Posts Tagged ‘dream pop’

h1

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.

Advertisements
h1

Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
h1

Mew – No More Stories / Are Told Today / I'm Sorry / They Washed Away // No More Stories / The World Is Grey / I'm Tired / Let's Wash Away

September 12, 2009

I don’t have a lot of energy right now, as it is late and I am back late from a show, but I am now listening to this album and feel that it deserves a shout out. So I’m going to give my incomplete, unedited take on it.

mew_no_more_stories

As the year progresses, more and more albums are catching my ear that impress me. I’ll be blunt by saying that No More Stories… is one of those albums. It is different from Mew’s previous LP, And The Glass Handed Kites (which, man, came out four years ago already?) in that it is very much a set of songs as opposed to a long suite. Each song is individual and memorable. This is due in part to Mew’s frequent tendency to experiment a little, and thus we get songs like “New Terrain” (which when played backwards reveals a completely different song. what’s shocking is that both songs are actually good), “Introducing Palace Players” (a fractured, no-tempo stomp), and “Cartoons and Macrame Wounds” (which begins at it’s climax and works backwards). These songs are pretty out there at first listen, but give them a little time and the pieces click into place and they are ultimately enticing. They are just new and different enough to be fascinating but they also have more conventional, melodic elements to them, and Mew are very good at melody. The album isn’t all experimentalism though; there are a couple more streamlined tunes here, but they aren’t by any means radio pop. “Repeaterbeater” reminisces of “Apocalypso” off of Glass Handed Kites in that it is shamelessly riffy hard rock. I’ll put another thing bluntly. This album is loaded. It’s got a lot of really memorable songs, and really no bad songs. Even the longer, downtempo pieces (“Silas the Magic Car,” “Cartoons and Macrame Wounds”) are top notch chamber dream pop despite being a little less involving. After maybe two listens, everything here is as familiar and excellent sounding as on Mew’s previous albums. The selection of songs that are excellent here is pretty overwhelming. Besides what I’ve already mentioned, “Beach,” “Hawaii Dream” (the album’s centerpiece, a tiny interlude. how funny that it ends up being one of the more memorable tracks on the album.), “Hawaii” (this one is just perfect, a charming tropical pop song complete with marimbas and skybound reverberating vocals), and “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” are all instantly classic Mew. And on the latter, Mew manage to match their awesome guest spot from J Mascis on Glass Handed Kites’ “Why Are You Looking Grave” with a showstopping performance from Mari Helgerlikova, an 88 year old Danish avant-garde singer. Basically, get this album for Christ’s sake. Mew make music that is, like much great art, just new and interesting enough to be engaging, but isn’t too far out. They are completely unabashed in their pop and rock sensibilities while still having the bravery to utilize conventions of many of their favorite genres such as shoegaze, dream pop, progressive rock and even classical pop. You could make a pretty good case that this is Mew’s best album to date. I can hear the complaint already that some might think that this album is tired, but it aknowledges this in it’s title, and knows it. Life can be weary and overbearing but finding refuge in quality music, whether it is music you can rock out to or curl up on the couch with, is pure satisfaction.

h1

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

h1

4. Beach House – Devotion

December 29, 2008

Beach House - Devotion

On the shortest song Beach House have yet released, the tiny “Some Things Last A Long Time,” Victoria Legrand slowly sings “Your picture is still on my wall/The colors are bright, bright as ever”. The soft pitter patter of rain can be heard outside. Although storms seem to pass over the Beach House, what is inside is protected. Baltimore based Beach House have not changed much since their 2006 self titled debut. The core of the group is still Legrand with her vintage twinkling organ and her breathy vocals, and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scalley puts the icing on the cake with guitars and other instruments. The final product is bittersweet. The band’s songs sound like they were made forty years ago, but in the best possible way without feeling outdated, treated with a timeless classicism. Devotion sounds much more asserted than its predecessor, and thus that much more affecting. Beach House’s melodies change frequently, segueing from one pastoral arrangement to another with ease, but frequently surprising with shreds of melancholy. Songs therefore seem to sputter with emotion, flickering lights through windows drenched in rain. At some points, the pieces are hushed tropical lullabies, and at the next moment booming, painful dirges. Some lean more in one direction – You Came to Me and Holy Dances evoke a heartwarming mysticism while others such as Gila and Heart of Chambers woefully lament. But the ultimate spirit is that of genuine, mature romance, which Legrand articulates so delicately in every song. She sings of love managing to overcome time and space as if reading from a book of hymns with ultimate faith, and she preaches a word we can’t help but hold onto and believe unconditionally. The Beach House has become a home.

