Saturday, December 12, 2009

end of year list #1

I know it's early yet, but the holiday season is all a-buzz around us and I thought I'd go ahead and get the end-of-2009 stuff going with a little listmaking cheer. A warning, though: I'm an English major. This means I write a lot. So there's many a paragraph to brave. But you can make it. I have faith in you.

ten favorite albums

10 • Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix
I tried not to let Phoenix's show-stopping performance at this year's Monolith Festival influence my decision on this album's placement, but it didn't work. Where before I listened to this album I heard fun, bouncy indie-pop, now my mind is overcome with powerful images of smoke machines and strobe lights and I'm suddenly reminded just how fantastic it can be to be alive sometimes. Now just try telling me that music capable of conjuring that emotion doesn't belong on a list somewhere. I'd love to hear why.

9 • Intuit by Ramona Falls
Perhaps the year's most unlikely inclusion, if only because I honestly wasn't expecting to be that impressed by a solo album (sorta) by the guitarist/pianist from Menomena. I was wrong. If anything, this is even better than his mother act: an understated, often beautiful assortment of indie-rock songs that don't necessarily provide immediate satisfaction as much as crawl under your skin and stay there.

8 • Controlling Crowds, Pts. I-IV by Archive
A sprawling 127-minute behemoth that actually impresses because of its length rather than in spite of it. By deftly weaving together elements of electronica, prog-rock, and hip-hop, this British bazillion-piece creates a dark, hypnotic, otherworldly atmosphere unlike any other I have heard in music. The final product feels less like an album than its own self-contained universe. That its best moments (the seductive slow-burner "Collapse/Collide," the gorgeously melancholy "The Empty Bottle," the should-have-been-huge "Pills," and of course the splendid title cut) also constitute some of the year's finest tracks doesn't hurt, either.

7 • It's Blitz! by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Talk about a breakthrough. I had heard both of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' albums prior to 2009, but something about them failed to impress me. The decidedly glossier, more synthed-up It's Blitz, however, grabbed me by the throat and demanded my attention. Apparently it had a similar effect on the rest of the world: "Zero" is justly one of the most inescapable tracks of the year, and while my personal tastes gravitate more towards the likes of "Dull Life" and "Heads Will Roll," I can't begrudge these guys (and, of course, girl) a single ounce of their mainstream success. They've earned it.

6 • Daisy by Brand New
Especially after the consecutive home-runs of Deja Entendu and The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, I'm not about to argue that Daisy isn't a deeply flawed album. It is. But it's also an immensely fascinating one, bringing to the forefront an unchecked aggression only previously hinted at. The result is far and away the band's angriest, most brutal outing to date. And even though the WTF-worthy opener "Vices" may not sound a damn thing like "Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't," the band retains its preternatural ability to make everything they do -- regardless of one's intrinsic bias against the styles they tackle -- sound fresh, exciting, and wonderful. Daisy may not represent the most rewarding or satisfying turn they've taken, but it nonetheless holds its own as an assured, forceful, and cathartic rock record. Admit to the truth: they're still the best at what they do.

5 • Fantasies by Metric
Metric has always been a good band. Emily Haines' charisma and the band's tight songwriting have always sort of ensured that. Fantasies was my first taste of how, with a little more focus and polish, they can also be a great one. Their past albums all had moments of brilliance, but the records themselves lacked the sort of consistency that Fantasies all but makes up for. As a piece, it's slick, tight, and totally addictive. But more to the point, it's a lot of fun. Describing just how warm and purely enjoyable this album is is no easy task, but it's perhaps not quite as difficult as resisting the urge to play it over again once it's finished.

4 • The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists
Despite being one of my favorite bands, The Decemberists and I have a bit of a tumultuous history; as a result, I probably listened to The Hazards of Love significantly fewer times than anything else on this list. This ain't gonna keep me from extolling its brilliance, though: Meloy & co. have always been ambitious, and here that ambition reaches an all-time high. A 70s-inspired rock opera may not seem like the best path for a band still most famous for folk songs and sea shanties, but it fits them like a glove. In fact, it's something of a tour de force: exciting, cohesive, and even a little bit "mossy and evil."

3 • Swoon by Silversun Pickups
This is exactly the record I wanted them to make. Without changing the sound they developed on 2006's (incredible) Carnavas, they nonetheless refine it into something paradoxically more aggressive, yet more tender; more assured, yet more fragile. Pitchfork, in what may be their worst review of all-time, criticized the band for sounding -- and I quote -- "way too much like themselves." I think that's the exact reason why Swoon is one of the best albums of the year.

2 • Amor Vincit Omnia by Pure Reason Revolution
The best album of the year that no one heard. I did my part to share it with all my like-minded friends, but even this can't hide the fact that I really only stumbled on it by accident. So what gives? This is a wonderful album, far and away the most accomplished electronic release of 2009. By combining traditional prog and synth-pop sensibilities with rich melodies and lush multi-part vocal harmonies, PRR have created a rewarding and ambitious collection as unique as it is life-affirming. Do yourself a favor and seek it out. It really is that good.

1 • Dragonslayer by Sunset Rubdown
Spencer Krug is not human. Humans make mistakes. Spencer Krug does not do this (I lay blame for Swan Lake on Dan Bejar). To wit: the man has made both of my album and song lists for five consecutive years. 99% of bands don't even make it as far as releasing something each year, much less having it be among the year's very best. At this point, I just leave spots open for Spencer with faith that he'll fill them in at some point in the ensuing twelve months. Dragonslayer is not Sunset Rubdown's best album, but in many ways it's their most accessible and straightforward. Krug's songwriting is still intimidatingly brilliant, and the band has never sounded tighter. I don't need to have heard all of the albums released in 2009. I am sure: this is the best.

ten favorite songs

10 • "Panic Attack" by Rinôçérôse from Futurino
It's important to get this party started on the right foot. There were any number of songs vying for tenth place, but one re-listen to Rinôçérôse's giddy electro-rock floorkiller immediately decimated the competition. This is one bouncy and catchy and habit-forming song. Oscillating between guitar-heavy verses and a synth-driven rave-up chorus, it emerges as one of the very best straightforward, no-holds-barred dance-pop songs I've heard in quite some time. And I like it like that.

9 • "Daniel" by Bat for Lashes from Two Suns
I'll be perfectly honest. I don't really "get" Bat for Lashes. I suppose I see what she's trying to do, but it doesn't really click for me. That said, I can't deny that "Daniel" is a hell of a song (and I kind of wish the rest of Two Suns had followed its retro-80s stylistic lead): catchy, atmospheric, and utterly beguiling. Plus, "When the fires came, the smell of cinders and rain perfumed almost everything: we laughed and laughed and laughed" is far and away my favorite lyric of the year.

8 • "Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!" by Sunset Rubdown from Dragonslayer
I don't know if Spencer Krug's lyrics really are more lucid and unambiguous here, or if I'm just in a position to better relate to them and therefore project my own clear interpreation, but either way this is likely the moodiest and most overtly melancholy song he's ever written. It's also gorgeous, emotional, and affecting enough that I feel entirely justified in my anger towards the band's decision to never play it live again.

7 • "I Say Fever" by Ramona Falls from Intuit
Even before it was graced with one of the year's coolest music videos, Brent Knopf's supremely enchanting piano ballad-turned-feedback laden rocker was already one of my favorite tunes of the year. Now it's pretty much mandated that I put it on this list somewhere. Special shout-out to "Clover," though. You almost made it, buddy.

6 • "Gold Guns Girls" by Metric from Fantasies
All you bands aiming to make the next great indie dance song, look no further than Emily Haines for a mentor. "Gold Guns Girls" might be the most unapologetically body-movin' thing the band has recorded to date, and its joyous, energetic synth-heavy sound is something wonderful to behold. And if the searing guitar riffs, the machine gun drumbeat, and the layered vocals weren't already enough to make it one of my favorite tracks of '09, the "more and more" coda pretty much seals it.

5 • "Controlling Crowds" by Archive from Controlling Crowds
Every year there's always a 10+ minute song so good that it ends up only feeling a quarter of its length ("Kissing the Beehive" last year, "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" the year before). This year it's Archive's tremendous electro-trip-hop epic, which builds and releases so masterfully that, even on an album as gargantuan as the one from which the song takes its name, it remains the clear and unequivocal standout. The part where Dave Penney sings over softly strummed acoustic guitars, "Keep me calm, 'cause I'm scared of the controlling crowds -- HERE THEY COME!" and the song suddenly explodes in a rush of synths and drum machines is probably the most viscerally satisfying moment in all of music this year.

