Sunday, August 31, 2008

matt pryor @ the troubadour

Between the Get Up Kids and the New Amsterdams, I've seen Matt Pryor more than I've seen any other musician, and yet every time I see him, it seems I forget how very, very good he really is.

Pryor has just finished a double-headlining tour with Chris Conley of Saves the Day, and is currently touring with Kevin Devine. The Would-be Hipsters were lucky enough to catch Pryor at the Troubadour on the 16th. Both he and Conley did full-length, all-acoustic solo sets, and both were stellar. Although Conley's was stellarly strange. I am the Would-be Hipster's official Emo Ambassador1, and I can attest that the actual music was not bad. LMS is our VP in charge of Lyrical Appreciation, and she was cataloguing the most hilariously emo-core lyrics ever written. (You and are like when fire and the ocean floor collide – um, what?) ako is in charge of our Men Who Can't Necessarily Sing But Are Amazingly Awesome Anyway Admiration Society, and Conley's pubescent voice was enough to cause her physical pain. We, however, were clearly in the minority, as I have never seen anyone have as much power over a room full of 17-year-old kids as Chris Conley. We were the only three in the room not emphatically singing along, and some dude yelled out "You're my Bob Dylan!" Conley apparently means a lot to kids these days, and he's singing about broken hearts and being socially outcast, so it could be worse. More power to him. I just would've rather seen Kevin Devine.

But then, of course, there was Matt Pryor. Performing songs from all aspects of his musical career – tracks off his recently released solo album, New Amsterdams songs, and even a healthy smattering of the more acoustic-friendly Get Up Kids songs – the only thing that disappointed us was his lack of absurd covers; a couple years ago he ended New Ams shows with a surprisingly awesome version of "Doctor My Eyes," and he's been known to cover the likes of Justin Timberlake and Outkast. Although really, who am I to complain when we did get most of our favorites from Pryor's personal catalog. His reception amongst the emo-kid audience was a bit more lukewarm than I'd expected, with some people actually leaving before his set. I suppose his scratchy voice, straightforward metaphors and occasionally twangy, Midwestern guitar playing is just a bit too much for the kids in LA these days. And while no one compared Pryor to 60s folk icons, the crowd did shout out requests. He insisted, "if I'm gonna play Get Up Kids songs, I'm not gonna butcher them to play them on the acoustic guitar." The whole crowd paused for a moment to mentally scan the Get Up Kids' catalogue, and then, almost as one, yelled out, "Overdue!" It was an oddly beautiful moment.

I'll be honest. There's a reason that this review is two weeks late. I haven't really been able to find the words to describe the show. It's not that it was such a stellar show that words cannot describe it. (If LMS can find words for Radiohead and ako can find words for the Weakerthans, anything is possible2.) Maybe it was the weirdness of being surrounded by kids who seemed to half care. Maybe it was the fact that I've seen Pryor so many times. Maybe it's the fact that the show was just really good and the guitar playing was really that wonderful and the setlist was really that perfectly random. Rest assured, though, that the show was decidedly awesome, and should you ever get the chance to see Matt Pryor, jump at it.

1. I earned this title by possessing everything every Get Up Kid has ever released, two Motion City Soundtrack albums, several Kill Creek albums, a general love of post-punk, and a secret love affair with Fall Out Boy and Pete Wentz's outright stupidity. Again proving that we will never be full-fledged hipsters.
2. Now might be a good time for a round of Which Would-be Hipster Is Not A Writer By Training or Trade. I'll give you a hint: she really likes musicians from Kansas and her initials are m.a.b.

(photo Matt Pryor: myspace)


Mp3: "Hover Near Fame" by the New Amsterdams, live at Austin City Limits 2005
Mp3: "Overdue (acoustic)" by the Get Up Kids

happy birthday to us!

Today is a momentous day in the blogging world. We are one! That's right, we have survived 365 days of scheming, obsessing, fangirling, and committing the more embarrassing bits of our lives to our personal public forum.

Honestly...how have you lived without us? Or, the more pressing question, how has our collective inferiority complex survived without you, dear readers, guest hipsters, blog photographer and perpetually understanding, unquestioning parents?

Thanks for reading. We know you're out there...we can see your downloads. Here's to another year of making our readers feel better about themselves. Party big, who knows if we'll get this chance again?

Love,

LMS, m.a.b., ako, and lmc

mp3: "Would Be Hipster" by Computerization (Our own personal song! We've made the big time. If you're lucky, made of awesome, and have nine bucks, he might write one for you.)
mp3: "Happy Birthay" by Sufjan Stevens
mp3: "I Am So Important" by Logan Whitehurst ('Cause it's true!)
mp3: "Are Birthdays Happy?" by Jens Lekman

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

radiohead @ the hollywood bowl

A family that rocks together stays together. At least that's what I kept chanting to myself as the first four songs of Radiohead's engaging 26-song set sped by while we attempted to figure out exactly why our seats came with irate hipsters already parked in them. The Bowl security guard, presumably sent to staunch the blood flow and minimize venue liability, really didn't turn out to be quite the ally we'd hoped.

