Wednesday, April 30, 2008

siberian @ silverlake lounge

I’m still trying to work out the exact nature of Siberian’s demographic appeal. It’s strange, our photographer, who is well known to hate everything in life that’s beautiful, loves them. Me, self-proclaimed queen of the twee, well, I love them too. You’d think this wide range of appeal - that is, if you’re willing to take the Would-Be Hipsters as a cross section of society - would equal an aural train wreck. Not so. The everyman appeal is evident1 and in a shocking economy of descriptors, it’s easy to classify Siberian: rock.

Seeing music at the Silverlake lounge is great. With its idolatry-eliminating demi-stage and cloistered environment, it’s more like the flannel-clad boys next door came over to play a set in your living room than it is a formal concert – that is, if your neighborhood is made of more awesome than mine. At times Siberian’s self-described "epically decent2" sound was almost too much for the tiny venue. They were not born to be a bar band. Judging by the turnout, a decent increase from January’s rain-drenched show, this shouldn’t be a problem they'll be dealing with for much longer.

It’s refreshing really, to see five guys crash though some truly great, angst-tinged rock with little regard for flowery "extras." Has anyone else noticed this trend to dress up what should be a straightforward chance to rock out? Recently I saw a bone necklace on an opener's bass player. Costumes rarely bode well. Start-ups take note: you are not the Flaming Lips. Take a page out of Siberian’s book and let the rock speak for itself. Please.

As for Siberian, I'll take a cue from their back-to-basics approach to music and avoid the self-aware closer we're so fond of around these parts. Bottom line: if you like rock, you'll like them. Buy their CD. See them live. You won't be sorry.

1.Watch out, Death Cab.
2. Best line ever! Never change.

(photo Siberian: David Studarus)

mp3: "Islands Forever" by Siberian

Sunday, April 27, 2008

from the valley to the stars by el perro del mar

Around CWBH Headquarters, I'm known as the would-be hipster without a soul. I like my music loud and angry and fueled by a rhythm section that wants very badly to play lead. As a general rule, I don't do poetry, I don't do girly singers, and I don't do church organs. Which is why I'm not entirely sure how the new El Perro del Mar album made it to my desk to be reviewed1.

From the Valley to the Stars was written in the wake of the loss of a loved one, and its tone varies from the very deeply melancholy to the occasionally joyful, with plenty of vague religious imagery sprinkled throughout, mirrored in the angelic album art. Like El Perro del Mar's self-titled debut, it's full minor chords and girl-group horn arrangements. All of which is generally quite pleasant.

However. From the Valley is one of the most lyrically repetitive albums I've heard in quite some time. It's not that it's thematic and an idea is revisited throughout the album, but lines are repeated throughout a song. The lyrics to "You Can't Steal a Gift"2 for example, consist of the song title itself and the phrase you, you, you just can't hide away repeated for two and a half minutes. That wouldn't be so bad, as occasionally you need songs like that (although usually these songs are anthemic and good to scream along in your car). But the track that follows, "How Did We Forget" starts with two minutes of it's easy babe delivered in the same pouting, depressed voice. There's a lovely instrumental track to break things up ("Inside the Golden Egg"), then a couple minutes of there's still time to start off the next track. And so on and so on and so on....

I am, however, a big fan of Sarah Assbring's tendency to sing the most chipper lyrics in her downtrodden, on-my-way-to-throw-myself-in-front-of-a-train voice. ("Happiness Won Me Over" sounds like a funeral dirge.) The music itself is pleasantly produced with subtle instrumentation and interesting melodies. It just happens to be bogged down a bit by somewhat lackluster lyrics. We'll chalk it up to a sophomore slump and emotional strain, and hope for better next time.

1. Especially as she's Swedish, and our Swedish correspondent LMS usually leaps upon Scandinavian releases. Note from LMS: I Fail.
2. Actually, I'm pretty sure you can. Just sayin'.

mp3: "Glory to the World" by El Perro Del Mar
mp3: "Dog (live)" by El Perro Del Mar

Saturday, April 26, 2008

sometimes they collide by the hectors

Like all good Would-Be Hipsters, we came to the party a little too late to be truly fashionable. The dog ate my review...I swear.

