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

Monday, July 13, 2009

my guilty pleasure by sally shapiro

With all due respect to Swedish chanteuse Sally Shapiro and her producer Johan Agebjörn, you only got the title of your sophomore album half-right. Pleasure? Well...duh. But My Guilty Pleasure?'ve already stripped away my cynicism. We're way too far into this relationship for shame or guilt.

Out August 25th, My Guilty Pleasure delivers another round of Shapiro's cotton-candy sweet Italo-disco straight to the brain. Honestly, I feel buzzed just writing this. Sally has notably said in regards to her newest release, "It will hopefully make you fall in love with the person sitting next to you on the bus." Somewhere amidst my giddiness, I feel somewhat sad LA public transportation is so lacking. Now I'll never find true love...::tear::

There's a notable additional layer of confidence present this time out. This isn't just a simple homage -- for Shapiro and Agebjörn it's a manifesto. From the summer-fling giddiness of single "Love In July" (Featuring backing vocals from Cloetta Paris) that which spawned a cuter-than-thou video, to the hope-drenched "Miracle," to the straight-up pop sensibilities of "My Moonlight Dance," the synths and hopeless-romanticism are running high. And why shouldn't it? Channeling elements of Italo-disco, acid house, and ABBA (why not?), Shapiro just keeps getting better and better. Too short at a scant nine tracks, including almost completely instrumental opener "Swimming Through the Blue Lagoon?" Yes. Push repeat. Push it twice.

Fair warning -- your summer just got a bit dreamier.

mp3: "Miracle" by Sally Shapiro
mp3: "He Keeps Me Alive" by Sally Shapiro (From Disco Romance)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

andrew bird @ the greek

You know who's awesome? Web In Front. Although I'd highly recommend you refrain from entering any of their time they give away tickets to someone as cool as Andrew Bird I'd hate to think I'd sabotaged my chances of winning.

That Andrew Bird guy is pretty awesome too. At this this point, I'd like to official retract any doubts I've ever expressed about him, either verbally or in writing. Even when faced with microphones gone awry, with looping pedals gone rogue -- forcing a brief interlude while dumbfounded techs crawled around the stage looking for loose wires, causing "Anonanimal" to become a two-part song -- he's still a consummate entertainer. A consummate entertainer who can whistle, swap a guitar for a violin for a glockenspiel for a guitar again...while whistling. A consummate entertainer who can still look shocked when an entire venue bursts out in an impromptu chorus of "Happy Birthday." Okay, okay. I retract any and all doubts...and replace them with a misplaced irritation. I've never dealt well with perceived perfection. It just makes the rest of us look bad.

One of the (many) joys of watching "Mr.Perfect" live in concert is the endless variations he brings to his songs. From additional violin flourishes decorating the top of familiar songs, to Armchair Apocrypha's "Darkmatter" becoming completely transformed into "Sweetbreads" a playful ode to eating of brains and other vital organs, every song was given the sort of live face-lift that makes seeing him live (even twice in the same year) an adventure worth taking.

Material from this year's Noble Beast1 was kept to a surprising minimum. However, in its place was several beloved favorites, including Weather Systems' "Lull" (featuring my new favorite lyric ever, "I'm so lame I bet I think this song is about me") and an encore featuring the titular track of Weather Systems -- which Bird was quick to call an "outdoor song." Ending the concert alone on stage his violin, half a dozen loops, neon-colored socks peaking out from tailored pant-legs, was pretty dang awesome.

1. On a side note: I will buy a drink to anyone who can disprove my theory that Noble Beast is heavily based on Bob Dylan's album Desire.

mp3: "Anonanimal (Live at Radio City Music Hall)" by Andrew Bird
mp3: "Sweetbreads (Live at Radio City Music Hall)" by Andrew Bird
mp3: "Oh No (live on The Tonight Show)" by Andrew Bird
mp3: "Plasticities (live)" by Andrew Bird

Monday, July 6, 2009

eros and omissions by LANDy

Yes, the capitalization confused LANDy, is Adam Goldberg. Yes, in addition to being a musician, Adam Goldberg is an actor. But, I've learned that just because I can't walk and chew gum doesn't mean that people like Goldberg can't have multiple talents. However, if I find out he boasts a third skill, like dance or macrame, I'm going to start accusing him of dabbling in the black arts.

Out now, and having sat on my blogging "to-do" list for way too long, Eros and Omissions is the kind of musically quilted soundscape that deserves its day in the sun1. Featuring the talents of Stephen Drozd of the Flaming Lips and Aaron Espinoza of Earlimart, this is more than a simple case of "anyone who's a friend of the Flaming Lips and Earlimart is a friend of mine." (Even if there's rarely been a truer statement to grace the pages of our blog.) Goldberg, who got his start recording early numbers into a small Sony tape recorder before looping them with the help of his stereo, is an accomplished and compelling musician. His dabbling, both alone and amongst friends has produced an album that's part epic-freak out (opener "Just a Thought"), part dark-daydream ("Apology (Valentine)," "Home"), and a whole lotta weird.

Even in its breezier moments, Eros and Omissions is permeated with a sense of unease. This is Hollywood in the dark, long after Sunset Strip has closed down for the night. What I can't figure out though -- as I clutch my purse tightly and fondle my pepper spray, opening bars of "Day for Night" playing in my head -- is why the heck is it's so darn comforting!

Chalk it up to the fact that, under LANDy's superficial weirdness, there's a uniting sense of introspection, highlighting Goldberg's vocal sincerity (not unlike Wayne Coyne by way of Zuma Beach). This isn't just an iPod generation collection of singles, this is the sort of album album that can make even the biggest linguistic geek (read: me) forget about LANDy's hanging lower case "y."Will I be your "BFF!"? Why the heck not.

1. SPF 30

mp3: "BFF!" by LANDy

Thursday, July 2, 2009

wait for me by moby

It is always a distinct pleasure to write a review for an artist who feels like an old friend. While I've never met Moby, my life over the last ten years(!) has been scored by so much of his work, he might as well have a standing invitation to join us for pie at Real Foods Daily next time he's in town.

All this to say that while I didn't like last year's Last Night (It seems Moby has yet to tap into the all important dance music market: dance music for people who don't like to dance, and often don't like themselves1.), I couldn't help but feel excited over the possibly of Wait for Me (out now).

My hope was not unfounded. This the introspective and mornful Moby I remember falling for: gentle synths, female voices, and yes gospel-over-electronic tricks, bringing to mind the best elements of Everything is Wrong, Play, and Hotel...without regurgitation or repetition.

Blame David Lynch.

Inspired in response to a speech Lynch delivered about the concept of artistic freedom and creativity without market pressure, Moby cuddled up in his bedroom recoding studio with a few close friends, aiming to create, not just a single, but an honest-to-goodness-start-to-finish-album. Remember those? And from the obvious bedroom record dynamics, to the sharpie drawn cover-art, he's done just that.

Thank you.

Ironically, in creating a truly personal artistic expression, Moby has made yet another album ripe for cooperate sponsorship. Think you could get it nominated as the official Real Foods Daily soundtrack? I'd eat pie drink to that!

1. I only hope we can get the beats to those who need to hear them the most!

mp3: "Shot In the Back of the Head" by Moby