Sunday, July 26, 2009

...

...something big is coming. Wait for it. You won't be disappointed.

More details to come.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"1901"

I apologize for the lack of posts recently; my computer was attacked by a nasty virus and was out of commission until just recently. Anyway, I've been meaning to share a track off of Phoenix's most recent album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, with all of my followers.
Maybe you've heard it already since I'm sort of a latecomer to the Phoenix bandwagon, but the song is called "1901" and it's a perfect, danceable summer jam with catchy guitar riffs and one of the best choruses I've heard in awhile. It's just so much fun to sing along to all the "hey hey hey"s and "falling falling falling"s and I'm sure you enjoy it as much as I do. Here's a link to an mp3 of the track.
Shortly after I fell in love with the album cut, the Hood Internet posted a mash-up remix pairing Thomas Mars' infectious vocals with an exciting beat from Why?'s "A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under." It works so well that I can't decide which I like better, the remix or the real song. Here's the mp3 for that one. Enjoy the song(s) and enjoy the summer!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Upper Air

2009 is definitely the year for sophomore albums, as a ton of artists have been releasing incredible follow-ups to some not-so-incredible debuts. Acts like Bat For Lashes, YACHT, and Antony & The Johnsons have been straying far away from the common sophomore slump and producing some of their best material to date. Well, Bowerbirds are no exception, and this July they'll hop on the bandwagon with their second and vastly superior album, Upper Air.
Taking cues from other successful freak-folkers like early Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors, Bowerbirds craft an acoustic album of emotive guitar strums and heartfelt, melancholy vocals from front-duo Phil Moore and Beth Tacular. I'm currently listening to the album again after having a rather intimate session with AC's sorely underrated Campfire Songs, and I'm noticing some uncanny similarities: for one, the interplay between harsh, rapid chord-strumming and softer, glistening, arpeggiated plucks. Of course, the songs here are much more structured than the whispery, minimalistic naturalism of Campfire Songs, but the same sort of feeling is expressed through the instrumentation. Others might also notice the similarity between Moore's voice and that of Dave Longstreth, and the musical arrangements definitely resemble those on the recent DP masterpiece Bitte Orca. Despite all these comparisons, though, Bowerbirds manage to forge a sound of their own through the use of more traditional folk instruments like accordions, piano, woodblocks, and flutes. They also sometimes add in a heavy bass drum sound, of which I'm a huge fan. I can't really pick out any tracks to recommend since I would end up listening all 10, but I will say I was struck hard by the opener, "House Of Diamonds," and again by the penultimate "Crooked Lust." Even if you weren't a fan of 2007's Hymns For A Dark Horse, this album is still definitely worth your time, so give it a listen. You won't regret it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

LP

Discovery, whose name pays due respect to Daft Punk's inspirational 2001 disc, is a collaboration between Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot's Wes Miles that sounds nothing like either group's music. Their first LP, entitled LP, is an experiment in electronic pop and auto-tune effects that shows the urgent necessity for the keyboardist and vocalist to develop their side project. When I first heard the album, I absolutely hated it. I thought the idea was sound, but the execution left a lot to be desired. After listening to it a few more times, though, I started to get hooked by each individual track, and now I love the album for exactly what it is: a cute, friendly, and fun romp through beeps, synths, and smoothed-over, half-human, half-machine crooning.
The first song I heard, "Osaka Loop Line," is now one of my favorite tracks, combining an abrupt, pounding bassline with a shimmering cascade of chime-like electronics. It's a perfect example of the off-kilter yet still excruciatingly catchy compositional approach found on each of the short album's 10 melodies. Another track that shows off the duo's finest is "So Insane," which takes one main chorus and turns it all over, starting out with a more danceable club tune (which incidentally borrows a line from "The Electric Slide") and slowing it down to form more of a romantic number, then repeating it all over again on the next chorus. Additionally, the increasingly featured artists Angel Deradoorian of Dirty Projectors fame and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend both contribute to the album, though on separate tracks. Deradoorian plays an androgynous role when she sings both "I wanna be your boyfriend" and "I want a boyfriend" on the aptly-titled "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" while Koenig's voice is later overly distorted on "Carby." As for the rest of the vocals, both Rostam and Wes take turns and both have pretty decent voices, especially when enhanced by auto-tune and vocoding technology on tracks like opener "Orange Shirt" and "Swing Tree." The two also offer an interesting take on Michael Jackson's "I Want You Back," though I vastly prefer the original. Discovery's music has a very futuristic and hip feel, and I can sense that this album is going to get incredibly popular within the next few weeks, so watch for it. It deserves most of the praise.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do

This past week I finally got my hands on one of my most highly-anticipated albums of the summer: Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do. Producers Diplo and Switch did an amazing job of keeping the album from leaking, and I had to wait until I received a pre-ordered copy for my birthday before I could hear their self-described electro reggae-dancehall hip-hop magic.
Major Lazer, whose name you'll never tire of hearing during all 13 tracks of the album, is "a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in a secret zombie war in 1984. He fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket-powered skateboard." This little description from Wikipedia perfectly captures the essence of the album: it takes various things that people find cool and puts them all together into one ridiculously awesome thing. Indeed, the music is very diverse and is a product of many different influences, including marching bands, found sounds, old-school drum machines, and auto-tune. Each track is completely different, yet the album is unified under the simple goal of pushing everything to the absolute limit (which occasionally crosses over the border and into absurdity). However, it really seems like the album is aware of itself, and that's partly what makes it so good.

