Family of the Year :: "Summer Girl"

Like a badly written movie the summer season is always built to have an ending that is either overly nostalgic or pedantically allegorical. There might not be any deep lessons here, only rough-hewn frames on blurry images and half-written narrative. It is the close of the season of dilated time. Family of the Year will bear this out for us with vocals so smooth and harmonies so packed together, they sound like a sun-drenched, and very human, THX intro. The chord-progression is from the heart-breaking school, one last weekend with great friends and the memory of a season that always feels a little like it both did and didn't really happen.

Summer Girl by CRC Music


Sufjan Stevens :: "I Walked"

Sufjan Stevens played the Bowery Ballroom this fall and it was sold out as a matter of course. It had been four years and a little bit since he played five straight nights at the same venue promoting his masterpiece, Illinois. At one of those 2005 shows, he called on the imagery of prom night, even having two members of the audience slow dance to cement this in our guts: It was prom night. By this winter it was not prom night anymore. It had been four years and he had done some weird things and we hadn't really heard from him. This felt more like getting coffee with an estranged ex-girlfriend.

Stevens played new material that cold night this past October. Odd electronics mixed with a-rhythmic verses and even occasional dissonance as the audience glanced around nervously. But if it was unsettling for the crowd, it was certainly not for Stevens. These were his first new, original songs since 2004 and he seemed at home in a new direction, away from states and towards something nearly futuristic and vaguely uncomfortable. That collection is The Age of Adz, due October 12 and it will represent this new artist who so blithely wrinkled his own fans noses at Bowery a year ago.

This is not to say The Age of Adz will be badly experimental, merely that it marks a serious break. If anything can be gathered from first track, "I Walked," it is that Stevens is still exploring the outer reaches of chamber-pop, haunting background vocals and soaring melodies in tow. But the aesthetic is undeniably different. Other than Sufjan's trademark keep-it-like-a-secret hushed vocals, the soundscape bears little resemblance to anything in his heretofore discography. The lyrics address the reality of walking away (or is it chasing someone) while Stevens himself moves from where we left him to where The Age of Adz will leave us. It will be different and it is most certainly not 2005. He is moving on and we are moving too, whether we move together is absolutely up for debate.

<a href="http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/track/i-walked">I Walked by <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_6">Sufjan</span> Stevens</a>

Dominant Legs :: "About My Girls"

Easily the best EP of 2010, Dominant Legs officially released Young At Love And Life this week on Lefse. A collection of four songs operating at the edges of the twee catalogue with glittering synths and winking dilettante-ish guitars, this sounds like a stripped down Belle & Sebastian studio session from the Fold Your Hands Child days. On "About My Girls," booming Casio drum loops back an arrangement rife with flirty guitar and keys and we are left with the shabby brilliance of the chorus, "I just can't seem to forget about my girls." It is not unintentionally great.

Listen :: Dominant Legs - "About My Girls"


Bad Books :: "You Wouldn't Have To Ask"

Bad Books are the creative amalgam of Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra) and Kevin Devine. Their self-titled debut is set for release on October 19th, but possible first single, "You Wouldn't Have To Ask" is the first taste of the album. The song matches these two song-writers in perfect duet, Hull taking the top melody and Devine offering his baritone to the harmony underneath. The chorus outlines a crushing affair, Hull's trademark vocals soaring above everything as both singers destroy an unknown other over and over with the title lyric. Turning conditional sentences into weapons ("Is it really that bad?/If it wasn't you wouldn't have to ask") and indictments ("If you'd face it you wouldn't need a mask"), Hull and Devine hit a screaming catharsis as the song burns out in less than two minutes. Hook-filled and instantly memorable, "You Wouldn't Have To Ask" is one of the best rock songs of 2010; so, maybe shelve those questions for awhile.

