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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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bill Callahan Live

On Friday night (June 12th) some friends and I went downtown, DC to see Bill Callahan (Smog) and his backing group play at the Black Cat (a night club/bar/concert venue that specializes in indie, alt, and experimental music.)

Before I describe the main act, let me just express my amusement with the opening band, Lights. The sister-like duo of gold-robed blonde females set a most interesting tone by beginning their set with some a cappella singing and harmonizing into one microphone. This was before most of the concert-goers had arrived, so they were singing to me and about 5 other people. It was rather awkward, so thankfully they quickly moved to their instruments and began to jam out. One of them, who looked remarkably like Julia Stiles, went crazy on the drumset, with arms and legs flailing about and her hair flying all over the place, all the while keeping a sheepish grin on her face. The other girl played electric guitar and they both sang, while a less-enthused man in black played bass on the side. Eventually the guitar-player knelt on the ground to get feedback from her amp, but then started writhing around rather sexually and then the act ended. It was weird.

Then Bill Callahan came on, and his group of string musicians set up their instruments (including an awesome bodiless electric cello, picture example below.) Bill's guitar was also pretty neat, as it had a wood-patterned coat of paint even though it was electric.
Anyway, on to the music. Callahan picked a very representative set of melodies, most from his four most recent albums. Like Animal Collective did at their live show, Bill adapted his back catalog to fit the sound of his newest album, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. He toned down the bright, upbeat melodies of Woke On A Whaleheart to fit the shadier, more mellow mood while at the same time adding lush string arrangements to his sparse guitar solo-work from the days of Knock Knock. What I can remember of the set list is as follows:

1. Jim Cain
2. Rococo Zephyr
3. Diamond Dancer
4. Sycamore
5. Say Valley Maker
6. Our Anniversary
7. Too Many Birds
8. The Wind And The Dove
9. Rock Bottom Riser

Encore:
1. Let Me See The Colts
2. Eid Ma Clack Shaw
3. Coldhearted Old Times

The choice of the beautiful opener, "Jim Cain," the heart-wrenching closer, "Rock Bottom Riser," and the three more well-known encore tracks showed good taste and, while I am not usually a fan of encores, I was glad he returned. I should also mention that the sound mixing was impeccable: each instrument could be heard vividly, including Bill's signature baritone vocals. The sharpness of the sound quality led to an appropriate focus on the lyrics and string arrangements, both of which are for what Bill Callahan is best known. He mostly sang with his eyes closed, but during the instrumental portions he made direct (and sort of creepy) eye contact with those of us who were standing closest to the stage, and there were times when we could feel the sadness evoked by the song just by the look of the lines on his face. And let's not forget about his dancing, which was quirky and somewhat awkward, but mostly endearing: he would kick out his back leg and hold it, then sort of rock back and forth every once in awhile, but never in any sort of rhythm. All in all, it was a great concert, and for some reason it felt oddly appropriate that the last few hours of my teenage years (I turned 20 during the encore at midnight) were spent listening to a man who understands the weight of living.

I couldn't help but take a few videos, even though it was forbidden by the venue. The first is my favorite excerpt from "Too Many Birds":

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The next is a full video of the most downbeat song, "Rock Bottom Riser":

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And finally, the most I could record of single "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" before my camera ran out on me (my apologies for the sound quality, my camera gets worse and worse as it fills up):

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dragonslayer

I must've been in a bad mood when I first heard Sunset Rubdown's new album, Dragonslayer (released June 23rd), because I immediately dismissed it as boring and self-indulgent. I even went as far as to think that frontman Spencer Krug was all washed up and had run out of creative juices, as the latest releases from Swan Lake and Wolf Parade (his other projects) left a lot to be desired. After giving Dragonslayer another few listens, however, I've done a complete 180: it's possible that this is the Rubdown's best release yet.
There is only one word that can properly describe the feeling of the album, and that word is epic. Taking cues from the prog-rock masters of the 70's, Krug and co. craft eight ballads of heavy percussion, powerful piano chords, and screaming steel guitars, forming a sound that is overwhelming to the ears, but in the best way possible. The songs are filled with all of the Sunset Rubdown essentials: manic musical arrangements, dramatic key and signature changes, and the moaning vocals we've all come to know and love from one of the most prolific song-writers of our time. The lyrics are also startlingly good, as each masterpiece tells its own story while still taking part in the overarching theme of the album. An exciting new twist on the old style is the increased interplay between Krug and female vocalist Camilla Wynne Ingr, meanwhile the rest of the band tackles more instruments than ever including woodwinds, organs, and synths. I would make track recommendations, but the first seven tracks are so phenomenal that it would be impossible for me to choose (though the "Idiot Heart" single is pretty tasty.) The 11-minute title track and album closer, "Dragon's Lair", though it serves as an ample representation of the album's adventurous style, is actually somewhat of a disappointment and is almost like a failed attempt at recreating Wolf Parade's "Kissing The Beehive." That's OK, though, because the rest of the album more than makes up for any inadequacies. Perhaps the reason Enemy Mine and At Mount Zoomer fell sort of flat was because Krug was devoting all his time to writing and recording this beauty? Check it out, I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Greg's Mash-Up Guide, Pt. 1

