Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Best New Music: Q1 in Review

April 9, 2010

We’ve finally entered Q2 of 2010, so I thought I’d revisit some of the best music I’ve heard this year so far.

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Beach House put out the best record of the year so far, Teen Dream. What we at Radio Cure call “beach pop” has been surging in popularity within the past year and a half and it all came down to Beach House’s third album release. It’s a doozie, romantic pop perfection. Buy it or may God have mercy on your soul.

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Another one of the best beach pop releases of the year is the Something in the Way single by Best Coast. It’s a magical, pristine pop song that harkens back to ’60s rockabilly. Best Coast hasn’t released a full album quite yet, but they’ve been making huge splashes on the blogosphere with their great one-off songs, so definitely check them out.

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Apparently even major label pop music is jumping on the beach pop bandwagon; Gorillaz recently released their oceanic third album Plastic Beach. It delivers in much the same way that their previous albums have, churning many great hip hop and rock tunes with a guest list nothing short of incredible. Damon Albarn and company continue to prove that major label acts can still deliver truly vital albums.

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Grouper and Roy Montgomery put out a Split EP on the first day of the year that rivals other releases this year in terms of inventiveness. On Roy Montgomery’s side, epic, ambient middle-eastern guitar strumming. On Grouper’s side, wistful, understated melodies. Both are gorgeous.

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Four Tet put out the stellar There Is Love in You in January, maybe the best electronic album since Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles. It’s minimal techno at its biggest and most physical, influenced by Hebden’s work with Burial. Hebden still has a way with organic sound and makes another dazzling album to fascinate until the next one.

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The Knife along with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock put together the sprawling, progressive Tomorrow, in a Year, the opera based on the life of Charles Darwin as well as the history of the earth. It is difficult, abrasive and also incredibly beautiful and brilliant. If you’re up for a challenge, give it a listen.

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Finally, Gil Scott-Heron released I’m New Here, his first new album in fifteen years, on XL. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before, a moving mix of Scott-Heron’s strong vocals, post-industrial production, spoken word and awesome cover songs. If you are into poetry or want an eclectic set of tracks, this is a must-have.

What have YOU been listening to?

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June 30, 2009

If anyone has been wondering where the hell my once-a-week updates have gone, or at least why they never came back during these Summer weeks in which I should have more free time, I am still alive. I’ve been rather busy lately with a job, family obligations, and doing some needed catching up with close friends. But I have several projects on the backburner that will get done soon enough. Some album reviews, an entire new page outlining a collection that I have, a giant long term project that may or may not see the light of day eventually, and the Pitchfork Festival is coming up and I’ll probably provide coverage on my experience with that. For now, these are some songs that I’ve been into lately.

The Strokes – What Ever Happened?

Dinosaur Jr. – Over It

The Jackson 5 – ABC (of course!)

Yann Tiersen – La Redecouverte

Flying Lotus – Comet Course

Missy Elliott – Work It

Elvis Perkins – While You Were Sleeping

Mariah Carey – Heartbreaker

Boris – Ibitsu

The Streets – Has it Come to This?

J Dilla – Airworks

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5. Deerhunter – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

December 28, 2008

Microcastle

Deerhunter - Microcastle

Weird Era Cont.

Deerhunter - Weird Era Cont.

I’ve given up on trying to categorize Deerhunter. Every time I try to pin them, they maneuver out of it and regain total control. They are “garage rock” only so much in the sense that their rhythms are booming and steady. They don’t conform to any of the norms of “shoegaze,” although their reverb soaked sonic experiments cover more ground than My Bloody Valentine ever did and make a comparable racket. But “noise rock” would underplay their gentle atmospherics. There are hints of “ambient and “post-rock” – oh fuck it. These guys are a whole new breed. They seem to span genres ad infinitum without losing their distinctive sound or letting that sound weigh down their tight and inspired songwriting. Microcastle / Weird Era Cont. is a beast of an album, two separate, distinct albums that are, interestingly enough, completely essential to one another, like binary planets swirling near a colorful nebula. Microcastle is destined to be Deerhunter’s legendary album, loaded with catchy hits (Agoraphobia, Never Stops, Nothing Ever Happened) and addictive textural experiments (Little Kids, Green Jacket). Weird Era Cont. tears through its set with fast, muscular rockers (Backspace Century, Operation, VHS Dream) but it’s gemlike sonic experiments (Weird Era, Cicadas) also demand attention. It’s hard to believe, but every song here is classic Deerhunter: the singles, Cavalry Scars, Microcastle, Dot Gain, and Vox Humana are just a few highlights from a long list. Lyrically, Bradford Cox is at his most emotive and revealing, and it is a primary contributor to the songs’ substance. The momentum here is startling, and one can’t help but listen to the entire thing in one sitting while uncovering its individual accomplishments. I feel bad that I can’t think of a more clever way to sum up the accomplishments of this album, but I think listening to the album speaks for itself. It is a masterpiece and one of very few double albums with no wasted space.

