All Tiny Creatures - "An Iris" [Feat. Justin Vernon]

On All Tiny Creatures latest LP, Harbors, out this past Tuesday, the band continues to craft some of the best hushed, chamber pop available. "An Iris" roots in a spinning guitar loop and ethereal, sailing vocals with, of course, an assist from Bon Iver/Volcano Choir genius Justin Vernon. It is driving and propulsive without necessarily trying to be, finding a certain beauty in repetition or expansion on a theme; the kind of thing you've been listening to for 3:33 and it easily could have been a not unpleasant hour. Heads nod unconsciously, you strain to make out the lyrics. Mix Loney, Dear with shades of UK super-producer Clock Opera and you'll arrive at a soft little center All Tiny Creatures have found inside all this chaos. They embrace a certain cacophony, though they've rubbed the sharp edges from it and commanded it into rhythm. A cocoon, a compass - choose the image - but it is something shimmering and sensible floating on the deck of a surging sea.

Listen :: All Tiny Creatures - "An Iris" [Feat. Justin Vernon]
Listen :: All Tiny Creatures - "Glass Bubbles"


LCD Soundsystem :: "Dance Yrself Clean" @ Terminal 5 [3.29.11]

Being one of the privileged 25,000 people - and a statement of this absurdity should communicate some of the cultural impact of this event - who will get to see LCD Soundsystem's  finishing kick this week, I feel rather un-uniquely positioned to say something about it. In fact, despite Murphy's urging for us to just, you know, "be here" instead of photographing everything, I suspect this run of shows will be one of the most widely documented and discussed series of concerts New York's history.

Last night, LCD Soundsystem opened with "Dance Yrself Clean", very nearly exploding Terminal 5, a venue most known for its dearth of emotional character and poor sight lines. Anyone in the building will always have those first five snare hits (4:05 above), the flashing strobes and all your friends, people you did and didn't know, going absolutely bananas, turning the floor into a gurgling, carbonated cluster of human energy. Thus, began a three-hour odyssey, a journey between band and audience. Never have I seen a New York crowd give of itself so unconsciously, perhaps because never has a band ever so egregiously and unpretentiously offered itself to us. LCD Soundsystem, we love you (but nothing) and this feels like a real event and we're happy to be a part of it, all of it, really.


On The List :: The Joy Formidable @ The Met, Providence, RI [3.28.11]

The Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan has the biggest eyes in rock music. She opens her lids wide in a mixture of menace, dare, excitement and, of course, joy. All these emotions and impulses made, as stares at her audience, simply by arching and hiding her eyebrows beneath her jagged, bleach blond bangs. This says nothing of her and her bandmates' mercurial qualities, an explosive mixture of spinning and thrash. It is a little thing, Ritzy Bryan's high eyebrows and her piercing blue eyes, but for a band so open on stage, so engaging with their fans and so giving of their energy, the evening in Providence was about letting their audience in, and without doing the whole pedantic, windows-to-the-soul thing, we see her, and more importantly, she sees us.

The Joy Formidable, a band we've seen in a range of venues from Brooklyn basements to opening for Passion Pit at Terminal 5, opened their set at the Met in Providence with "Greyhounds In The Slips", a song about getting out of town, before ramming the latest album stunner, "Magnifying Glass" into the first five rows of the audience. It is a Monday night in a second-rate northeastern city, and there are maybe 50 people crowding the front - it is not New York by a mile - but Ritzy and Rhydian run into each other and motor around the stage like this is the most important show of their year. This is their charm and their gift. In this moment, as they move to play "Austere", they are the best band in the world.

They play "The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade" and the massive "Cradle" before answering a request from the front row. A girl, maybe of high school age, had asked for the quieter "9669" and Ritzy looks directly at her, big eyes again, and says, "This is for you." It is a simple and winning moment. The band closes their set with "Bouy" and a prolonged and feedback-heavy version of "Whirring," the latter of which ends with Rhydian throwing his bass and Ritzy ripping the strings off her guitar. It is a weekday night in Providence and the band will have to restring their instruments tomorrow before the tour goes on and they do all this again; build, destroy, build again. The lyrics of "Greatest Light" nearly still ringing in the rafters, "This dream is in a telescope now." Eyes open, with magnification, audience and band look right at each other, closer than ever.