Lately I've been listening to a whole lot of mash-ups, as they're fun to listen to while driving and I have an hour-long commute to my summer job. My unquenchable thirst for new music has driven me toward finding a lot of different mash-up artists on the internet, and so I'd like to share some of the ones I've found with all of my devoted followers.

First off, let me say that, at least in my view, there are two different kinds of mash-up. One is more album-focused and creates a lengthy mix of an enormous amount of small samples, trying to include as many popular hooks as possible (perfect for dance parties.) Another finds two songs that mesh well together and then, well, meshes them together. This second category encompasses both mash-ups of individual songs and mash-ups based around an entire album. This post focuses on the first type and a later post will more fully explore the second.

The most well-known of today's mash-up artists is, of course, Girl Talk. Though I do enjoy listening to his albums, something about Gregg Gillis' music always frustrates me. He always finds the perfect blend with which to draw me in, but then usually fails to capitalize on the moment and unleash the true potential of each mashed pairing of songs. His all-encompassing mix of radio hits, indie favorites, and vulgar rap does have a nice balance, though, and the artistic statement of his music is so powerful that it inspired many other mash-up mixes using the same material. Though the whole thing tries to recreate the incredible "Bittersweet Symphony" and "Tiny Dancer" moments from 2006's Night Ripper, his best and more recent effort, Feed The Animals, set the standard for the rest of what's on this list.

E-603's 2008 release, Something For Everyone (follow-up to be released any day now,) has just what the title says. He takes most of what Girl Talk uses on Feed The Animals and re-works it in his own way, pairing up different tracks but mostly trying to capture the same effect that Girl Talk strives toward. It's not too original, but it is just as exciting to hear as Gillis' work.

Easter Egg also uses similar samples on his first and only mash-up album, Jackin' For Beats. He, however, provides an interesting twist on the formula by adding more dance, house, and techno such as Basement Jaxx and Justice (which incidentally make for my favorite moments on the album.) Though I enjoy the diversity in his samples, some of his mashes aren't of as high quality as the others and are somewhat of a let-down.

My favorite mix-type mash-up album (and the one you should all download immediately) is Fuck Bitches. Get Euros. by Super Mash Bros. Maybe I'm partial to the use of DCFC and Modest Mouse samples, as those artists defined most of my high school experience, but I feel like SMB achieve the perfect mix by letting each individual track run its own course. Instead of immediately shifting to another clip from a completely different song, each element gradually emerges to take center stage, then retreats to the back at the exactly appropriate moment, letting another pop melody shine. Even though the album follows the same general formula of vulgar rap over innocent indie tunes, the team does more than just mash the songs together: they instead carefully manipulate each simultaneous track by altering the speed, reversing, or chopping it up to make it fit beautifully with the other. The prime examples of this are the two tracks that close the album, "D.G.A.F.L.Y.F." (based on "Soulja Boy" and the DDR hit "Sandstorm") and "Testarossas For Everyone!" (based on "Flirt" and "Lip Gloss" and set over "Better Off Alone,") which may be two of the most inspired mash-ups I've ever heard.

Another awesome thing about mash-ups: they're completely FREE! You can download each from its respective site with the links I've provided.

Hello Mom!

While cruising the streets of Miami, my friends and I stumbled across a remarkable little track by Modeselektor being broadcast from UM's equivalent to our BSR. The song, "Silikon," completely dissects and rearranges the hip hop vocal performance of guest Sasha Pereira, and the result was so interesting that I had to get at the whole album.It turns out that the rest of Hello Mom!, Modeselektor's 2005 debut, is just as intriguing as the track we first heard. Though it starts out with some weaker, more typical techno dance grooves, the album takes a turn toward the more bombastic with a creative splurge at around track seven. Sampling anything from human breathing to baah-ing sheep, Modeselektor manages to produce some incredible beats with impeccable technical ability. "Earth (UPS Edit)" is a perfect example of such a beat. Other tracks, like the synth-washed "In Loving Memory" and the breathbeat of "My Anthem," show a more mellow end of the range of emotions on the album and are just as beautiful to the ears. "Hasir" throws some arabic influences into the mix, "I Love You" adds some shimmering Studio-esque tropicalia, and "Dancing Box" does the same to French rapper TTC that "Silikon" does to Sasha, creating breakbeats from his fragmented speech. All show off the diversity and originality in Modeselektor's music and vouch for the necessity of this album in any techno junkie's collection.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Ocarina Of Rhyme

