Sunday, March 30, 2008

free music #2

I'm still poor. How 'bout you? Here's another list of free music -- inspired by my empty wallet and today's new Stereogum release.

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

The Lashes- I payed ten dollars for the first half of this power-pop sextet's album Thank You Side A. Money well spent, but here's the link to their Myspace where you can get it for free.

Billie The Vision & The Dancers - Bright Swedish pop with a melancholic undertone. Avid fans of Tilly And the Wall will latch onto this right away. For the rest of us, it's worth the download, if only to meet the mysterious "Pablo."

Bare Knees- Yes it's true...more Swedes. If you hated the Juno soundtrack, you might want to skip over this one. A low-fi dose of sweet, including an inexplicably wonderful Ace of Base cover.

Better Propaganda- A mixed tape of stuff you love, and stuff you probably should love.

Rain Music- A free, experimental label based out of France. Try the tasty Cake on Cake EP Sun-chairs.

The Collective Family- A collective that makes music rather than millions by giving away all their art for free.

B-Sides "R" Us - A blog specializing in legal out-of-print b-sides and rarities. Yea!

Acoustic and Rarities- A kissing kin to B-Sides "R" Us.

Team 9 - Mash-ups: when you just can't decide what to listen to first.

10· Go Home Productions-For when one mash-up site just isn't enough.

11· Seabear- With my love of all things Scandinavian you think I'd have checked out this gentle ambient-folk outfit before now. Shame...

12· Okkervil River- I know the Golden Opportunities EP has been around for a bit. So why haven't you downloaded it?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind by Vashti Bunyan

Review by guest hipster: PWC

Several years ago, I had the discreet pleasure of seeing Vashti Bunyan play in a large, hushed auditorium nestled in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. She sang in whispers, and spoke in quiet tones – coming across as your kindly, possibly magical aunt who sometimes stares off into the distance when somebody mentions the year 1967. She gently spoke to us of fragments of years past, of her journey into the Hebridean Isles, of lost love and a broken heart. [Insert rather obvious descriptions of a metaphorical grandmothering of the freak-folk movement, of her adopted gypsy son Devendra, or her elfin granddaughter Joanna].

Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind represents a collection of recordings from the 1960s, lost documents of a career that could have been. The first disc represents a collection of singles (2 released, 3 unreleased) and demos from the mid 60s. Disc Two is an intimate assemblage of home recorded demos. The singles collected on the first Disc come across as more obviously dated, the folk-rock production on some of the songs ("Coldest Night of the Year") is "fun" but somewhat regrettable. Then again, I don’t like the production on the first two Nick Drake albums either.

The barebones acoustic songs on Disc One, and all of those on Disc Two, represent what I adore about Vashti Bunyan – the hushed intimacy, the gorgeous voice, thin and fragile as fine china. The spoken introductions for songs on Disc Two – a very earnest sounding voice intoning "Go Before the Dawn" with slight reverb, impart the sense of a serious, thin and slightly nervous girl with long dark hair sitting alone in a vast room with a tape recorder wedged between her knees. The quality of all the songs is high, and the tape hiss and slight distortions along the way add to the air of unearthed artifacts from a forgotten pasts. Perhaps if Vashti Bunyan’s career had not been resuscitated by the folk revival, these might be the dusty reel-to-reel tapes you find in your aunt’s attic and share with a few friends as a secret reminder of lost history.

mp3: "I Want To Be Alone by Vashti Bunyan

Thursday, March 27, 2008

reconsidering the honeydrips

In her almost perfect review1 of the decidedly perfect Jens Lekman show, ako made a passing comment about the dullness of the opening act, one man band The Honeydrips. This fact is incontrovertible. I spent most of his set chewing the ice in my drink and scanning the darkened stage wings to see if I could catch sight of Jens2. It’s amazing how easy it is to praise one performer (Taken By Trees for those who are keeping score) for standing and singing only to turn around and bash another for doing almost the same thing. Truly a testament to how far a bit of charisma and music preformed live will go. In a way, The Honeydrips' conspicuous lack of stage presence reminded me of label mates The Tough Alliance's legendary stage shows - a riotous event where everything but actual performances occur. Despite a marked difference in energy levels, both are deconstructionist takes on the weird relationship between performer and audience. I get it, really I do. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