Listen :: Bad Books - "You Wouldn't Have To Ask"


Beach House :: "White Moon"

Nostalgia for something you never knew enough to miss, or maybe nostalgia for something you wished you known well enough to hurt over, Beach House moved into hearts in the last 12-months with a combination of wistful melodies and peeling keys. "White Moon," either a b-side from one of 2010's best albums, Teen Dream, or the down payment on the next one, changes little in the aesthetic, yet offering the haymaker lyric, "do you want me to want to?" in the opening minute. Nearly baroque, the arrangement quietly marches forward like a delicate plow horse in the dream of some rococo dandy. Not that you know what that's like, but you imagine you might already miss it anyhow.

The Beach House Live iTunes Session is out now.


A Sunny Day In Glasgow :: "Drink Drank Drunk"

It takes 30 seconds for the drums really kick on A Sunny Day In Glasgow's newest cut, "Drink Drank Drunk." It is worth the wait. In a world where The Moment is in constant disrepair and subject to perpetual criticism, this occurrence is one of the few burst-through-the-clouds moments in a summer of downcast pop and crossed arms. Unleashing a shimmering and brittle brilliance, the band finds a place between noesis and apathy, artfully describing a solipsistic world where we can yell into the void and still expect the void to care enough to yell back, if only 30 seconds later.

Listen :: A Sunny Day In Glasgow - "Drink Drank Drunk"


Dead Confederate :: "Run From The Gun"

During the recording of second LP Sugar, Dead Confederate played this game in the studio where they taped their empty PBR cans together, eventually creating multiple battle staffs. Then they fought each other. It is only a brief window, churlish and irreverent, into the band's process on what is ultimately a dark, hard-driving record. And perhaps not ironically, in anticipation of Sugar's Tuesday release, Dead Confederate is giving away the most approachable song on the record, "Run From The Gun." It is an instantly memorable, bluesy progression designed for mournful drives and licensing in self-serious movies with troubled protagonists. Contradictory given their studio antics? Well, this is one of the best rock songs of the year, without trying a lick to have anyone ever say that; how's that for a reversal?

Listen :: Dead Confederate - "Run From The Gun"

Sugar is out just about everywhere tomorrow.


Small Black :: "Photojournalist"

Hushed voices and whispered half-truths are perhaps the strongest details of an admittedly amorphous lo-fi movement, and they are the hallmarks of Small Black, a band building the best stuff in the echo chamber. As on their previous work, "Photojournalist," lead-single off debut LP New Chain, relies heavily on looping and curious keyboards. Still the arrangement pulses and breathes like organic lifeforms taken root in all this binary code and silicone production, a bit of human touch in the synthesizer fog. And like an anthropomorphized New Order single that stayed out too late or took too much Philosophy in college, "Photojournalist" is expansive and thoughtful without losing sight of its own blurred edges and troubling moments. All Big Questions and fear of bumps in the night.

Listen :: Small Black - "Photojournalist"


Arcade Fire :: "Sprawl II" [Thunderlust Remix]

A week ago we drove into Houston on I-10 with Arcade Fire on the stereo and highway ramps zooming around us like tangential plot lines. In aching suitability, Win Butler's opus about Houston sprawl played while we navigated the same roads that, allegedly, were built before the towns. Of course, none of this was about us. We weren't from there, only acting as modern tourists in a pavement still-life, critically-acclaimed album on our stereo and New York City licenses in our wallets. If this was Kipling it would be called the Northeasterners' Burden. We can be insufferable.

But there was something moving about Regine's insistence on the album's last full (and maybe best) track, "Sprawl II." For a minute we were living in the sprawl, waiting at long lights and trying to find parking at a BBQ joint our friend recommended. This American life is confusing and expansive, and it is increasingly paved and far flung, making our connections daily choices between life and death. Thunderlust will bear this out for us in glittering and propulsive fashion, turning the navigation of the sprawl into a head-nodding, wide-eyed journey. We are, for four minutes, all together.

Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (thunderlust remix) by thunderlust

Glasser :: "Home"

Like a haunting and only half-remembered dream, Glasser's soundscapes dully render both broad and intimate emotions. On "Home," built around a clap track and a xylophone loop, vocalist Cameron Mesirow is her chilly, echoing best as the arrangement rises around her from somewhere far away. Accounting for all the distance in the eponymous lyric of the chorus, it is impossible to identify if the word "home" is a declaration or a plea. This is tribal-pop in the spirit of True Panther label mates Tanlines and the final feelings are more familiar than foreign, making this much more a return than a long-distance call.

