On The List :: Teenage Fanclub @ Bowery Ballroom [9.27.10]

This review runs on Bowery's House List blog and was written by esteemed 32ft/sec contributor and human machine, Noah.

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"


[Elevator] Get People :: "Odyssey"

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.


On The List :: Stars @ Littlefield [9.26.10]

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.


Computer Magic :: "About You"

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.


The Lucksmiths :: "Get-to-Bed Birds"

In a long kiss goodnight, The Lucksmiths have called it a career while simultaneously offering a final 7" single. For a band that suggested we strip to our t-shirts, reflected on aversion to cameras, and poked loving fun at The Smiths about a boy who never goes out, it is nothing short of a twee-colored funeral. Harder to say is whether "Get-to-Bed Birds" feels a little sad for its own reasons or because we know it marks the end. The guitars are bright, but the sun never fully emerges on this, the last trip around the block for a band without whom we would have so much less.

Listen :: The Lucksmiths - "Get-to-Bed Birds"


Twin Sister :: "Meet The Frownies"

"Meet The Frownies" is the first song Brooklyn's Twin Sister have ever recorded in a real life studio. In this case, through the power of non-profit Weathervane Music, the band took their brand of distant, underwater dream pop to an actual recording studio for a series entitled Shaking Through. The band still features the most crushing chord resolutions imaginable, sung over withering lyrics like, "I spoke with you 'cause you told me to/to pass the time in your living room." The aesthetic is a delicate, prescient fragility; and if it took the control and freedom of a studio setting to get this brittle, so be it.

Listen :: Twin Sister - "Meet The Frownies"


Mondrian :: "Things Money Can't Buy"

Mondrian are the French answer to the Belle and Sebastian album ready to land delicately in your music collection next Tuesday. A depressed mandolin marches along in ho-hum lockstep as sunny electronics enter and exit the arrangement with the playful attitude of a child playing in a revolving door. The chorus, a futuristic take on the same pop of the above referenced Scots, mixes elements of the wilting beauty of a Beirut record and the partial understanding of higher order truth over and above a commercial wilderness (see: "a thing money can't buy"). Despite all this, "Things Money Can't Buy" is entirely purchasable at the band's bandcamp.

<a href="http://popmondrian.bandcamp.com/track/things-that-money-cant-buy">Things that money can't buy by Mondrian</a>


The Fresh and Onlys :: "Waterfalls"

Shambling and mournful, the Fresh and Onlys' newest single "Waterfalls" explores the Western edge of the indie rock frontier. Heart-broken bass lines roam in time with ethereal backing vocals and lyrics that hearken back to a bygone era. We are left to assume the urges of the chorus, for us to "fall with me into the water," are directed patently at this reversal of the passage of time. As we tumble over the top, assuming this means backwards now, the final guitar obbligatos become wistful, remembered and lost.

Listen :: The Fresh and Onlys - "Waterfalls"


The Radio Dept. :: "The New Improved Hypocrisy"

Swedish elections are on the horizon, scheduled for this Sunday. While this is certainly a corner of the geopolitical quilt that normally would not make any waves in the world of Pop, in this case we will make an exception. Dealing with an increasing jingoist and isolationist right-wing movement, The Radio Dept. launch new single "The New Improved Hypocrisy" directly in the face of the fear threatening to dominate the discourse in their home country. The lyrics are as direct as the sound is typically sunny. The message is a plea for tolerance in an age growing ever more concerned with self and more and more irrationally afraid of The Other. Hell, if Sweden is on the run to the Right, one wonders what will happen to the rest of the world running south?

Listen :: The Radio Dept. - "The New Improved Hypocrisy"


Brandon Flowers :: "Magdalena"

In honor, or at least in recognition, of the release of Brandon Flowers' debut solo record Flamingo on US shores today, we are sharing a stream of best song on the release, "Magdalena." It is a post-Springsteen anthem (and wouldn't you know, with a proper noun title?) with a final movement that proves that Flowers still has the power to elevate. A key change is the soul of the second half, when after a brief moment of silence Flowers lifts over the houses and pulls the throttle to the sky. The record isn't perfect, but this moment is.


Museum of Bellas Artes :: "Watch The Glow" [Stream]

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


Weekend :: "Coma Summer"

Sometimes things are exactly what they say they are. Rippling tams announce the arrival of Weekend, a group of post-punk friends from the West Coast who play songs like The Jesus and Mary Chain sunk to the bottom of a swimming pool. "Coma Summer," the first track of their forthcoming Slumberland release, clocks in at over six-minutes of feedback and building weight. The density would be suffocating if the chord progression were any less sunny and the sunshine would be brighter if, by their own admission, it wasn't so damn unconscious. The bass line is from the Cure, the guitars from a demo of Daydream Nation. The air gets cooler and we awake again to discover the season we missed, the time we slept through.

