Moments before Teenage Fanclub take the Bowery Ballroom stage, there is at least one conversation between fans in the venue that revolves around losing one's hair. It's a fitting subject, considering the band in question released its debut, A Catholic Education, in 1990.
The Glasgow foursome is touring in support of Shadows, its first album in half a decade, but the audience screams for guitar-driven anthems from years long past. Teenage Fanclub belongs to a different era, a statement that sounds like an insult but isn't. They didn't play Woodstock 1994, but they could have.
Sixteen years later, they rock for an hour and change, playing straight up, striped down, sunny tunes. Two-, three-, four-part harmonies, two guitars, a bass, a drum set, and a fifth member rotating between instruments. Teenage Fanclub mixes old favorites ("Declaw," "Like A Virgin") with cuts from Shadows ("Baby Lee"). An audience member shouts "no new stuff," but no one else seems to mind forays into more recent sections of the catalog.
The night's most charming moment comes before "God Knows It's True," a tune written two decades ago in New York City. Norman Blake admits the band hasn't played it live in some time. Then he proceeds to forget the song's beginning. On his second attempt, he screws up a chord and stops. He laughs. "It's just a B. Everybody knows a B," he says with an incredulous smile.
He shreds through the third take.
Listen :: Teenage Fanclub - "Baby Lee"
Listen :: Teenage Fanclub - "It's All In My Mind"
London's Get People are the next in a line of artists to tap into our barely understood yet completely non-negotiable affection for the 1980s. In this case, the source material is the shimmering international pop made briefly popular by Men At Work's "Down Under" and Duran Duran's "Rio." On "Odyssey," Get People share certain stylistic methodology with contemporaries Egyptian Hip Hop, taking us on an amorphous and profoundly digital exploration of something vaguely exotic. They urge us to follow them, to find truth out there in the wild, to "play with time." Consider the final impulse the best one as we screech into reverse through twenty-odd years to some clearing in the middle of time and space where people are dancing to the beat and pounding out their hopes and fears on a drum pad.
Exactly two weeks ago tonight, a Wesleyan student set herself ablaze with flammable accelerant on the edge of the school's athletic fields. Her suicide note held the Stars' lyric, "when there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire." Stars were scheduled for a Sunday night appearance at Wesleyan and there was simply no way that was happening. A rapidly scheduled show at Littlefield appeared out of thin air. Neither singer, Torquil Campbell nor Amy Millan, would elude to the Genesis of this show, but it was true; a band who have always found their pathos in the tension between darkness and life, between death and love were unfairly face up with the actions of a deeply depressed college student who left nothing behind but their song lyrics. A girl who none of us knew killed herself and here we were, celebrating the smallness of the venue, our emotional connection to the songs, the weird shirtless guy to my right. It couldn't feel totally wholesome, and once you knew there was no going back.
We didn't know her. It was dreadfully sad, that was definitely true. But we were here, and so were they, resolute in each corner, forcefully ignoring how much we previously thought this was all life and death. We were mostly just lucky to all be together.
Against this backdrop these anthems of youth and tragedy did not take new meaning (this would be awful and selfish), but they certainly gained strength behind a largely unwitting audience and a band committed to, as they would say, "play music for people like you, until you don't want hear it anymore." Opening with "The Night Starts Here," the band ripped through a series songs that so inspired a particular fan dancing to stage left that Campbell looked at him and said, "The band loves this guy. Lead by example, sir!" The band then immediately shifted into latest single, "Fixed," a song bristling with synths and melody. Stars turned to the stunning "Take Me To The Riot," "I Died So I Could Haunt You" and "Wasted Daylight" in quick succession.
The night would end with Campbell, effectively alone on stage, singing about the loneliness of the dark. After closing with the crushing "Calendar Girl," Stars returned with an encore that contained a cover of The Smiths', "This Charming Man," an ode to how much they are the quiet center between Morrissey and Ben Gibbard's Postal Service. The band retreated, leaving only Campbell and his keyboardist. The lights were down and thankfully, only some us knew exactly why we were all here. Our local and private griefs evaporated in something larger and finally, we were just lucky to all be here together.