Also of note is Beach House’s non-album single, Used To Be, also released this year. The song is a tear-jerker of a new style, one that would not have gelled with the songs on Devotion, but it is quite an accomplishment on its own and anyone who enjoys either of Beach House’s albums should definitely check it out.

Beach House

h1

Sigur Ros – Heima

January 23, 2008

As Sigur Ros bassist Georg speaks in the tour diary included in the second disk of the Heima DVD, up until the release of this film, Sigur Ros fans had not really been given a visual document of the bands work and spirit aside from the album artwork, which is perfectly pleasant and beautiful on it’s own terms, but does not really give fans the kind of concert experience that they have always wished for. Heima is a film about Iceland, and the islands most popular band, Sigur Ros, on a short unannounced tour throughout the country. Heima means “at home,” which means that the band is in their most comfortable environment, their own home country with all of it’s beautiful, homely charms.

The majority of the film is presented in the form of live concert footage and footage of Iceland’s beautiful natural landscapes. It is divided into passages concentrated on different towns, villages, and cities, and personal concert experiences from each. The idea that this could turn into a dull, Discovery Channel documentary is immediately disproved, as the band proves that they are among the most innovative and consistently interesting performers in a long time. In fact, Sigur Ros turn what we know about documentaries, let alone music documentaries, upside down. Within the first fifteen minutes, we are shown live footage of the band performing one of the better songs off of Takk while completely silhouetted by an earthen cloth that takes up the entire expanse of a stage. The entire song is performed under shadow, reminding us that the music of Sigur Ros is as much about what is not there as what is there. This may seem pretentious, but we must remember that this is a band that released an album with blank pages in the sleeve meant for fans to produce lyrics of their own, a counterpoint for the fact that Sigur Ros vocalist Jonsi almost exclusively sings in a babel that does not belong to any language.

Almost every song is performed in a unique way or in a unique place, and although some of the performances do not add anything new to their studio recordings, they all resonate with warmth. This may be partially due to the inclusion of the band’s supporting strings section, the all girls band Amiina, that has served Sigur Ros very well within the past ten years and act as family both professionally and personally.

Another switch-up is employed very early on in the naturalistic segments. Footage of running water from streams and waterfalls is reversed. I could tell you that this represents Sigur Ros moving backwards in it’s own footsteps in the snow, back home, to where things started, but then I would sound like I’m looking for reasons to praise the bands every move. This kind of over-analysis from fans is what has given the band their pretentious reputation. What we need to remember is, water running backwards in gorgeous high quality just looks impressive. And the ideas of Sigur Ros are not always as complex as we may think. The band keeps their music close to the human condition, and closer to the human ear.

What Sigur Ros have done are bring us into their world, into their home, and showed us what their music is about. Heima is as much a testament to Iceland as it is to Sigur Ros and their live repertoire. Throughout the span of the film, the band play songs in desolate regions such as in the middle of a forest as well in a slew of other places that I will not mention so to leave the majority of the movie a surprise. These performances are either pretentious or completely genuine, and we struggle with this question until after the performance of the final song, when Jonsi describes an interesting family tidbit which I also cannot reproduce here, in risk of it losing it’s effect. We are also shown footage of the people of the different Icelandic villages living their everyday lives, as well as indulging in the concerts, which they seem only half as impressed about as we do. A local marching band accompanying Sigur Ros onstage seems to them to be completely natural, as unique as it is. Moments like these are not few, and I struggle to not reveal more of them because of how interesting they all are. But shots of the natural beauty of Iceland are just as important and moving as the happenings the people that inhabit it. This seems to be part musical documentary, and part natural documentary, both areas approached in lighthearted and honest ways.

