Archive for the ‘Beach Pop’ Category

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Beach House – White Moon / Mathemagic and Young Prisms

August 24, 2010

Check out this lovely new Beach House joint from their iTunes Sessions EP.

Beach House

Also, check out possibly the best post yet on Altered Zones, two new songs from Mathemagic and Young Prisms on their new split 7″. The Mathemagic side is a shimmering electronic pop song, maybe in the realm of chillwave. The Young Prisms side is a woozy, reverb-laden ballad. Both are dreamy and excellent.

Mathemagic/Young Prisms Split 7"

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Chicago Music Festival Report

April 14, 2010

In 2008, I went to a single day of the Pitchfork Music Festival and all three days of Lollapalooza. In 2009, I did the opposite and went to all three days of Pitchfork and a single day of Lollapalooza. This Summer I’m happy to say I’ll be able to do all three days of both. I have my lovely grandmother who bought me Lollapalooza tickets a a surprise.

A dramatic reenactment of our phone conversation:

“Grandma! Those tickets must have been awfully expensive!”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve been saving up quarters.”

Anyway, I thought I’d give my two cents on both festivals’ lineups.

Lollapalooza has ace headliners this year, and they’ve got the goods to call on legions of rock ‘n roll fans throughout the country.

The more mainstream leaning headliners are very strong. Soundgarden is this year’s alt-rock headliner, and the festival’s older devotees and 90’s rock fans will jump to see one of the band’s first reunion shows. Green Day, though they have lost some indie fans since their glory days, have more than enough star power to fill a stadium, and they will probably change the face of the crowd this year. But the real game changer this year, on a brilliant booking move by Perry Ferrell is the pop juggernaut Lady Gaga, who will sell thousands upon thousands of tickets for Lollapalooza. She’ll attract pop fans, preteens and hipsters alike. It stands that not many, if any other festivals have the means or the balls to pull this kind of headliner.

The indie rockers will be drinking tears of joy this year based on the presence of The Arcade Fire alone, who are due for a tour and a new album. They have been out of the live circuit for a while, but they are more than strong enough of a band to make the headliner slot. The Strokes are also a dazzling attraction. Like the Arcade Fire, they’ve also been out of commission for a long time and they’ll enjoy widespread excitement and ticket sales in response to their headlining spot. But the year’s left field headliner is Phoenix, who due in large part to their 2009 album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” have skyrocketed to the top of the indie food chain, and this slot will be great for Lollapalooza as well as Phoenix, who will consequently get a huge crowd and massive cred regardless of who they go up against in the lineup.

There’s more than enough other shit to keep just about everyone shelling out cash for at least a one day ticket:  Jimmy Cliff and Devo for the older crowd, Slightly Stoopid for the hippies, The Black Keys for the blues fans, AFI for the emos (they’re still around?), Erykah Badu for R&B and funk fans, and Social Distortion and Gogol Bordello for the punks. Perhaps more importantly, there is a large selection of big indie names on the lineup: The New Pornographers, Spoon, The National, Hot Chip, The Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer, The xx, Stars, Matt & Kim and, my favorite, The Walkmen.

Lollapalooza may have a lot of great acts, but Chicago’s biggest indie festival The Pitchfork Music Festival is comparable if not greater in terms of amount of sheer talent.

As with previous years, there is a whole slew of artists at the Pitchfork Festival that you won’t be able to see in too many other places this summer. From the start, Pavement was the festival’s big seller, probably being the major reason that three day passes sold out within the week they were available. The band have reunited for a tour in support of their compilation album “Quarantine the Past,” and we all couldn’t be happier to have the chance to see them live. The other two headliners, Modest Mouse and LCD Soundsystem, are also sought after bookings this Summer, and they sealed the deal.

But there is much more to rabble about beyond the headliners. Wolf Parade, Liars, Broken Social Scene and St. Vincent are also strong sellers. Other stuff you’ll hear me making noise about: Sleigh Bells, Alla, Kurt Vile and The Tallest Man on Earth.

The festival’s hip hop lineup this year is as strong as it has ever been, featuring the likes of Raekwon, Big Boi and El-P. You’ll see me in the crowd for all three.

There are some other very special acts that you probably won’t be able to see in many other places this Summer, particularly Robyn, Panda Bear, Dam-Funk, Major Lazer, and Lightning Bolt.

In terms of the past year’s up and coming Beach Pop scene, Pitchfork has nearly half of the major bands covered: Beach House, Delorean, Real Estate, jj, Girls, Neon Indian, Surfer Blood, Best Coast and Washed Out will all make appearances, plus the likes of Local Natives, Free Energy, and The Smith Westerns, who are though not exactly beach pop are closely related in style and popularity.

