Friday, May 30, 2008

to survive by joan as police woman

Every time I listen to Joan as Police Woman (née Joan Wasser), I feel like I owe her a personal apology for not falling in love with her sultry piano driven music at first introduction. There's a laundry list of excuses: she was an opener standing between me and Rufus Wainwright (a poor decision by any standard), I was tired, the room was too crowded, her attempts at introducing herself in French seemed more like a calculated attempt at cuteness than sincerity...say what you want, but the truth? It wasn't you Joan, it was me. And I just wasn't impressed. What makes this all the more painful is that said dubious first introduction took place in Paris, the city of sultry, emotional music and, ya know, love. So much for embracing the spirit of my environment. Fail. Or rather, échoue. That all changed last year of course, with a well-placed track on KCRW and a dark, partially empty small club show, thus proving that sometimes all it takes is a second listen. Or proving I'm a hipster-snob in geek's clothing. Really, take your pick.

Joan as Police Woman is back with her second act, To Survive (out June 10th). Beauty is the new punk rock...or at least according to her myspace. This time around, there isn't quite such a dramatic separation between the two. We've yet to be treated to a Dambuilders redux, but this time Joan's punk roots do stick out a hair more than the smoking lounge-ready Real Life. The electric guitar riffs and vocal tics have been left unsanded over her now trademark jazz-piano and all consuming voice - an instrument that could stand out above pretty much anything. Amidst the still beautiful instrumentation (albeit a hair over-produced in places), there's a touch of calculated hardness, rising to the surface on the dissent-charged track "Furious." Overall, the contrast makes for a bit of a disconcerting listen, but given the thematic topics - the death of her mother and memories of her cult-hero boyfriend Jeff Buckley - it's a dichotomy that, like Joan herself, deserves a second and third listen.

Sadness isn't the only emotion up for exploration. Joan's mission statement for this album being "I want to be courageous enough to feel and express as much as possible and that means all the emotions," she takes what what might be her first stab at a happy song - the optimistic, after the storm, horn-driven "Magpies." Yes, she references the brief life of her namesake St. Joan, but it's all about heading to the voice in this life. Okay maybe not a tribute to outright optimism, but JAPW is nothing if not a study in contrasts.

And though our first meeting was somewhat fortuitous (although one imagines it was the tour rather than my presence that brought this around...back narcissism, back!), Rufus Wainwright is back dueting with Joan in the decidedly non-punk album closer "To America." Starting with instrumentation stripped down to a single piano and horn somewhere in the distance, their falsettos morn a nation of lost promises and a distant love affair, raising to a painful battle cry, complete with, once again, a rough guitar line. The mournful duet climaxes with a full band and the sound of distant fireworks. Oh my...does that sound like the description of a fangirl? I guess first impressions can be deceiving.

(photo Joan As Police Woman: Shane Van Lunteren)

mp3: "To Be Loved" by Joan As Police Woman
mp3: "The Ride (live)" by Joan As Police Woman, originally from the the album Real Life

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

little bit (ep) by lykke li

A good - what three years now? - into the Swedish invasion, the average indie music fan knows more about Sweden than its pervasive blondness and abundance of Ikeas1. Having said that, I've been personally charged by a friend with attempting to continue (or start) the myth that ABBA is played in all public areas of Stockholm. Fellow countrymen, make that as you will.

I digress.

So...chances are you've heard of Lykee Li2. After her hype-building SXSW performances and co-headlining tour with El Perro Del Mar, she's already got stateside indie fans itching to get their hands on her debut album, Youth Novels, now available just a tantalizing plane ride away in her native Sweden (or from your closest bootlegger...but seriously, don't be lame, even melancholy dance divas need to eat). In the meantime, we have Little Bit (available now) to tide us over. At four tracks, the EP is a bit of a tease, but a tease that's keeping me from writing disjointed, ill-informed rants about international release dates, for which I'm sure all four of our readers are forever grateful.

It's hard not to instantly take a liking to the deceptively sparse Little Bit. Despite the seemingly dancey intentions of the title track, it's mainly an intensely confessional stripped-down affair. On the stand out, "Dance. Dance. Dance.", the seemingly club-ready backing track is made up of little more than a single bass, drum rim and saxophone. This is minimalist club music for those of us who, well, hate clubs but like our angst with a bit of a beat.

