Hard to tell.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

bird and the bee @ amoeba records

I knew I was in trouble the second time I sent an angry e-mail to Pitchfork. Second time. Apparently music blogs are the soap operas of post-collegics seeking meaningful employment1. Had I been wearing a bathrobe or eating bon-bons I might’ve had to kill myself. Thank goodness for the much needed distraction of Amoeba and their free in-stores.

Tonight was Inara George and Greg Kurstin...better known as Bird and the Bee. This you might have already known. I’ll go ahead and confirm what you might have already guessed...they are cooler than you. Much cooler. Life is their crazy retro dance party, we're just living in it. Even during the non-costumed sound check this was abundantly clear, so much in fact, that when the band reemerged in dresses three shades brighter and six inches shorter it took me a song to realize the first outfits were not, in fact part of the preconceived image. Inara pointed out their costume change, cracking that she "felt like Clark Kent being unmasked." Then again, maybe their street clothes are just another part of the intrigue: hard working musicians wearing calculated hipster get-ups, like Superman, dressed as Clark Kent, masquerading as Batman2. Or they might just be that cool. Hard to tell.

Live, the Bird and the Bee are a collection of earworms, perfectly harmonized choruses, and danceable beats. "Again and Again", "Bird and the Bee, "La La La," every song was, as they say on their myspace, "the soundtrack to a futuristic 1960s American film set in Brazil." Sadly it was film without visuals as even during "Polite Dance Song" the audience held out, only swaying, well, politely. Perhaps the problem was, as Inara pointed out, "it's not dark and we’re not serving drinks." I disagree - while it's a well-documented fact hipsters don’t dance, would-be hipsters (parked in our predictable place, first row dead center) take this maxim to a new low; we fold our arms and look awkward about the whole suggestion of dancing...yea sorry 'bout that.

If one had to actually complain about the set (other than the ever-present complaint about its brevity), it was that, as a band, Bird and the Bee are a bit too perfect. Inara and her back-up singers are pitch perfect, Greg not only nails the album piano parts, but riffs on each theme, while still managing to maintain every song's studio quality, dance party-ready tightness. Yes, okay we get it! You're cooler than us.

Not that we'd have it any other way.


1. If anyone is in need of a snarky 20-something to write self-reflexive music reviews I can be reached at wouldbehipster@gmail.com.

2. Take that White Stripes!

mp3: "Again and Again (live)" by Bird and the Bee
mp3: "I'm a Broken Heart (live)" by Bird and the Bee

Sunday, October 14, 2007

beirut @ amoeba records

Subtitle: Beirut for Beginners
Sub-Subtitle: Band Geeks Gone Good

There are essentially two reasons I go to shows. One: A band I really really (really) love is playing, and if I don't go see them then it's quite possible the world will implode. Two: A band that I'm superficially familiar with and find vaguely interesting is playing, and I hope that by going to see them I will gain a greater appreciation of their brilliance. Often the only difference between liking and loving music is context, after all -- as loath as I sometimes am to admit it. Beirut, who released an excellent album called The Flying Club Cup last Tuesday, falls into category number two.

I was also intrigued by this show because I'd never seen an in-store performance before. I have determined, retrospectively, that the primary benefits of seeing a band this way are as follows:

1. It's free.

2. You're spared being surrounded by too many people by the giant racks of CDs that divide everyone neatly into two-row increments. I suppose this would be less advantageous if you were too many CD-racks back, but as the would-be hipsters were standing between the first CD-rack and the stage, we were quite pleased.

3. There are no opening bands.

4. The shows are earlier, which means that I can potentially be home and in bed at a more decent hour, because I am an old lady.

5. You can get your CD signed in a manner that is convenient (albeit in an assembly-line sort of way) rather than stalker-ish.

Plus, how can one pass up the opportunity to see all eight members of Beirut (looking rather like a scraggly but lovable junior high band) and their hundred-thousand instruments packed onto the world's tiniest stage? Present were trumpets, saxophone, french horn, other unidentified brass-type instruments, accordion, upright bass, violin, flute, clarinet, mandolins (plural!), ukulele, keyboard, and guitar. And Zach Condon, whose voice I don't think is actually connected to his body, but rather something amazing that he accidentally swallowed as a small child.

Because I am only a beginner Beirut fan, I cannot tell you exactly what they played. I can only tell you that it sounded phenomenal. From the first wail of the mournful-but-inspiring horn section to the last, it was pure cacophonic joy, washing over the audience and leaving pleasantly vacant expressions in its wake. It’s impossible to remain at a record store in Los Angeles while listening to Beirut play at a record store in Los Angeles. If that doesn’t make sense to you, then you’ve never seen Beirut play at a record store in Los Angeles.

And so, the single major disadvantage to seeing an in-store performance? They’re too short, of course.