4 • "Well, Whatever" by The Kingsbury Manx from Ascenseur Ouvert!
The inevitable dark horse. Simply the prettiest, most charming indie-pop song of the year. That's all there is to it.

3 • "Where There Is Light" by VNV Nation from Of Faith, Power, and Glory
If anything, 2009 can be remembered as the year that saved VNV Nation. In the past twelve months they have not only given us a breathtaking series of live shows (no really, you need to see these guys live), but also delivered their best album in a decade. Its final track, "Where There Is Light," is the musical equivalent of standing upon a high cliff overlooking a sea of sparkling city lights: dazzling, windswept, awe-inspiring. It's their finest moment since 2002's "Beloved."

2 • "Panic Switch" by Silversun Pickups from Swoon
I do not understand all the Silversun Pickups hate. I don't. If these people would stop comparing Brian Aubert to Billy Corgan for two seconds and actually listen to the music, they might realize that "Panic Switch" isn't just a good rock song, but a friggin' great rock song. The "I'm waiting and fading and floating away" bridge is the stuff dreams are made of. Just you remember that; it'll give you warm fuzzies the next time you hear it.

1 • "Deus Ex Machina" by Pure Reason Revolution from Amor Vincit Omnia
#1 with a bullet. Truthfully, there was never any competition. I heard this in February and knew pretty much instantly it would be my song of the year. What PRR do with these five and a half minutes is something extremely special. Bouncing from one inspired musical idea to the next, they provide a jagged, utterly addictive amalgamation of some of my favorite musical styles: electro-pop, industrial dance, prog-rock, heavy metal, and maybe even more heretofore undiscovered. It's mean, it's aggressive, it's adrenaline-pumping, and it's nothing short of brilliant.

five favorite shows
I went to more shows in 2009 than in all previous years combined, and as a result I am so overwhelmed with awesomeness that I find it impossible to rank the best of them. All five of these mark some of the greatest nights of my life; to attempt to stratify them would be criminal.

Apoptygma Berzerk @ the 9:30 Club (Washington, DC)
• Cut Copy @ the Bluebird Theater (Denver, CO)
• Metric @ the Ogden Theater (Denver, CO)
• Sunset Rubdown @ the Echoplex (Los Angeles, CA)
• VNV Nation @ the 9:30 Club (Washington, DC)

I live in Albuquerque.

in 2010 I might:
Make this post shorter. Then again, maybe not.

In any case, that does it for me. Check back for other hipsters' inevitable year-end lists, plus my own unenviable post-New Year's project of counting down my twenty-five favorite songs and albums of the decade. 'Til then!

mp3: "Panic Switch" by Silversun Pickups
mp3: "Pills" by Archive
mp3: "Deus Ex Machina" by Pure Reason Revolution
mp3: "Well, Whatever" by The Kingsbury Manx
mp3: "You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)" by Sunset Rubdown

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the get up kids @ the avalon

author's note: This post is stupidly late. Like a month late. We were waiting for the drawings. I'm sure you’ll agree that they're totally worth it.

The Get Up Kids are touring again, and, if their Twitter is to be believed, they'll continue touring for awhile. This is very good news. If you haven't seen them, and you're not afraid of getting kicked in the face1, you should catch a show. Three Would-be Hipsters sneaked out of work to get to the ridiculously early show at the Avalon, where I ran into two fellow fans I'd met at previous shows, because Get Up Kids fans are kind of awesome. Here's a bulleted list of things you should know about the show:

• First opener Pretty & Nice were, in fact, pretty nice. Motion City Soundtrack-esque punky pop played by boys in pants that are too tight.

• Second opener Youth Group disappointed us greatly, and we spent most of their set wondering how many porn flicks the lead singer had made, and hoping he didn't fall off the stage and bleed on us.

• The Get Up Kids sound just as tight and loud and wonderful as always, and they've even remembered how to play a lot of their old songs. ("Woodson" and "Off the Wagon"? Awesome.) They still seem unwilling to play "Shorty" for me, though.

• Most importantly, it seems the boys are writing again. With no fanfare other than frontman Matt Pryor's, "And then there was this," they launched into a new song. It doesn't sound very Get Up Kids-ish, but neither did 2004's Guilt Show, and that turned out pretty awesome. It does sound very bassy and very epic, and we at WBH headquarters are officially thrilled by it. According to their recent Daytrotter session2, they've recorded nine new songs. And while I'm a bit torn about the idea of a new album, if there is one I promise to buy it, and I'll go to every show, and I'll get kicked in the glasses by a teenaged boy, and I'll like it, dammit.

Super Added Bonus Section!
the Would-be Hipsters proudly present
"GUK Salad...and an Angel?"
an art piece by Aude Lising Prachandsitthi

There was a sweaty sweater-clad carrot...

...and there was a sweaty tattooed tomato, too.

There was a cupcake underpants wearing sweaty potato, of course...

...and let's not forget the wild hair, hat-clad, tongue-pulling ear of corn (uncooked).

And then there was Rob "I don't sweat because sweating is for mortals" Pope.

1. If you are afraid of getting kicked in the head, front-row-center is probably not for you – although not every show involves crowd-surfing, so you might wanna risk it anyway ‘cause front-row is kinda awesome.
2. Download it. Now.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

would-be hipsters in full force

Hey loyal readers. And, most likely, random passers-by.

As you may have noticed, LMS has moved on to her own project, Panel. (If you're loyal enough to follow us on twitter or facebook, there's no way you could have possibly missed this.) This is just a quick note to let you know that while LMS is gone, the rest of us are still here, geeking out over good music and pie. In fact, we've got a lot of changes in the works, including a new layout, new features, and even a new Would-be Hipster. That's why things are running sort of slowly around here. There's more to come, we promise, so please bear with us.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

goodbye, or?

Two years ago, we started this get free stuff and foist our opinions on others.

One Christmas compilation, twenty-six months, numerous trips to House of Pies, and a zillion Swedish indie rock references later, I can now say: Mission accomplished.

Starting today I’ll have a new Internet home. Together with Darius Fong (a.k.a. producer extraordinaire), we'll be running and the “We are Panel” iPhone application.

As far as websites and apps go, our goal is pretty simple—to bring you great music. Every week we’ll be hitting the streets, talking to the people who make music happen on every level: producers, purveyors, and provocateurs. Artist or business owner, famous or infamous, we guarantee one thing—our weekly “Panelist” will have a passion for music and a story to tell.

Not only are we dedicated to bringing you that story; we’ll be bringing you the music as well. Every week we’ll be streaming two complete Panelist-approved albums. That’s right—two album recommendations a week from some of the most knowledgeable fans in out there.

Confessions of a Would-Be Hipster has been a blast. Chances are I'll poke my head in from time to time and say hi. Until then, so long...and thanks for all the fish.


Laura (a.k.a. LMS)

A bevy of contact info:

Official site
Facebook fan page
Twitter (user group)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

make moon by make moon

Make Moon is a band of guys who know how to follow instructions--going so far as to tell us what they sound like, dropping a CD in the mail, and then following up with an e-mail. Bands everywhere take note: this is how you get a review.

Food for thought.

Thankfully, Make Moon also makes particularly enjoyable music. A solid rock band, their sound is accented with unexpected elements of jazz, psychedelia, new wave and good 'ol fashioned pop.

Their self-titled EP is a slippery thing--just when you think you've got them pegged, just when you begin to worry that they'd be easily pigeon-holed, the music takes an abrupt about-face. "Wine and Grapes" could easily slip into now-defunct The Golden Republic's catalog. "Lady V" interrupts the song for a brief jazz piano interlude that would give the members of Menomena pause. I'm not sure who I have to sweet talk to get these guys on a triple bill with local favorites I Make This Sound and New York New Wavers French Kicks--but dang it, this is the sort of music that makes me want to try.

mp3: "It Will (Don't Worry)" by Make Moon

Thursday, October 15, 2009

know better learn faster by thao with the get down stay down

I’m floating in a bit of a bubble this week with limited Internet access. Somehow, this feeling of disconnect—like I’ve somehow managed to fall off the grid, makes Thao’s (and her band, the Get Down Stay Down) new album Know Better Learn Faster just a bit more extraordinary. I can’t access the cheat sheet press release, and Thao defies easy summaries. It’s a fair trade.

