Pilot Speed :: "Please Put The Phone Down"

I thought Pilot Speed's lead-singer was Sting's kid. As in: bassist, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," The Police -yeah, his offspring. Actually, I was thinking of the band Fiction Plane which is, in fact, fronted by Sting's child. Pilot Speed is different. I conjecture too quickly. And definitely not Blind Pilot either, a brief, incorrect, second-try on my part. This band is not to be confused with any other pilot or aeronautical metaphor. This band is not the band you think they are. One more time with feeling.

The truth is, Pilot Speed doesn't sound like any of the mistakes I made when I read their press release rather hastily three-and-a-half weeks ago. They sound a lot like The Thrills playing Snow Patrol songs. The arrangements are big, sweeping, string-drenched affairs. The vocals are close, fragile, and almost confiding. Close your eyes and picture the sun-sweat of The Thrills' "Santa Cruz" and the morose, over-emotion of Snow Patrol's "Run." Take those two aesthetics and tempos and average them: it works and I'm not a mathematician.

It's the middle of the morning and I'm scribbling "Please Put The Phone Down" on a notepad. No one is on the phone. The lyric is just in my head. The frailness, or maybe the simplicity of the request, "please put the phone down" resonates. It's certainly not perfect but I promise you'll remember it. You might even end up scrawling it on a legal pad in a fit of bored hysteria. So as your mind drifts to the people you talk to on the phone too much and see too little, remember the words. And don't forget their name - you might need it.

Listen :: Pilot Speed - "Please Put The Phone Down"


The XX :: "Crystalised"

The XX might be the most tense bunch of 2009. You can't listen to this band and not feel a vague sense of anxiety. Weaving taut arrangements dipped in a post-punk after-glow, they are all build-up and no pay-off. It is all intentionally unsatisfying. The music is almost nervous, or more aptly, would be nervous if it weren't so self-consciously confident. Still, watching someone be confidently tense is about as relaxing as watching the middle 50-minutes of Man On Wire. It's kind of pretty, but you feel like disaster is riding shotgun, somewhere around an invisible corner, waiting to ruin everything. The fear ends up in your mouth without really being there.

But perhaps the point is to court a disaster without actually having one. Sort of like eluding to tragedy without actually experiencing it. Sort of like knowing someone who is emotionally destroyed without actually being emotionally destroyed yourself. Sort of like walking a slow-core Interpol high-wire without actually risking anything. Why? The XX are just fine. Whether their self-awareness is crippling or powerful - I wouldn't turn around: Danger is sitting on the back of your neck with a view to a kill.

Listen :: The XX - "Crystalised"
Bonus :: The XX - "Stars" (demo)


Foreign Born :: "Vacationing People"

It is late in 2007 and I have a CMJ badge. One of these things gives me hope and one of them gives me options. You can decide which is which. I am in the basement of the Delancey and Foreign Born is meandering through a set in completely unimpressive fashion.

And then, in a moment, the whole thing shifts. Lead-singer and guitarist, Matt Popeiluch, launches himself into the air. His legs make scissors and his arm a windmill. He is locked into one of the great postcards in New York rock history. He didn't invent this pose, but he seems more than comfortable trafficking in the irony. The music isn't that hard but the moment is, nonetheless, masterful. As his hand comes swinging through acoustic strings, the crowd blows the roof off the basement. This is the band the West Coast Kids can't stop talking about it. I get it. They aren't a let down.

So now Foreign Born are signed to Secretly Canadian and their second record is due out in June. This is what American Folk Rock should sound like: No apologies and no regrets. There isn't time for either when you're launched to the ceiling and bound for the floor.

Listen :: Foreign Born - "Vacationing People"


On The List :: Bloc Party @ Terminal 5 [3.24.08]

The moment of the night comes late and it is brief. We're about three beats from the beginning of the second chorus to "The Prayer" when a young man rises from the crowd on the hands of his peers. In about the third row, he's raised straight up from his waist, almost crucifixion style, with his arms out and a look of complete, unrestrained awe. And in a heartbeat and a half, he drops. The lights explode in time and Kele screams: Tonight, make me unstoppable.

