Thursday, October 30, 2008

plastic snow -- available november 1st


November 1st -- because Christmas can't come early enough.
only at

for life by hearts of palm uk

They said it could never work... She was a sentimental girl band, singing about a love that came so close to working; warm, sincere and influenced by folk. He was a cool and subdued synthesizer, driving beats and modulating sine-waves were his specialty; dreaming of bands like I Am Robot & Proud and Freescha, he would never go lyrical... Until he met her... until now. Hearts of Palm UK's new album, “For Life,” has wed the the sad, longing bride to the synth-drum kit groom and created a beautiful baby of soft-spoken, heartfelt and wonderfully awesome synth-pop; and it sounds really, really cool.

Songs like “I Flow” and “So Long” showcase the real strength of Hearts of Palm UK's style – the heart-felt and sincere “girl-with-guitar” lyrics interwoven with subdued and cool electronic sounds that seem to somehow emphasize through contrast the warm voice and emotionally charged lyrics. To top it off, lead singer Erica Electra has a voice perfectly suited to her music – a sincere tone that manages to remain vulnerable yet strong and completely believable throughout her tales of love found and subsequently lost. Synth leads fill in the background, subdued drums keep time and sweeping pads soar over the whole thing – even the vocoder gets in on the action.

A wonderfully executed and sincere take on the terrible joy of relationships -- and the complexity of feelings they bring up and leave behind, all scored to the beeps and boops any electro junkie would love. Not to mention is just sounds so cool. If it sounds awesome, that's because it is.... and by awesome I mean check them out .

mp3: "I Flow" by Hearts of Palm UK
mp3: "People & Logistics" by Hearts of Palm UK

Monday, October 27, 2008

who killed amanda palmer? by amanda palmer

For a twenty-three year old girl who subsists on microwavable cuisine and still has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up, listening to Amanda Palmer's (of the famed Dresden Dolls) solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer on an overcast day after drinking the very last Twinings single in the cabinet was, in retrospect, not the healthiest thing I could have done for my own - at times dubious - state of mental health.

Then again, someone who subsists on microwavable cuisine obviously thinks other things are far more important. And so.

This write-up should have been posted weeks ago, honestly. Unfortunately, when I'm called to write about something that basically wrenched my throat out with candid feelings and the stabbing recognition of self-deprecation in a world that really needs no encouragement, I get a little pressed for words. Even now, I don't think I can do it justice. It's been a while since an album has hit me this hard. Who Killed Amanda Palmer is so many emotions, so many genres, and so many faces of humanity huddled beneath a single umbrella made of ivory. Madness and innocence link arms within the raw frankness of each phrase; her lyrics are desperate confessions and wry, cynical observations, each one of them delivered as if they're the last words she'll ever say.

The opening track, "Astronaut," is a perfect gateway from everything I love about the Dresden Dolls to a more intimate exploration of the woman behind the lyrics. Precise, pounding piano and crashing drums take reeling pauses to allow Amanda a step forward - a chance to finally tell her side of the story. From there, it segues startlingly into "Runs in the Family," which is a furious, rhapsodic rejection of responsibility. All day I’ve been wondering what is inside of me / who can I blame for it? It's Amanda at her most insane - and for me, it's one of WKAP's many highlights.

One of the reasons I think that this album has taken such a strong hold on my aural receptors is that I've always had a fondness/weakness for musical theatre. With Amanda's background, it's no surprise that the ensuing piano-rich ballads comprising the majority of the album's content sound like they belong beneath a single spotlight on a blacked-out stage, existing as solos for the different personas portrayed by a single woman caught out at stage front before her cues.

"Ampersand" is glorious in its subtle complexity, an abdication that borders on bitterness but never quite crosses the line. "Leeds United" paints a confusingly ironic landscape of priority (including what I consider to be the most ridiculous yet simultaneously wonderful and hard-hitting lyrics of 2008: But who needs love when there’s Law & Order / And who needs love when there’s Southern Comfort / And who needs love / When the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the Mac store?).

Later, she breaks out "Have to Drive" - my favourite track of all. Who knew that refrains about the misfortune of roadkill could be so heart-wrenching? The choral verses at about 3:52 almost did me in. (And no, that wasn't a sick pun. I'm not nearly that clever.) "What's the Use of Wond'rin'," a track borrowed from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, conveys - through soft vocals and an equally innocent, twinkling accompaniment - the lamentable acceptance of domestic abuse.

