Posts Tagged ‘yo la tengo’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Pitchfork Festival 2009

August 4, 2009

This year was my first year attending all three days of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, and it was a great success, not just for me as a music fan and concert goer but also for the vast majority of the bands there and for Pitchfork as an organizer. I had a blast all weekend, and I saw a ton of bands play great shows. I typically find myself reluctant to stay in one place for a long time at festivals like this, and the Pitchfork Festival is in a smaller park that is easily navigable, so it wasn’t hard for me to zip around and see many acts for maybe as long as half of their total sets, and that’s just fine. I like that wider exposure to live music, and the more the merrier. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures at the festival this year, and I’m not about to steal anyone else’s for my own use, but I do think a visual accompaniment to descriptions of this festival are important, so I’d like to direct you to Pitchfork’s coverage of the festival, which is just getting started but has some pretty great pictures and interviews up for your enjoyment.

http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7687-pitchfork-music-festival-2009-friday-and-saturday/

http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7688-pitchfork-music-festival-2009-sunday/

http://pitchfork.com/features/photos/galleries/726-pitchfork-music-festival-2009-portraits/

There are also some great videos up on pitchfork.com with more to come, and I would recommend you check those out too. Also, youtube and google are always your friends. A simple “[band name]” + “Pitchfork Festival” search on either will yield positive results for both videos, reviews and pictures, so go for it.

I don’t think there is a better way for me to really start talking about the weekend then to just dive in, so I’ll start with the first day and just plow through.

♦♦♦

On Friday, just four bands were slated to play uncontested, elongated sets in the beautiful Union Park. Chicago band Tortoise was the first band to play, as well as the first band to adhere to the “You Write the Night” lineup, which involves bands playing songs that ticket buyers have voted for via online polls. With Tortoise, this didn’t matter so much to me, because I don’t know Tortoise well enough yet to mention songs I really like by them, at least beyond stuff on Millions Now Living Shall Never Die, which I have always liked. The show was slow moving and highly textured. This was very much a hushed and atmospheric show, which while interesting enough to listen to wasn’t particularly interesting to watch. We left early to get good spots for Yo La Tengo, because although we liked Tortoise well enough, we were getting kind of bored. The fact that we left the Tortoise show so early meant something, and I would learn soon enough exactly how it influenced the rest of the weekend.

Yo La Tengo completely embodied the contrasts of types of live shows that I would end up seeing during the weekend and in turn became even more of a foreshadowing of the weekend to come. The band’s meticulous show involves both hushed, quieter pop arrangements (“Stockholm Syndrome,” “Mr. Tough,” “Autumn Sweater”) and loud, winding noise pieces (“Pass the Hatchet I’m Feeling Goodkind,” probably the longest song performed at Pitchfork this year). Some friends I know who have already seen Yo La Tengo in smaller club environments said the band suffered a bit from the festival setup, but I think they were a great deal of fun and are a band that excel in any environment. Once again, their songs contrast with one another, some being soft pop pieces, and others loud noise jams, when Ira Kaplan does things with a guitar I never thought possible.

The show that weekend I was easily the most excited about was The Jesus Lizard. I’d psyched myself up for that show for weeks, really gotten pumped about it, got there early in order to get pretty close, and could barely contain myself by the time the band went on. I would be disrespecting both myself and the band if I called it anything other than the best show I’ve ever seen. David Yow couldn’t have affirmed everyone’s hopes any better than by screaming “AW, SHADDAP!” into the mic before they tore into “Puss” with Yow launching himself into the audience and crowd surfing. Getting back on the stage and having the entire crowd yell along with him “get ‘er outta the truck!” was easily one of the greatest moments of the entire festival.

Yow is the spirit of the band, his vocals menacing and apparently not diminished in the slightest despite the band’s ten year absence. What also struck me is how fearless he was to crowd surf. The band members are almost fifty, and they’re still putting on shows as dangerous and incredible as they did in their heyday. The entire band had a ton of energy, and they got the audience really involved, and not just by means of having people support (and sometimes shove whisky bottles in the face of) Yow. Duane Denison and David Sims have written some of the dirtiest, catchiest riffs in noise rock history, and their live delivery is fast, energetic and compelling. Also, I’ve seen some pretty good drum performances, but I’m going to have to go out on a limb and say Mac McNeilley gets the gold medal for this one. He just beat the living shit out of that kit, and rhythmically propelled everyone both on stage and in the audience. To top it all off, the band played every song I really wanted them to play. This is the show that made me realize what I wanted to make of the rest of the weekend; this weekend I wanted to rock.

How anyone could even begin to try to follow up that show is beyond me, but Built to Spill seemed like a good closer, because not everyone at Pitchfork is into hard rock, and Built to Spill is a little more fun for the whole family. We stayed closer to the back for this one and we didn’t regret it much; not only were we tired but it also seemed like the band’s delivery didn’t differ much from their albums. Granted, Built to Spill are always a treat to listen to, and even listening to them from far away when we were really tired was nice, though not much more exciting than Tortoise. They did end up playing “Else,” possibly my favorite Built to Spill tune, and I was really happy about that.