The image of youth defying gravity and a band having the power to elevate is fleeting. It's not that Bloc Party isn't trying. Kele's stage banter resembles the encouragement of an elementary school teacher; two parts encouraging, one part reinforcement, and one part constructive criticism. He expects more out of us, but, well, aren't we doing pretty decently all the same and, isn't there a little more we could give? Yes. Yes, there is more we can give.

Shift gears a minute, lower your eyes from the stage and stare at the backs of the two guys in front of me. They've paid their $31.50 like most of the rest of the crowd. They're reasonably dressed and know some of the words to some of the songs. They are what most people would call "fans." Unfortunately, they are locked in the battle of who can move less. It's like watching two statues start a staring contest. Simply, everyone loses. They don't clap during the first encore and they give nothing of themselves. I yell, as unironically as possible, "feel. feelings. Care about anything. Please." We are slow-clapping. They don't turn around. It would require moving.

"Ion Square" (Live @ 3.24.09)

And the crowd's effort isn't to be blamed on the set list. Bloc Party plays a majority of the new record, the favorites off the first record, and a few choice cuts off the middle one. It's anything but safe, moving from one high-wire routine to another. And in a few spots, it doesn't work. "Ion Square" doesn't sound nearly as epic live but, frankly, if it were any more epic our hearts might pop. A little comedown isn't so bad because when "Song For Clay" becomes "Banquet" there isn't time to breathe. After the first encore, the band unleashes "Flux" like a hot mess into the crowd. The lights blink and go green. Everyone moves. This is a song that no one got in September '07. It's March '09 and there isn't a person in the audience with questions.

The band closes with "This Modern Love" and a message: "This is for all the people who supported us on that first record four years ago." Has it been that long? Yes, it has. About half the crowd claps. Silent Alarm seems like forever ago but "This Modern Love" still seems fresh. It makes people dance. It makes me reflective. We are terribly, terribly alone. And yet, here we are, all together. It's moving. Which is exactly what everyone should have been doing from the outset.

Listen :: Bloc Party - "Signs" (AVH Remix)


Twin Sister - "Ginger"

Twin Sister has a cool-looking website with almost no information to speak of. This, I like. It says, "we are aesthetically pleasing but that doesn't mean you get our life-story." They are a pretty girl who won't give you their phone number. This, somehow, makes them more attractive.

"Ginger" sounds a little like a slowed-down Stereolab or like some of the Holly Miranda material that's been coming out in the last month or so: Deliberate, almost hungover, and certainly pretty. It has a certain pace to it, a head-nodding bass line and a pendulum-swing of an arrangement. The melody is two parts seductive and one part mournful. The whole thing is fuzzy at the edges and takes an expectant, if lazy, flop into the wordless chorus.

It's contradictions. It's a dream sequence in fast motion; real life but slowed down. It's the water-borne dream of life and death. It's the overstatement of exaggeration mixed with the understatement of modesty. It's controlled excitement and unrestrained boredom. It is aesthetics with no content. Or the other way around.

Listen :: Twin Sister - "Ginger"
Bonus :: Twin Sister - "I Want A House"


Local Natives :: "World News" and "Airplanes"

Local Natives are one of the 2,000 bands who tried to takeover SXSW this week. Let's look at the pro and cons.

Cons: There are 2,000 bands there. 400 of them are probably tour-tough and pretty good. 200 of them probably employ full-time publicity staff in some capacity. 25 of them are already signed to major labels and another 100-150 are already signed to "major indies." Your odds of "breaking" in this environment are simply not very good. Also, on the label front, everyone is cash-strapped and panicked. And, even if you are ready to break, there are probably three and maybe five other bands with equally good records and good buzz. I'm not a mathematician but if you carry all those ones, your odds of smashing this festival and grabbing the cash are ... slim.

Pros: We've heard XL Records is looking at this band pretty hard. Which, barring all the negative math above, can break your name pretty quickly. It also helps if your songs are strong (yes) and if your publicity machine is working harder than everyone else (Daytrotter session, blog features, etc.). It also helps if you sound like you could turn into Rogue Wave.

So, what's the verdict? Enjoy "World News" and "Airplanes" and you tell me. Despite what we think of the landscape, the days of bands toiling in brilliant obscurity are over. As a major A&R recently put it to me: if the music is good, people will find it quickly. Indie kids, consider your world officially shattered. Local Natives, consider yourselves officially broken.

