Saying things like this always freaks people out when you've still got four months to go, a Coldplay record from back in June, and Lil Wayne's album just crushing kids. It's hard to get anyone to buy into Mates of State with just two people, mostly known for their cloying attitude (ugh! they're sooooo married) and one-dimensional sound (drums, keys .... not a lot else). But don't forget the Tegan and Sara record really snuck up on people last year.
Same idea, a concept band that unconceptualized itself, grew sonically, and ended up transcending their formerly overwrought selves . Tegan and Sara got sick of being written off as a lesbian pop band. So they wrote The Con and crushed everyone. Re-arrange us is almost that same record. Mates Of State aren't just married and their arrangements aren't just organ and drums. The album is sneaky good and actually, forget that, this album is good good. This is the record of the year. So far.
Listen :: Mates of State - My Only Offer
Absurd statements: 1) Friendly Fires have a 70 percent chance of becoming the Britpop LCD Soundsystem. 2) Friendly Fires could be one of the biggest (little) bands of 2009.
Almost immediately the lead-singer starts bending at the waist and losing his mind. It's a little before 10 o'clock on the east coast and Friendly Fires are determined to not act like an opening band. Every bit of their affect is that of a headliner. In the next 30-minutes, people are going to totally forget that Modey Lemon is even playing later. And just like that, Friendly Fires are on. The lead-singer encouraging the sound guy (or maybe just everyone) to turn up the volume. It would be about 3am in London and the crowd starts to act like it.
Two truths and a lie: 1) Friendly Fires enjoy the use of the cowbell. 2) Friendly Fires are absolutely burning this place to the ground. 3) Friendly Fires have five members.
They play a tight set rife with energy. And it's not manufactured energy either. This is the kind of enthusiasm that doesn't come from preparation or polish. It comes from somewhere else, somewhere far more earnest and far more true. The contagion spreading out from the stage and into the rapidly more animated audience is something that aspires to be nothing besides itself. It is something opposite of fake. What is happening inside the Mercury Lounge is, on at least one level, valid.
The take-away: 1) This band will be back in America. 2) By the time they are it won't be in a room this small. 3) This isn't a Myspace band. Don't spin a couple tracks through your computer speakers and think: "it's sort of post-punky and a little dance-rocky. I guess it's okay." If you think this you will be woefully underestimating this band. If you think this, you will be wrong. If you don't go see this, you won't see it. That is a tautology and maybe less useful than it could be. Sometimes you just want something to be true.
Water has spilled all over the front of the stage. Mixed with the spasmodic movements of Friendly Fires' lead-singer, the pristine set-list at his feet is torn to shreds. This is the end of their last song and nothing could be less important. You could make the argument that they had to destroy this pretty little piece of paper to get to where they are tonight. That would not be true and no one likes a liar.
THE WOMBATS - LET'S DANCE TO JOY DIVISION
Ra Ra Riot toured with the now super-famous Tokyo Police Club for a big chunk of last year and pretty routinely blew them off the stage. There was even a night in Boston last summer where Ra Ra Riot was sandwiched between Vampire Weekend (OHMYGOD!!) and TPC. Tokyo Police Club had the ink barely dry on their deal with Saddle Creek and Vampire Weekend were about to get with with XL Records. Ra Ra Riot was a few months away from getting in bed with Barsuk. One night defined indie music in 2007 and it was August 12. And the Ra Ra Riot kids stole the show. I mean, just ripped it off like a 2am gas station robbery. No plan, no grand design - just unfiltered larceny.
The point is, Ra Ra Riot was the best live club band in 2006 and 2007. And it wasn't even close. We even tried to forget that they had a few EPs that did little to capture the evocative live experience. So when they signed to Barsuk, the conventional wisdom was: recording budget + quality producer - pressure to get signed = An outstanding album. (Footnote: It worked with TPC. Saddle Creek brought you "Tessellate" and don't get it twisted. TPC never could have done that on their own. Never. Sometimes, you need someone to pick you up to that next level. Everyone needs help.) And thus, the Ra Ra Riot full-length discussion became riddled with expectation. And the album is okay. "Dying Is Fine" sounds a little bigger, mostly the recording mix on the drums and the sort of hanging sheen that says someone knew their way around ProTools. I mean, are we finally using reverb on the vocals? It's a damn miracle.