The only song that stood out to me as being a little oddly placed was "Oasis"; while being one of the jauntiest and catchiest songs about rape, abortion, and teenage flightiness (is that even a word?) that I've ever heard in my life, it felt a little awkward in between the R&H track and the proceeding "The Point of it All," another lovely biographical ballad rife with biting metaphors and sorrow. Not that I don't love a tongue-in-cheek pop song, but the placement was a bit jarring.

Minor whiplash aside, Who Killed Amanda Palmer finishes beautifully with "Another Year." I couldn't imagine a better closer; her voice cracks, and her words reveal a woman at her barest, procrastinating on what? life? love? Whatever it is, it can wait.

I'm sitting in my office after hours, and I'm still out of tea. I've finished editing this for the last time, and for once I'm actually somewhat pleased with the wording. I guess it fits, in a way. Because when I finally closed iTunes after the last track, it started to rain.

And now I can go home.

mp3: "Ampersand (live)" by Amanda Palmer

Friday, October 24, 2008

more modern short stories from hello saferide by hello saferide

The bad news...Annika Norlin's (a.k.a. Hello Saferide) sugar-filled debut album Introducing Hello Saferide still doesn't have a proper American release. The good news? Not only is her sophomore release, More Modern Stories from Hello Saferide, for sale at iTunes, Razzia Records has got it at a discounted rate! Yea for international thinking!

More Modern Stores finds Hello Saferide playing the role of the confused twenty-something - torn somewhere between figuratively reentering the womb (pretty much every song), and literally moving back into her parents' house ("Parenting Never Ends"), a longing for security every twenty-something can identify with. (That sound you just heard was my parents re-keying their locks.) When literally looking forward to the trappings of adulthood, like having children of her own in the heartbreaking tale of loss "Anna," the reasons seem to be solely to recapture elements of her own spoiled youth, like making sure her daughter...never has to know what it's like when your heart breaks. Even in supposedly adult flights of fantasy, like the Bonnie and Clyde tale "Middleclass," the protagonists end up tent-bound, flashlights under their chins. This, for all practical purposes, should be the sophomore slump. Instead, we get the quarter-life slump, which makes for strong, honest album fodder, if a bit scattered and segmented. Truth be told, I could be a lot harder on this album if it didn't feel like it fell out of my own brain.

Maybe this feeling of overt familiarity is the reason I've never wanted to like Hello Saferide. Musically, she's a bit cloying, at times a bit Dashboard Confessional, other times a one woman Lilith Fair. (Which, for the record, my seventeen-year-old self loved! Goodbye cred.) Maybe it's a tribute to the triumph of cynicism over preferred musicality. (For my favorite Hello Saferide sounds, see the folky "I Wonder Who Is Like This One" and her breakthough twee-pop anthem "High School Stalker.") It's just, she gets me. I've never been the heartbreaker, I've just had my heartbroken. I've never been the prom queen (shocked?)1, just the weird kid in the audio visual club. Even at her most grating - quirky-for-quirky-sake "Sancho Panza" - that undeniable element of sincerity shines though. These aren't just songs, these - in the tradition of Bob Dylan, who's name-checked twice on the album - are stories. Stories for the modern outcast. I can dig it.

1.For the record, I turned down a date to the prom, instead opting to go to a costumed bowling party. For source credit on the next Hello Saferide album I can be contacted via

mp3: "Anna" by Hello Saferide

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

another world by antony & and the johnsons

Someone recently told me that I was his "touchstone of normalcy." This is...terrifying, and after much consternation I have reluctantly concluded that I'm simply not capable of the mental gymnastics needed to unpack this statement. Of course, it's all relative, right? While I'm an oddball for all the usual reasons anyone who voluntarily chooses to blog can be called weird, Antony Hegarty, leader of Antony & The Johnsons, is busy creating his own standard of normalcy. Or weirdness. After two full-lengths and a handful of EPs, it's clear that he really doesn't care what you think.