"It's what we call a 'girth issue'," he said, gesturing unconvincingly to the clutch of people occupying our seats -- all sufferers of mild to moderate "emorexia." Now to be clear, I don't blame the valiant little security guard - a brave worker who at this point was visibly sucking in his own "girth" and most likely cursing the indignities he's had to go though to pay for grad school - for parroting the party line. But "girth issues" as a go-to excuse? Oh come on America...this is a new low.

And so seatless we crouched, huddled together in the corner of a nose bleed section staircase, a trio of indie-rock refugees yearning to breathe free. Breathe free at the obviously oversold Hollywood Bowl? Yeah right. It's here, amidst the giggle fits at our absurd situation and numb bums, where we pick up our review already in progress.

It. Was. Awesome! Now, I can't actually confirm the presence of dance-happy lead man Thom Yorke. Yes there was a man on stage. Yes it sounded like him. Yes the jumbotrons offered tantalizing four-camera footage of him gently rubbing thumb and forefinger together during one song, and of his signature wild gyrations during the next. But as for physical proof? I'll leave that to the people in the pricey seats. Or for those who had seats, period. Personally? I'm relieved. I've been operating under the assumption that Yorke is really a robot for years now. I see no reason to drop this belief simply because I've seen "him" live. At least the accompanying light show was pretty, if not a bit surreal.

The night's surreal turn continued when midway though the set, Radiohead covered Neil Young's "Tell Me Why." Good question--why? I'm reminded (yet again) of Chuck Klosterman's essay on advancement when he theorizes, "If Radiohead recorded an album of blues standards, they would Advance." Ladies and Gentlemen, behold: ADVANCEMENT1! A much more eloquent take on the moment than mine: dude.

While my heart will, now and forever, belong to The Bends (whose title track provided the night's rawest punk rock moments), my artistic favorite will, now and forever, be Kid A. While the soaring "Fake Plastic Trees" filled me with nostalgic glee (I refuse to be objective about that song, and you know what? I'm totally okay with that.) the second encore and night closer "Idioteque" quite simply blew everything in the already stellar lineup out of the water. Radiohead preforms every song like it's their last, not just of the evening but, judging by their apocalyptic live sound, of the world as we know it. Seeing as how the blistering "Idioteque" is essentially a mediation on the end of the world, what better musical night cap? It was the perfect end to an eventful evening, sore butt and all.

1.Even if said advancement made me want to yell a hearty "yee ha!" a clear sign that I myself am not advanced.

mp3: "Karma Police (Radiohead cover)" by The Dresden Dolls
mp3: "Unravel (Björk cover)" Radiohead

xiu xiu @ the launchpad

Maybe I'm a traditionalist. Maybe my mind and ears are inefficiently afflicted with some aggressive cancerous growth about the nerves; the smooth calcification of their receptors so lovingly nourished by years of listening to melodious rock with pure form and time. Or maybe my childhood, despite numerous revelations and inconveniences, was just too comfortable. Despite the ambiguity of my reasoning, as I stood outside the Launchpad in Albuquerque, New Mexico amidst throngs of vibrating Xiu Xiu fans (all right, so at that time there were about four people – it's only a number, right?), I was more or less anticipating the pseudo-masochistic indulgence of attending a Xiu Xiu show rather than the set itself.

Well, at least I'm honest.

The opening acts (a two-piece with teenagers on drums and keyboards followed by the ostensibly mind-bent Carla Bozulich) were paradoxically garish and minimalist. They set a vaguely discomforting and paranoid tone – one analogous to, perhaps, falling from a dinghy into the Chesapeake Bay and not being able to change your underwear for a few hours – which proceeded to permeate the evening's fraying threads. I will never forget the sheer terror experienced while clinging helplessly to my friend's shoulder while the latter performer deemed it wholly necessary for effect to dissociate completely ("There's only one word – one word! - and that's LOVE!") as she blindly stumbled into and onto her audience. I will be eighty-two years old, my rocking chair creaking beneath diabetic girth and the effects of decades of post-artistic solitary inebriation, and I'll simply say, "hey, remember that one show?" which will incite rows of solemn recognition among my geriatric peers, although only one will truly understand. If the Alzheimer's doesn't get to him first.

That said, when Xiu Xiu took the stage, no additional preparation or emotional steelwork was required. We had already fallen down the rabbit hole1, so to speak, and the surreal atmosphere had not yet relinquished its most desperate grip. In this respect, Xiu Xiu did not disappoint.