Listen :: Local Natives - "Airplanes"
Bonus :: Local Natives - "World News"


Voxtrot :: "Trepanation Party"

Voxtrot evaporated from the world in 2007. Facing somewhat absurd and overly righteous backlash from the same community of bloggers and indie kids who buzzed them in the first place, the band just kind of disappeared. We were left with weird 5,000 word blog posts from the lead-singer, written in solitude and anxiety in Berlin. They referenced "new material" but was it a solo record or something involving the whole band?

As SXSW descends on their hometown of Austin, Voxtrot seems determined to return with a relative vengeance. I say relative vengence because this is a band whose previous dominant influence was early Belle and Sebastian. But "Trepanation Party" isn't that at all. It has thumping, immediate drums - a riff with a decidedly ominous behavior and quality. The vocals are familiar but the synths are foreign and cold. I guess they're supposed to sound that way. Part of me doesn't get it yet. Part of me thinks this isn't what I wanted. But part of me didn't go try to find myself in Berlin. Part of me has no idea what this band has been doing for the last two years. So, Voxtrot, welcome back. In my book, go ahead and make something that sounds like it could go on M83's last record. It's your world, kid - we just live in it.

Listen :: Voxtrot - "Trepanation Party"


My Jerusalem :: "Sweet Chariot"

Nothing inspires heated debate quite like the Middle East. Let's clarify: nothing quite inspires heated debate like Israel and Palestine. And no place is more at the center of this debate than Jerusalem. So, the idea that a band would claim ownership by proxy of their name is a lot to handle. Frankly, would you even want the responsibility of it being "your" Jerusalem? My Jerusalem? Without being too offensive, wouldn't an American example be "My Detroit?" It's broken. It's yours. Now fix it.

Now that every Zionist and Liberation front nightmare is on edge, this is the most moving piece of indie rock I've heard in a while. It reminds me a of a National record slow-dancing with Beulah's catalogue. You could even make the Wilco comparison when comes to the sad-sack horns. But this isn't Jeff Tweedy's painkiller hangover. Listen to the shrieking pre-chorus before the arrangement spirals into something vaguely orchestral. This is what indie rock is supposed to sound like. The National reference is a piece of creepy deja-vu in the bridge as the lead-singer repeats: "we will not suffer mistakes of our fathers/chariots take us away." It's not "I won't fuck us over/I'm Mr. November" but it's damn close.

In a moment that is right out of Pela's Anytown Graffiti, the arrangement erupts into churning strings, resolving organ chords, and then, finally, an incredibly moving (and rough) set of double-tap drums. It's almost the last thing you hear as the whole mess fades to black. It's not perfectly recorded but it's not supposed to be. This is about taking responsibility for something that is intentionally not perfect.

Listen :: My Jerusalem - "Sweet Chariot"


Viva Voce :: "Devotion"

Viva Voce are shooting for something big. "Devotion" sounds like a cross between Depeche Mode vocals and 1988-era U2 arrangements. If you don't hear a little Unforgettable Fire in the crashing guitars and soaring progression, you're just not listening. Now, as for Depeche Mode, the vocals are dark and dramatic, and of course, the title shares a name with a DM album, Songs of Faith and Devotion. You could make a strong argument that this song actually came out somewhere between the end of Ronald Reagan and the beginning of George Bush I.

So, turn the lights down on your Friday. Let music turn up in the background. Clarify, let this music turn up in the background. Feel a little down, but get up. Move around a little. It might be good for everyone to get out. Big guitars and all.

Listen :: Viva Voce - "Devotion"


On The List :: Airborne Toxic Event @ The Bowery Ballroom [3.11.09]

There are singular moments in rock music and then there are Singular Moments In Rock Music. Last night, we're filing under capital "T" Truth. Airborne Toxic Event are on the stage at the Bowery, a string quartet to their right, and their drummer vaulted halfway up to the ceiling. It's an impressive spectacle. If you just squint your eyes a little, you'd see the death-hum of four stringed bows moving and churning in perfect sequence. If you listen hard, you hear a band in rare form - lean and sharp from eight consecutive months of touring. If you listen to what you're feeling, it's ebullient. They're playing "Sometime Around Midnight" and it seems like this band is exploding from every angle like a volcanic Pacific island. This is A Singular Moment In Rock Music.

