Princeton :: "Sadie and Andy"

Baroque chamber-pop slips into your music collection like an over-dressed dinner date. Maybe you agreed to meet for a bite to eat, but you had no idea that we were dressing up. Should I be wearing a tie? And it's not that baroque chamber doesn't look good in a cocktail dress, it's just that you're not quite on her level and you didn't have time to adjust. You're partially impressed (she looks great) and partially overwhelmed (apologetically shabby). There are no regrets about being here. Princeton's latest mp3 drop, "Sadie and Andy" breaks out with flowing strings, harpsichord and sweeter-than-sweet vocals. It is sophisticated and a little dressed-up. Not surprisingly, you can barely keep up.

Listen :: Princeton - "Sadie and Andy"


Friska Viljor :: "Wohlwill"

Friska Viljor are a two-man Swedish outfit with a lead-single about a neighborhood in Hamburg, Germany. This sort of pan-Europeanism suits the stumbling, stomping, vaguely-Eastern single "Wohlwill." Horns punch the air like an inspired, middle-aged dancer and carefree chord-progression rolls into a chorus that is every bit the reason why minor revelations are written in major keys. The production is delicate but not crushing; like Beirut grew up and wrote music for a movie with a happy ending. The singular lyric sums up the freedom of youth, "because we'd been down there for a couple of days/getting nothing but drunk and we were lost in a haze/so all this time we were wondering if/we'd gone to the right town." It is a song about a place, a neighborhood the band came to love, but it is more about being pleased with where you are; where ever that is.

Listen :: Friska Viljor - "Wohlwill"


Holopaw :: "The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion"

Featured prominantly in Holopaw's press materials is a quote from Isaac Brock. It is typically reductionist, emotional and exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from a guy who once sat down and wrote lyrics about trying to drink away the part of the day that he could not sleep away. Brock's assement of Holopaw's unexpected orchestral indie-pop out of Gainsville, "You're heartbroken, you're in love, the world's not complicated."

As much as this sort of self-serving emotionalism is repugnant, you have to take a spin through "The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion" before you write-off Brock's assessment. With the kind of string arrangement that would make you cry if you did that, and lyrics like, "I whistled through your crooked teeth/I never noticed your crooked teeth," the song is built for hurt. The voice remains just at the edge of complete failure, quivering in practiced but unperfected strength. And you wonder if this is real, these moments and these histories, or if it is all an elaborate fiction. But yes, heartbreak and love, they can coexist, imposters both.

Listen :: Holopaw - "The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion"


The Sweet Serenades :: "On My Way"

This tune struts out of the woods like an animal on a mission to evolve. Starting with something rough and primal, the song ends polished and explosive enough to light up the darkest parts of bars with no names and rock clubs with no memories. Two explosive guitar blasts announce the start, hot on the heels come rolling toms and a cowbell. Sweet Serenades' "On My Way" charges out of the wilderness on all fours. A gait becomes a lope becomes a dead run and suddenly, at the critical moment (we'll call it, "the chorus") the beast leaps upright and hits an arms-flailing, human sprint. An urgent four-on-the-floor rhythm section leaves no doubt: We might have grown up in the wilderness, but we make our home in the city. We're on our way.

Listen :: The Sweet Serenades - "On My Way"


Hatcham Social :: "Crocodile"

I would like to plan and execute a major bank robbery. Something styled out of Michael Mann's brain. Something that would involve the theft of millions of dollars, a fascinating multi-part plan, maybe a helicopter and a getaway driver, fake names, and passports from Argentina. We would need diversions and architectural plans and a man on the inside. We would need almost every stereotype from every Hollywood bank job movie. We would need very expensive grey suits.

But then there is the unpleasant reality that I and my associates would certainly be caught. If we imagine this involving my three to five best friends, the plan would almost certainly be too complicated or completely improvised. Someone would be late. We would charge ahead, undaunted, finding initial success, only to be detained at the airport with 75 million dollars stuffed into our suitcases. We would face massive prison sentences.

Hatcham Social, a British post-punk outfit suggest a solution with their debut album title, You Dig The Tunnel, I'll Hide The Soil. First cut, "Crocodile" is full of hooks and edgy guitars. The band is opening for Echo and the Bunnymen on their US tour, which is exactly where the need to be. What better title for a break-out: you dig the tunnel, I'll hide the soil. We're out on the lam.

