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

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.

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