♦♦♦

On Saturday morning we took the train downtown, got food at Jamba Juice and Potbelly, and got to Union Park in time to catch Plants and Animals, who played a pretty good show. I don’t know them that well and really don’t have much of anything to say about them except that I do remember their drumming was interesting (although not quite as interesting as that of Caribou, who we saw playing on the same stage exactly a year earlier).

I left early to get a good spot for Fucked Up, who played one of the best sets of Saturday. I didn’t have any problem choosing between Fucked Up and The Antlers; the previous day helped me know what I wanted, and I wanted energy. And the energy and coordination which the band exercised during the show was incredible. The entire band seemed excited to be there and played well, but vocalist Damian Abraham took the spotlight. After crushing a half full beer can on his head right before the band started at a sprint with (I believe) “Son the Father,” “Pink Eyes” Abraham quickly de-shirted himself, caught beach balls which he began to bite chunks out of and deflate instantaneously (he wore one of the things as a hat) and jumped down into the press pit to get right next to the audience, where he stayed for most of the show.

These guys really played a loud, fun hardcore punk show, and they dished out a lot of fun antics. Abraham seemed to be a really nice, straightforward guy when he talked to the audience, but when he locked in during a song, he got vicious. I remember him tearing apart a baby doll, and the poor thing’s head whizzed right by my face and landed on the ground. Epic. He also gave the crowd a more than respectable score of 9.9, which as he mentioned was higher than “that Animal Collective album which I thought sounded exactly like Phish.”

After Fucked Up I moved to the Connector Stage to see The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I have grown to like their debut album a lot. Typical shoegaze, yes, but pretty good shoegaze, and I hoped they could be great in concert. But unfortunately the show was just about the only bad show I saw all weekend. The biggest problem was that everyone just wasn’t loud enough. We could blame this on the festival sound system, which I have heard other complaints about, but The Jesus Lizard had no problem being loud as fuck on the previous day. The guitars, especially, needed to get turned way up. But that wouldn’t really have saved Kip Berman from a glassy-eyed, mediocre vocal performance. It was a lousy show. It happens. I left quite early.

The Balance stage is the smallest stage at the festival, off in the opposite corner of the park as the Aluminum and Connector stages. It is usually the stage that has either the loudest or quietest bands of the festival, and I spent a good half of my time at the festival on Saturday and Sunday at the Balance stage. By the time I got there, Bowerbirds were nearly done with their set and the area was packed, so I couldn’t get close enough to observe anything beyond the fact that they were very quiet and enjoyable enough. But they were followed up by a definite powerhouse, Ponytail, who took full command of the stage. The band’s albums almost beg for a live experience. Instrumentally, Ponytail are only one of the best noise rock bands you’ve ever heard, but when you factor in the vocals, you’ve got a band that doesn’t sound quite like anything else out there. Molly Siegel and Dustin Wong make one of the oddest vocal duos in indie rock, less screaming so much as emoting with animal noises, tongue rolls and martial arts war cries.

Siegel, who donned an awesome lime green Michael Jackson t-shirt on this day (it looked like Jackson was jumping up and down as she did) is the main offender, switching back and forth between distinctive demeanors. The first is when she is screaming at the top of her lungs, and the second is when she is smiling widely, which really brings out the fact that she’s extremely pretty. Then there’s the backward head tilt accompanying an expression which suggests she’s either having some kind of fit or is about to sneeze. The energy and volume at this show was very important and rewarding for fans of Ponytail, because as good as they are on record, they only get better when they play live. When Ponytail lock in, they lock the fuck in, and the show was excellent.

I was excited to see Yeasayer at the Connector stage, just as I was excited to see them six months earlier. I’ve seen Yeasayer a grand total of three times now and each one has been unforgettable. The first-listen home run at Lollapalooza last year left my jaw at my feet, and their show at the Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington D.C. was a show unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Their set at Pitchfork was much like those other two shows and yet somewhat different. Yeasayer still have the chops to put on an engaging and energetic show, but here they played a more relaxed set with a slightly altered lineup (two new members on percussion) and had a couple new songs in store. One of those new songs was a dancey piece that they played just as the weekend’s only, brief rain shower began. Luckily it only lasted long enough to cool everyone off and added to the spiritual effect of the rhythmic piece. The band also played some crowd favorites from their first album All Hour Cymbals, such as “Sunrise” (which accompanied the sun breaking out of the clouds), “2080,” and “Wait for the Summer,” as well as “Tightrope,” which was featured on the Red Hot Organization compilation Dark Was the Night earlier this year.

I went over to the side of the Aluminum Stage with some friends to catch DOOM‘s set, which by the way is a great strategy for seeing acts up close at a festival. That is, just get to the close side of the stage where the audience is thin and you can typically see just as well as if you were front and center, especially for a hip hop act like DOOM who is bound to be towards the front of the stage anyway. So we got pretty close, and actually got to see the masked villain backstage from where we were standing, albeit fifteen minutes later than we should have. When he finally showed up on stage in a guille suit, the large DOOM and his even larger and more involved hype-man got the audience moderately pumped for a show that would befuddle me more than anything.

