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

Friday, September 21, 2007

arcade fire @ the hollywood bowl.

Warning: clich├ęd statement ahead.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last four years, you know how cool the Arcade Fire is.

I feel better. Sometimes you just have to go for the easy opening.

Despite how excited I was to see Arcade Fire for the first time (at one point I came very close to going to Denmark to catch a show.) I wasn’t exactly overflowing with joy with the venue. The Hollywood Bowl is a historic landmark. It’s also a historic landmark that requires expensive stack parking, a long hike up a hill (and I’m a runner!) and sitting so far away from the stage you could realistically could make it back to your car with the same amount of effort it would take to orchestrate a stage dive.1 I have childhood memories of falling asleep on a bench to the never-ending sounds of Dionne Warwick. Spaceland and The Troubadour are old friends… the Hollywood Bowl? It’s that weird aunt you see once every seven years who smells like cat and, even after puberty has long since come and gone, still insists you’ve grown.

But when KCRW gives you free tickets to The Arcade fire… who's earworm chorus of "lies" three years later you still can't out of your head... well, no isn't an option.2

KCRW takes care of its listeners. Our noses weren't bleeding, but were still half way back. Right in front of several large television screens. The experience of watching a show through a television screen is a bit deflating. While you're sure that somewhere on stage there are in fact ten very energetic musicians playing, it's hard to tell if they're playing for the cast of The Office, who were put on the pit guest list, or for you, the average blogger.

Thankfully the Arcade Fire is so good these thoughts only occupied my attention for the first song. Theirs is a show of pure joy, a celebration of sound and a study in controlled chaos. (One band member's solo goal is to play percussion on anything within reach. In earlier shows, some band members would wear helmets.) For Win Butler and his team, every song is played with the same energy and intensity as the final song of the evening. The Bowl's acoustics were perfect for the onstage organ, which added an intense haunting presence to Arcade Fire's ever present swelling choruses. If it doesn't make the hair on your arms stand on end, they haven't done their job.

The night ended with several sing-a-longs, including the ubiquitous "Lies" chorus. While a tiny bit disappointed the size of the Bowl prevented the Arcade Fire from doing their infamous equalitarian after show, I couldn't help but smile. I just watched a ragtag bunch of French Canadians ooh, ahh, coo, skip and dance through one of the most well played, fun, and down right cool sets I've seen in a long time. Suddenly, the walk back to my car didn't seem quite so long.

1. Having said that, I really want someone to stage dive. Preferably on John Philip Sousa night.

2.Join KCRW. With this concert alone my fifty dollar membership has already payed itself off. With my winnings last year I finished $150 dollars ahead. "KCRW membership. It's just good economy."

mp3: "Five Years (David Bowie cover)" by Arcade Fire

Thursday, September 20, 2007

duran duran, red carpet massacre

Duran Duran is releasing a new alum (11/13). Why is this important to you? Firstly, "Rio" is one of the greatest songs known to man, now and forever. Secondly, generation "Y" has yet to produce a guilty pleasure heart throb that can stand up to Simon LeBon. My apologies to Zac Efron.

A special thank you to Would Be Hipster Melissa Kaye who sent us images from her listening party date with "the boys." She describes the experience as "Girls from the 80's loving dudes from the 80's."

Fair enough.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

the brunettes @ the troubadour

I am not in Texas right now. And that makes me sad. Anyone who knows me will be aware of how weird this statement is, seeing as I lived in Texas for two years as a child, and those two years were pretty horrible. But that was in a suburb of Dallas. And I really want to be in Austin right now. Which, from what I've heard, is basically like if you took the bad parts out of Silverlake and replaced them with the good bits of Hollywood and once a year crammed it with all Music That Is Good, and dropped it into the middle of the Texan wasteland. The Austin City Limits is happening. Right now. And I'm not there. Alas.


Thursday, thanks once again to the lovely people at Flavorpill, two of the Would Be Hipsters found ourselves at the Troubadour to see the Brunettes. Touring as an adorable six piece, complete with many keyboards, a mini brass section, myriad percussive toys, a drummer who defies physics, the only sexy clarinet playing I've ever seen, and Kiwi accents, they are cuteness personified. Flight of the Conchords (also released in America on Sub Pop Records, and in the Brunettes' top friends) like to refer to themselves as "New Zealand’s 4th most popular folk-comedy duo," which seems silly until you hear the Brunettes – an indie band by all accounts – sing about Mary Kate and Ashley, aliens, and credit card debt. It's clear that New Zealand breeds musicians who are gifted lyrically, and it's entirely possible that the Conchords' competition is stiffer than we Americans are aware.
Apart from the wit and the ubiquitous brown hair, there's also the Brunettes' amazing musicality. The harmonies are amazing, the multi-instrumentality is awe-inspiring (how many drummers play sax?), and the songs are undeniably well written, with a timeless, slightly twee feeling that's welcoming and fun and makes you dance. Which is convenient, as they hold a nightly dance contest. Free books (or in the case of the LA gig, free CDs, because who in LA reads anyway) are the only way to get hipsters in LA to dance. Well, that and alcohol, as evidenced by the drunk woman climbing the scaffolding. Oh, and should you be in the LA area, keep an eye out – trumpeter / synth player Harry lost his wallet somewhere in town, and there are few things in the world more tragic than a pouting Kiwi.

