Archive for January, 2009

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Lounge Piranha – Going Nowhere

January 28, 2009
Lounge Piranha - Going Nowhere

Lounge Piranha - Going Nowhere

To me, there have always been two kinds of live acts. The first is the big name headliner, the act that you would travel miles and pay a substantial amount of money to see. This is the type of show most people, including me, pay to see on a regular basis. One very memorable show of this type I have seen at least somewhat recently (within six months, anyway) was the Black Lips, who played Lollapalooza in August. These are the guys that get themselves banned from clubs all over the USA for their antics, some of which their Wikipedia page eloquently lists as “vomiting, urinating, nudity, band members kissing, Power Wheel races, fireworks, a chicken, and flaming guitars.” While these guys do rock hard, it is no surprise they had a bit of internal trouble on their tour of India recently in Chennai, and ended up skipping the entire rest of the tour. (Compare the Pitchfork article here and Lips drummer Joe Bradley’s a-bit-too-close-to-racist-for-comfort interview with Vice Magazine here.)

The second type of live act is the act you probably haven’t heard of, and if you have, you probably didn’t buy the ticket just for them, because they are opening acts most of the time. When they aren’t, they more than likely play joint shows. And on the rare occasion they headline, they won’t draw a crowd of hundreds because they haven’t hit it big yet. They are the kind that you pay a couple dollars to see and take a chance on.

There is obviously a big advantage to being of the first type of live act I described, because by definition it means you have widespread success, and probably money or groupies, or can afford to make out with your same sex bandmate and still sell out shows. But being of the second type is different. Most of the time, these types of bands play music because it is their job. They do it because if they didn’t do it, they probably wouldn’t be able to put bread on the table. However, most bands of this first type started out as the second type at some point. Although we are talking about generalizing all live acts down to two groups, and the line is surely blurred, I’m pretty sure the distinction is obvious. Sometimes you hear a band of the second type that just sucks hard, and you throw them over your shoulder. But sometimes, you hear that small name band and it turns out they are really, really good, and you won’t just forget them after you see the show or listen to the album.

Although it would be wrong of me to make all of the prior assumptions about a band before I have gotten to see them live personally, after having listened to their debut release, I can make a pretty confident conclusion that rock band Lounge Piranha from Bangalore, the Garden City of India and one of the country’s fastest developing metropolitan cities, is one of these bands. These are the guys you would kill to stumble upon, to discover without any prior knowledge of their music. Hell, you probably wanted desperately to be in a band like this in college. You might have even dreamed these songs and wished you could have committed them to paper or recording, but you never did. But these guys did. And their debut release, Going Nowhere, rocks hard.

Although they label themselves as post rock, it might be a bit of a misleading label. I feel like post rock by definition connotes something difficult, shocking, or unconventional. Lounge Piranha are really none of these things, or really that cutting edge either.  They are willing to make simple, easy to follow music with a great sense of control and restraint. They aren’t trying to be hardcore and they aren’t using shock tactics, but are instead making music to please, which is appreciable.

This seven song album, or possibly EP, is actually somewhat of an in the park home run. It isn’t a knockout, and it isn’t without it’s flaws, but it is an eclectic debut that manages to not sound messy or contrived. The first song, Going Nowhere, is actually the most post-rock sounding song on the album, with soaring guitar solos juxtaposed with a funky bassline and singer Kamal Singh’s vocals. He has a nice tone and a voice that is quite similar to that of one of my favorite vocalists Jerry Cantrell, but his lyrics are rather streamlined. In spite of this, it would be difficult to deny that this song is  fun and sonically expansive.

But things really start to heat up by the second song, Gun Song. It is at this point that we really start to get the feeling that Lounge Piranha have a keen awareness of exactly what they are doing, and not just capitalizing on good hooks, which in fact are good enough to justify this release in the first place. However, by the time we start to wonder why the narrator wishes he had a gun, he’s already answered the question, and everyone sounds like they are ready to fire it off. But remember, they don’t actually have the gun, and the song ends abruptly. It seems almost painfully simple but also quite heady and clever, without all the drama. They could have easily pulled some shock tactics in the end, but they keep it real and stick to their guns (pun recognized but not intended).