And now for something completely different: Team Teamwork, a blog group that prides themselves on "ghettotech" hip hop remixes, has recently compiled an album of mash-ups that take instrumentals from everyone's favorite game in the Legend of Zelda series, The Ocarina of Time, and overlay them with rap from some of today's better MCs. The Ocarina of Rhyme is available for digital download pretty much anywhere online, so get to it!
To some the album may seem lame or nerdy (and it might actually be a little of both) but fans of old-school rap and old-school video games, which I'm sure there are a ton of, will be really pleased. The editing is done very well and the separate elements of each song were carefully chosen to fit together surprisingly well. The first track, which mashes Clipse's "Virginia" with the Lost Woods theme, is especially ironic in its combination of the most playful tune in the game with some pretty serious lyrics. The team does interesting work with "Still D. R. E." and the brief 6-second sample that accompanies Link's discovery of a treasure by altering the speed, chopping it up, and flipping it around to make a pretty royal accompaniment to Snoop Dogg's and Dr. Dre's rhymes. The best tracks, however, use the more simple and repetitive rhythms that play in the background during the game (and are thus deeply ingrained into the player's memory.) These include the mix of Goron Village's somewhat tribal percussion-and-yelping theme with Aesop Rock's "No Jumpercables," Spank Rock's dirty "IMC" over the serene and subtle theme from Zora's Domain, and the "Still Tippin'" duet between Slim Thug and Mike Jones with the high-pitched fantasy-synth melody found in all four Great Fairy fountains. The album is short, sweet, and a ton of fun, especially for those nostalgic types like myself, so go make like Link and explore the depths of google.com until you stumble upon this hidden treasure.

"What Would I Want Sky"

I just found a clean and edited BBC "Freak Zone" session of Animal Collective's new track, "What Would I Want Sky," that they've been playing at live shows recently, so I thought I'd share it. From the explosive percussion of the first half's crashing beat to the warbled vocals, shimmering guitars, glistening electronic effects, and choir-like harmonies that slowly layer to transition into the second, this song has got it all. Panda Bear's repetition of the title in the background of Avey Tare's ever-so-catchy hooks and melody will have you hypnotized and the seven minutes of ear candy will go by before you even know it, leaving you craving another listen. I wonder what delicious treats ANCO has in store for us next?

Refer back to this earlier post to see a video of them playing it live.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Playlist: Eat Out Your Brain

The next installment in my personal playlist series is complete: check out the 20 tracks that make up Eat Out Your Brain (a lyric from the previously reviewed "Zumbi" that somewhat captures the essence of the mix but is mostly just really amusing) below. Again, it is meant to be shuffled and the songs are in alphabetical order by artist:

1. "Collapsing At Your Doorstep" by Air France off of No Way Down
2. "River" by Akron/Family off of Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free
3. "Summertime Clothes" by Animal Collective off of Merriweather Post Pavilion
4. "Useful Chamber" by Dirty Projectors off of Bitte Orca
5. "Mushaboom [Postal Service Remix]" by Feist off of Open Season
6. "Ankle Injuries" by Fujiya & Miyagi off of Transparent Things
7. "Ready For The Floor" by Hot Chip off of Made In The Dark
8. "Last Exit [Fennesz Mix]" by Junior Boys off of Last Exit
9. "Heartbeats" by The Knife off of Deep Cuts
10. "Yeah! Oh Yeah!" by The Magnetic Fields off of 69 Love Songs
11. "Hold The Line (DJ Edit)" by Major Lazer off of Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do
12. "Zumbi" by Major Lazer
13. "Nonpareil Of Favor" by Of Montreal off of Skeletal Lamping
14. "Moth's Wings" by Passion Pit off of Manners
15. "Eyes As Candles" by Passion Pit off of Manners
16. "Thickets" by Patrick Wolf off of The Bachelor
17. "You'll Find A Way (Switch And Sinden Remix)" by Santigold off of Santogold
18. "Inaugural Trams" by Super Furry Animals off of Dark Days/Light Years
19. "Dinosaur On The Ark" by The Very Best off of The Very Best Mixtape
20. "Damage" by Yo La Tengo off of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