Lollapalooza will always have the capacity to bring together acts that will sell hundreds of thousands of tickets, and still have a strong selection of indie bands on tap. Though smaller and more geared towards a specific crowd, The Pitchfork Festival’s lineup this year has finally matched Lollapalooza’s in terms of sheer talent and diversity. We’ve got two great major music festivals lined up for the Summer, and I’m excited for both.

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Three DC Concerts: Beach House, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Gang Gang Dance

April 2, 2010

DC just had its arguably busiest week in concerts of the season. The city had shows from the likes of Beach House, Dum Dum Girls, Real Estate, Deerhunter, Spoon, Gang Gang Dance, The xx, A Sunny Day in Glasgow and jj. I personally hit up three shows in a five day period: Beach House, A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Gang Gang Dance.

Beach House at the Black Cat on Friday might have been the most hyped concert of the week for one of the most hyped bands of the year. They quite easily sold out the Black Cat and packed the Main Stage room full of eager fans. The precious Bachelorette opened, who got a fair bit of audience response, probably due in part to her quiet, cutesy New Zealandic accent. Her set mostly consisted of cleverly looped vocals, guitar strums, and drum machines that made for a well received whole. When Beach House stormed the stage, the crowd couldn’t have been happier, frequently letting loose “we love you Victoria!”s and other such words of praise. The band’s set was decent sized and was delivered as well as received with great enthusiasm. Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scalley actually move around on stage and have more energy than their slow, syrupy music might suggest. They played all but one song from their new album Teen Dream (sadly giving arguably the album’s best song, “Real Love,” the shaft) as well as a couple older numbers, even stretching back to their 2006 self-titled debut for “Master of None.” The encore was just perfect. They first played a crowd favorite from 2008’s sophomore album Devotion, “Astronaut,” and clinched the show with a spirited rendition of “10 Mile Stereo.” Although seeing Beach House live doesn’t differ much from  hearing them on an album, it stands that doing both is a breathtaking emotional experience, and I would say that just about everyone at the Black Cat on Friday had a great time.

Beach House

A Sunny Day in Glasgow played on Sunday at DC9, which might take the cake as DC’s smallest regular concert venue, but it is also one of its most rewarding. Its acoustics are nice and its setup puts the audience just feet away from the performers. We walked in a little late to just catch Phil and the Osophers play an enjoyable, playful pop set that felt similar to the likes of Vampire Weekend. Although it was a fairly innocuous set, I admit to wanting to hear more from the band, and I hope they had a good time at SXSW where they played just last week. When A Sunny Day in Glasgow got started, their set was unstoppable. Their live presence is something to be reckoned with, six band members on stage all doing different things for every song (a favorite moment was when Ben Daniels broke out an electric mandolin). The group focuses their powers around vocalists Annie Fredrickson and Jen Goma, who harmonize the songs’ airy vocals to lovely effect. Most of the songs they played sounded better than the studio versions, which were already superb (recall my naming Ashes Grammar one of the best albums of this past decade). They played through new favorites like “White Witch,” “Failure” and “Passionate Introverts” with lovely vitality. The biggest disappointment of the show was the lack of an encore; they played through a rather short set and could have easily extended it to better please the crowd, but that was about their only shortcoming. They will surely have my ticket sale the next time they come to town.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow

The wait for Gang Gang Dance at the Rock ‘n Roll Hotel on Tuesday was long, and opening act High Life only made it feel longer. His high pitched squeals over noisy effects loops were maybe an appropriate way to ease the audience into Gang Gang Dance’s set, but it was still hardly appreciated except by a select few near the stage. He later made up for the set by acting as Gang Gang Dance’s much needed bass player, who gave the main band’s music the strong under-melody it needed. This was particularly important because Gang Gang Dance played so loud that it was sometimes difficult to hear what one was hearing, and a strong sense of melody as well as rhythm was needed to make sense of the raucous din. This situation could have been disastrous if the acoustics were different and the sound was too noisy, but Gang Gang narrowly hit a bullseye mark that got most of the audience nodding and bobbing in a narcotic haze. All of the songs they played were new, some melodic and most all featuring beats and melodies that sound like they come straight from Saudi Arabia or India. The only tune I recognized was the shimmering “Crystals,” which featured steel drum sound effects and twinkling synthesizers. We can hope that this song, as well as the others we heard that night, will make it onto Gang Gang’s next proper studio LP. Overall I’d say the venue housed a great amount of satisfied customers, considering the band surprisingly almost packed the house. But we need to remember that Gang Gang are a noise band, and though their noise is beautiful, it is still willfully cacophonous, and should be judged appropriately.