The rest of the EP wastes little time and shows a great departure from the first two songs. Snakes & Lotuses is the album’s most immediately memorable tune, and less post rock than alternative rock, although I don’t particularly like using either term. In any case, it’s really fun rock and roll. The next two songs rock equally hard, Ebb being a fun, bouncy ska tune, and Eclat a more Explosions-In-The-Sky-esque  piece, except with more backbone and less samesy dynamics (incidentally, for that reason, Explosions In The Sky was one of the worst shows I saw at Lollapalooza). Then comes Teenage Curse, where the band turn their tone down and get a little grungy. It’s not bad, but probably the least entertaining song on the album. It is vastly overshadowed by that which proceeds it, probably the best song on the album, Hand Hole. Think Explosions in the Sky mixed with Jar of Flies era Alice in Chains, and you might have something comparable.

After a considerable debut like this, a rising band could go in numerous directions. All too often, bands like this fall through the cracks. Sometimes this happens in a good way despite of this, and a band lives on and does their thing for years. Or sometimes they turn into crack fiends  and go to jail for aggravated assault. Not likely, in this case. They could feasibly hit it big, and either play themselves up big and get big heads about their talent like, say, the Black Lips. Or more likely, judging by the form of this album, they could gain popularity while holding their modesty.

I compare the Black Lips and Lounge Piranha not because they have anything in common stylistically. They really couldn’t be any more different in that sense. Their biggest similarity, beyond the fact that both of them make great music, is that neither of them are anything radically innovative or pretending to come up with a new style (yet). Yeah, the Black Lips are going to sell out their shows whether or not they actually are drunken troublemakers. And really, it would be unfair of us to argue that they aren’t really who they say they are at this point. But because they can’t contain themselves from getting wasted, mooning their audience or trying to do things that make them seem punk rock, they will probably never play to most of India and knowingly sacrificed a lot of shows and publicity.

Lounge Piranha, on the other hand, have already rocked a good portion of India, and I would not be surprised if they ended up traveling elsewhere, to Europe or even the US, eventually. And I’d be the first guy to buy their tickets, even if I had to travel a long way to see them, because they are an intelligent, fun, no gimmicks band. They are the kind of band that we want to hold as ours, while the Black Lips are instead decidedly their own. While neither band is potentially essential, the very concept of Lounge Piranha is. We need those bands whose album we buy or whose show we attend and end up loving, even if they are not headlining yet. And we need those bands that don’t care about fitting an image and just want to make some music. It’s completely possible that Lounge Piranha will be exactly that band that some crazy old man in a bar somewhere talks about  fifty years from now, regardless of where the band is going. “Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of great shows. I remember Lounge Piranha in 2011. Those guys rocked hard.” And they didn’t even have to urinate on anybody.

Lounge Piranha

Lounge Piranha

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Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

January 20, 2009

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

I saw Animal Collective live at the Pitchfork festival in 2008, and it was like no concert I had ever seen or heard. I stood in the same place for hours in order to get a good spot to see the band which I hardly knew well save for their at that point latest album, Strawberry Jam. In the sea of hipsters, I felt like a faux-hipster, not knowing what to expect, somehow at fault for his fascination and curiosity with a band that he had close to no knowledge of despite the fact that they already had a devoted following since the turn of the century. I felt ashamed to want to hear the more melodic songs at the concert. I was afraid of being ridiculed because I had wanted to hear the hits.

My insecurities would be sorted out in due time (actually with Panda Bear’s 2007 solo album Person Pitch which dealt with musical elitism head on), but at that point  in time what was important was what I was hearing, and I couldn’t even tell what that was. The concert was a complete sensory overload. I felt as if the concert was so loud, so dense, so invasive of my brain that I literally could not hear what I was hearing. It sounds strange, but I was completely enveloped by the music. It felt like I was inside the music, as opposed to the music going inside of my ears and being inside me. I was not even completely sure if I liked it at the time, but I knew that what I was listening to was catchy, and I was too fascinated to want it to stop. About half of that concert’s setlist consisted of songs that would later be on Merriweather Post Pavilion (named after the legendary Maryland concert venue), which is arguably the album that everyone has been waiting for the band to make for almost ten years.