Deerhunter

Deerhunter

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7. Gregor Samsa – Rest

December 19, 2008

Rest

Gregor Samsa - Rest

The second studio album by post rock band Gregor Samsa states its condition with its front cover. Rest sounds like it is created by a single person who has been traveling for a long time in this landscape and as the sun goes down, stops in a single place (a place like, say, Ain Leuh, Morocco) for the night. While most all movement is stopped, what compels the traveler is still a concern. Their mind races, questions, laments, and seems ready to cave in on itself, and by midway through the album, we question the reality of this “rest,” as it seems as if the introverted narrator will never truly find it. They seems to grieve over their self as much as their condition, although it is perhaps not quite as unmanageable as Franz Kafka’s lifesize cockroach traveling salesman from which the band draws its name. Male and female vocalists sing lightly “it seems the devil’s got a grip on me” in the lengthy, segmented Jeroen Van Aken, named after the birthname of the fifteenth century Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch. As we can see, Gregor Samsa seem to be a culturally literate band, but their knowledge isn’t restricted to a couple artistic references. Gregor Samsa craft this album as carefully planned art. If anything, it resembles ancient art of the far east: it is minimalistic, acute, and utilizes the void in much the same way a wood block might, in that empty space seems to jut off forever outside of the music’s boundaries. The melodies are simple but quite memorable, and are more concerned with substance over style, but are not without their creative flourishes. What ultimately makes Rest such a successful venture is that it instead of forcing the listener in a particular direction as most post-rock seems to, Gregor Samsa makes the direction a gentle, irresistible suggestion, and for that reason we do not have a hard time becoming the traveller ourselves.

Gregor Samsa

Gregor Samsa

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8. Mudhoney – The Lucky Ones

December 17, 2008

Mudhoney - The Lucky Ones

After their brief stint with politically charged protest punk, grunge pioneers Mudhoney returned to not giving a shit with this punk gem. The Lucky Ones may not be the most original punk album in the world – it takes many cues from The Stooges’ punk masterpiece Fun House – but really, Mudhoney aren’t the kind of band to care about who they borrow ideas from, and luckily their fanbase doesn’t care either, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, The Stooges would be pretty flattered by this one. Twenty years after their loud beginnings, Mudhoney are riffing and rocking better than ever, and it is arguable that they are truly the only grunge band that has not lost their luster. Granted, they might not be utilizing any shock tactics from their early days or eclectic sounds from their mid-career, but these guys still sound like the garage band down the street who rocked the whole neighborhood whether they liked it or not, and actually ended up hitting it big. The album’s high points are blisteringly loud and fast, namely The Open Mind, the funkier title track, and Tales of Terror. While Soundgarden, Nirvana and the rest of the grunge giants made intellectual advances and intelligent record progressions that landed them all in different places and earned them critical praise, Mudhoney never changed much nor got much radio play, which is good, because no one really wanted them to. Although they seem to think different – Vocalist Mark Arm screams with the same power he had twenty years ago on the aforementioned title track, “The lucky ones are lucky they’re not around!” It’s almost as if they are punk vampires that have been trying to kill themselves for two decades by snorting bad crack and jumping off of roofs, but they just can’t seem to hurt themselves bad enough to find reason enough to stop making these awesome punk records.

Mudhoney

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9. TV on the Radio – Dear Science

December 14, 2008

TV on the Radio - Dear Science

A little less edgy than their previous work, TV on the Radio’s fourth studio album might not show the band blazing trails like on their previous work, but it is unquestionably their most fun album yet and possibly their best. While their breakthrough album Return to Cookie Mountain was at once both dark and challenging, Dear Science is a bit easier on the ears but by no means subdued. It is a loud, ass swinging electro-funk album that achieves the same kind of dreamlike psychosis which can be found in their earlier work, but it is now less of a fascinating nightmare and more of a pleasurable trip. If anything, it is immediately memorable for its idiosyncrasies. TV on the Radio have never tried full on pop music before, and as weird as it sounds or as much as one might want to think they have sold out, the straightforwardness pays off, and they make another genre their own. The songs can at times be almost surprisingly catchy, as with Halfway Home, Golden Age, and the burning funk classic Red Dress, and at other times subdued. Love Dog echoes of the wavering vocal line of Tonight off of Cookie Mountain, indicating that the band haven’t lost their fundamental tools. But when they most completely derail might be the most rewarding; you can almost see Tunde Adebimpe outside your window nervously holding the ring whispering his fragile vocals during Family Tree. TV on the Radio Play all their cards here, and they will further impress and charm anew.

