Saturday, May 30, 2009

passion pit @ the echoplex

When all the evening's entertainment was said and done, my friend turned to me and remarked, "that was the happiest show I've ever been to!" With succinct friends like this, who needs blogging? He's right though, after the rainbow-dripped synths of Passion Pit, the only appropriate closing act would have been a box of puppies.

The amount of energy and charm Passion Pit brings to the stage is ridiculous. Formed only two years ago and minted as a critics' darlings of this year's SXSW, it's tough to remember these guys -- already pros -- are still just kids. Watching the band hold court over the sold-out, wildly dancing Echoplex, crowd cheering with approval at first-note recognition of favorites off just-released Manners, it doesn't take an expert to predict that they've got a brilliant electro-indie future. While the show lacked in introspective moments, how can argue with a falsetto-laced "Sleepyhead" singalong? Certainly not me.

Also playing were Harlem Shakes, a large musical collective whose radio-friendly pop-refrains and skinny jeans left me longing for a return of the glory days of Ween and Weezer. Opening the show was Cale Parks, a man with a drum set, large sample collection, and an abundance of ambition that makes me think it's time I set about finishing my novel and/or joining my friends for karaoke night.

(photo Passion Pit: Elizabeth Weinberg)

mp3: "Moth's Wings" by Passion Pit

Thursday, May 28, 2009

jens lekman @ the echo

To truly understand the WBH love for Jens Lekman, I strongly suggest starting with our previous concert reviews. Not that every time Jens takes the stage isn't a unique experience (each show is so intimate that last night he made the "naïve request" that no one post audio or video of the show to keep it "just between us"). It's just, how many times can I squeal in a public forum before I start coming off as a slightly deranged, slightly repetitive, slightly decidedly fanatical fan-girl? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

After over a year's absence, Jens' return to Los Angeles was the love-fest we've all been waiting for. Taking the tiny Echo stage with his truncated band and faithful DJ Viktor Sjöberg, Jens opened with a new song, the homage-heavy "The Summer Never Ends", before seamlessly launching into clear audience favorites, "Your Arms Around Me" and "Sipping On the Sweet Nectar", complete with a "arm-airplane" trip around the stage. That was me, grinning like an idiot. Irony is so hipster-2008.

In addition to debuting several new songs, including the Paul Simon-esque "The End of the World is Bigger Than Love" and Australia-themed, "Argument With Myself", Jens also surprised his audience by playing several live-rarities, including a sing-along version of my
2007 theme song "Kanske Ar Jag Kar i Dig1." The night ended with Jens on one knee, playing "Silvia", an ode to what he that was a memory of meeting the queen of Sweden -- only to be told by his mother after he wrote it that said memory was a dream. Thankfully, his charming preformance was 100% real.

Opening the show was comedienne Tig Notaro, whose wry humor complimented Jens' music far better than any opening band.

1. However, it can be argued that the line, Best way to touch your heart/is to make an ass of myself, is really more of a life theme.

mp3: "Do You Remember The Riots (orchestral version)" by Jens Lekman
mp3: "Lönlöv (Swedish version of Maple Leaves)" by Jens Lekman

Sunday, May 24, 2009

the dears @ the echoplex

I am not a Dears scholar. Quite the opposite actually -- the only Dears album currently in my possession was lent to me by a fellow Would-be Hipster en-route to last night's show1 at the Echoplex. Granted, I'm pretty sure I could have listened to their entire catalog and not been prepared for what was to come. Seeing The Dears live is one heck of an introduction.

From the moment lead-singer Murry Lightburn started his slow, intimidating stroll from the back of the Echoplex to the stage during opener "Saviour," crowds parting as though in the presence of a messianic indie-rock figure, the night was set to be grand. And it just kept getting better and better. Stomping through each song with a frenetic focus of a big-tent revivalist, the band maintained an almost Radiohead-like level of intensity. Often, the comparison could be taken even further as Lightburn's rich baritone stretched into a Thom Yorke-like falsetto. With ghostly backing-vocals provided by Lightburn's wife and band-mate Natalia Yanchak over a bed of intensely layered sound (the saxophone might have been sampled, but the band was clearly working their butts off), it was hard not to feel a little overwhelmed. Clearly I've got a lot of listening to do...