Gang Gang Dance

Overall, I had a really awesome time at all of these shows. Conclusion: DC has a lot of great shows, some of which are highly attended and some that aren’t, and if you pick and choose well enough, you can get more than your money’s worth for a night, or week, of fun.

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Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

March 12, 2010

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

Back in 2001, I experienced the first Gorillaz album in the way that all parties involved may have found ideal: with absolutely no context. I was eleven, and I hadn’t heard of Damon Albarn, Dan the Automator or Del tha Funkee Homosapien. Just about the only thing I knew about Gorillaz was that they weren’t real, but I still struggled to put animated faces to voices, sounds to instruments and some kind of method to the madness. The album was to me the most alien thing I had ever heard, an amalgamation of rock, pop, punk, hip hop, electronic, dub and world music. Nothing could have prepared me for it.

Once again, I was eleven, and mostly used to listening to pop radio, whatever that might have been at the time. Everything changed for me after Gorillaz. “Re-Hash” became my Summer anthem and “Que Pasa Contigo” melted the winter freeze. I stared at my crappy stereo in confusion and wonder during “Sound Check (Gravity),” I daydreamed to “Man Research,” and I nearly shit my pants when I first heard “Left Hand Suzuki Method” (For an idea of exactly how naive I was, I thought the bong hit sample at the beginning was the opening of a can of soda). It’s even still a bit unsettling for me to hear the album now, if only because of my history with it. In a world of its own and on its own terms, it pushed its own boundaries incredibly far, and I’ll always love it.

Gorillaz

By the time I was fourteen, I was in high school and had begun to branch out a bit. I listened to Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins, and my Led Zeppelin t-shirts were starting to develop pit stains. I anticipated the release of Demon Days for months, and when it finally came out I bought it in Best Buy (what seems even for now to be a relatively dated practice). A dark, brooding pop album, it frustrated me as much as it entertained. There were familiar elements, but mostly it was new and uncomfortable, for me an early exploration into dirty, dark hip hop and experimental pop music and a collection of ideas and styles just as diverse as those on the self titled album. Even more strange names were credited in the liner notes, most of which I had not heard of, but I came to associate Danger Mouse with this kind of an edgy, diverse sound. He did Demon Days well, and I wondered for years how it could be followed.

Demon Days

And now, with the release of Gorillaz’s third studio LP, Plastic Beach, I can reasonably expect not just an album of music, but an experience. Of course, the band has relaunched their website and the first of no doubt many music videos. Various release versions of Plastic Beach contain storyboards, videos and other exclusive content, and a story is being slowly spun to outline the virtual band’s current state. In short: All of the world’s trash and pieces of its history have floated to the middle of the Indian Ocean to form a massive artificial island known as The Plastic Beach. Gorillaz, consisting of singer 2D, bassist Murdoc, guitarist Noodle and drummer Russel, have now made it their home and production studio, where they have crafted a new concept album that deals with, among other issues, pirates, consumerism and modern living. It is a big production to keep track of, but it is important to zone in on what is really the vital event here, the release of a new Gorillaz album.

I concede that I was expecting something much different than what I got from Plastic Beach, perhaps something much more sinister, in the vein of the demented Demon Days, but in fact Plastic Beach is far more accessible than either of Gorillaz’s previous studio LPs, smash hits included. Damon Albarn has even said it is the poppiest thing he has ever been involved with; this may be a stretch, but it is easy to see where he is coming from. The album is bejeweled with orchestral strings, melodious pop hooks and whimsical electronic textures. The majority of the victory achieved in Plastic Beach can be attributed to Albarn himself and his penchant for pop songcraft. Many of the album’s best songs are ones that feature him exclusively, and he handles the vast majority of the production work on the album, choosing not to collaborate with a guest producer such as Dan the Automator or Danger Mouse.

But the Gorillaz camp still features an ever revolving cast of guest collaborators, even if it’s most distinguishable feature is its now well established groundwork. De La Soul once again provides playful rhyming and Mos Def makes two appearances: The freestyle massacre “Sweepstakes” and the lead single “Stylo.” “Stylo” doesn’t quite get off the ground and flying like prior Gorillaz hits, but it’s probably much more compelling, featuring a mysterious melody, great work from Mos Def to coincide with his recent comeback and a soaring vocal part from the great jack-of-all-trades Bobby Womack.