Listen :: Hatcham Social - "Crocodile"

On The List :: Fanfarlo @ Bowery Ballroom [9.21.09]

This review runs on Bowery's House List blog.

Monday was already moving. Months ago, the show scheduled for Mercury Lounge shifted to Bowery Ballroom. Fanfarlo, a group of prog-folk, Arcade Fire-lite Brits, inspired a ticket-buying run that forced a venue change, only to sell-out on the next level. Perhaps more simply, this band put five times as many people as were originally expected in Bowery last night. This would be like making reservations for six, and having thirty people show up. Frankly, you had no idea you had this many friends. Multiplication is almost never a bad thing.

The band opened with "Drowning Men," a normally thudding meditation on statis. Tonight, it was just three band members, a stripped down and haunting version of the original. But three became four and five and six as the full band spilled to the stage for second song, "I'm A Pilot." It was a relief, but specifically it was a surprising clown car of multi-instrumental musicians. The band then played "Finish Line," unironically near the beginning, and the elevating "Harold T. Wilkins ..." The set built backwards to the finish.

All this funneled down to the last song of the main set (the band would play two encores). As their nominal closer" "Luna" stomped and bucked to its finish. The band's leadsinger began by slamming an auxillery drum at the front of the stage and ended the night with a solo on clarinet. It was a moment that pictured range and the crowd was happy to move along with the band. You could look and see what was happening, it was on stage and all around, times four or even five.

Listen :: Fanfarlo - "Luna"
Listen :: Fanfarlo - "Finish Line"
Listen :: Fanfarlo - "I'm A Pilot"


Small Black :: "Despicable Dogs" [Washed Out Remix]

The glo-fi genre holds as much promise as it does confusion. Warm synth-lines, echoing and fuzzy vocals - it doesn't seem definite enough to be promising. But Small Black made their way into our summer as the soundtrack to a departure from Los Angeles. As the 2.30am red-eye sailed out over the city, the song's signature lyric "do it without me/do it when I'm gone" took on added relevance, after all, I was getting out of there. The neon lights seemed to pulse and move with the electronics in my ears, like this was all a high-budget commercial done by a director with a tragic sense of humor and an eye for human drama.

But this experience in late July holds nothing to one I had this morning. Washed Out's take on "Despicable Dogs" is quite simply the most beautiful song I've heard this year. With a wall-of-sound loop and a "We can dance if we want to" allusion, Washed Out have pumped up the Small Black original into something that is as head-nodding as it is completely perfect. The emotional haymaker is still in the chorus where the signature lyric, the one that made Los Angeles harder to leave, comes through a mess of coordinated synth-peels like the quiet return of a past relationship or the departure from a current one. It needs no introduction. You can already feel exactly what this means.

Listen :: Small Black - "Despicable Dogs" [Washed Out Remix]


Logan Lynn :: "Feed Me To The Wolves"

Logan Lynn dropped into my email client with the warning or excitement that he was recommended by The Dandy Warhols. Both artists make their homes in Portland, but the similarities pretty much stop there. In fact, Logan Lynn sounds nothing like the Dandy Warhols. This, of course, doesn't mean that the Dandys can't like him. They are free to make artistic choices on their own, at least so I've been told.

And this affection makes sense. Lynn's sound is the shuddering electro-pop of a Postal Service arrangement gone on a colorful amphetamine bender. Even the lyrics betray the drama of Gibbard. Once you get underneath Lynn's rhetoric, "Feed Me To The Wolves" is a pleading, full-of-promises mediation on emotional pain. As low-end synths growl ominously, bright electrics of treble stab at the top of the mix - a musical dichotomy of loathing and hope to mirror his lyrical posing. Lynn is candid: "I'll die before I find a way to ease this pain." Perhaps, he's kidding and perhaps not. He's free to make artistic choices on his own; and "Feed Me To The Wolves" is a good one.

Listen :: Logan Lynn - "Feed Me To The Wolves"

On The List :: Miike Snow @ Mercury Lounge [9.15.09]

This review runs on Bowery Presents' House List Blog.

The battle between aesthetics and content is certainly not dead. As Miike Snow took the stage in white plastic masks - one part MJ-tribute, one part Vanilla Sky and one part possible bank robbery - you could be forgiven for wondering on which side of the debate they land. This display would be concerning if it weren't so cool. In the battle of Style and Substance, Miike Snow grab from each pile with equal and effortless impact.

