Thursday, January 31, 2008

peter morén @ hotel cafe

It takes quite a performer to silence a bar full of jaded Los Angelinos with only a shaker, prerecorded piano track and a perfectly pitched nasal croon.

Thankfully, Peter Morén's chutzpa is well-founded.

Stepping away from his band mates (You might know him better as the "Peter" in Peter Bjorn & John1) Peter's solo project not unlike the his work with the trio. Both create rich warm musical worlds that, even at first listen, feel as comforting and familiar as a beloved hoodie. This probably comes as no surprise. However this time the stories ring with the singularity of a man telling tales directly from his own life -- albeit somewhat veiled tales.

Lucky for us, Peter was more than willing to explain the origins of some of his more confessional pieces. In the case of "Reel Too Real", the explanation was just as long as the song itself. "This song is about happily failing the military test," Peter laughed, setting the scene. "...Actually you have to be really dumb not to fail the military test in Sweden, I only know three guys who ended up in service." He goes on to explain how he failed his physic exam: "...the doctor asked me if I had had a particularly bad break up lately...I just stared at the ground and nodded." He also recounted his brilliant "true" story, "when I laid down to go to sleep at if I turned my head to the wall I'd see Hitler, If I faced out into the room I'd be fine, but if I turned back to the wall I'd see Hitler again..."

Keeping him company was a trio of string players, adding a beautiful backing to "Le Petit Coeur" and humorous counterpoints to Peter's stage banter. "I didn't write this accompaniment," Peter sighed during one of the evening's self-depreciating admissions. "I had to write a musical accompaniment to a Tom Petty song in musical high school. It went something like doo doo da" he sang and strummed, spontaneously accompanied by his three giggling musical cohorts. The moral of the story? "I failed."

In addition to strange neurosis, and an ability to joke around with a string trio, Peter also reviled that: we shop at the same guitar store2, he can't keep track of his beer, and he used to work as a substitute music teacher. "I got a lot of e-mails from kids telling me I sucked as a teacher...that I'm much better as a rock star," he said, introducing the song "Social Competence"3 . "This song is about realizing your inability to talk crap." Yeah, Peter, but when I "talk crap" it rarely comes out as melodic folk...more often than not it sounds like...yeah.

I'll lodge the complaint that -- as always -- the evening was far too short...more of an appetizer for the album to come. Am I a gluttonous American because I want that consume the album now4? The answer is probably yes. I'm okay with that.

1. And a resounding "duh" fills the room.
2. Nerosis and similar shopping habits? Let's be friends.
3. a.k.a. Would-Be Hipster theme song #42
4. Out on Quarterstick Records April 8...a fact both you and Peter found out about at the same time on today's Pitchfork.

mp3: "Reel Too Real (live) " by Peter Morén

Monday, January 28, 2008

field manual by chris walla

Chris Walla, between his membership in Death Cab for Cutie and production work with the Decemberists, Nada Surf, Tegan and Sara, et al., has been a contributing member to the Pacific Northwestern music scene for upwards of a decade. But unless you count a lo-fi cassette made in 1999 under the name Martin Youth Auxiliary, this is the first time he's paused to compile a collection of his own work.

I've been surprised by the mixed nature of the reactions to Field Manual so far, in that some of the harshest criticism seems to be coming from the people I'd have expected to like it the most. I don't understand this at all. In order to have expectations for this album, the only logical basis would be the songs Walla posted on his blog, and he definitely can't be accused of false advertising. The songs on Field Manual are mixed stylistically, layered, and yes, do contain some political commentary; but no, they are not wildly experimental or anything, really, but evidence of that professed love of his: pop music. His vocal ability is somewhat less than technically proficient and some of the lyrics are guileless in a way that toes the line between charming and naïve. So why should you care?

Because I argue that "charming" is the adjective that wins out in the end, along with "honest". And it's not an album Death Cab could ever make. At least not anymore. There are occasional flashes of familiarity, sure, especially in the exquisite "It's Unsustainable," but it's more comforting than redundant. I can think of few times that Death Cab has made songs that make me want to bounce around as much as "The Score," "Sing Again" or even "Archer v. Light". "The Score," in particular, made me laugh the first time I heard it, because while Death Cab will occasionally bring in the loud, crashing guitars for some dense emotional reason, they rarely rock out purely for the inherent joy of rocking out, as Walla does here.