Stewart, whose exquisitely mercurial vocal lines are frighteningly comparable to those of the theoretical bastard lovechild of Scott Walker and Sufjan Stevens, in no way allowed the harmonic dissonance of his accompaniment to transform his yearning croons into a vacant component to a destabilised frame. Within the set (which derived fewer works from Women as Lovers [2008, Kill Rock Stars] than I would have expected in a tour still half-heartedly embracing the coat-tails of the album's release), the lyrics were never layered in establishment – another deviance from canorous conventionalism – rather, they acted as the single, precariously binding string which prevented the whole thing from dissolving into ever-so-willing, synergistic chaos. So radical, destroyed for nothing / and I don't care, I don't care anymore, Stewart sings, but you don't have to read between the lines to determine that it's no more than a dissent in denial, one which propitiates the bruises of some abstractly-rendered scene from his past. My theory is that if he cared any more, there would be no structure to Xiu Xiu's music whatsoever.

The resultant cacophony is an ethereal grating of miscellaneous percussion and screaming guitar (which can occasionally be placated into merely whining). If you've never heard a Xiu Xiu song in your life, going to a show might not be the best introduction. I, of course, only partially heeded my own warnings, and found out very quickly that if something sounds atonal and a little scary on mid-range car speakers, it will be absolutely terrifying when you hear it live and the raw decibels are independently slapping you across the face.

Whether or not this particular show was nothing more than another over-hyped descent into abstruse allegory or a bona-fide induction into accepting an existence where my most strange dreams and nightmares regularly phase into tangible matter remains to be seen. One thing is clear, however: It was sufficiently weird, and I may not recover. And no, I haven't decided if that's altogether a bad thing.

1 As so eloquently stated by C.V., to which I, reeling, replied: "It mustn't have been a very long trip, because I didn't feel a thing."

(photo xiu xiu: pupkin)

mp3: "I do what I want, when I want" by Xiu Xiu
mp3: "F.T.W." by Xiu Xiu

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

never never love by pop levi

Review by Guest Hipster: L.A.R.

The former bassist of Ladytron, Jonathan Pop Levi brings it on strong in his sophomore release Never Never Love (out today). A bold, self-assured, flamboyant pop sound -- liberally peppered with tasty hooks, phatty electro beats and completely over-the-top romantical lyrics, the surprising replayability and an impeccably shiny, shrink-wrap production job make this one of my favorites albums of the year thus far. Pop Levi opens strong with “Wannamama,” showcasing a strong, electro-rock, sassy sound. Flexing his musical muscle, Pop Levi takes us on a funky tour of his repertoire – the pink, sugary sweetness of “Mai's Space”; the Funky, 80's tasting “Everything & Finally”; and “Fountain of Lies,” full of sweeping strings, synth lines and the dramatic vocals that seem to beg for a theatrical drama bemoaning the tragedy of love.

Most the songs on the album are strong, stand-alone pieces of radio-ready electro-funk-pop, prepared to be fed to the masses -- but “Never Never Love” is more than a bunch of singles – it boasts a surprisingly “listenable” sound as an album. The tracks are unique and by the sound of it, painstakingly produced and free of repetition; giving a saccharine-sweet slow burn that will have you listening to it for quite a while. It's sound is fun, polished and smacks of that over-the-top “silly-but-oh-so-cool” pop flavor reminiscent of Prince or Beck.

I was really impressed by the quality and uniqueness of the sound Pop Levi brings to the table in “Never Never Love.” He manages to bring out a light, fun and surprisingly replayable sound -- A definite must if you are a fan of any of the afore-mentioned artists, are looking for a fun, light album to play in the car and impress your friends with, or – my personal favorite -- something dance to when you're alone... besides that old Abba record.

He's got most of his new album up for free listening -- check it out at his myspace.

mp3: "Never Never Love" by Pop Levi

Saturday, August 23, 2008

koufax and the smoking popes @ the knitting factory

First, a note: please excuse my tardiness. I've neglected my blogging duties of late for no reasons other than general laziness and the love-hate relationship my laptop and I share. And Disneyland. Sorry.

I've discovered a lot of bands when they opened for a band that I loved. Last Saturday at the Knitting Factory, however, I discovered a headlining band that a band I love opened for. Well that's not entirely true, as I knew about the Smoking Popes going in. What I knew is that they were a decent post-punk-type band from Chicago with a great name who I managed to discover through my favorite poster artist, Jay Ryan and his amazing poster. What I didn't know is how absolutely awesome they actually are. Granted they occasionally dip into a heavily 90s-pop sound seeing as how they're mostly a 90s band, but seriously, how can you not just adore a band of bald men who can, in one set, cover "Pure Imagination", do an epic feedback-frenzied freakout of a song about finding a new haircut, and end by bringing the entire crowd to tears with a heartbreaking sing-along of "I Know You Love Me" dedicated to friend and former producer Jerry Finn, who had recently suffered a brain hemorrhage, and who passed away Thursday. You know that a band is good when you know absolutely none of the songs and you still have a huge grin plastered on your face the whole night and you kinda wanna dance, even though you cannot dance. At all.

