Friday, February 27, 2009

persuader by pooma

File this one under "stuff I should have really known about two years ago." But since Pooma felt it necessary to drop their album Persuader into my inbox on Wednesday (along with a letter hinting at an upcoming American rerelease), and their myspace mentions they're "concentrating on new material," now is as good of a time as any to get caught up, right? The Finnish promotional machine works in mysterious ways.

Produced by Gunnar Örn Tynes of Múm and drawing on "scandinavian melancholy", Persuader has the same, introspective shoegaze charm I find myself becoming more and more taken with. I tend to be a meaning and lyrics girl -- therein lies my issue with most of the genre. At the end of the day I find myself drawn to the human voice and lyrics. Although I'll be the first to argue that content can be given meaning though musical form -- as is the case with vocalist Tuire Lukka's haunting refrain of "would you" in the song so appropriately titled "Would You."

I hate to over-generalize based on location (even if I, as an American, am currently sitting in my enormous pajama pants, snacking, and watching a perfectly good Friday afternoon slide by my open window), but after first growing hopelessly attached to Iceland's Bang Gang and now sincerely enjoying my first introduction to Pooma, there might be something to this whole Scandinavian shoegaze thing.  This is the sort of heartfelt, melodramatic, birthed by personal experience music with a personal history I simply can't conceive. No really, my brain would freeze over just trying to wrap my mind around a single winter. Maybe it's true what they say: the grass is always just a bit greener, and, from my place in the California sunshine: Pooma's melodies are just a bit cooler.

mp3: "Snow" by Pooma

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

heroes presented by War Child

If there's one thing I like, it's covers. If there's one thing the Would-be Hipsters as a whole like, it's benefit albums. (See: Plastic Snow) So when Heroes: an album to benefit children affected by war appeared in our mailbox, we were all happy as proverbial clams.

War Child is an organization that helps children affected by wars all over the world. They've got a lot of celebrity support, as evidenced by the lineup of Heroes: they had some of the most important names in rock 'n' roll (Dylan, the Kinks, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, U2, Bowie, etc.) personally pick a track from their catalogue and a modern artist to cover it. The result is predictably awesome. Beck covers Dylan's "Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat". The Yeah Yeah Yeahs do "Sheena is a Punk Rocker". TV on the Radio do a great David Bowie. It all makes perfect sense. (Click here to see the full tracklist.)

The only flaw that I see in this album – and it's a minor one – is that some of the covers are just a little bit too good. The Hold Steady sounds exactly like Springsteen. It's uncanny. Elbow is essentially U2 on downers any day of the week, so their rendition of "Running to Stand Still" isn't too far from the beloved Bono & co. track. There's a few moments of shake up: Rufus Wainwright does strip down Brian Wilson's "Smile" medley, and Adam Cohen's cover of his father's "Take This Waltz" is sung in Spanish. Regardless, the tracks are great, there's something on it for everybody, and it's for an amazing cause. Pick up a copy today and feel good about helping out War Child while rockin' out to some stellar covers.

heavy ghost by dm stith

Another fun round of late-night babble blogging. Someone, help me out: are vampires still cool, or was that sooo three months ago? It might be my fractured, sleep-deprived state, but Heavy Ghost, DM Stith's debut full-length (out 3/10) makes me think of those dark creatures of the night. Then again it could be a throwback to my impressionable teenage years, reading Interview With a Vampire (yet another in the list of household banned books...oh mom, how you tried) to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack -- thus forever rendering anything with a hint of melodrama "otherworldly."

But surely otherworldly isn't too far off the mark. Percussive heavy, orchestrally dense, and punctuated with a "voice in the wind"-style chorus, Heavy Ghost is incredibly haunting and atmospheric -- easily fulfilling all of fleetingly short Curtain Speech's promise. Best of all, the musical driving force, Stith's unsettling voice, sits front-and-center atop all this melodic discordance -- and yes, the gestalt is still quite beautiful.