But the trick is on us. "Sometime Around Midnight," is the song most of the crowd came to see (radio is a bear like that) but it's not the most moving moment of the night. Up next, and last for the set, is "Innocence." The string quartet, vicious and moving on "Midnight" have moved up a level into "potentially lethal" and "emotionally propulsive." The comparison to Arcade Fire doesn't make sense on a genre-level, but as far as strings and the last time they moved anyone like this, well, it's approximate. "Innocence" sounds so big it could rip the pavement off Delancey Street. I've used this expression before and I had no idea how little I meant it then compared to now.

If you rewind a little, the band gave us some songs from the next record. They played a set front-loaded with old material, "Wishing Well" and "Gasoline," packed the middle of the set with new songs, and closed with the old favorites. It's not rocket science but it is rock and roll. The new material made people predictably uncomfortable. For the suit, tie, collar, talk-through-songs set, this was a challenge. For everyone else, it was a window into the future. New songs like "Echo Park" and two of the three others make you think that the second record could be better than the first. And once clear of the new material, the band ripped through "This Is Nowhere," flying into the final act.

I could wax philosophical about "Sometime Around Midnight" and "Innocence" but, put simply, this was the best moment of the night. The crowd was genuinely moved because it was genuinely moving. The band came back for a two-song encore, closed with "Missy" as usual and threw tambourines into the crowd. Then they stepped to the edge of the stage and slapped hands. It was the picture of gravitas. Wait. It was a Singular Moment.



On The List :: Manchester Orchestra @ Mercury Lounge [3.04.09]

Playing showcases put on by your record label is always a little weird. If you were a chef and the owner of your restaurant asked you to cook for his kid's birthday party, for free, part of you would be flattered. Part of you might think: well, I don't have a choice, do I? So if Manchester Orchestra is feeling a little put on, they don't show it. And why would they? They have a great record coming out in six weeks, a national tour that will bring them to your backyard, and a live show that could, as I quoted in a text message during the show, "melt your face."

But before you go out to conquer the country, you play a small club show. Try out the new songs. Feel out the crowd. Rip on your industry people on their Blackberrys in the back of the room. If their shirt is tucked in, they're probably working for the label - good rule of thumb. The set-list is tight, predictable and moving. "100 Dollars" is arguably more impressive in-person. Album single, "I've Got Friends" starts slow but ends up with the screaming title pathos, "I've got friends in all the right places." The front row is full of the most serious fans. This is a rare opportunity to see a big band in a small club. They absolutely will document this.

"I've Got Friends" (live)

Lead singer, Andy Hull has a flair for the dramatic. He closes with "I Can Feel A Hot One," a song ostensibly about sexual awkwardness, unexpected pregnancy, and love. Bluntly, it is a crusher. He is almost alone on stage as the the crowd sings the final strains of melody. Hull backs from the mic, continuing to sing, and hangs his guitar. A sideways glance, an aside to no one, and a muttered,"thanks." I've seen him do this exit before. It's no less moving the second time. This kid is the real deal. On someone else it would feel contrived or stupidly theatrical. On him, this departure, quiet and real, feels important and forthright. Kind of like the album. Kind of like this band. Honestly.


Mystery Jets :: "In Between Days"

I was under the completely erroneous assumption that I had heard the best cover of "In Between Days." See, it was early 2004, I was driving north on route 95 and I was reaching for anything. Ben Folds released these little in-between-album EPs and the first song on the first EP was a cover of The Cure classic. It had splashy drums. It moved about a million miles an hour. I was helpless to fight it.

But into the electro-throwback breach come Mystery Jets and Esser with their little piece of heaven. This version of "In Between Days" is a little bit bleeping synths and a little bit bouncy tempo. It's probably lighter than the original, which would be hard to do if this song wasn't about something so crushing. Emotional disaster never sounded so good. So, Ben Folds, consider yourself unseated. I know it was wrong when I said it was true.

The only question is: when Mystery Jets, an 80s throwback act, cover The Cure, a band who made their name and money in the 80s, where does that leave us on the irony scale? Does the universe still have meaning? This isn't a new spin on something old - it's a new band with an old spin, spinning something old in roughly the same way for a new audience. Got it? Has the dog finally caught its artistic tail? Is the snake now officially eating itself into non-existence? Answer: 'tis better to threaten the existence of the universe than to have never affected it at all.