By now you should've all heard the first track and single, "Hold The Line," but if you only have the DJ radio edit you need to get the album version, which has an additional Kill Bill-esque intro that makes the showdown between Mr. Lexx and Santogold much more intense (and now Santogold gets the last word, which is great.) The second track, "When You Hear The Bassline," is a fiercer complement to the opener, featuring an incredible vocal performance from Ms. Thing and vocal effects similar to those used on the "Zumbi" song I posted earlier. The album makes an abrupt shift into some chillout reggae on the next track, "Can't Stop Now," which will find you singing and grooving along to the relaxing sounds of summer. Next comes the bad-ass "Lazer Theme" which is darker and much more inappropriate. "Anything Goes" comes next, opening with some awesome auto-tuned Jamaican stereotyped "yeah man"s and then developing a pulsating beat to go with Turbulence's vocal stylings. Another reggae song, "Cash Flow," follows. The halfway point, "Mary Jane," features a marching drumroll, some evil villain laughs, and some manic, high-pitched vocals declaring their love for marijuana, which "gives them wings like a canary" (this is also my favorite song on the album.) "Bruk Out" is sort of a continuation of the same dancehall beat, again featuring Ms. Thing. "What You Like" is a testament to the over-the-top explicitness of the album, and may be one of the most vulgar songs I've ever heard (which is bad for me because it keeps getting stuck in my head and I love to sing along.) "Keep It Goin' Louder" open Diplo and Switch up to a wider audience by paying homage to radio/club hip-hop (only done extremely well) but then "Pon De Floor" brings them right back to a more selective scene, featuring an energetic beat composed of wailing, siren-like screams. "Baby" is more of a skit than a song (it features Prince Zimboo comforting a crying, auto-tune baby) but when a beat gets added on toward the end of the 1-minute track it makes me wish it was much longer. Finally, the marching drums return with closer "Jump Up," which will make you want to do just what the title says. However, Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do is more than just a fun collection of danceable tunes (though it definitely is that.) The tracks sound even better in the context of the whole, and the album itself provides an exaggerated yet spot-on representation of the modern dance music scene. Definitely one of 2009's best releases.

Sunset Rubdown Live

Another well-respected indie rock group, Sunset Rubdown, graced the main stage of the Black Cat on Sunday night (June 14th.) My friend took me to this concert as a birthday weekend treat, and boy was it worth staying up past my bedtime.

Like on their studio albums, Sunset Rubdown's live music is loud, heavy, and intense. Backed by a set of musicians including three different drummers, two guitarists, and percussionist/vocalist Camilla Wynne Ingr, Spencer Krug belted out a set of epic proportions with his distinctive moan-voice. The stage was packed with musical instruments, including two keyboards, two drumsets, basses, guitars, xylophones, and even mouth organs. Krug asked for the lights dimmed (which is why the videos below are so dark) so the stage was only lit by small glowing orbs placed strategically near the performers. Adding to the dark ambience was the air conditioning, on full blast directly above our heads and facing the stage. Sunset Rubdown, like almost every other notable indie rock band, hails from Montreal, so my guess is they wanted climate control to make themselves feel more at home. We were lucky enough to be standing right next to some friends of the band who came along on the first part of the tour, and they shared some stories with us about Spencer: apparently, during his first tour, he sweated so much because he wasn't used to the heat that he short-circuited his keyboard. After hearing that, I was quick to notice every time he pulled out a hand towel to wipe his forehead during the show.

The set consisted mostly of lengthy pieces from their new album, Dragonslayer, which happened to be excellent and just what I wanted to hear. Krug and co. opened with a pairing of an old favorite, "The Empty Threats Of Little Lord," with lead single "Idiot Heart," creating a 10-minute masterpiece that set the mood perfectly (video below, sorry for poor quality.) Guitars, drums, and piano chords crashed all around us as the band moved into "Silver Moons" and "Black Swans" before playing some better-known songs from Random Spirit Lover like "The Taming Of The Hands That Came Back To Life," "The Mending Of The Gown," and "For The Pier (And Dead Shimmering)." "You Go On Ahead (Trumpet II)" followed, then the group debuted a new song (of which I don't know the title) that sounded pretty promising. They closed with the epic "Dragon's Lair" which sounded much better live than on the album. The encore was much more low-key than the real performance, and it felt like it was just out of courtesy to their loyal fans that they played "Snake's Got A Leg" and "Us Ones In Between" from their early albums before packing up to go.

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What I liked best about the performance, aside from the incredible live versions of some of my favorite songs, were the personalities of the band members. Unlike a lot of modern indie bands, they had no pretensions. They dressed in normal clothing, were extremely polite, said "thank you" each time the audience applauded, and continuously repeated "you're so kind," as if they were amazed people actually liked listening to their music. They joked with the audience between pieces, laughed at random things drunk people shouted out, and even took the time to introduce each member of the group and thank tourmates Witchies and Elfin Saddle (who were pretty decent as well.) Even though I didn't actually speak to them or interact in any way, I felt like I knew the people behind the music much better after seeing them live.

Here's a short clip I couldn't resist taking during "The Taming Of The Hands That Came Back To Life":

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