But, of course, the reason the Would-be Hipsters were really there was Koufax. I grew up on a hearty diet of ragtime piano and politics, so Kansas City's Koufax is like going home again1. 2005's Hard Times are in Fashion is driven by syncopated keyboards (swoon) and lead bass (double-swoon), and even though the touring lineup has changed completely since the album's recording, the new guys do a stellar job of filling in the rather impressive shoes of Jared Rosenberg and Rob Pope, respectively2. Of course we can't forget frontman Robert Suchan's enthusiastic guitar and distinctive, captivating voice. Saturday's set relied heavily on Hard Times (the only album I can think of full of elaborate tales written almost entirely in the third-person plural), but also included a healthy handful of tracks from one of their previous records, the stellar Social Life, and their upcoming album Strugglers, which, judging from the tracks they played, will not be a disappointment. It is worth noting, by the way, that their set was an opening set, and yet they managed to do 12 songs, bounce, flail, scream, amuse us with slightly bizarre stage banter, and prove that gosh darn it, redheads can be just as funky as anyone else. If a 12-song opener can be that awe-inspiring, the Would-be Hipsters are dying to see what the boys can do if they headline an LA show when Strugglers comes out.

1. Only not. My parents were right-wing Conservative agnostics in Southern California. It's hard to match those politics. Anywhere. But man could my dad syncopate a piano.
2. Sorry I don't know your names, New Guys, but rest assured you – and your bandmates – are made of win and are wholly deserving of pie. I'm also sorry that I couldn't find a photo with you guys in it; what's up with that?

(photos Koufax, Smoking Popes: last.fm)

mp3: "Any Moment Now" by Koufax from Strugglers
mp3: "Let's Hear It For Love" by the Smoking Popes from Get Fired

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

youth novels by lykke li

It's like Madonna...only interesting!

It's here! It's finally here! After what seems like a lifetime of hype, Lykke Li's debut album Youth Novels drops stateside today. It's like waiting for an indie rock Santa Claus. In the interest of full disclosure, I've never seen St. Lykke preform live. However, I am 85% certain her feet do touch the ground. And yet she still manages to create catchy, light as a feather pop that almost matches up to the tidal wave of hype. Almost.

Youth Novels will not change your life. However, it will get your hips shaking (even if, as Li ever so helpfully points, they lie...because in reality I'm shy shy shy). This is an album for those who want to dance, even when drowning in the occasionally painful moment of public geekdom. This is a collection of anthems for those who straddle the line between geek and chic, usually wobbling toward the latter. This is my sort of music.

Li is at her best when she subscribes to the "dance first, ask questions later" mentality. The album's few weak moments clearly indicate that her metaphorical reach still extends her grasp. While the spoken-word opener, "Melodies & Desires", acts as a nice little primer to Youth Novel's main themes - music and love - the second such interlude, "This Trumpet in My Head", falls flat. No really, why can't you get the trumpet out of your head? Thankfully, such moments of dime store beat poetry are few and far between and the majority of the outing's emotional peaks and valleys play with the same cotton candy lightness as the Little Bit EP sneak peek.

"I'm Good I'm Gone" (the same song that taught us that all musicians in Sweden like to sit around in rooms together, being unspeakably cool) is a major standout. Which would probably explain why it's been topping my jogging playlist and having me daydream of doing karaoke. (Again with the "painful moment of public geekdom" thing!) While most of Youth Novels is preformed with the same "lonely girl dancing and singing in her room at midnight" vibe, spare, percussive instrumentation and a Lolitaesque falsetto making for a cohesive meditation on a theme, "I'm Good I'm Gone" finds Li taking control of her own romantic fate. Gone is the shy girl of "Everybody But Me" and the broken heart of "Tonight." Instead, Li issues a major kiss-off, reminding her jilted lover, You'll be calling but I won't be on the phone. Maybe not a complete 180 from the rest of her catalogue to date, but for those who argue that Li might be a one trick pony, this should act as enough assurance that she just might be hiding a few extra personae up her sleeve.

Lykke Li is coming stateside to check on her album. Don't disappoint Sweden's reigning pop princess by not showing up to the party.

mp3: "Little Bit Loving Hand Remix)" by Lykke Li
mp3: "I'm Good I'm Gone (Black Kids Remix)" by Lykke Li

covers: part four

Part four! This time: Songs Written Before You Were Born

I started my life as one of those weird kids in high school wearing a Beatles t-shirt, etching the Who logo on her binder, drawing various members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in art class. I still think that some of the best music was made between the years 1966 and 1972. Here's some of that music, recorded by some great acts of more recent years.