Thao’s music simultaneously boasts an old-fashioned throw down musicality—not unlike a few great American songwriters you could easily Google (Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan immediately come to mind) and a certain Je n’sais quoi that’s tougher to pin-point . Case in point? “When We Swam.” Any girl who can sound demure while singing “open your hips to me” is the definition of “indefinable.”

A paean to the pitfalls of love, Know Better Learn Faster walks the listener though thirteen romantically downtrodden scenarios. From the lovers shortcomings in the titular track (accented with Andrew Bird’s violin and vibrato-heavy whistle) to the dismaying prospect of being little more than a body in a bed (“Body”) Thao leaves no relationship-ending stone unturned.

Still, even amidst the lyrical gloom and doom, there’s still an undeniable musical glee. Thao may talk a good game—voice often cracking like a woman scorned—but it’s difficult to get the pity party started when the prevailing theme of the record seems to be, “Dang, this girl can throw down a mean lick!” With a winning combination of whit and musicality, Know Better Learn Faster proves that there are few things more fun than dancing the blues away.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

72 musicians soundtrack

I love rock documentaries. Don't Look Back, Woodstock, The Kids Are Alright, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, DiG! - any excuse to watch great musicians play great music and talk about how messed up they are, I'm there. I think it stems from the fact that, as much as I want to be a rock star, I never will be. Watching rockumentaries reminds me that these people are human too, and generally, their lives are actually worse than mine. If they have to be talented, rich, and good-looking, at least they can suffer a little too1.

Which brings us to 72 Musicians, a new documentary featuring a slew of Kansas City / Lawrence, KS musicians, and several of my favorite small bands – White Whale, the Republic Tigers, the Get Up Kids. Oh. And Spoon2. With candid interviews with members of 20 independent bands about the hardships and unglamorous wonders of being a musician, and terrific advice to startup musicians (e.g. "For god's sake, don't fuck anyone else who's on the tour."), it's a familiar format, but a slightly different theme and a larger scale than most rock documentaries.

And then of course there's the live performances. No video yet on the website, but there is a fully downloadable soundtrack – for free! Live performances from the documentary, including a rough (and slightly oddly mixed) version of White Whale's "We're Just Temporary Ma'am," one of my favorite songs of all time. The bands range from folky (Namelessnumberheadman, In the Pines) to straightforward indie rock (The Appleseed Cast, The Stella Link) to slightly strange (Ad Astra Per Aspera, Sal Retta) to, um, Coalesce. It's a great, eclectic group of songs, and I'm excited to see the film, which should be available for download on the site eventually. We'll try to keep you posted.

mp3: "We're Just Temporary Ma'am" by White Whale

1. Yes, I am a terrible person.
2. That's three of Rob Pope's bands. He's in the trailer. Making funny faces. Yup.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

fever ray @ the henry fonda

Some people go to horror films. Me? I get jacked up on sugar at House of Pies (Pecan -- for the record), and see Fever Ray. I’d be lying if I didn't admit that by the time the curtain rose on the chillingly beautiful set, my heart wasn't pounding as hard as any virginal teen being chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac. (Which, come to think of it, might have been the inspiration for the abrasive house "music" between sets. Really, Henry Fonda?)

Interestingly enough, despite standing in the second row, I still have no idea what Karin DreijerAndersson looks like. Fever Ray may ultimately be the expression of a solo artist, but it's become so much more -- a fact driven home by elaborate stage design by Andreas Nilsson. Fringe-adorned lamps blinked ominously to the beat-heavy music. Clumps of incense burned at the front of the stage -- their sick sweetness washing over the audience. Man-made pathetic fallacy at its finest, fog freely billowed. By the end of the set the entire room would be nearly obscured.

The five-person band proceeded onto the stage to the dull chants of "If I Had a Heart" -- Andersson hidden under a mountain of furs lit from the inside. Even after she cast off her coat-of-one-color at the end of the third song (an attempt to foil photographers who were unceremoniously ushered out at that point?) she was still hidden under rolling smoke and heavy stage makeup that rendered her appearance more Ingmar Bergman's "Death" than human. Having made a career out of obscuring her identity with electro-Goth duo The Knife, this wasn't terribly surprising.

Andersson never said a word -- normally cause for complaint. But her stage persona -- part dark sorceress, part little-girl-lost -- spoke volumes. Even though she was sandwiched between equally costumed band members (I was particularly taken with her glasses-wearing, headdress-swinging laptop/guitarist who, despite layers of face paint, still managed to exude geek-chic) and competing with a smoke and a laser show, there was never a question as to where central focus was. Lasers were bounced around the stage and -- during "Triangle Walks" -- shot out into the audience, leaving the bottom half of the Fonda feeling like they were underwater -- but end the end it all came down to the first lady of Fever Ray. Moving only between keyboard and mic, emoting only with her hands -- which perpetually swayed in spell-casting circles -- Andersson clearly had the audience in her control.

During the penultimate song, we might -- just might -- have gotten a taste of the person behind the art. Andersson stepped to the front of the stage, and in a moment of near-vulnerability, sang a non-album song about the joy her children have brought her. (Then again, given the thematic darkness of the night, this could have been another clever metaphor.)1

However, moment over, Andersson donned her mountain of furs and stepped back into the shadows. The band threw themselves into the ghostly clatter of "Coconut" and slowly, one by one, reversed their procession, back into the smoke and receding lights, leaving the audience to stare in slack-jawed wonder at fog swirling around an empty stage.

1If anyone has any info on this track, I’m dying to get my hands on it.

mp3: "When I Grow Up (D Lissvik remix)" by Fever Ray

Monday, October 5, 2009

frightened rabbit @ the knitting factory

Last week three of the Would-be Hipsters headed off to the Knitting Factory in Hollywood for a night of Scottish indie-rock perfection. Well, almost.

First opener was We Were Promised Jetpacks, who were brilliant. Loud, just poppy enough, great bass lines, clever lyrics, totally adorable and Scottish. I don't know how I've not had them in my life for so long. They've become my new walking-to-lunch music, and last week it took every ounce of composure not to dance down Fairfax while singing the chorus of "Quiet Little Voices." 1

Second opener was The Twilight Sad, a fairly well known act that I'd managed to avoid. They were kinda boring, the drummer took most of the set to figure out how to drum, the guitarist was glued to his whammy bar, and the singer was keeping most of his personality in his cardigan. I think it's official that I don't like shoegaze, even if it's with a Scottish accent.2 See what you think.

But then there was Frightened Rabbit, who are incredible live. And as enchanting as singer Scott Hutchinson is, drumming brother Grant sort of steals the show. At the end of their set (I believe the song was "Heads Roll Off" but I could be completely wrong), all the other members of the band wandered off stage, leaving Grant to finish the set in an epic drum solo, where he basically turned into Animal of the Muppets. Which was fantastic because Grant was wearing a t-shirt with Animal's head printed on it. Oh yes.

Scott was, however, responsible for the greatest band-heckle I've ever witnessed. A young guy in the crowd yelled, "I take showers to you!" during a brief break between songs, and Hutchinson assured him that he showers to the kid as well, with photos taped to the tiles, and how he should probably get them laminated. He also insisted that we in the crowd not applaud or cheer after one song, because they perform every night and are sick of all that ridiculous clapping – they wanted bored noises instead. Yawning at Frightened Rabbit was probably the hardest thing I've done all summer, and I just finished moving to a third-floor apartment…

It's also worth noting that they played two new songs, as they've recorded a new album. If those tracks are anything to go by, the next album will be brilliant, and provide an excellent for them to tour again.

mp3: "Ships With Holes Will Sink" by We Were Promised Jetpacks
mp3: "Don't" by Frightened Rabbit

1. LMS was not moved by WWPJP. I don't know what's wrong with her.
2. LMS liked them. Our Southwestern component, cev, had seen the same show earlier in the tour, and agreed with ako and myself, thus proving that we are in fact right, and LMS is, sadly, wrong in every way.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

loney dear @ the troubadour

For the record: I'm not stalking Loney Dear
(a.k.a. Emil Svanängen). But if he's going to insist on playing Los Angeles three times in any given year--once as a supporting act for another great artist, and once at my favorite club--before returning a third time with a notable opener of his own...well, I fail to see the downside of going for the trifecta.

First off was the sock-of-nickels sonic assault of Asobi Seksu. Despite demonstrating just how poorly balanced the Troubadour sound system was, and hypnotizing the audience with strobe lights on nearly every song (as my friend--who shall henceforth be known as "The Option Behind the Curtain"--helpfully pointed out, "If you mark every e-mail as urgent, none of them are."), they also managed to embody a surprising amount of shoegaze charm. Lead woman Yuki Chikudate's pure pop voice transcended the din, its delicious displacement elevating Asobi Seksu above the majority of their dream-pop contemporaries.