After adding texture to Björk's occasionally interesting Volta and being the sole redeeming feature of Hercules & Love Affair's tragically bland debut outing, it's nice to hear Antony back on his own turf with Another World (available now). I'll admit it; I just don't get his guest spots. Early exposure to him on Rufus Wainwright's epic Want 2 almost made me write off Antony's œuvre in its entirety. Had it not been (once again) for KCRW, I wouldn't be writing this right now. I'd be, you know, sleeping or doing something normal.

Another World's brevity may just be a stop gap (five songs, nineteen minutes, thirty-one seconds) before January's Crying Light, but if you've gotta have a musical refilling station, what better place to take a pause than one crammed with Antony's distinct wail and swelling orchestration? It sure beats the terrible smelling I-5 rest stops my parents would always drag us to when the mercury was twenty degrees above or below the comfort zone.

Antony's musical choices are, for the most part, as dependable as my parent's vacation choices. Another World isn't going to silence stylistic naysayers. He still writes beautiful, pain-ridden piano music; it's clear his blue period extends far into the horizon. However, there are slight shifts in the stylistic winds. This time Antony's perennial blues come with...the blues. "Shake the Devil" highlights a more vocally aggressive Antony; it's a song that could serve as a dramatic postscript to I Am A Bird Now's "Fist Full of Love." The driving drums, the slinky saxophone, the call-and-response chorus of that dog had its way with me/shake that dog out of that tree...could it all be a sign Antony might be planning to cut loose come his next full-length? Hard to tell. After the one conspicuously aggressive number, Antony retreats to the solidarity of his piano, horns pushed to arms length, on the haunting album closer "Hope Mountain"...the place where people come to cry. Baby steps toward change? Who knows? One thing's for sure, though: refusal to embrace normalcy has never sounded so good.

mp3: "You Are My Sister Now" by Antony and The Johnsons (from I Am A Bird Now)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

it's nothing personal, it's national security by the social services

In Sweden, geek rock is hard to come by. This is, of course, a direct corollary to the fact that in Sweden, geeks are hard to come by --a major failing in a top shelf country that offers not only socialized health care, but an abundance of vegetarian menu options as well. So, any residual geekiness that The Social Services possess can probably be blamed by the fact that two-thirds of this band is not in fact Sweden-grown...they just call it home. Or maybe that's just the good ol' fashioned Glaswegian enthusiasm rearing its head when faced with Scandinavian "storage solutions" and the apathy of fellow public transport communters.

This outsider mentality peppers It's Nothing Personal, It's National Security (out now). A wistful homespun album, every track1 is laced with youthful energy and optimism, be it attempting to make new friends in your adopted homeland, listing the pros and cons of said homeland in somewhat rapid fire Swedish (which include, I think2, tributes to Pippi Longstocking and Igmar Bergman), or reminding the youth of today that, yeah, stuff tends to suck, but it will always get better. This frustration/hopefulness dichotomy perfectly informs the instrumentation--a straight forward, cleaned up twee-punk. We're young; eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die...or ya know, succumb to a rogue cholesterol attack. (Cholesterol? Please. Now that America has expanded to the Pacific Ocean our Manifest Destiny includes expanding waistlines.)

The meloncoholy though, is hard to sustain. Happiness, it appears, will always triumph. This is fun, cynicism-melting stuff, there's no way to get around it. The Social Services, armed with their singalong choruses, have taken up the mandate of fellow Scots Belle & Sebastian, Stewart Murdoch's playful condensation substituted for Emma Naismith and Lucy Cathert's infectious sing chant choruses.

Bottom line? It's a likable bunch making lovable music. I mean, how can you not love a band that enjoys a rousing game of "Touch the Swede"3?

Touch the Swede

1. Exception being the band's pretty/painful take on "You Are My Sunshine," which makes me feel the depression of a long Swedish winter in full force --despite the fact it's currently 80 outside and I've been whining about having to run my car's air conditioning.
2. It should be noted that my Swedish is limited to asking for a cookie, commenting on the value of local rock acts, and declaring that albino gorillas have stolen my computer.
3. Otherwise, the terrorists have won.

mp3: "Baltic Sea" by The Social Services
mp3: "Seven Dwarves" by The Social Services

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

noah and the whale @ spaceland

By now, everyone has surely seen Noah and the Whale's "Five Years Time" video, and been slain by its Wes Anderson-themed adorability. (And if you haven't, go ahead and watch. We'll be here when you get back.) That video is the primary reason that the Would-be Hipsters headed to Spaceland last Monday for their free show: cute English boys + ukulele + awesome shoes + synchronized dance moves = Would-be Hipster bait. And granted, we didn't get the synchronized dance moves, but we did get awesome shoes and a ukulele1 and very cute English boys. So really, who am I to complain?