The review might be late, but the love is sincere. The Hector's newish EP Sometimes They Collide is the soundtrack to the Los Angeles I dreamt of before actually moving to to Los Angeles. Finding yourself on the side of the road at midnight with an overheating engine is enough to take the mystique out of any city, I guess. When my car actually runs, Sometimes They Collide is the perfect listening music for those late night, post-pie jaunts though Hollywood, provided you keep said jaunts EP length. Equal parts Karen O and Autolux, The Hectors bring Southern Californian sun-baked glitter glamour to traditional pop melodies. Light enough to be carried away on an unseasonably warm spring breeze and interesting enough for repeat listens, Sometimes They Might Collide serves as a solid reminder that that good music might be as close as your own backyard

(photo The Hectors: Geoff Kowalchuk)

mp3: "A Million Fingers" by The Hectors

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

danger! by the sound of arrows

I’ll have to quote ako on this one. “A review, or just another exercise in fangirling -- it's hard to say. I refuse to believe that one is more legitimate than the other1.” Of course around here we tend to lean toward the’s true. So I’ll go ahead, state the obvious for anyone who's peeked at my profile, and wear my heart on my sleeve – I love Labrador Records! At this point they’re scoring most of my fantasies, which might give you a clue as to the sort of softly lit, pastel, twee wonderlands I drift off to when I get that far away look in my eyes.

The newest addition to Labrador’s roster, The Sound of Arrows, fulfills the label’s unwritten mandate of chipper pop; think Sufjan Stevens in congress with Suburban Kids With Biblical names. Somewhere Jens Lekman nods his head in approval. The Sound of Arrows' debut EP Danger!, out May 7th, sparkles with every delicious hallmark of Swedish indie pop: playful, lush instrumentation, ethereal digital sampling2, slightly off-kilter voices...all this from a pair of twenty-year-olds who got their start attempting to sample a YouTube video. I may be youngish, but one of my biggest regrets is that I'm too old to earn the title "child prodigy." Gee guys, thanks for reminding me.

The album's clear highlight is the titular track "Danger!", the chorus repeating over and over, The night is danger baby / I feel so dangerous. So successful is this song, we're provided with four remixes. After my mini-rant about excessive indie-pop remixing, I tried to work up a bit or righteous indignation over this fact...and failed miserably. Another conviction melted by a sunny melody. A testament to the flexibility of the material, I guess3. "Danger!" is taken from a 1960s girl-boy melody (Ice Cream Shout Version), all the way a euro-disco version (Panache Remix), identity intact. No small feat.

In all, it’s a great album...wait...EP?! Five new songs and four remixes. Oh Sound of Arrows, how you tease. I bet you don’t kiss on the first date either. Lucky for us, Danger!'s booklet includes a little note from the band with the promising line, "This is only the beginning...." Their blog goes on to hint at another release in fall 2008. Until then, don't mind me, I'll be in the corner, just dreamin'.

1. You know your blog has fallen into a state of narcissistic disarray when you quote yourself as an authority.
2. Note from the CD booklet: "Some elements were borrowed. Please forgive us for that, or we'll see you in court."
3. Or the flexibility of my convictions...history will be my judge.

mp3: "Danger!" by The Sound of Arrows

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

covers: part one

I love covers. In a way that is not healthy. My iTunes "covers" playlist? It's well over three gigs. I know people who don't own three gigs of music, let alone covers. I once downloaded Hanson covering Christina Aguleira's "Dirrty". I don't like Hanson, and I don't like "Dirrty", but my love of the absurd meant it must be mine. And there it is, between Eddie Vedder doing Pete Townsend's "Let My Love Open the Door" and Hugh Laurie doing Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." If there's a 12-step program someone can direct me to, I'd appreciate it.