Listen :: The Joy Formidable - "Cradle"

YACHT :: "Dystopia"

Never having been any special fan of YACHT, there was considerable confusion about his newest release Shangri-La on DFA this summer. Questionable was meeting credible. Despite all of Jona's documented exuberance, none of his songs caught my attention, perhaps owing to the fact that he opened for LCD Soundsystem at Webster Hall one night in 2007 and danced around alone to an iPod while the crowd kind of watched and kind of thought he sucked. Hours later Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash would be viciously thrown into the scorer's table by the Spurs' Robert Horry, or, roughly what it felt like to listen to YACHT's set. With little reason to think of the band in the intervening years - despite my fond memory of the rest of that evening - they were an effective non-entity to me. All this leads to "Dystopia", the first look at Jona's DFA debut, a song with enough fun to explode all my rational or irrational negativity. It gives hints of the apocalypse and the end of everything. So, during the same week that James Murphy officially moves from being a recording artist to a label suit, let's spend some time with a kid that he's just begun working with. The old world always has to die. The question is, what gets built on the ashes? Jona puts it more simply, "the earth, the earth is on fire." And here, there may be second chances in what is being lost.

Listen :: YACHT - "Dystopia"


Fucked Up :: "The Other Shoe"

Arguably the most esoteric hardcore band ever, Fucked Up will return this summer with an 18-track punk opera entitled, David Comes To Life. Lead track, "The Other Shoe", only the first of four song previews to be released in the coming weeks, somehow finds a addictive hook sung by an adorable female voice amidst surging guitars and Damien Abraham's screamed lyrics. The downbeat picks up steam and the band continues to return to the chorus, "We're dyin' on the inside/dyin' on the inside" even with the addition of momentary halcyon guitars at the top of the mix that recall more mid-career U2 than NOFX. It is allegedly about turning these broken insides out. But Abraham demurs, "new lyrics follow the same old meaning", in some declaration of an attempted new world, this grand collision between so much delicacy and so much rage. For a band whose name both violates the New York Times' editorial guidelines and also ends up being mentioned in the papers' pages, these type of disjoints square the circle. Feel furious, afraid and smile just a bit.

Listen :: Fucked Up - "The Other Shoe"


Friska Viljor :: "The Beginning of the Beginning of the End" [LP]

The Swedish two-some Friska Viljor release their newest record The Beginning of the Beginning of the End today. It can be streamed in its entirety below, an all-night, stomping brass party full of hooks and memorable refrains. It reads like a Beirut record if the descriptors "languid" and "reflective" were imediately replaced by "wide-open" and "accelerate". The lyrics deal with some incessant heartbreak, but if lead single and first track, "Larionov" is any indication, there remains a certain hope in this slow-motion emotional train wreck. Or, put another way, don't let the lyrical content get you too far down when the melodies stay floating somewhere over all of us.

Friska Viljor - The Beginning of the Beginning of the End by Cryingbob


Cults - "You Know What I Mean"

Immediately a leading contender for song of 2011, Cults' "You Know What I Mean" takes the vague 1950s swing that colored offerings like last year's Best Coast record or the Tennis release, and distills it into a two-part stomp. Opening with innocent snaps and a melody that is very nearly the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)", the arrangement takes a turn for the bombastic, throwing reverb and snare under the same simple snaps, all backed by a wide sweeping set of strings. The delicate becomes furious, the cute elements of a sing-song refrain in metamorphosis toward something else, still brittle but entirely uncompromising.

You Know What I Mean by cultscultscults


BOAT :: "Landlocked" [Feat. John Roderick]

Some of the finest indie rock music of the past decade was released by John Roderick, the former or continued (this depends on who you ask) frontman of the band the Long Winters. Writing and playing in the Seattle area, Roderick here offers his vocals to BOAT's "Landlocked", certainly one of the heirs to his generation of whip-smart power-pop. The shabby sheen is intentional as the duet spins everyman lyrics in the verses about hiding from the landlord and being a waste of space at your dead-end job. All of this slams back into a chorus, reimagined, with BOAT and Roderick insisting with a wink, that "you really should be smiling." They recognize we don't feel much like it. The lyrics are about paralysis, but that doesn't come close to shuttering the final movement. Appropriately, BOAT's fourt and latest LP, Dress Like Your Idols, with its homage-driven cover art is out today.