Ideology-wise, Lykke's music is the love child of "square peg" rockers Elias & The Wizzkids and her childhood hero, Madonna. Sure, life is one big dance floor, but Lykke is in the corner, staring at her feet, praying for the night to be over and longing for the boy who has already exited the building. I can relate...and when it comes down to it, isn't that the most important element of all?

Youth Novels will see the light of day in the USA later this year.

1. Having said that, I just got a new couch this weekend. Thanks guys!
2. 'Cause we're good at coming unfashionably late to the party.

mp3: "Dance. Dance. Dance." by Lykke Li

Sunday, May 25, 2008

narrow stairs by death cab for cutie

Long before I’d heard this album (or even "I Will Possess Your Heart," the eight-and-a-half-minute single), one thing was apparent: it wasn’t going to be like 2005's major label debut, Plans. This prospect would have thrilled me two years ago, when I was crying for a return to their earlier, less refined, more guitar-driven sound. But then I went through extensive therapy, and I developed an ever-increasing appreciation for Plans' dense, unified landscapes, enough to feel a little nostalgic for it now. If Plans was a desolate prairie, then Narrow Stairs is a jagged, rocky beach front.

For a band like Death Cab for Cutie, who now have six full-length albums to their credit (seven, if you include You Can Play These Songs With Chords), and who have achieved a level of success either remarkable or depressing, depending on your perspective and/or level of possessiveness, it would be easy to fall into a comfortable rut. They refuse to do this. As a direct reaction to the "surgical" process of recording Plans, Narrow Stairs was recorded to tape, largely live, with few overdubs. Imperfections were left to be absorbed as part of the songs' character and texture. And because this review is a solid two weeks late, you've heard all of this before.

I've been waiting, listen after listen, for some great epiphany regarding this record: that moment when all the songs settle into my brain a cohesive unit and it all makes sense to me. That's not happening. Instead, my initial impressions persist of a collection of songs united only in their lack of unison. Rather than seeking to disguise this fact, however, the decision seems to have been made to embrace it, as evidenced by the seamless and occasionally abrupt transitions between the songs, which enhance a vague roller coaster feeling. Somehow, it works.

Lyrically Ben Gibbard continues to move away from the abstract and towards linear and more literal storylines. Songs like "Bixby Canyon Bridge," "Cath...," and "Grapevine Fires" offer sharp, clear narratives, and "Long Division" bounces along with a typically clever metaphor for being a "remainder". It's on "Talking Bird," "Your New Twin Sized Bed," and "The Ice Is Getting Thinner," where Gibbard gets himself into trouble, opting for the slightly-too-obvious, and with a backdrop that fails to be quite engaging enough to make up for it. To be fair, I am decidedly not a lyrics person, but even after extensive soul searching, I just can't find it in me to swallow lines like you look so defeated lying there in your new twin sized bed / with a single pillow for your single head. Call me a cynic if you must.

In the end, Narrow Stairs is neither a masterpiece nor a failure. It has its highs and lows just like any other Death Cab record. I don't know about you, but I find this perversely encouraging, because it means that their best work might still be ahead of them. At their decade mark as a band, that's something to be excited about.

(photo Death Cab for Cutie: Ryan Russell)

mp3: "No Sunlight" by Death Cab for Cutie

Friday, May 23, 2008

the dresden dolls @ the wiltern

..or how i learned to stop worrying and love the punk cabaret.

The Dresden Dolls and I have a strange relationship. The last time we "met" was at Newbury Comics in Boston...although I wasn't quite willing to brave the throng of well wishes for an awkward ten second conversation (" where can I get a good vegan flan in these parts? Okay I love you...bye!) The time before that was a fateful 5 a.m. shoot where, despite my being covered in coffee grounds and having a near panic1 attack over said coffee explosion, Amanda offered up a big thank you hug. Up until now now I've never seen the Dolls live. Needless to say it was a big night2.

A night that, like all things Dresden Dolls, was larger than life. Maybe their caffeine-fueled punk by way of Post-War Germany should have been some sort of indication of the sort of events to come. But my delight to find a living statue, punk stilt walker, and the ubiquitous Coin Operated Boy in the lobby of the Wiltern was palpable - think over-sugared kid on Christmas day levels. Er...make that a punk rock over-sugared kid on Christmas day. Heheh...pretty people! Look at the Pretty People!