The most profound reveal about the band isn't their navigation of competing artistic impulses, it is how loud and explosive they sounded in person. Set-list opener "Burial" silted and chimed out of a mess of knobs, loop pedals and instruments that crowded the stage. Ripping their masks off after the second song, the band's uncovered faces pounded out "Silvia," with a massive closing kick, before rolling into a punched up version of radio-single, "Animal."

"In Search Of" finished the set, a song that finds itself only inches from explosion. Seething and shuffling, the sold-out crowd moved its approval. After establishing the loops that build the song, the band members left one by one and the instruments dropped out in kind, leaving nothing behind. This un-layering was the final moment of truth. While we focused on the style, the substance was still built piece-by-meaningful-piece. And when it was gone, there was nothing left.

Listen :: Miike Snow - "Animal"
Listen :: Miike Snow - "Animal" [Fake Blood Remix]


Dawes :: "Love Is All I Am"

Fair enough: The title is a little much. But Dawes are certainly not up to being over-the-top for no reason. In fact, Dawes are a little much. This is, in a lot of ways, a compliment. The Americana-infused, roots-rock sweats through the sunshine of LA and ends up like a rustier version of The Avett Brothers. The arrangement is quiet, keeping the pace of slow-dance on the last day of summer. It is exactly the song to wax poetic about things past and present. It is the dimming of lights and the folding of tents. It is the boarding of cabins and the returning to school. It is a slow sunset over an utterly disinterested lake front. "Love Is All I Am" brings out the worst of comparisons, the most syrupy of rhetoric. It's all a little much.

Listen :: Dawes - "Love Is All I Am"


Land Of Talk :: "May You Never"

I was once accused of harboring an unconscious preference for male-fronted bands. While this is patently untrue, a quick trip through my music collection reveals something different. In an unscientific study, somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of the bands I allegedly like are fronted by male lead-singers. I reflected.

Two things could be at work here: 1) Rock music has never had a totally democratic approach to girls; a bit too feast or famine. You are either one of the few mercurial front-women or you're playing keys in a band where you sing back-up vocals and no one can remember your name. Either that or, 2) I am a secret music sexist. Since I discovered this, I've been on a mission to ensure it is not number two.

Land Of Talk are one of those Montreal bands that dance right up to the edge of shoegaze and step back. Latest single, "May You Never" is an echoing, rollicking piece of indie rock that seems to descend from way up high, before settling down to where singer Elizabeth Powell can explore the space. Her vocals are off-set against a rockabilly riff, with splashy drums and guitars you can move with. The final touch is set to blow the doors off the place, but it is purely instrumental. You miss Powell's voice. You could hear more of it.

Listen :: Land Of Talk - "May You Never"
Listen :: Land Of Talk - "Some Are Lakes"
Listen :: Land Of Talk - "Corner Phone"


Stricken City :: "Pull The House Down"

It is amazing how steady we keep our hands. Only a quick glance through the Internet video library finds millions of examples where the unexpected happens and the camera-holder not only captures the action, but does so with stunning balance and precision. These people are not professionals and many times they are not in circumstances that would indicate a particular readiness or guard. These are mostly kids, taping things like pressurized aluminum cans in a fire about to explode, with surprised and yet steady hands.

Perhaps we have a third animal impulse hard-wired in our brain. We fight, we flee, and we stay shockingly calm. These are all products of adrenaline and survival, but only one keeps our heads together when everything is going to hell. Stricken City storm out of the UK with something aching between chaos and remarkable balance. Lead single, "Pull The House Down" is a taut piece of angular, buzzing post-punk. But even in the moments where the arrangement is kicking out, it is ultimately about keeping it together. The chorus says it all: "Get yourself out/pull the house down/that surrounds you/sort your plans out." Surprise. Steady up.

Listen :: Stricken City - "Pull The House Down"


The Cribs :: "We Were Aborted"

The Cribs are probably pissed off. When the first track on your suitably-titled album, Ignore The Ignorant is "We Were Aborted," you've come to the conclusion that something has gone terribly wrong. The kids are not all right. The initial riffs in "We Were Aborted" are hi-fi, betraying none of the angularity that helps the chorus be as destructive as it is a weird sing-a-long moment. A crowd of teenagers, and those who respect the prime and energy of youth, chanting, "We Were Aborted" is either crushingly ironic or ironically very hopeful. Sure, things went off the graph paper some time ago, but that doesn't mean we're screwed. In fact, it might be where we started to turn things around. In that moment just before the lights go down, when it's amazing we've made it, you can whisper, "yes, and we're still here."