Listen :: BOAT - "Landlocked" [Feat. John Roderick]


Family Of The Year :: "Stupidland"

Family Of The Year closed out our summer in methodical and unrushed fashion. On this go round, "Stupidland", the band finds a skip in their step to match their silky group harmonies. In terms of vocals, think GROUPLOVE but more campfire and less sprinting through fields, although even "Stupidland" has a moment of explosiveness near its close. Both reflect heavily on youth, in this case a place where "all you dreams" sit next to your foolish decision making, money spent in bars or, a post-adolescent pastoral, a pile of dirty socks outside your bedroom. All of this divides through the common denominator of exuberance, these beautiful and broken days of untold promise, not yet ground down or worn smooth by the passage of the world. Even to be able to joke about the foolishness of dreams tells you that Family Of The Year still believe in the truth value of their promise. And that is something to hold onto, even while you're getting your mail delivered to Stupidland.

Listen :: Family Of The Year - "Stupidland"


Long Walks On The Beach :: "I Didn't Want To Make Out"

Parsing the difference between "making out" and "kissing" is at the heart of the appropriately named and crushing, "I Didn't Want To Make Out". Certainly one of the most infectious slices of indie pop music of the last 12 months, Long Walks On The Beach earn your ears (and maybe your hearts) with chimes, shabby guitars and one of those mournful choruses that echoes from the garage all the way to your bedroom. It's a raspier, more soulful Oberhofer, but without the time signature changes or the magic realism. This is just jangly heartbreak, like some suburban kid recording his disasters in the form of Camera Obscura cover songs into his Fisher-Price tape recorder at three in the morning - rough, pretty and more than a little broken up.


Stricken City :: "Some Say"

Last week, Stricken City's last record ever, Losing Color, came out behind lead single, "Some Say". While the tragedy of a band on its last contribution is in play, the strength of the post-Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Some Say" should certainly carry the band into some last fans' hearts. Opening with dissonant strings and brass, the band down shifts with pebbled drums and glittering synths. Each moment leading the song's first snare hits as it whirs and stumbles off the ground like a remote control helicopter, excited and unsteady in the air. The backing vocals, a series of "ohs", punch at the air as the band lets the arrangement spin mildly out of control and, eventually, into the dark.

Listen :: Stricken City - "Some Say"


On The List :: The Jezabels @ Bowery Ballroom [3.13.11]

This review runs live and in color on the Bowery Presents House List blog.

Hayley Mary, the electric singer for the Australian four-piece the Jezabels, dressed all in black, demanded attention as the lights went down at The Bowery Ballroom just after dusk yesterday. As a part of the expansive Aussie BBQ, an event that brings together up-and-coming bands from Down Under, the Jezabels and Mary represented the most hotly buzzed of the assembled acts. Enriched comparisons suggested something of an updated Kate Bush, but Mary and her band wouldn’t give in easily to heuristic juxtaposition, favoring a more romantic understanding of their art, transmutative and entirely elevating.

The band was in sharp form from the start, opening with the spinning “Little Piece” and building their keyboard and guitar arrangements from the ground up. As appeared typical for them, their songs grew in menace as they progressed, with rolling-thunder tam drums and Mary’s powerful melodies sailing out over whipping guitars and enormous keyboard progressions. It would be a short set—a necessary evil in the Aussie BBQ format—and the band briefly thanked the audience between songs, although they clearly wanted to pack in as many cuts as possible. With seemingly little fanfare, Mary obliterated the audience on the night’s second song, “Easy to Love.” It was both title and fact.

The Jezabels closed their set with “Mace Spray,” “Hurt Me” and “Dark Storm.” There were those airplane-runway-takeoff moments, like in the final chorus of “Hurt Me,” when its keyboard progression moved solidly to the ceiling as Mary wailed into the darkness and we were all pushed back in our metaphorical seats as the band took off. And in the context of a cheap visual simile, the Jezabels were certainly on their way up, even as they unceremoniously closed their set, thanked the crowd and broke down their gear. Their power to transform a lighthearted afternoon festival into something deeper, seeming of desperate importance, was unmistakable. And for 35 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, they were the best band in the world, demanding attention and headed somewhere above all our heads.

Listen :: The Jezabels - "Mace Spray"


On The List :: Fang Island @ Bowery Ballroom [3.11.11]

This review runs live and in color on Bowery Presents' House List blog.