TV On the Radio

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Grouper – Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill

October 17, 2008

What a pleasant surprise that two of 2008s best releases are somewhat stylistically similar. Both Gregor Samsa’s Rest and Grouper’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill are introspective melancholy masterworks that deserve great praise and attention, but the latter might be both more difficult and rewarding.

Grouper is actually the work of a single individual, Portland Oregon’s folk/noise aficionado Liz Harris. There is very little information available on the artist. But this album will surely spark interest and cause a greater population of listeners to continue searching, in vain, for more information. But until the inevitable day when she hits it big, pretty much all that listeners will have to go on is her distinctive style which she articulates quite extensively on her studio albums, the latest of which is Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill.

As far as style goes on prior releases, Grouper’s genre is hard to pin down, perhaps most appropriately described as creepy atmospheric music, but on Dead Deer, Harris’s style is reduced to a singular approach. Almost every song consists solely of Harris on guitar and vocals, but the trick is that both of these instruments are multiplied. A very thick layer of distortion covers both like a blanket, causing them to resonate out into the atmosphere, and the vocals are occasionally doubled for harmonic effect, although their lyrical content is almost completely indecipherable.

This is probably the album’s most frustrating quality; the vast majority of Liz Harris’s vocals here are impossible to understand, too muddled under the thick distortion to decipher. What little is understandable is not passively heard. One has to concentrate on the vocals of the songs to realize their content, which mostly involves sleep, water, and dissociation from reality. However, the effect the distortion has on the lyrics is outweighed by what the production does for the music, which in turn matches these lyrical preoccupations quite well. From the opening chords of Disengaged, the production ruminates of stormy waters, the sparse melodies threaten to lull the listener into a deep sleep, and lonely, sad, and yearning chord progressions carry along.

All of these qualities, especially strung out over an entire release with little stylistic diversion, would presumably come together to make a very cold, unwelcoming album, but in fact the opposite is true. The production actually does the album’s atmosphere good, causing chords to echo out into the darkness like a flickering candle. In theory this should be a very creepy sounding album, but it is instead both startlingly melancholic and warmly emotional.

Perhaps what makes it so affecting are its subtle intricacies. Songs often times match their titles, namely the aforementioned excellent opener Disengaged, but even more recognizably the longest piece on the album, Stuck, whose progression is in constant conflict with itself and cannot seem to move on. Also very atmospherically distinctive and appropriately named are the barren Wind And Snow, and the following Tidal Wave, the album’s two most important songs, and opposite sides of the same coin.

These more texture based pieces work in good conjunction with the album’s more memorable melodies, namely the easy pick for best song Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping, the faster paced Fishing Bird, and the fractured title track. But the highlights don’t stop there. At first glance Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill seems like an awfully samesy album, but upon repeated listens the subtle differences between tracks flesh themselves out and each song becomes its own entity. Perhaps the most startling piece on the album is the quiet Invisible. Harris lightly sings, once again barely interpretable, “Invisible/I’ve become invisible” over her most simplistic, almost childlike melody on the album.

It is here that we realize that Dragging A Dead Deer up a hill is an album filled with secrets that will most likely never be fully understood. Even the title and art seem to be extremely important to the overall product, and yet there is no evidence as to what they mean. It is hard to say whether this was intended to simply be a collection of songs or a sort of narrative either literally or symbolically based off of the album’s creepy title, but in any case Dead Deer has an eerie, unexplainable cohesion. In this way the album’s form matches the style of its songs. It is easy to feel the presence of what is there behind the music when considering all of its subtle intricacies and almost tantalizing questions that are constantly asked but never quite answered, and for this reason, the music itself is that much easier to cling onto and appreciate. Because of all of these elements, Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill proves to be one of the most complex and rewarding albums of the year.