With that said, comparing any Animal Collective album to any other is risky business. Merriweather is their ninth, and almost all of them are unique, although their progression makes sense and they share certain qualities. Starting from free form electronic, moving through noisy, improvisational psychedelia, folk, pop, and guitar rock, Animal Collective seem to have done it all, but they have developed and retained distinctive styles throughout their career. Observers have tried to condense these avant garde tendencies, just a few being rhythm-less guitar strumming, conversely rhythmic hooks, and drastic dynamics, into the label “freak folk,” but pinning a genre on the band seems futile, because they are always trying new things and moving in different directions. The core of the band has always been Noah Lennox (otherwise known as Panda Bear) and David Portner (Avey Tare), with other members Brian Weitz (The Geologist) and Josh Dibb (Deakin) joining in early on. The band’s lineup has changed since their last album, 2007s more guitar based Strawberry Jam, with the (presumably temporary) departure of guitarist Deakin.

Animal Collective at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Animal Collective at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

The concert I attended in 2008 was with this lineup, Panda Bear, Avey Tare and the Geologist, and primarily an electronic show. The spirit of the band’s live show is a thorough and accurate representation of Merriweather Post Pavilion’s style. Songs are thickly layered with sampled sounds of all kinds, everything from the more standard tools of the trade such as drums, guitars, and pianos, to bizarre electronic samples, found sounds, and foreign instruments. This technique has been honed by the band since their earliest days, but it seems to be a perfected art here, with more pleasing things going on at any given time than one can distinguish or separate. Particularly impenetrable are Daily Routine, Panda Bear’s sonic representation of a morning out with his daughter, and Also Frightened, which sounds like an electronic acid drenched rainforest. But this sonic complexity actually feels quite down to earth, for several reasons.

One of which is the band’s melodic maturity. Earlier Animal Collective albums often ran with numerous musical ideas and hooks in the same song somewhat linearly,  often separately. On Merriweather, the band run with the catchiest melodies and simultaneously lean on their production without ever simply relying on it. The most notable example of capitalization of melody is the album’s second song and first single, My Girls, primarily a Panda Bear song. The production here is excellent – the rhythmic arpeggios and low bass blasts are something that was hinted at on Strawberry Jam but are brought to their full potential here – but the song’s primary feature is that you would be hard pressed to find a more catchy song in the band’s catalog. The album’s centerpiece is Bluish, conversely more of an Avey Tare piece, which utilizes an absolutely lovely synthesizer melody alongside lush clicks and whirs and held up by a heart thumping rhythm, and ends up being Animal Collective’s cutest song to date. Just about every song, no, sound, on this album will make you smile.

Avey Tare and Panda Bear at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Avey Tare and Panda Bear at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Both of the aforementioned songs, and at that a majority of the songs on Merriweather Post Pavilion, feature shared vocal responsibilities from Panda Bear and Avey Tare. Animal Collective have always been about the unique melodic and vocal styles of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, and on this album, these styles blend perfectly. The two bounce main hooks off of one another on a song by song basis, but it is clear that each member of the band has a key role in just about each song. It is difficult to tell who does what, but from examining the solo work of Panda Bear and Avey Tare in relation to Animal Collective’s catalog, it becomes clear what each member of the band, including the Geologist, bring to the table. And they bring quite a lot. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a blend of countless ideas, old and new.

Lyrically, Panda Bear and Avey Tare have also matured. Panda has always been a bit more down to earth than Avey, but his lyrics reached drum-tight focus on Person Pitch, where they were almost conversational. Although Avey’s lyrics are still whimsical and focused on imagery, he has followed Panda towards a more tangible lyrical style, most recognizably with his romantic musings on Bluish. But Avey’s greatest moment might be Lion In a Coma, a multifaceted percussive song. It probably gets the closest to bizarre as any other song on the album, but Avey’s lyrics are spot on; just bizarre enough to be fun but also touchingly yearning and sensitive.