The show itself, from start to finish, had the most theatrics you can find outside of a Flaming Lips convention. Earlier we had been taking bets as to just how long each act would last before being forcibly thrown off the stage by over-zealous punk fans. Even in an age where the Internet acts as the great common denominator, it just seems weird to have a band of children open up for a band of face-paint wearing piano-pounding, mother-scaring punks3. Actually, it kinda seems weird for them to be opening for, well, anyone. That is, until you meet Smoosh and quickly realize these girls are highly capable musicans. Nothing stirs up self-loathing quite like a trio of nine-year-olds crashing though sophisticated pop-punk (an quick Internet search actually shows the family-formed band to be 11, 13, and 15 respectively.) Man, what was I doing when I was eleven? Reading, and hatching schemes to get out of gym class. Actually, that's not too far off from what I spend my days doing now.

Next up was Lavender Diamond, which, even after their breathtakingly cute preformance supporting She & Him I have to admit having certain reservations about. As one of my friends put it, "they're a band you have to be prepped on to get in on the joke." What a sad commentary to lob at a band fronted with by a mirror-wearing pixie who opens every show with "let's give a hand for world peace!" Songstress Becky Stark's opera-sized voice sounded amazing bouncing off the walls of the Wiltern, even if it was somewhat tempered by the shifting, confused and restless crowd around us. She did get a big laugh from the darkness loving crowd, when, apprapo of nothing announced "I think I'm a vampire. I don't drink blood, but I do stay up all night!"

Of course, the surprisingly rousing openers were only a taste of the drama geekery to come. Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione tromped on stage and immediately pounded out the closing number to Pink Floyd's The Wall. This only marked the beginning of their covers; later in the set they'd trot out punked-up versions of Neutral Milk Hotel's "Two Headed Boy" and (quite possibly most specular) The Beastie Boys' "You've Got To Fight For your Right (to Party)" featuring an over-zealous Amanda on drums, and complete with their own dancing entourage.

Like everything about the Dresden Dolls, their music and personae is turned up to eleven. Their already punk numbers, like the anthemic "Girl Anachronism" (of which I truly believe Amanda Palmer should be given some sort of grammar Nazi award) and the deliciously creepy "Lonesome Organist Rapes the Page Turner" take on a new frenetic quality. Their slower moments, which I'll admit I usually find myself skipping over, take on an amazing quiet intensity. During the "The Gardner," Amanda took what appeared, at least from my vantage point, to be one of the most menacing strolls through the crowd in rock history. Meanwhile, Brian balanced both guitar and drum duties. I find myself equally impressed on both accounts.

Of course, they couldn't do it without a little help from their friends, as proven with the addition of rock cellist Zoe Keating to the amazing, free form set closer "Half Jack" Normally a six-minute ode to daddy issues, it was stretched to twice its original length, punctuated by increasingly rapid strobe lights and crowd cheers. I leaned back, smiled and cheered along with the adoring crowd. Tomorrow, with its pack of worries, would come soon enough. By my watch, it was already here. But tonight? This night, life really was one big cabaret.

1. To my credit the panic attack was fulled by a similar experience on the set of my thesis film, nearly resulting in my death at the hands of several under-caffeinated would-be Spielbergs. To my detriment, I used to work as a barista.
2. Funded by my latest KCRW win.
3. I judge this solely on my mother's reaction to Robert Smith.

(photo the dresden dolls: Kyle Cassidy)
(photo lavender diamond: Autumn de Wilde)
(photo smoosh: Michelle Moore)

mp3: "My Doorbell (White Stripes cover)" by the Dresden dolls
mp3: "Rainbow Connection (Kermit The Frog cover)" by The Dresden Dolls
mp3: "Free To Stay" by Smoosh
mp3: "You Broke My Heart" by Lavender Diamond

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

svenska indie pop rockar fett...just not for us.

Due to a ticketing snafu, we were left out in the cold, unable to see El Perro Del Mar and Lykee Li at the El Ray. Tough break. And while many adventures were had this evening, none were musical in nature. Although for what it's worth, I did learn the fine art of gangster rap Mario Brothers.

So, in lieu of ACTUAL content -- like you come here for that anyway -- here's a playlist of Swedish chicks we think rock...even if they are prettier than we are.