Though I try my hardest to put unique and unexpected tracks on every playlist, Animal Collective always seems to end up there in some form, so I apologize (but have no regrets.) Also, even though Passion Pit and Major Lazer are on here twice, their songs are different enough from each other and good enough on their own to warrant two separate places on the list. I found most of the tracks with Elbows music blog aggregator (though "Thickets" and the Fennesz mix of "Last Exit" are TPP originals), so follow the links to download your own copy of Eat Out Your Brain.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mind Over Time

I'm not sure when it will be released or if it's even a real Interpol project, but a rarities compilation consisting of 19 remixes and unreleased tracks has been floating around the internet recently. It's called Mind Over Time and it collects Interpol's early self-titled and Remix EPs as well as Japan-exclusive bonus tracks, outtakes, and new mixes of songs from Our Love To Admire, their most recent album. A lot of the remixes are sort of worthless because they sound almost exactly like the originals and true Interpol fans will already have most of the material on the compilation, but there are a few specifics that are definitely worth hearing and owning.
The title track, "Mind Over Time," is a dark, moody piece written and recorded during the sessions for OLTA that resembles the untitled track from Turn On The Bright Lights. It features samples of radio broadcasts and a truly haunting vocal performance from frontman Paul Banks. The entire Interpol EP is also included, but "Song 7" and "Precipitate" are really the only two tracks from the pre-TOTBL era that deserve attention. Banks' alternate version of "Narc" is mostly acoustic and sounds more eerie, subdued, and surreal than the album version. The Carlos D remix of "Public Pervert" is one of the best remixes I've heard in a while, taking all of the best elements of the original song and repeating them over and over in time with a cool electronic dance beat. The Interpool Swimwear remix of "Untitled" is also really interesting as it overlays choppy samples of the song on top of some of the actual instrumentals, creating something both comfortably familiar and excitingly different. The Phones remix of "Heinrich Manuever" is also pretty different from the original and is worth checking out. The closing track on the compilation, "Fog Vs. Mould For The Length Of Love," is actually much better than the Antics version, adding a steady Krautrock beat and switching back and forth between tension and release. The most exciting alternate take presented, however, is the orchestral version of "Pioneer To The Falls," which sounds exactly as it seems: it's as if Interpol were on stage in a theater playing with a full backing orchestra, and it makes the already brilliant song more epic than ever.

"Plutonic Dancing"

Though I first heard this song almost a year ago on a mix CD, its genius didn't strike me until I heard it as the closing track to new wave revival group Dogs Die In Hot Cars' album of demos for their second effort, Pop Nonsense. The album itself is rather lackluster, as there are way too many mediocre tracks and only four or five standouts out of a hefty 17, but the few songs that are good are extremely so.

"Plutonic Dancing" is one of these, if not the best of the bunch. It combines elements of synth-pop, electronica, and dance music to create a clever pop melody with a cheery enthusiasm. The electronics are bright and bubbly, evoking Swedish acts Air France and The Tough Alliance, while the vocal performance is clearly Scottish, highlighting the band's brit-pop roots. Frontman Craig Macintosh follows the recent trend of singing in falsetto, and on this track he steps up to an even higher pitch that gels wonderfully with the musical backdrop. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, but they also work to greater the sum of the parts: an incredibly catchy tune that will make you want to get up and move.

Other similar tracks that capture the same essence are the title track, "Something For The Good Boys," "Real," and "Beauty US." Apparently, the group is going to compile a more focused album of re-worked fan versions of each of the demos, a project which should be completed before the year is out (the deadline for submissions was May 1st.) Fingers are crossed that all of the aforementioned make it to the proper release!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sholi

I don't even know where I heard about this album, but for some reason it was on my list of things to look for this year. It was released back in February and it's taken me quite awhile to find, but now I'm so glad I tried because Sholi's self-titled debut is worth the work and the wait.
The band was formed in Davis, California by songwriter Payam Bavafa and consists of the typical guitar, drum, and bass found in most rock groups. Sholi's sound is an interesting blend that can only accurately be described as "experimental rock," though it has elements of psychedelia and math rock as well, featuring fast guitar-work, strange chord progressions and bizarre melodic arrangements. It was produced by Deerhoof's Greg Saunier, which may partly explain why it sounds the way it does. The album consists of eight somewhat lengthy tracks, most of which take turns in dramatically different directions at several points throughout the song. The percussion is also very propulsive and gives the music a sense of rapid forward motion, especially on standout track "November Through June." Most of the songs have a rather dark feel because of the heavy use of minor chords, such as lead single "Tourniquet" and epic closer "Contortionist," both of which sound alarmingly urgent. Other notable tracks include wandering opener "All That We Can See" and the more march-like "Any Other God" found much later on the album.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wilco (The Album)