After Asobi Seksu's wall of noise, even the loyal (read: me) begun to wonder if Svanängen could match the energy and intensity of his opener.

Let's take a moment for a self-evaluation: Umm...Duh.

For those who chose to stick around, Svanängen and his four piece band (who also backed the first opener of the evening Anna Ternheim) once again proved that sincerity is the new irony. From his addressing the audience as "my friends" when first taking the stage, to a sincere "thank you for the wonderful evening" (no--thank you!) , Svanängen proved to be the sort of indie-rock poster boy you only wish you could bring home to meet your parents. (Sufjan, please take note.)

Musically, the Loney Dear collective was--as per usual--spot on. As "The Opinion Behind the Curtain" aptly described their style: "you can't have a crystalline voice without a crescendo." Live, this is--without a doubt--the musical personification of joy.

By the time each song--guided by Svanängen's sweet voice--swelled to a dramatic climax, you could feel the band's glee permeate the venue. Or was that just me? Svanängen has noted several times that his latest album Dear John is a work predicated on sadness. Regardless, by the end of the set--largely comprised of Dear John material--you'd be hard-pressed to find someone without a smile.

Set List:

1. I Was Only Going Out
2. Everything Turns to You
3. Summers
4. Under a Silent Sea
5. The Meter Marks Okay
6. Carrying a Stone
7. Take it Back
8. I Fought the Battle of Trinidad & Tobago
9. Hard Day’s


10. Airport Surroundings
11. Shivering Green
12. Sinister in a State of Hope
13. Dear John

mp3: "Airport Surroundings" by Loney Dear
mp3: "I Am John (live)" by Loney Dear
mp3: "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl" by Loney Dear
mp3: "Suzanne" by Asobi Seksu
mp3: "Transparence" by Asobi Seksu

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

lend taken by trees a hand

After seeing her live, and being enchanted by her new album East of Eden, we're sad to think that others may not get a chance to see Victoria Bergsman (a.k.a. Taken By Trees) preform. The dilemma straight from the lady's mouth (or rather fingers):

Dear All

I never thought it would come to this, me pleading for your help and support. Here I am with a finalised album and a excellent band willing to help me out, making some shows. To keep the music alive. Then the bitter truth comes around and laughs me right in the face. Letting me know it is financially impossible. These hard times does affect all of us. So here I am at stuck at home like a stranded whale. Unable to do any shows simply because there is no money for musicians these days. It feels so sad and boring to poor this all over you. But I didn´t know where else to turn. I am now asking you if you have any ideas or suggestions in how to make this happen, making it possible for tbt to do some shows? Maybe you even have a jet-plane for what I know...Please don´t hesitate in letting us know.

We need all the help we can get.



mp3: "Tell Me (live)" by Taken By Trees
mp3: "Julia (live)" by Taken By Trees
mp3: "Watch the Waves" by Taken By Trees

Monday, September 21, 2009

daisy by brand new

Brand New is a band that understands its strengths. Frontman Jesse Lacey put it best in the band's acerbic call to arms "Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don't": "We admit to the truth; we are the best at what we do." Indeed, they possess an almost preternatural ability to take a style I do not care for (what the world at large pejoratively refers to as "emo," though this feels like a criminally unfair description) and transform it into some of the most compelling music that has touched these college ears. 2003's Deja Entendu is one of the best albums of its kind. 2006's follow-up The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is one of the best albums, period. Due in no small part to this prodigious talent, their popularity is not insubstantial; in fact, one might even be able to make the case that they're among the most commercially successful American bands working today. Because of this, they have basically stood peerless in terms of pre-album hype in 2009. The internet has been all a-buzz for months. How will they follow up their masterpiece? What will the album sound like? What new turns will their music take?

Well, now that the answer is finally upon us, how about it? Is Daisy a good record? Of course it is. Its problem is that it's also an exceptionally difficult one, especially for the faction of oldschool fans still holding out for another Deja-style pop album. At times the band feels like it's trying way too hard to do something different; at others, it just feels like they're not trying at all for anything. This gives the album a sort of adverse take-it-or-leave-it feel that probably won't set well with people who aren't willing to be patient with it. Given the size of the band's fanbase, I fully expect this to be a hugely polarizing album.

When the boys make their magic work, though, it still casts an inimitable spell. For its five minutes, "Noro" -- the album's final and best song -- serves as a heart-wrenching reminder of what makes me love this band so much: the quietly despairing melody, Lacey's vulnerable vocals, the gradual build into noisy distortion. It's the one song on here that feels like it was crafted with the same amount of care and attention to detail that was present on virtually every track on The Devil and God, and it's honestly remarkable. If Daisy does indeed end up being the band's swan song, as Lacey has repeatedly hinted in interviews, this is a fitting and appropriate goodbye.

The rest of the album is a much tougher nut to crack. It's frequently rewarding, but the band seems so hellbent on defying expectations that appreciating it to its fullest extent is something that requires a considerable amount of time. "At the Bottom" was a wise choice for the album's first single: it's the only thing here that's even remotely suited for airplay, and it stands as a strong and fairly immediate glimpse into the stylistic changes the band has made. Other songs make no such attempt to ease the listener in. Anyone not knowing what to expect will probably have the shit scared out of them by opener "Vices," then spend the rest of its duration wondering what the hell happened to the band famous for its restrained, thoughtful anthems like "Jesus" and "Limousine." Still, jarring as it is, "Vices" is an exciting way to begin the record. 99 times out of 100, I would detest what the band is trying to do, but everything I said about them being able to take a highly disagreeable formula and turn it into something intriguing holds true for this song. It ... well, kind of rocks.

Elsewhere, "Sink" and "Bought a Bride" seem to most successfully exemplify the new direction the band is trying to take. The tracks are quick and brutal, but also melodic and memorable. Even so, one can't help but be bothered by the nagging feeling that these songs -- strong as they are -- could have been even better if they'd been expanded by another minute or two. "Sink," for instance, hits one of the record's most thrilling moments around its 2:30 mark, but doesn't bother staying around to capitalize on it. And in general, this is Daisy's biggest flaw: while there's nothing here that I wouldn't consider good (with the exception of "Be Gone," which is frankly one of the most embarrassing pieces of filler I've come across on an album in a long time and am led to wonder just what the hell these guys thought they were accomplishing by putting it on here), the songs all seem so short and hasty and underdeveloped. It's enough to make me wonder if this is the record these guys really wanted to make, or if someone's been tapping on their shoulders to remind them that, hey, it's been three years since they put something out and that they might want to consider releasing what they've got just to keep folks happy.

It's this conflict that makes Daisy such a rough album to put a finger on. It's comprised almost entirely of good (sometimes great) material, but its full potential feels compromised by a sense that the band's heart might not fully be in it anymore. But am I just saying that because it's really the case, or because I'm just having difficulty reconciling this with the band's monolithic past achievements? Who knows. For what it is, Daisy works, albeit somewhat more modestly than one might expect. What remains to be seen is whether this actually is the final chapter in the Brand New story, or just an intriguing pit stop along the way. If the latter is true (and let's hope it is), bring on the fifth album. I can't wait to see where they go from here. As much as I like it in a perverse sort of way, though, might I not suggest an entire album of "Vices"?

mp3: "Noro" by Brand New
mp3: "Sink" by Brand New

Friday, September 18, 2009

chairlift @ the troubadour

Seriously Chairlift, I love you. I really do. But...a headline set of eight songs and no encore? After June's killer Getty show, and of course the continuing Would-Be Hipster love affair with your debut album, I couldn't help but hope for a bit more. I'm happy you hit the highlights--"Le Flying Saucer Hat" is quite possibly one of my favorite new tunes. And who hasn't had a giddy moment while singling along to "Bruises?"(Which--for the record--you nailed.) It's just...huh?

In lieu of any additional content, I highly suggest you head on over to Eszter Zimanyi who has a top-notch video of "Garbage" from the set.


1. Garbage
2. Dixie Gypsy
3. Le Flying Saucer Hat
4. Evident Utensil
5. Territory
6. Planet Health
7. Earwig Town
8. Bruises

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

letting up despite great faults by letting up despite great faults

I've compared Letting Up Despite Great Faults to the Postal Service several times. All the touchstones are there: thoughtful electronic-based melodies, whispered vocals, modern romanticism. Although, as of late, I've been somewhat worried they were like the Postal Service in another way--After 2006's genteel EP Movement, word on a full-length hasn't been forthcoming. Were they too, ready to slink off into the perfect, electro-indie sunset, only to emerge in the legends of hipsters and would-be hipsters alike?