Of special note is Gibbard's Monkees cover, noteworthy for the following reasons: 1 – Gibbard dedicates the song to Micky Dolenz, while the song was originally sung by Davy Jones. 2 – Yes, I actually appreciate the Monkees enough to know this off the top of my head. There are whole episodes of the television series that my kid sister and I know by heart. This is why we are would-be hipsters and not the legit kind. 3 – I don't know what this "hate pit" is of which Gibbard and the radio presenter speak, but I feel it may be a bit of a pot-kettle-black situation there, for while Mr. Dolenz may have terrible taste in clothes, he has never, to my knowledge, killed a kitten. But that's another story altogether.)

"Harvest" – originally by Neil Young, covered by Rufus Wainwright & Chris Stills
"You Can Call Me Al" – originally by Paul Simon, covered by Jens Lekman
"Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard" – originally by Paul Simon, covered by Peter Bjorn & John
"Don't Bring Me Down" – originally by Electric Light Orchestra, covered by OK Go
"Expecting to Fly" – originally by Buffalo Springfield, covered by Emily Haines
"Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" – originally by the Monkees, covered by Ben Gibbard

Thursday, August 14, 2008

mugiboogie by mugison

I'm pretty sure Mugison might be insane. Any man who names a two minute, thirty-three second scream fest "I'm Alright" clearly, well, isn't. Although, having been described as part of the Icelandic mainstream, it could just be that along with the breathtaking scenery, the Icelandic people were gifted with a higher tolerance for musical idiosyncrasy. Not that I'm complaining. I'm pretty sure Mugison's newest musical offering Mugiboogie (out now) contains more genres and out and out originality than all of our mainstream top-twenty combined.

With Mugison, it's always been about the gestalt. Solo live shows are likely to feature a sweet, guitar-filled love song on the heels an laptop-based industrial ditty about "My two girlfriends who were both cheating on me at the time." It's a weird, off-kilter form of auditory whiplash designed to keep listeners on their toes. And more often than not, it works. He isn't kidding when, on his myspace, he counts both Eddie Vedder and Eddie Murphy as influences.

This time out, Mugison leans more toward the blues, proving that underneath his willingess to go out on a musical limb, there's a consummate trained musician. "The Pathetic Anthem" and "George Harrison" embrace folk simplicity without boring, much like two-generations removed Woody Guthrie. Most surprising though is album opener "Mugiboogie," a swinging, growled ode to the feminine gaze, complete with a Mugison first: drums played by a real human being! Normally, this would be the part where I'd say something trite about change being a good thing, but in all honesty I stopped trying to pin this guy down two albums ago. So, err...yeah change1?

Like a Scandinavian Reggie & The Full Effect, there's also that "other side," -- dark loud screaming that would send small animals running for cover, if it weren't for tongue planted firmly in cheek. Yes it's loud. Yes it's occasionally scary. (Contemplation of suicide over industrial beats after a mournful, string-filled ballad about the death of a parent is unsettling to say the least.) However, by the time Mugison puts away the funk and forces his audience to put in the earplugs, the listener is already emotionally invested, far past the point of being put off by genre hopping. Of course, even when dabbling in his darkest themes and sounds, Mugison manages to keep his finger firmly on the situational bathos. Case in point? "Two Thumb Sucking Son of a Boyo," a breathtakingly amazing title that pretty much renders my job as a blogger null and void.

Of course, with music like this, who needs a quasi-literate peanut gallery anyway? By the time Mugison takes the listener through the twelve tracks of Mugiboogie, one gets the feeling he's already done all the explaining anyone would ever need. I still don't know if Mugison is alright, but as long as he continues to keep his fans guessing, he'll be okay.

1. Can you really change if your career is based off never staying the same? See Chuck Klosterman on advancement.

(photo Mugison:Hörður)


mp3: "Mugiboogie" by Mugison

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

nobody left to crown by richie havens

As much as I adore the weird, loud, bass-driven, angsty indie rock that's been filling up my iTunes for the past ten years or so, a part of my heart will always belong to 60s folk-rock. Bands like Buffalo Springfield, the Beach Boys, and Crosby Stills & Nash were my favorites in high school. My junior year I saved up to see CSN – my first concert ever – where I learned that most of my idols, though awe-inspiring in the sixties, were starting to get kind of sad and mostly deaf and vaguely disappointing in their old age.

And then I saw Richie Havens.



Havens opened at Woodstock, him and his acoustic guitar and his flailing, manic strumming and his amazingly rich voice. And when I saw him on the Santa Monica pier in 2004, his strumming was just as manic, his voice just as rich, and his stage banter among the best I've ever encountered. Even though his beard is white and we're fighting a different war, his 60s optimism is still in tact, and he's still convinced that if we all just try a little harder and love each other just a little bit more, maybe we can change the world for the better. I was born a cynic, but after listening to Nobody Left to Crown, even I'm convinced.