Of course, it all comes down to a charismatic leader. When doesn't it? Watching Lightburn preform is a mesmerizing study in contrasts. The dower stage persona gives way to a genuine thankfulness that people are listening at all. A line screamed directly into the face of a fan is accompanied by a hug and a high five. It's tough to peg where he's coming from or where he'll be next, making the performance both unusual and highly compelling. All I'm saying is that when you can unironically use a keytar without audience backlash and/or open mockery, you're in a class of elite performers.

Taking the stage earlier in the evening was Los Angeles-based band Eulogies. Although somberly named, their rocking warm sound is just the sort of thing you soundtrack you envision accompanying your night out with friends. A strong strong start to the evening and a good sign of things to come.

And of course, there was also WBH favorite, Great Northern, playing their first hometown show since the release of their new album -- an album filled with the sort of anthemic, soaring songs that where meant to be seen live. I suggest you do so immediately.

1. Sponsored by WBH's favorite magazine, Under the Radar. Really, who doesn't love a show that comes with free reading material?

(photo The Dears: Liam Maloney)
(photo Great Northern: David Studarus)

mp3: "Who Are You Defenders of the Universe" by The Dears
mp3: "Half Mast" by The Dears
mp3: "Houses" by Great Northern
mp3: "One Man" by Eulogies

Saturday, May 23, 2009

the decemberists @ the hollywood palladium

There is a rule here at WBH headquarters: If the Decemberists (or, for that matter, any of their constituent parts) are performing anywhere in the greater Los Angeles area1, m.a.b. and ako must go. So when the Decemberists kicked off their tour to support their epic rock opera The Hazards of Love at the Hollywood Palladium on Tuesday, we were not only there, but there early enough to chat with a security guard who thought that the crowd was likely to start moshing. That was only the beginning of the night’s surreality.

Other Lives opened, and were a perfect compliment to the Decemberists. They make lovely acoustic guitar/piano/cello moody indie-folk music. They are also very polite people. And the lead singer looks like like T.R. Knight with a beard. All of which are admirable qualities, and had the Decemberists not been waiting in the wings to come on, I could have listened to them all night.

The Decemberists took the stage – along with Lavander Diamond’s Becky Stark (playing Margaret) and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden (playing The Queen) – and launched into The Hazards of Love2 which was played straight through without pause. And really, what can be said? It was perfect. The band was amazing and tight and gorgeous. Becky floated around the stage with her beautiful soprano voice and flowing white gown. Shara stomped and ran and growled and wailed and I’m a little afraid of her. Colin’s sideburns and suspenders set the mood quite nicely. The highlight – by far – was “The Rake’s Song.” Colin on guitar, Nate on bass, everyone else on drums. Choreographed drums and screaming. Having Becky Stark right in front of me pounding on tom toms with mallets and screaming “all right!” while trying to look like a bad-ass in her white sparkly chiffon while Colin Meloy sings about killing children? Highlight of my life.

After a brief intermission, the band came back for a too-short set of older songs. Highlights included: duets with both Becky and Shara; “Dracula’s Daughter” not only arranged for the whole but as an intro to “O Valencia!”; Colin forgetting the words to a handful of songs; and a beautiful singalong of “Sons & Daughters”; and the John and Colin comedy hour as they came out to do “Raincoat Song” for the first song of the encore. And then, as most Decemberist shows do, the evening ended with “I Was Meant for the Stage.” While not my favorite song, it is the greatest show ender I’ve ever seen. The song ends in chaos, every member writhing on the floor – including Nate Query, holding his bass up over his head with his foot. Yes, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll cliché, but when lit-rock geeks do it, it’s just transcendent.

p.s. ako filmed "Los Angeles, I'm Yours" and it's pretty darned awesome.