Of course, with his previous EP, he's already proven he can do atmospheric. Now Stith is out to prove he can "feel," wonderfully evident on one of the many album highlights, "Fire of Birds," which plays like the ending sequence to 8 1/2, where over the course of five minutes you can hear the ghosts of his past come encircle him, celebrating the depth and breath of the human experience. Rest assured in song, this sounds significantly less pretentious.

I think the biggest problem in reviewing Heavy Ghost, is that its experimental nature precludes easy comparison to better-known musical tropes. Maybe the most definitive statement that can be made regarding Heavy Ghost is that in his current musical incarnation, DM Stith is in no danger of invading the top 40 charts. Tragic maybe, only because I'm narcissistic enough to believe everyone should think like me. But one thing's for certain: for emotive, otherworldly music, this might be incredibly difficult to beat.

mp3: "Thanksgiving Moon" by DM Stith

Friday, February 20, 2009

andrew bird and loney dear @ the orpheum

I'm sure there's such thing as too much good music. Really, I'm sure that at some point the brain overloads -- causing the listener to crave the sweet, sweet pre-fab pop of top 40 or to take to huddling in elevators allowing the unobtrusive soundtrack to soothe his or her over-stimulated ears. After spending Thursday night at the Orpheum, the combined forces of Loney Dear and Andrew Bird brought me close to that precarious edge. But seeing as how I rolled out of bed the next day wanting nothing more than to throw myself ears first into Loney Dear's tour-only albums (reissued copies of his first and second records), I think we can safely assume the worst is behind us. But it was a close call.

Opening the evening was Loney Dear. Confession from your Would-Be Hipster: I was there for him. I know, I know, given my track record of "Scandinavian Appreciation" (trademark pending), this is indeed a shocking moment for us all. And (flame me if you must), I do believe in many ways the unassuming Swede emotionally stole the show. Beginning of the set: an ambivalent half-filled theater, punctuated by random bursts of idle chatter and cell phone lights gyrating to frantic texting. Slowly but surely, Loney Dear's melancholic rock and falsetto took hold. One could almost plot the turning of the tides. The gradual shift of attention to the stage, the increasingly frequent glance up to take note of endlessly catchy "I Am John," the unprecedented willingness of the crowd to sing back up vocals for an opener. By the time Loney Dear mastermind Emil Svanängen stepped away from the mic to sing the chorus of "I Love You," the transformation was complete -- unaided, his voice carried to the end of the theater where, if you were listening carefully you could hear a pin drop. By the end of the set the theater was nearly full with two-thirds of the audience on their feet. A standing ovation? Not bad for the new kid in town.

Then there was Andrew Bird. Which given his (rightfully) self-assured swagger is really the only introduction he needs. To loud cheers he kicked off his shoes, pursed his lips, and settled down to business. Watching Andrew Bird play is a thing of beauty. Switching between his trademark violin and guitar, band members and whirling gramophone, there's simply a lot of chaos around him. And yet, not only does he recreate and embellish every note -- he manages to do so in a matter that suggests the relaxed posture of a men's attire model.

Of course, you can't review Andrew Bird without discussing his whistling. Amidst all the the aforementioned chaos he whistled a bird. (Yeah I know, cheesy, but sometimes it's important to call a spade a spade, or rather a bird a bird.) I have fond memories of my childhood, where my mother tried and tried again to teach me the finer points of whistling. Thanks to her, today -- if the wind is blowing just right, the stars are aligned and my lips aren't chapped -- I can produce the ghost of a whistle. Thanks mom! Combine this terrible handicap with my well-documented fascination with live sampling and well, Mr. Bird, I tip my metaphorical and physical hats to you. Chirp away.

One of my big concerns was that -- despite several attempts, I just haven't connected with Andrew Bird's new material. Funny then, that one of my highlights of the evening was his rather rocking rendition of "Anonanimal." A new song, and a new favorite. This revelation was surpassed only by set closer "Tables and Chairs." How can you not love a man who closes his show with a carefree mention of snacks at the apocalypse? Yeah, that's right, you can't.

