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Pitchfork Festival 2010

August 5, 2010

I went to the Pitchfork festival in Chicago in July. I saw many shows, most of which were great. On Friday, El-P rocked the mic hard and kicked off my festival experience with a bang. The surprise success of the day was Robyn, who’s energy onstage is contagious. She had the whole audience moving, and she proved that pop music can have a place in an indie festival. This is where the story gets sad; I decided to skip Broken Social Scene because I wanted to get close for Modest Mouse. I figured I had already seen them live and presently have a ticket to see them in DC in the Fall. Expect coverage of that show when the time comes. Modest Mouse played a fairly short set, drawing material mostly from their recent career. Their stage presence is undeniably electric; they kicked off the set with the epic Moon & Antarctica highlight “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” and from the beginning had everyone in their pockets.

Saturday was the weakest day of the festival, but it still had some great shows to offer. Real Estate and Delorean were early beach-pop highlights, and Kurt Vile rocked hard with his energetic backing band The Violators at stage B. Despite some technical difficulties and a wack DJ, Raekwon put on a great performance. He mostly played older material from Enter the Wu-Tang and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, which he delivered with great enthusiasm. Also, he had breakdancing children, and you can’t say no to that. I really liked The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion even though I don’t know them that well. I give major props to artists I don’t know who really impress me. They had unprecedented energy and put on one of the festival’s better rock shows of the weekend. Wolf Parade were also great; they played “This Heart’s On Fire,” which pretty much made my day. Panda Bear, as expected, put on one of the weirder shows of the weekend, complete with electronic noise, sampling collages, yelping and crazy visuals. Amy liked it a lot, but I couldn’t quite make heads or tails of it. I really like his more melody-based songs, but at it’s heart his set is about as strange and hyper-modern as it gets. I did like it, but I wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe that counts as a victory for Noah Lennox.

Sunday was without a doubt the strongest day. We started off seeing two Chicago bands, Alla and Cave. My old co-worker Jorge is the lead guitarist of Alla, and it was awesome seeing him and his band up on stage making a wonderful racket, with long, exciting progressive passages and a soulful latino flavor. We also really enjoyed seeing Cave at stage B, who’s long psychedelic jams sounded awesome in the shade of the trees. Next we lined up for Best Coast, one of the bigger buzz bands of this year. Their set was enjoyable. They played most of their more popular songs, clinching with “Something in the Way.” We stayed around and watched a bit of Washed Out‘s set, and then headed over to stage C for Beach House. They played beautifully as usual, and even drew on their back catalog quite a bit for numbers like “Master of None” and “Heart of Chambers.” And of course their newer songs all sounded great, especially “Used to Be.” Next up was Lightning Bolt, easily one of the crazier shows of the festival, as well as one of my favorites. The two Brians played fiercely to a moshy crowd. It was both technically impressive and energizing to hear the noise kings doing what they do best. After that, we got some dinner then headed back to stage A to wait for Major Lazer, which was arguably even crazier than Lightning Bolt. It was probably the most extreme set of the entire weekend: there was excessive alcohol consumption, dry-humping (the kids call it “daggering” these days), Chinese dragon costumes, ballerinas, lots of booty and of course Diplo’s awesome dance music. I didn’t see anything this weekend that was more involved; it was a blast. Finally, Pavement took the stage, and everyone couldn’t have been happier to see and hear them. They looked like they were having a blast, and their energy translated to their music very well. I could start firing off all the songs they played, but there’s no way that would do justice to the setlist. For me, “Gold Soundz” was the magical moment. It felt like the whole festival was leading up to this, and they couldn’t have done better.

I took a bunch of photos of the fest, and these are some of the better ones.

El-P

Robyn

Robyn

Modest Mouse (sorry about the heads and poor lighting- it's tough to take pictures late at night)

Delorean

Raekwon

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Wolf Parade

Panda Bear

Alla

Cave

Best Coast

Washed Out

Beach House

Lightning Bolt

Major Lazer

Pavement (again, sorry for the poor quality)

I’m heading off to Lollapalooza tomorrow, so expect some kind of coverage of that, too. I’ll also update soon on some of my favorite new music. Till then, au revoir!