Listen :: Glasser - "Home"


The Mountain Goats :: "The Sign" [Live]

For the past month we've been on the road and today we return home. Many thanks to those of you who put us up and put up with our antics; we are eternally grateful. Thanks to the publicists and bands who hooked up our shows. Thanks to America for being so incredibly enormous, unflaggingly weird and famously awesome.

Of course, the end of such an journey brings about the essence of its start. In some small way, I am reminded of John Darnielle's live cover of Ace Of Base's seminal hit, "The Sign." He finds at the end of the first chorus that too few audience members sang the words. In what is certainly a thesis statement, Darnielle breaks into a faux-tirade about how he knows these people know the song, knows these people know the words to this song and knows they secretly want to sing this song. He rails at their insecurities, their fears of looking uncool, their fears of dancing and singing, finally settling on the blithy put, "well, no one's gonna tell and there's no film in that camera!" Of course, this is all preserved through the wonders of concert recording, but in the last chorus, the crowd screams the lyrics with exactly the abandon that Darnielle suggested was possible.

Not everyone gets it. The recording is shitty and it is, after all, a cover of a Swedish dance hit from the 1990s. But the underlying message is about finding truth in the moments of letting go. Without of shred of grandiosity, Darnielle's words are more true than ever, even if someone told and there was film in the camera.

Listen :: The Mountain Goats - "The Sign" [Live Ace of Base Cover]


PS I Love You :: "2012"

The future might reasonably assumed to be dreadful. Even without fantastic predictions of melting cities, debt crisis and tidal waves, it seems we live in an age fascinated by future fatalism. Ontario's PS I Love You address this round-the-bend distopia directly with a feedback heavy anti-anthem, "2012." Singer Paul Saulnier yelps forever into the melody of the guitar line, following the sheet music exactly like a Sunset Rubdown off-shoot with more attitude and less of a penchant for Dramamine. What else could make you forget about European debt, Chinese currency fluctuations and import/export imbalance? A volcano in the middle of your American city? Fair enough; and that is just what this sounds like.

Listen :: PS I Love You - "2012"


The Delta Mirror :: "He Was Worse Than The Needle He Gave You"

This is straight poison. Like one of those Lifetime movies where the suburban kids are huffing pens or paint thinner in their parents basement, The Delta Mirror's "He Was Worse Than Needle He Gave You" is one part depressing and two parts riveting. Distant atmospherics and lo-fi, packaged drums create a catchy, hook-filled slow-grind, like a fully-rendered Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. The central lyric, "goddamn, I've got too much time on my hands" is as listless and crushing as an unmanned and apathetic oil tanker sliding into the side of a coastal city. At the 3-minute mark, with a shrug and an emotionless expression, the band finds a second movement in the fuzz. It is moving, even if the point is to just drift.

Listen :: Delta Mirror - "He Was Worse Than The Needle He Gave You"

New Yorkers, the band plays Union Hall and Cake Shop on August 14th and 15th


Landing On The Moon :: "California"

After an absolutely whirlwind few weeks, three afternoons ago we set sail east from San Francisco on our return trip to New York. Our cross-country journey is still a week from over, but perched in the south of Texas I am reminded of our first discovery of the Pacific ocean like four silly Lewis and Clarks. Rolling through the night air north of San Diego, we turned up Local H's "California Songs," a complete obliteration of West Coast Mystique. Two weeks later, Omaha, Nebraska's Landing On The Moon have their own rocket-propelled anthem about Pacific nights and sun-washed days and how unlike they are to the lunch-pail grind of the Midwest. And if there is a single truth about this country, it is certainly that our own private mythologies are what hold us together and rip us apart. And for us East Coast kids, you can never get further away than California.