The musical levity belies the seriousness of the words, however -- or depending on your perspective, offers relief therefrom. At the same time Walla was making me laugh, he was delivering lines like: we’ve armed a bear, why are we bullfighting / why do we prance our little flag around as if he’s not biting? Or, from "Archer v. Light": if I were gavaged on hunger strike / wrongly fired upon or sullied blindly by dogs / I’d hate us too. Not exactly love songs. At the same time, though, Walla seems to concede that he doesn't know how we're supposed to fix this mess we're all in, either. His only decree is that we care.

If I had any misgivings based on the songs I heard before hearing the album as a whole, then they were unfounded. Field Manual is most effective both musically and lyrically when listened to cohesively (which is undoubtedly what Walla intended). The production is predictably excellent, though somewhat paradoxically, since while Walla plays all instruments on this album himself except drums, production was the one thing with which he did seek help. Still, it's a solo record in the most literal sense practically possible, and the result is extremely worthwhile. I could use these last few words to beseech you, the potential listener, to put aside your expectations and biases and give Field Manual a fair listen (or preferably two or three), but really my only request is to Walla himself: Please don't let this album also be 'solo' as in 'solitary'. Make another one someday, okay?

Field Manual is out tomorrow, January 29, on Barsuk Records.

Meanwhile, here's the cameo-laden video for "Sing Again":

mp3: "Sing Again" by Chris Walla
mp3: "St. Modesto" by Chris Walla

(Photo credit: Autumn De Wilde)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

australia day

Happy Australia Day!1

I admit that I am in no way Australian. I had to wikipedia "Australia Day" to figure out that it's kind of like our Fourth of July, only with citizenship awards and the Big Day Out festival and Triple J's Hottest 100. I used to listen to Triple J's Breakfast Show back when Adam and Wil hosted, and Tripod would do their song-in-an-hour schtick2, so I'm going to pretend that I'm qualified to make a totally unqualified post of totally awesome Aussie music.

Foregoing some of the obvious (AC/DC, Crowded House, the Vines, the Living End, Ben Lee, etc.), here's a small but varied sampling of why Melbourne is on my list of cities to move to when Los Angeles succeeds in breaking my spirit:

mp3: "You Sound Like Louis Burdett" by the Whitlams
mp3: "Good Mornin'" by You Am I (from Rove Live)
mp3: "The Owls Go" by Architecture in Helsinki (live on Triple J)
mp3: "Nosebleed Section" by the Hilltop Hoods
mp3: "Goodbye Little Alarm Clock" by Tripod (one of the aforementioned song-in-an-hour masterpieces)

And, because I've been on quite a Tripod kick lately, geeky video!

1. Australia Day is January 28. It's January 28 in Australia, even if it's January 27 in California. So I'm posting this today. Because I am a geek.
2. That was about three to five years ago. So my knowledge of Australian music may not be at all current.

Monday, January 21, 2008

dr. martin luther king jr.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

a little mess by elias & the wizzkids

You know the scene. Hanging out with your friends, passively watching a band –- who, the second they stop playing, will spend the rest of the night parked at their merch table, desperate to hock a CD, tee shirt, anything to put gas in their van and 7-11 foodstuffs in their belly. Maybe you liked the band. But you didn’t feel like making the ten foot trek over to the table. Maybe you’re like me and never remember to hit up an ATM on the way to the show, thus making said walk an exercise in futility. Or maybe the scenario was slightly different and you just weren’t paying enough attention to the band to form an accurate opinion –- only to google their name on a whim a few months later and realize, well, you’re an idiot. An idiot with a lot of friends, but an idiot nonetheless.

This situation is infinitely more complicated when you factor in a band over seas. However, after many fruitless Amoeba trips and a frantic email to the long-suffering and highly talented Elias and the Wizzkids, I finally obtained my (latest) holy grail, A Little Mess.