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June 5, 2010

Some good electronic stuff I’ve heard lately…

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Guido - Anidea

Guido dropped his debut album Anidea the other day, and Andrew Gaerig of Pitchfork called it “one of the finest post-dubstep full lengths yet.” They’ve been throwing the label around for a while, and some people I know laughed at it. What does it even mean, really? Isn’t it a bit too soon, considering we’re still sorting through dubstep, to call something post-dubstep? At first I scoffed too, but I thought about how the genre has advanced. Like Burial and Clubroot, Guido doesn’t quite sound like run-of-the-mill dubstep, not the kind that the dubstep DJs play anyway. But it fits the description perfectly: clattering heartbeat-speed beats, warbly bass tones, and atmospheric sampling make Anidea sound like a familiar dubstep album, but there are aspects of it that sound departed from the typical formula. The cinematic strings on the closing “Tantalized” are a good start; they are just one example of the many sample choices that give Guido his unique rhythm throughout the record. But Anidea is hardly a reactionary record. Above all, Guido specializes in locking into a rhythm and holding a groove for long periods of time. He does this particularly well on the album’s two vocal tracks, “Beautiful Complication” featuring Aarya and “Way U Make Me Feel” featuring Yolanda. The latter in particular is a killer track, retro but also futuristic. This album is loaded with goodies, so if you’re into electronic music, dubstep or not, definitely check it out.

♦♦♦

Onra - Long Distance

Another label that’s been thrown around a lot at Pitchfork lately is post-Dilla. Using the phrase acknowledges a couple things, first and foremost being that J Dilla was a turning point in hip hop and electronic music, but also implying that Dilla influenced a lot of artists. Both of these claims probably hold truth. James Yancey’s style and body of work felt revelatory when they came out, and although it’s hard (at least for me) to namecheck DJs that take cues from him, it’s easy to hear his production value fingerprints here and there, and see his work being important not just now, but in the future. We can relate Dilla’s sound to French producer Onra’s earlier work in some key ways; 2007’s Chinoiseries, which contained only Chinese sample sources, featured cut-up vocal sampling and obscure vinyl melody-scrounging. The results were a little less earth-shaking, but the similarity is there. Now Onra is returning with another totally different LP, a future-shocked funk record called Long Distance. It still bears a resemblance in many ways of Dilla, but people who may have been following electronic and beatmaking music will immediately be reminded of Dam-Funk’s massive double album Toeachizown released in 2009. It reminisces of 80’s synth-funk while celebrating the new, ear-popping way of doing things in hip hop, and consequently we have a fusion of music that is both interesting and classy. At the very least, Onra sounds like he’s having a lot of fun here. The vocal tracks here really shine- in particular, “The One” featuring T3 of Slum Village showcases his abilities to step out of the limelight for an MC while sustaining his intelligent production work. Onra is an artist who simultaneously does a lot of interesting things without compromising any of them, and Long Distance is subsequently an album that sounds accomplished and assured, for whatever genre it’s in.

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Oval - Oh EP

Markus Popp has always refused to follow conventions in songwriting and musical production since the earliest Oval works in the early ’90s, and his tireless creativity brought us brilliant albums like 94 Diskont which challenged the the way that people listened to music. The proposition of a new Oval release is enough to make glitch fans giddy just because of what it is, but Oh is exciting enough to earn its reputation. And for a whole new audience at that; Oh is not only a great glitch release but also a great electronic release, broad in its endeavors. First and foremost it sounds melodic, much moreso than than earlier Oval releases, and each of the fifteen songs has recognizable, though highly warped, tunes. Only two songs break two minutes, the rest keeping things very short as small musical vignettes. The two longer songs are particularly accomplished. The opening “hey” is wonderfully catchy and rhythmic, using some live instrumentation alongside warped synthesizers. “grrr” is more subdued, almost ambient in its progression. It is relaxing, sometimes sounding like free jazz while also sounding avant garde and contemporary, not unlike Music is Rotted One Note era Squarepusher. Most of the shorter songs are quite enjoyable too, abstractly melodic and quiet. All this makes for an all-around solid full listen, a lot to take in from an artist who has a lot of catching up to do with his fans. Perhaps what is even more exciting about the Oh EP is that it precipitates Oval’s upcoming full-length album, O, which will have some seventy tracks. If the modus operandi of Oh carries over, then we have a feast of mini glitch masterpieces to look forward to.