DOOM’s lyrics and flow are top notch (I still found myself laughing outloud at “Don’t talk about my moms, yo” during “All Caps”) and his backing beats are always sick, but it become obvious after just a few minutes onstage that the tubby menace wasn’t going to do a hell of a lot more than keep his mic close to his face and walk around a little. I enjoyed this enough, because DOOM is a great rapper, but I was hoping for more. And as I would later learn, rumors quickly began to circulate that this was yet another imposter / lip-syncing show. My lack of experience with DOOM’s catalogue and live shows prevents me from being able to lend any credibility to this claim, but if it turned out to be true I would be both disappointed and unsurprised. Regardless of this, DOOM’s show was much like a piano performance at a cocktail shindig, both technically sufficient and unexciting, and did little to add to the context of DOOM as either a recording artist or live performer.

After DOOM, we had a bit of an easygoing half hour or so, taking time to use the restroom (long lines!), get some good food, and listen to Beirut from far away. My remorse for not being up close to Beirut was pretty minimal, not by any means suggesting that they played poorly. Quite the contrary, Beirut sound just as good live as they do on record. But at that point in time, I felt that what these guys were doing on stage was all well and good but just not what I wanted. I wanted loud. It was about then that I made a pretty one-sided decision between the day’s headliners, The National (who I skipped at Lollapalooza last year for Love and Rockets) and The Black Lips (who, also at Lollapalooza last year, put one of the weekend’s best shows). We decided to run over to the Balance Stage so that we could try to get a good spot for the Atlanta hooligans.

To our surprise, Matt & Kim hadn’t yet gotten on stage by the time we got there. They were almost a half hour late, dwarfing DOOM’s delay. We got pretty close to the stage and I’m glad we did, because when the NYC duo got on stage, they put on one of the absolute best shows of the weekend. I can’t imagine a two-piece band doing more damage than these guys. They looked like they wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else in the world then on the stage at that time, they were funny, they were nice, they talked to the audience, and they gave their everything for the entire set. Matt screamed and played the keyboard as energetically as anyone I have ever seen, and Kim smiled a wide smile and just beat the living shit out of her kit. Seriously, she played those drums hard. You see some people really pull back their arms to hit the drums, and so often it’s all show, and you can tell just by looking at them. But Kim was pulling back far because she was killing those things.

There was also a shocking sincerity at the show: Matt did a handstand only to remind us afterward that he’s still wearing a back brace that his mother makes fun of him for, and Kim told us that the Beyonce show they attended was incredible and proceeded to get low onstage. There was so much energy in this show and so many great songs: “Yea Yeah,” “Daylight,” “Lightspeed,” “Cutdown,” “Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare”… Watching Matt & Kim as the sun was setting was an absolute pleasure and one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had. And the main reason for this is because they got it across to me that they were having just as much fun as I was.

Once again, it’s not easy to follow a truly awesome band like that, but The Black Lips don’t give a shit about anyone’s expectations of them. Their show at Pitchfork was much more of a balls-out punk show than when I saw them last at Lollapalooza. That show, as excellent as it was, was more of a traditional festival show, because Lollapalooza is a high brow festival that really keeps their bands in line. But when you put a punk band on a small stage like the Balance Stage, shenanigans become possible, and the Black Lips are known for their antics. Some of those antics included a smashed guitar after the first song, the typical man-on-man making out between guitarists, inviting the crowd onstage against the Pitchfork staff’s wishes, and spraying a fire extinguisher into the press pit. One of my good friends and Black Lips enthusiast claimed that these acts seemed planned out, and they very well may have been, but only by the band themselves; that guy getting screamed at backstage by security was definitely not planned.

And to be fair, the antics at a show like this are as much part of the experience as the music itself, which was loud and rowdy as well. There is definitely something to be said for a show that feels this edgy and dangerous. These guys have found their identity, and unlike Matt & Kim, they might actually benefit from going out there on stage and being grumpy and mean and violent. But they weren’t, and we remember that the Black Lips are as much entertainers as they are punks. “I like my audience a little closer to me than this,” said guitarist Jared Swilley before inviting the crowd on stage. Some of them made it up there, and some of them got leveled by security, but I’ll be damned if all of us didn’t wish we could have at least tried. The band were a very good choice for a headliner and put on a really fun show.

♦♦♦

On the morning of Day 3 of the festival, we arrived downtown pretty damn tired, which isn’t unreasonable for Day 3 of any festival. We decided to have lunch at Wishbone, and on the way there we met up with Yeasayer bassist Ira Wolf Tuton. Of course we didn’t have much to say to him except “you played a great show!” and he probably didn’t want to waste his time with us, but he was really nice and shook our hands.

After coffee, eggs, pancakes and potatoes, we were off to Union Park again and got there in time to catch Blitzen Trapper. I thought they played pretty well, but I’m going to be honest, I really don’t remember much of anything about them, and I did remember a lot of other first-listen buzz bands that weekend. Nice folk melodies. That doesn’t really help you much, does it? By this time in the weekend, my appetite for loud music was still in full force and I was just kind of bored with folk music.

