On The List :: Free Energy and Foreign Born @ Rickshaw [2.24.10]

Noise Pop opened its stint at the Rickshaw with four bands Wednesday night. Oddly enough, co-headliner Free Energy slotted second, unleashed their brand of throw-back, Thin Lizzy-inspired rock. Tour standards "Dream City" and recently leaked, "Hope Child" kept the night lodged on some boombox, street corner in 1976. Of course, upcoming single, "Bang Pop," was righteously fun and unwaveringly catchy. If there is an American rock band to see this spring, it is this one. To boot, it wasn't hard to convince the crowd to embrace a thrown-back pathos; these people are mostly living in their own decades as it is.

I bumped into a plaid shirted, red-haired, rat-tailed hipster gyrating while The Fresh and Oldies let loose on their sweaty dancing fans. Their song “500 snakes” (“we all hatched out of one egg!”) contained a thumping beat and a strong drum backing that resembled a White Stripes and Ramones sound with catchy lyrics. I just wanted to move. So did said rat-tailed gyrator.

As the headliner, Los Angeles’ Foreign Born took the stage amid a crowd in transition. Their hour-long set included a few twists and turns that I appreciated -- moving from the delightfully poppy garage band rock of “Winter Games” and the hypnotically harmonious “Don’t Take Back Your Time" to moments of an almost South African mbaqanga guitar rhythm in their new track “Early Warnings.” (And then there was bassist Ariel Rechtshaid’s mind-boggling decision to pull up his down jacket’s hood just as the lead singer was taking off his jacket. Hot indeed!)

Working in tandem with lead Matt W. Popieluchriffs, Lewis Pesacov diligently supplied Foreign Born with a diverse and enticing mixture of guitar riffs blending bluegrass and rock into a catchy, melodic sound. Popieluchriffs’s voice demonstrated impressive range, hitting the alt rock whine in both the high and low registers. Their sound is living room taken to the concert hall with a facility for changing tempo throughout the set that underscored their five years together as a band. “Vacationing People” combined sounds of Arcade Fire and Talking Heads with a more relaxed and harmonious ethic displayed through a slow guitar interlude which eventually -- when they were good and ready -- returned us to the rapid snare rolls of the introduction. And what was that song that began with that thumping base line? I’ll take two of those, thank you.

The girl I took said “the lead guitarist is hot.” Shocking, I know.

Listen :: Foreign Born - "Early Warnings"
Listen :: Free Energy - "Free Energy"

-- Dave Bryson, filling in for West Coast correspondent Noah Davis who was wildly derelict in his duties.


The Radio Department :: "Heaven's On Fire"

The Radio Department make their return with the bouncy, lighter-than-air single, "Heaven's On Fire." Starting with a spoken, nasal voice, dryly noting: "People see rock and roll as youth culture and when youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do? Do you have any idea? I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture." Promptly, a sunny keyboard riff stutters into ear-shot and warm guitars follow, making this the softest call for revolution in world history. By rough historical analogy, this would be like Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky picking up rhythmic gymnastics and taking the new Soviet Union to a gold medal in the 1920 Summer Olympics. The Radio Department duck and weave and twirl through an arrangement that rolls like Acid House Kings playing a Clientele cut. There is no forgetting the original call to revolution, nor is there anything placid about the central lyric, "One look at you and my heaven's on fire;" the edge of the threat is in the softness of the delivery.

Listen :: The Radio Department - "Heaven's On Fire" [sendspace]


Thrushes :: "Crystals"

"Who will I find to talk to?," singer Anna Connor poses the perfunctory sledgehammer. Treating a failing relationship like the lack of a partner at an awkward dinner gathering, Connor and Thrushes aren't worried that things are fundamentally falling apart; they're worried they won't have anyone to talk to at this thing. The second-half of the lyric, "who will I find to talk to/and grow old with/I wish it was you," draws a higher-stakes comparison but behind the fuzzy guitars and the insistent drums, Conner is after something quiet and earnest. The question reiterates, "who will I find to talk to," like the best thing in the world is to be sitting next to someone who gets your jokes, says interesting things and whispers sarcastic commentary about the stuffiness of the occasion under her breath when no one else is listening. With the melodic hints of The Bangles "Manic Monday" (listen hard), and the fuzzy, shoegaze rock that Pains Of Being Pure At Heart made work two years ago, Thrushes' "Crystals" sits next to you, cracking jokes only you can hear. That's exactly how things don't fall apart.