Despite being lulled into a postmodern standing nap, I bought The Honeydrips' new album Here Comes the Future on the strength of samples culled from And, despite trepidation that I'd just thrown away fifteen dollars, I loved it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was hooked by the third track, "Fall From a Height," when Annie Hall was inexplicably sampled. Woody Allen references are, without a doubt, one of the fastest ways to my heart. Thankfully, the rest of the album holds up to the high cinematic bar. While he never experiences Alvy Singer levels of neurosis, The Honeydrips does see the sadder side of doubt, a gloomy place best described on the New Order-referencing track "(Lack of) Love Will Tear us Apart." His is a world where a lover cries I feel low and need your caresses/but you couldn't care less. It isn't just love that's out of reach; in "It Was a Sunny Summer Day," hope escapes though a door carelessly left open. Ultimately, even life is fleeting, a fact recounted on the Ingmar Bergman-like encounter with death "The Walk" where he pleads, please I'm not ready, not this time3! I'm not sure what it says about me that I always zero in on an artist's sadness. "Here, try this album it's awesome! It'll totally bum you out!"

Of course, it's not all gloom. Lest one fall into too deep a funk, The Honeydrips' deep observations are sung over light as a feather electronica, peppered with a range of instruments all played by The Honeydrips. This sweet instrumentation leaves me not only wishing we'd seen a bit more of this hidden talent live - probably not an intended side-effect - but longing for a lazy summer's day picnic.

Non-album offerings highlight The Honeydrips' strange range and potential wide-scale appeal beyond the sleepy, summery electro-pop. Most notable is the single "Åh, Karolin," a slinky oboe-based song which could easily double as the missing soundtrack to a Godard film - sung in Swedish. Genius? Quite possibly.

How is it possible to love recorded material, and yet be tempted to throw tomatoes when that same material is preformed live? Ultimately it seems The Honeydrips is more than the sum of his parts. Judging by his work to date, he's a capable musician with a few more tricks up his sleeves. However, when it comes to performance, the trick I most long to see is that of live musician. Until then, I'll be content with Here Comes The Future's hazy, introspective dream.

1.What? No marriage proposal? And you claim to be female.
2. This of course was a fools errand. I spend twenty hours a day in front of the computer, giving me the eyesight of a person...who spends twenty hours a day in front of the computer.
3. And then, one assumes, pulls out a chess board.

(photo the honeydrips: Isak Bodin Alfredsson)

mp3: "Åh, Karolin" by The Honeydrips
mp3: "I Wouldn't Know What to Do" by The Honeydrips

Saturday, March 22, 2008

jens lekman @ the henry fonda

Admittedly, there isn't much to say about Jens Lekman that LMS hasn't said already. But though it was her third time seeing the Swedish pop phenom within the last year, it was my first ever, and I was surprised to find that none of the things I'd heard about his live shows were exaggerated. Including that they're an overwhelming love-fest between musicians and audience in which it's impossible to tell who's more enthusiastic and it's impossible to be completely impervious to that enthusiasm.

To get to that point, though, I had to overcome two things: opening act The Honeydrips (who are, in fact, one solitary individual singing over prerecorded tracks in the most uninteresting manner possible...not to be overly blunt about it or anything), and some residual skepticism over Jens himself. His music is so over-the-top and at times so sugary, and his voice is so mellifluous, that unless you can believe in the sincerity of its creator, it threatens a certain hollowness underneath the sheen -- however clever that sheen might be. But from the moment Jens finally took the stage with his slightly pigeon-toed guitar stance and finished "The Opposite of Hallelujah" with an inspiring display of air xylophone, the question of sincerity became irrelevant.

Backed, as usual, by an all-female band including a bass player, drummer, cellist and violinist, the set proceeded from there on a rising arc of loveliness and absurdity. For purposes of journalistic integrity,1 this should be a review of Jens' musical performance rather than his comedic one, but it becomes difficult to separate the two. For instance, we got to hear about a giant castle (seven towers, a moat, and a catapult) built entirely of business cards collected at SXSW. Before playing "A Postcard to Nina," Jens feigned, in perfect deadpan, a conversation between himself the audience in which he convinced himself to tell the extended version of the tale despite the innumerable times he'd already done so. He then proceeded to embellish the details further than ever. Most gloriously of all, the entire band later abandoned their instruments in the middle of "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar" glide around the stage like airplanes.