Tip: ABBA's Greatest Hits and a lingonberry beverage of your choosing...cheaper and more fun than Mama Mia.

mp3: "Inner Island (The Hood Internet Remix)" by El Perro Del Mar
mp3: "I'm Good I'm Gone (CB Remix)" by Lykee Li
mp3: "Hours Pass Like Centuries (demo)" by Taken By Trees
mp3: "Highschool Stalker" by Hello Saferide
mp3: "He Keeps Me Alive" by Sally Shapiro
mp3: "Nothing Burns Like Bridges" by Penny Century

Monday, May 19, 2008

someone still loves you boris yeltsin @ the echo

Of all the bands that I consistently try to get other people to listen to, there are few that I have evangelized more persistently over the last two years than Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin1. Last Tuesday night, they were kind enough to come to Los Angeles and validate most of the reasons for that evangelism. I would like to begin by formally extending my thanks.

In defining the set list, it might be easier to list what they didn't play. Most of Broom and Pershing (both of which, it goes without saying, you should own) were represented, along with an unidentified new song and "Half-Awake (Deb)" from last year's Not Worth Fighting single.

The thing that struck me most about this show was, for such a young band, what a solid grasp SSLYBY already have on what makes a good live performance. Songs that lilt along in their recorded form were sharpened in all the right places,2 and generally delivered with an enthusiasm that oozed into the audience.

The thing that stuck me second most about this show is that opener Port O'Brien were foolish enough to arm the crowd with pots and pans, but miraculously, no one was injured. At least seriously. That I'm aware of.

All in all, the night would have approached perfection if only House of Pies hadn't been closed. But don't worry about us. There's still post-Beirut pie next Friday to look forward to...

1Except maybe So Many Dynamos, who posted a new song called "New Bones" on their MySpace page today. You should care.
2Or else augmented by some really rockin' cowbell.

(photo SSLYBY: Aaron Scott)

mp3: "Accident (Live)" by SSLYBY
mp3: "What'll We Do (Live)" by SSLYBY

Thursday, May 15, 2008

no virginia by the dresden dolls

A year and a half after their sophomore album Yes Virginia, The Dresden Dolls return with an album of outtakes: the cleverly titled No Virginia (out May 20th). Really guys? Three studio albums into your career and you’re already sending me mixed messages? I don’t know what to believe anymore. My existential angst is somewhat quenched by the fact No Virginia doesn’t sound anything like a disk of extras thrown out to capture fan paychecks not already consumed by rising gas prices. Instead we’re given a disk of top shelf songs, the loud, brash and clever follow up I only wish Yes Virginia could have been (even if it did spawn the world’s funniest music video). Either the Dresden Dolls refuse to own up to recording duds, or else they should offer Ryan Adams their editing assistance.

No Virginia abandons its precursor's singular obsession with the failure of modern day relationships, instead hovering in a world of Grimm's Fairly Tales - the twisted, uncut versions your parents never read you, tales where Santa...well yeah. Sorry Virginia. In the Dolls' capable punk cabaret hands, otherwise innocent images take on nerve-wracking, Epic Theater implications. A legless girl sits lonely in her room waiting for signs from the outside world, hit scripts go unsold, a gardener waits to collect an unspeakable fee...then there's that pesky organist with a wandering eye and a sinister agenda. Theirs is a rose-filled wonder world, complete with plenty of thorns.

Of course reality isn't far behind. In a tribute to pubescent angst, they unflinchingly delve into what might be the scariest world of all...high school, a terror filled experience never encapsulated better than the mournful wail of vocalist Amanda Palmer’s voice on the Psychedelic Furs cover, “Pretty In Pink.”

With a title rooted in realism, it's surprising yet fitting for the output of two genre-bucking musicians that No Virgina offers an abundance of fanciful lyrics and strange, occasionally abrasive, yet always innovative and interesting instrumental choices. (It never ceases to amaze me that two people can make that much noise.) Slaying childhood fantasies has never been so much fun.