Organized Konfusion member Pharoahe Monch was my next show at the Connector Stage, and he was definitely the better of the two hip hop shows this weekend. It helped that his DJ was a lot of fun and very skillful, unlike a lot of the other live DJs I have seen, but Monch really took the show. To me, it’s important for a hip hop artist to hype up the show, but doing it too much is just annoying. The other two hip hop shows I’ve seen this year were very polarized and both less than what I was expecting. Mos Def was far too much hype and DOOM was far too much substance, but Monch struck the balance between these elements with ease, spitting rhymes and moving around as well as getting the audience to raise their hands and sing along when they didn’t already know the words. We also see the rare case of other on-stage singers really contributing a lot to the show. I don’t know who the backup singers were, but they were funny and sang great. This was what a hip hop show should be like: fun. For all I knew, DOOM didn’t care about the show he was playing. But Monch seemed really happy to rock Chicago, and we were happy to have him.

Up next were Sub Pop punks The Thermals. To my surprise, I heard more complaints about The Thermals than any other band at Pitchfork this year. What happened to a little respect? I thought these guys were great, and you know what, I love a little pop-punk and was happy to hear their set. Samesy? Alright, I can see that. It started to get a little bit like that for me, but I’m not really familiar with their output. But for another band I’d never heard before, I definitely got a lot of fun out of their show. I’m guessing they took into consideration that not everybody in the audience had heard them before, so they played a lot of awesome covers which tickled my ’90s alt-rock fancy, specifically songs by Sonic Youth (“100%”), Nirvana (holy shit, “Sappy”!), Green Day (“Basket Case”) and The Breeders (“Saints”). So yes, maybe they weren’t the most exciting band on Sunday, but they were good enough for me to want to look into them further.

The Walkmen may have been the classiest band of the entire weekend. And I’m not sure exactly why I think this. Maybe it is because they are by this time indie rock veterans, or maybe it was how well dressed they were, or it could be their seasoned, classic style, or perhaps their calm demeanor that contrasted with their spirited playing. Whatever the reason, this band just got up there and sounded like a million bucks. First and foremost, frontman Hamilton Leithauser has charisma, and he makes his excellent vocals seem cool and composed, but definitely not effortless. While belting out the harder lyrics on songs like “The Rat,” you can really tell that he’s working hard. The band mostly played songs from their latest album, the tropical You & Me, which as far as I’m concerned is all for the better, because I think it’s their best album yet. For a few songs, they even brought out a horn section, and some songs like “In The New Year” got really strong crowd response. What was great about The Walkmen, among other things, was that they could be emotional, loud and fun as well as professional.

I spent the next two hours or so at the Balance stage, and I showed pretty late in garage-rock band Japandroids‘ set, which was a damn shame because what I saw of them I liked an awful lot. Another two piece band (I seem to take a big liking to two-piece rock bands), the couple minutes I saw of them really rocked hard and provided some really memorable tunes. Seeing the guitarist up above the drummer, practically as one unit, really got me excited. So kudos to them for only needing three minutes to get me going; they have my attention and interest.

After this set my back and legs were pretty tired, so I allocated myself in front of a tree. So I would both have something to lean on and my height wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. I watched the Vivian Girls from afar, for the second time actually. The first time I saw them they opened for M. Ward at the Sixth and I Synagogue and I don’t think I gave them nearly as much credit as they deserved. The Vivian Girl’s music and live shows are covertly excellent. I thought their show in D.C. was fun but for whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling it that night and I made the assumption that the Vivian Girls were another sub-par garage rock band.

But I soon found that their debut album from last year is just incredible, but very humbly so, and their music didn’t really click with me until I sat down and gave it my full attention. So I jumped at the chance to give their live show another chance and I’m glad I did. Granted, the Vivian Girls are a band that doesn’t particularly benefit from the festival setting. They are a fast and loud punk band and the sound translates better in small indoor venues, and their stage presence is pretty simple. They rock hard and they’re fun to watch, but they don’t offer anything particularly exciting. So this show was pretty relaxed and less about what they could provide for me, and more about what I owed them. When I think about it, that’s not what a show should be like, but I try not to think too hard about shows like this. They make it easy for me to sit back and enjoy myself.

After Vivian Girls on the Balance Stage were Danish rockers Mew, which to me seemed like a bit of a weird pick for the festival. Maybe I only say that because because their genres are very far away from one another despite the fact that they work well together. Dream pop isn’t out of P4Ks interests but progressive rock typically is. In any case, Mew were about as polished looking as The Walkmen, and their set was similarly orchestrated. The songs aren’t much different live than on record, but they’re still a treat to see be performed. There was an air of confidence at this show during songs like “Special” and “The Zookeeper’s Boy” that definitely strengthened my love for them, when at points in my history with Mew there would be moments where I would say to myself “Am I supposed to be loving this?”