See kids, sometimes persistence DOES pay off!

A Little Mess is a jangly, bouncy celebration of the auditorily absurd. Harmonica, flute, howled lyrics and harmonized choruses crowd the album, which bears more in common with the lovelorn 1950s boy-girl group movement than their less accessible, cool as ice Svenska indie pop counterparts1. Indirectly addressing this disparity, their myspace banner announces, “We’re though being cool.” What a coincidence, the would-be hipsters never were!

And that wasn't enough of a hard sell, I present to you this:

What girl can resist such an amazing ability to jog and gesture?

Lyrically, Elias and his beloved Wizzkids skew darker. When you’re not on stage hosting a geek-filled love fest...well, sometimes life kinda sucks. The album tracks the slow, determined progression into adulthood and everything that makes you lose sleep along the way. You turn 24, and wonder where your job, house, wife and kids are. Naturally, steps are taken to rectify the situation. "The job" finds Elias forced to answer the eternal burning question: What the hell are you supposed to say/when they ask you to describe yourself in just three words? In "The Mermaid," Elias works on the lack of wife problem. However, things don’t go as swimmingly as he’d hoped2. Despite being told there are many other fish in the sea, Elias moans, You were never a fish/no, you were a mermaid to me. Yeah, can’t help you there dude, I'm still wearing waterwings.

The album ends, if not with the answers on how to avoid this inevitable angst-filled rite of passage (although "The Dance" does make a good case for frolicking away the blues), then at least a temporary respite from that whole growing up thing. Elias tucks himself in at night, Wizzkids accompaniment slowly fading into the distance, and sighs, When you’re lying in bed and not sleeping yet and you can still feel the fresh taste of toothpaste, isn’t it nice to turn out the lights and say goodnight?

Yes. Yes it is. Just don't grow up too much before your next album, okay?

1. This is in no way meant as a dig at the all the cool as ice pop coming out of Sweden, particularly since Club 8 and Sally Shapiro are hovering near the top of my playlist at the moment. I’m just relieved Elias has come along to prove my lack of coolness was denied based on genes rather than geography.
2. Pun intended. Deal with it, m.a.b.

mp3: "The Dance" by Elias & The Wizzkids
mp3: "Young and Hairy" by Elias & The Wizzkids

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Juno soundtrack

The songs from the film Juno definitely make you feel like you're involved in something special. I'm relatively certain that this album has saved me from certain death on my three-freeway-long commute home from work in the rain amongst the imbeciles and the terrified, as nothing bad can happen to you when you're listening to music this bouncy and this shiny and this good.

A collection of very twee, largely acoustic, and occasionally glammy songs, they make you feel warm and fuzzy, but in a "did she seriously just say that?" sort of way. I left the movie theatre after seeing Juno thinking, "I must have the soundtrack. Now." The film is scored primarily by Kimya Dawson, the girl half of the Moldy Peaches, who was suggested for the soundtrack by the movie's star, Ellen Page. The tracks on the album range from sweet, short instrumental pieces penned for the film, to the impossibly cute ditty about a fish who longs to be a cactus, to the decidedly political "fuck Bush and fuck this war" sentiment of "Loose Lips". Belle & Sebastian are well-represented, and the amazing covers by Sonic Youth and Cat Power are definite gems – they add a bit of darkness and gloom to counteract some of the bouncier acoustic numbers. (Most of the bouncy acoustic numbers are, however, just as dark and gloomy lyrically; this sort of bipolar music makes up the majority of my record collection.)

The highlight of the soundtrack is Michael Cera & Ellen Page's duet on the Moldy Peaches' "Anyone Else But You" – the film is basically an excuse to get to that last scene with the two of them on guitars, oozing cute and refusing to let anyone leave the theatre without falling in love with both of them.

mp3: "Anyone Else But You" cover of the Moldy Peaches, by Michael Cera and Ellen Page

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

eat your heart out by the breakups

Though I remain as fiercely loyal as ever to my Pacific Northwestern heritage (all one generation of it), I have been forced to recognize more and more that there are, in fact, some pretty awesome bands in Los Angeles. Despite the atrocious weather.