(photo Dresden Dolls: Pixie)

mp3: "Night Reconnaissance" by The Dresden Dolls
mp3: "Backstabber (live on KCRW)" by The Dresden Dolls (studio version on Yes Virginia)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

tickley feather by tickley feather

Review by guest hipster: PWC

Ah, the discreet charm of the lo-fi, the ineffable beauty of homemade pop songs comprised of muffled guitar, of cheap Casio beats, of whispered vocals, of late night recording sessions alone in a bedroom. I find in lo-fi music a deep beauty, in the mystery and fragility of songs that sound as if they have been recorded on cassette tapes left in the basement, full of sounds that have long since surrendered to mold, an inorganic material experiencing organic decay. I think what I love most about lo-fi music is that, for me, I feel a kind of surrender to mortality, to the way of all things – music that doesn’t try to cutting edge, but rather is, from its very inception, technologically outdated and faded, music that admits, from the get go, the fact that time is passing inexorably, that these songs will be lost and forgotten with the march of the years.

So, saying that, I really love Tickley Feather’s production value. And song titles like “Night Chant” and “I’m Magic/Bathtime” I find to evocative and inviting. But in all honesty, I’m not into this record. Unlike fellow homemade pop stars Ariel Pink and Half-Handed Cloud, I don’t feel like there are classic verse-chorus pop songs lying beneath the surface. The songs feel fragmentary (which I find wonderful in the case of ghostly shards of sound like “Ooooo”), and while many of the songs do assume some form of pop-song format, none of them feel especially strong. The album feels more like off-the-cuff song fragments and sounds that Tickley Feather liked. I’ve tried getting into it, and while it would make pleasant background music to create an atmosphere of obscurantist hipster lounge, I find myself wanting to listen to fellow Paw Tracks artist Ariel Pink. Ariel Pink makes me feel like I’ve been invited into a secret, intimate late-night alternate pop-universe, while Tickley Feather feels more like what it appears to be on the surface – some cool stuff made on 4-track with little appeal outside of the intrinsic novelty and interest. I feel like more effort and thought behind the songs could yield far more interesting results.

Which Tickley Feather has every right to do. But for my part, I sense potential for something more friendly, more inviting and more personal, which would be something very edifying indeed.

mp3: "Night Chant" by Tickley Feather

Monday, May 12, 2008

who let those geeks on the radio?

Confessions of a Would-Be Hipster joins our dear friend, and occasional guest hipster Erin for a special two hour "extra geeky" block of radio.

This Tuesday (a.k.a. tomorrow)
Umbrella Party
6-8pm (PST)
KUCI 88.9

The resulting cacophony can be streamed here.

EDIT: Geek status: secured.

Umbrella Party
Playlist 5-13-08

Rufus Wainwright - 11:11 - Want I
The Hectors - A Million Fingers - Sometimes They Collide
I Make This Sound - One Two Three - Staring at Yourself
The Breakups - Let's See What Happens - Eat Your Heart Out

Penny Century - Nothing Burns Like Bridges
Secondhand Furniture - Nice Try, Sunshine - Game Set Match
The Social Services - The Baltic Sea - Six Feet Above Ground

Jens Lekman - Friday Night at the Drive-in Bingo - Night Falls Over Kortedala
Bishop Allen - Castanets - The Broken String
The Dresden Dolls - Pretty in Pink (Psychedelic Furs cover) - No, Virginia

The Vernacular - Make Good Choices
So Many Dynamos - We Vibrate, We Do - Flashlights
Some Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Oregon Girl - Broom

LK - Tandem Bikes - Vs. The Snow
Taken By Trees - Too Young (Tough Alliance Remix) - Lost & Found
Peter Morén - Twisted - The Last Tycoon

Joan as Police Woman feat. Rufus Wainwright - To America - To Survive
Palmer, AK - The Moat - Palmer AK, The Final EP
The Republic Tigers - Air Guitar - Keep Color
White Whale - We're Just Temporary, Ma'am - WWI

Elvis Perkins - While You Were Sleeping - Ash Wednesday
Elias and The Wizkids - Wonderwall - The Dance
*The Mae Shi - Lamb and the Lion - HLLLYH
*The Mae Shi - PWNED - HLLLYH

Saturday, May 10, 2008

peter morén @ the troubador

Admittedly there comes a time when it becomes awkward to write yet another raving review highlighting a musician's genius. Yes we get it...he makes pretty sounds on his guitar and is easy on the eyes! In the interest of saving time, I'll say definitively: Peter Morén and the company he keeps are talented. Alone on stage, Peter is an incredibly commanding presence. This much I learned in January. This much was again reinforced by his delicious indie pop solo album. This review is not another fan letter to his music (even though the night would have been significantly less enjoyable without such pretty tunes). No, this is truly a fan letter to last Saturday's concert...which in the hands of any lesser performer would have been a train wreck.