With that being said, here is part one in a (potentially endless) series of covers posts. We start out with the fairly straightforward covers, to ease you in. These are amazing artists putting their own spin on songs that we all know and love. Some of them, like Beck's cover of Nick Drake's "Parasite", are wonderful interpretations of amazing songs. Some of them, like Matt Pryor of the New Ams covering Outkast's "Hey Ya", are a bit more surprising and vaguely silly, and thus utterly brilliant. And am I the only one who thinks of Sesame Street whenever I hear "You Really Got a Hold on Me"?

mp3: "All Apologies" – originally by Nirvana, covered by Ben Gibbard
mp3: "Parasite" – originally by Nick Drake, covered by Beck
mp3: "Feel Good Inc." – originally by the Gorillaz, covered by the Editors
mp3: "Never Tear Us Apart" – originally by INXS, covered by the Get Up Kids
mp3: "Such Great Heights" – originally by the Postal Service, covered by Ben Folds
mp3: "You Really Got a Hold on Me" – originally by Smokey Robinson, covered by She and Him
mp3: "Hey Ya" – originally by Outkast, covered by the New Amsterdams

Monday, April 14, 2008

saturdays=youth by m83

Gorgeous neon angst for teenage stargazers circa 1988.

Review by guest hipster: PWC

M83’s newest album of all-original material, Saturdays = Youth, features over an hour of 80s synthesizers, trademark vocals comprised of cryptic whispers, thundering epic drums and fantastically woozy guitars layered in high Kevin Shields style. Painting in neon colors a portrait of being a teenager in the late 80s, the album feels like the forgotten soundtrack to a long lost John Hughes film filled with high school angst, dizzying late night parties, secret crushes on the goth girl, and possibly an alien visitation.

M83’s previous effort, Before the Dawn Heals Us, holds a special spot in my heart, evoking as it does a kind of teenage apocalyptic romanticism – the sense that high school will never end, that the angst and ennui of the high school hipster is the fundamental state of man (and, indeed, for many it is), that no one will ever understand, and that I will probably die in a midnight car crash in a neon metropolis, and possibly find out that I am a robot as well. Saturdays = Youth comprises a suitable sequel, aiming at a more traditional “pop song” based approach to the majority of the songs here, most of which feature vocals and overt choruses (in contrast to the giddy, crushing shoegaze of tracks like “*” from Before the Dawn Heals Us).

The opening track is a suitably lush, widescreen ambient piece, dreamy and luscious. ”Kim & Jessie” is sweet and lush perfect pop, with suitably huge drums and a classic M83 catchy-yet-ominous chorus, “Somebody lurks in the shadows, yeah, yeah, yeah”. “Couleurs”, the first single released from the album, is a lush, swirling, driving electro workout in hot pink leg warmers. “Graveyard Girl” features sweet vocals, 1987 drums, and some pretty over-the-top lyrics. The album is less poppy towards the latter half, and comprises trademark M83 towers of sound, breathy vocals, giddy synths and mighty drums, all swirling and swimming in a sea of reverb and undulating walls of sound. Wait a second - “undulating walls of sound”? Who writes stuff like that?

It’s a good record to put a sleeveless hoodie on to and bike around a starry night to, celebrating the fading grandeur of God-given youth and vitality, eyes sparkling beneath a mid-summer moon. And that is my kind of record.

(illustration M83: Pip Craighead)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

remix romance vol 1 & 2 by sally shapiro

I have a strained relationship with remixes. Blame it on being an electronica newbie. It just seems…overly gratuitous at times. Can’t the producer just decide on a mix and hand it over? Life is about decisions. Then again, I am currently in possession of seven different colors of Converse, proof positive my arguments in logic rarely hold up. Like my choice in footwear, there are times and places for excess, logical or otherwise. While I'll remain resolved that every indie pop band come lately doesn’t need to milk the remix cash cow, arguments for musical amnesty do exist. Case in point? My new found love and leniency towards Swedish Italo disco queen Sally Shapiro.