Combining the meandering laziness of Sky Blue Sky with the more upbeat tunes of Summerteeth, Wilco assemble another album of warm, mellow summer songs, just in time for the season with its release on June 30th.Wilco (The Album), with its in-your-face title and cover art, is a true testament to the band's progress toward mastery of their unique blend of country music and indie rock. The first three tracks on the album are vintage Wilco at its finest: they exemplify everything I love about the band, including Jeff Tweedy's emotive vocal performance and the group's powerful songwriting. The aptly-titled opener "Wilco The Song" is an upbeat opening track that is sure to get stuck in your head (and with it the line "Wilco, I love you," which could be an interesting marketing strategy but was probably intended as an ironic statement.) "Deeper Down" is more interesting musically, with its Andrew Bird-esque backdrop of high-pitched strings, while "One Wing" is an all-around incredible song that captures the essence of the entire album. "Bull Black Nova" is a more experimental track, with extremely repetitive pulsating notes to balance out Tweedy's smooth lyricism. The next track, "You And I," is the charming collaboration with Feist that everyone has been so excited about, and it certainly lives up to the standards of both artists. The album takes a turn toward the more boring with the next few tracks, but then returns to form with the heartbreaking "Solitaire" and the rock anthem "I'll Fight." "Sunny Feeling" and "Everlasting" (which are both steadily growing on me) end the album as polar opposites, with the former continuing the basic rock styles and the latter closing with an extremely mellow build-up that evokes "On And On And On" from Sky Blue Sky and possibly even "Reservations" from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The comparisons to YHF end there, however, and those expecting a "comeback album" will be disappointed. Fans of Summerteeth, A Ghost Is Born, and Sky Blue Sky won't, however, and the album is a perfectly-fitting addition to Wilco's extensive discography.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Animal Collective Live

On Thursday night I had the wonderful privilege of seeing Animal Collective perform live at the House of Blues in Boston. The concert only increased my awe and respect for the members of the collective, and solidified their status as my favorite band of all time. Following the more quiet, reverb-loving noise folk act Grouper (who also sounded pretty cool), Avey, Panda, and Geologist took to the stage with high energy and churned out track after track of danceable animal grooves. The band played continuously for about an hour and a half, rarely speaking but instead shouting random noises into the microphones and playing with the electronic equipment. They only stopped to take a brief break before the encore, to say "thank you" to everyone for coming, and to exclaim "that one was wild" after the audience got a bit too rowdy during "Slippi."

The stage was set up like a DJ dance/disco hall, with a giant floating orb projecting various images and videos while strobe lights flashed and rainbows erupted in time with the beats. The MPP album cover was draped across the back like a flag, and all the flashing lights served to enhance the optical illusion. There was also a drum set behind Panda's sound board, though it remained unused much to my dismay and was probably there just as a back-up.

The AC fans in the audience went wild during the more upbeat songs: people crowd-surfed, moshed, bounced up and down, and knocked into each other repeatedly as the pulsing rhythms filled the venue. I wasn't expecting anything like a dance party when I first got to the concert, but found it was really fun to lose myself in the movements of everyone around me. Clouds of smoke also erupted as various people lit up during the more trance-like parts of the concert, though some were asked to leave by security (not cool.)

Here's the set list (I tried to recreate the exact order, but some things may be mixed up):

Concert:
1. "What Would I Want Sky"
2. "Summertime Clothes"
3. "Guys Eyes"
4. "#1"
5. "Slippi"
6. "Who Could Win A Rabbit?"
7. "Fireworks Essplode"
8. "Bleed"
9. "Comfy In Nautica"
10. "Brother Sport"

Encore:
11. "Chocolate Girl"
12. "My Girls"
13. "Leaf House"

Click on the links to download mp3s of the new songs or see video clips I took of my favorite parts of the concert. (The videos for "Slippi," "My Girls," and "Summertime Clothes" were taken and posted by someone else.)

"What Would I Want Sky" is an awesome new post-MPP song that sounds warm, sunny, and a bit repetitive. "Bleed" is also new, though it might've gone unnoticed by many as it sounds similar to the sonic experimentation between songs. "Fireworks Essplode" is a medley where verses from "Lablakely Dress" and "Essplode" (from Danse Manatee) were inserted between the parts of "Fireworks" from Strawberry Jam. The tunes from older albums were also given new mixes, almost as if the band were updating its catalogue to fit in more with the new material. "Slippi," "Chocolate Girl," "Who Could Win A Rabbit?" and "Leaf House" were all set to a different backdrop of dance beats and electronic samples provided by Geologist and Panda, sounding as if they were part of Merriweather Post Pavilion. Another cool treat was the performance of Panda Bear's "Comfy In Nautica," which none of us were really expecting but went over really well. Though I was pleased to here all of the aforementioned, my favorite was definitely "#1," which sounded even stranger and more bizarrely ritualistic when coupled with the swirling onstage images and the hypnotic ambience that fell over the crowd. I would've liked to hear "Safer," "Daily Routine," or anything from Feels, which was conspicuously absent, but I guess that's what live albums are for and I really can't complain. Check out the audio streams of their other concerts (just search on Stereogum) to hear more.