Yes, they have pretty faces, and yes, they are shamelessly as much of a pop band as they are a rock band, but their live sound really affirmed Duke Ellington’s famous ultimatum: “If it sounds good, it is good.” Mew sound great live, and though they may not be doing backflips on stage, they look like they are enjoying themselves and their communication with one another is interesting. Their new songs are also fascinating. “Introducing Palace Players” is a damaged, experimental rock tune, and if it is any indication of their new album’s quality or ambition, then we have a lot to look forward to. Also worthy of note is that these guys put on one of the loudest shows of the weekend. How they got that bass tone is beyond me. It rocketed out of the speakers without being rumbling or intrusive on the treble, and it permeated the air around the Connector and Aluminum stages, all the way across Union Park.

And that’s where I was after about half of Mew’s set, so I could listen to Grizzly Bear as well as get a decent spot for the Flaming Lips. Unfortunately, I really can’t say much of anything about Grizzly Bear. I like them well enough, but they were an afterthought to me compared to the band’s that flanked them in my schedule. I’m not big enough of a fan to say that much about their show, especially as viewed from far away, except they had several foot tappers and I liked them just fine.

But everyone knew what the highlight of the festival was going to be. It was apparent from the minute they were announced in the lineup and visualized that morning when The Flaming Lips‘ giant orange stage was already towering on the Aluminum Stage. And by the time the Lips got on stage, their setup was, as expected, like nothing any of us had seen before, unless we had already seen a Flaming Lips show. But with that said, what was on the Aluminum stage was almost light years ahead of their setup at the Earth Day Festival on the National Mall. The Flaming Lips had an entire day to set this up and had just about no limits as to what they could or could not do. There is really no way to communicate the band’s unique elements unless I forthrightly list them:

The giant light screen was dazzling and mostly showcased dancing naked women. One of these women went into birthing position and The Flaming Lip’s descended from her incandescent vagina. They were joined on stage by people dressed up in frog and cat suits, and later, a giant gorilla which lead singer Wayne Coyne rode on the back of. And how can we forget the giant bubble which Coyne crowd surfs in? Confetti. Shitloads of confetti blasting from cannons. And balloons. Lots of balloons.

The visual aspect of a Flaming Lips show is enough to make it a spectacle, but like last time I saw them, the real deciding factor was the music itself. The Flaming Lips were the fifth and final band to adhere to the “Write the Night” and ultimately the one that decided it’s overall outcome. The Flaming Lip’s have notoriously played just about the same set with few switchups for years. Getting them on the Write the Night roster would have ideally forced them to dig out some obscurities from their back catalogue, but as probably everyone expected and as Coyne explained, voting list in hand, everyone knows what the most popular Flaming Lips songs are, and they almost always play them anyway.

But the band seemed to get the general gist of how everyone could benefit from this system, and they did pull out some obscure numbers, specifically “Bad Days” off of Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Internal Existential Fear” (yeah, you heard me) from the Fearless Freaks compilation, and even “Mountain Side” from In a Priest-Driven Ambulance. In addition to these rarities, the band also performed two new songs from their forthcoming double album Embryonic, the tribal “Silver Trembling Hands” and the jam “Convinced of the Hex.” Reception of the new songs seems to be very mixed, but my personal opinion is that they are a good sign for a return to the Lips’ earlier styles. These songs made this show pretty unique for the Flaming Lips, but there were still some familiar sights and sounds.

The band also played their more popular songs and live staples: “Race for the Prize,” “Fight Test,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1,” “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Do You Realize??” all made appearances, and many were delivered in the same way that caused me to complain about the last Flaming Lips show I attended. Three and a half of those aforementioned songs were drawn out singalongs. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the Flaming Lips’ live show. They waste too much time. Wayne Coyne, despite the fact that we would all go nuts over him blowing his nose, talks too much on stage, and the singalongs just get annoying and see the rest of the band sitting around not doing anything, waiting for the next song. When they do go full on instrumental, the band sounds incredible, and I can only imagine how awesome live, full electric versions of songs like “Fight Test” and “She Don’t Use Jelly” would sound. I can only imagine, because I’ll probably never see them. The band’s setlist seemed over before it started with eleven songs total, a teaser for all the setup that it no doubt took.

But when all is said and done, there is still no live act even remotely like The Flaming Lips, for better or worse. They look, sound, and feel completely unique. They aren’t perfect, but they would never pretend they are. They want their audience to be involved and have a fun time, and no one gets their audience involved and having fun quite like The Flaming Lips. Despite my complaints, it’s a show you’re going to want to see at least once, if not as many times as possible.

♦♦♦

Overall, Pitchfork Music Festival 2009 was an overwhelming success and really pushed the festival to the upper echelons of Summer music festivals to get excited about. There is more than just a little for everyone, and this year’s festival was particularly awesome. It may not get as many big names as festivals like, say, Lollapalooza, but this works to it’s advantage, and it ends up a more focused, energetic, manageable festival experience. Even though 2009 was only the festival’s forth year, it feels like it has been around much longer. The quality of the festival already rivals or even surpasses other Summer Chicago music festivals, and if Pitchfork can manage to keep it a comparably low-key, controlled explosion of great music, we’re still at the beginning of the event’s golden years.

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Ten Reviews

March 1, 2007

So I found this thing called rateyourmusic.com.