With the help of a mini brass section and opener / label-mate Lindi Ortego (who was part Martha Wainwright, part Colin Meloy, and a smidgen of Joanna Newsom), the boys made it through all of the upbeat songs on their album, along with two mind-bendingly good covers: Daniel Johnston's "Devil Town", and the Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma". So those two songs on top of the band's usual repertoire of bouncy tunes about turning into fertilizer and children being eaten by wolves, sung by four guys who look like extras in a Dexy's Midnight Runners' music video, and geeky indie-rock girls were swooning left and right. The band even manages to be endearing in the face of adversity, say, for example, when feedback takes over the guitar (borrowed from the opener because Chaz's guitar broke a string earlier in the set) in the middle of the oh well it comforts me / oh well it comforts me chorus of "Rocks and Daggers" and the drummer and bassist refuse to stop playing.

Noah and the Whale finished their first tour of the States at the Spaceland show, but fear not, they're touring at the end of the year, and there's still plenty of awkward awesomeness to go around, I'm sure.

1. Noah and the Whale are the primary reason I broke down and bought myself a ukulele. Her name is Madeline. She thanks the band for inspiring me. My upstairs neighbors? Not so much.

(Photo Noah and the Whale: myspace)

mp3: "Death by Numbers" by Noah and the Whale

los angeles is burning. again.

Los Angeles is burning. I'm hiding from the smoke and 85 degree heat, cowering like a cockroach in the darkness and (relative) air cleanliness of my apartment.

Happy autumn everyone!

mp3: "Don't Blame the Weatherman (live)" by Steve Burns
mp3: "Grapevine Fires (live)" by Death Cab For Cutie
mp3: "Campfire Kansas (live)" by Get Up Kids
mp3: "I'm on Fire (live)" by Bat For Lashes
mp3: "Ashes (demo)" by Rufus Wainwright

Monday, October 13, 2008

ropechain by grampall jookabox

Back in 1967, way before Disney had its musical identity crisis (Tarzan, anyone? Phil Collins, yeah?), they released an animated feature which showcased a myriad of swingin' jungle creatures and the groovy vocal talents of Phil Harris and Louis Prima. Yes, I'm talking about The Jungle Book. Yes, there is logic behind this introduction.

It's 2008 now. And while Disney still struggles to find itself among obvious issues of misplaced production and an increasing lack of talent, Baloo and company seem to have discovered the benefits of late-night moonshine-fueled antics and have since lent the mental image of their escapades to the Indiana-based hardcore folk project Grampall Jookabox. Sound like a stretch? Listen to "Ghost," the third track on their sophomore album and debut LP Ropechain. Maybe it's the fact that I watched way too many cartoons as a kid, but I can imagine Kipling's Ikki the porcupine in a ridiculous animated form as he stands on an old crate with his crooked spines, dubiously-marked bottle in his hand, warning the others of a tribal-masked apparition he'd seen the night before. Then, taking up their like crutches and a rack of rusted bells, the jungle folk start up a haunting response with "Old Earth, Wash My Beat," bouncing non sequiturs off freshly-laid railroad tracks in the moonlight.

Disturbing (yet somehow welcome) corruption of childhood memories aside, Ropechain proves to be one of the most fun albums I've heard this year. When a song isn't saturated with a collection of delightfully dark, jaunty, and perverse rhythms1, it's carried by the soulful, finely crafted harmony of David Adamson's spectral vocals. Regardless of where you start when you listen to this album, it's guaranteed to work its voodoo on your eardrums and keep you spellbound until the end.

"The Girl Ain't Preggers," one of Ropechain's unapologetic highlights (and a carry-over track from Jookabox's Rill Bruh EP, available for free download on the Asthmatic Kitty website), boasts a raw, almost raunchy beat that can easily be classified as hypnotic; meanwhile, its lyrical lament on the rivalling emotions of a man who discovers that he didn't get a girl pregnant (don't it make you feel glad / the girl ain't preggers and don't it make you feel sad crop up at different refrains) is presented in a way that somewhat downplays the depth of what's actually being said. Nevertheless, it's got a barefoot catchiness that'll plant the words with a one-two in your brain no matter how you want to psychologically approach them. I love the baby face. Nnf-nnf-nnf. Enough said.