The bottom line is, if Animal Collective ever comes near you while on tour, GO SEE THEM! I guarantee that you'll have a good time. Also, check out the video clips I took during the concert to get more of a feel for what it was like. Below is my video of one of the new songs:

video

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Hold The Line"; "Zumbi"

Two singles from Major Lazer, the new collaboration between recent popular remix DJs/producers Diplo and Switch (or Sinden) are available for free download on music blogs everywhere, and if these tracks show any inkling for what to expect from the debut album Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, it's going to be one hell of an album.

The first single from the album, "Hold The Line," featuring vocals and rapping from Mr. Lexx and Santigold (who has become quite the trendy artist to feature on singles), is an example of the variety, ambition, and strangeness we can expect from the two DJs. It samples horses, phone lines, operators, and various other random things while keeping a quick pace with a rockabilly "Misirlou"-like background. It's crazy, it's weird, and it's extremely addicting and an all-around pleasure to listen to.

Playing up the bizarre side of things is the other single, "Zumbi," which is not actually on the tracklist for the album but should still be downloaded. Featuring incredibly distorted and mechanical vocals from Andy Milonakis, whose growth hormone deficiency leads to some incredibly creepy thoughts considering the subject matter, the track is pretty minimal in its elements (rhythm is kept only by something that sounds like a laser gun and a repeated groaning in the background) but so intriguing that it's hard to stop listening. The lyrics are both corny and bad-ass at the same time: the song is from the perspective of a zombie who repeatedly refers to eating brains as a sexual act. Some of the more hilarious lines include "you can't test me, 'cause I eat your zombie blood like Nestle Quick, and you'll suck my zombie dick" and "me, I'm zombie and me don't eat gays 'cause I don't like the HIV." At certain moments in the song (like the former of the two lyrics I just mentioned) Andy's voice dissolves in an infinite reverb loop: these are the big payoffs that make the song incredibly worthwhile.

The album drops June 16th, and I hope to get a copy ASAP.

The Very Best Mixtape

Released at the very end of last year, The Very Best Mixtape by The Very Best (Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit) went unnoticed by many, including myself. I just gave it a listen today, and the only phrase I can use to describe it is "really cool."Esau Mwamwaya is an up-and-coming London-based MC born in Malawia, and Radioclit are a European production team. The mixtape itself, which is available for FREE digital download on the team's myspace site, is a collection of tracks which take the instrumentals, beats, and backgrounds from popular recent songs and overdub them with African chants, rhythms, tribal vocals, and rapping. Sounds cool, right? My favorites are "Kamphopo," which uses the tropical percussion from Architecture In Helsinki's single "Heart It Races," "Tengazako," which uses the motif that M.I.A. borrowed from The Clash for "Paper Planes," "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," which spices up the Vampire Weekend afrobeat track by cranking up the speed and energy, and "Boyz," which does the same with my personal favorite of M.I.A.'s. Both she and Santigold also appear on another cool track found toward the end of the album, "Get It Up." "Kada Manja" and "Dinosaur On The Ark" are a couple of other tracks that, though I can't recognize any sample material involved, are still just as awesome, thanks to the genius of Radioclit. Other tracks of note are "Salota," "Funa Funa," and "Chikondi," though the whole album is worthy of your time. To cap it off, the mixtape closes with "Will You Be There," which throws some Michael Jackson into the mix and is so well-produced that it sounds like the Lion King-esque additions have always been a part of the song. Once Esau is done singing, he takes the opportunity to tell the listeners how much he loves them and makes a plug for a debut album, which already sounds incredibly promising.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Yesterday And Today