Conversely, Panda Bear’s finest moment comes last with Brother Sport, on which Panda engages in a completely new catharsis, specifically, dance until you drop. It explodes into Animal Collective’s most memorable song from the start, riding waves through hook after hook until a dramatic Boredoms-esque psychedelic freakout, in which it seems like just about every animal in the zoo got a musical instrument and everybody went wild at the same time, in perfect synchronization. Meanwhile, a sound collage cascades down from the sky and Panda chants “Halfway to fully grown/you’ve got a real good shot/won’t help to hold inside/keep it real, keep it real, shout out.” It’s the sound of a band who wants to do everything at once and has the experience and maturity to do so without sounding contrived or muddy. But this song is just one of many on an adventurous pop album where everything is carefully considered, and all of Animal Collective’s tools come together to make something utterly unique and irresistible, their best and most fun album to date.

Animal Collective

Animal Collective

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Radio Cure

January 10, 2009

I am pleased to announce that I will begin hosting my own radio show, known as Radio Cure, this semester on The George Washington University’s radio station, WRGW, on Wednesdays from 8 AM to 10 AM EST.

WRGW can be streamed from our website, http://www.gwradio.com/.

The show’s format is New Music Rotation. This entails me playing four songs an hour that are either charted or by bands that are current DJ picks, which are artists I would be playing in the first place anyway, and everything else is free game (provided of course that the lyrics are clean). I will probably be playing just about everything: rock of all kinds, pop, electronic, folk, anything and everything else, and of course what the listeners want to hear.

If you want to make a request or contact me during the show, you can call (202) 994-WRGW or instant message the studio on the screenname RGWradio. If you need to get ahold of me for any reason, as always, email me at juicelee94@gmail.com. I check my email very often.

I’m looking forward to a great semester of music.

-Alex

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1. Portishead – Third

January 1, 2009

Portishead - Third

In a year where many notable works were about making great melodies with simple tools, Portishead are all about the opposite – that is, meticulously crafting complex atmospheres and destroying them brutally. Everything from the start of Portishead’s first album in ten years is an utter knock out, and something unlike listeners have ever heard before in the band’s already groundbreaking pop discography. However, almost nothing on Third is poppy, except the greatest pop song of the year, The Rip. And yet we also have what seems to be the ultimate anti-pop, the dark matter crashing of drum machines on Machine Gun. But we also have a gentle folk ballad, Deep Water. In fact, nothing on Third sounds like anything else on Third. The only indication that the songs were even made on the same planet are the still central vocals of Beth Gibbons, which sound like finely aged wine after a decade of relative inactivity. She still hits home runs every at bat, both vocally and lyrically. The second song Hunter initially sounds like the mystical clairvoyance of a crystal ball, until electric guitar rips the curtains apart and Gibbons smoothly asserts “I stand on the edge of a broken sky, and I will come down, don’t know why.” Her delivery is crucial; it is as uncertain as it is asserted, which makes little to no sense in theory, but in practice Third is one of the finest vocal performances heard in years because Gibbons makes the subject of her vocals, heartfelt explanations of social rejection and confusion which she has honed for years, into something completely tangible and utterly scary. But Portishead is a band of more than one talent, and would be lost without the backing music of Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley. The dynamic duo craft the band’s most harrowing set of tunes yet, leading off with noir jams that break off suddenly, terrifying organs over cataclysmic waltzes from hell, ever-changing rhythms and jarring atmospherics. The spirit of the album is the dynamics, which will continue to shock, surprise, and haunt until the next Portishead record, and interviews tell us that may not be as far off as one would gather from the bands previous hiatus. However, Third is a house of cards that listeners could be content hearing built up and burned down for decades. It is a horrifyingly heavy album, not in the hardcore Finnish death metal way, but in the classic heavy metal way, or the way in which one feels while extremely sick and when the nauseous world seems to bear down onto the tiniest of breaking points. By the end of the album’s closer, Threads, one might actually believe that the world and everything in it is coming to an end. Of all the hyped reunions of the past few years, Portishead are just about the only to not only match but surpass the hype and their previous work with a monumental album.

Portishead