Also playing were two local bands:
Mezzanine Owls, were pleasantly loud and fun (in a shoegazey, melodic-noise sort of way) and full of fuzzy guitars and outstanding drumming, and they totally rocked despite the kind of bad vocal mixing from the otherwise wonderful Troubadour. Serious style points for the blue fairy lights all over the transparent-blue drums.

Note from LMS: The Mezzanine Owls had a girl drummer. I like chick drummers... this is probably because deep down inside I want to be one. Yeah right. Like m.a.b. says: "I'll marry a Pope before you become a drummer."

Note from LMS to Rob Pope: Please don't marry my roommate. At least not yet. I can't afford drum lessons.

Note from m.a.b. to Rob Pope: How does your brother feel about giving drum lessons?

Ferraby Lionheart – yes, that is his real name – along with his backing band is equal parts Sondre Lerche and Neil Young with a healthy smattering of the Beatles (provided mainly by a Rickenbacker-playing bassist) and a bit of Rufus Wainwright when Ferraby hits the keyboards. They ended their set with an epic cover of "Pure Imagination". You know, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? So they kinda win at life.

mp3: "Small Town Crew" by the Brunettes
mp3: "Loopy Loopy Love" by the Brunettes
mp3: "Lightbulb" by the Mezzanine Owls
mp3: "Won't Be Long" by Ferraby Lionheart

obscure side-projects are fun

Little-known fact: every day that goes by without Chris Walla updating his blog causes the world to make a little bit less sense. Or at least, it does if you're me and at some point in the last two years that website managed to become the gravitational center of your musical universe. I'm writing this paragraph, basically, in the hope that my public expression of angst will result in an update tomorrow. Not because I think Chris Walla is reading this, but because fate loves to make me look foolish like that.

In the meantime, go download every single mp3 from that same neglected website, and join me in anticipation of the release of an actual album (January 15, 2008, if sources at the Barsuk message boards are to be trusted).

When not recording and eventually releasing solo material, Walla also plays guitar for Death Cab for Cutie, who Pitchfork has reported shall begin recording a new album this very month. These are exciting times! (Ignore, as usual, Pitchfork's attitude about the whole thing.)

The real reason I'm making this post, however, has little to do with Walla's solo album and even less to do with the prospect of a new Death Cab album; rather, I have focused my attention today on a few lonely pieces of music that are even less likely to find themselves legitimately released in the foreseeable future. Last spring, I stumbled across the Vernacular, a collaboration between Chris Walla and Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger (and including Nathan Good, Death Cab's original drummer). A year later, nothing has happened except that the number of songs on their MySpace page has risen from two to three. But I adore those three songs, and I managed today to acquire them in mp3 form, which means that they can now establish residence on my iPod rather than necessitate my visitation of that MySpace page every few weeks to get my fix (I'm lazy). I am sharing two of them with you, with the expectation that you will go friend that MySpace page and help initiate a campaign of harassment for an EP, at the very least.

mp3: "Born Without a Heart" by the Vernacular
mp3: "Make Good Choices" by the Vernacular

Monday, September 10, 2007

our ill wills shout out louds

It’s Tuesday, the day Wal-Mart has decided Americans most like to consume new music.
I request - nah, order you to check out the Shout Out Louds' newest album, Our Ill Wills.

This album has ruined the last two months of my life. When I first got it, I was convinced that any break in listening would result in my head exploding. Now that I've returned to more mundane activities where music can't always be present (i.e. sleeping, showering), I still manage a listen or two a day. I love it so much I feel CWBH should implement some sort of rating system to express said love. I'm voting for the use of the platypus and interpretive dance.

Darn you Sweden and your answer to the Cure; you've out-cooled us again.

Never before have I had an album mark such a definitive period of my life. I should seriously consider sending a thank you note or something.

mp3: "Tonight I Have To Leave It" by The Shout Out Louds

Sunday, September 9, 2007

joan as police woman @ spaceland

Joan As Police Woman, brought to you, not by my shrinking unemployed bank account, but by the good folks at Flavorpill who deemed my answer to the question, “If Joan Rivers was a police woman, how would she fight crime1?” worthy of two free tickets. Even the most dedicated job hunters need a day out.