Another great act from Sweden, The Field, also has a new record on the way. Yesterday And Today, the follow-up to 2007's epic From Here We Go Sublime, will be released on May 26th.
Like its predecessor, Yesterday And Today is about an hour's worth of minimalist ambient techno split amongst a few lengthy tracks, though here there are fewer and they're even longer (with the closer, "Sequenced," clocking in at over 15 minutes.) The new album, though continuing in the same vein, offers an interesting new twist on producer Axel Willner's one-trick formula. You can still expect the same vast, expansive sound that characterized the icy chill of the debut, but it's gotten slightly warmer over the 2-year gap between releases. This is probably due to the increased use of human vocal samples, something which Willner has been incorporating more and more into his live shows of late. These are especially evident on the preview track, "The More That I Do," and on "Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime," which borderlines on having vocals and lyrics (gasp!) Though most of the tracks contain the repetitive elements on which the ambient techno genre thrives, Yesterday And Today has a significantly greater dynamic range than From Here We Go Sublime. More electronic effects, layering, and use of different samples push the music in new directions, offering a lot of subtle yet exciting twists and turns that make the album especially enjoyable. However, I wouldn't say the sound is more refined: Yesterday And Today is more like a bolder, more adventurous sibling to the 2007 release rather than an evolutionary step forward (something also reflected in the album art, which is almost exactly the same for both discs.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Outside Love

Not having been a fan of 2006's Axis Of Evol, I was very reluctant to listen to the new release from Pink Mountaintops, a side project of Stephen McBean of the Black Mountain collective. After hearing a few free downloads of "Vampire" and "While You Were Dreaming," however, I was convinced that I should probably give the whole album a try, and I am so glad that I did.
I have a feeling that Outside Love is going to be fairly overlooked, and that's a real shame because it might be one of my favorite releases so far this year. The album is simple and continues to re-use the same formula of psychedelic noise-washed folk, but each track is actually very rich and elegant, having a subtle uniqueness that emerges only after repeated listens. While McBean's more upbeat tracks like "Holiday" and "The Gayest Of Sunbeams" are all good and well, the true genius of the album lies in the slow downers with an interplay of male and female vocals "While You Were Dreaming," "And I Thank You," and "Closer To Heaven." All of these tracks have a gradual build-up, slowly adding layer upon layer until a magnificent amalgamation of sounds and textures is formed. Though the songs have simple melodies with decent lyrics, the backdrop of sound on each track is the dealbreaker for me. Because of the lazy ambience of each of the individual tracks, the album as a whole fits together beautifully and ends up immensely improving upon the group's former efforts.

The Snake

The new album from vocals and drums duo, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, recently dropped on vinyl and I must say it's a pretty great effort. Though the sound is not exactly just drums and vocals, it's definitely limited in its scope of instruments and The Snake a perfect example of an album that uses percussion and the human voice to their full effect.
I must admit that I haven't heard their 2006 debut, Heartcore, but seeing as it was awarded Swedish Jazz Act of the Year and I'm not a huge jazz fan, it's pretty clear how I overlooked it. I'm still not sure what enticed me to this album, as it's described as "alternative blues punk jazz" on Wikipedia, but I guess I've been more intrigued by interesting rhythms lately, and this album definitely has them. I was pleasantly surprised when I gave it a listen, as so many things could've gone horribly wrong with the simple formula, and it turns out that The Snake reminds me a lot of some favorites like Give Up by The Postal Service and Devotion by Beach House while sounding nothing like either of them. Similar to the way Ben Gibbard's voice seems to float over James Tamborello's electronic compositions, vocalist Mariam Wallentin's strange, ethereal singing rides along Andreas Werliin's repetitive percussion patterns as a surfer would ride on top of a wave. Basic drums, woodblocks, chimes, and many other unexpected instruments provide an appropriately weird backdrop for the vocals, which seem as if they're trying to grasp the same sort of sound that Victoria Legrand of Beach House has mastered. Notable tracks include "Chain Of Steel," "Great Lines," "Liar Lion," and "My Heart."

Manners; Chunk Of Change

Passion Pit has been getting a lot of attention lately, and people have been likening them to groups like MGMT or even calling them "the next Animal Collective." While I wouldn't go that far (I'd actually never go that far), most of the attention is deserved: Passion Pit really knows how to make good music. Both the full-length debut Manners (set for release on May 19th) and last year's Valentines-gift-turned-widespread-EP Chunk Of Change contain some incredibly catchy pop melodies that are sure to please casual listeners and aficionados alike.

The comparison to MGMT is actually very accurate, as Manners is very similar to Oracular Spectacular in that it has a few stand-out tracks (like lead single "Moth's Wings" and "Eyes Like Candles") that are climbing the ranks of my favorite songs of all time, while the other tracks aren't nearly as good but are still pleasant to listen to. The vocal performance is also very similar in both groups, and Michael Angelakos' falsetto is just as endearing and distinctive as James Mercer's and Zach Rogue's. That being said, Manners is a much stronger album as a whole than Oracular Spectacular was. From "Kids"-esque opener "Make Light" to the retro-dance influences on "The Reeling" to the high-pitched vocoder distortion on "Sleepyhead," the tracks on this album all offer different facets of the band while at the same time fitting together in a logical way to make a cohesive pop album that dabbles in the electro genre.