A critic far sharper than this one wrote that Fang Island’s self-titled debut LP sounded like “everyone high-fiving everyone.” Not coincidentally, bassist Mike Jacober arrived onstage for the band’s encore just before midnight on Friday at The Bowery Ballroom and proceeded to slap hands with as many people as he could reach. This was just deserts for the first few rows of an audience that jumped through most of the main set, sung backing vocals without prompting and (although this is extremely unscientific) went completely bananas for the band in front of them. This response wasn’t unsolicited as Fang Island had egged their fans into this frenzy, but, of course, it also wasn’t possible without both the band and the crowd high-fiving everyone.

Fang Island blends prog rock and post-rock with guitar breakdowns that have been dragged kicking and screaming from metal. On the night’s third song, “Welcome Wagon,” the band escalated the stakes, and since their aesthetic so successfully denies the classic pop structure of verses and choruses, their set whirred together over the 45 minutes they spent onstage. Playing material off their first record, Fang Island ran through a pumped-up version of the jerky “Life Coach” and threatened the venue’s door hinges coming out of the soaring bridge of “Davey Crockett,” concretely illustrating the band’s (and their fans’) go-for-broke approach.

The encore was a gracious melding of the album opener, “Dream of Dreams,” and the explosive sing-along single “Daisy.” This prompted the audience to channel Chris Farley’s version of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac,” leaving Fang Island to walk offstage with hugs and smiles. Any high fives were entirely not coincidental.

Listen :: Fang Island - "Daisy"


On The List :: The Rural Alberta Advantage @ Bowery Ballroom [3.10.11]

This review runs live and in color on Bowery's House List blog.

The Rural Alberta Advantage came to the sold-out Bowery Ballroom last night already having made a career, albeit a short one, on weird, fetishized stories about provincial Canada. Supporting their second record, Departing, thematically connected to their first, Hometowns, it was hard to say if the band was coming or going, with their lyrics touching equally on the desire to return to the places we know best and the need to burn these rural geographies from our past and hit the road. Their charm was, perhaps, in their ability to table these questions of origin and escape velocity, as they stood as an homage to life on the road a million miles from your friends.


Interview :: Kyla La Grange [3.11.11]

Kyla La Grange is both precocious and arriving in New York for the first time on Sunday. Her excellent single, "Walk Through Walls" is already one of the best of 2011, firmly establishing her as someone to watch as she works towards a full length record later this year. La Grange took some time out to reflect on her writing process, if New Yorkers are assholes and her strength as a swimmer. She plays Communion NYC on Sunday at Public Assembly in her first New York show before a run at SXSW.


Work Drugs :: "Sunset Junction"

In the fluid first moments of Work Drugs' "Sunset Junction", the backing vocals whisper the band's name. The way it's framed, we are unsure of the comma use or the construction. Is it an insistant command, "Work, Drugs!"? Or is it a proper noun, narcotics for employment purposes only, "Work Drugs"? Or, most confusing, it could be constructed in reverse as prescription and endorsment, "Drugs Work". Largely, this debate is lost in a sea of echoing guitars and occasional steel drums, which the band's Tom Crystal tells us were inspired by a trip out west, presumably to the part of East LA where Sunset Junction is both an intersection, a yearly music festival, and a methodology all its own. It is the edge of the American universe. The narcotic imagery is just that, imagery, as the sun slips below the western sky and you, Western youth, realize you have run out of country. The rest is just water.

Sunset Junction by Work Drugs


Friska Viljor :: "Larionov"

The first seconds of "Larionov", the first single from Sweden's Friska Viljor's forthcoming album, are a little like getting dropping to the middle of a Springsteen bridge. Horns ride up the tonal scale and then back down, legs kick out and the glasses on your table rattle from the din and your fist. This brassy in medias res opening eventually crops back up in the chorus, only this time with hook-laden lyrics about "the answers to my beating heart". It recalls a more fun version of The Rumble Strips' 2006 "Motorcycle", with the setting changed from a grey, British lane to the back room of a rock club that only allows major keys and never lets you sit down. Irrepressible in their ebulliance, Friska Viljor, who have been doing this brass-driven indie rock for awhile now, have the LP The Beginning of the Beginning of the End out on March 25th.