Yes, it's true. Somehow "her" new Remix Romance projects are exempt from my generally blanketed, thoroughly uneducated remix scorn. Blame it on being an ethereal and altogether non-existent musical presence. But if producer Johan Agebjorn and his nameless disco princess, the two driving forces behind the revival ofitalo disco, are willing to play nice with other djs and producers…then who am I really to complain?

As one might guess, Remix Romance Vol. 1 and 2 aren’t earth shattering -- you won’t find the musical reinvention of the wheel when remixing a genre that's already based in artifice. Instead what we get are different versions of the same utterly sweet songs found in 2007's Disco Romance. This isn't to say that listening isn't a rewarding venture, just one that should be undertaken with an ear for detail in drum machines and a sensitivity for Moogs. What survives, and is often improved in translation, is of course Sally’s thin and altogether pleasing voice, an instrument the most sucessful reimaginings were careful to keep near the top of the mix. In addition to it being the auditory equivalent of endorphins, her presence is an element essentially as anonymous as the intensely shy singer herself. Any meaning is derived almost exclusively by context, making Sally's disco-lite croon the perfect remix tool. Each producer draws out shades of meaning so diverse, if a listener were to take the three or more versions of each track offered and line them up, it would be easy to create a narrative arch between them. Electro-pop fanfic writers, start your engines.

Case in point is a standout in every form, the bitter-sweet holiday love story, "Anorak Christmas." The original offers the listener a cinematic, soft, snow-dusted love story. Meanwhile, Woodhand's remix on Volume 1 takes that same narrative and increases the percussion, cranking up the original melodic desire to a fevered pitch, beats never allowing listener or narrator rest long enough to see her dreams come to fruition. Some of the light-hearted longing returns in the Alexander Robotnick remix on Volume 2. It's still a tragic tale of desire for a kiss that will never come…but now you can dance to it!

The most dramatic re-interpretations are found within the variations of the song "Find My Soul," a quartet of remixes which, merit aside, I'm obliged to mention due to Jimmy Tamborello's involvement. The orginal contains stark driving beats, making its premise of soul-searching one of utmost urgency. Also on Disco Romance (and revisited again in Volume 2) is Johan Agebjörn's Norwegian Electrojazz Mix, notable not only for increasingly danceable beats, but also for the fact that Sally's quest is given an extra sense of urgency, thus fitting neatly into our narrative thesis. In Volume 1, Sally's voice is given added sensuality by Holy F-K's slow, sensual, echo-filled remix. She's getting closer.... In Volume 2, Sally's long-suffering quest is given a ghostly quality (and the song is given a change in name to "Find My Ghost") with Dntel's trademark missing synapse firing beat, and Postal Service-like mixing of vocals, putting Sally higher in the mix than any other producer. It's a winner out of two disks of altogether solid, occasionally mornful, late night electronica listening.

(photos Sally Shapiro: Frida Klingberg )

mp3: "He Keeps Me Alive" by Sally Shapiro
mp3: "Anorak Christmas (Piano mix)" by Sally Shapiro

Sunday, April 6, 2008

colin meloy sings live!

When the announcement was made that Kill Rock Stars would be releasing an album of live recordings from Colin Meloy's 2006 solo tour, mine was not a reaction of great enthusiasm. None of the usual undignified giddiness that usually accompanies the anticipation of an album by one of my favorite artists was immediately tangible. The thing was, recordings from that tour had already been proliferated throughout the internet on a fairly wide scale, and one couldn't help but feel that somewhere, someone was just trying to capitalize on the imminence of the new tour to make a few extra dollars.

But then I heard it. And, what can I say, it's just really well done. Though the seventeen tracks are collected from various stops on the tour, they're assembled to create the feeling of a continuous performance, including some between-song banter. I admit, I have a weakness for the banter. One of the reasons why the Decemberists work so well is their ability to balance the at-times over-the-top darkness in their songs with a sense of humor, and Colin gives himself even more reign to do this when he plays by himself. The best example is the previously-unreleased "Dracula's Daughter," which Colin disclaims to the audience is the worst song he's ever written. With lines like think you've got it bad? / try having Dracula for a dad, it's hard to argue with him. But, of course, that makes it hilarious.