Opener Tobias Fröberg set the tone for the evening, plowing though jokes about his "indie ass" before giving us thematic whiplash with a series of beautiful, albeit simplistic love songs. No doubt one of our kindred spirits. Part crooner, part jokester, Tobias teased his audience saying, "I'm only playing slow songs Los Angeles...that's because I love you so much." Whether a calculated act due to linguistic limitations or a genuine attempt to display every facet of his personality in a tiny opening set, it was charming. There's simply no other word. Halfway though the set, Peter joined him on stage, thus proving when it comes to old friendships, friendship is no sacred cow.1

After a pause, Peter and Tobias, accompanied by Dirty on Purpose drummer Doug Marvin, and Au Revoir Simone's Annie Hart. Go indie super group! The musical result was nothing less than what you'd expect. We covered that, that is, as much as we're qualified to cover it. See opening paragraph.

The execution however was one for the books. Peter admitted early that this was their last stop on a month-long tour. He was exhausted. He'd been crammed in a tiny van appreciating the California coast line, something he'd missed on his previous, Peter Bjorn & John bus tours. Moreover, he was missing his girlfriend who went home after the European leg of the tour.2 This somewhat disconnected rant ended with him playfully shrieking "Someone help me, I don't know what I'm doing!" Had this been a perfect world, he would have been answered by the voice of God in the control booth. Instead, an already drunken heckler by the name of Corey3 took him up on his plea, ordering him in a loud slur to "Play Aha!" (note from m.a.b.: At which point, it should be noted, the sweet, timid Mr. Moren began to heckle Corey back, mocking his drunkenness and general stupidity.) His voice would be a constant companion until Peter finally indulged his new "BFF," leaping down into the audience to dance with Corey in a moment that was a horrifying tribute to one pint too many and Irish dancing. Translation. It was awesome, especially when combined with Peter's less than graceful roll/body flip back onto stage. The next song was dedicated to Peter's dance partner for the night, PB&J's "Collect, Select, Reflect," which amidst its delicate guitar-picking included the line ...You don't always have to be the center of attention. There's a name for what kind of move is: evil genius. Evil genius is always wasted on the wasted.

Rather than stand on ceremony, Peter opted to forgo an encore and stay on stage and play. At this point, having blown through almost his entire solo catalogue and several Peter Bjorn & John songs, the night turned into a covers/jam session as Paul Simon, Buddy Holly, hillbilly rock, and inexplicably Vampire Weekend were all preformed with equal zeal. Finally, Peter, at a lack of anything else to play and commanded by the voice of God in the upstairs control room, had to bring his concert to a close. The recorded backing track to "Twisted" started, and in an act that can only be attributed to escalating relief, exhaustion and euphoria, pranced his way though his final moments on stage, scaling the supporting scaffolding to croon to his adoring fans - an act that left more than one would-be hipster wondering if she was going to come to an early end and a fitting death, crushed by a rock star in slippery dress shoes. Both we and Peter survived unscathed, but rest assured, it'll happen one day.

(Photo Peter Morén: Johan Bergmark)
(Photo Tobias Fröberg: Knotan)

1. I enjoy reminding my friends I have a blog and therefor am WAY cooler than them. I'm usually refreshingly pummeled about the head and shoulders.
2. Give me a second...I'll be okay.
3. Not the 80s actor...once again proving how imperfect life truly can be.

mp3: "Social Competence (live)" by Peter Morén
mp3: "This Is What I Came For (live)" by Peter Morén
mp3: "Collect, Select, Reflect" by Peter Bjorn & John
mp3: "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard (live on KCRW)" by Peter Bjorn & John

Thursday, May 8, 2008

keep color by the republic tigers

The first band that I ever saw at my beloved troubadour was the Golden Republic, who were opening for Sondre Lerche and acting as his backing band. I was young and naïve way back in 2004, and they rocked the joint so hard that I was convinced the tiny, ancient building was going to collapse around me, and I didn't mind at all.