My personal favourite on the album comes at the very end, just like crack-laced spumoni after a spaghetti dinner that'd been braided into a python by Max Ernst. "I'm Absolutely Freaked Out" is a fitting title for it, if only because it's six solid minutes' worth of a passionate, slightly creepy spaz-fest that would be a perfect soundtrack for ghostbusting with magical rubber mallets. Or kickboxing. I don't know. I've never kickboxed.

Even after the daunting number of times I've listened to this album, I'm still not sure how to classify it. I have it narrowed down to two stacks: "Danceable" and "Demands Whiskey." Until I decide for sure, though, I'll just set it next to Baloo and King Louie and proceed to have the weirdest cartoon dreams known to humanity.2

Ropechain by Grampall Jookabox will be released by Asthmatic Kitty Records on November 4th, 2008.

1 Drum machine + me = OTP.
2 Although it'll be hard to top the one I had when I was six, right after I watched the Looney Tunes episode where Elmer Fudd serenaded a cross-dressing Bugs Bunny sitting atop a comically obese white horse. I blame that, and not my lack of cultural refinement, for my mild and admittedly nonsensical fear of the opera.

mp3: "The Girl Ain't Preggers" by Grampall Jookabox
mp3: "That Steamboat Gothic Stomp" by Grampall Jookabox (from the Rill Bruh EP)

Friday, October 10, 2008

4 by dungen

When I think of Psychedelic rock, I usually remember this one time in Santa Barbara I saw a Pink Floyd cover band. There was this one older gentleman – maybe in his early fifties – going crazy dancing in the middle of the venue; which, being a small and very crowded bar, was not conducive to that activity at all. His head lolled from side to side, eyes closed as he spun around -- arms outstretched -- jerking erratically like some alien trying to figure out how perform the strange human activity of “dancing."

The rest of the bar patrons – mostly a younger set -- looked on with what seemed curiosity and concern; I think we all shared a communal “what the hey?” moment when a couple more veterans of the Age of Aquarius joined said man and joined in his crazed dance. I thought to myself, “self, what exactly are these old hippies doing? Perhaps re-enacting their summers of love spent listening to acid-soaked rock in mountain meadows?” Perhaps -- but to this day I have a sneaking suspicion that they were just high and drunk. Regardless, the music they were flailing around to was some awesome psychedelic-rock; and in all honesty, when I heard the latest Dungen album, “4,” I have to admit that I was ready to get up and do a little flailing around myself.

Apparently pronounced “DOONG-un,” the Swedish group's fourth studio album is a wonderfully listenable, at times epic-rock and other times emotional-jam, that seems to cut corners across genres with it’s folksy-psychedelic-rock-awesome sound. They waste no time in showing off their technical prowess – from the get-go you're surrounded by rock-solid playing and some wonderful production that balances the panoply of sounds in each track. Featuring pianos, guitars, subdued drums and plenty of incidental instruments filling in the back, the album is packed to the gills with talent and the kind of musical craftsmanship that seems to shout “Sounds easy, but only cause we're crazy good.” Sounds like? I could say anything from Stereo lab to The Doors depending on the track, they're really that varied. Just a warning: the song titles and lyrics are all in Swedish -- but please don't let that dissuade you if you're the “can't understand it, can't stand it” type; the album is largely instrumental – and don't forget, “awesome” is the universal language – and “4”'s awesome translates just fine.

The album opens with “Satt Att Se,” whose wandering, asymmetrical sound wastes no time in plunging you into an acid-soaked world where you ride a giant guitar over tie-dyed landscapes. Slightly reminiscent of Sigur Ros and maybe even a “Kid A” era Radiohead, it showcases the wonderful sound of Dungen – whose complex and well-developed pieces seems to effortlessly blend drippy folk, some wild jazz and the complexity of a cinematic score with psychedelic rock. They boast all the hallmarks of their genre – long solos, lots of keys and studio effects and that syrupy grit of a sound that lets you know this would be even better if you were stoned.