Listen :: Thrushes - "Crystals"


New Pornographers :: "Your Hands (Together)"

The New Pornographers boast such a broad catalogue that a new record is like hearing from an old friend, still established in the same job, same city, same relationship with no major material changes. It's both nostalgic and familiar, like their return is really a "never-left." While this might not be the most exciting lede for a bit on their new record, Together, it's important to note that underneath all this familiarity is a standard of unsexy excellence that has been the hallmark of the band's career. With Carl Newman's vocals driving and Neko Case's explosive voice-box riding shotgun, "Your Hands," buzzes and hums with the 60s throwback power-pop that the band has both updated but largely just maintained since 1997. Or, put another way, those 13 years feel like they both did and didn't happen.

Listen :: The New Pornographers - "Your Hands (Together)"

Together is out May 4th in the US.

Why Write? :: "Burning Holes"

Independent rock didn't necessarily sound like The Shins until 2003. Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, it sounded like Michael Stipe's R.E.M. and later, the efforts of early career Belle & Sebastian, Pavement and Built to Spill. This is certainly a reductionist analysis of the great ontological question posed best by David Byrne, "How did I get here?" Independent rock, this morning, is something different, and it's easy to forget, or perhaps challenging to remember, where it came from. But "indie rock," had its infancy in record store in Athens, Georgia in 1980s when Michael Stipe had a chance encounter with Peter Buck, and the soul contributors to R.E.M. found one another. If there exists a genesis moment for the movement, it was these creationist "six days" between this meeting in '80 and '82, when Stipe turned down a lucrative offer from RCA records to release his first EP independently. This was before music was supposed to necessarily change your life; it was just supposed to be yours.

Why Write? is the brain-child of Jacob Faurholt and returns us to those days where music sounded exactly like it was made. On "Burning Holes," Faurholt is channeling 1983 and the lo-fi, college radio sound of R.E.M. In fact, you could almost slip "Burning Holes" onto Murmur, like a secret castaway, and maybe no one would notice. The signature lyric is destructive and oblique, "my hearts been broken into pieces of you," followed with the title lyrics, "burning holes in the heart you made with your hands." It evokes something magic and something real, something like 1983.

Listen :: Why Write? - "Burning Holes"


[Elevator] The Shimmer :: "No Surprise At All"

One the most hotly tipped bands out of the UK this winter is The Shimmer. The brother-sister duo storming out of a small town on Britain's eastern coast circulated a series of demos before being snapped up by Hit Club, home of Egyptian Hip Hop and Wolf Gang. "No Surprise At All" isn't a complicated affair, a wide-open, straight-ahead rock cut with driving guitars and 4/4 drums. By the final twist, where the band repeats the lyrics, "on and on," you can almost see heads nodding and lead-singer, David Hanks, improvising a yell, "comeonletsgo!" before screaming and falling away from the mike. In all the forward movement there are hints of darkness here; the lyrics address the perils of achieving some dream life where the reality is less rosy. Regardless, "No Surprise At All" is the best rock song we've heard this year.

Listen :: The Shimmer - "No Surprise At All" [zshare]


Interview :: Rebecca Bortman of My First Earthquake [2.3.10]

Rebecca Bortman, lead singer and cheerleader of My First Earthquake, looks exactly like she does in her band's videos. This, probably, shouldn't be surprising, but it is. She's chatting with a fan at the merch table before the San Francisco group's pre-Noise Off show, all dyed hair, bubbly, and happy. Minutes later in what passes for Du Nord's Café's green room, she answers our questions in exactly the same manner. We are not being filmed, but nothing would change if we were.

In one band photo you're wearing soccer cleats. Is that a fashion statement or a practical choice?

I have passion for bargains and I'm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where people don't know about fashion the way I like to know about fashion. All these big companies send their excess products to the suburbs of Pittsburgh. They can liquidate their stock without diluting the brand because no one knows about their brand there. So companies like Nike send their really cool gold soccer shoes to places like Gabriel's outside of Pittsburgh. I go visit my parents and spend hours digging for $5 Nike shoes and I'm like, "Fuck yeah, gold shoes." But cleats. I'm like Jackie Joyner-Kersee."