It's true -- a lot of this falls under the "you kind of had to be there" category. But really, you should have.

Interspersed throughout, of course, were fluid musical performances, prominently featuring that larger-than-life voice and well-executed, grandiose arrangements. It became apparent towards the end that both the crowd and Jens were reluctant to let him leave the stage, and two encores resulted before either side was willing to say goodnight.

1We care about that here. No, really.

(photo Jens Lekman: Kristin Lidell)

mp3: "Pocketful of Money" by Jens Lekman

Thursday, March 20, 2008

nada surf @ the henry fonda

I forget sometimes that Nada Surf are from New York and not Seattle, where they've recorded their last three full-length albums for Barsuk Records.1 The most recent of these, Lucky, was released on February 5, and though it's somewhat underwhelming compared to the excellence of Let Go (2003) and The Weight Is a Gift (2005), it's still a satisfying collection of smart pop songs and deserving of your attention.

One of the things that I was looking forward to most about seeing Nada Surf live was watching a band, three people crashing through their songs with glorious disregard for trivial details, and so it is that I'll get my only pseudo-critique out of the way: they had other people on stage with them, a keyboardist and the player of half a cello.2 Mind you, neither of these additions were audible most of the time, but that's exactly my point. I'm usually fully in favor of bands who define themselves in varied, intricate instrumentation -- such as opener Sea Wolf -- but that wasn't the appeal of Nada Surf last night.

There were exceptions to this, notably the accordion-accompanied "Blonde on Blonde" during the encore, but when guitarist/vocalist Matthew Caws took the stage wearing a top hat3 and the band launched into "Hi-Speed Soul," the tone was set. This was a rock show. Caws would later use this fact as justification to (presumably) a concerned parent in the audience who didn't want their son to join in the gleeful oh, f*** it sing-along to "Blankest Year". Mostly, though, however the themes were presented, they dealt less with partying and more with the poignancy of loneliness and longing. The epitome of this was "Inside of Love," the sort of song that your cold and cynical exterior wants you to scorn but which Caws' voice sells so well you basically have to be comatose to resist. Far from resisting, a whole room of hipsters actually agreed to dance in unison to it. Or at least sway. Which was close enough.

The other notable attribute of the night was the generosity of the set. It emphasized Lucky, of course, but not overly so, and they even played two songs from 1995's High/Low (yes, one of them was "Popular"). It's the first show I've ever been to where when the audience yelled out requests, instead of ignoring them or humorously dismissing them, the reply was "Oh yeah, we're playing that later". It's also the first show I've ever been to where a band I love stayed on stage almost as long as I wanted them to. To actually do so, let's face it, would not be possible.

1If Seattle were a country, this would be more than enough to apply for dual citizenship.
2For real.
3'Cause really, what's more rock 'n' roll than a top hat?

(photo Nada Surf: Autumn De Wilde)

mp3: "Blonde on Blonde" by Nada Surf, from Let Go
mp3: "Do It Again" by Nada Surf, from The Weight Is a Gift
mp3: "See These Bones" by Nada Surf, from Lucky

Monday, March 17, 2008

volume one by she & him

It is universally acknowledged that every time an actress puts out an album, the entire blogosphere must chime in with an opinion. Usually a harsh one. Why are we so quick to judge people with more than one career? Personally I’ve always looked up to multi-taskers. I still allege my true calling in life was stolen by George Plimpton.

She & Him's debut album Volume One (out 3/18) is, if I might take a page out of their anachronistic handbook, swell. Of course, I’m biased. When am I not? Zooey Deschanel is earmarked to play me in the inevitable life story; Mr. Ward and I hail from the same county (although a quick google search shows we probably didn’t go to the same high school, so this may be stretching it) My point? In my own little world - quit laughing - I foresee great things for this duo, a position I'm willing to defend during the inevitable backlash. However, this is a one-time protect-an-actress offer. If Kirsten Dunst decides to take a turn at the mic...well you’re on your own, kiddo.