This is a fantastic live band with really, truly nice kids who make sort of exciting music. The recording just never seems to live up to the show. So go see them live. They'll be blowing some would-be-up-and-comer off the stage with hurricane force. And I promise not too get too hung up on the rest of the details.
Listen :: Ra Ra Riot - Dying Is Fine
Indie bands have been courting arena rock in a flirtation we haven't seen since 5th grade. "So ... I mean, do you want to ... like ... I don't know ... .... date? Like go out? Forget it ... I shouldn't have said anything. " Too often people are afraid to ask for exactly what they want and too often little bands are afraid to admit just how big they might want to be. But sometimes, sometimes people don't wait and they don't mumble. Sometimes bands aren't afraid of making the biggest song they can. Sometimes you should just look Julia Briggs in the eyes and say, "I have a huge crush on you and we should be together forever. Or least until the end of science class."
Parts & Labor have made, "Nowheres Nigh" and it's the biggest song they have in them. The guitars chase a simple keyboard progression and it all collides in a buzzy, churning chorus made for fist pumps and zero gravity. Despite an awkward key change in the last half, this is as big an indie rock sound as you'll hear this year. The band's new album, Receivers is due October 21 but we're happy to bring the first single right. now.
Listen :: Parts & Labor - Nowheres Nigh
So Motel Motel shook hands, thanked people, did a long equipment set-up/sound-check and then took the stage with "Coffee." It's undeniably their best song to date. It keeps lead-singer Eric Engel in check while letting his gut-wrenching voice and lyrics carry the emotional weight. This is a delicate balance. While Engel is yelping, "I don't need your help/I can feel helpless on my own," I am leaning over and mentioning that this might be the best lyric written in last 18 months in New York. I am not kidding. The crowd is Motel Motel's crowd and they are loving it. I enjoy "Coffee." It's everything that's good about this band.
From there, it's hard not to feel like we're looking at Ryan Adams doing a set of Pixies covers. Motel Motel set up an alt-country aesthetic and then thrash through the middle of their arrangements before finding something solvent in the end. This is a band with problems, to be sure, but they'd rather keep it out of the last chapter. Other bands can leave without solutions, thinking the problems are productive. Motel Motel is built for catharsis and resolution doesn't have to be reductionist.
The most important moment of the night happens away from the microphones. Engel and the rest of the band begin screaming disjointed lyrics in off-beat a cappella. It goes on a little too long and you think it might ruin the song or even the night. But the band comes thrashing back at the last possible moment. If people secretly want to see car accidents and plane crashes, this is opposite impulse. We've watched the plane plunge toward earth and now we're cheering as it pulls up, only barely clearing the tree line. It's a little bit of an up-and-down affair but hope is always a little more attractive than accidental destruction. And I can feel helpless on my own.
Listen :: Motel Motel - Harlem
Listen :: Acid House Kings - This Heart Is A Stone
The two best tracks off his new (and poorly titled) album, Someone Else's Deja Vu, tap a number of influences. "Juliet's Son" bears resemblance to Elliot Smith and frankly, it's hard to see how this isn't a retroactive part of the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. "Horizons" is a subtle and dark affair. Instrumentally and arrangement-wise, it reminds you of Bruce Springsteen's artistic infighting during the 1990s. It's brooding and a little poppy. It's very close to "Streets of Philadelphia." It's a song that wrestles with itself before settling back into a hushed little moment. But don't let the comparisons kill you.
