Posts Tagged ‘indie’

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Best Coast

February 21, 2010

Best Coast

If you listened to Radio Cure last night, you caught me and Joey gushing over a new band on our now somewhat regular segment of “Beach Pop” as we call it, the new scene of music on the indie horizon which features sunny, ocean-bound pop music. We’ve seen a lot of it within the past year or two making a splash in independent music from the likes of Beach House, Real Estate, jj and more, including now this lovely artist Bethany Cosentino, known widely as Best Coast.

When Joey first played Best Coast to me, I immediately thought of the syrupy fuzz of the Vivian Girls, and it was exciting to find out that the two bands are currently touring the West Coast together. But the Vivians use similar means to reach a quite different ends, having championed a unique style of garage punk that has been more divisive than nearly any other band in recent history. Best Coast seems a little harder to dislike than the edgy Vivians, mostly because the innocence and lack of pretense in her music is even more apparent. She crafts lovely lo-fi West Coast pop music in the vein of The Ronettes that wouldn’t sound out of place on the American Graffiti soundtrack.

Best coast have only released a few singles and EPs so far, but their output is already home to a small treasure trove of pop classics. They’re the kind of tunes that you hold onto and don’t want to let go of, the songs that you put on repeat because you hate the thought of them ending even though you know that they need to, songs with melodies that sound like splashes of bright paint and clear ocean water. Take “Something in the Way,” an irresistible bittersweet heartbreaker, or the astute “This is Real,” love songs with tearjerking hitches. Does it get better?

Their material is sparse, so seeking them out is completely easy and enjoyable. If you like what you hear, do a little more searching on Hype Machine.

Something in the Way

Art Fag 7"

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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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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Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs

July 7, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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