Sometimes first impressions are misleading. The first time I caught a Joan as Police Woman set - as part of a Rufus Wainwright European tour - I was underwhelmed. But second chances are a good thing, right? Joan as Police Woman’s album Real Life is a visceral experience. Painfully beautiful with a world-weary edge, by the end of the second track I was ready to cast my lover’s ashes to the four winds, marry my rich suitor, and take up a life in the arts in silent memorial to my true love…. Then the album ended and I remembered I don’t live in a Merchant Ivory film.

Emily Wells opened up the evening. A tiny gothic sprite sporting lights in her hair, Emily won me over by the second song of her set with the use of live sampling2. Her Bjork-like lyrics combined with haunting violin were simply surreal. The fact I’ve never seen her before can be held as definitive proof that society has indeed failed us all.

Joan as Police Woman bowled me over. Hers is an art that grows on you more with every listen. This time I found myself captivated by her odd vocal tics and haunting lyrics. Despite jazz-like overtones, Joan as Police Woman is secretly a punk rock affair. As Joan herself put it, “I used to play in a band called the Dam Builders…. I played violin through about twelve distortion petals and screamed a lot.” Although she has since traded abrasive instrumentals for a piano and guitar (my only regret of the evening is we didn’t get to hear her on violin!) Joan still retains raw punk emotion. All lovers have scars around their face or “left dead on the ground at your feet.” And Joan reminds her audience “It’s true what they say about me/ that I’m out of my mind/ and I think you like it.” My insanity only manifests itself artistically in the scribbled pages of my journal Joan creates jazz infused punk.

This hardly seems fair.

1.She wouldn’t. The threat of Joan’s inevitable critique of their mugshoots would be all the crime deterrent society would ever need.

2. To say I love live sampling is an understatement. Here's looking at you Mr. Owen Pallet.

Mp3: "The Ride (live)" by Joan As Police Woman

Friday, September 7, 2007

john vanderslice @ the troubadour

I can't say that I ever really expected to see John Vanderslice smirk. I expected the rocking, I expected the flailing and the stomping and the banging on the guitar. I expected the amazing backup band. I didn't expect the distortion pedal on the violin, although I probably should have. But I certainly didn't expect the discussion of porn and Riverdancing and mandatory dance parties when I entered the Troubadour last night to see Mr. Vanderslice. I was expecting a good show, and he and his band more than exceeded expectations. The set was made up primarily of tracks off the recently-released Emerald City and 2004's Pixel Revolt, with Life and Death of an American Four-Tracker represented by the oddly piano-free "Me and My 424" and the brief "Greyhound" performed by Vanderslice alone onstage while his bandmates retreated upstairs for a quick beer. The drummer shook the venue and its audience to their foundations, and John's smile lit the room more brightly than the house lights ever could (although the enthusiastic lighting guy was trying his hardest to compete). Although I think it's probably safe to say that hearing "Keep The Dream Alive" performed in the middle of the floor on a cracked guitar, a violin, a toy xylophone, and a floor tom, acoustic and un-amplified, with a hundred softly cooing voices singing along, was the musical highlight of my year thus far1.
And while the blog tour was quite stellar, this brings me a great deal of joy.

Oh yeah, there were opening bands, too, and they were also fairly epic. The Bowerbirds are a wonderful folky trio from North Carolina, consisting of a guitarist, an accordionist, and a violinist/bass pedal player, the latter two sharing duties on bass drum, and all three sharing vocals. Beautiful stuff in a vaguely M. Ward-meets-Beiruit-in-your-living-room way.

Bodies of Water are a local band who took to the stage as a motley 9-piece ensemble exuding pure joy. While they all seem slightly insane, they are decidedly brilliant at what they do, and I couldn't stop smiling during their set. It's kind of like if I'm From Barcelona2 were smaller and played the Fillmore in '66.

(Also, if you ever find yourself at the Troub and hungry, order a BLT. Best BLT ever, and the short order cook is friendly and adorable. I thank Harry Anderson of the Golden Republic for the recommendation.)

I'm not sure if it was Bodies of Water's brass section blowing directly into my right ear or the shock of spending an evening with John Vanderslice, but last night I fell asleep with my ears not only ringing, but populated by poorly-trained primates playing a Bach fugue on those crappy Radio Shack keyboards that people who aren't very good like to show off on. But trust me, that's a good thing.