The release date is still billed as "October 2009" but I'm happy to report first hand (and ear) knowledge that their self-titled debut full-length follow up exists. And boy was it worth the wait. Resting somewhere between a more sentential Radio Dept and a more accessible American Analog set, Mike Lee and his gang of collaborators (including engineer Jeff Lipton--who has worked with the likes of Andrew Bird and Spoon) are out to break a few hearts Yes. It's true entering the mix since Movement is a bit of a unexpected groove. Songs line "Folding Under Stories Told" even feature levity-filled (slow) party-ready beats.

...not that they didn't already have us smiling.

mp3: "Folding Under Stories Told" by Letting Up Despite Great Faults
mp3: "In Steps" by Letting Up Despite Great Faults
mp3: "I Hear You Drowning but I'm Tied" by Letting Up Despite Great Faults (from Movement)

Monday, September 7, 2009

apoptygma berzerk @ the 9:30 club

Apoptygma Berzerk changed my life. Before they entered my frame of existence back in 2004, my father's Kraftwerk LPs and post-OK Computer Radiohead were the only exposure I'd ever had to real electronic music. Yes, I -- the man whose musical entity seems practically defined by synthesizers a mere five years later -- had never actually explored the possibilities of electronica. I liked what I'd heard, but somehow my then-high school freshman self never really considered pursuing the genre any further. And then Apop happened. The album was Harmonizer, the song was "Until the End of the World." It was during those five and half minutes that my musical focus was altered irreversibly. The rest, as they say, is history.

When a full-time college student who is in between jobs spends an alarmingly large sum of money to fly literally across the country to see a mid-week concert, one damn well better expect this kind of backstory. Frankly, I can't think of another band I might have done this for. There were plenty of times, not the least of which was when I stood out of breath on the jetway after having come within five minutes of missing my flight, when I was forced to stop and ask myself, "Is this really worth it? Really?" But now all is said and done and I can look back on the experience with a definitive answer. It's not just a yes: it's a hell yes. I'd even go one step further, but children might be reading.

Now I remember why going to a concert can be such a religious experience. Now I remember the true feeling of esctacy that can take hold of you when you are physically in the middle of the music you love so much. For weeks before the show, lmc and I had discussed the logistics of finally seeing an Ultimate Band -- a band so special to you personally that few, past or present, could ever top them. As I stood in anticipation at D.C.'s 9:30 Club, I started to wonder if my lofty expectations could ever be met. Would they play what I wanted -- nay, needed -- to hear? What would the showmanship be like? Especially after having seen Apop's brothers-in-arms VNV Nation play a ridiculously fantastic show at the exact same venue in July, there was much to live up to.

The instant the band took the stage, every ounce of consternation immediately melted off my body. The next hour and a half were spent rocking out harder than I have ever rocked out at a show before. I often dream of bands playing The Perfect Setlist. In all the concerts I have ever gone to, I do believe Apop has come the closest to reaching this plateau. When I did my inevitable post-show "I wish they had played..." list, seriously all I could come up with were nitpicks. All of my huge need-to-hear songs were fulfilled, and my "oh my god I never thought they'd play that" ratio was so high that I really couldn't have given a damn. Yeah, "Paranoia" is a great song and it would've been awesome to hear, but really now.

The infallible one-two punch of "Starsign" and "Eclipse" kickstarted the evening, before the band started their journey through a remarkably even-handed representation of literally all aspects of their sound. Everything from early industrial staples ("Love Never Dies, Pt. 1," "Deep Red") to middle-period EBM/future-pop ("Kathy's Song," "Unicorn"), to their more recent synth-rock ("In This Together," "You Keep Me from Breaking Apart") was included, and despite stylistic differences, it all jelled perfectly. Probably due in large part to the fact that their (frankly kinda disappointing) 2009 album Rocket Science has yet to be released in the Americas, the selection of brand new stuff was somewhat limited. Still, they played "Asleep or Awake?" and that was the one new song I was really hoping for anyway. And yes, they played "Until the End of the World." I could have died happy.

Many of the surprises came with their selections of old school material. Since the beginning, "Burnin' Heretic" has been one of my favorite Apop songs, but it's such a "minor" track in their discography that I never would have dreamed I'd hear it in concert. Its inclusion just about knocked me over. The same went for "Non-Stop Violence," the highlight (in my opinion) of their 1996 album Seven; even though it was performed without its brilliant coda, it was tremendous. And, more recently, "Lost in Translation" has always been one of my top tracks from You and Me Against the World. Yeah, sure, it may have been one of the concert's more mellow moments, but it was a lovely inclusion.

As if this essay-length review wasn't already an indicator, this was a tremendous show for me. It surpassed all of my expectations and re-cemented the band's already permanent position in my all-time upper tier. Stephan Groth is a master performer with amazing energy and stage presence: he gives his songs the exuberance they deserve, and makes his shows as wonderful as possible for everyone present. That buzzing in my head after it was all over wasn't just from the amps being cranked up a bit too loud; it was also from the tingly feeling one can only get from witnessing a life-affirming concert.

So, to capitalize on said tingly feeling, lmc, ako, and I decided to wait outside the venue and stalk the band. Although it did eventually happen, we are very possibly the worst stalkers in history. It took us at least a half hour to realize the band had been hanging out right around the corner. Uh. Yeah.

Setlist: (slightly out of order, but complete)
1. Starsign
2. Eclipse
3. Asleep or Awake?
4. You Keep Me from Breaking Apart
5. In This Together
6. Mercy Kill
7. Shadow
8. Lost in Translation
9. Love Never Dies, Pt. 1
10. Burnin' Heretic
11. Apollo (Live on Your TV)
12. [some cover I don't remember]
13. Kathy's Song (Come Lie Next to Me)
14. Shine On
15. Deep Red
16. Until the End of the World

Encore 1:
17. Non-Stop Violence
18. Unicorn

Encore 2:
19. Mourn

mp3: "Non-Stop Violence" by Apoptygma Berzerk
mp3: "Until the End of the World" by Apoptygma Berzerk

Sunday, September 6, 2009

spells by the happy hollows

I'll make this short and snappy--it's nearing the end of the holiday weekend, you need a good soundtrack to your assorted adventures or while venturing around town. Those darn Silver Lake kids have you covered...

Karen O should be afraid. Very afraid. Coming across like a streetwise version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sarah Negahdari and the Happy Hollows are out to take no prisoners. If their Imaginary EP was like a brief flirty bar encounter, this is a full-fledged slap across the face...with a gigantic hug and hot fudge sundae thrown in for good measure.

"Death to Vivek Kemp" plays like a childhood punk rock fantasy--a perfect ad hoc theme song for a band that seems to like ponies and rainbows as much as they do riotous riffs and frenzied drumming. And album centerpiece "Lieutenant" is simply breathtaking--a multi-movement power-house that's sure to that sure to shake out the cobwebs while scaring a few neighbors along the way. But rather than pick and chose favorites, I highly suggest consuming Spells as a whole--preferably with the car stereo cranked up to eleven and the speed at "65."

Party on.

mp3: "Lieutenant" by Happy Hollows

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

something to write home about reissue by the get up kids

Author's note: If anyone actually reads this blog on a quasi-regular basis, they'll know that I like the Get Up Kids. A lot. So I'll spare you the "this is why they're good" bit and assume that if you like them you'll read this, and if you don't, you'll find LMS's most recent entry on someone who's probably Swedish.

I now own three copies of The Get Up Kids' seminal sophomore album Something to Write Home About: the CD, released in 1999, a recently re-released record (on pink vinyl, no less), and now the 10-year anniversary, two-disc re-release of the CD, complete with an expanded booklet full of beautifully unnecessary photos of the boys. The second disc is a DVD featuring a live performance of the whole album performed start to finish at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas to a packed audience of crowd-surfing, iPhoning, hand-waving kids. The highlight of the re-release package – to a fan-geek like me – has to be the archival footage. The sound quality is terrible for most of the short snippets of live performances (including keyboardist James Dewees’s first show with the band, drummer Ryan Pope’s first show, and the band’s second show ever in some girl’s basement) but they’re so young and enthusiastic and lanky and in such dire need of haircuts, it's hard to not lose yourself in the emo-nerd-love just a little. Although I really do think Matt needs to bring back those mutton chops.