In playful and spinning futuristic doo-woop, Computer Magic unleashes "About You" with double tap drums and an arrangement that seems to elevate with each passing breath. By the end, she touches the edges of shrill without ever necessarily getting there. The lyrics, wholly and intentionally lackadaisical, aim at something that you liked so much you had to spend some time away from it. She admits she has never tried writing a love song. So, this is it; that thing without which we can't live, those unspeakable and unknowable truths that keep us up at night and get us up in the morning.
Listen :: The Lucksmiths - "Get-to-Bed Birds"
Listen :: Twin Sister - "Meet The Frownies"
Listen :: The Fresh and Onlys - "Waterfalls"
Listen :: The Radio Dept. - "The New Improved Hypocrisy"
The first we heard Swedish stunners Museum of Bellas Artes they were mixing it up with Toronto's First Rate People on the go-go single "Film Star." Now, with a split single due out on Transparent, the girls find a pop gem in dancing keyboards and day-dreaming vocals. Finally settling on a chorus of "But, I think you know/But, I thought you knew," it is sardonic and straight-faced at once. So fully lodged in the sky, all dancing keyboards and sunshine, this will refuse the comedown, no matter what we kn0w or when we knew it.
Museum Of Bellas Artes - Watch The Glow by TransparentRecs
Listen :: Weekend - "Coma Summer"
Listen :: Young Mammals - "Confetti"
Listen :: Young Mammals - "8 4 8"
Luckily, The War On Drugs are a Philadelphia rock band with a brand new EP and a promotional single, "Comin' Through" that evokes cruise-control rock, gliding under its own power with meandering American guitars like a Petty-fronted Real Estate tune. It is road trip music, even if you're standing still, leaving the hysterical 80s and 90s in the dust of something new that feels pleasantly worn in.
Listen :: The War On Drugs - "Comin' Through"
On "I Forgot To Fall," one of two teasers on the Foundation's website, Hutchinson's vocals are immediately recognisable, fragile and insistent. The arrangement is a spiralling affair of strings, splashing drums and building guitars. For this group darkness is not a foreign feeling, the depths known deep yet survivable, pain put on tape and left for others to hear.
Listen :: Fruit Tree Foundation - "I Forgot To Fall"
The first sounds on The Killers' seminal 2004 debut Hot Fuss were the whack of descending helicopter blades. On Brandon Flowers' first solo record Flamingo, due out next Tuesday, we hear only the chirp of crickets as album opener "Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas" emerges, a little folksy and a little bombastic. Flowers is no less obsessed with broken dreams and a fragile Americana, but this time the ethic is that of back porch storyteller, not a triumphant landing party.
The inescapable ethos of Flamingo, a record originally written and intended as the full band's fourth studio album, is that of a wistful, almost weathered nostalgia. When Flowers remarks blithely on the album's first track, "Didn't nobody tell you the house will always win?" it is with the perspective of a man who knows just how powerful institutions can be. On track two, "Only The Young," the catchy chorus is a portrait of an older man, claustrophobic, staring in the rear-view mirror at his youth. Maybe most crushing is "Hard Enough," a track so beaten-down, Flowers invokes Jenny Lewis' broken vocals for the duet on the chorus. Those expecting charging, battle-ready hymns will necessarily need to look elsewhere.
In the cloudy snow globe of Mr. Flowers' inspirations all is not remember-ten-years-back-when-you-were-young morosity. The comparatively ebullient "Magdalena" is an updated Springsteen anthem, rife with slide guitar, soaring backing vocals and a key change with enough buoyant power to pull the meditative side of the record out of the water. Even single, "Crossfire," with its illusions to a special type of purgatory is more relief than damnation. Most revealing is "Swallow It," evoking Talking Heads bizarre-pop and its message of temperance and maturity against a culture all too ready to eat at the buffet, stuff ourselves, obsessed with learning to run before we walk. While it isn't the most aspirational record, the expectation is that we're beyond that kind of pep talk. Flowers has us to himself, soft American songs in the fading darkness of early evening.
Follow us on Twitter for an mp3 of "Magdalena." Flamingo is out today in the UK and next week in the US.
Listen :: The Vaccines - "If You Wanna" [Link dead, killed by copyright 1.18.11]