Oh wait! Kirsten Dunst sang with Coconut Records (along with Zooey) and I...I loved it?! That sound you heard was my paradigm shifting a foot to the left.

Of course, it helps when there's talent to back up the hype. Zooey, who cut her musical chops on the ad-hoc cabaret project "If All Stars Were Pretty Babies," proves her worth: voice dripping with the requisite sentimentality needed to elevate this project from a hipster diversion into the realm of actual sincere homage. Ward, who's been playing with the cool kids since day one, lends a perfect atmosphere of string accents, and spine-tingling, gravel-filled backing vocals to the delicious duets, "You Really Got A Hold On Me" and "I Should Have Known Better." Yes, this is a musical outing that would fit into your grandmother's record collection - but let's face it, some of our grandmothers are made of awesome.

The album's lyrics take us back to a simpler time, when symbolism had yet to be invented. On "Take It Back" Zooey declares, I don’t wanna wonder/whether you love me/I don’t wanna wonder whether you care. 2008 translation: She's wants to know if the unnamed boy cares. By the time "I Was Made For You" rolls around, she's tired of wondering and grows more forward, announcing I've been waiting a long long time for a boy like you. While I can't be sure, I'm pretty sure "She" might be declaring her affections for an unnamed "Him." Just a guess.

I kid, but judging by my overly-expository intro, you've probably guessed my true feelings. Blessed with a CD collection full of hopeless romantics only willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves as long as they're cloaked with any number of seventh-grade poetry class metaphors, She & Him's sweet straight-forward music is a welcome change...even for the (occasionally) cynical would-be hipster.

mp3: "Magic Trick (live Music For Readymakers Vol.3)" by She & Him
mp3: "You Really Got A Hold On Me (live Music For Readymakers Vol.3)" by She & Him

Friday, March 14, 2008

pershing by someone still loves you boris yeltsin

Sophomore albums, as everyone knows, are tricky things. I imagine that's especially true if you're Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and you're trying to follow up 2005's Broom, an album that compensated for its brevity (10 songs, thirty minutes) with ceaseless, unrelenting, unpretentious charm, and your audience is made up of people like me, who both want you to succeed but tend to resent resent sharing.

Luckily, it seems that SSLYBY don't pay attention to such things, as they're too busy forming bicycle gangs in their native Springfield, Missiouri, and writing polite letters to Xzibit. Much of this attitude is captured in this video posted on their MySpace page of the making of Pershing.

It's a perfect follow-up album, because while it displays a marked stepped forward in craftsmanship, what is does not show is a headiness resulting from that dreaded phenomenon (at least by hipsters), hype. The vocals are more prevalent than on Broom, the Elliott Smith-esque piano less so (though it flourishes perfectly on the lovely closer "HEERS"), but it still feels comfortable, familiar, and reminiscent of why you fell in love with the band in the first place.

If you haven't fallen in love yet, there are plenty of incentives for that, too. The songs are perfectly poppy in a way that guarantees the album will stay in your car's CD player throughout the summer. Here in Los Angeles, where summer is a continuous state, it's already taken over mine.

Pershing is out April 8 on Polyvinyl. If you pre-order now, you get three bonus songs and some extra goodies to make it more than worth your while.

mp3: "Glue Girls" by SSLYBY
mp3: "Think I Wanna Die" by SSLYBY

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the mountain goats @ the troubadour

One can always tell that the evening is going to go well when, after watching a fantastic opening act of an anti-folk, twee-punk, Communist history teacher of a band rock the house, the Mountain Goats take the stage and a very dapperly dressed Peter Hughes nearly hits you in the head with his Fender1.

The Mountain Goats were much grander an act than I had been expecting – most acts are, really, and I think I should probably learn to raise my expectations. But never before have I seen strobe lights at the Troubadour, and you have not lived until you have seen John Darnielle, with his deceptively small frame, scholarly glasses, modest electric guitar, and larger-than-life voice, strobed and flailing and screaming about H.P. Lovecraft's xenophobia.