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Shugo Tokumaru – Exit

September 30, 2008

Prepare to have your definitions of Japanese pop turned inside out. If your perception of the genre has previously been restricted to products of MTV Asia, sub par anime, and j-pop pretty boys/girls, then prepare to get knocked off your barstool. Jack of all trades Shugo Tokumaru’s third solo album is the record that he has been destined to make since 2004’s mini pop masterpiece Night Piece. But both Night Piece’s nocturnal atmospherics and the following year’s psychedelic excursions of L.S.T. were highly themed, and it would only seem like a matter of time before Tokumaru would make an album like Exit, a full on pop album. Immediately significant is the first song, the first by Shugo that could constitute as a pop hit. It is here that all of his finest talents convene for one hell of a single. He has a great sense of the melodic hook, and his advertised multi-instrumental talent still ends up being the focal point of both Parachute and the better portion of the rest of the album. Silly melodic flourishes and gentle harmonies dress each piece, and the album is said to use over fifty of the one hundred instruments that Tokumaru claims to be able to play. This is only one of the many features of Tokumaru’s albums that have caused critics to label him a pop innovator. He is certainly this, but more in the traditional sense. The time signature switchups and chord progressions that the musician utilizes are definitely out of the ordinary, at least for traditional pop, but nothing here feels out of place, and every song is a whimsical, poppy gem splashed with childlike innocence and Eastern style. Also notable are his vocals, light, easily maneuverable, and completely appropriate for his music, and although his lyrics wont be understood by non-Japanese speakers, his emotion transcends language barriers. Highlights are not few. The first three songs, Parachute, Green Rain (continuing his tradition of songs named after various forms of precipitation) and Clocca are extremely memorable and easy picks for singles. The musician also finds room for straightforward guitar pop throughout, making the acoustic guitar his main instrument of choice as gently exemplified on Sanganichi. Also highly memorable are the last three songs. Hidamari is a gentle lullaby spectacularly detailed with lush instrumentation that manages to not be overbearing in any way. La La Radio is possibly the most ambitious song on the album. It transitions from melancholic to fast in catchy in about the most effective way imaginable. The album is capped off by Wedding, an instrumental piece that might have felt at home on Night Piece four years ago. What is truly amazing is that it feels completely at home here as well, which is a good indication that Tokumaru has amassed a solid repertoire of songs and styles throughout his three albums that can truly qualify him as a distinctive figure in music.

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My Musical Weekend

July 26, 2008

So last weekend was a big weekend for me. It was a musical weekend, especially. On Saturday I went to the Pitchfork music festival, and then on Sunday I saw The Hush Sound at The House of Blues. I want to take this time to talk about the Pitchfork Music Festival. I purchased a single day ticket for it a couple months back. Looking back on it, I probably should have bought a three day pass, because some pretty cool bands played on every day. I would have really liked to have seen Public Enemy, Dinosaur Jr., Spiritualized, M. Ward, Boris, and Apples in Stereo. But I did what I did, and I went on Saturday. I had a great time, and listened to lots of great music.

But first I would like to say that for the better part of my day, I was crammed in close quarters with many people. Some of them were nice people who were fun to talk to, and were polite, and just wanted to see these bands perform and listen to their good music. However, at any concert, there are going to be jackasses. There are going to be tall people that stand in front of you and refuse to stop bobbing their heads, there is going to be a mosh pit to your left, and there is going to be someone smoking pot in your general vicinity. However, the Pitchfork Festival is a big event. There is bound to be a special breed of crowd there. That night we had a seemingly endless supply of jock assholes who refused any spot except as far to the front of the arena as they could get, and if it meant pushing people, it didn’t matter. Some people like me and countless other people who I had fun talking with, even in close quarters, waited five hours for their spot up front for Animal Collective, only to be fucked out of it by people who just couldn’t accept anything less than the front row. In fact, a guy who I was politely conversing with about Wilco ended up pushing me to the side after The Hold Steady left the stage, forcing me to spoon with him just so he could be in front of me. His neck obscured my view of a good portion of the Animal Collective set. In short, the better part of The Hold Steady Set and the hour before Animal Collective were miserable, because of these people.

These people were terrible. They were the worst part of my day. But although they were jackasses, they couldn’t have ruined my day. I’m not going to give much more mention of them, at least not in great detail, because they really aren’t worth it. I’m not going to remember the hipster jackasses ten years from now, but I will remember the performances of the day. Also, although these people were bad, I did make the choice to be so close up. I sacrificed my bodily comfort and the opportunity to be with my friends to be so close. Was it worth it? I don’t know. I think it might have been. In any case, it was a learning experience.