Listen :: Landing On The Moon - "California"


Black Mountain :: "The Hair Song"

Black Mountain, sounding every bit their name on their third LP, (Wilderness Heart, due on September 14) seem hell bent on cranking the aggression up to the point where a multi-story shark graces their album cover. Second single, "The Hair Song," is a frustrated corner of the garage rock neighborhood, taut with enough pop hooks to not slum it entirely. The shark, well, this is another matter entirely. This is rock and roll and it will rip you in half.


Interview :: French Films [8.9.10]

Finland's French Films, a certifiable hit-in-hand with single "Golden Sea," shot us some emails about the fate of their future record, where they got their name and how they would rather die together than live apart.

32feet: Top 5 Desert Island Records?

It's so unfair to pick just five but maybe we could survive for some time with these classics:

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Arcade Fire - Funeral
The Jesus & Mary Chain - Psycho Candy

We know "Golden Sea" is a perfect summer single, but when can we expect a full length LP?

Our debut LP will be out (hopefully) early in 2011. We're releasing an EP soon, though.

If your band was stranded on a sinking ship and there were only two life-jackets, who gets them and why?

We would sink proudly with the ship.

Explain the name for us: lovers of French cinema? Lovers of alliteration? Lovers of subtitles?

Joni is a fan of French cinema, but it ain't the reason. We just thought French Films would make a decent name for the band. Simple as that.

What is the one thing people should absolutely remember about your band?

All the good times they had while listening to our music.

Listen :: French Films - "Golden Sea"


Magic Kids :: "Superball"

In one of those moments that you remember unironically loving, the culmination of a childhood supermarket trip sometimes ended in putting a quarter in a vending machine and getting a rubber ball. When you're eight things are simple, and highly elastic petroleum products are about as fun as fun gets. Over time this love of simple things dies; you learn multiple layers of meaning, begin saying disingenuous things for reasons you don't completely understand and, in short, become a jackass. You lose these small loves. Magic Kids aren't childish but they are rooted in those moments of deeply uncritical happiness. Somewhere between Belle and Sebastian covering a lost Beulah record and Beulah covering a Belle and Sebastian A-side, "Superball" is effervescent and entirely full of life. This is blurry, multicolored nostalgia. Remember?

New York's Top 5 Arcade Fire Moments

In honor of the end of a week already too full of the band, we celebrate with Arcade Fire's Top 5 Moments in New York City. They range from the sublime to the downright quirky. For those of you there for either of the last two night's shows at MSG, you have our jealousy and our respect. For those of you in the crowd for any of these, it doesn't get any better.

#5 - Playing Union Square in the middle of the night (2006)

The video is grainy and the songs weren't all theirs (this, New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle") but it undeniably happened in the middle of the night near 14th St.

#4 A 20,000 person sing-a-long (2010)

In the band's triumphant return to New York they closed the Garden with their signature song and all the back up vocals you could ask for. Not their most transcendent moment but certainly their largest (Internet audience, this includes you).

#3 Playing David Byrne with David Byrne (2005)

After 2004's Funeral the band attracted its share of rock star Illuminati. In 2005, David Byrne took the stage with the band at Irving Plaza to play one of his hits, "This Must Be This Place (Naive Melody)". Byrne looks like a spastic waiter at a Salsa club, but the band sounds great and the moment is entirely its own.

#2 Playing in the crowd at Judson (2007)

Arcade Fire took the stage at Judson Memorial Church by playing an unplugged version of "Wake Up" from the belly of the crowd. On the Neon Bible tour, Butler developed a habit of walking through the audience as either entry or exit, establishing a clear sense that the boundaries of viewer and performer would be as blurry as possible.

#1 The United Palace Theater take-over (2007)

Butler encouraged his audience to crash the stage and after a brief skirmish with security, this is exactly what happened. The band played "Wake Up" surrounded by bodies, obscuring them almost completely from view. Butler then stepped forward, through the maw and led a group chorus. To cap it off, in one of the all-time Rock Star moments, he stepped over the seats and walked straight out the back of the theater . I imagine him walking out on to the streets of Harlem thinking whatever thoughts you think after crushing 3,000 people at once. I am, of course, biased to this instance because I was there. Rolling Stone would pick up my photographer's pictures but not my review (it's cool, no hard feelings). To those in the crowd, it is the stuff of legend, hopefully like the MSG shows will be remembered by the time their next record is out in 2013.