The set on Wednesday night, the second of a two-night stint at the Troub, relied heavily on the recently released Heretic Pride, with a smattering of older songs. Every Mountain Goats fan has their favorite song, and with a catalogue hundreds of songs deep and spanning well over fifteen years, no matter what that song is, it can probably be considered obscure. So when people called out songs and he rejected them ("Golden Boy!" "Not a chance."), one can only assume it's because he's not sure of the chords. As it was, he had to ask bassist Peter Hughes which fret to put the capo on for "No Children," and he had to start a couple of songs over after hitting a wrong chord, much to the rapt crowd's amusement. When someone requested "Love Cuts the String," he replied after the briefest pause with a cheery, "Why the hell not?" Probably because he thought he remembered the chords. It didn't matter, though because, ironically enough, he broke a string, and the second half of the song was done primarily a cappella. "I've been waiting for that to happen for years," he laughed afterwards, "because it's a song where you play the guitar really hard, and you expect the string to break, or cut, as it were."

The point of seeing the Mountain Goats live is not necessarily watching them perform. Don’t get me wrong, they're a very tight, very talented, awe-inspiring band live. Darnielle performs with a passion that cannot be matched, face beaming like a five-year-old boy who's just discovered how to finger chords, then twisted in that joyful pain that usually only old jazzmen can pull off. We were thrilled to absolute pieces with the 90 minute set with two encores and the epic singalongs. (Are there any other bands out there that can make the sold-out Troubadour scream as absurd a phrase as St. Joseph's baby aspirin / Bartles and Jaymes as if it were an anthem?) But as amazing as the musicality and the performance are, one goes to see the Mountain Goats to hear Mr. Darnielle's stories. His speech pattern is equal parts Sesame Street Muppet and tweed-clad English professor, only far more demented – but in a good way. I've never before heard anyone discuss make-believe taxidermy or the boiling point of water with such fervor before. I wanted to buy him a slice of pie and ask him to explain to me the major plot points of War and Peace just to listen to him talk2.

Oh, and by the way, openers Jeffery Lewis and the Jitters? Awesome in the way that only a band who in one breath does indie-folk covers of Crass songs, and in the next shows hand-illustrated slideshows about the murder of a bus full of nuns can be. It doesn't matter who you are, you like them.

1. Because it's true, I really am that mousy girl leaning against the bassist's monitor.
2. You can take that as an invitation, if you'd like, Mr. Darnielle.

mp3: "I've Got the Sex" by the Mountain Goats, live at Pitzer College
mp3: "Love Cuts the Strings" by the Mountain Goats, from Philyra
mp3: "Time Machine" by Jeffery Lewis, from City and Eastern Songs

Monday, March 10, 2008

so many dynamos @ the knitting factory

In every music fan's life, there are bands, and then there are bands who incite you against your better judgment to venture alone into the frightening depths of Hollywood on a Sunday night to see them open for two other bands that you have absolutely no interest in seeing. These are the bands you love.

Funnily enough, the only other time I went to a show fulfilling nearly all of these circumstances, it was to see Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, neighbors to Dynamos in at least two different senses: they're both from Missouri, and, um, alphabetically on my iPod. (Incidentally, SSLYBY have an excellent new album called Pershing coming out on Polyvinyl on April forthcoming.)

But I digress. Here is some information that might actually be useful to you: So Many Dynamos are a loud, dance-punk-ish, Dismemberment Plan / Les Savy Fav / Weezer-influenced, palindromic four-piece band from St. Louis who have released two full-length albums to date: When I Explode in 2004, and Flashlights in 2006. They began recording a third album in July 2007 and recently completed it, but the search for a label to release it remains ongoing. And so it is that the tour they're currently embarked upon could be classified as the worst kind of tease.

Half of their set at the Knitting Factory was comprised of new material: songs called "Glaciers" and "If You Didn't Want to Know," and another whose title I didn't catch. For lack of a more effective way of putting it, they sounded awesome. Everything else did, too, in a "Wow, how do they create that much noise and chaos and still manage to make it make sense?" kind of way. It probably has something to do with being really good musicians or something.