Son Ambulance - Juliet's Son
Son Ambulance - Horizons
You remember Action Painters, right? We posted their song, "Supermarket" about a month ago and it straight up destroyed everyone. It was bouncy and will certainly anchor their new record due out in the fall. The band hasn't been sleeping. They're up for The Deli Magazine's Band of the Month. You can go here and vote for them. Last I checked, they were in an absolute dog-fight with Age Of Rockets. Let's make a difference and throw weight at this. Really, go vote. Right. Now. Also, they're playing the Bowery with another one of our favorite bands, Tigercity, on July 19th. If you're in New York, you really can't miss that. Look out for updates or just spin "Supermarket" again and remember why this matters.
Listen :: Action Painters - Supermarket
In other news, we've been spinning the shit out of this band Plastic Operator. They sound a little like Her Space Holiday but they've got harder edges than that. It's electro-pop with a few more organic elements thrown in and I guess you could say it's similar to The Postal Service or Mixtapes and Cellmates (the band that played about half a CMJ show). It's good and it'll storm it's way into your iPod without asking questions.
Plastic Operator - Home0207
Plastic Operator - Why Don't You
Plastic Operator - Peppermint
Sparrowhouse, the side project of Voxtrot jack-of-all trades Jared Van Fleet, has some new material out. It's predictably quiet and predictably weird. I was laying bed yesterday feeling sorry for myself and I played this strange, looping, bird-chirping, floor-squeeking entry, "emptycage." I couldn't tell if it was awesome or awful. It's both peaceful and foreboding. It's a rather simple, breathy organ progression but there's something haunting about it. Van Fleet and I are facebook friends and it doesn't get any weirder than that.
Listen :: Sparrowhouse - emptycage and off the last EP :: Sparrowhouse - When I Am Gone
Finally, we're going to send you over to The Indie Music Filter for a new song by The Broken West. I sent the mp3 to a friend yesterday and she said, "it's a little regular. I got nothing from it but a well constructed pop song." At some point this became negative. And on some levels, I agree, there isn't much complicated happening here. But, if well-constructed pop songs have gone out of style, we should all turn in our headphones and quit. I will admit, the opening 30-seconds are the best. It kind of levels off after that.
Listen :: The Broken West - Perfect Games (courtesy of The Indie Music Filter, a great blog besides this one)
Hammond is promoting a new album, his second since his parent group, The Strokes, last put together a studio effort. The songs sound exactly like Strokes songs (I suppose this is not surprising) but it seems little questionable why he is making music independent of the band. Most solo records are overly ambitious efforts from lead-singers who believe they outclass and out-pace their band mates. This is arrogant. The other kind of solo album or side-project comes when someone in the band wants to make music in a different genre. This is liberating. Hammond is simply writing Strokes songs on his own. Frankly, it's hard to believe he's not just trying on Julian Casablancas' blazer while Dad is out of town. This is dishonest.
From the upper balcony VIP section (thanks SPIN Magazine!) it's easy to get a look at the crowd. They seem excited to see Hammond and most of them waited 90-minutes for him to take the stage. Once he begins to play and The Strokes comparisons are more obvious, everything seems a little more dirty. Hammond isn't particularly compelling as a frontman. With a strong sense that he's ripping off his parent band, it's hard to get behind anything he's doing. Beyond the first two rows of the crowd, people are barely paying attention.
Part of the problem is psychological. Most people didn't really come to see Albert Hammond - they came to see one-fifth of The Strokes. But what they were seeing was even less than that. They were seeing a rhythm-guitarist cheat on his band for the second-time in two years. It doesn't matter that the records aren't half-bad. It's easy to see why none of The Strokes are here and why none of them came to his Mercury Lounge show last week. I wouldn't want to see my sound ripped-off and dragged around either.
So we return to the RCA records table (which, it bears noting, no one is sitting at) and work on our third bottle of vodka. Someone noted earlier that this is the brand of vodka Keith Richards was drinking when he fell out of the palm tree two years ago. But that was a real guitarist and a real rockstar. This evening is fueled by something different. As Hammond finishes his set, you half-expect Casablancas and Fabrizio to walk out, grab the mics and say, "thanks for warming our crowd up. We'll take it from here." Or more dramatically, for Casablancas to slap Hammond across the face and set everything back right. You can only get away with so much and when Dad gets home, there's hell to pay for what you've done.