(photo Andrew Bird: Cameron Witting)

mp3: "Plasticities (live)" by Andrew Bird
mp3: "I Am John (live)" by Loney Dear
mp3: "Airport Surroundings" by Loney Dear

Monday, February 16, 2009

everyone all at once by the rest

Clearly I've been doing something right. Lately, amazing music has been dropping into the Would-Be Hipster inbox, ripe for the picking. A few more weeks like this and I'll have to take up eating bon-bons and watching my "stories" to whittle away all my extra hours previously spent hunting down these sorts of gems...

Carrying on.

America, we're about to get a good 'ol fashioned ass whoopin' from our neighbors up north. Yes, our Salvation Army can take out their actual army -- but I'm seriously starting to worry about our place in the international music war. Canada's newest recruits, Ontario-based seven-piece The Rest have toured with their nation's finest (anyone who's a friend of Final Fantasy is a friend of mine), and, even more terrifying, their press-release brags that they "speak snow." These are the sort of things that keep me up at night. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Everyone All At Once plays with a startling sophistication -- this is the sort of orchestral sonic assault that should have Win Butler looking over his shoulder. Yes, I'm going there and making the Arcade Fire comparison. I might be sipping on the blogger Kool-Aid, but The Rest is clearly chugging from some musically-enchanted Canuck fountain. Ya know, the kind that promises reckless musical abandon, lead singers with a uniquely nasally range, and the sort of emotionally gripping swells that will have movie music supervisors come knocking sooner than later. Can I get that bottled?

In a display of kindness, The Rest let us chose what song to offer to our readers. I might as well have thrown a dart into their track listing. Even with my inability to hit the broad side of the barn, it was a mission where there was simply no going wrong. Enjoy the early warning -- because The Rest will be commanding the next Canadian invasion. 

mp3: "Walk on Water (Auspicious Beginnings)" by The Rest

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

here we go magic by here we go magic

I hate to be the bearer of bad news...but you can't listen to the new Animal Collective forever. Don't get me wrong -- you can and will come back to it. It's a classic, that's not up for debate. But there hasn't been a single documented case of someone listening to it on continuous repeat since tearing off the shiny cellophane disc covering. It's just not going to happen. So, with the specter of AC-related ear fatigue looming, and the new Grizzly Bear album still a dot on the release horizon, where's a geek to go for her sonic ear-quilt of sound?

I for one am whole-heartedly nominating Here We Go Magic's self-titled debut album (out February 24). The only problem? This isn't just a stopgap; it's an oasis. Problem? Oh no...I smell a sonic war brewing. At least in true indie-rock fashion it's bound to be non-confrontational. And pretty. Kids, pretty is the word of the day. Got it?

Here We Go Magic lead-man Luke Temple possesses what both Ben Gibbard and Sufjan Stevens have called one of the prettiest voices in indie-rock. Here though, it's just another instrument in the mix rising above the din in a way that evokes equal parts Au and Radiohead. It's the sort of distant, electro-daydream voice you wish could sing you to sleep and coo at you until you've regained consciousness in the morning. I could listen to the looped chanting on album opener "Only Pieces" every morning. This is of course to say, yes, it is pretty.

Of course, to write this album off as simply "pretty" or "gentle" is to completely miss the point. This is a study of contrasts -- its beauty (wow, mixing up my descriptors!) sneaks up on you. One of the rare albums that's both accessible (it's so going on my next party playlist), and complex (I'm so going to sit around swirling a snifter of brandy, parsing point and counterpoint melodies), it's a complete musical journey. Just when you've been lulled into a free-floating daydream, there's a distinct shift in the musical tides -- tropical, electro-pop, funk. Sometimes it's taken to extremes (I'll admit it, I don't get the inclusion of "Nat's Alien." It seems like weird for weird sake rather than a deliberate placement within a cohesive album), but it's never boring. This is the sort of rare music that seems equally appropriate night and day. And being so pretty musically complex, you're going to want to hit repeat. Just don't get too obsessed, okay?

mp3: "Tunnelvision" by Here We Go Magic

Sunday, February 8, 2009

fol chen record release party @ pehrspace

Last night, in an attempt to gather more information for the Would-Be Hipsters of the world regarding the continuous threat of the nefarious John Shade, I attended Fol Chen's record release party. So who is John Shade? Beats me -- I got distracted by the indie-rock. Foiled again!