Does that get dangerous?

It gets a little clicky-clacky. They aren't metal. It spices up my step.

Does San Francisco have a sound?

San Francisco has a sound, and it sounds like people living the good life. I think that's why you see more bands come out of little small podunk towns because there's nothing else to do. I think San Franciscans have this general laid-back nature that things will just come to them. I'm guilty of it too, but you have to fight against the laidbackness.

Are you succeeding?

I hope so. Our second album is a fight. It wants to be mellow and low key. It wants to just hang out in Dolores Park on the weekends, but we have to be like, "Fuck no, you have to start the party, album." That's been our fight. I think we were successful in our first in bringing the energy, but we've gotta keep the volume high.

Describe the band in a haiku.

Ruckus jamming, yeah.
We make you sweat puddles.
And you like it, lots.

I was a poetry minor in school.

That's pretty good for on the spot.

You know, all of our lyrics are on the spot. That's how they are written. I will improvise some of the lyrics tonight.

For any specific songs?

Well, once they make it to an album they are kind of set in stone, but until they do they're all kind of flexible. Everything we haven't recorded yet is still up in the air. Some of them I have a rough idea. I know I'm going to sing about in this verse, but a lot of it is off the top, which was the name of my improv group in college.

(A day later, Bortman emails us: Like any good poetry minor, I've done a revision to my haiku:

Enter our electro

Chasm of spasm. We spice

Songs: racy, tasty.)

Band name. True story? I was thinking it would be a great metaphor of sex.

Yeah, I think my mom thinks it's about sex. Or she actually thinks it about childbirth. She likes to refer to me as her first earthquake. Her first and only earthquake. Let that be an indication of my birth order. But I will tell you -- and you may not believe me -- the first time Chad and I got together to make some music was my first earthquake. I didn't come up with the name until several months later, and then I had to convince him that it wasn't a preschool toy.

Did you feel the earthquake?

Yeah, it was substantial. Probably the biggest one I've felt since I've been here.


Efterklang :: "Modern Drift"

A hesitant, plinking piano-riff runs the length of Efterklang's "Modern Drift," like a lonely double yellow line on a piece of highway that people never use. It is seemingly unrequited and dedicated, a guiding bit of forever for no one to ever fully appreciate. "Modern Drift" eventually spins off into thudding drums, whirring and mournful strings and the kind of quieter moments that made Sufjan Stevens a million, billion dollars in 2005. Ultimately, an intense layered piece of work emerges from its individual parts, so carefully put together. For nearly five-minutes, Elfterklang exists on a forgotten, lost highway, burning headlights into the darkness and weaving in-between the yellow lines.

Listen :: Efterklang - "Modern Drift"


Pin Me Down :: "Time Crisis"

Listed as bi-coastal - and we presume not that type of "bi-coastal" that leads to "bi-coastal curious" and then eventually just settling on the coast you wanted to begin with - Pin Me Down are truly a hybrid of the prevailing stereotypes of New York and London. On, "Time Crisis," breathless, full-sprint, electro-house meets with post-punk, arena guitars, all around the ethos of fist-making, twirling girl-power pop. And in this case, the product reflects the makers' individual histories.

As a side-project of Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack and former leadsinger of Black Moustache, Milena Mepris, Pin Me Down represents the dead center of these two impulses. The chorus of "Time Crisis," minus Mepris' soaring vocals, reminds you of your first listen of Bloc Party's A Weekend In The City, replete with the go-for-broke guitars and the arena impulse. Elsewhere, synths buzz, packaged drums hit with sharp digital fills and a dance-beat explodes like something loosed from a mid-1990s hit-factory. Perhaps, "Time Crisis" is so charming because it refuses to take itself too seriously, proof that rock can be fun and electro doesn't have to be so temporary. So maybe, Pin Me Down resists exactly what their name suggests, instead inviting us to a barge in the middle of the Atlantic where you don't have to choose which way to go.

Listen :: Pin Me Down - "Time Crisis"


On The List :: Yeasayer @ Bowery Ballroom [2.8.10]

This review runs on Bowery's Houselist Blog.