Stylo

But the more obscure guest spots are perhaps even more effective. Grime rappers Bashy and Kano kill it on the dual-spirited “White Flag,” the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music provides melodic strings on the same track and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano sings wonderfully on two of the album’s best songs, “Empire Ants” and “To Binge.” The album seems to hit nirvana on the former, which morphs from gentle seaside guitar strumming into rhythmic ambient techno bliss, while the latter provides a longing, romantic melody, and is the most real this unreal band has ever been. Some of the album’s other guest artists, particularly Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed, seem like novelty inclusions, but they play their parts well and only further highlight the fact that since the beginning, the Gorillaz project has been a whole hell of a lot of fun.

And so we ask, if Damon Albarn wants his projects to feature prominent alt-rappers alongside indie heroes, why not? Behind an animated facade, he can do just about anything without it seeming awkward, and we give his and Jamie Hewlett’s characters the benefit of the doubt, perhaps more than he himself. This accounts for how many curveballs Plastic Beach throws, and how often they hit the mark. From front to back, just about every track here features unexpected elements. The professional orchestrations on “White Flag” and “Cloud of Unknowing” are idiosyncratic but genuinely charming, Mark E. Smith and Lou Reed get silly, and the closing “Pirate Jet” is about the most understated ending imaginable for such a big-thinking album. We trust all these elements because they earn our respect legitimately and are all around pleasures on their own terms.

Which isn’t to say that Plastic Beach as a whole doesn’t deal with some pretty poignant issues, most prominently undercurrents involving consumer culture. This is nothing terribly new for Gorillaz, who have always had the idea of commercialism at their hearts. By the time Plastic Beach is done with its chart assault, Gorillaz will almost certainly have sold over twenty million albums. It’s hard to delegitimize that kind of success, especially now when being a Gorillaz alumni yields much greater profit than simple street cred; it results in incredible rewards and songs that a lot of people like myself hold dear for years and years. Certainly this will be the case with Plastic Beach as well, though it reaches that ends by a much different means. It’s worth exploring why, and we might end up doing that until the next Gorillaz LP, but for now this album is already well on its way to building another legacy.

Gorillaz

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Best Coast

February 21, 2010

Best Coast

If you listened to Radio Cure last night, you caught me and Joey gushing over a new band on our now somewhat regular segment of “Beach Pop” as we call it, the new scene of music on the indie horizon which features sunny, ocean-bound pop music. We’ve seen a lot of it within the past year or two making a splash in independent music from the likes of Beach House, Real Estate, jj and more, including now this lovely artist Bethany Cosentino, known widely as Best Coast.

When Joey first played Best Coast to me, I immediately thought of the syrupy fuzz of the Vivian Girls, and it was exciting to find out that the two bands are currently touring the West Coast together. But the Vivians use similar means to reach a quite different ends, having championed a unique style of garage punk that has been more divisive than nearly any other band in recent history. Best Coast seems a little harder to dislike than the edgy Vivians, mostly because the innocence and lack of pretense in her music is even more apparent. She crafts lovely lo-fi West Coast pop music in the vein of The Ronettes that wouldn’t sound out of place on the American Graffiti soundtrack.

Best coast have only released a few singles and EPs so far, but their output is already home to a small treasure trove of pop classics. They’re the kind of tunes that you hold onto and don’t want to let go of, the songs that you put on repeat because you hate the thought of them ending even though you know that they need to, songs with melodies that sound like splashes of bright paint and clear ocean water. Take “Something in the Way,” an irresistible bittersweet heartbreaker, or the astute “This is Real,” love songs with tearjerking hitches. Does it get better?

Their material is sparse, so seeking them out is completely easy and enjoyable. If you like what you hear, do a little more searching on Hype Machine.

Something in the Way

Art Fag 7"

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Beach House – Teen Dream

February 1, 2010

Teen Dream

Is it possible that Beach House started all of this beach-combing nostalgia? Granted, the “Beach-Pop” scene is still a new, developing niche, but it feels like Beach House have been around forever, spinning tales of love and loss as waves erode the shore. In actuality, it has been less than five years and only three albums, but now and more than ever it is apparent that the Baltimore duo have staying power. The band’s new album Teen Dream was released last week to booming critical reception, and this is a rare time when you’ll hear me tell you to believe the hype and give the album a shot regardless of your opinions on prior Beach House releases; it is a clutch release that sets out to prove a lot and does so with flying colors. If there has ever been a time to believe that the genre of seaside dreampop drawn into the sand by the likes of jj, Real Estate, Delorean, recent Grizzly Bear, and Beach House could really lift off, that time is now, with Beach House quickly gaining altitude as one of indie pop’s most beloved bands.