Friska Viljor - Larionov by Cryingbob


California Wives :: "Tokyo"

Glossy is the word you're looking for. Metallurgical synths open the curtains on California Wives' latest single, "Tokyo", before a more lacadaisical version of the band's trademark guitars fill out the bottom of the mix. Glossy and full color, these are the winsome sounds of a band so relentlessly polished that their sound catches and reflects light. The chorus is a nonsense tautology, "They're building houses and lights in Tokyo." But, like on debut single, "Blood Red Youth", this band excells in laying the foundation of a refrain and making the lyrics seems more and more insistant - fervent even - each time around. By its conclusion, sounding like a balladeering Phoenix, California Wives have another excellent single to their credit. The Tokyo lights, such a useful image, glowing warm under a blanket of darkness.

Listen :: California Wives - "Tokyo"


Clock Opera :: "Belongings"

Clock Opera's creations always feel like a gigantic culling of so many things all gathered up and put in the same place. Of course, his genius is not simply the ability to pick and pull these spacious cacophonies, but to order, chopping and settling sonics, sometimes by the finest of margins, in their right place in the hopes of turning chaos to order.  On forthcoming Moshi Moshi single, "Belongings", Clock Opera builds a glittering array of synths, erecting this tower higher and higher until the 3:43 mark, when his creation either grows wings or jet engines (you pick the metaphor) and explodes from the tethers of gravity. The end is the whirring of a piano before "Belongings" evaporates before your very eyes. All those disparate impulses pulled together for only a moment, more loyal to their original disorder than even this mercurial engineers' machine.

Belongings by moshi moshi music


Jonquil :: "Fighting Smiles"

Jonquil are preparing to make their descent on US shores in extremely poppy and nonthreatening fashion. This, of course, says nothing of the excellent One Hundred Suns EP they'll be supporting or the fact that as a signer to Dovecote, they're poised to be one of the break out bands of SXSW and 2011. On lead track, "Fighting Smiles", a lofty series of sunshine guitars dart around each other before (is it pan flute?) keys sail away like little drops of mercury fallen on the surface of a table. The track eludes simple architecture, leading necessarily to the sense that you are both never quite outside of a perpetually occurring chorus. The final two minutes distill this style, blending verse and refrain in explosion of hooks and melodies meant to be sung and memorized. As the title suggests, it is that moment where, despite your better judgement, you smile anyhow. They cite Paul Simon and I offer a British Vampire Weekend demo from four years ago. It's both semantics and a compliment. Jonquil play the Knitting Factory and Mercury Lounge next Sunday and Monday, March 13 and 14.

Listen :: Jonquil - "Fighting Smiles"


Kyla La Grange :: "Courage"

In what risks useless hyperbole, Kyla La Grange releases the excellent B-side "Courage" to accompany her bulletproof single, "Walk Through Walls". "Courage" is a more methodical affair, progressing, as it seems La Grange is built to do, relentlessly skyward. At first, the tragedy grinds at the pace of a funeral procession haunted by plinking keys and morose tams. But the arrangement swells and she breaks. La Grange speculates about a hole in our soul, the hundreds of implications under our skin and the easiest way to wreck her with a hand through her hair. She laid her heart bare, she tells us, before pleading with the void for courage. The song's final act is full and flecked with a string section articulating just the dreadful power La Grange has at her disposal. She wails against her own backing vocals - an argument she and we can't lose - and a guitar sails down the fret board in final flurry. For a song about bravery in the face of something terrible, this, again, sounds perfect.

Kyla La Grange - Courage (free download) by Stayloose


Austra :: "The Beat and the Pulse"

In what is reminiscent of a darker version of Hunter S. Thompson's opening to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, you can only ask: Where did these birds come from, these terrible, dark birds? Even if this isn't real, it seems like it might be. Like all good fears, these are completely imaginary as Austra's thudding "The Beat and the Pulse" evokes the Knife or School of Seven Bells as the forerunners to this type of spacious, industrial music. The machines are unrelenting, sucking us under while vocals attack from above. Both claustrophobic, taut and expansive and austere, Austra have crafted a downtown single that refuses basic systems of order, instead choosing outright assault from the darkest of corners; birds searching for clarion. If you're ripped to bits, it will be because you imagined all this was true, possible and very much happening.

Listen :: Austra - "The Beat and the Pulse"