Listen :: Albert Hammond Jr. - In Transit
photos courtesy of ndavis2008
"Does This Mean You're Moving On" (Acoustic)
It's fated and battle cry all at once. When a planet goes in retrograde motion it is thought to astrologically predict certain events. The video, an obvious political allegory, seems to indicate the Western political system (read: ours, George Bush2, etc.) is completely and totally fucked. Is our president a lobster-clawed, Frankenstein creation? Bloc Party thinks so. It's hard to argue. As unsettling string-flourishes lifted right out of The Matrix burn in the background, Kele says, "you can be part of the war/from Silverlake to Williamsburg." He's calling the hip-set to conflict. And he's not done. The last meaningful lyrics are "this could be the start of something truly real/but all I could say was 'hey, hey, hey.'" It's a possible reference to "She's Hearing Voices," a song off the first Bloc Party record where Kele famously squeeks, "hey, hey, hey." It's damning and it's self-aware and by the fifth listen, "my Mercury's in retrograde" will be firmly in your head. It's just fate.
The song "Fortune Teller" is pure mixtape fodder. I don't love the rest of the record. I will, of course, encourage you to see for yourself. But, for me, Forest Fire's record is just ok. In fact, Motel Motel does a slightly more heartbreaking, alt-country version of the same sound. So you can download the album. Do it in a few minutes. It's free. You might like it.
But for now, this song is pure mixtape fodder. And it's great. You're burning a CD. You've got a playlist going. What can you stuff in the middle that will both excite and perplex people? You need a good track 11. You want something unrecognizable, so as to enhance your reputation as a selector of tunes, but it has to be solid, so as to enhance your reputation as a selector of tunes. It should thump a little bit and get itself noticed but not do too much. After all, you don't know very much about, nor do you all that much like, this band. You want this song to stick out by blending in. You want it to be perfectly noticed and also a little forgettable. The LAST thing you need is a conversation where someone asks "who is that?" and all you can come up with is "...it's Forest Fire." And then people are asking questions and you're stumped. You look like a moron. They continue: "Why did you put it on the mix if you don't know anything about them? Do you even like the album?" (See above). You had hoped this would go better.
The song is called "Fortune Teller." And it's perfect for your next mixtape. Just make sure people don't ask too many questions.
Listen :: Forest Fire - Fortune Teller
It's America's 232nd Birthday people and you've got to figure your business out. It's a holiday we celebrate by eating things cooked over fire and shooting small arms fire into the sky. It's actually more like Afghanistan than we'd like to admit. So, like last year, I hope it's a good one and we'll be back Monday. You deserve this, America. Because, deep down, we fucking love this place that we've come to know. Happy 232.
I promised to never post blog-hop. This is not that. This is from our BOY. DJ (dee-jay!) Natty (natty!) Heavy (heavy!). (F-F-F-FOG-FOGHORN!). He produces the #1 morning radio show in South Carolina and he spins jams on the weekends while the best and brightest come out and pound the streets of Charleston. If you're in the area, you'll see him out and you can buy him a drink. Otherwise, for those of you not in the South, DJ Natty Heavy has cut us a mixtape for the Northerners who'd like to spend almost 40-minutes in the dirty. He even cuts the Ting Tings in there for you glam-rock, hipster shitheads. It's called Ya'll Can't Dance Vol.2 and it's up for free download on Nattyheavy.com. We're linking it up so you can download, put it in the iPod, add water and have straight cash on your speakers for the 4th of July. Check it up or check it out.
Listen :: DJ Nattyheavy - Ya'll Can't Dance Vol.2 (39:59)
Fleet Foxes are, of course, more than just a cobbling of influences. They've been featured in the heaviest music publications and on the up-and-coming gangsta of the yuppie music scene ... NPR! (Holy shit! It's All Songs Considered! ) My Dad even looked over at me when "White Winter Hymnal" spun through the radio speakers two weeks ago. He didn't say anything and he didn't need to. It's inoffensive and delicate in all the right places. It's good new music for people that don't really have time to go find good new music. It's underrated and over-publicized. It's major label indie. Everything has officially lost its collective mind. Read that one more time.