One such band is the Breakups.1 The quintet, based out of "Hollywoodland," is getting ready to release their debut, self-recorded and produced EP, titled Eat Your Heart Out -- which, in completion of the "self" trifecta, will also be self-released. You have to admire that kind of do-it-yourself attitude.

The EP is comprised of eight tracks and six songs -- bookmarked on either end by an ill-fated telephone conversation between boy and girl (they're "breaking up," get it?) -- clocking in at approximately twenty-one minutes of "powerless pop"2 goodness. Awash in dense/quirky/at times unidentifiable instrumenation and more than a few hooks, the Breakups manage to make music that is at once dance-around-your-living-room and a satisfying listen on the headphones. The mood shifts with the genres, as the band explores a few possible identities. There's your jaunty pop-rock ("After the Fact"), your indie disco ("Let's See What Happens"), and, ever my favorite, your pensive folk ditty ("Winding Down").

All in all, it's a pleasing debut from a band who could henceforth steer their sound in any direction of their choosing. If you, like me, are for now resigned to remain a resident of the greater Los Angeles area for at least another month, you should attend the EP release party on February 13 at the Echo.

mp3: "Tissue Sample" by the Breakups
mp3: "After the Fact" by the Breakups

1I may as well admit, I was predisposed to like them as soon as I noticed their URL was "thebreakupssuck".
2I'm not entirely sure what this means, but maybe I just haven't listened enough.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

please help the dresden dolls

The following is a repost. Please feel free to repost this to your MySpaces, LiveJournals, etc:

Hey Everyone.

i finally got the time to get together a list of what was stolen from The Dresden Dolls' trailer at Metropolitan and Berry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn late on 01/01/08.

I performed the night before with the Doll's opening band, Luminescent Orchestrii, as a little break from my tour-management duties and had alot of my favorite costuming pieces with me-- things that are pretty much irreplaceable (the belt made of textiles i purchased in thailand, etc., 7 of my favorite vintage hats, etc)

Here is a basic list of things i have figured out are goners....
Picture 1:
This is the costume i wore that night, it consists of:
Tan Vintage Hat
Black Ruffled Skin.Graft.Designs (for Post-War Trade) Skirt
Black Coin Bra with Brown Halter straps and center pendant (by Laughter of the Dead)
Cowrie Shell Hair falls (you can see these better in pic 2)

Picture 2 (that me getting smooched on the right):
80's party dress- strapless with polkadot tulle skirt, size 4.
Black Velvet 40's Hat with tulle face drape
Cowrie Shell Hair Falls (these are all cowrie shells with silver chain and black wool yarn tips) measure about 3' long! (by auntie magpie, one of my most prized possessions. ugh)

Picture 3:
that hat is gone. same hat from NYE smooch. better picture.

Picture 4:
Vintage Hat and Bonnie and Clyde necklace. gone.....

Picture 5:
Here's a great picture of the missing bellydance belt, those cowrie falls are on the belt this time, and also the missing coin-bra! Also one of those hoop earrings, too.

Picture 6:
That's me on the right, wearing the navy/ black with silver sequined veil. you guessed it, gone!

White/ Black American Apparel Large Duffel Bag
Bahama Joe Black Fabric briefcase
New Silver 80G iPod with "breakin' hearts and takin' names" engraved on back
retractable iPod cable
Size 25 Black Cheap Monday Jeans
Dell Laptop Charger
Canon IP90v Travel Printer/ Cable (has shadowscene and carina round stickers on it)
Size Medium Skin.Graft.Designs brand distressed brown leather cropped jacket with tails-- you'd know this if you saw it, it has a leather dream-catcher type thing on the back. it's ridiculously beautiful. i'd pay to get it back.

Oddly enough the netflix that was in there was returned right away! leads me to believe my stuff is just scattered around the streets in williamsburg. If anyone in the area finds/ sees for sale any of these things i would love to have them back and you will be rewarded.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

miss katie kay

Saturday, January 12, 2008

thank you by the lashes

A lot of hipsters go out of their way to miss opening acts. This, if you'll pardon my bluntness, is stupid. The sea of tragic openers I've forced myself to sit through have definitely been worth the aural pain, considering the number of truly amazing bands I've discovered, like Seattle sextet the Lashes, who, for reasons unknown, opened for the New Ams a couple years ago. There was confetti. There were streamers. They threw lollipops into the audience because it was a kid's birthday. It was love at first sight.