And please, PLEASE, next time you are at a concert, exercise common courtesy. That is all.

I packed everything up that morning for the trip downtown. I did not bring a backpack like one of my smarter compatriots did. Instead I brought a raincoat. It might have been a good idea, because it did rain and the coat stopped me from being wet, but it also caused me to be very hot and was extra weight for me to hold in my hands for a lot of the latter part of the day. In any case, I packed light, and most of my things were in the coat. Wallet, phone, ticket, glasses case, Moleskine notebook, pen, inhaler, a single sealed water bottle, train schedule. I picked up a couple things along the way, namely the weekend train pass and a pair of sunglasses that I found at a thrift store. But for the most part, I was traveling light. I had breakfast with a friend in town in the early morning. Then, we went to the train station, met up with our other friends, and took the 10:18 train downtown. We arrived in Ogilvie Transportation Center around 11:30, and met up with some friends that were already downtown.

After walking towards Union Park, eating lunch, and doing a little light thrift store shopping, we arrived at our destination. Union Park is a very good place to have a festival. There were three stages, stages A, B, and C. Stage B was off at the opposite side of the park as A and C. I honestly never saw any bands play there because I just didn’t know or care about any of the bands that were there. But stages A and C were the largest, and they were relatively close together. For this reason, the shows were scheduled so that one would start every hour on the hour at one of the two stages, and then that band would play for an hour while another band would set up at the other stage.

The first band we caught right as we got in the door on stage C was Caribou, whose specialty is long jam oriented guitar rock. This set was definitely a highlight of the day. The guitarists delivered some fun, happy, generally memorable shoegazey tunes. The most impressive parts of the set were the drum breaks. Dan Snaith is the mastermind of the live set, and he switches back and forth between guitar, drums, and synthesizers. The drummer was already impressive on his own, but when Snaith switched over to drums as well, the audience became quickly captivated in the massive rhythms. Especially memorable was a point in the set where all four band members were playing drums at the same time, one of them pulling out a lone cymbal, standing up, and bashing it will the full strength of his body. It was a rhythmic tour de force that is probably the greatest drum performance I have heard since Mike Portnoy’s cacophony at the Dream Theater concert. Although Caribou seems to be known widely as an electronic act, this performance was quite organic. The songs were all psychedelic swirls of beautiful noise on bass and guitar, with the occasional hushed vocal before the drum explosions. All in all, this was quite a memorable set and it got the audience very excited.

After Caribou ended, we all trudged over to the Boost Mobile tent in the cool rain. The tent was decorated with birdcages containing fake birds that made fake bird noises, as well as mattresses and beanbag chairs surrounded by headphones with iPod Nano’s. It was essentially a resting tent. Although I didn’t realize it then, when I crashed on a beanbag chair somewhere on the edge of the tent and aired myself with a complimentary fan, it was to be the last time I would sit down for at least seven hours. After resting ourselves, we stood up and tried to find some friends near the Chipotle tent. I realized soon enough that I wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to distract myself from the festivities.

I broke off from the group and headed over to stage A, where The Fleet Foxes were playing. The crowd was pretty huge, but I nestled myself right next to the stage where I could not actually see the Fleet Foxes, but could hear them just fine and view their performance on the massive screens surrounding the park. The Fleet Foxes were actually quite good… A new folk band that prides themselves on strength in harmony rather than any particular tricks. Lead guitarist/vocalist Robin Pecknold was the focus of the show. At times, he was the only member of the band playing on a given song, and his ability shone out over the audience visibly as well as audibly. His voice almost reminds me of Jim James, and his guitar playing was quite earnest. Although I really only caught the last half of the set, it was well worth dropping in for. Before that Saturday, I had never even heard any of Caribou’s or Fleet Foxes’ music. These are two bands I am very thankful to have seen live, and I look forward to getting to know them further.

After Fleet Foxes ended their set to a warm applause, people started to leave the area, and I closed in. I ended up pretty damn close to the stage, maybe fifth row, in order to wait my turn for Vampire Weekend. I figured this is where I would stay indefinitely, until I felt like going to another stage, perhaps for !!!. But I was certainly not giving up this spot for Vampire Weekend. In the audience I met two lovely girls also from the suburbs who I shared some interests with. It should be known that for as many assholes as there were in that crowd, there were about as many nice people, but it’s the jackasses that make themselves noticed. A black guy with a fauxhawk and his ugly girlfriend palmed a couple nice girls faces when the Vampire Weekend set started and wreaked havoc. I’m surprised security didn’t pick him up. Anyway, Dizzee Rascal was playing his set while we waited an hour for Vampire Weekend. To be honest I really didn’t pay attention. I like rap, but not really British grime rap. He seemed like a distraction to me.