...My last breaths on this earth will be complaints of shows' brevity.

mp3: "Nantes (Live)" by Beirut
mp3: "The Penalty" by Beirut

Saturday, October 13, 2007

at the foot of my rival by the new amsterdams

In 1999, Matt Pryor realized that he had written a whole bunch of really good songs that were a little too acoustic to record with the Get Up Kids, his emo-pop band (back before Fall Out Boy et al. turned all emo into pop), and his side-project The New Amsterdams was born. Since the Get Up Kids' breakup in 2005, the New Ams have been Pryor's main priority, and their sixth album, At The Foot Of My Rival was released recently on Curb Appeal Records. Unlike the last two albums, demo tracks from which were released on the now-defunct, then-Vagrant-sponsored website as the recording process...well, proceeded, this album has pretty much sprung up unexpectedly on the eagerly awaited fans. It was a pleasant surprise, though.

The band described this album as a return to "rock." And when compared to Story Like a Scar, their last, mildly disappointing album, I suppose that would be true, but only just. (Interestingly, the title track to Story ended up on the new album.) It's also the most country-tinged album we've had in quite some time from the Kansas City native. At The Foot Of My Rival is, however, sprinkled with the lo-fi folk tunes, jangly electric guitars, understated drumming, and ever-so-slightly raspy vocals that fans should expect to accompany lyrics full of discontentment, loss and, occasionally, California. The most "rocking" song in their catalog, however, remains Story Like a Scar's "Intellient Design", and the politics and religion Pryor hit listeners over the head with in that track are merely suggested in Rival.

When the Ams do stray into the rock genre, it is in one of two manners:
a) Modest Mouse's Good News For People Who Love Bad News, with wacky, clamoring percussion ("Long Lost Shot") and eerie whisper-screaming (closer "The Blood On The Floor").
b) Tom Petty's chugging chords and singing lead guitar and urging chorus ("A Beacon In Beige", "Fountain of Youth")

Luckily the Petty is hinted at, and only in spots, allowing the acoustic guitar to be king. Overall it's a good album with good songs, but I can't help but feel that the band peaked around Worse for the Wear / Killed or Cured, which probably makes me a terrible person, considering that Killed or Cured is basically the documentation of the breakdown Pryor had that helped lead to the end of the Get Up Kids. But everyone knows that great art comes from pain. Matt – stop being so happy!

Yup, it's official, I'm a terrible person. But it's for the benefit of indie folk.

I'm assuming that regardless of his apparent dislike of Silverlake scenesters, Pryor and friends will be performing in LA in this spring. The would-be hipsters will be there – oh, and Dustin, don't worry, it's not you I'm stalking. Which reminds me: Eric, I think I owe Gretchen a drink.

mp3: "Beacon in Beige"
mp3: "All Ears (live)" originally released on Para Toda Vida

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

night falls over kortedala by Jens Lekman


I adore Jens Lekman. I like to think he knows it… that perhaps his self-satisfied smile is the direct result of my giddy adoration1. But truthfully what's not to love? Unlike Ben Lee (relentlessly perky in the face of heartbreak) and Connor Oberst (where a mildly upsetting day at a blue collar job necessitates a night of drinking oneself blind), Jens Lekman live on my planet: yes stuff sucks…but there'll always be a sweet summer night on Hammer Hill…and hey weren't those riots in Gothenburg were pretty cool?

Night Falls Over Kortedala (released in the USA on Secretly Canadian) finds Jens where we left him: alone, without love, and blundering into circumstances bigger than ever before2. This time the stakes are higher. Instead of simply missing the last tram, "A Postcard to Nina" finds his frivolous trip to Berlin taken over with the task of being his friend's boyfriend…so she can stay with her girlfriend. Jens, being the perfect gentleman, plays his part in the farce, only to be interrogated by Nina’s father. "I get nervous and change the subject/put my hands on a metal object/he jokes and tells me it's a lie detector," he moans. Back in Gothenburg having passed the test, he still finds himself in the line of fire, crying to Nina "Your father's mailing me all the time/he says he just wants to say hi/I send back out of office replies."

Like the stakes in his stories, Jens' musical ambitions are bigger, leading to the record's only potential misstep, the bombastic AM radio-ready "I Remember Every Kiss." The album's shortest track, Jens croons, "I remember every kiss/like my first kiss," over a swelling string section. While not a highlight on first listen, Jens' nostalgic derailment is rewarded by "Sipping On Sweet Nectar" where, in an idealistic 180, he chastises himself for lingering on first loves and kisses, bemoaning that "I find myself on my death bed saying/I wish I could have loved less." Jens' best friend Lisa (of "Happy Birthday Lisa" fame) puts in her two cents, warning him, "That’s when the feeling hits/when you just lick your lips/can you feel the spring time breeze/you've got to stop sipping on the sweet nectar of your memories." Maybe Jens is living in his head a bit too much, but it's so much fun in there!