Intricacies aside, Heima is a solid live concert experience. The songs are performed very well, although they do not differ much aurally from the original album cuts. The DVD is put together very nicely, but at times the interactive menus can get a bit confusing and tiring, despite their creativity of their presentation of an elderly map of Iceland, which are probably much more navigable to Icelandic people. The extras are quite interesting and are enough to keep fans’ appetites quelled until the band’s next release, whenever that may be. There are a couple different versions of Heima that you can buy, namely the standard two disk DVD as well as a deluxe edition with an art book, but both releases have the same two disks and are only cosmetically different. My complaints of the film are only in my desire to have seen some of my personal favorite songs performed, specifically Gong, Saeglopur, and Svefn-g-englar, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and none of the song selections here are wasted efforts. I was especially impressed with the performance of Meo Blodnasir, a magical little interlude on Takk that would not normally be seen as anything more than filler. Even for casual Sigur Ros fans, Heima is essential, and it is surely the apex of Sigur Ros’ career thus far. Easily the best music documentary I have seen, and a highlight of 2007 in both music and film.

h1

The Radio Dept. – Pet Grief

March 26, 2007

I first heard Pet Grief around when it was released last year and for some reason I didn’t like it. Maybe it was because everyone I knew who heard it didn’t like it, so I kind of threw it on the backburner and never gave it a legit listen. But I put this in my CD player a few days ago and it totally opened up for me. What a great feeling, to play an album you thought was bad only to realize that it is really great. It’s true, this is a change for The Radio Dept, but it’s not necessarily bad. The biggest difference is in the mood. Most of the songs are created in the same signature Radio Dept. way. They all have programmed soft beats, wispy vocals put through the same effects that were employed on Lesser Matters and the two following great EPs, and some nifty synthesizers and shining guitars that make the whole production shine. But the mood here is now a little more contemplative and sometimes melancholy. I think it’s a matter of preference here, and I seem to enjoy this as much as Lesser Matters now. Lesser Matters almost had more of a happy go lucky down to earth feeling to it. Only given close inspection does this album really open up.

The first track, It’s Personal, may be a bit misleading. It really threw me off at first. It’s a midtempo melancholy instrumental that makes good use of strings that are seen through the rest of the album, and the beats are also very soft and relaxing like previous work from the band, all dressed up in heavy echo. But to be honest, it’s probably the saddest song on the album, so you can rest easy knowing that the mood doesn’t carry through. It would probably be alright if it did though, because this song is very good, but it would be a tiring album to listen to if every song was this lugubrious, The next song, Pet Grief, is a startling disconnection to the previous theme. I might even say it’s the best song the band has made yet, and I’m a pretty big fan of Pulling Our Weight and Against The Tide. The song starts out with a segment of extremely well subdivided beats and a breathtaking swirl of reverb that launches into one of the best pop songs of ’06. It’s a really touching spring themed tune. It has a fantastic bassline and an impressive lineup of strings as well. The lyrics are lovely and they pretty much speak for themselves; how does one best go about dealing with friends in grief? It actually answers the question pretty well.

After hearing just those two songs for the first time I was truly misguided. I felt like those were two of the most individual songs the band has ever made, and I was expecting a continuously differential record. What I focused on was how certain themes carry on through the album and the means of making songs doesn’t necessarily change all that much, and I failed to see the individual power in each song. The hooks aren’t as immediate as on Pet Grief, but they are still there if you are willing to give them a chance. When the sad mood returns, it luckily isn’t botched, because if it was it would probably ruin the rest of what the album had to say. This is a bit of a shaky structure as it is, but I Wanted You To Feel The Same is really genuinely touching. What seems to be the most popular song on the album is also a bit sad, The Worst Taste In Music. It is accompanied with an interesting music video, and The Radio Dept. is a band with an already outstanding lineup of music videos. If you have not seen the video for Pulling Our Weight, I really recommend you do. But once again, the album isn’t all despondent for these pseudo shoegaze revivalists. Every Time is a sweet pop song with as much sonic sheen as Keen on Boys, and A Window is an uplifting summer urban love song.

I’m just so… Shocked. I can’t believe I didn’t like this before. There is really only one comparatively weak song in my opinion and that is Tell, but beyond that every song on this album is as priceless a gem as any of the bands other material is. This album is as much of a joy to listen to as Lesser Matters and perhaps even more rewarding. It clocks in at a very short length, around thirty five minutes, but every minute of it is sweet candy. The Radio Dept. is one of the best new indie bands for dreampop fans to dabble in, and one of the most impressive acts to come out of Sweden in a while. And they are still at it too. According to their website, they recently canceled their European tour due to financial constraints, but they are also doing work on a follow up to Pet Grief, as of yet unnamed. I’d love to see these guys live, as I’m told they are really amazing. They have some free MP3s of their music at their webpage, including a full live show. This band is definitely worth checking out and Pet Grief shows some significant growth in the right direction, and it will surely be a joy to watch this band continue to make material.

http://www.theradiodept.frih.net/Media.htm