The Chunk Of Change EP sounds quite different, evoking dance-punk acts like Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem on tracks like "Better Things" and soft electronic artists like Kelley Polar and Junior Boys on opener "I've Got Your Number." In case you didn't know the story, Angelakos recorded a few tracks for his girlfriend on Valentine's Day and once it circulated through his group of friends, it got so much attention that the group was signed and released the EP only a few months later. Anyway, all of the tracks on the EP, except maybe "Cuddle Fuddle," are heartwarming, genuine, and excellent ear candy, and when combining forces to form the sum of the parts they pretty much top the debut.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Bachelor

With album artwork that evokes (at least in my mind) a cut-scene from the classic Playstation RPG, Final Fantasy VII, Patrick Wolf's follow-up to 2007's critically acclaimed The Magic Position finds his music taking on a darker, more adventurous, and more dangerous sound, making the fanboy reference all the more appropriate. The Bachelor, the first in a duo of releases making up the former double album Battle, is a concept album named for the Sussex town in which it was recorded and will be released on June 1st.The darker, more disturbed sound of the album hearkens back to Wolf's debut, Lycanthropy, which incidentally features the musician in a very similar pose on the album cover. The font and placement of the artist name and album title further enhance the similarities, making it evident that the return to form was Patrick's intent. A few of the tracks, such as the incredible opener and second single "Hard Times," are as upbeat as some of the tracks on Magic Position, but there is a stark difference in tone achieved by the instruments used and the electronic manipulation applied in collaboration with pioneer Matthew Herbert. Most of the tracks, however, are slower and more introspective, resembling the more subtle "Augustine" and "The Stars" of the previous album. "Damaris," "Thickets," "Who Will," "Blackdown," and "Theseus" (on which actress Tilda Swinton speaks the "voice of hope") all exemplify a new trend of a gradual build-up of tension followed by an overwhelming release at the very end of the song through use of epic piano and string arrangements. At the same time, some tracks like "Oblivion" have more of an off-kilter electronic beat, another aspect which reminds us of Patrick's earlier work. All in all, the album is an incredibly cohesive exploration of themes of love and warfare, and I for one am already excited for The Conqueror, the second part of what promises to be an incredible double album.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bitte Orca

Another hit-or-miss group, Dirty Projectors, also have a new album right around the corner: Bitte Orca. "Warholian Wigs" and "I Will Truck" from The Getty Address as well as "What I See" and "Gimme Gimme Gimme" from Rise Above are examples of experimentation that work beautifully, whereas some other tracks are just too out there to sound pleasing. Bitte Orca, however, is all hit and no miss.Maybe it's because there's only 9 tracks instead of 13 or 14, maybe it's the increased collaboration with Angel Deradoorian (like on the beautiful "Two Doves") and Amber Coffman (who contributes vocals on the stellar single "Stillness Is The Move"), or maybe it's just a natural progression for Dave Longstreth's new-folk project, but Bitte Orca seems like a much more focused album and may be the best they've recorded yet. The sound is more polished and the musical themes are much more fleshed out, while the songs are jam-packed with the same energy present in the best tracks of their discography. They're catchier and more accessible than ever, and while that may seem like a bad thing to some, accessibility is exactly what Dirty Projectors needed. This is not to say that they sold out or even came close, they've just finally refined their sound to its pinnacle: the bizarre song structures, rhythms, and guitar-work are just as weird as ever and the songs still have the distinct Dirty Projectors sound. This is exemplefied in the raucous opener "Cannibal Resource" as well as the more subtle tracks "No Intention" and "Remade Horizon." Though it actually isn't released until June 9th, this album is already on my list of the best of 2009.

"River"

Akron/Family's more mellowed-out version of Animal Collective's freak folk is usually a hit or miss for me. Some of their songs are ridiculously good, such as "Gone Beyond" from Meek Warrior and "Running/Returning" from their self-titled debut, while others are just plain boring and uninspired. Their new album, Set 'Em Wild Set 'Em Free, continues this traditional dichotomy, but here the ratio of good to bad is slightly improved. The track that makes the entire album, however, is also the first single, "River." With its fusion of tropical instruments and a steady, light-hearted beat, the song is sure to put you in a better mood after listening. The lyrics are charming, the music is bright and sunny, and it's just a catchy track all-around.

You can download it from Pitchfork for free by clicking here.