Which is why, like Natalie Imbruglia, I'm torn. Is this song more than just okay? There's a 12% that this is really good. If it was self-released and not getting the Sub Pop treatment, would anyone be talking about it? How do we reconcile this stuff? How long does the jury stay out on this? Or have we gone all OJ Simpson 1994 (your second 90s pop culture check of the paragraph) and the jury is back - they've just made the wrong call. It's a little record and it's getting pushed big. At what point will "indie" be short for "industry" not "independent?" The world is upside down. This was the dream the revolution built. And I might be okay with that.
Listen :: Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
Enter Fujiya & Miyagi and their hypnotic first single, "Ankle Injuries." It didn't hurt that I was tweaking my own old ankle sprain on a bi-weekly basis. It also didn't hurt that the thumping bass line and the driving repetition was one of the few songs that never left my "oh god, how much longer can i work this job?" playlist. It kept things moving. It showed up. It was there when I needed it.
The band is back with a new record, Lightbulbs and it seems like it's going to be more of the same: Electronic soundscapes mixed with repetitive, yet compelling lyrics and that same thumping bass that seemed like it exploded out of an LCD Soundsystem record. First single, "Knickerbocker" has a non-sequiter chorus that can't help but get lodged in your brain stem. In fact, "Vanilla, strawberry, Knickerbocker glory" might be the most memorable nonsense of the year.
And if you need more inspiration, maybe let some angry teenagers throw shit at you. You are wearing a tie. You turn. You stare. You are, finally, not afraid.
Listen :: Fujiya & Miyagi - Ankle Injuries (courtesy of Ryan's Smashing Life)
Listen :: Fujiya & Miyagi - Knickerbocker (stream)
"Silver Lining" (Rilo Kiley)
We're going up late with this because, well, this event was an open bar and then we ended up closing a bar back in Brooklyn. So, great work all around. When I left the Hiro Ballroom, just one of the three bars that were serving drinks had rung up a tab of over 3,500 dollars. I think when Rhapsody invited a rag-tag bunch of bloggers, music writers, and industry heavy-hitters , they didn't think we had such a drinking problem. The event was a press briefing to announce "Music without limits." Basically, Rhapsody is going DRM-free in partnership with MTV, iLike, and Verizon. It's complicated as hell but Rhapsody is going to make a serious run at the iTunes music store in terms of being a distributor of mp3s. Two years from now we'll either look back on this announcement as the time when a company finally knocked Apple on its ass or we'll see it as another failed attempt to rip digital revenue away from iTunes. It was over three years in the making and a lot of interesting (read: powerful) people are throwing their weight behind this. In other news, EMI is laying off a thousand workers. Yeah, the music industry is fit as a fucking fiddle.
More importantly, Ben Gibbard played the second-half of the event. He was mutton-chopped and completely engaging. At one point he expressed, "Wow, this is totally not how I thought this was gonna be. In a good way. (laughter, clapping) I mean, you guys are like, listening to me ... and that's really great!" He ran through a set of Death Cab material ("405," "Photobooth," "Title and Registration") and Gibbard originals like "Carolina" off the Home V split he did with Andrew Kenny of American Analog Set. He also covered Stars "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" and did a spot-on, gut-check version of Rilo Kiley's "Silver Lining" - a song he introduced as "by my friend Jenny." He even ran through some Postal Service material, playing "Brand New Colony" and crushing everyone in sight.
"Brand New Colony" (Postal Service)
We've got some video from last night and ... a raging hangover. Thanks to Rhapsody and every other piece of corporate machinery that led to last night. It's hard to hate The Man when The Man buys all your drinks and let's you stand five feet from one of the better songwriters of the last 10 years. Oh and he closed with "I'll Follow You Into The Dark." So, there was that too.
"I Will Follow You Into The Dark"