Brooklyn’s Yeasayer exists somewhere between an indeterminate futurism and the completely recognizable past. Like a laser-charged Krautrock band playing in British Mandate-era Palestine or like Depeche Mode performing in postcolonial Delhi, the band is undeniably synthesized, tribal and born back into the future. At a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, the reference game would prove useful as they took the stage amidst sea-sick colors and flashing lights.

Yeasayer opened with the unsettling and familiar first track from their latest record, Odd Blood, “The Children.” With vocals set in an artificially low register and pulsing, almost breathing industrial soundscapes, “The Children” was the edgy, creepy start to a set that would only equal one of the previous two descriptors. Relying heavily on material from the new album, out today, the group powered through “Love Me Girl,” “Madder Red” and “Remember,” although not necessarily in that order. There was an air of science to the exoticism, like Yeasayer had shown up to mediate sound, rather than actually produce it. Far more the medium for the cacophony than its creator, it was almost like they were the dimmer for the lights pulsing around them.

Yeasayer, the guys who used to practice in their apartment on Prospect Avenue in South Park Slope, closed their main set with “Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E,” the two singles off Odd Blood. The words of the middle of their set—from “Remember”—were still echoing around in the top recesses of The Bowery Ballroom: “You’re stuck in my mind/ All the time.” People wouldn’t forget this. And then loops peeled off into nowhere, and the band shuffled around between here and some indefinite never forever.

Listen :: Yeasayer - "Ambling Alp"
Listen :: Yeasayer - "O.N.E."

Interview :: Twin Sister [2.9.10]

Twin Sister are one of these cold medicine lo-fi bands from New York but, they're also the best, with a flair for bombast. The music is dripping in reverb and calls out from far away and they're about to be written up all over the place. We'd love to say we told you so. Their new EP comes out in March and here, they wax philosophical about Pitchfork, in-band-debt, and what the hell "Ginger" was about anyways.

32feet: Top 5 Desert Island records?

Twin Sister: We each did one:

Andrea: T-Rex - The Slider
Bryan: Can - Future Days - "Never gets old"
Eric: Björk - Vespertine
Gabel: Van Dyke Parks - Discover America - "It'd make things pleasant on an average afternoon on the island."
Udbhav: Tom Zé - Todos os Olhos - "I feel like it'd be pretty good beach music"

You guys recently got written up favorably by Pitchfork. Talk about the "Pfork Effect." Did things change? Were you irritated they discovered Vampires With Dreaming Kids so late? Are you allowed to say anything negative about them or will they blacklist you like indie-rock's Joe McCarthy? This question is 75% serious.

We really loved that they used the picture of Luna, Andrea's cat strutting around in the backyard. It brought a lot of people to our website and music for the first time, so there's definitely nothing negative to say about it. We don't mind that Pitchfork was late to the party, they have to cover a lot of bands, all of whom have something we've never had, publicists. We're still broke, trying to figure out how to quit our day jobs and do this music thing for real. We've been contacted by a handful of labels we've always thought were pretty cool but it's a little early in the game for things like that right now. They probably know that too. We're just trying to get this new EP out, pronto.

Your band is being ship-wrecked and help will not arrive in time. There is one life jacket. Who gets it and why?

Eric says: "Dev's computer, we could still somewhat perform if that computer survives."
Udbhav says: "First off, Andrea hates boats, so I don't think she'd even be on the ship, which leaves 4 of us. Second, we'd probably give the lifejacket to Eric's Silvertone guitar and Gabe's bass, they're irreplaceable!"
Bryan says: "I say we'd all let Dev live because we owe him some money. It would only be fair. Although Andrea is deathly afraid of water, so who knows. Wouldn't be me, that's for sure."
Gabel says: "Bryan"
Dre didn't say anything cause she knows better than to be on that boat.

Can you let us in on your plans for 2010?

First and foremost, release Color Your Life. We've been working so hard on it for so long and we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. After that we should be touring quite a bit, trying to get out there and see the world and learning how to sing together. Maybe even a summer 7" if all goes well. Also, we want to conceive of and release a song that becomes popular among infants.

What is the one thing people should absolutely remember about Twin Sister that they have no clue about?