The Lashes make pop music. But good pop music! It's like indie-core punk-pop. Sex Pistol-come-indie radio DJ Jonesy loves them, and if that's not a credible endorsement, I don't know what is. Their last album, 2006's Get It, is a perfect collection of sunny, loud, bouncy songs about love, loneliness, romanticism, and disappointment that are always danceable, regardless of the fact that I do not, as a rule, dance. There's occasionally a hint at some Robert Smith-ian melancholy, which is fitting as lead singer Ben is vaguely reminiscent of Smith, only, y'know, really happy and with a whole lot of belts. Thank You – a six-song disc that is not an EP, but side A of their second LP – follows the same incredible formula, only with even more soaring harmonies and defiance and perfect hooks and totally shredding guitar riffs.

They wrote and recorded one half of a brilliant album in the winter of '06, after being dropped by their manager and their booking agent and their van, but before taking the summer off while guitarist Eric Howk recovered from an injury and being unceremoniously dropped from Columbia Records. (Why so many people would drop the Lashes is beyond all comprehension.) So, they released those six tracks themselves, and made side A of Thank You available exclusively from their favorite local record store, Sonic Boom. Take that, corporate America.

We at the would-be hipster camp are anxiously awaiting side B of Thank You and the accompanying tour. I know that the band has had some weird receptions in Los Angeles*, but we'll definitely be there. And since we've already promised Eric baked goods, we'd be more than happy to supply lemon meringue and banana cream for everyone afterwards. It's not pizza with Kato Kaelin, but it is House of Pies!

* Like at the Key Club, where everyone cleared out after the ska group, and that one woman was drunk enough to grope Ben, who shall forever be my hero not only for putting up with her as she struggled to steal the bandana tied around his knee, but for putting on the greatest show to a few beaming girls and the backs of twenty disinterested scenesters.

mp3: "Look At Us" from Thank You
mp3: "Sometimes The Sun" from Get It

Sunday, January 6, 2008

siberian @ the knitting factory

Siberian’s description calls them a, “great new group… they sound like they've been playing forever, but are pretty new, so the sky is the limit.” This wide-eyed, optimistic statement would be much easier to mock if I didn’t agree so whole-heartedly with its inherent sentiment.1

Formed 2004 in Seattle (a.k.a. where the good music lives) by frontman Finn Parnell and guitarist Colin Wolberg, Siberian plays host to a rotating cast of musicians, its roster currently filled out by bassist Zac Tillman, drummer Aaron Benson, and the apparently one-named, highly enthusiastic keyboardist Adam.

Although admittedly new at touring, Siberian knows how to preform. Despite strange band sequencing and sound issues that did no one any favors, Siberian put on a set that could best be described as anthemic. Their sound -- soaring, lush, English-synth influenced melodies, peppered with dark, soul-searching lyrics -- made me happy. It’s not that I’m an emotional masochist2, but when Finn sings, “Why do you hold me up so high? I’m the last one you should look up to,” I smile, and find myself glad someone heeded the call for a shoegazing Muse. Preforming live, Finn's voice takes on a Thom York via Julian Calabasas quality -- not that I have a problem with that.

The tragedy of the night was, of course, the poor turn-out. Let's blame the continuing deluge, shall we?3

But don’t fret at the missed opportunity to see their first Hollywood show, dear Los Angelinos; Siberian assures us another tour is already in the planning stages. So keep an eye on their myspace for updates, and be sure to catch them now while they're still haunting smaller venues...and before they hit that gosh darn limiting sky.

1. I’m a professional cynic – but my heart isn’t in it.
2. Except of course that I totally am.
3. On behalf of all Southern Californian concert-attendees, I apologize to all bands in the pacific northwest for our Ombrophobia.

(photo credit: David Studarus)

mp3: "Islands Forever" by Siberian