1. Other than the Hollywood Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl is not an acceptable to see indie rock, or much of anything, really.
2. So “launched” is probably not exactly appropriate, as it began with Jenny Conlee slowly building up a few chords on her Hammond for the prelude.

mp3: "Black Tables" by Other Lives
mp3: "We Both Go Down Together" by the Decemberists

Thursday, May 21, 2009

m83 @ the glass house

Wow. I feel like I should be reviewing Wednesday night's show at The Glass House in haiku. Given the dizzying poetics of Saturdays=Youth, it wouldn't be completely out of order. Instead, I'll lead off per WBH usual, complaints that the show was far too short. Isn't it always? However, to M83 lead-man Anthony Gonzales' credit, even with the brevity of the set, clocking in at eight songs and an encore, there was a lot going on.

Although obstinately a solo-project, M83 live is all about chemistry. Gonzales was joined by keyboardist/vocalist Morgan Kibby, who, despite early technical glitches covering much of her early performance, felt perfectly cast for eighties-reminiscent numbers "Skin of the Night" and "We Own the Sky." And, even though a marketed amount of drum machine was also evident, there was, behind a transparent barrier, a real live drummer. His enthusiastic pounding, coupled with Kibby and Gonzales' bobbing and weaving, made for a weirdly hypnotic visual -- the rock equivalent of watching waves crash on the shore. The metaphor of course cracked every time Gonzales stepped to the front of the stage, guitar in hand. While a fan of electronica, I've never been convinced laptops are actually an instrument. (Thus, I'll never be in a rush to buy Girl Talk tickets.) So, while enjoying the bloops and bleeps as much as the next fan (although, probably not as much as the few brave kids dancing like it's 1989), visual and auditory conformation that Gonzales is a proficient and enthusiastic guitar player was welcome.

And here is where your geek-in-residence has a confession to make: Despite previous attempts at fandom, Saturdays=Youth is the first M83 album I've emotionally connected to. Yes, I can see the beauty in previous efforts (I'd score an epic film with anything on Before the Dawn Heals Us). But, it's don't worry, it's not you, it's me. So, even with the grand spectacle of songs like "Teen Angst" and "Sitting" sparking audience clap-alongs, it was the John Hughes-worthy tracks, including epic encore song "Coleurs" that really made my night. And, oh, what a night.

mp3: "Kim and Jesse (Montag mix)" by M83
mp3: "We Own the Sky (Maps Remix)" by M83

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

core memory unwound by christopher tignor

Instrumental albums are notoriously difficult to write about. It's the proverbial dancing about architecture. So, until you can listen to Christopher Tignor's (also of Slow Six) new album Core Memory Unwound (out now) for yourself, just pretend I'm enthusiastically humming in your ear as you read this. Wait, strike that...I'm tone deaf.

Consisting of violin and piano, each composition is played twice -- first in its organic form, and then looped, sampled, and otherwise twisted. And like a memory falling apart (or rather, being unwound), the process happens so gradually it's difficult to track the subtle changes, until you realize the the slow musical journey has taken you someplace new. 

Like a samples-based Dustin O'Halloran or a Philip Glass-inspired Dntel, Tignor's work contains an undeniable minimalist sensitivity. More about tonality than melody, the listener lead through a sea of sound and auditory textures. Awash in a near seamless outing, the gestalt is clear: this is a gentle ambient album, not for the reviewer or listener spoil with words, but to enhance with dreams and memories of their own.

mp3: "Meeting in a Colored Shadow (excerpt)" by Christopher Tignor
mp3: "Cathedral (pt 1) (excerpt)" by Christopher Tignor

Monday, May 18, 2009

m83 haiku contest winners

Thanks to all entrants
You made our judging day full
of geeky delights!

Congrats to winners

Ian Cox and Brie Savard
M83 tix!

they were my first love
innocence lost to casette
synesthizer sex
by: Ian Cox

Eighty-six nightdrive
Pulsing neon all around;
Futures now long past.
by: Brie Savard

Sunday, May 17, 2009

loney dear @ spaceland

There are few ills in life that Emil Svanängen's (a.k.a. the driving force behind Loney Dear) sweet voice cannot cure. I offer this, not as a point of discussion, but as a simple statement of fact. Last night at Spaceland was all the empirical evidence one needs. (Of course, his four five-album catalog also helps. edit: geeks can't count. It's true.)