And what do you know, Snowball was helping set up! Snowball is the guy with the bass in his hands here. He is the brother and professional groupie/sound dude of Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley, whom I have seen twice. It was good to see him there.

When Vampire Weekend finally got on stage, the crowd response was pretty good. A lot of people like the band, even some of the jocks who were waiting for The Hold Steady. Vampire Weekend was by far the most debated set of the day among my group of friends. Some more positive notes from people like me were that they played very well and seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit. Despite the fact that they were far from a headliner or an album band, they did end up playing the full extent of their self titled debut, due to the fact that they don’t have a hell of a lot else to play only having one album out at all. They did play a new song, and it sounded good. However, some people argued to the contrary. A couple friends thought they played sloppily, and that the homely charms of the album didn’t quite translate effectively to the live set. Truth be told, what I enjoy most about the album is its understated production, and when playing live, they seem to cast these simplicities away for a more stadium friendly agenda. Which is fine, at least in my opinion. However, it takes some elements away from the album. For some reason, I always visualized the band having a violin and cello player on stage for the strings portion of M79, but the strings part was instead given to the keyboardist, who played half the notes instead of all of the notes on the solo. The song was also slowed down. Probably what makes it my favorite song on the album is its speed and high energy. At any rate, I thought that Vampire Weekend played well, and they were one of my favorite acts of the day. Simple yes, but also fun.

After Vampire Weekend got off the stage, more people started to leave, and I inched in once again. At this point I’m in the third or fourth row. It didn’t occur to me that !!! were actually playing at stage C at this time. I decided I would rather wait at stage A until Animal Collective, even though I’m not really a big fan of The Hold Steady. It just seemed like a good place to stay. I don’t know if this was the right decision, but it is what happened. !!! sounded like fun, although many people around me expressed their distaste at them. But then again of course they would, if they were choosing the Hold Steady over them. One of my good friends was there, and she said that they were really awesome. Even from far away and viewing them on the big screens, it seemed like whatever energy that was lost in translation for Vampire Weekend popped up there. There was clearly a ton of dancing going on both in the audience and on stage, and the band’s presence was undeniable. I couldn’t really hear them so well, but if they sound anything like they look, I’m excited to get to know their music.

After !!! left their stage, two hours of relative boredom commenced. The Hold Steady are a band with an appeal I can understand, but I found myself wondering when their set would end as soon as they started. Yes, their guitarist played quite well, and they write pretty catchy guitar rock, but their vocals and melodies are boring to me. Of course, I wouldn’t have said this to anyone in the audience. I was right on the edge of the mosh pit, and it was filled with huge shirtless men who would have kicked my ass for questioning the unstoppable drunken masters of The Hold Steady. And the band did look wasted, but they didn’t let their BAC bog them down. The band’s riffing and lyrical rambling was what it is known to be, so although the act was not for me as a matter of taste, I can’t deny that they played well and had fun doing it.

After The Hold Steady played their encore and finally left the stage, everyone’s mind was on Animal Collective. This was when the crowd got downright miserable. Pretty much everyone had no room to breath as close up as I was. There were tons of rude people, but to my front and to my right there were a lot of nice people to talk with about the bands that day and their experiences on Friday. Time passed very slowly. Anticipation was high. The members of Animal Collective set up their elaborate stage while Jarvis Cocker played his set on stage C. I remember wondering why anyone would ever choose to see Jarvis Cocker instead of staking out a spot for Animal Collective. He did his shtick. He died on stage. Then he left to scattered clapping, then went back on for an encore. I’m not going to pretend to know his repertoire. I really don’t. I had one Pulp album, and it was This Is Hardcore, and I liked it. But he just didn’t have much live appeal to me. His band played with close to no enthusiasm whatsoever. At least he was quiet.

When he was done everyone cheered, less at him than at the concept that he was done, and that Animal Collective would now go on stage. And they did, immediately.