Nobody Left to Crown, which was released last month, is full of protest songs in the classic 60s tradition of acoustic guitars and some quiet percussion and bouncy bass accompanying a soulful, slightly world-weary voice lamenting the lack of compassion and humanity and the overabundance of crooked politicians and human stupidity. Havens manages to modernize his sound just enough to assure us that he's still growing, he's still writing relevant songs, and he's still someone we should be paying attention too. Even after 25 albums1, he manages to avoid the common pitfall among musicians from his era who are still recording: trying to sound too modern, over-produced and like someone else altogether2. In fact, his voice is virtually indistinguishable from the albums he recorded over forty years ago, and it still warms my tiny little soul.

Havens is probably best known for his covers of some of the best-written songs of the 60s and 70s, and we all know how I feel about covers – I hold that his version of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" is the most beautiful thing ever committed to tape. Nobody Left to Crown contains several covers, two of particular note: Jackson Browne's "Lives in the Balance" with guitar flourishes that manage to sound Spanish and Indian at the same time, and what I think may be one of my favorite covers ever: the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again". You know the song, from that crime show where the redheaded guy in sunglasses says something way over-the-top, and then Roger Daltry screams and they show palm trees? Yeah, that one. Only with a cello. Seriously.

1. Dude!
2. Dear Misters Crosby, Stills and Nash – Please take notes from Mr. Havens. Forever yours, m.a.b.


mp3: "Fates" from Nobody Left to Crown
mp3: "Handsome Johnny" as performed at Woodstock

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ariel pink @ the echo

Review by Guest Hipster: L.A.R.A review. Being the record of a show at the Echoplex from the “Thanks Mom, I’m Dead” tour featuring Chairlift and the oh-so-strange-yet-somehow-totally-awesome Ariel Pink & Haunted Graffiti.

I have to admit; I have a huge place in my heart for electro-pop. I don’t know when or where it was, but at some point in the 80’s I heard something wonderful -- something synthetic and light, dramatic yet fun and oh-so-catchy and…hey! You can dance to it! …I was hooked. Perhaps my predilection made me love Chairlift’s set last night, but I have a suspicion that their surprisingly mature, 80’s inspired sound and lack of pretension could have had more to do with it.

Chairlift’s folky electro-pop jams washed over me like waves of synthesized 80’s nostalgia that tasted faintly of New Order and blueberries. Their secret weapon is petite lead singer/keyboardist Caroline Polachek - who made full use of her ample range, letting it glide over sweeping synths and bass drones, her voice reaching out to grab unexpected notes - whispery and bubble-gum one moment, throaty and complex the next -- a marvelous singing voice that lends their sound an unexpected - and wonderful - complexity. Her singing was punctuated by lead guitarist Aaron Pfenning whose licks were perfect - just a touch of reverb and that yearning, wailing sound that makes you want to be the one up there on the stage making it look as easy as he did. The whole thing was brought together nicely with the subdued percussion of drummer Patrick Wimberly, who had everyone bobbing their heads and stomping their feet. I loved it. Great show, well worth looking into their stuff; check out Chairlift’s premiere full-length CD “Does You Inspire You” on Kanine Records.

Up next was the unabashedly strange Ariel Pink and Haunted Graffiti who, frankly, impressed the heck out of me. Pacing around on stage, shooting crazy looks, crouching, hooting, and generally making “unrehearsed-crazy-awesome-maybe-high” look easy, Ariel was at his disheveled finest. Haunted Graffiti keyboardist Kenny Gilmore, bassist Tim Koh, drummer Jimi Hey, and guitarist Cole M. Greif-Neill all pulled off a great set backing Pink up; the atmosphere was loud, high-energy, raucous and really fun.

Trying to describe Pink’s sound is difficult at best. Mixing folk, electronic, 60’s rock… all blended and poured over a tall glass of spookily strange abstract-pop. A far-cry from his recordings full of warbling tape distortion, his live set was loud, fast and nonstop -- the only pause in the action being when Pink and the band suddenly ran off stage to return a few minutes later, holding cigarettes and immediately jumping back into the show. Though the subject of criticism for some, I found Pink’s bizarre on-stage act (?) endearing; he had people dancing around the floor, cheering on his antics and questioning what was going on all at the same time -- a feat of which I am personally jealous. Overall, Ariel Pink and his Haunted Graffiti provided a wonderfully entertaining show - my favorite part being Ariel calling out for the end of history by chanting “let 2012 happen now!” Not for the close-minded, I think a friend put it best when he said of Pink: “this is the kind of music parents think of when they say to each other ‘he’s into that crazy rock and roll’ and shake their heads sadly.” Rock shows come and go, but it isn’t often that a band leaves me excited for music, tapping my feet and wondering what exactly just happened at the end of their set; Ariel Pink & Haunted Graffiti is more than glad to fill that niche -- get yo-self some at their myspace.