Shortly after playing the Troub, the Golden Republic released a stellar self-titled debut, did a small tour to support it, and unceremoniously broke up. It hurt my soul a little bit. But! Keyboardist/guitarist Kenn Jankowski picked himself up, gathered some of his Kansas City musician friends, and the Republic Tigers1 were born.

The Republic Tigers' debut album, Keep Color, is full of soaring double-tracked vocals, girly harmonies, subtle electronic accents, tinkling piano arpeggios, chugging acoustic guitars, and an amazing sense of air and space. There are occasional glimpses at the quasi-funk that was the driving force behind the Golden Republic ("Fight Song") and pleasantly absurd moments that could almost be considered twee (the ridiculously deadpan "Air Guitar"). "Buildings & Mountains," the first single, is a sweet, layered gem of a pop song that's optimistically melancholy enough to be played over a video montage in the last five minutes of Grey's Anatomy. Seriously. The melodies are always interesting, never going where you'd expect them (even if the songs do tend to stay on the soft side, never quite rocking out as much as I may have hoped), and the lyrics are much the same; the Interpol-esque "Golden Sand" is at first glance a song about dancing, but reveals itself to be politically charged - I think that's what the philanthropic mimes are about...? It's an album about making sure that no opportunities are ever missed, about getting the most out of life, and about, um, navigationally challenged boys with a boat?

1. Jankowski hails from Republic, Missouri, which may have something to do with the number of "republic" references that follow him around. It doesn't change the fact that discussing his musical career will always be confusing.

(Photo Republic Tigers: Michael Forester)

mp3: "Great Communication" by the Golden Republic from The People EP
mp3: "Air Guitar" by the Republic Tigers from Keep Color

Sunday, May 4, 2008

colin meloy @ the henry fonda

The Would-be Hipsters are slightly divided on Colin Meloy – one of us likes everything about him except his music, while the other two lamented her foolishness as we stood at Mr. Meloy's feet at the Henry Fonda Monday night.

The prospect of a solo show is always slightly dubious. If someone is used to the band dynamic, will he be able to fill the stage alone? Will an acoustic guitar do justice to the band's songs (especially if said band is the Decemberists, who tour as a five-piece with just about every instrument you can name, and several you probably can't)? But with Colin Meloy, I don't think anyone had any doubts.

Touring to support Colin Meloy Sings Live!, he played songs spanning his entire career, a couple of new (and suitably amazing and dark) songs, as well as a smattering of covers, many from his tour EPs. This tour gave us Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke with opener Laura Gibson providing backing vocals. Gibson, a lovely folk singer with an acoustic guitar, gingham dress, and a new appreciation for Wikipedia and official state dances, joined Meloy for a sweet version of "Cupid."

The set opened with "Shiny," because you may as well start off with a song about gypsy girls taking off their clothes, as it sets the tone for the rest of the night rather well. It was a very educational evening as we learned, among other things, that Meloy has to tune his guitar while standing on his toes, even thought it ruins his arches; that you don't need arches anyway; that Shirley Collins is a goer; that Missoula, Montana is the bicycle theft capital of the world; that if you take the worst song Meloy has ever written ("Dracula's Daughter") and put it through "the James Mercer machine" you can get "O, Valencia!"; and that while Decemberists fans seem to have the best singing voices around, our vocabularies aren't that great, as proven when, during an absolutely mind-blowing performance of "The Mariner's Revenge Song", Meloy encouraged the crowd to quail, only to find that the crowd as a whole didn't quite know what "to quail" means. We were properly chastised and got a splendid demonstration on how to properly "oough." (This was followed by one of the most epic sing-alongs1 of one of the most demented choruses in the history of popular music, wherein several hundred indie kids sang in the whispering falsetto voice of a sailor's dead mother demanding he bury someone alive. Yay!)

I have to say, however, that the best thing about Meloy touring solo is that it gives him the opportunity to stop songs in the middle. Sometimes to explain things, sometimes to wonder why people are yelling things at him, sometimes for wine, sometimes to pause and be hilariously adorable, but mostly because he forgot the words. There's nothing quite like a theatre full of people in Hollywood singing forgotten lines of "Los Angeles I'm Yours" back to the singer. Even if you don't know the words, Colin, Los Angeles is definitely yours.