One of the most convincing, immediate factors of Beach House’s new maelstrom of critical praise is vocalist Victoria Legrand’s delivery, which only becomes more and more convincing with each release. First single choice “Norway” expands upon the one-word-chorus heroics of “Gila” off of 2008’s Devotion. It’s hard to imagine Legrand wringing any more emotion out of two syllables, snaking vowel sounds through complex melodies with greatly varying textures. At some moments she sounds like an orator and at others a crying child. Similarly showstopping is the second to last song, “Real Love,” which comes in the middle of one of the greatest one-two-three punch knockout endings in recent recollection. Over the sound of someone searching through antiques in the basement, Legrand sings “I met you somewhere in a hell beneath the stairs/There’s someone in that room that frightens you when they go boom/boom, boom, boom…” Once again, just listen to Legrand’s repetition of that single syllable, bringing both her and us nearly to tears before she lifts us up with the gorgeous closer “Take Care,” with the album’s most timeless lyrics: “I’ll take care of you, take care of you, that’s true.” The song sounds ancient, even though it is an early highlight of the new year.

But “Used to Be” is actually, as far as I know, the oldest track on the album, having been released as its own single way back in 2008, and its progress represents Beach House’s growth since Devotion. In single form, it felt like a slight departure from Devotion but with a very similar sound. It was possibly the most melancholy song we’d heard from the band yet, and it had an awful lot of competition. Legrand wistfully inquires “Are you coming home?/Are you still alone?/Are you not the same as you used to be?” like she really doesn’t know the answers, and the track features electric guitars that cut like knives from the other half of the group, multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally. It fizzles out, unresolved, after a lengthy, painful outro (“Even if we tried so hard, would we still be coming to an end?”) and some whispered, nearly unintelligible mutterings. The original single take of “Used to Be” is a rarity, presenting heartbreak in equal parts of delicate consideration and ugly dejection. At this point it seemed like Beach House were at the height of their powers, just about at the fringes of being able to make their audience, with great certainty, cry their eyes out, just because it felt so damn real.

With that said, what Beach House have done with the new version of “Used to Be” is less of a step forward and more of a step upward. Despite argument to the contrary, Beach House didn’t come to the table with a fully formed sound. One refined into its lowest common denominator, sure, we can agree on that, but as 2008’s Devotion and now 2010’s Teen Dream have proved, Beach House have had a long way to go since they started so many years ago, a long way until they could have made a song like the final cut of “Used to Be.” At about 1:15 of the new version, the swooning, dreamy passion that the old version flirted with is taken all the way by a slightly changed chorus, a wash of cymbals and a thick kick drum. All of a sudden, the song is bursting with life and energy; it even sounds like Legrand can barely catch her breath. Although the new version is about the same BPM as the original, it sounds infinitely more vivacious. The transformation is completed with new outro lyrics: “Coming home, any day now…” It’s easy to think, “Ah! So THAT’S how it’s supposed to sound” at this point.

The entire album is filled with moments like this, where Beach House’s stylistic advances really shine and it becomes apparent how hard they have worked and far they have come. The self-harmonized vocals on “Zebra” breath life into an already shimmering melody that cleverly starts the album off on an ending note. “10 Mile Stereo,” the first song in the aforementioned power trio, takes the band’s tempo to the highest its ever been and its guitar tones even higher, nearly reaching shoegaze levels of reverberation, and throws in an incredible ending cymbal solo. “Silver Soul” is most haunting use of the words “it is happening again” that I have heard since “Blue Sky Revisit.” At this time, I should probably point out that while Teen Dream is a gorgeous album, it also has its dark moments, like their previous albums. My cousin, who is usually into industrial thrash, found “Astronaut” from Devotion a compelling listen. He’d probably find Teen Dream to be more than haunting; it glazes over none of its ugly or painful moments whatsoever. It presents its love and pain in equal esteem, creating a full, balanced, bittersweet end product.

Teen Dream is a tremendous, momentous album, but what is more amazing is that it is easy to see it gaining even more momentum as time goes on. It already sounds like finely aged wine, Legrand and Scally having developed an unmistakable style that they have carried a very long way and have taken to new and exciting places on Teen Dream. When Devotion came out, it made the band’s 2006 self-titled debut sound ancient, and “Aburn and Ivory” still calls out like a dynamic ’60s dirge ala Jefferson Airplane. Teen Dream does much the same thing for Devotion, making the likes of “You Came to Me” and “Home Again” sound like established standards of this new thing I called “Beach-Pop.” We can be rest assured that Teen Dream, as Beach House’s finest album to date, will enter that same realm, and soon enough it will be the kind of album we can rest our heads against and sing along with while drifting into a deep sleep.

Also, check out the band’s new Daytrotter Session.