From set opener "Everything Turns to You" to encore closer "Dear John," (both songs from latest album, Dear John) Loney Dear, who earned a standing ovation opening for Andrew Bird earlier this year, clearly had the audience in the palm of their hand -- so much in fact, that when Svanängen asked for a volunteer to restring his guitar (shredded during the opener in an aggressive, all-or-nothing playing style that would continue though the night), one quickly rose to the occasion. Unwilling to stop the rock, Svanängen, much to his audience's continued delight, guided his ad-hoc guitar tech to the location of spare strings via an on-the-fly giggled-lyrical rewrite of "Harsh Words." Charming.

In between songs, we were treated to a recap of the perils that four Scandinavian musicians face while negating peculiarities of the English language. From the slippery "z" sounds in "cheeseburger" (personally, I recommend the veggie burger), to our fear of the metric system, it's a lot to take in one tour. In regards to our incomprehensible units of measurement, Svanängen offered the following evaluation whist taking a mid-set water break:

Svanängen: I've tried to learn the English measuring system. But what's a fl. oz? Do you even know what a fl.oz. is?"

Silence. (In what I assume was reckless contemplation.)

Svanängen: I think I just drank a half a gallon!

While engaging the audience with musical tricks similar to their previous LA performance -- an intimate microphone-free rendition of "I Love You" and rousing sing-along with "The Meter Marks OK," the performance never came off as canned or insincere, as both performers and three-quarter-filled club seemed mutually engaged and charmed with each other. At the end of well-deserved encore, a clearly exhausted band took their final bows, Svanängen promising, "I'll see, soon."

Soon? I hope so.

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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

confessions of a would-be hipster is now on facebook!

We've finally caught up with the times! Or, at least, we've managed to touch the back of the times' t-shirt before it sprinted away from us in amazement and terror. Regardless, we're now on Facebook, so add us!

Also, a reminder (in case you haven't been spammed with it enough):

In the mid-Spring haze
The Would-Be Hipsters unite
To bring you rapture.

You see, we have two
Outstanding sets of tickets
We'd love to give you.

M83, yes!
It is written in your stars.
These tickets are yours.

All you need to do
Is put the 80s in verse.
It isn't that hard.

Let's go! Huzzah!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ticket giveaway: m83 @ glass house in pomona (5/20)

The Powers That Be have smiled upon Confessions of a Would-Be Hipster, providing us with two pairs of tickets to the upcoming M83 show at the Glass House in Pomona, Wednesday 5/20. This is one of the last west coast dates supporting John Hughes-inspired Saturdays=Youth, so needless to say, the geek-outs around WBH HQ are at a high.

To win: e-mail us at wouldbehipster(at) with an 80s-themed haiku.

Pontificate on Madonna's cone bra or Robert Smith's make-up. Write an ode to your favorite Saturday morning cartoon. Immortalize that terrible fashion choice you made in high school -- anything is fair game as long as it's in haiku form.

The two most amusing poems will both get a pair of tickets to the show.

Contest closes Sunday, 5/17.

Winners will be announced Monday, 5/18.

Good luck!

dirty by emily wells

Again, I find myself at that weird impasse where I've written about an artist so many times I feel like I've crossed the line into obsessive blogger territory. Or at least repetition. But Emily Wells, with her constant touring and new EP Dirty (Out May 26th), keeps giving bloggers and fans alike plenty of reasons to keep talking.

Two of Dirty's tracks, "Symphony 4: America's Mercy War" and "Symphony 6: Fair Thee Well & The Requiem Mix" also appeared as album highlights on last year's genre-breaking The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties -- so chances are you probably have them. If not, hearing them pulled out of context and mixed in with new material is an excellent primer for the new listener. But what about the established fan and/or blogger with too much time on her hands? How about a beautiful remix of "Symphony 9 & the Sunshine" where, stripped of beats and slowed, the spotlight is on Well's virtuoso violin skills? Despite my love/hate relationship with the remixing world, it feels like, given Wells' affection for her looping pedal, she could take her music in any one of many dramatically different directions. I, for one, wouldn't mind hearing a few more symphony re-imaginings.