Even when the world defeats him, and love leaves him, Jens' trademark self-deprecation is still there. He still can dance the funky chicken, but his luck with the ladies doesn't seem to be improving. Even his sister gets her moment, laughing at him in "The Opposite of Hallelujah," when during an attempt at intellectual depth Jens "picked up a seashell to illustrate my homelessness/but a crab crawled of it making it useless." Always self-aware, Jens plays his strengths again and again. reminding us in "Kanske Ar Jag Kar i Dig," "The best way to touch your heart/is to make an ass of myself." Yes Jens, this is probably true, if only because it distracts from the fool I continually make of myself. Thank you.

1.I also like to believe my megalomania isn't taking a turn for the worst.

2. I once walked into a stop sign, giving myself a large black eye and a metaphor for my life. Clearly, Jens and I live in very similar worlds...


mp3: "The Opposite of Halleljah (live)" by Jens Lekman

Friday, October 5, 2007

reunion tour by the weakerthans

There are few examples of perfect albums. My list is comprised of Worse for the Wear by the New Amsterdams, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, possibly Veneer by Jose Gonzales (although it may not count because it is, in essence, Pink Moon), and Left and Leaving by the Weakerthans. The perfection of the Weakerthans' sophomore release makes the ensuing releases just a bit disappointing, because we're always hoping for that next awe-inspiring collection of songs. Reunion Tour, released last week on Epitaph, comes close to living up to its predecessor's promise.

Before becoming an indie-rock stalwart, singer-songwriter John K. Samson played bass for Canadian punk group Propaghandi – incidentally the best name ever – which probably explains the Weakerthans' bass- and drum-heavy songs and slightly off-key vocals, though their sound is characterized by melancholic, densely layered but still light and soaring melodies. Oh yeah, and Samson is the best lyricist of all time anywhere ever. The new album holds true to this formula, with a bit less Canuck-country sound than their last album, and an added smattering of electronic glitchiness. There's the obligatory wordplay (including the invention of the word "doppling" – v. to be exhibiting the Doppler effect; e.g. "doppling traffic"), self-deprecation (if he were to sell stock in himself on the NYSE, he'd be worthless – all together now: "Awww…"), and of course the heart-wrenching angst with a twist ("Elegy for Gump Worsley" is half song, half eulogy for a hockey player, and in "Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure," not only does Mr. Samson hit a creative dry spell, but his cat gets depressed and leaves him), and, um, curling?



Then, of course, there's "Utilities", the album closer, adopted by two of the Would Be Hipsters as their theme songs. Not because of the great line, "I just wish I were a toothbrush or a solder gun". Or the recently disturbingly apropos, "Guess our wishes don't do dishes or brake repairs," but because of the chorus of "Let me be something somebody can use." Seriously, Mr. Samson? As long as you keep making records like this, you'll never have to worry about your relevance. I promise.

mp3: "Utilities" by the Weakerthans

Thursday, October 4, 2007

the weakerthans @ the el rey

I don't think I will ever tire of standing at my favorite musicians' feet for an hour and listening to them play my favorite songs. There's a weird sort of pressure associated with it, though -- because I'm in the front row, I'm theoretically representative of the most dedicated in the crowd. But how to convey this? I try (and, okay, sometimes fail) not to sing, out of consideration for those around me. I definitely don't dance. Usually, I find myself with my elbows on the stage and my face on my hands, hoping that my awe isn't mistaken for boredom.

Sometimes it is boredom, however. The Weakerthans were preceded by two acts: Jeremy Fisher and the Last Town Chorus. Jeremy Fisher was pleasant enough in an ordinary sort of way, but he forced the distressing revelation upon me that I don't really like the harmonica. Also, it seemed like he could actually sing, and what's the fun in that? The Last Town Chorus was a three-piece, featuring a keyboard player (whose expression altered exactly once, briefly, and who I was never given any evidence actually played; I certainly never heard him), a guitar player, and a female vocalist who played lap steel. Her playing was pretty mesmerizing, but it also served the purpose of drowning out any other distinguishable characteristics of the songs.

Then, the Weakerthans. They were wonderful.

By the time they took the stage, the room was completely packed, and we couldn't have gotten away from the stage if we tried. Not that we wanted to. If we had, we would have missed so many glorious stage antics (making up for a mysterious lack of banter), including, amusingly, the Canadian-hillbilly-style bass playing of Greg Smith. Mr. John K. Samson, meanwhile, adopted an unassuming and charming little smile as he delivered some of the more genius lyrics by anyone ever, and many of them were shouted back at him by an enthusiastic audience.

