Archive for the ‘Emo’ Category

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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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The Postal Service – Give Up

February 20, 2009
The Postal Service - Give Up

The Postal Service - Give Up

Right when electronic music seemed close to becoming a genre for elitists, emo/indie poster boy Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and relatively unknown electronic artist Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel) started to send each other packages, and some months later the music industry was graced with the glittery, pretentious album of the next three years, Give Up. The truth is that Gibbard’s sweet lyrical content and Tamborello’s creamy electronic melodies and beats aren’t a hell of a lot different than they are on their main projects, but Give Up is milk chocolate; it was clear upon release that the two artists had found their true calling in their careers. Never have Gibbard’s lyrics felt so well surrounded, and never have Tamborello’s productions felt so contextually essential. Gibbard sings of everything from lovely astronaut love poems to more tales of heartbreak that he has mastered the art of, and Tamborello does everything from easygoing electronic pop to exploding breakbeats. The lack of any weak tracks as well as its cohesive and strangely cyclical nature (the ending of “Natural Anthem” seems to segue into the beginning of “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” seamlessly, and I could loop this album for hours) make it one of the truly priceless albums of electronic pop in the decade, and the album that introduced the genre to a wider audience.

The Postal Service

The Postal Service

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Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs

July 7, 2008

Death Cab’s first album in three years, Narrow Stairs, starts off with a song somewhat different from anything else by the band that I have ever heard. Bixby Canyon Bridge is still a foray into pop melancholy, but it’s lyrics approach the tragedy somewhat more roundabout by talking less about feelings and telling a story instead, and the memorable hook takes until over halfway through the song to uncover itself. This sounds like the start of a hit album, and no doubt this album will end up being Death Cab’s most popular album, even more popular than Transatlanticism, or at least it will be the one that people will listen to most while the purists swear by Transatlanticism. I don’t know which album I prefer more. I guess I haven’t gotten to know Transatlanticism that well.

I have gotten to know Narrow Stairs extremely well, though, which is odd, because it is a fairly new album, but it seems like whenever I am in a car with someone, there is a fifty percent chance that either Goodbye Blues by The Hush Sound or Narrow Stairs by Death Cab For Cutie will be playing on their CD player. I’ve only actually sat down and listened to both albums once. I don’t need to listen to them any more, because I already know them front to back. And I don’t really want to listen to them anymore, because I am sick of them. I’m sure time will heal them as it heals all albums that have been played too much for an individual listener, but for now the opportunity is ripe to look at Narrow Stairs objectively.

Completely objectively, it is a hit album. It’s sold extremely well and it’s going to keep on selling, and the reason for it is simple. Ben Gibbard writes extremely good vocal melodies, and he has now come at ease to pairing them with building, big sounding guitar rock to make the music reach a wider audience. Whether or not you actually like his vocals is a completely different story. It’s not a matter of loving them or hating them. Personally, I think they’re acceptable. His voice is smooth enough to do the songs and lyrics justice, but they have built a deserving reputation. Ben Gibbard writes whiny, sad music and sings with a whiny, sad voice.

Or does he? On Narrow Stairs, some things about Death Cab have changed, and other things have stayed the same. Gibbard still writes about depressing life, which is fine, because that’s what his audience likes. Sometimes his lyrics are touching poetry, particularly the only obliquely sad You Can Do Better Than Me, and at other times they are downright embarassing, such as on Long Division (The television snows softly. Oh that’s poetic static, Ben.)

Another embarassing moment is one of the longer hit singles in American pop, I Will Possess Your Heart. On it’s exterior, the song is an epic jazzy trance tune, and that works out fine for it until Ben Gibbard comes in and ruins the show with one of his most contrived vocal melodies and trite lyrics ever. This is what happens when Gibbard tries to pretend he has balls. In two words, it’s jock indie, lyrics about a date rapist over what we would like to pretend is a massive sonic exploration but really isn’t anything you haven’t heard before.

But it has gotten radio play. Lot’s of it. I’m sure that by the end of the albums radio lifetime, at least five of its eleven songs will have been singles. People are going to eat them all up. And once again, that is because Gibbard knows how to write hooks, be they good or secretly bad and unimaginative. It might sound like I am bashing the band here, because I am, but there are several songs here that are musically extremely well written. No Sunlight is going to end up a singalong Death Cab classic for a good reason. I also enjoy the melodies on Your New Twin Sized Bed a lot, and the use of the Indian percussion instrument tabla on Pity and Fear is quite creative and yields great results. You Can Do Better Than Me is a love song at heart, and as a friend has pointed out to me it almost sounds like some kind of orchestral arrangement by Nobuo Uematsu.

The album ends in the same way it starts, with yet another story about geology. But what that last song, The Ice Is Getting Thinner, reveals is that it is not a so different than how the album started, and how the album started in not so different a way than most Death Cab songs. Yes, musically this album takes some chances and succeeds slightly more often than it fails, which means it has something going for it. But this is counting out the lyrics, and counting out the lyrics is wrong. Lyrically, Death Cab For Cutie have been writing the music the same for ten years. When I listen to Death Cab, I get depressed, and I don’t like getting depressed. But beyond that practical issue, when a band does the same thing for ten years with little variation, they get boring. Death Cab For Cutie are on thin ice, or perhaps going down a narrow stairwell that’s only getting more narrow.