(As a comparison, check out this footage from the Bamboozle festival earlier this year. For bonus points: spot the Get Up Kid who’s been touring with Britt Daniel!1)

The re-issue is out September 8, and they’re touring in support of it2. You should see them.

1. Damn Spoon.
2. I met a guy at the recent Weakerthans show who had been at the same GUK show I was at earlier this year. He didn’t think it was very good. I didn’t tell him at the time, but he was wrong.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

modest mouse @ grove of anaheim

Over the past week, my brain has filled with goo rendering all hints of intelligence null and void. Many will argue that this is how I live my life--and that no one can tell the difference. Honestly, who am I to argue? I'm goo girl. Surprisingly, as I discovered on Saturday, said goo often sounds not unlike the sweet cacophony of Modest Mouse live.

Interestingly enough, they did not play any of their singles that brought them to the sort of public attention that allows them to play a venue the size of the Grove of Anaheim. No "Dashboard." No "Ocean Breathes Salty." "Float On?" Hell no! Did I mind? Shockingly no. They had Isaac Brock's on-key but off-key voice. (I suspect he also knows the sound of one hand clapping.) They had two drummers. They had the whole freaking place throwing their hands up in the air as though they were moderately concerned. They even had the sort of power to make the audience wait though to longest gap ever between set and encore before they rewarded us with night closer, "The Good Times Are Killing Me." Killing me? No. Just a little tired and smokey. That's all.

Set list:

1. Invisible
2. Interstate 8
3. Gravity Rides Everything
4. The View
5. Autumn Beds
6. Black Cadillacs
7. The Whale Song
8. Fire It Up
9. Baby Blue Sedan
10. Shit Luck
11. Fly Trapped in a Jar
12. Here It Comes
13. Satellite Skin
14. Tiny Cities Made of Ashes


15. Talking Shit
16. 3rd Planet
17. Breakthrough
18. Good Times Are Killing Me

mp3: "Float On"(Ben Lee cover) – by Modest Mouse

Monday, August 31, 2009

confessions of a would-be hipster enters the terrible twos

Here we are again, another year of geeking out, geeking in, rocking out, and rocking in. We've doubled our writing crew, put together a charity album that we adore, and eaten enough pie to sink a ship. Not bad for a couple o' geeks, huh?

In honor of our big 2, we asked a few friends, industry professionals, and family members what they thought of our blog. Needless we were flattered by their responses.

Confessions of a Would-Be Hipster: The testimonials.

What's a blog? - LMS' Grandfather

GET NAME BRAND PERSCRIPTION DRUGS 4 CHEEP - A Shady Netherlands-based Website

All of [WBH's] successes are no surprise, really. But you have to remember that even though in most cases it's great writing behind the great blogs - in this case (and I don't mean to sound egotistical, but it's true), it's largely due to my influence. Still. Way to go, bloggers; I'll definitely see you again soon. - Alcohol

Quit calling me! - Spencer Krug

Blog rating? 1. No, wait... 0.8. -

It has come to our attention that Confessions of a Would-Be Hipster is celebrating their second birthday. Of course, we have them to thank for such innovations as the wheel, fire, and sliced bread. So, here's to Would-Be Hipster: our bottles clink to you. - Some Hoboes

mp3: "Would Be Hipster" by Computerization (Our own theme song!)
mp3: "Are Birthdays Happy?" by Jens Lekman
mp3: "Happy Birthay" by Sufjan Stevens
mp3: "I Am So Important" by Logan Whitehurst ('Cause it's true!)
mp3: "Happy Birthday" by Röyksopp

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the phenomenal handclap band and friendly fires @ the el rey

I am an old woman--'cause despite my night ending at a respectable 11:30 PM (the going out bit that is...), I left the El Rey, beat. Clearly you need to train for this kind of high octane concert going.

The night opened with The Phenomenal Handclap Band, a.k.a. quite possibly one of the most difficult name in the world to live up to. While the jury is still out on "phenomenal," (right now I'd peg them more as energetic and charming...although that's harder to fit on a marquee) there was less hand clapping than the name might imply (three times, including an energetic burst during the last song). However, the sheer number of tambourines made up for it, as did Laura Marin and Lady Tigra's Blondie by way of Schoolhouse Rock vocals on "15 to 20." The 70s may have ended--but it's clear the party rages on.

A brief opening set, the crowd was primed for recent Mercury Prize nominees, Friendly Fires. Purveyors of slick dance rock, their eleven song set rocked rougher than I'd expected--raw vocals crashing against screaming guitar, mixed with enthusiastic clapping by both band and audience (clearly on loan from their opener). Songs were stretched out and reinvented under the strobing colored lights. Vocalist Ed MacFarlane displayed a strut that could put Mick Jagger to shame, singing, playing keyboard and guitar, and drums--air and real--to the delight of a gyrating crowd.

And then there was me--clutching my notebook and trying not to put anyone's eye out with my pen. Surely we could get Laura Marin and Lady Tigra to sing a rousing version of "one of these things is not like the other..."

Set List

1. Lovesick
2. Jump in the Pool
3. Strobe
4. Hospital
5. White Diamonds
6. Skeleton Boy
7. Kiss of Life
8. Photobooth
9. On Board
10. Paris

11. Ex-Lover

mp3: "15 to 20" by The Phenomenal Handclap Band
mp3: "Paris (Friendly Fires cover)" by Au Revoir Simone

Sunday, August 16, 2009

we all die by new found land

Memo to bands looking to catch bloggers' attention: compare yourself to another act we love. Granted we'll be terribly incredulous--as I was when New Found Land sent us a Myspace message comparing their work to WBH favorite Loney Dear--but chances are, you'll peak our interest. Lucky for New Found Land, their chutzpa isn't ill-founded. The do in fact share the same sweet but sorrowful world view as their fellow countryman Emil Svanängen. However, the Göteborg duo's sweet chemistry and polished pop makes their debut album We All Die (out now) a distinctly unique and beautiful musical outing. These are the sort of songs you listen to with a smile on your face and a tear in your eye.

Between the mournful voice singer Anna Roxenholt and and Karl Krook's gently strummed guitar, occasionally the Spartan melancholy tilts towards painfully beautiful--as with album highlight, "By Your Side"--which plays like a paean to the ghosts of relationships past, or like the perfect Once b-side.

Simple, but never boring New Found Land also shows the sort of musical variety that makes waiting and wondering about their sophomore album a interesting exercise. "By Your Side" may show the sort of direct sadness and delicate finger-picking that could make Jose Gonzales green with envy, but "Leave it All Behind" find them rocking like a two-person I'm From Barcelona. Meanwhile, album opener "It Would Mean the World to Me" finds Roxenholt tapping into her inner El Perro del Mar, coupled with an almost Concretes-like breezy musicality.

Of course, comparing them to fellow Swedish acts is only a start. With their natural charm, sweet chemistry, and musical grace, New Found Land can move in any direction--musical or geographical--they might choose...and probably capture a few hearts along the way.

(photo new found land: Fredrik Åkum)

mp3: "By Your Side" by New Found Land

Friday, August 7, 2009

the soft skin by brown recluse

I'm not the kind of girl who is scared of spiders. Yet, I have to admit that Brown Recluse's questionable name almost kept me from giving them a spin. What can I say...I also like books with pretty covers.

Getting past the creepy crawlies, Brown Recluse's debut EP The Soft Skin (out September 8th on Slumberland) is one of those debuts where you can almost feel the well-deserved accolades brewing. Less twee than Belle and Sebastian and more accessible than Jens Lekman--with a little Os Mutantes thrown in for good measure, this is the sort of all-around agreeable music we've been waiting for. Between the poppy keyboards and light dusting of horns, it's simple, it's direct, and darn works! Who needs weird musical genre hybrids when you've got pop? Sweet sweet pop.

I'm going to buy a copy for my mother. I'm going to fob a copy off on my judgmental brother. I'm going bug the crap out of my friends by singing the catchy refrain to "Night Train" inappropriate moments.

Just try and stop me.

mp3: "Contour and Context" by Brown Recluse

Sunday, August 2, 2009

resevoir by fanfarlo

Little known fact: The girl to the right is Sigurrós, sister guessed it, Sigur Rós lead singer, Jónsi Birgisson.

The more you know!

Fanfarlo is a British orchestral-pop outfit, featuring: strings, horns, handclaps, and a quirky Swedish singer. In a perfect world this is all I'd have to say. You'd jump up and down at the thought of a great new band, then we'd link arms and skip down to the pub--where the band would be buying rounds and leading sing-alongs.