Anyone who knows me knows I have issues even keeping my own tastes and opinions straight, and I feel like having a profile like this helps put everything into perspective for me and keep my thoughts organized. It’s a good system for showing what I have, what I want, and what I really like as well. I have copy/pasted all the reviews from here over to there by now. But I have done a few quickie reviews on RYM as well. Not big, full album reviews, but smaller, quick, concise ones. And I feel like that’s working a bit better for me. Whenever I ask for criticism on my reviews, they are almost always that they are too long and not concise enough. So I think for a time I might see if I can write a lot shorter reviews and see how it works out. It’s not like full album reviews will just be out of the question though, I already have some more of those on the way. But I want to post some of the quickie ones I’ve got done on RYM. Enjoy.

Beck – One Foot In The Grave

Beck’s One Foot In The Grave is a quaint release in every way; it wasn’t a major album release, only two out of it’s sixteen songs meander into the three minute range, and most all of the tracks are acoustic folk recordings. Beck’s odd personality still gets into the mix with songs like Forcefield and Cyanide Breath Mint, but this is probably his most subdued album next to Sea Change. Quantity is clearly valued over quality here, but in any case almost all of the songs are real treats. The first five tracks are among Beck’s absolute best and He’s a Mighty Good Leader makes for a great opening cover, and Hollow Log is nothing if not simple and touching. A must have for Beck fans, this album is a real treat and a taste of Beck’s more stripped down early style.

Crossfade – Crossfade

I have no idea why I like this. Crossfade is a guilty pleasure record for me for sure, following in the wake of Linkin Park and other mediocre nu-metal. And let’s be honest here, it is mediocre nu-metal. Very few albums jump between good and bad as much as this. The opening Starless represents just about everything this album does wrong with a boring riff and cliched lyrics of pain and hate. Cold is interestingly enough an apology song and doesn’t wallow in it’s own problems. In any case, the lyrics almost always fail. It reaches some pretty good vibes though, which is weird, because a band of this stature really shouldn’t. It’s a contemplative listen, but the guitars don’t have enough strength. For as bad as Death Trend Setta is (if the name didn’t tip you off anyway), there are other songs that are actually good, specifically So Far Away and Disco, both of which have decent riffs and good choruses. The albums only true win though is The Unknown, the closing. It’s a simple elegant end to an otherwise overly complicated and boring album, and it emenates some great vibes and has an irresistable hook. I hate to see it, but I like this. It fails about as much as it suceeds, so I guess it’s not that accomplished, but it’s high points are actually good. For sleazy whining metal anyway.

Gorillaz – G-Sides

Gorillaz debuted with a killer album of chilled hip-hop and rock, and the album rocketed Damon Albarn to heights rivaling his fame as frontman of Blur. The album had several singles and some very good b-sides, and G-Sides is the best way to get those b-sides. But really, the disk only contains five b-sides that can’t be heard elsewhere. You might not have the Soulchild Remix of 19-2000 depending on your edition of Gorillaz, and it is far superior to the original version and well worth having, but besides the b-sides the disk only has sub-par remixes up for grabs. The version of Latin Simone found here has English vocals, and the Spanish ones were much better anyway. The rest of the remixes are really bad, nothing worth having. But the five b-sides are great gems. The true winners are Faust (chillout synths galore), Ghost Train (almost gospel hip-hop goodness) and 12D3 (a low key guitar strum with accompanying soft vocals). Probably unnecessary, but worth picking up if you liked Gorillaz.

Green Day – American Idiot

It’s unfortunate that I have gotten to the point where I cringe at the name ‘American Idiot.’ This is a very good pop album and that is just that, but it was overblown to ridiculous proportions. I’m not sure that I have heard any single album overplayed as much as this on the radiowaves, and for that reason the album is almost a task to listen to all the way through. But if it’s any condolences, this is about as good as the bands most popular effort Dookie, in it’s own way. Green Day hasn’t changed much by 2004, and they still know how to mix pop with punk pretty effortlessly. They have, however, gained a political edge. I had the pleasure of seeing the band play live on the tour, and they were very good. The crowd was annoying as all getout, but that aside the band still knows how to put on a show. And by this time they still know how to make a catchy tune. The title track and Holiday are probably the two best songs on the album, not to outrule the two great rock symphonies Jesus of Suburbia and Homecoming that are just too freaking long for the radio, but they were by no means the only tunes that got radioplay. Boulevard of Broken Dreams was a radio juggernaut and Wake Me Up When September ends got a music video what felt like years after this came out. It trips in a few places, specifically Are We The Waiting and Extraordinary Girl, but it is still classic Green Day. It just annoys the shit out of me. The radio killed it. Does that matter? Eh, not really.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Cow Fingers and Mosquitoe Pie

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous blues artist you will ever have the pleasure of listening to. His popularity lives on even after his death and this disk outlines his career very well. Let’s be honest here, the man is freaking crazy. But fortunately, this craziness translates through his music perfectly. His biggest claim to fame is his, well, incessant screaming, and he does it all the time. Be it through the ridiculous blathering of Little Demon or You Made Me Love You, the mindbending irony of Darling, Please Forgive Me (the man did have well over sixty illegitimate children), or the racist bombshells I Love Paris and Hong Kong, every minute of this is pure gold. This compilation would have been worth it’s price if only just for the fantastic and influential I Put A Spell On You and the hilarious cover of Temptation, but you get your full money’s worth on this album. The only problem is the lack of Constipation Blues, a Screamin’ Jay classic that you can probably hear in your mind already. There are even some alternate takes to put the icing on the cake. Don’t hesitate; pick this up now. You need it.