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2010 Rocks

May 26, 2010

So, folks, it’s been just about a month since I last gave a big summary of my favorite albums of Q1 of 2010, and I’ve already heard a slew of new, awesome music. 2010 has been an incredible year for music so far, and here’s some more great albums.

I’ve provided youtube samples, but do know that their sound quality is going to be a lot lower than the actual recordings. I’d really recommend getting the albums if you like what you hear.

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Clubroot - II:MMX

I admit to not being an ardent follower of dubstep in general, though I do dip into the genre on occasion. Anyone who knows me knows that I pretty much listen to Burial every day of my life, and I got pretty excited about the Luvstep mix earlier this year, and hell, I would just about never turn the stuff off if I ever heard it on the radio (never have). So I’m not beyond getting excited about a good dubstep release, and this new album by Dan Richmond, known as Clubroot, might be the prime example of the second most intelligent dubstep producer that I’ve heard (all due respect to those I haven’t). Clubroot’s sound is slow, deliberate and contemplative, and creates one hell of an aural environment of atmospheric dubstep; echoing synths and string samples hover in the air over visceral and subtly groovy dubstep beats. The result are melancholy mood pieces, and though they take a while to develop, once your ears are attuned to them it is easy to get addicted. The first Clubroot album last year was tasty, but II:MMX takes the style to the next level with cleaner production and more memorable melodies. No one is going to pretend that Dan Richmond is trying to push things forward half as much as William Bevan, but we’re still all the better for his excursions.

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LM1 - Blue Mountain EP

I’ll preface my next recommendation with yet another claim of ignorance; I may not know drum ‘n bass in and out, but I know good drum ‘n bass when I hear it. The Blue Mountain EP by LM1 is such music, energizing and completely smart. LM1 is the work of Allan Cowie, and it’s apparent that he is the master of the breakbeat. The beats themselves are propulsive but in no way intrusive, and the atmospheric touches he brings to his songs do a lot with a little. Ambient flourishes give the tracks on this EP a lot of volume. Particularly, the title track matches its title and creates a vast, expansive sound world with ambient textures. The other tracks are just as strong, slowly developing but fast moving ear candy for electronic fans. The big question: where did this come from? Well, it turns out LM1 is the founder and owner of Offworld Recordings, which he created after releasing a string of recordings on other record labels. Offworld already has four releases from a multitude of artists, and it turns out they rule too. The Blue Mountain EP has blown the top off of this exciting new project, and you can be sure that we’ll have coverage on all of it soon. In the meantime, go here for more information as well as an Offworld showcase, which indicates that this is truly the new revival of drum ‘n bass.

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Sleigh Bells - Treats

How old am I again? Well I feel like I’m about fifty five, scowling at legions of young music aficionados about how despite the fact that there is a lot of cool stuff going on in music at the dawn of this new decade, the fact stands that rock music just isn’t cool anymore and these kids don’t know what they’re missing. Sleigh Bells’ music may still be pop at its heart, but it rejuvenates the lost concept that it’s really cool to be really fucking loud. And loud Treats is. Blisteringly loud. The guitars cut like razors and their drums sound like running giants. The volume is going to be the first thing most anyone notices about the vast majority of these songs, but like Psychocandy before it, the noise encases a really down to earth pop album. The heart of this concept is heard most apparently on the sublimely jangly “Rill Rill,” which is Treats‘ most obvious accomplishment because it lacks the sheer volume that the rest of the tracks have. It’s slightly distorted and rough around the edges, but above all else it’s delicious pop music. The keystone of the album, it makes the other tracks seem less violent and more good-natured. You can tell “Crown on the Ground” wants to be on Kid’s Bop, but it got rejected because it had tourettes. “Tell ‘Em” was to be a high school fight song, but it got mangleded in a car accident. They’re fractured pop songs that you can more than relate to and side with, because despite the fact that they will destroy your cochleae, they just sound right.