Of course, that's not going to happen. The problem here is Fanfarlo defies being boiled down into a simple statement. I could say "next Arcade Fire." But then we'd just have an awkward moment of silence. I could also say that that lead singer Simon Balthazar sounds like a renegade Clap Your Hands Say Yeah member--but then the whole band would come under suspension and you'd start thinking "flash in the pan" rather than "layered orchestral dramatics with long term, multi-album potential." Do you see the quandary?

Balthazar recognizes the unexpected duality of his work. "I always try to write accessible lyrics that people will get and understand, but it always ends up as impenetrable. Then I attempt to write deep, serious and difficult music, and somehow it keeps coming out as pop."

Gosh...I hope he's not losing any sleep over it. With Zach Condon having final given in to his electronic urges, the world needs a new Beirut to bring a tear to their eye. With Clap Your Hands Say Yeah doing...well, whatever CYHSY is doing, we need another "...our generation's Talking Heads." The fact this contradictory package is all wrapped up in a single band also embodying a mix of light-hearted whimsy and emotional darkness rarely seen outside a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film? Even better.

mp3: "I'm a Pilot" by Fanfarlo
mp3: "Drownding Men (acoustic version)" by Fanfarlo

Friday, July 31, 2009

pink and purple by alan wilkis

It's been a long, hot Los Angeles summer, and between my various summery-type activities I've been frustrated by my lack of an “official summer album.” You know; the one album that will play on your i-pod all summer long and forever define the coming hot and sweaty months of 2009. It wasn't for lack of trying, either - many albums had been called, but few had been chosen... well, actually, none had been chosen. Until now.

You see, dear reader, I had been lost in a sea of post-punk; adrift in a tempest of emotionally charged indie shoe-gaze, and awash in a maelstrom of electro-lament ambient-core. Lost! Lost and left searching for meaning – until I found what can only be described as some sort of electronical-funky nirvana in Alan Wilkis's “Pink and Purple.” It's so cool it's hot - and so hot ... it's awesome. Crafting solid electro-funk tracks replete with hooks, catchy vocals, slick production and the almighty 808, Wilkis knows how to make you get down with a sound that can best described as a mix between scoping out beautiful ladies at the beach and playing an epic synth solo whilst standing atop the Hollywood sign... all in the most awesome way possible.

“Snuggle Up to Nail Down” has an 808 line that'll get you moving, guaranteed; “Dance With You” brings on the disco-funk; and “N.I.C.E” is maybe my favorite track of the album with it's layered, smooth-as-silk production, catchy vocals, and funky attitude to spare. The album won't change the way you listen to music; but that is hardly it's intent. It's admittedly just a fun, awesome listen that'll put a smile on your face and get you tapping you feet – and at that, it succeeds on all levels. It's infectious, and listening was a sheer delight; pop as it should be – fun and unashamed of it's levity. Life can be like pop, sometimes – but not nearly enough. I think we could all use some more hooks and 808's in our lives – Get more than your fair share with Pink and Purple. Check him out!

mp3: "Pink and Purple" by Alan Wilkis
mp3: "N.I.C.E." by Alan Wilkis

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

junior boys @ webster hall

Historically, I have never counted sleep deprivation as a good thing. It makes me cranky and unpleasant, gives the world a somewhat disconcerting fuzzy-around-the-edges feeling, and is generally just not a fun state to exist in. However, due to various extenuating circumstances, lmc and I found ourselves more or less stranded, hotel and/or crash pad-less, in New York City in such a state. In hindsight, I probably wouldn't have had it any other way. In a rare example of actually doing research before diving into something, we noticed that Junior Boys were going to be playing a show at a place called Webster Hall the same night that we were planning to be in the general area. Despite neither of us being terribly big Junior Boys fans, we naturally bought tickets and eagerly awaited the show.

Exhaustion and the finely detailed eccentricities of this particular venue aside (they have one unisex bathroom inside which there is a vendor who sells candy and Sun Chips), this turned out to be something of an Experience. Speaking as someone who was a small fan of 2006's So This Is Goodbye and frankly bored to tears by this year's aptly titled Begone Dull Care, Junior Boys themselves were actually surprisingly awesome. I have a feeling they came onstage with the intention of playing one of the more energetic shows of their career: when they were touring back in May, they had a massive equipment flip-out at this very same venue that forced them to cancel the show two or three songs into their set. Singer Jeremy Greenspan has gone on record saying that that was one of the worst nights of his life, and I'm sure it was something of a redemptive occasion for the whole band to finally be able to come back and do the thing right.

Their enthusiasm was palpable, as they rattled through various choice cuts from each of their three albums. Fan favorites "In the Morning" and "Birthday" (before which Greenspan announced that at midnight it would, in fact, be the drummer's birthday) were punctuated with rocking renditions of tracks like "Double Shadow" and "The Equalizer." Even the songs from Begone Dull Care were given a vitality I could never have imagined based solely on their sleepy album versions: "Hazel," which opened the set, was groovy in a cool nerd-dance kind of way, and "Work" stands tall as one of the evening's biggest highlights. Even so, they conspicuously saved the best for last. Bands' encores are rarely better than the main set, but the Boys re-emerged to play a 10-minute extended jam version of Last Exit track "Under the Sun" that could likely beat the hell out of anything they've ever produced in the studio. It was that awesome.

Still, in spite of this revelatory performance, it was the opening bands that made the evening so ... er, memorable. First opening act San Serac may be the biggest dork I have ever seen onstage before, and I most certainly mean that in the most endearing way possible. The man was dancing his ass off so un-self-consciously that I can't help but feel something of an attachment.

Second opening act, on the other hand, I have no words for. Their name was Perfect Storm, and try as I might to summarize their performance, I just can't. This is the best I could come up with:

Suffice it to say I LOST MY SHIT. No opening band for the rest of time will be able to match these guys. The Decemberists could open for Sunset Rubdown and I'd be like, "Well, they're no Perfect Storm." Now all I have to do is convince myself they actually exist. Sleep deprivation does mess with you and, eerily, there is no information about these guys anywhere online. No matter what, though, the trip down the rabbit hole was a fun one. Now I finally know what's on the other side. It's Webster Hall in NYC, and it's kind of glorious.

mp3: "In the Morning" by Junior Boys
mp3: "Work" by Junior Boys

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

kleerup by kleerup

Insanity makes for great music. It also makes for a pseudo adult-life filed with late nights and sugary breakfast cereals...but as per usual that's my cross to bear.

Producer Andreas Kleerup is someone who took insanity (and time in a Swedish rehab center) to a great musical place. (Although now I'm longing to ask him on his stance on Frosted Flakes.) After having produced and remixed for the likes of The Shout out Louds, The Concretes, and Cyndi Lauper, Kleerup's self-titled debut album is finally being released stateside (today). A release that's being touted as... an introspective trip into Igmar Bergman-inspired dance-music. The problem of course being that other than picturing this scene with a disco ball, I'm far to ignorant to give you an idea of what that could entail.

Instead, how about another Scandinavian frame of reference? You'd be forgiven for mistaking the mid-tempo, shimmery synths of Kleerup for the lesser-work of another dance mastermind--or rather two masterminds: Norwegian duo Röyksopp. Kleerup goes so far as to take a cue directly from Röyksopp's recent album Junior, enlisting the help of both Lykke Li and Robyn--both whose breathy tracks breath life into his sorrowful but sweet creations. Even the unlikely disco queen Marit Bergman's voice on key track "3Am" weirdly fits--creating some of the cutest disco this side of Sally Shapiro.

It still doesn't flow well enough to give Röyksopp a run for their money (or on the atmospheric final track "I Just Want to Make That Sad Boy Smile" -- Moby). The driving beat of "Thank You For Nothing" falters under the addition of canned vocals. Meanwhile, "Tower Of Trellick" falls flat under an overbearing, repetitive them. Still, overall there's still enough sensitivity and 80s-tinged creativity to make Kleerup an album ripe for repeat listens -- late nights and breakfast cereal optional.

mp3: "Until We Bleed (feat. Lykke Li) (Mikael's Cello Version)" by Kleerup

Thursday, July 23, 2009

so many dynamos @ spaceland

I knew it was going to be an amazing show when one of my friends gestured to Spaceland's small stage and said, "Wait. Is he sitting on the bass drum?" The 'he' in question was So Many Dynamos’ drummer Norm, and yes he was. After a short set from Kinch1, Cast Spells did a brilliant set. Not only did the drummer play the bass drum while sitting on it, there was a cello, and some lovely folky indie noise played on a semi-hollow bodied guitar by a lovely man with a beard who happens to belong to Maps & Atlases2. They have an EP coming out in August, or July, depending on who you listen to. And you should buy it.