Listen :: Weekend - "Coma Summer"


Young Mammals :: "Confetti" and "8 4 8"

There is no cure for exuberance. There is also no comparison. Houston, TX indie rock outfit Young Mammals know this on a molecular level, and debut LP Carrots bears out this notion, boiling over like some forgotten pot of water. "Confetti" whirs until dizzy and out of breath, sounding like Fang Island turned loose on the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack. "8 4 8" proves a slightly milder ride until its final movement, a shouting and insistent bridge beginning with the starry-eyed lyric, "Let's talk all night ..." There is no relief from this, just hooks and energy when everyone else is asleep.

Listen :: Young Mammals - "Confetti"
Listen :: Young Mammals - "8 4 8"


Sufjan Stevens :: "Too Much"

The next movement in Sufjan Stevens pysch-out-electro opus The Age of Adz hit the Internet today in unsettling, glitchy glory. "Too Much" is built on a central lyric, "there's too much riding on that/too much, too much," with washing synths and strings filling in the architecture around a foundation of halting electronic beats. After a Kid A-breakdown in the song's fifth minute, Stevens tests our will and the spacial limitations of his music in a final movement that pits fluttering strings and horns against laser synths. He rides this impulse toward the edge, a nearly uncomfortable man-versus-machine saturation, before letting the gears spin off and cough quietly out the door.

<a href="http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/track/too-much">Too Much by <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_7">Sufjan</span> Stevens</a>

The War On Drugs :: "Comin' Through"

If The War On Drugs were a national policy initiative and not a Philadelphia rock band, it would be underfunded and completely ineffective, maybe even culminating with a 25-years-back Nancy Reagan screaming. "Just Say No" at terrifying volume. If The War On Drugs were a national policy initiative and not a Philadelphia rock band, it would feature an after-school program so comically ineffective it would later be proven to increase drug use among young people. If The War On Drugs were a policy initiative it would certainly invent as spokesman a trench coat-clad cartoon crime dog that even the most grounded 10-year old found at least a little troubling.

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"


Fruit Tree Foundation :: "I Forgot To Fall"

The Fruit Tree Foundation is a collection of Scottish musicians who have come together to produce a record exploring issues of mental health, raising funds and awareness. Featuring heavy-hitters like Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit and James Graham of The Twilight Sad, as well as curators Rod Jones and Emma Pollack, the collaboration is already bearing dark, intense and rich fruit. Even the simple edict of allowing Hutchinson and Jones loose on a record dealing with issues of mental health seems a match made in heavenly hell. After all, it was Hutchinson who looked us straight in the face in 2007 and sung, "You're not ill and I'm not dead/Doesn't that make us the perfect pair?" and then later in 2010 moaned, triumphantly, "I'm not miserable now!"

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"


Brandon Flowers :: Flamingo [LP]

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.


The Brother Kite :: "Isolation" and "The Scene Is Changing"

The Brother Kite is one of the best bands you haven't heard of, unless you have exceptional taste or you're one of the my personal acquaintances on whom I've pushed their music. Perhaps their biggest fan is my former boss, a heavy-hitter VP at Virgin/Capitol who insists they are the best band he's heard this decade. The band's new record, Isolation, echoes the influences of their previous work (is it Brian Wilson playing Teenage Fanclub songs or the other way around?), only taking their sound to its most bombastic and directed eschelon, all soaring choruses, dark imagery and colorful, crystalline vocals in the dark.

<a href="http://thebrotherkite.bandcamp.com/track/isolation">Isolation by The Brother Kite</a>

<a href="http://thebrotherkite.bandcamp.com/track/the-scene-is-changing">The Scene Is Changing by The Brother Kite</a>


The Vaccines :: "If You Wanna"

Brand new UK band The Vaccines have barely a footprint in proof of their actual existence, only an infectious, patient-zero single and a publicist behind their emails who admittedly doesn't even represent them. You can't make this stuff up. So, the math on this is a little iffy, but we do know first demo, "If You Wanna," is a throw-back burner with good attitude and an instantly memorable chorus. For a band with a name and almost nothing else, a cocksure demo takes the place of depth, and you can be absolutely sure you'll be hear a great deal more from these shadows in the digital darkness.

Listen :: The Vaccines - "If You Wanna" [Link dead, killed by copyright 1.18.11]