♦♦♦

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

Steven Ellison, known as Flying Lotus, made one of the best records of 2008, Los Angeles. It is just a fact, and one that I have taken a few years to come to grips with and fully appreciate. In electronic music, it’s easy to see Flying Lotus becoming an important figure, and so it’s easy to see a new FlyLo album as an important occurrence. Cosmogramma pulls together an environment as rich in style as Los Angeles, with many notable aspects: Lots of live instrumentation, strong jazz elements, strings and harps, and a sense of mysticism. Also notable: while many of Los Angeles’ beats trailed behind bars by fractions of seconds, on Cosmogramma those beats lead the measures at a similarly minute speed, which makes for an album that is fully excited and running at a high speed but never trips over itself, because it is in the hands of a master. And as usual, there is a slew of sounds here that you would never find anywhere else. Describing those moments are almost impossible, but they stand for themselves; the super high frequency “Nose Art,” the free jazz experimental “Arkestry,” the awesome collaboration with Thom York on “…And the World Laughs With You,” and the heavy “Recoiled” are just a few such highlights, but they by no means stop there. This is yet another truly important electronic record from an artist with incredible talent. The future of music clearly lies with this man, and with that said, the future always seems to be bright.

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Autechre - Oversteps

Electronic producers Rob Brown and Sean Booth have been making music as Autechre for about twenty years now, and their new album Oversteps is their tenth. Throughout their flabbergasting career arc, they have invented, reinvented and refined not only their sound but contemporary progressive electronic music as a whole. Anyone who knows albums like Tri Repetae and LP5 know that a new Autechre album means a whole new world of sound, and Oversteps is no exception. The album is filled with jittery, mysterious productions, and it shows the group at their most melodic state since 1998’s LP5 (with the exception of several moments on 2008’s great Quaristice). A lot of times, and as is certainly the case for Oversteps, Autechre songs have sleeper qualities, puzzling at first and then later sinking in for heavy thinking. It stands that being an Autechre fan is incredibly awarding. In their ten album and twelve EP (give or take) career, they have crafted just about every song into its own sonic world, and with each album have built unshakable statements. Oversteps initially feels like a strong, logical progression. It’s possible that if it is given time, the yeast will rise and it will stand even taller. But what’s even more exciting and puzzling than these tracks is that Autechre are set to release another album this year. Move of Ten is due out on July 12, and a quick examination of the cover art certainly makes me surmise that the new album may be a companion piece to Oversteps. What that means is that we may still only have part of the full picture here, and thus Oversteps as well as Move of Ten may have new developments to explore.

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The National - High Violet

I have missed The National’s live show twice. I traded their show at Lollapalooza 2008 for a good spot at Nine Inch Nails, and their show at Pitchfork last year for a set from The Black Lips. At the time I wasn’t sad about having to make those choices at all. The National were always a band that were pleasant enough, had a specific style that I’m sometimes in the mood for, and made a handful of really cool songs that I liked a lot. But the fact stood that The National, in general, just bored me. It’s only now that High Violet has come out that I’m finally kicking myself for missing them and really getting excited about seeing them at Lollapalooza this year. Don’t get me wrong – the National have always been a good band, but High Violet really brings them above and beyond. A lot of these tracks are immediate National classics. The excellent first single “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” with its dramatic lyrics and melancholy atmosphere that the band are known for, only scrapes the surface of this album’s highlights. “Sorrow,” “Anyone’s Ghost” and “England” in particular show the band locking in and delivering some of their most savory, melodic moments on any of their five albums. High Violet is the work of a band that has had years to build, refine and experiment with their sound. Admittedly, High Violet and it’s overall sound are very similar stylistically to what The National has done before with such successful albums as Alligator and Boxer, but if you’re into this band, this may be their best album yet.

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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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Gold Panda – You

April 10, 2010

Sick new track from London Producer Gold Panda. Check it out.

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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.

•••

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.

•••

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.

•••

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.

•••

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.

•••

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.

•••

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.

•••

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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Great '90s Albums

April 5, 2010

Remember how I did that big “Best of the ’00s” list a few months back?

Well here’s the start of the list for the ’90s.

http://rateyourmusic.com/list/red_atm/great_90s_albums

I’m doing this one completely differently. It’s going to be an ongoing list that will change and grow as long as I keep finding great albums from the 90s. Recommendations are more than welcome, but understand I know there are a lot of albums that aren’t on that list yet that I love but I just haven’t had the time to write about yet. Still, feel free to drop some recs either here or at RYM, if you have an account.