Listen :: The Cribs - "We Were Aborted"


[New] Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin :: "Cardinal Rules"

We really like Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin around here. They're poppy, thoughtful and fun. And now they've written a song for their local minor league baseball team, the Springfield Cardinals. This reminds me of a strange turn of events where The Shout Out Louds "The Comeback" was being played during the late-innings of Cincinnati Reds games. This is true. You can ask someone.

Is baseball the final frontier for indie rock? Doubtful - but this is certainly a step in an earnest direction. This song isn't paying ironic respect to someone. This song isn't heavily influenced by something intentionally kitschy. It's meant to be played at a minor league baseball stadium. And it's meant to be chanted and sung along with. Really. Check the soaring keys and the no-nonsense bass drum. This is built for consumption on a level not exceeding 5,000 people on a summer night in the midwest of the United States of America. It just is.

Listen :: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - "Cardinal Rules" (click through to The Catbird Seat)
Listen :: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - "Think I Wanna Die"


Devon Williams :: "Sufferer"

Be suspicious of artists who go by their given name. Slowly, we've been taught that these people are artistically questionable (John Mayer) or perhaps represent such unilateral danger to their own careers (Cat Stevens come Yusuf Islam) that they cannot be counted on. It seems safer when musical projects, even ones with only one founding member, choose a name - thus becoming more than a person, becoming "a band." That way, if the project implodes, the band is destroyed but the individuals are left untouched. This does not address the liminal situation where a single individual, joined by others, simply adds "Band" to the end of their given name (see: Dave Matthews, Pat Mcgee, etc.). It does seem that this last category is most specifically insufferable because of its treatment, and the necessary annoynimity, of the other members of said "band."

So Devon Williams, a recent signee to Slumberland, has a lot on the line. With angular, warm guitar lines out of The Cure/Smiths playbook, Williams couches the danger. This is brilliant, self-conscious pop. Insistant, rat-tat-tat drums back a soundscape that soars and weaves with the langour of a childhood bike ride. He encourages us to "shed our fear" and promises to "share mine." Fear, that is - the name is already taken.

Listen :: Devon Williams - "Sufferer"


On The List :: Throw Me The Statue @ Mercury Lounge [9.2.09]

Scott Reithman, lead singer of Throw Me The Statue, rather earnestly asks if there are any questions. This is a fun, almost after-school-special moment. The crowd simmers and someone yells out, "Take your shirt off." Reithman responds wirely, "That isn't a question." Inspired and somewhat inquisitive, someone asks, "Where did you get the name?" Reithman mutters, "Fuck." This isn't an answer. He backs away from the mike. You sense that this is a moment of truth, if however small. "Who said that?" He doesn't wait. "Come talk to me after the show. It's an incredible story."

Thirty minutes before the above anecdote, Throw Me The Statue opened with "Ancestors," the debut single off their new, and frankly excellent, record Creaturesque. It is a buzzing and moveable rock song. Reithman stared out into stage lights the affect of a first-year teacher, both overly confident and extremely suspicious. His movements got larger as the set progressed but his head rarely moved from a cocked, slightly quizzical angle.

The set was a series of new songs sandwiched around some old favorites. You could even say it was a shred predictable. However, they closed with "Staring At The Shore," the first track from Creaturesque. It was the first coming last; and, in this way, it was maybe a quip. More importantly, it was strong. This isn't an incredible story. But there also weren't any questions.

Listen :: Throw Me The Statue - "Ancestors"
Listen :: Throw Me The Statue - "Hi-FI Goon"


These United States :: "Everything Touches Everything"

Is it a grandiose word-palindrome or just tautological? Everything touches everything; one of those rare statements that is as insightful as it philosophically correct. Now, I suppose These United States, a band who suggested with a recent single that they wanted you to, "keep everything," are simply tying the strings together. After all, if you're allowed to keep everything (an ambitious and unnecessary gesture), you can't forget the things that those things touched. And what were they? Yes, you guessed right. Everything. Those things touched everything. Those things that you're allowed to keep, they've already touched everything. They will continue to do so. They remain touching and touchy.

The album is out today. I can't say enough good things about it.

Listen :: These United States - "Everything Touches Everything"
Bonus :: These United States - "I Want You To Keep Everything"