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.

Love

TBT

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.

Setlist:

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?

No!

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 and...dance? 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

Encore

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

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