1. It's not as amazing as the story he told of the previous night's show in Fresno, where they took the entire audience out into the street, where they were so manic that when they approached a pickup truck, the driver actually backed up.
2. For those unaware, I'm From Barcelona is kind of like the Polyphonic Spree, only Swedish and with fewer cultish overtones. And they haven't decided to go from twee to rock 'n' roll yet.

mp3: "Me and My 424" by John Vanderslice
mp3: "Exodus Damage" by John Vanderslice
mp3: "In Our Talons" by the Bowerbirds
mp3: "We Are Co-Existors" by Bodies of Water

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

minor canon @ the viper room

In the interest of full disclosure I should admit…I’ve wanted to visit the Viper Room since that gym period in 10th grade we spend discussing "the club in LA that Johnny Depp owns." Alas, Johnny has moved on to southern France (le sigh!) but a mere seven years after that formative conversation I find myself in the position to appreciate the Viper Room, and a free evening of music from my favorite local band, Minor Canon.

Note: It is in no way cool to leave for a club three and a half hours before doors. But seeing as how the average temperature in our apartment was 95 degrees, I’m prepared to take that hit1.

So. The lovely night of music. Minor Canon (which started out as a solo project for leadman Paul Larson) thrives on wistful lyrics punctuated by dreamy, piano based melodies. What a coincidence - so do I! When not making us swoon with recalled bittersweet memories, Larson manages to chastise his "narcissistic mind" and revel in how "I moved closer to the light today/found out I was stupid."

This just in: Self-deprecation is sexy.

The biggest surprise of the night: Minor Canon can rock! On several songs, Larson moved between his guitar and a mini-drum set, igniting a "duel of the drummers." (The same move has also been used to equally enjoyable results by Ben Gibbard and Death Cab For Cutie.) While this is a move the band has been perfecting over several years of shows, newly added are the use of electric guitars. You mean it’s possible to be bummed out and loud while retaining your trademark melodic structure? My inner emo child can be pacified while my feet dance to your jazzy horn flourishes2? Pour me another club soda3. I’ll be here all night folks.

1. All contributors to this blog suffer from a rare affliction called "terminal punctuality." Symptoms include inevitably outing ourselves as the only ones left in LA who still take an 8:30 door time literally.

2. Well... head nodding in passive agreement. This is the Viper Room after all.

3. "Being a designated driver makes you better looking."

Note from m.a.b.: It should also be noted that The Prix and Satisfaction also played, and were quite fun to listen to. And that the Prix's bassist is very friendly, and that Satisfaction's bassist is very tall.

On a side note:
If you love Minor Canon as much as we do, vote for them as local favorite to play the LA Weekly Detour Fest.

Mp3: "Good Luck" by Minor Canon
Mp3: "A False Start" by Minor Canon

Sunday, September 2, 2007

spoon-based hip

There are people in this world who think I am a hipster. These people are few and far between, and they don't get out much. Or maybe they know something I don't. I think the easiest way to evaluate my hipster status is to examine my relationship with the band Spoon.

1. I do not like spoon.
· This is not a hip opinion. [ -5 points ]
· Going blatantly against popular opinion is kind of hip. [ +3 points ]

2. I think Spoon is boring.
· Obviously I don't get it. [ -3 points ]
· Or maybe their innovative new sound pales when compared to all of the other amazing, hip stuff I've been listening to, like Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble. [ + 5 points / + 2 bonus points for seeing Flash Hawk at Spaceland in June ]

3. But I really want to like Spoon.
· It's not hip to want to like a band. [ -3 points ]

4. And it should be noted that I like some of their singles, and I adore that bouncy little robot that dances to "I Turn My Camera On".
· Singles are never hip. [ -5 points ]
· That robot is really cute. [ +2 points ]

5. But mainly I think it's because their new bassist is Rob Pope, and although he's one of the greatest indie rock bassists out there, he's not been properly utilized on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and tends to be buried in the mix by horns.
· It's kind of hip to know who the bassist is, and to care about the production of the album. [ + 5 points]
· Wait. Rob Pope. Didn't he used to play with the Get Up Kids? [ -3 points ]

6. And if Rob Pope is playing blue-eyed soul with Spoon, he's not playing indie electo-pop sea shanties with White Whale. And I think the world needs more Moog-driven songs about drunken Naval officers and fewer boring pop songs that are trying a bit too hard to be post-modern.
· Dude. Indie electro-pop sea shanties FTW. [ +5 points ]

Which gives me an overall hip factor of -3. At least with regard to Spoon. Which sounds about right. Go ahead and listen to Spoon and to White Whale, and decide for yourself which band should take over the world.

mp3: "The Underdog" by Spoon
mp3: "The Admiral" by White Whale