Two equally important things. Ginger is a song about baby ginger roots, not redheads. Andrea's dog Amelia (a puggle) has a rhinestone cowboy hat.

Listen :: Twin Sister - "Ginger"
Bonus :: Twin Sister - "Ribbon Bow"


Oberhofer :: "I Could Go"

There is a restrained mania to Oberhofer's "I Could Go." Buzzing synths, a haunting whistle and air-puffed drum-loops finally give way to an ebullient rain of chimes, and all of this is before we've heard word-one from vocalist Bradley Oberhofer. The arrangement is borrowed from the Win Butler school with different aesthetic choices place-holding for the Arcade Fire's orchestral pop. Or maybe more accurately, this is post-apocalyptic orchestral pop, with all the electronic influences of a digital age, but the human howl of Oberhofer finding its way into the song's final third. The singular suggestion of the narrative is in the haunting chorus, the arrangement collapsing and changing around Oberhofer as he indicates that he could go, he could go, he could go ... away. It is truly the contest between the planned and the unexpected that makes "I Could Go" so moving - the sound of pop music being let outside, taken off the leash, and left to do battle with the electric fence at the edge of the yard.

Listen :: Oberhofer - "I Could Go" [zshare click through]
Listen :: Oberhofer - "Haus" [zshare click through]


On The List :: Beat Radio @ The Glasslands [2.5.10]

Glasslands is some separate slice of New York indie rock meta-cognition. It is self-consciously quirky, evoking more than just the distinction of being an "art space," becoming an "Art Space," like some officially incorporated version of The House of Yes. The walls are lined with found-objects constructed with coherent, if intentionally jarring methodology, in an attempt to approximate a more holistic art brut. The most beautiful of these is a puffy white suggestion of cumulus cloud-cover above the stage, back-lit to indicate some sort of explosiveness, in lower-light forecasting a fire in the sky. And in front of this Brian Sendrowitz and Beat Radio are motoring through their set.

In the classic spirit of basement bands and Art Space Shows, Beat Radio are going on late and have major keyboard problems. For a band that relies on delicate, shadowy arrangements, losing your keys isn't an ideal scenario. Sendrowitz and his band seem a little out-of sync, struggling with an over-matched sound guy and a lead-guitarist insistent on overplaying his role. However, against the odds, Beat Radio are still infectious and affecting (the guitarist from Bridges and Powerlines will later call them "his favorite New York band").

The band played "Follow You Around" early, a difficult trick in the live environment, especially without the signature keyboards of the studio original. Relying on material from their most recent LP, Safe Inside The Sound, the set was, unfortunately, cut short because of the late start. Sendrowitz would give us a reference from stage because, undeniably, we share a sense of "the moment" (or tonight, is it The Moment). This was before playing "Sunday Matinee," the band's closing song and proof positive that Beat Radio can negotiate the hymns of youth with the maturity of adulthood, even without keys in a nameless Art Space on the water.

Listen :: Beat Radio - "Sunday Matinee"


Preview :: Red Wire Black Wire and Beat Radio @ Glasslands [Tonight]

Tonight, two of New York's finest young bands are playing Glasslands in Williamsburg. Red Wire Black Wire are hot on the heels of their September release, Robots and Roses (and a July write-up from us) as Beat Radio prepares a series of monthly singles, the first of which can be found here.

Sonically, Red Wire Black Wire is exactly as explosive as the reference to bomb-defusion in their name would indicate. Emanating from the same Wesleyan-milieu that churned out MGMT, Boy Crisis and Amazing Baby, RWBW make dark, synth-driven music that manages to critically wink at genre while still taking a considerable dose of seriousness with their spoonful of sugar. Beat Radio, a drastically different animal, provide the kind of reflective tomes that come from quivering voices, shimmering lyrics and a working knowledge of Ben Gibbard's earliest work. The soundscapes are rich and moving and lead singer Brian Sendrowitz's voice sometimes whispering, other times yelling into the void.

Listen :: Red Wire Black Wire - "Breathing Fire"
Listen :: Beat Radio - "Sleepwalking"


On the List :: My First Earthquake @ Café Du Nord [02.03.10]

If one chooses to apply a literal interpretation to a couple couplets, some boys decided to throw Rebecca Bortman out of a band at some point in the relatively near past.

This was a mistake.