Track 4, “Samtidigt 1,” sports a hard, relentless wailing on guitar over insistent drums that is reminiscent of Hendrix in all it's gritty intensity. In stark comparison is track 9, “Samtidigt 2” which has an open, jazz-like quality as it flows from riff to riff, confident and insistent in it's wonderfully “thrown-together, totally-improvised-this-just-know” sound. Track 10, “Bandhagen,” featuring piano, flute and chimes, seems to beg for a chance to fulfill it’s true calling as a soundtrack for some indie movie starring some cute, doe-eyed girl in the big city. With it’s ebb and flow reminiscent of some easy-listening, this almost ambient piece is a great way to sign off the album and go in for another listen.

Dungen's “4” is profoundly enjoyable, blending a myriad of styles into one awesome album, it easily passed the “sit in the dark with my giant headphones” test with flying colors; and it also proved to be a lot of fun to listen to in the background whilst busying myself with other would-be-hipster activities. A rock-solid sound that's brought on strong and, in my humble opinion, best played LOUD. Definitely worth a listen, if for no other reason to impress your friends with a Swedish psychedelic rock group you've “been following for a while.” I recommend you check em out.

By the way, that dancing hippie in Santa Barbara? I did a little research and seem to have uncovered that his flailing was indeed a performance of what is commonly called the “hippie dance.” Usually confined to earth-day festivals or the parking lot outside the renaissance fair, my witnessing it somehow moved me to consider this old hippies plight – the last of a dying breed, he longs only to have his simple and drug-induced traditions live on, that the next generation learn from his ways. Worry not, sweet hipster of ages long past, I will bear your torch! Dear reader, you too can help this noble cause; just look for me at the next Dungen show – I'll be the one doing the crazy dance.

mp3: "Samtidigt 1" by Dungen
mp3: "Mina Damer Och Fasaner" by Dungen

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

who killed harry houdini by i'm from barcelona

So, for better or worse, I'm back from vacation. Aiding in the transition back to reality, (a state of being which is proving to be highly overrated), is Who Killed Harry Houdini, (available October 16th), the sophomore album of my favorite 20+ piece Swedish stamp-collecting collective I'm From Barcelona. Welcome home, have some twee.

The hallmarks of I'm From Barcelona are still in place on their newest outing -clarinet solos, swelling choruses featuring enough back-up singers to form a football team, twee-esque musing on life, love, and inanimate objects. (This time it's, not tree houses but paper planes. Someone had a happy childhood!) However, when judged against their cotton-candy sweet debut Let Me Introduce My Friends, there's something missing. On the debut, bandleader and lead singer Emanuel Lundgren gathered 20+ of his best friends, all professionals in seemingly every field but music, for a glorified jam session. The result was a musical mad-cap romp where, many times, enthusiasm trumped ability. It was like listening to the soundtrack for trailer version of your life: all energy and highlights. Who Killed Harry Houdini features the same group of people, only after a tour around the world and over 100 shows, something has changed: these are no longer just people. They're musicians.

Throwing out the first album's high benchmark1, and accepting that the I'm From Barcelona cannon is big enough for ocasional bouts of melancholy2,one has to admit that Who Killed Harry Houdini is a solid album. Not a magical record (which is a shame, given the title), but certainly enjoyable. The main problem is it's the newly evolved band making the music, which many times translates to burying their resources. "Houdini," with its Beck-like vocals and screeching guitars, is something I'd dance to (or at least sway enthusiastically to) at any concert. But what's the point of having nearly thirty people on stage if you aren't going to utilize your man power for swelling, singalong choruses? Personally, I've always argued for gilding the lilly. Come on, I'm from Barcelona, you always managed to pull off that singing en masse better than cult-happy Polyphonic Spree.

Thank goodness there are still moments that prove that the baby hasn't completely been thrown out with the bath water3. Songs like "Mingus" and the single-ready "Paper Planes" still have a light sprinkle of the old I'm From Barcelona, twee x20 (or rather twenty-eight if one is to believe the liner notes) charm - it's just on Who Killed Harry Houdini, they've pulled back a bit and matured. No, really, what's the point of restraint when you're seven times larger than the average indie rock outfit, capable of seven times4 the enthusiasm and charm? So close, and yet still slightly unfullfilling, Who Killed Harry Houdini is like ordering a diet coke with your Double Double and fries. I wanted the chocolate shake.