Chances are, anyone who's seen a show or two around LA has seen Fol Chen perform, myself included. However, it's taken me a year since their proper coming out party and a signing to Asthmatic Kitty before finally catching this new incarnation. I've seen and loved them in the past, but this? It's like the dance rock sprung fully-formed from the band's collective heads, bathed in the glitter of the sunset strip -- a far cry from the buttoned-up, romance-filled shows of the past. Needless to say, the audience was more than willing to go along for the ride, coasting along the wave of lead-man Samuel Bing's infectious onstage persona. The man can get hard-boiled hipsters engaged in a No Doubt sing-along. How is this possible?

Even stranger, he's not the only charismatic member of the band. It might have been altitude sickness sustained from an extended period standing on a chair while craning my neck around a pile of amps, but during keyboardist Melissa Thorne's rendition of "Cable TV" I could have sworn I saw actual dancing. Couple that with the band's ability to cede the floor to super-producer Patrik-Ian Polk (whose voice graces the criminally addictive "The Idiot" and managed to sound just as silky live) without losing one ounce of energy, and you've got a force to be reckoned with -- John Shade be damned.

(photo fol chen: Juliana Paciulli)

mp3: "Cable TV" by Fol Chen
mp3: "No Wedding Cake" by Fol Chen

Friday, February 6, 2009

lie to me by kingsbury

If your friends tell you blogging is hard work, try not to laugh too hard. Seriously, it's rude -- even if your blogging pals are a bunch of wimps. Who can complain about mouse finger strain when overlooked gems like Kingsbury's newest EP Lie to Me is conveniently dropped in your inbox? See? Piece of pie cake.

Initially, it was my jaded desire to have a good laugh that made me check them out. On their website and press materials, Kingsbury liken themselves to Sigur rós, which when placed on a band influence list usually signals complete and utter delusion1. Kind of like saying you're the next next Beatles. Well, let me be the first to tell you: they aren't far off the mark. There are decided elements of everyone's favorite Icelandic post-rockers. However, it's just that -- an influence. Kingsbury's catalog stretches far beyond simple imitation of their forefathers. Now they've gone so far as to create a complete album worth listening to from start to finish. In the digital age. Will wonders ever cease?

This is heavy stuff. Clocking in at six songs and a shade over twenty-five minutes, it's an exhausting listen -- for all the right reasons. Between the layers of post-rock guitar and melodramatic vocals, two things are abundantly clear: 1) these are real musicians, and 2) I still have a hard time believing much of the this was recorded live. Come to LA. Prove me wrong. On their website, the band mentions that one of their goals was write one of the most artistically meaningful records to ever come out of Florida. While I'll leave their success to be judged by fellow Floridians, as far as I'm concerned, they've got a pretty good jump on securing the title.

Of course, I do have to complain -- Kingsbury's giving it away. The entire Lie to Me EP. All of it. In fact, every last mp3 in their musical-candy store is up for grabs. Free. Seriously dudes, how am I supposed to to maintain a level of self-righteous blogger elitism when you're giving away the whole mess to anyone with an Internet connection? Don't you realize how hard this is?

1. Blogging = not hard. However, it will turn you into a judgmental mess. Hi, I'm a terrible person...have we met?

mp3: "Lie to Me" by Kingsbury
mp3: "Back in the Orange Grove" by Kingsbury

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

#4 by suburban kids with biblical names

I want to live in the world Suburban Kids with Biblical Names seem to so gleefully inhabit. Theirs is a land of endless rhythm, hand-claps, bells, and glee. Always with the glee. Off-key vocals? No problem! Enthusiasm will carry us though. If expatriating isn't an option, can I at least hang out for an extended weekend?

