Posts Tagged ‘dance’

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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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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

January 20, 2009

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

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

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

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

Animal Collective at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Animal Collective at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

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

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

Avey Tare and Panda Bear at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Avey Tare and Panda Bear at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

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

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

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

Animal Collective

Animal Collective

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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.

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Alabama 3 – Hits And Exit Wounds

June 6, 2008

This best of compilation from One Little Indian’s Alabama 3 is as at first glance representative of something ignorant. Anyone who names a song after Johnny Cash or Woody Guthrie is either ignorant or silly, and luckily Alabama 3 are the latter. Any chance of a London based acid house band staying true to musical Americana is slim to none, and if they tried, they would fail. Instead, they shamelessly bastardize it. The key to enjoying Alabama 3 is not taking them too seriously, because if you do, they will probably just anger you.

Alabama 3 are a dance group at heart, and their trick is that they dress up their dance beats with harmonicas, acoustic guitars, and growling country vocals. But less impressive than their style is their biting sense of humor. Throughout the course of this Alabama 3 retrospective, the band openly toys with the ideas of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and macho militant sloganeers, and the state of modern music through dirty lyrics and vocal samples. This sense of humor does little to interfere with the band’s dance sensibilities.

Most of the time, they are in full on ass swinging mode. In particular, Hypo Full of Love, Woke Up This Morning, Mao Tse Tung Said, and Monday Don’t Mean Anything are particularly memorable not because of what they have to say, but because of how danceable they are. But the collection isn’t without its acoustic ballads as well. These two modes of play are fairly interchangable, and some of the bands more tender moments might be dressed up in catchy beats. I don’t know how much I can say for the album as a collection because I am not really familiar with the bands discography, but what is here is fun for what it is, and fans of dance music or anyone with a sense of humor about American styled music should check it out for sure.

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Bjork – Medulla

April 17, 2008

In 2005, Bjork Guomundsdottir (I’m not spelling that again.) continued her streak of relatively organic albums with Medulla. The preceding Vespertine was a huge success, an achingly beautiful album with more individual style than even the vastly successful Homogenic. The concept for Medulla was to make an album comprised completely of vocals and vocal samples. These voices are not bare, and are given electronic lifts and touchups throughout, but still, the vast majority of the album is spent exploring the human voice, the world’s oldest and most direct musical instrument.

Bjork said in an interview for the making of the album that she has passed the point where she can make music by herself, unaccompanied. Although she has featured other artists in the past, Medulla features more other artists than any other Bjork album. It feels like a joint effort, a sort of carnival of tricks and surprises of which Bjork is the ringleader. She herself has not changed her vocal style much for the album. Or maybe her vocal style was fluid enough in the first place to attend to the concepts that Medulla has to offer.

The guest singers are, however, the interesting and compelling parts of the album. Not that Bjork can’t deliver a nice song on her own. Desired Constellations, for example, is a brilliant little gem dotted with electronic blips that may or may not be highly distorted vocal samples, and comes from Bjork and Bjork alone. But the finest songs on here are accompanied. The high point of the album, Who Is It (Carry My Joy On The Left, Carry My Pain On The Right), features both champion beatboxer Rahzel and Mike Patton of Faith No More. As Bjork presents her slyly articulate voice in one of her most emotional performances, Rahzel cranks out intricate snaps and growls with his singular voice, and Patton produces waves of low bass tones like a singing humpback whale.

It is a shame that the rest of the album cannot live up to this brilliance, save maybe the last song, Triumph of a Heart, with Japanese vocal effect wizard Dokaka. The song is a full out dance track, although one you probably wouldn’t hear in even the most liberal dance club. There are some other good songs that take a long time to unwrap themselves and become enjoyable. However, this is a standard process for Bjork albums. Vokuro, for example, is a reserved choral piece that succeeds by keeping things simple. The more of these gems one can uncover for themselves, the better.

Despite these moments of purity, Bjork still overplays her cards, moreso than on any of her other albums. Most songs feel like mixed bags, with singular great ideas that are marred by the artists desire to push her boundaries. Where Is The Line is the perfect example of botched excellence. It also features Rahzel’s beatboxing for its foundation. His sequenced vocal samples seem to rhythmically play around Bjork’s vocals. The song is broad in scope, which is perhaps it’s problem. Although potentially excellent, it refuses to settle into its finest segments. Rahzel’s ancient swagger is wasted when Bjork decides to turn the song into a production experiment. Another such song, Oceania, was composed for the 2004 Olympic Games. It is a nice song, but musically and lyrically inappropriate for any prestigious event.

The reason that Medulla does not shine as bright as the other albums, and the reason that most of her lesser songs are unmemorable, are because Bjork tries too hard to push her boundaries and do something different or experimental. She is a pop artist, who has produced such defining melodies as Venus As A Boy, Isobel, Bachelorette, and Aurora. Her gift of talent to write simple, flowing melodies, is sacrificed for the majority of Medulla. Her treatment of the vocalists is also a mixed bag. Rahzel was a great idea, and so was Mike Patton. Dokaka and Rahzel work the last song like magic…sweet, dance candy. These three artists could have helped shape the album into a fun, rhythmic showcase for vocal talent, particularly Bjork’s. And really, isn’t Bjork’s voice the main reason we love her, and how she made her break in the first place?

While Rahzel and Patton’s performances are great, Bjork botches them on a few occasions, such as the Where Is The Line mishap and the awkward performance of Submarine. The song Ancestors probably should have never happened. While I am sure Tanya Tagaq Gillis is a fine throat singer, no one really wants to hear throat singing. Brave? Yes. Necessary? No.

While Medulla is hardly a bad album, it is easily the least accomplished of Bjork’s studio albums, mostly because her wonderful pop sensibilities are underutilized. The listener naturally clings to what is catchy and vocally impressive. These are the cornerstones of the album, and much of the rest is extraneous meat that could have been shaved off. It is obvious that Bjork’s creative masturbation will never end, but this is alright, because we like a lot of it. The difference is that Medulla seems made to please the mind more than the ear.