Mr. Meloy turns on a dime, also delivering breathtaking stripped-down versions of an assortment of songs from the first three Decemberists records. Not just anyone could carry such grand compositions with just voice and an acoustic guitar, but not just anyone has Colin's voice. Love it or hate it, you can't deny its presence. "The Gymnast, High Above the Ground" is a particular highlight in this respect. It is magical1.

In the end, I only have two complaints. One is the inclusion of another previously-unreleased song, "Wonder," immediately following "Dracula's Daughter" -- forcing the listener to contemplate whether the juxtaposition of another questionable piece of songwriting (this one contains the line a-tumblin' in Dublin, at which I can't decide at which to laugh or to cringe) was an intentional bit of irony (I hope so...), or just embarrassing. In either case, it kills the energy a little bit. The other is that the packaging contains no warning label. I got caught up in some of the magic in the car yesterday and forgot that I was actually in traffic on the 405. Which could have meant death. Much as I adore Colin, that's not really the way I want to go.

1Yeah, I said it. And I'm not ashamed.

mp3: "We Both Go Down Together" by Colin Meloy

Thursday, April 3, 2008

the last tycoon by peter morén

It’s hard to avoid blushing while listening to Peter Morén's debut solo album the Last Tycoon (out April 8th). While musically dissimilar, it can be easily grouped with Jens Lekman – the sort of music that begs you to fall madly in love with its creator, or failing that, to experience some intense puppy love for a while (in the case of The Last Tycoon, 40 minutes 57 seconds to be exact.)

Before we go any further into discussing the specifics of why Mr. Morén makes me blush,1 let’s address the lead-man-solo-outing-elephant in the room– yes it does sound a bit like a Peter, Bjorn and John. With his name taking up 1/3 of the band name, this is to be expected. However, unlike other lead man forays into the solo world – Darkel comes immediately to mind – the Last Tycoon avoids the trap of sounding like it's missing half of said lead man’s "day job" band.

If anything, instrumentation is more varied here than a traditional PB&J outing. The Last Tycoon is a place where harmonicas, acoustic guitars, pianos, string quartets, and hand claps all get their day in the sun...and oh that a vibraphone on "Missing Link"? Remember what I said about puppy love? In all, the whole album's instrumentation, from the tin can acoustics on the opening of "Old Love" to the delicate finger picking and plunking piano on "Tell Me In Time" could easily be the result of an imaginary meeting between Peter and Jon Brion where suddenly, over a well-aged Merlot and amidst conversations about scoring I Heart Huckabees, Peter realizes the whistled sampling on "Young Folks" just wasn't taking things far enough...

Then there's the lyrical side to the equation. Don't worry, my therapist and I are working though why at the first sign of musical self-depreciation I'm willing to offer undying love and/or pie. In the meantime though, it appears Peter is trying for a top spot in my geek army (as opposed to the Swedish armed services - a struggle to avoid as documented in "Reel to Real") on one of the album's many centerpieces2, "Twisted" when he sings, in a tone which suggests a note to self, Don’t over rate yourself / You could have been someone else / That you got such a large part in / This is pure coincidence. Then of course there's the current single "Social Competence," a song that - back in January - I declared was the new WBH theme song. After spending some time with the lyrics, I'll have to upgrade that from "theme song" to anthem. A whole song devoted to an inability to deal with small talk including the utterly appropriate line, There’s not enough air in here / to conceal / that you just want to hear your voice / make that noise. Well, to anyone who's managed to get though a Would-Be Hipster review, we thank you. Here, have an ear-worm mp3 to celebrate.

1. Once again
revealing more about me than him...
2. One could argue about the stupidity of using the word "centerpieces" in an album this consistantly good.

mp3: "Social Competence" by Peter Morén