What I kept on telling everyone I talked to about the show after it ended was that I had never experienced anything like that in my life. And what I realize is that if I had experienced anything like that, that wasn’t another Animal Collective show, they would have failed at their job. From the moment they walked on stage to the moment they walked off, the entire show was a sensory overload. Animal Collective’s live set is pretty representative of Strawberry Jam’s ideas. That is, crushingly loud, thick, and supersaturated with sound and light. I now have a bootleg of the show, but it doesn’t seem to do the experience justice. Part of what made the show so striking was that I could barely even process what I was hearing, and when I could, it was confusing and scary. But also beautiful.

The band didn’t even say anything before launching into a new song, the marching Chocolate Girl. It was with this song that the band laid down their plan for the rest of their set. Avey Tare stood in the middle, a bouncing spider monkey of all trades, at times taking to a soundboard, strumming an untrimmed guitar, drumming, and shrieking into his microphone. Panda Bear was on stage left, mostly keeping to his soundboard but occasionally drumming, his skinny legs swaying back and forth under the body of his sonic vehicle. The Geologist was on stage right, completely reserving himself to behind his soundboard, but possibly having the most energetic stage presence of the bunch. His head bobbed back and forth, a small head light tied to his forehead, making him look like some kind of overgrown, bearded Angler Fish.

Although I didn’t recognize most of the songs (Animal Collective have a habit of playing mostly new songs at their shows), and although there is really no way of knowing who is doing what onstage when almost all or sometimes all of the members are doing their work on soundboards, I still had to ask myself how much of what went on onstage was improvised. Most of it seemed psychedelic and free form, but the coordination that the band exercised was impressive. Especially memorable was Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s rhythmic vocal duet on House, as well as the sidestep of Fireworks Essploding. It was good to hear the wealth of new material, but I also had my fingers crossed for some of the crowd favorites such as Peacebone and Fireworks, and we got them both, as well as the beautiful cascading synthesizers found on #1 presented in Daily Routine.

Animal Collective’s set was easily the night’s most impressive performance, and I found myself the more emotionally affected by them than any of the other artists. I am very glad I saw them, and it seemed like they brought out the best of the audience. They were scary, confusing, and beautiful all at once, but I don’t really think my words can do the set complete justice, so I’ll stop trying to describe it. I don’t have any pictures of Animal Collective, unfortunately, because my phone was running out of juice and I knew I needed to contact my group of friends after the show, and I did not want to jeopardize my chances of not being in contact with them afterwards, so I shut my phone off during the show.

So anyway, that was the Pitchfork festival. Quite an experience. I am very glad I went, and glad that I saw all of the bands that I did. I imagine that Lollapalooza will be a similar experience, but more extreme and long. Well, I’ll worry about that as the week progresses.

Me and some other friends also saw The Hush Sound on Sunday, which was also a nice experience. It felt much more toned down than Pitchfork in the sense that it was much more subdued and small. It was at the House of Blues. Most of the crowd consisted of pudgy, preppy, prepubescent girls and oh so cool, emo, prepubescent boys. Yes, The Hush Sound attract a crowd that is somewhat below them, but that is alright. No one in the crowd really got in my way, because they were all pretty short. A relatively tall girl pushed in front of me once, but I coughed on the back of her neck for a while until I got tired of that, after which I sidestepped into a better position to see the band and talk with one of my lady friends who I spent most of the show with.

The opening bands were so horribly, painfully emo. The first band was called The Morning Light.

Okay.

Ready?

You see? They just kind of fade out. They were pretty ghastly. My friend thought the keyboardist was kind of cute, but then he talked into the microphone and revealed to the audience that his testicles clearly hadn’t left his body yet, and she subsequently found him a little less cute. Their focal point was their extremely physically expressive drummer who reminded some of us of Lanky Kong. Their singer’s voice was very annoying. The other opening band was called The Cab. They were also very emo, but they were a little better than The Morning Light. The band chilled, the rest of the audience bounced, and we chillbounced.

The Hush Sound themselves actually played very well. They played all of their popular songs (Honey!), plus a couple slightly more obscure ones (Wine Red!), to make a very well rounded set. They did not offer much different than their albums do, but they seemed to have a lot of fun up there, and they got the audience involved. The only complaint I had was that the guitarist really needed to turn his volume up. But beyond that, The Hush Sound are a great band and have already made their new album one of the best of 2008 simply because of its superb songwriting, with no other gimmicks. Honestly, that’s how they succeed. From writing great, catchy tunes. You owe it to yourselves to hear these. They played the hits, and did a couple interesting things, particularly a cover of The Beatles’ Back In The U.S.S.R., and another retro 50s type of song where the members of the band switched instruments. But really, the reason that I saw the show was to hear their songs that I love so much. I love the Hush Sound, and I am very glad my girlfriend got me interested in them and made them so personally important to me. That and the fact that I had a great time with my friends at the show is more than good enough for me.