1. ...which those critical readers out there will notice I'm incapable of doing.
2.With all those members it better be!
3. You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater because then all you have is a wet, critically injured baby.
4.One will also notice none of the math in this post actually checks out.

mp3: "Robots Sing I'm From Barcelona" by I'm From Barcelona (remix by Adventure Kid)
mp3: "Music Killed Me (Adventure Kid Remix)" by I'm From Barcelona

Sunday, October 5, 2008

strugglers by koufax

I am well aware that this is social suicide and will strip me of any hipster cred I might have ever earned. But I kind of think that Koufax is the band that Spoon wants to be.

Yeah. I said it.

Koufax's newest release, Strugglers, has staccato horn stabs, quirky drum fills, jangly guitars, and a funky white boy who's actually pretty funky, in a slightly-stoned sort of way. The lyrics are slightly absurd, but filled with anger and nostalgia and politics and storytelling, delivered in Robert Suchan's ever-so-slightly unstable tenor voice.

Strugglers is probably the most adventurous album Koufax have released yet. The lineup of the band seems to change every album, and obviously this shakeup has had its effect on the album, as the songs go from full-out rockers to jazzy numbers to Santana-inspired guitar solos. "Roll the Dice" has French Kicks-style ringing guitars; "Facsimile" is driven by a great mid-60s style bass line1; the title track has a surprisingly poppy "whoah-oh-oh" chorus. The only unfortunate thing about the album is that it ends on its weakest track, "California Taught Us Well," which is a little bit too Latin-swing-style musically for my taste, and a smidge heavy-handed lyrically (Suchan clearly dislikes Los Angeles, and as a slightly jaded Angelino, his frequent jabs at my city always amuse me, heavy-handed or not). Regardless, the songs come off as fun and effortless and honest. It's music that cynics can dance to, and if that's not magical, I don't know what is.

1. It's remarkably similar to the Monkees' "Early Morning Blues and Greens," but sadly, you've probably never heard anything off Headquarters, so never mind.

mp3: "Any Moment Now" by Koufax
also: Daytrotter Sessions - live tracks from 2007, songs from Hard Times Are In Fashion

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

na na ni by fredrik

Earlier this year, The LK released a really good album called Vs. the Snow. This is of course, a gross understatement. It's a great album, one filled with electro-pop hooks that make for almost instant addiction. Thank goodness Lindefelt and Fredrick are finally releasing their side project Fredrik's debut album Na Na Ni stateside (October 28th). A few more months without output from my favorite Swedish synesthesia suffers and I would have been reduced to haranguing passersby in attempts to get my indie rock fix1.

Will work for Moog solos.

It remains to be seen if Na Na Ni will do the trick, but this much can be said - it's instantly likable, and should in no way be written off as a simple stopgap, even if amist the genre hopping there are marked similarities. Much of Na Na Ni's highlights feel like what might have happened if The LK had lost power while programming the bloops and bleeps of Vs. The Snow. If the juice was turned back on, songs like "1968" and "Black Fur" would have no problem fitting on a Vs. The Snow sequel. For now though, Lindefelt and Fredrick seem more than content to dabble in beautiful unsampled samples. What is that called? Oh yea, folk!

Once one stops looking to draw parallels between the two projects (or in my case, realizes the similarities are enough to carry her though), the different become evident. Breathtakingly evident. (Gee...aren't I just Captain Obvious today?) Within Fredrik2, Fredrik's and Lindefelt's hats are in permanent tip, not to their forefathers of pop, but rather to the Eastern Folk tradition. It's a strong departure which, on songs like "Ninkon Loops" and "Na Na Ni," work in totality. Other times, as is the case with the delicious album closer "Morr," it's as though the members of Beirut swallowed a copy of a pop anthology while Zach Condon's back was turned, making for a not-unpleasing hybrid between the old and new worlds.

In November, Fredrik heads out for a tour of the US. On The LK's last tour they bypassed LA. Come on guys, don't make me beg for a fix...

1. Who will fill the Postal Service shaped hole in my heart now?
2.Did Lindefelt pull the short straw? Or is there a second side-project with his name attached? Ooohhh...

mp3: "Black Fur" by Fredrik
mp3: "1986" by Fredrik