The lead singer of My First Earthquake dominates the stage at Café Du Nord. The type of girl who's ballsy enough to "join a band on a dare," she bounds around while screamsinging the lyrics to "Outta the Band" despite fighting off a weeklong cold. The 100 second-long ode to being ditched highlights the last set of the venue's pre-Noise Pop show.

The song comes immediately after Bortman, Chad Thornton, Dave Lean, and Andre Salcido power through "Cool in the Cool Way." During the middle of the Downstairs' single, the singer does her best Stepford Posh Spice impression. Her bandmates add enough backbeat to make a robot dance throughout.

The set progresses, and My First Earthquake integrates a couple new tunes. They are rough, but there's something undeniable about them.

Bortman found a better band, and we're all better for it.

Listen :: My First Earthquake - "Cool In The Cool Way"


Interview :: The Ghost Is Dancing [2.3.10]

The Ghost Is Dancing blasted on to our radar late but undeniably this past fall. Their latest record, Battles On is a stunning, approachable cry for youth and rock and roll amidst a world of failing signifers. Last week we shot some emails back and forth with Jamie and Kevin from the band about their favorite records and if they really can swim to shore from anywhere.

32feet: What are your top 5 desert island records?

-White Album (because there's more songs)
-Moon and Antarctica by Modest Mouse
-In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
-Feels by Animal Collective
-Abbey Road

You strike me as a band on the verge of something very big. What should be people expect from you all in 2010?

Well, we're currently working on some new songs that are hopefully going to sound quite a bit different but keep all the things you'd expect from us, and we're hoping to play more shows across Canada and the US.

Imagine the following scenario: Your band takes a cruise way out on the harbor and the boat starts sinking. Help will not arrive in time and there are only two life-jackets. Who gets them?

Easy answer. Lesley and Eric would get the life-jackets. Not because they're special or anything (they are though), but because Odie, Jamie and myself are extremely competitive and would try to see who could make it back to shore first.

Do you have a dream tour partner? Is there one band you all admire and would love to take 3-4 months on the road?

While it might not make the most sense musically, I think it would be amazing to tour with Animal Collective. They're definitely one of our favourite bands right now and it would be awesome to get to see them perform every night. For a bill that we might fit better on, I'm thinking maybe Wolf Parade? Or Spoon would be a lot of fun.

What is the most important thing about The Ghost Is Dancing that people don't know?

We love to meet people and make friends. After every show we always try to talk to the other bands or the audience members. And not just to find a place to sleep! (Although that's useful too). We like to hear about the fun things to do in a city, the best places to play a show or grab a bite to eat, and it's always nice to associate a place with friends that we look forward to seeing again.

Listen :: The Ghost Is Dancing - "Battles On"


Skybox :: "In A Dream"

It's a crying shame it's not May turning June. Not only because it's been in the single digits in New York and we're all feeling that emotional freeze of winter where everyone is a little edgy and beaten down, but also because Skybox's "In A Dream" would make more intimate and meteorological sense. The signature lyric about screwing with the sunshine still resonates in that finger-pointing way people get when things seem grossly unfair. It's ten degrees here, who the hell is responsible for this? Where is my survey or customer service hotline? Can I speak to the manager? Yes, "you fucked with the sunshine/you left it in the water/I think I'm gonna die." In surreal over-drama, it almost evokes the solar protectionism of Len's 1999 hit, "Steal My Sunshine" without being annoying. We suppose that we're facing down the next few months with resolve and unblinking hope. They think they're going to die in the dark but Skybox, more than likely, are about to blow up.

Listen :: Skybox - "In A Dream" [zshare]


Egyptian Hip Hop :: "Heavenly" [Video]

Last June we were completely leveled by the demo "Rad Pitt" from Manchester band Egyptian Hip Hop. Now, the band is set to release their debut "7, double-sided "Wild Human Child/Heavenly" single. The better of the two cuts, "Heavenly" bleeps and bloops with the band's miles away vocals. It is reflective and exactly the kind of sound that deserves to soundtrack a growing generation of kids who need their own cathartic, "I'm ok, you're ok," Breakfast Club-moment. The video borrows from found footage of tourists visiting London, the viewer made into an awed, youthful explorer from 1984. We suspect this is what we need.