Yes, quite a musical weekend indeed. Very good times. I expect to have lots more of these as I get older. With even more chillbouncing.

h1

The Magnetic Fields – Distortion

May 15, 2008

When I saw The Magnetic Fields a couple months ago at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, Stephen Merritt noted that probably 80% of the people in the audience had a blog, and that 50% of those people would go home that night and comment on the show. I didn’t do this, maybe because I was afraid of Stephen Merritt thinking I was lame (as if he was going to check up on the assessments of his band on shitty blogs), or perhaps because I was tired and lazy. And thirsty. It was another concert where I didn’t drink anything the entire time and I was very dehydrated. I bought a bottle of Coke on the way home. I bought a BOTTLE of Coke. In a gas station. That excited me. I don’t drink Coke from bottles very much. I couldn’t actually open it until I got inside though. I kept on working to get inside it in the car and it just wouldn’t budge. I had to settle in before I could actually drink my delicious beverage. It was the tastiest Coke I had ever experienced.

The Magnetic Fields concert was an experience. Listening to a Magnetic Fields album is usually an experience anyway, but seeing the band live helps to bring spirit and soul to the songs. I’m glad I had not bought Distortion before seeing the band live. I heard them perform, many of the songs from Distortion, and upon listening to the album itself, the songs that I heard live were immediately recognizable and easy to be comfortable with.

The fact that it took another four years to make Distortion, and that it also dons the now standard Fields label and a simplistic cover, denotes that the album should have yet another gimmick. It does, and it doesn’t. Distortion takes to its name, and is drenched in distortion, both smooth and screeching throughout, ala The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. The songs are almost of uniform length, none running over three minutes and ten seconds.

It seems like there should be some kind of solvable puzzle here, some key to be found that unlocks everything. It is because of 69 Love Songs and i that expectations of this album have been distorted to the point of being ridiculous. And in fact, 69 Love Songs did have a trick to it, and so did i. There is no trick on Distortion, and if there is one, it isn’t significant. We are tricked into thinking that the distortion is the key to the album.

It isn’t. It’s a caramel coating that needs to be cracked with a spoon to get to the ice cream. The Fields are not the first band to use these tricks. Psychocandy did it twenty five years ago, and I’d be shocked if these musicians did not know that. The distortion and feedback does not work quite as effectively on Distortion. The Jesus And Mary Chain were a pop band, like The Fields, but they were also a punk band. When The Fields include the elderly noise punk effects of Psychocandy into the album, it seems like an unwelcome distraction, regardless of how natural they actually were during recording.

Some aspect of the distortion does, however, strike a pleasing chord. Many of the songs feel lost in the fuzz, subdued, blanketed. Unlike Psychocandy’s distortion and feedback, the effects here are rather innocuous most of the time and do not detract from the album’s pop spirit. In that sense, production wise, it sounds more like The Wayward Bus and Distant Plastic Trees than anything, with hushed cymbal hits, gentle pianos, and exclamatory guitars, this time with the updated vocals and songwriting sensibilities of the present day Fields. The band also played Lovers From The Moon at the concert. That song sounded just as natural and free as the new songs, also performed without their original electric context.

While the production is no coy framework, the Magnetic Fields, and particularly Stephen Merritt, are masters of meter and verse, and can be clever and enjoyable within the confines of individual songs. Three Way, for example, is both silly and assuring at once in its sly trinity. Other fun roundabout approaches at deep emotion are seen in California Girls, a pot shot at the romantic musings of the Beach Boys, and Too Drunk To Dream, which should be the official drinking anthem of the USA or possibly the entire world if we could make it rhyme in every language. The genre hopping here is as prevalent as on 69 Love Songs or i, and in that sense Distortion is just as much of a treasure trove.

The ending Courtesans makes a convincing case for the importance of all of the distortion, but ultimately, Distortion is not an album that holds itself together with some unifying theme. The production, while unnecessary, works to the album’s advantage at least more than the production on i, and is not a major distraction. It is another album of vintage Magnetic Fields, and we like it for that reason. We like the Magnetic Fields. They seem to be obscuring their personality with smoke and mirrors, but Stephen Merritt could have hired Jim Reid to sing these songs and it wouldn’t fool us.