The only sadness in the evening resulted from a) the brevity of the set (self-righteous fist-shaking at the Knitting Factory for cutting it short), and b) the fact that next to no one was there to witness it1. Sometimes I get a little too absorbed in my own little musical universe and forget that not everyone sees things the way I do. So just to clarify: This band is important. Listen. Or you don't get any pie.

1. Note from m.a.b.: Dear Dynamos - I announced at the beginning of the year that if I don't see you this year, I will die. You then chose to come to Los Angeles while I was being dragged to Phoenix against my will. I wanted to be there, I really, really did. I still think that if I don't see you, I'll probably die. Please keep this in mind when planning future tours. I'd hate for you to feel responsible.

(photo So Many Dynamos: Leanna Kaiser and Adam Dupuis)

mp3: "Search Party" by So Many Dynamos

Friday, March 7, 2008

gea by mia doi todd

Occasionally, Los Angeles can surprise you.

Today on my jog, a bus pulled up beside me and opened its doors, the driver's eyes wide as if to say, "Oh you poor dear, get in and off the wicked LA streets." Being the car-shunning plebian of my neighborhood, this is not completely unexpected. This is not a surprise.

Mia Doi Todd's very presence in the city, however, continually surprises me - happily so, I might add. A throwback to the days of "true folk" somewhere before Dylan earned his "Judas" title; Mia's newest album Gea surely couldn't be crafted in the same smog-covered city sphere I call home. Right?

I'm still skeptical. For one: surely her nature references aren't that of an LA girl. Love metaphors should be...I don’t know, all-night pie places and dropping a coin in the hat of the homeless of Santa Monica, right? Instead we are treated to a marriage of love and nature: a thousand freshwater pearls, cliffs to walk on, and benevolent black widow spider. Love is lilac wine. By this standard the bottle of "Two-buck Chuck" collecting dust in my cupboard must be a dietary Dear John letter of some sort. Can I come live in your world for a while?

This isn't music for cynics, or commuters on the 405. (How I made the cut and became a fan I'll never know.) With song titles like "Night of a Thousand Kisses" and "Can I Borrow You" it would be easy to dismiss Gea as an overwrought Melanie rip-off, clearly not loud enough to drown out the gunshots of rush hour traffic. However, doing so would be to miss the point completely. Sung in the past tense, sweet memories are tinged with the pain of cracked rose-colored glasses - theatrics yes, but from a decidedly real place. On the stand-out, straight forward track "Kokoro," Mia unwittingly address this thematic dichotomy, singing (in regard to love of course), "Extreme happiness brings extraordinary pain."

Extraordinary pain? Maybe Mia has done the LA commute.

Honestly? If you don’t already like folk, then chances are this album isn’t for you. For the rest of us though, Gea is a love letter to the genre, a Vashti Bunyan-singing, Japanese-tinged Joni Mitchell for Gen X. Or, if you prefer, the love child of My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden and M. Ward. No matter what your point of reference, it's beautiful, strangely comforting experience...much like watching the smog-enhanced sunset from atop the Hollywood Archlight parking structure1.

For an intense dose of folk, be sure to check out Mia opening for perennial Would-Be Hipster favorite, Mr. José González.

1. LA girl poetics. Worth a try, right?

(photo Mia Doi Todd: Theo Jemison)

mp3: "Sleepless Nights" by Mia Doi Todd
mp3: "My Room Is White (Flying Lotus Remix)" by Mia Doi Todd (from the album La Ninja:Amor and Other Dreams of Manzanita)

Monday, March 3, 2008

the magnetic fields @ the henry fonda

Review by guest hipster: EMJ

After an agonizing three months of waiting between the frantic ticket-buying and the actual show, I was more than ready to take in The Magnetic Fields at the Henry Fonda. More than ready would be an understatement, actually- I'll admit having at least two pathetic wish-fulfillment dreams in which Stephin Merritt and I are BFFs, but unless I manage to open a rare ukulele shop next door to his house, as a friend suggested, it's not looking to be likely.