The set list was satisfactory all the way around, including songs from all four of their albums -- though heavy on Reconstruction Site and the newly-released Reunion Tour, of course. Highlights abound -- I think I can die happy now that I've heard "Aside" played live -- but I was secretly also holding out for one or both of the songs about Virtute the Cat, and we got both of them. The latter in that saga is way more heartbreaking than it should be allowed to be. Or maybe I just need to come to terms with the fact that I'm a complete and utter sap.

The loud songs were loud and the lovely songs were lovely, gloriously so on both counts, and I realized about halfway through that there would be an awful lot of sadness when it was all over. And so there was. But that's the mark of any really great show.

In the spirit of which:

Dear Weakerthans,

Please do not wait four more years to make another new album and tour again. The withdrawal could kill me, and I'd hate for you to feel responsible.

Love,
The bored-looking girl in the front row in Los Angeles on Tuesday

mp3: "Aside" by the Weakerthans
mp3: "Night Windows" by the Weakerthans

Monday, October 1, 2007

ripe by ben lee

Thom Yorke dances on the grave of the music industry…

… Record execs announce Soylent Green is not only full of nutrients but tastes great!


Meanwhile, on a planet far far way… Ben Lee frolics. Honestly, I’ve been holding onto this review for a while, hoping it would grow on me more than it has. I love Ben Lee. He’s charming in interviews, and the two times I’ve met him he hasn’t spit on me. Oh yeah, he makes utterly catchy and genuinely sweet music. Catch my disease? Don’t mind if I do!

Which is why it’s so painful to review Ripe, which, frankly, could have benefited from being taking off the vine a few days earlier. Ben hasn’t changed his formula. He isn’t suddenly suffering from a bout of nihilism… on the contrary; age has only sweetened the already joyful troubadour. Ripe is a gooey nugget of sweetness, a hot fudge brownie sundae melting over a hot nutella crepe. A sweet sugar buzz at first listen. But you probably won’t respect yourself in the morning.

To be fair the album has more clever moments than I originally wanted to give it credit for. Ben spends an entire song rhapsodizing about the self made man… Jay Z. The opening of “Numb” is a masterpiece of self-reflexive humor where Ben laments, “I’m in surgery/It’s an emergency/It just occurred to me/Ironically I caught a disease.” However Ben later goes on to declare, "And now their telling me/The Music Industry/ you can stay if you behave/be a good boy go to sleep." Umm… Ben dear? I think you walked into the Radiohead negotiations… your meeting is down the hall.

Then there’s Mandy Moore…humm.

So why oh why can’t I completely rip Ripe? The Rosetta stone to Ripe’s over-saturated attraction, and, by extension Ben Lee, comes in the title closing track when he sings "Your jokes got worse/each afternoon/like bacon at a barmitzvah/ like a lead balloon/and who’s to say what really/happened in that room/I was looking for a bride/you were looking for a groom."

So what is the lesson one can glean? Apparently even quasi-adult would-be hipsters are looking for the singer-songwriter next door. Blame it on a generation raised on the Backstreet Boys and actors named Cory. So...Turn down the cool factor, and remember, you aren’t honor bound to rip EVERY track into your itunes1. Sometimes, life is sweet. Take a moment, sit back, fix yourself a nutella treat of choice, pop in some Ben Lee and smile. It’s just music.

1. Key Tracks: "Love Me Like the World is Ending" "American Television" "What Would Jay-Z Do?" "Numb" and "Ripe."


mp3: "Float On (Modest Mouse Cover)" by Ben Lee

Thursday, September 27, 2007

say something say something say something by via audio

With only a few exceptions, 2007 has been full of albums that have been better than I thought they’d be. Even, dare I say, a lot better. Whether this is because the albums have been exceptional or because I’m prone to underestimation has yet to be determined.

Via Audio’s self-titled EP was pleasant enough, but though it floats and shimmers, it never really grabs. At least not me. I procrastinated, therefore, in downloading the full-length album. Sad and neglected, it sat in the "save for later" folder of my emusic account until last night, when I realized I needed to download something, and this was the most promising candidate.

Preliminary evaluation: it’s pretty great. I generally don’t trust myself to pass definitive judgment on an album until I’ve listened to it upwards of ten times -- the test here being whether I still want to listen to it after that -- but I’m making an exception in this case because I’m so pleasantly surprised.

The instrumentation is much more varied than on the EP. The result is a much wider scope of textures, and a much wider range for satisfaction. "Enunciation," in particular, is all over the place, in the best way. The alternating male-female vocals are also pleasing. Towards the end of listen number three, during "From Clouds," I realized that I was being forcibly reminded of Stars (whose most recent album, incidentally, was just released on CD and vinyl and you need to go buy it), but there are definitely worse things.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure about this version of "Developing Active People,"and the album still threatens blandness on songs like "Numb" and "We Can Be Good".

Listen to me pretending to know what I’m talking about.

Or rather, don't. (This should become policy.)

Have a song instead.

mp3: "Modern Day Saint" by Via Audio