(photo Chairlift: Ross Fraser)

Edit: Now that Chairlift is playing in the big leagues, previous Mp3 freebies are considered "copyright infringement." Pity.

mp3: "Jules Lost His Jewels" by Ariel Pink
mp3: "Evident Utensil" by Chairlift

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

mia doi todd @ spaceland

I've been leaning towards the sweeter, simpler things in life again. Blame the clogging team disguised as carpenters who seem to have taken permanent residence in the apartment above me. But if there's one thing a dyed in the wool cynic such as myself knows, it's that forays into sincere sweetness must be delved into carefully. Don't try to Norman Rockwellize your daily life too much...you'll just end up with Blue Velvet. You've probably already figured that one out. So has Mia Doi Todd. With my plate frighteningly full and my wallet terrifying empty, her brief set at Spaceland's free Monday night residencies was a much needed break.

With this year's sweet new album and last year's delicious contribution to the DNTEL single "Rock My Boat," Mia has me fully under her spell. Watching her play, one can easily forget the other chatting bar patrons, or the power tool cacophony waiting for you at home. This isn't folk hearkening back to a simpler time or musical magical-realism, this is a whole new and unexplored world. Or at least new and unexplored if your world view is as ethnocentric and white as mine tends to be. Music bearing gentle Asian influences rock my world! I can't go so far as to call her voice miraculous (although it is important to note it is as strong live as recorded) but it did get me to unclench my jaw for the first time in a day...quite an accomplishment! 

In addition to songs off her newest album, including the hypnotic, ten minute "River Of Life/Yes Song" set- and album-opener, Mia played an almost chipper Nick Drake cover, and the aforementioned "Rock My Boat," an especially impressive accomplishment as the cold electronic backing of the original track translated into warm, playful guitar strumming, a quasi-cover indistinguishable from her own highly accomplished songwriting.  My own personal pre-apocalyptic plague of construction workers might continue on - heck, my new neighbors might really be in to daily bouts of feng shui and in-apartment dodge ball tournaments - but as far as musical eyes of the storm go, few have the calming affect of Mia Doi Todd. 

(photo Mia Doi Todd: Theo Jemison)

mp3: "The Way" 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)

hybrid by elsiane

So apparently I've given up sleep. As I write this I'm on what's probably my twelfth cup of green tea for the evening. The sky is slowly morphing from inky to dish water gray. You'd think being the hopeless romantic that I am, I'd have a better metaphor on hand. Nevertheless...do I smell a segue into an artist plug?

Yes.

The world calls it downbeat electronica, I call it my late night playlist. For the full emotional punch, this is a genre that can't be properly enjoined before sunset. Even then, before midnight it's a touchy proposition. Maybe it's because only under the cover of night can I somehow believe I'm cool enough to listen to this kind of thing. Think Portishead, Goldfrapp, Zero 7, and now, completely out of the blue (at least for the uninformed me), Elsiane. Hybrid, Elsiane's sophmore release (available now on iTunes, in stores August 12th), stands up to its companions, and due to its straight forward simplicity in a genre littered with overproduced bloops and blips, often surpasses them. This is languid, post-party, slow-motion synth-rock, with lyrics wailed by lead singer Elsianne Caplette in a voice that heavily resembles an Asian Alison Goldfrapp.

There's an emotional immediacy to this music, little of which has to do with the lyrics (which are for the most part incomprehensible). I'm an admitted lyrics person, but there are things that often slide in my quest for coolness, even in its most tenuous, sleep-deprived state. As a musical duo, Elsiane offers an interesting instrumental dichotomy. You have Elsieanne's inorganic moogs, and drummer Stephane Sotto's organic whacking of hard surfaces with sticks. The instrumentation is a background for Elsianne's larger than life voice which, despite sounding inorganic, is - at least as far as promotional materials claim - all her.

The sun is officially up, thus ending my night of blogging (and cueing a day wherein m.a.b. will be painfully forced to add commas1 to my late night drivel). Like a superhero taking on her alternate persona, it's time to transform to my daytime, twee-loving self. Or rather, much less dramatically, to go to bed. But like a bat cape hanging in the back of my closet, there's my mysterious, late night playlist, lead by Elsiane, reminding me that everyone's got a mysterious, (melo-)dramatic side.


1. note from m.a.b.: And verbs.

(photo Elsiane: Michael Julian Berz)


mp3: "Mend (To Fix, To Repair)" by Elsiane

Monday, August 4, 2008

hummingbird, go! by theresa andersson

Alright...I'll admit it. I pulled Theresa Andersson's debut album Hummingbird, Go! (available 9/2) from our "listen to" pile because, well...she's Swedish. This ethnocentric favoritism should surprise no one. Sometimes though, I just have to shake my head at my own predictability.