The new material on Dirty finds Wells experimenting and expanding her self-created "Symphonic Folktronica Fantasy" sound. On the breezy "Take It Easy San Francisco" she temporarily sets aside her trademark violin, instead favoring ukulele accompaniment to create a light summer tune. The good-time atmosphere is continued on pizzicato-happy "Whiskey and Rags." Of course, securing her status as "unclassifiable," Wells also includes Notorious B.I.G. cover, "Juicy," slowing the song to a melodic, downtrodden-but-dreamy meditation on poverty.

Usually when you see phrases on a press sheet like, "Nina Simone and Biggie Smalls make my world go round," it's a case for incredulity. But when it comes to Wells, you can clearly hear the influence of many disparate genres. More than a musical parlor trick, she makes genre mash-up and boundary-pushing work in her favor. Good thing...I suspect the music world isn't done talking about her yet.

(photo Emily Wells: Anne Carmack)

mp3: "Symphony 6: Fair Thee Well & The Requiem Mix (live at KCRW)" by Emily Wells

Sunday, May 10, 2009

learning to live on poison by archivist

There's something curiously appealing about a band that embraces the musical freedom of art-rock, where impressionistic chaos boils beneath the temper of a single idea, feeling, or scene. What's even more appealing is the result of that intimate intensity when it mingles with a brocade of tight harmonies and inimitable mastery of syncopation, creating a solid brace between emotion and logic as they battle for dominance.

Archivist, a band whose proclivity for assembling a Trail Mix of musical inspiration has caused them to elude actual classification (though the merit of classification at all these days eludes me - at my most eloquent, I'll pretty much go with "this sounds real good"), is a fantastic example of the aforementioned concept. I've never been a huge believer in the prospect that something could be "so complicated that it's simple"; even knowing that Schnabel described the sonatas of Mozart as existing in this phenomenon, it still seems like a farfetched and pretentious notion. Still, I can't help but acknowledge how much each song on this album is packed with the frequencies of the subtlest tics of human consciousness, and all of the implications that lie within a central theme of, as expected, living on poison.

The best part about all of this is that the music is simple. Each beat is expertly arranged; from the dissonance and pulsating grid-locked rhythm of "Pop Litany" to "Closing," an electronic sea shanty with a delicate face and a powerful body, I could wager on each track being completely danceable in some form or another. (This with the exception of "Flowers," which pretty much stands on its own for containing the epitome of existential rants and a general feeling of doom. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.)

"If that isn't a bad thing," you ask, "then what is?" An example of a Bad Thing would be the sudden realisation that one of the main preservatives in foods (propylene glycol) is nothing more or less than embalming fluid. The more you know!

Learning to Live on Poison is set to release on June 2nd, 2009.

mp3: "Pop Litany" by Archivist

Friday, May 8, 2009

'em are i by jeffrey lewis & the junkyard

I first discovered Jeffrey Lewis when he opened for the Mountain Goats last year. At said show, Lewis – part anti-folk singer, part comic book artist, part political satirist – covered Crass songs, gave instructions on how to kill zombies, and presented an illustrated, sung history of Communism. Needless to say, I was instantly smitten. Simple guitar chords, nearly monotone vocal melodies that aren't quite sing-talking, but close: every song tells a story, sometimes rambling, sometimes tragic, mostly funny, but almost always engaging and conversational. I think the sing-talking helps.

Lewis's newest release, 'Em Are I, out May 19, follows the previous formula fairly closely, but with cleaner production, added instruments, more experimentation and, in "Broken Broken Broken Heart," more poppy handclaps. It's still got strange plotlines (like avoiding corpses, pigs who think they're jeeps, women who travel in space and time…), philosophy (like the reasons to be happy if you end up in Hell), deftly plucked guitars, references to New York City, and totally awesome bassist/brother Jack.