The newest in a string of creatively named EPs and LPs, #4 (out today,) encapsulates all of Suburban Kids With Biblical Names slacker charms and lackadaisical musical tropes.

Although fitting well within the band's canon, "Studenter på flak," is a first for Suburban Kids With Biblical Names in two respects. Not only is it their first offering in their native tongue (for more strictly Swedish delights, see lead man Johan Hedberg's solo project), but the first album as a whole where vocals scramble to keep up with the seemingly frenetic pace. The gifted little brothers of the Labrador family have woken up and are suddenly striving to make the grade, win your heart, and finish accepting friends requests from their adoring new Myspace fans. Here's hoping they succeed wildly.

mp3: "1999" by Suburban Kids With Biblical Names

Monday, February 2, 2009

work of art by the high fives

Today I present: rock. No sub-categories. No multi-layered influences. No gimmicks. Don't let the horn section fool you, it's just seven guys with guitars and energy to spare. Shocking I know. Meet The High Fives.

How about some specifics? This is straight-up unpretentious rock, the sort of cathartic crashing songs about girls and growing up you used to love in high school. (Yes you!) Well, it's back. And chances are, the grown-up you needs a moshpit-style dance break more than you're willing to admit. (Lately it's all come down to my desire to dance. Call me the Billy Elliot of bloggers.)

Their newest offering (and for all I know, first...unless discussing food, Swedish press releases are all but lost on me.) Work of Art (available now), might actually be just that -- a work of art. As their name suggests, The High Fives have captured a youthful zeitgeist on record, that precious time when power chords are everything and you ...don't wish for any kind of future, [you] don't wish for a brand new computer. Of course, had they been an American band, said future would have long since been sewn up by Vagrant Records. If our worlds collide and that happens, I'll happily take any and all Mac products passed your way.

mp3: "Duracell" by The High Fives

Sunday, February 1, 2009

theresa andersson @ hotel cafe

Posts about Theresa Andersson will continue until morale improves. Don't make me come to your house for a listening party to prove first-hand how lovely her music is. Actually...wait. That sounds like a great idea. I'll bring the pie.

Between the gestalt of Theresa's newest album Hummingbird, Go! and her always delightful woman-of-all-trades live shows, she's quickly establishing herself as something of a musical Vladimir Nabokov, who -- for those who aren't currently experiencing a reignited love affair with their long forgotten college reading list1 -- was a Russian author responsible for writing a great "American" novel. Yes, I'm referring to Lolita. Another in a long tradition of foreign born artists who've come to call our country home and managed to appropriate and expand upon our art better than most native sons (and daughters) -- an enlightened, pseudo-intellectual way of saying "art has no borders." You can't argue with the results of all this intellectual trade. Performing with the zest of southern big tent revivalist and singing with a soul peppered full of New Orleans congeniality, it's difficult not to be whole-heartedly drawn into Theresa's perpetual on-stage party for one. Not Swedish music. Not American music. Just another girl with delicious sonic layers and catchy turns of phrase reminding us what's it's like to live, dance, and love. Not bad for a Friday night out, huh?

Now I've ranted, and will continue to rant about the beauty and wonder of live sampling. There are blessed few performers who can pull off advanced levels of knob twitting while frolicking -- and even fewer who can do it while maintaining pitch perfect vocals. But to make it look equally easy in both the understated, sweet "The Waltz" and set barn-burner "Na Na Na"? Yes, I believe the old-Hollywood term for that is "triple threat." Another one of those old timey sayings? A picture is worth a thousand words. Which, in that case, video is worth a hushed silence and a few goosebumps:

How can you not want to see that live? Previously, I mentioned that you should catch her show while she's still a hidden gem. That time is quickly drawing to a close. Catch her Conan O'Brien this Wednesday -- 'cause something tells me after that, our secret's out.

Edit: Cool!

1. The truth: In practice for becoming the geek I am today I first read it in high school, wrapping the cover in a paper bag to keep parental curiosity at bay. Scandal!

mp3: "Birds Fly Away" by Theresa Andersson
mp3: "Na Na Na" by Theresa Andersson