1. It should be noted that the "sing-alongs" of the melodica part of "Los Angeles I'm Yours", the electric guitar solo of "The Perfect Crime #2", and the extra-credit whistle solo of "Shankill Butchers" are definitely in the running for most epic sing-along, but are probably disqualified as there are no actual words involved.

mp3: "Everything I Try to Do, Nothing Seems to Turn Out Right" by Colin Meloy, Live on NPR
mp3: "We Both Go Down Together" by the Decemberists, Live on KEXP

Thursday, May 1, 2008

she & him @ the vista theater

Zoey put it best when, halfway though the set she joyfully yelped "Los Angeles rocks!" Yes we have bad traffic, bad air, and a bad rep. But when a supergroup plays your city on a three-stop tour - well it's one of those rare moments when you feel justified in your civic smugness.

Live, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, together the linguistic twisting She & Him, manage to portray the essence of a crush in its simplest, most innocent form. Sweet and floaty, their music embodies every butterfly, every sugar-spun sun-dappled daydream. It’s not overly clever or complex, but then again, let's face it, neither is your heart.

While She & Him is billed as a band, the night was clearly the Zooey show. M. Ward stood, mingled with the backing band just out of spotlight reach, expression a mix of pride at his protégée’s accomplishments and knowledge of his own inherent coolness. It's true of course - his inherit coolness - a fact I easily recognized despite being a relative Ward-newbie. Even as a defacto member of the backing band, his very presence elicited a chorus of female squeals every time he stepped forward to add a gravely backing vocal. After a B.B. King-inspired guitar solo, I temporarily cast aside my indignant stance on the lack of equal performance footing and lent my verbal approval to the throng. This adoration only grew though the night when he leant his rough vocals to the ever wonderful "You Really Got a Hold On Me" and "Magic Trick." M. and Zooey duets are both both salty and sweet. I'm both hormonal and running out of musical metaphors.

As much as I hate to admit it, I might have to lend my voice to the tiny Volume One dissidence. While I can understand and appreciate the Spectoresque vocal layering, hearing the same straight forward torch songs stripped of the multiple "oohs" and "ahhs" was a completely new experience. Who's for a stripped down, Vol. 2 live album? Start your letter writing campaigns now.

Part of the night’s easy charm came from Zooey’s stage presence – an untrained giggle-fest scampering between the piano and her tambourine-marked spot on the stage, equal parts terrified and exhilarated. Yes, in light of her day job, one has to wonder if it’s a bit put on...but the one imagines it would be hard to fake the kind of undignified charm that leads a girl to leap into the air and squeal "this is so much fun!" at the end of one particularly swinging song.

Another part of the fun? Watching a well connected performer bring her friends along for the ride. Even when the friend in question - Jason Schwartzman - was one I'd predicted while still standing in line, the surprise of would-be and actual hipsters alike was palpable1. I'll stop here as I'm unable to use my grown-up words when discussing Max Fi--er, Jason Schwartzman.

The night ended with the show-stopping duet "I Put a spell On You," unequivocally putting to rest any question on the stand alone value of Zooey’s voice. While proving that she can tackle the big songs, there was no denying it; her voice is far too sweet for sultry "dark songs." Coupled with the ominous hiss of M.’s feedback, it sounded even sweeter. However that’s the funny thing about crushes, musical and otherwise. Somehow, like the gooey sweet fantasies they had spent the night creating, the little imperfections simply ceased to matter.

Note from m.a.b.: I would like to point out that there was, in fact, an opener, in the form of Lavender Diamond. Who are awesome. Their set can be summed up with this, the first line from "Garden Rose", the first some they performed, with soft acoustic guitar, tinkling piano, and stoic drums backing a clear, high voice: I'll never stop a bullet / But a bullet might stop me / I'll never drink the ocean / But the ocean might drink me. Also, from lead songstress Becky Stark, "Let's hear it for planet Earth! It's the best planet in the!"

1.Me getting a prediction right is on par with Homer Simpson saving the day...deeply unsettling.

(Photo She & Him: Autumn de Wilde)

mp3: "Chance Is Hard (live)" by She & Him
mp3: "When I Get To The Border" by She & Him
mp3: "I'm Going Higher (demo)" by M. Ward
mp3: "You Broke My Heart" by Lavender Diamond