Nirvana – Sliver: The Best of the Box

I can’t bear to give this a bad rating, mostly because most all of these songs are very good Nirvana rarities, but I won’t deny that the collection is kind of pointless. Anyone who would have been interested in these rarities in the first place probably wouldn’t have been adverse to just shelling out the money for the box set With The Lights Out. Even if they did put their trust in this alone, there are many selections from the box set that were left out and truly deserved a spot, such as D7, They Hung Him On A Cross, If You Must, and Verse Chorus Verse. There are three previously unreleased tracks that might make this worth it to fans like me, and they are the Spank Thru take from the Fecal Matter demo, a boombox version of Come As You Are, and another version of Sappy. I can’t complain too much because these are all great tracks, but it’s a poorly constructed and unnecessary compilation that was probably a ploy to get the casual fans money, and it most likely didn’t work very well. That’s alright though; it’s another one for the collection.

Santana – Shaman

Why I gave this the lowest rating possible is irrelevant, as everything at 2.0 and under is a blur anyway. Either it’s bad or it’s not at that point, and this is bad. REALLY BAD. Santana is one of my favorite guitarists ever, and the preceeding Supernatural was a fantastic album. I actually saw Santana on the Supernatural tour and it was my first show ever. Not too shabby. But the energy from Supernatural almost doesn’t translate to here at all. The opening Adouma is the exception. It’s a good trance-like latin solo-fest, exactly what we love from Carlos. But the rest of the album consists of horrible collaborations with people who don’t deserve to be said in the same sentence as Santana. America is an easy pick for a worst Santana song list. I suppose The Game of Love is decent if not a bit annoying, but the album is otherwise dirt. He should have stopped while he was winning with Supernatural.

Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot

A fine collection of Smashing Pumpkins b-sides, Pisces Iscariot handpicks the finest Siamese Dream era b-sides the band has to offer. One disappointing absence is that of Bullet Train To Osaka, a great James Iha original, but another one of his great songs is included, the country oriented Blew Away. Pretty much all of these songs stand alone be they muscular sunny riff-rockers like Hello Kitty Kat and Pissant or more downtempo melodies like Obscured and Soothe. There are two fabulous covers as well, a touching rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide and a catchy Girl Named Sandoz, as well as a signature SMP epic, Starla. Also included is probably the bands best b-side, Frail and Bedazzled. It almost holds the power of an individual album. You can see why these are b-sides because they really aren’t as memorable as the album songs, but they are essential nonetheless.

Tool – Lateralus

Tool’s biggest flaw is that their music goes over peoples heads before they can truly get a grip on the music and enjoy it, but the band makes up for it by being easily the most sophisticated and talented metal band active today. Lateralus just so happens to be their magnum opus, and like Tool as a band, it is an acquired taste and at first very difficult to understand. The band has progressed a great deal since Ænima, but every member of the band has already proved themselves to be of the absolute best at their trades, so there isn’t any real need to prove anything. The whole band lets loose with this energetic, dark, adrenaline filled masterpiece. But once again, it’s no easy listen. The genre is no longer just metal, but progressive metal, and each song is laced with complex beats and druggy dirty guitars. But for anyone who can manage to wrap their head around this album, the payback is plentiful. No time is wasted here, and only two “filler” tracks are included, both essential to the overall mood. Every track is key to the overall structure of the album, but some are a bit stronger than others. The Grudge is a colossal opener, featuring the famous Maynard twenty five second spine tingling scream and a killer Danny Carrey drum solo. Schism is the radio pick with it’s irresistible bassline akin to Fourty Six & 2. Parabol and Parabola are respectively reflective and muscular accompanying tracks, and Triad is the albums highest point, an instrumental outburst of dark energy. But once again, there is not a weak track on the album. It’s not hard to have problems with this album on the first listen; Maynard’s voice is extremely varied and may not appeal to some people and the rhythm can be downright confusing if your ear is not trained. This album may not be an easy listen or a good introduction to Tool, but it is, by a good margin, the height of their career. Tool is a very difficult, complex, and draining band, but giving them enough time to sink in yields great rewards, a fact that Lateralus demonstrates to the utmost.