Arcade Fire :: 2003 and 2010

Arcade Fire sold out two nights at Madison Square Garden, and they will broadcast the second show live tonight over the Internet at 10pm EST. There was a time in 2003 where they played rock clubs and wondered if "Wake Up" and "Keep The Car Running" would ever light anyone on fire. This video is from that time, before they were capital letter anything, before anyone arbitrarily loved or hated their albums. This video below is the first known Arcade Fire performance put to tape. This was a time when they packed against each other and played a tiny rock club; Tonight, they'll take 20,000 people to The Suburbs.

ARCADE FIRE Live 2003 from Bennett on Vimeo.


My Other Friend :: "Collectors"

Brooklyn's My Other Friend just released their debut record, the aptly dubbed, Burning Bright Tonight. With one single loose, "Forty Years," the band offer album burner, "Collectors" up for download. Lost somewhere between an under-wrought Arcade Fire and some of the same troubled sonics that make the current Wolf Parade LP so satisfying, the band have tapped into something raw and powerful, with just enough entropy to excite.

Listen :: My Other Friend - "Collectors"


On The List :: Faded Paper Figures @ Elbo Room [8.2.10]

At stage right in San Francisco's Elbo Room is a screen playing loops of found footage and bits of abstract animation. They range from what looks like meditations on mitotic cell divisions all the way to Cold War-era air raid videos and images of exploding atomic weaponry. These are the visual choices of the electronic pop band, Faded Paper Figures, standing in front of them. So, the stakes were metaphorically molecular, and with an excellent new record, New Medium, the band could be forgiven for the ambition to melt our cells and vaporize our cities.

Appropriately, Faded Paper Figures opened with "Invent It All Again," a strutting and shimmering anthem of cutesy boy-girl pop. Their guitarist is wearing a Mates of State t-shirt, an ode to a straight-faced methodology, an unencumbered enthusiasm or even a shared telomere between the two bands (both feature a married couple based in Connecticut). They prove as innocent as they appear, talking about the superpowers they've decided they could have and making light fun of the beat poetry scene that San Francisco has all but forgotten.

Midway through their set the band plays "North By North," perhaps their best song if judged by crowd reaction. It is a warm corner of the Postal Service universe, with acoustic guitar foundations underneath a hushed electronic sound scape. Two songs later they play another favorite, "Logos" off their first LP. The band struggles with the sound, as their delicate, layered arrangements clash with a small club's limitations. They are affable, if not totally pleased.

It ends up not being a matter of life and death. Faded Paper Figures walk off to warm applause and we all divide and separate.

[Stream and download two tracks from New Medium below]


Arcade Fire :: The Suburbs [LP]

Arcade Fire's latest long-player, The Suburbs, released tomorrow morning, will be as frustrating and amazing a record as 2010 has to offer. The band's fans will be forced to choose if they like 2004's Arcade Fire or if they can accept a version of the band that is at once evolving, reflective and undeniably more adult. Gone are the rebellious (Lies, Lies!) statements of grief and youth, unless you count the suggestion in the middle of "Month of May" that kids should uncross their arms and, well, dance more. In their place is a record about growing up, about getting older and coming of age in a sprawling and intentionally fake American empire. In 2003 Win Butler, just 23, wrote Funeral about death and anger in the eyes of youth. In 2009, Butler, on the edge of 30, wrote The Suburbs about his childhood, getting out and that something inside us all that just might implode.