Listen :: Mystery Jets and Esser - "In Between Days"

The Antlers :: "Bear"

Something important happened yesterday. Well, important in the sense that one of the best albums of the year actually came out yesterday - if you were paying attention, you already heard parts of it. Yesterday, The Antlers officially released Hospice and entered themselves into the album of the year race.

It's a record that documents, in story form, the long road towards death. Hospice, the well-cared-for last rights of days. Last night Peter from the band wrote: "This record was the most difficult record for me to make, and the hardest to to let go. But ultimately, I'm optimistic, truly believing these things become easier with time." Optimism in the face of certain death - it's a little inspiring. Optimism in the face of certain hype - it's a little ambitious. The band is offering a download of "Bear" to go with one of our favorite songs of the year, "Two." "Bear" is subtitled, "or, Children Become Their Parents Become Their Children." Think of that what you will.

Listen :: The Antlers - "Bear"

Bonus :: The Anters - "Two"


Dog Day :: "Rome"

Dog Day is one of those bands you feel like you could wait on. They're not going to get big on you. They're not going to blow up and make you feel, retroactively, like you should have spit their gospel harder when you had the chance to look cool doing it. They sound like Asobi Seksu slow-dancing with Margot and the Nuclear SoSos. Put bluntly, they sound like a mixture of two moderately successful indie rock acts.

You can do the math. They're not going to sell a million records. But then again, that's not why they got in this business in the first place and that's not the reason you're about to download their song. "Rome" has a quiet dignity and a simple propulsion; a mixture of Teenage Fanclub guitars and drums and some boy-girl vocals that would remind you of the most palatable parts of Broken Social Scene. Once you're around the bend and the guitars are starting to thrash (I use this word very lightly) and the vocals are a series of rising "ohs," you'll catch why this might matter. Even if you waited on Dog Day, it's not too late and it never will be, but that only means the time is right now. The time is right now. Read that with whatever emphasis strikes you.

Listen :: Dog Day - "Rome"


Elevator :: Wolf Gang

Maybe 2009 is the year for Wolf Gang. Given how roughed around the demos are, it could be 2010 by the time anyone really hears this but for now, let's call it: This band is going to blow up. Define that? I'd bet you dollars to donuts (hard to say where this phrase comes from) that this band signs with the indie imprint of a major in the next 12-months. It's just going to happen. If Wild Light can end up on Columbia, where the hell could this band go? I mean, this is actually good.

What do they sound like? A little Arcade Fire, a little TV On The Radio, and a little Kate Bush (a male-fronted version). We've got one song, "Night Flying" that runs on a rough-shod guitar progression and some group vocals in the chorus. It's hard to picture now, but close your eyes and try anyways; richer production, maybe some strings, a real clean vocal mix, and those piano peel-offs in perfect crystaline hi-fi. It's hard to envision but the framework is there. I Promise.

Listen :: Wolf Gang - "Night Flying" (click through)

Clear it up :: Apologies, clarifications, and the perfect storm

Big Baby Jesus dumped about a foot of snow on the city today and if you're the religious type, you might see some plague-like significance in it. Maybe New York got a little loud. Maybe we were a little too focused on spring. Maybe we needed to get brought back down to earth, kept inside, and shut the hell up.

Sort of like this project. Occasionally things will go up here in a hasty fashion. By, "occasionally," I mean, "always." The immediacy has its charm but sometimes we overlook certain angles or don't make things crystal clear. Take last Thursday for instance. I wrote three quick paragraphs about New York's The Hundred In The Hands. It wasn't particularly well done but it did leave out a few key details. One, "Dressed in Dresden" is a fun song that we've been digging out around here. I do think it owes certain stylistic flourishes to Bloc Party's "Banquet" but really, like a poor gambler, I laid heavy on that part and totally forgot about the rest. It's a good song on it's own. Is it a little slice of post-punk revisionism? Sure. But so is 85% of the music that I like. So, "Dressed in Dresden," you are not a copy-cat mess. You are your own woman and man.

To make it up to everyone, I'm running it back. Re-posting the track and the link through to the band's remix of the song, aptly called, "Undressed in Dresden." Enjoy the weather. My karma is still completely hosed but this is one step back around the bend.

Listen :: The Hundred In The Hands - "Dressed in Dresden"

Bonus :: The Hundred In The Hands - "Undressed in Dresden" (click through)