The astonishing and critically acclaimed musical force that is Stephin Merritt returned to Los Angeles on Monday night to support the band's latest release, the aptly named Distortion, alongside ridiculously cute pianist and singer Claudia Gonson, having-an-off-night guitarist John Woo and flawless cellist Sam Davol. Not a fan of traditional opening bands, Merritt and his bandmates opted to invite the Interstellar Radio company to warm the audience up. A self-described experiment in narrative sound, the three-piece Interstellar Radio Company used Foley art, piano and one dedicated narrator (producing an enthusiastic shower of spittle) to bring the sounds of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" to auditory life.

When the band walked on stage, Merritt looking as dour and unhappy as ever, the excitement in the room was palpable. Often described as "curmudgeonly," Merritt exemplifies the artist who has grown so unbelievably good at what he does that he makes no attempt to conceal disdain or displeasure, even when directed at fans who return again and again to worship his art. A shouted song request was answered with a simple "Shut up," a ringing cell phone halted a song entirely, and along with open bashings of Los Angeles and California, you'd think that listeners would be forever turned off. Right? No matter how much we may fear angering him somehow, fans of The Magnetic Fields share a love and devotion that reflects the fantastic quality of Merritt's work, even if it means that our idol might throw a water bottle at our heads.

The evening was a delightful mix of new and old material that spanned the band's extensive discography and included songs from movie soundtracks, The Gothic Archies, The 6ths, and the Future Bible Heroes, Merritt's other musical vehicles. Stephin set an unhurried pace for each song with a slow strum on his bouzouki, Claudia provided awkward but endearing between-song commentary, and sometimes-singer Shirley Simms supplied her strange and charming vocals. Always wonderful A Series of Unfortunate Events author Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, added both an accordion and hilarity into the mix. Fan favorites such as "Take Ecstasy with Me" and "Epigraph for My Heart" hypnotized the crowd into a reverent silence, but no one could help laughing at every witty turn of phrase that peppered songs like "The Nun's Litany" and "Too Drunk to Dream."

In the end, it was a surreal night that can only described, unfortunately for cliché-haters, as magical. Despite every bungled guitar chord, every awkward unfinished sentence, and Stephin’s obvious desire to be elsewhere, there is no denying that the band's every take on classic songwriting is just darn special.

Friends: expect my happy stupor to last for weeks. Now is probably a good time to borrow money from me.

mp3: "Yeah! Oh, Yeah! (Magnetic Fields Cover)" by St. Vincent and John Vanderslice

vs. the snow by the lk

The LK (or, if you’re not one for informal introductions: The Love of Kevin, Colour, Chaos and the Sound of K) comes "from the more violent parts of Scandinavia." One member has Synesthesia, the other likes dogs...or maybe not. Formed when "two lanky swedes stopped caring about keeping a band and took on doing what each of them love," the LK isn’t a band willing to spoil the mystery.

Their newest album Vs. the Snow (reissue out 3/4/2008) reflects this playful spirit, coming across as equal parts serious synth pop preformed with a wink, and controlled absurd chaos carried off with the highest level of artistry. Either way you slice it, it’s a whole lotta fun.

Relying on equal parts bloops and bleeps and organic sampling, a technique their myspace refers to as musique concrète, Vs. the Snow is the musical personification of an icy morning, mingled with the rush of adrenaline one gets from rushing to avoid prolonged exposure to said icy morning. True fact: California girls freeze under 15 degrees C. The more you know.

While the musical bed is pleasant enough, it's the lyrics that pull the project together, elevating it from a simple piece of sweet musical experimentation to full-fledged pop. Songs skate across the broad topic of love, verging into the absurd as so many relationships are bound to do. An ex-girlfriend's things are sold (although when sung by singularly named Fredrik, it's hard to picture the Lothario's malice). A lover will hide in the snow if I need you... just like a cat. In "Anorak and other complicated Words Beginning With An A", another sad Scandinavian reflects on the trivialities of ending a relationship, and naturally his remembrances all take the form of the first letter of the alphabet. These are just the themes that make a small measure of sense. In the great tradition of European kitsch, thus making it an instant stand-out favorite, one track is inexplicably named "Eurovision". While this title makes about as much sense as the competition itself - a four hour long moment-of-zen that would make John Steward weep with joy - I love it.

LK will soon be taking their snow-dusted electro-indie-pop stateside. Check out their tour dates here.

mp3: "Down By Law" by The LK