The Suburbs is not just an older man reflecting on his youth, it is a richer, more fully-realized version of a band coming to grips with its power and methodology. The rapid and drastic arrangement shifts that defined Funeral are noticeably absent here. There are no severe second movements, save the satisfying builds on "Rococo" and "Suburban War," and this iteration feels more logical than necessary. These are inward glances, not rocket-propelled marching orders, even during the haunting coda to "Suburban War" where Butler intones, "All my old friends/they don't know me now," as a church of thudding drums and strings builds behind him. There isn't always a twist here, sometimes just a mid-tempo reflection on things stuck deep in the schisms of the American psyche.

This is not to say the record has no soul. "Month of May" is a thundering statement of purpose, both outlining the meta-reasoning behind the record ("2009, 2010/wanna make a record how I felt then") and a State of the Union for the children of this disjointed, strip-mall America the band finds so horrific and fascinating. If there is a moment of direction, of easy answers, it is certainly when Butler moans, "I know it's heavy, I know it ain't light/but how you gonna lift it with arms folded tight." If the kids are going to make it out, they'll need to get on their feet and move around first.

Of the many lyrical motifs that tie the album together like all these pieces of knotted string, Butler is most transfixed by stasis, the time wasted and lost. We rode around in cars. We waited for something to happen. Our youth was protected and patient. The band finally suggests something different: that we dive into our consciousness, explode our myths, our upbringing and find connections in the maw of pseudo-idyllic suburban life. For a group that has been so outwardly expressive, so unrestrained, this marks a different pathos. Before we raise our fists, we must turn in on ourselves, find the beginnings we deny and settle the rebellion within.


Interview :: Math and Physics Club [8.1.10]

One of our favorite records of the year is Math And Physics Club's I Shouldn't Look As Good As I Do. We talked to singer Charles Bert about the band's size, their sound and whether or not Barry Manilow can make you miserable for a lifetime.

32feet: Top 5 Desert Island Records?

In no particular order…
-Stone Roses Stone Roses (favorite track: Elephant Stone)
-REM Life’s Rich Pageant (favorite track: Fall on Me)
-The Smiths The Queen is Dead (favorite track: Cemetery Gates)
-The Housemartins London 0 Hull 4 (favorite track: Happy Hour)
-The Softies Holiday in Rhode Island (favorite track: Write It Down)

Describe the recording process for I Shouldn't Look As Good As I Do? Was it different than the EPs or the first full-length?

We recorded our first two EPs ourselves in James’ basement, and we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing. For the first full-length we recorded the basic tracks at a proper studio, but we had a really small budget so most of the overdubs were done at our engineer’s house. For the new record we had more time and a bit more money so we did everything in the studio, which was nice. We also worked with Martin Feveyear for the first time, and he was great. He really helped us dial in the sound we were aiming for. The writing process was also different. We had less time to practice together because we’re all so busy with our personal lives, so a lot of the songs were arranged by trading files over email. We only played the songs together as a full band a few times before we recorded them.

To badly paraphrase Hornby, do people listen to pop music because they're miserable or are they miserable because they listen to pop music?

I don’t think I’m miserable because I listened to too much Barry Manilow as a kid, but then again…

What is one influence on your song writing that people never pick up on?

REM was a huge influence growing up. James and I both play Rickenbackers because of Peter Buck. I hear a lot of that influence in our music, especially in James’ guitar playing, but we rarely get accused of sounding like REM.

This is our one staple question: Let's say Math and Physics Club are on a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean and there's only one life preserver. Who gets it and why?


I called you an "intentionally small band." I meant it as a compliment. What is the aspirational vision for the band?

When James and I were starting the band, we really just wanted to release a 7” and play a few shows. When we were in college, our friend Ken was in a band that got played on John Peel’s show, so that seemed like the coolest thing in the world. I don’t think we’ve ever had a grand plan. We’ve had the opportunity to do way more than we ever expected, even though we’re not a household name by any means. We just keep adding modest goals as we go along, but it’s still just a glorified hobby. Next year it looks like we might get to play in the UK, which would be a dream.

What is one thing people don't know about your band that they should never forget?

We can kick your ass at croquet.

Listen :: Math And Physics Club - "Jimmy Had A Polaroid"
Listen :: Math And Physics Club - "Love Or Lonliness"