The best way to sum up 'Em Are I, and the bulk of Jeffrey Lewis's catalogue, is a line from my personal favorite off the album, "If Life Exists (?)": …it's hard to get too bored when you pick the right two chords / and you keep on strumming as if you don't know what's coming.

mp3: "Whistle Past" by Jeffrey Lewis

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

things you should know by carina round

British-transplant and current Los Angeleno Carina Round has Things You Should Know. Or at least so claims the title and opening line of the press release for her new EP (out May 12th). Although, in all fairness, what you should know is minimal: that life is full of emotion and Round experiences it all to the fullest. However, like most knowledge, it's the quest that's imperative. Impressively, Round takes us though that journey to this understanding in a scant five songs and twenty-four minutes.

Like fellow LA-based singer-songwriter Sara Lov, Round paints songs filled with vivid images and melancholy. However, while Lov's narratives are tinged with sweet nostalgia, Round takes her listener to a darker place, ethereal voice and emotional commitment easily earning comparisons to PJ Harvey and Patti Smith. It's a weapon she wields skilfully, often moving from a haunted whisper to a howl in the course of a single song.

Album atmospherics are far and above what one would expect from the over-generalized "singer-songwriter" genre. While a cohesive body of work, each song stands out with individual melodramatic flourishes, from the jagged guitars of "Everything for a Reason," to the haunting chorus of "Thief of the Sky," all fitting together to form a world that's both surreal and painfully honest. However, it's the ambitious album opener "Backseat" that feels set to propel Round to the next level of stardom (or, at the very least, additional spins on KCRW). What starts out like the electronic patter of rain quickly blossoms into a choir-backed piano ballad, as Round chants, It should be forever / God told me -- a painful lament that grows more and more gut-wrenching with each conviction-filled repeat.

Of course, while the economic slowdown inspires some artists, it gets in the way of said art actually being made. In the grand tradition of the artists of old, Round is currently enacting a patron program to fund her next album. Donate generously -- there's so much more we need to know.

mp3: " Backseat (Flash In the Pan remix)" by Carina Round

Monday, May 4, 2009

over and over by the legends

Again with the Labrador Records posts? I'd lie and say it's not an addiction, that I can quit anytime I want. But why?

The Legend's newest release, Over and Over, (out stateside June 16th1), with its first single "Seconds Away" touted as "the nosiest pop single to ever come out of Sweden," is another tasty treat. Of course, this is to be expected from the hardest working musician in the Swedish pop scene, Johan Angergård (who, in a remarkable feat of overachieving, also fronts Club 8 and The Acid House Kings in addition to co-owning Sweden's answer to SubPop).

Dipping his fingers into multiple musical pies, along with the several-year break between albums, has paid off. Throughout Over and Over, one can hear elements of Angergård's other projects -- from the Club 8-with-reverb "Turn Away" to tracks that sparkle with a undeniable pop sensibility like the Acid-House-Kings-set-to-electronics "Monday to Saturday," to the decidedly Legends "Dancefloor," the album successfully sparkles with a something-for-everyone feel that never dilutes its overall power. Yes, it is a bit all over the board, but again, tasty. The Whitman's Sampler of the electro world if you will.

The single's claim to noise holds true for the first third of the record, much of it so washed in loud feedback that my dog refused to say in the same room. (She's much more of a Club 8 fan.) While after few listens I too discovered moments where I couldn't help but agree with my dog, there's also a distinct and pleasing progression from the loud to the gentle. What starts out as an ode to angst, including "He Knows the Sun" sequel "Always the Same," slowly gives way to a sunny take on sadness. By the time one hits the shoegazy reverb and fuzzed out titular track, it's easy to imagine that if M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez fell in love with the Beach Boys rather than Molly Ringwald, we could have been living Saturdays = Youth, Over and Over.

While fitting into The Legends canon of change, the notable difference here is a distinct chipper spirit. Over and Over's tone is significantly removed from the melancholy stance of previous Legends records2. As Angergård himself put it, "I recorded this album as a cure for angst, so it's certainly a mixed blessing that it turned out so bloody good that I will suffer of anxiety for years trying to surpass it."

Surely, this is the sort of problem every musician longs to suffer from.

Got angst? Stream Over and Over here.

1. I know, it's early for us Americans, but there's always mail order beginning May 6th.
2. Does disco still suck?

mp3: "Seconds Away" by The Legends