But really, we were there to see So Many Dynamos. They're big favorites around the WBH headquarters, what with the loudness and the clever lyrics and the disregard for rational time signatures and the screaming about all the fun ways to die in the apocalypse and the flailing and the loudness. Theyre really loud, in a 'vibrate every atom of your body because you're standing too close to the synths' sort of way. Four otherwise unassuming, geeky young men3 should not be able to make that much noise, especially not in such a controlled way. "Sorry about all the science projects," guitarist Ryan kept apologizing, as effects pedals were swapped and dials were twirled and synthesizers were battled and a number of percussive things were hit rather hard – for a few moments, the other guitarist, Griffin, was actually playing the cable he'd unplugged from his guitar. Just the cable. Seriously.

The set was largely songs from their recently released album, The Loud Wars, with a healthy smattering from Flashlights, which ako and I agree is one of the greatest albums ever recorded. The set was decidedly too short and they actually denied us an encore, but there was enough energy and thrashing and awesome to make up for the shortness of the show. Besides, we got to buy glow-in-the-dark octopus shirts from Ryan in the end, and if anyone can come up with a better way to end a show that doesn’t involve pie, please let us know.

1. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. The bassist plays like a 1967 session guy, and the singer messed himself up in a pretty cute way, and sounds like the guy from the Walkmen.
2. The man belongs to Maps & Atlases. Not the beard. His name is David Davison. I don’t know what his beard is named.
3. Geeky young men are the best, and always seem to rock the hardest. So hard was their geek rocking that synth-bassist/vocalist Aaron rocked off his dark-rimmed spectacles, even though they had a strap on them. That's rock 'n' roll, man!

(photo Cast Spells & So Many Dynamos: Aude Prachandsitthi)

mp3: "Glamorous Glowing" by Cast Spells
mp3: "We Vibrate, We Do" by So Many Dynamos

Sunday, July 19, 2009

radiolarians III by medeski martin & wood

Sometimes blogging can lead to the most random musical encounters -- like when someone you respect takes you by the arm and expounds upon his favorite bands...only to have one favorite band's newest album show up in your inbox less than twenty-four hours later. My life -- as a rule -- is never that serendipitous. Oh Medeski Martin & had me at hello.

The experimental jazz trio's newest album Radiolarians III (out August 4th) is the oh-so-cleverly named third disk in the Radiolarians series. The concept is simple: Tour. Play and perfect new material. Go into the studio and record. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Mock anyone who tells you that a band that has been together eighteen years can't pull off that kind of intensity.

I might have made that last part up.

The results are an engaging no-holds-barred experiment in creativity that is intensely enjoyable and highly varied. At times it's loungey...without evoking the need for listeners to be clad in any form of polyester. It's wildy-experimental at points, often verging on complete collapse...without the listener having to take a music theory class to understand what they are trying to accomplish. Once and awhile, it also manages to sound incredibly synthetic...without ever allowing the listener to forget these are three guys, playing every freaking note. Had someone introduced me to contrasting themes and elements like this at an early age, I might not have been so quick to give up on jazz band....

....then again, there's something to be said for everything happening in its time.

mp3: "Undone" by Medeski Martin & Wood

Thursday, July 16, 2009

battle for the sun by placebo

Here's the thing about Placebo: they sound like Placebo. They've always sounded like Placebo, and they probably always will. But Placebo sound really good, so it's totally acceptable. It does, however, make reviewing their albums slightly difficult1.

Battle for the Sun sounds rather a lot like Placebo's previous albums. That means that it's loud in a strangely symphonic way, and scary in a pretty, androgynous boys way, and bass- and drum-heavy in a really good way. There's some subtle synthy bits, and some very nice guitar work, and dark, twisty lyrics about god and drugs and self-deprecation and the deprecation of others and being lost and other metaphors I can't really follow because I don't have enough black in my wardrobe. Battle for the Sun – which came out last month – doesn’t quite have the same umph as last year's Meds, but it's still full of those wonderfully unexpected minor chords, and it's got Brian Molko's wonderfully compelling, nasally warbling voice, so it hardly matters.

So basically, if you like music made by pale, melodramatic English boys with eyeliner who are prettier than you are2, rock on! And if you don't, well, um, don't? Although the drums in the first minute of this video might change your mind:

If not, this one is glammier and has more eye makeup and sexy visual effects.

1. This is one of the reasons this review is so distressingly late. Other reasons include my car getting totaled, finally finding meaningful employment, and my own general laziness.
2. The Cure, Muse, David Bowie, et al.

mp3: "Julien" by Placebo

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

of faith, power and glory by vnv nation

Anyone who as ever spoken with me at length (or even in brief, I imagine) about music knows that I'm pretty big on electronica. The synth is my homeboy. While I have no doubt that I would have inevitably fallen in love with the genre one way or another, the path that led me to where I am today owes a huge debt of gratitude to VNV Nation. This British/Irish duo, along with futurepop contemporaries Apoptygma Berzerk and Assemblage 23, more or less defined my love for techno music in the early half of this decade. Years later, they still epitomize what I look for in a solid electronic track: they're raw, energetic, have a keen ear for melody, and they're extremely danceable.

Naturally, it is a with a tremendous reserve of goodwill that I approach Of Faith, Power and Glory, the band's newest record and seventh album overall. Historically, VNV's discography is by no means either perfect or consistent. Barring a couple songs, I was none too impressed with either 2002's Futureperfect or 2005's Matter + Form, and on the flipside I've spent years trying to reconcile the fact that it is extremely unlikely that they'll ever again make an album as fully realized as 1999's Empires. That being said, it seems the best they can do at this point in their career is to strive for a solid, satisfying middle ground. 2007's Judgment started this trend and, luckily, Of Faith, Power and Glory seems quite happy to continue it.

When I say that VNV have found a workable formula and stuck to it, I don't mean to imply that the new record is a retread or that the boys have stopped trying. On the contrary, it just seems as if they've reached the plateau that all bands invariably aim for: they've become comfortable being themselves. The necessity for restless invention and tweaking has become secondary to writing songs designed for their already-established sound. This attitude makes it tempting to label Faith as "just another VNV album," and maybe it is, but they're so good at what they do that it scarcely matters.

As with every one of their releases, some of the material clicks and some just doesn't. The downtempo "Ghost" is probably the only song here that I'd say doesn't work at all. I see what Ronan Harris is going for, but it's just too much of a slow-burner and it never quite gets off the ground. On a similar plane, the piano-driven "From My Hands" is pretty and atmospheric, but doesn't do a whole lot to hold my interest. But for every track that doesn't quite click, there are two that do, and -- again, like all VNV albums -- the highlights are so strong that you can spot them a mile off. For one thing, the opening triad of "Sentinel" (amusingly misspelled on the CD cover), "Tomorrow Never Comes," and "The Great Divide" is likely the best 1-2-3 punch the guys have delivered since "Standing"/"Legion"/"Dark Angel" on Empires. While "Tomorrow Never Comes" is perhaps the most straightforward floorkiller of the bunch, "The Great Divide" is practically radio-friendly, and "Sentinel" delivers the kind of soaring synth-pop chorus that New Order would've killed for twenty years ago.

Still, as great as these songs are, they wisely save the very best for last. The majestic "Where There Is Light" is quite simply one of the best songs they have ever put to tape. While still making inherent danceability its number one priority, it also comes equipped with a heartstring-tugging melody and the record's most powerful vocal delivery. Shoot me before I get too corny, but it's dangerously close to being the musical equivalent of standing on a high cliff, arms outstretched, with the wind rippling through your clothes and hair. It's magnificent.

In the end, the album is admirable for being exactly what it sets out to be: a VNV Nation album. With upwards of fifteen years of experience behind them, these guys have been at this long enough and have worked enough magic through their past output that they've earned the right to just sit back and let the mold they've worked so hard to create serve them for a change. Contrary to their abbreviated Victory, Not Vengeance moniker, Of Faith, Power and Glory isn't a victory lap. It's just the kind of record a band makes when they've managed to conquer the world. I mean, where exactly can you go from there?

mp3: "Where There Is Light" by VNV Nation
mp3: "Standing" by VNV Nation