Of course, nationality aside, this is where the similarities to Andersson's countrymen contemporaries begin and end. Produced and written by The Would-Be Hipsters' favorite self-proclaimed "indie ass" Tobias Fröberg, this is a surprisingly sweet, highly accessible affair, deeply rooted in American doo-wop tradition, sprinkled with hand claps, and dusted with a hint of Spectoresque girl group vocal layers. In the time it took you to read that last overextended, language-snob sentence, you could have easily sussed out the "deeper meanings" to any one of the catchy songs: Be content, love each other, and, in the album opener "Na Na Na," quit buying crap you don't actually need! I swore to myself I wasn't going to play the nationality card for the rest of the review...but do you ever get the feeling we should really consider opening up the American presidency to a foreigner?

The instrumentation is, quite simply, summer. Yes, I'm going out on a limb here and personify the entire season as a series of percussive, occasionally lo-fi kitchen recordings featuring such musically important instruments as the spoons and a damp rim of a wine glass. In an alternate universe - one where I was born with a sense of rhythm- this would be me, my years irritating my parents with the wine glass trick at dinner parties finally paying off.

Hummingbird, Go! 's strength lies in its more upbeat songs. While beautiful, songs like "Innan Du Gar " and "God's Highway" (the former featuring the talented Norwegian performer Ane Brun, the latter an otherwise sweet duet with Fröberg) simply don't measure up to the certain je ne sais quoi that has me taking my eyes off traffic to push repeat on songs like the ode to wander-lust "Japanese Art" or the magic-drenched "Locusts Are Gossiping" or even the stripped down waltz, aptly titled "The Waltz." In all, the album's faults are few, and gems shine with the honesty and fun of a few friends getting together for the sheer joy of making music. Seeing as how that is exactly what this album is, it seems to be the most appropriate description of all. We're just lucky they let us in on the fun.

mp3: "Na Na Na" by Theresa Andersson

Friday, August 1, 2008

conor oberst by conor oberst

It is a universally acknowledged fact that every good blogger is in want of a buzz band to alternately praise and trash1. I'm sorry, I have to do it. They take away our bloggers licence if we ignore releases like this. I blame genetics. I was a sixteen-year-old girl once. Conor Oberst, the new album by Bri-- er, Conor Oberst is out August 5th on Merge. By now, you've heard it, I've heard it, heck, your grandma's probably rocking out to "I Don't Want to Die" as you read this. So let's add to the noise shall we? Starting with the obvious: it's good. Love him or hate him (and with an artist this polarizing, chances are you fall into one of these groups) Conor Oberst is a talented song writer. There's no denying that. Hopping from his vaguely folk-tinged emo-rock to emo-tinged folk-rock might be just the thing he needs to open up his talents to a whole new audience. Here's hoping the inverse is true, and this album acts as a gateway drug, leading teens into the rich world of folk. Darn it, I wanna see the mall rats outside of Hot Topic rocking out to Blood on the Tracks.

For me the problem with last year's much lauded Cassadaga was that it simply didn't move forward thematically as well as it did musically2. Yes the instrumentation was a subtle and interesting, yes it was a great display of muscianship, but it was boring! Dear Conor, where was the angst? The wail, so credible on Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground was still there. But the "maturation" in musicality made it feel like an overt, ostentatious, obligatory window dressing. Along with the album came news of Oberst's stint in Cassadega - and rehab - which no one can blame him for. But along with drying out, did Oberst leave behind the demons that made him popular to begin with? For a lack of a better question, did he forget how to "fake the funk?"

Conor Oberst answers that question. No. His themes are more universal. The angst is still present, but it's abundantly clear he's letting his fictional characters do the heaving lifting. This is the rough folk rock album M. Ward could have created if he wasn't busy being the "Him" to Zoey's "She." (Not that we're complaining.) Rather than the musical equivalent of a full and complete breakdown, this is the soundtrack to a summer's evening. Oberst and backing band are sitting porch side with a few friends, discussion equal parts "cabbages and kings" and why the sea might actually be boiling hot one day. Ideas come and go in dramatic intense bursts, conversation ebbs and flows, drinks and inside jokes are shared. Putting aside the Bright Eyes moniker for an album seems to have given Oberst permission to stop trying to solve the world's problems...at least for a moment. The result isn't a reinvention of the wheel (Don't believe me? Miss Bright Eyes a bit too much? Check out "Eagle on a Pole"), but like the summer's evening spent with friends, Conor Oberst is a much needed, well deserved break for both listener and artist.

Bright Eyes has clearly grown up, I get it. Maybe not enough to line up at the crack of dawn outside of Amoeba, but I do like it. Who knows, maybe I've grown up, too3.

1. Or maybe that's MNE.
2.Although to be fair, it was responsible for the best lyric of last year: "Had a lenghty discussion about the power of myth, with post modern author who didn't exist."
2. Don't count on it, Mom.


mp3: "Danny Callahan" by Conor Oberst
mp3: "June on the West Coast (live on KCRW)" by Bright Eyes (with M.Ward)