Yo La Tengo – Painful

Easily Yo La Tengo’s best album, Painful is a wonderful masterpiece of dream pop and noise rock. It may not be packed to the brim with gems like I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One is, but the album does wonders in it’s own subtle ways. Each song is a meticulously planned work of art. The songs fall under two categories, quiet comforting pop and the signature Yo La Tengo guitar developing noise. This kind of combination would seem counterproductive, but in a way both fit the same mood, conveyed well even with the cover of the album. Each song has it’s own distinct night time image to go along with it, be it a badass hero trip to 7/11 or a gentle sleepy dream, this is Yo La Tengo at their absolute best. But the height of the album actually comes at the end with the monumental I Heard You Looking, one of the best dream-pop instrumentals you will ever hear and a truly moving development of sound. The problems Painful has are a matter of preference; Painful has a stronger coherency as an album than anything and has maybe less power in individual songs than I Can Hear The Heart, but it still holds a historical place with Yo La Tengo by being the first album where the band came into full circle. A tight, classic album.

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Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

September 25, 2006

Well, it’s autumn again. For some reason, I feel like the seasons get much better as they go along. Spring is just stupid to me. People try to pass it off as the rebirth of everything, and the fresh start of the new year. I kind of think that’s bullshit. Maybe the latter parts of spring are cool, but for most of it, it involves a lot of standing around thinking to yourself, wow, it’s still really cold. It’s sort of like Friday. Yeah, you like it because it is the last day of the week, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually the weekend until you drive home from work. Summer rocks, I don’t think I need to say much more about that. Of course for a student, there is a little monotiny of just sitting around and not doing too much useful with yourself, but I think everyone needs a time like that. Of course, adults still have to work, but summer can be fun for everyone. Then comes Autumn, which is really the true time of rebirth in my opinion. I don’t know why. When stuff starts turning red and yellow and falling off of trees, well, that’s just pretty. For whatever reason, I absolutely love Autumn. I guess not as much as Winter though. Well, the first few weeks of it. At least until after Christmas when people start getting less festive and celebratory. So I guess the seasons don’t really get better as they go along so much as the year gets better as it goes along until it hits the climax in all the religious holidays, and then sucks balls for the rest of winter, and consequently until Summer really.

I’d call this an album for any time of the year. It’s open-ended and immaginative enough to be thought of as taking place at any time. You can imagine in the above scene in a city that seasons only really effect “if it’s really fucking hot or really fucking cold.” In the suburbs and rural areas it means more, but it isn’t as complicated in Chicago or L.A. Anyway, if I had to place it anywhere, it would be suburbia or in the city, either Summer or Autumn. But that’s really irrelevant. That’s all the useless rambling I’ll do for now.

This is an album written by a band who already knows their stuff and pretty much as nothing to proove. By the time this was written, Yo La Tengo had already recieved a sizeable amount of critical praise for their varied and skillfully made work. At that point in a band or artists career, anything can really be done because there isn’t much more to prove. And yet they did it again. You can really feel the mood of this album, but it covers a lot of ground. You’ll notice that I review a lot of music that is varied. And me saying that won’t ease the repetition. It’s just a fact, things that are more varied and cover more ground are more interesting and therefore more compelling. This album is no exception, and the amount of contemplative energy and emotion that is covered gives the listener not only a much better idea of the band, but a further understanding of this kind of beautiful music.

I’d say a good half the songs are quieter gems and the other half are sprawling adventures that develop and pile on the sound as it goes on. There middle ground, probably more than the two extremes. If you enjoy a sophisticated listen as well as a playful endeavor, you have come to the right place.

The more long winded pieces are the ones that have the most personality. An earlier track named Deeper Into Movies comes to mind first, and is the perfect backdrop to any groundbreaking moment to your life. Autumn Sweater does the same thing, but in a warmer more beat-oriented way. We’re An American Band also has the same effect. Yes, these songs are beautiful, but also very long-winded. All three of these songs sound like they should end maybe a minute or two before they actually do, in which time some more guitars are piled on top to make a more layered sound when they really didn’t need to be. That is actually very much the nature of the entire album; the album almost fills the limits of your standard CD, so you get a lot for your money and that gives the album more shape, but not necessarily more laconic or consistant.

That’s where the shorter pieces come in. For every one of these long winded pieces, there seems to be two short but infinitely sweet ones. Damage is a standout, and while it is not very short at all, it thrives on simplicity and atmosphere. Shadows is a pretty lullaby of sorts that takes advantage of the sweetness of the female voice, and Center of Gravity is a tropical bossa nova song that brings you to sunny Jamaica if you close your eyes and let it do so. It even takes advantage of the wonders that can be achieved if male and female voices work together in harmony.

The songs sandwitched in between are probably the most interesting. Little Honda is, even for a lower profile song, a bitchin cover of a great old tune, Moby Octopad is just great pop, and Green Arrow survives on the simplicity thing for a longer time than expected, be that good or bad (it’s probably bad, but it’s cool anyway). And Sugarcube is the standout song in the middle ground, and while sort of seems to have shallow lyrics at first, grows in sophistication the more you hear it.

There are some problems with the disk, as there are with any disk really. The guys voice is a little annoying and shaky sometimes, and Spec Bebop is just a bad song. It doesn’t really go anywhere. I don’t really like a few other songs too, but really the good outweighs the bad. The longer ones are sophisticated, the shorter ones have more clarity and are consequently more gem-like, and everything in the middle presents it’s diversity very openly and proudly. This is a very fun album that does a lot in the time that it has, and leaves you very satisfied.