Work Drugs :: "Ice Wharf"

Work Drugs, recent protectors of summer music, purvey an allegedly different vibe on "Ice Wharf". It is supposed to be obviously and considerably colder. Now, a reasonably critic might argue that the chilly synths and lyrics about lazy days on the Camden waterfront could easily appropriate to the band's traditional summer cruise-control aesthetic. A person could say that. Maybe, it's a trick, like the Sixth grade scientists who stuck each hand in a bowl of hot or cold water, only to reveal your senses completely spun when both hands were placed in a bowl at room temperature. So consider "Ice Wharf" that moment of pleasant unsettling, a summer song for winter, or a wintery tune in the middle of a heat wave. Let the postmodernists sort it out.

Ice Wharf by Work Drugs

Scenes From The Suburbs :: [Review And Comment On A Police State Lest We Kid Ourselves In 2011]

In Scenes From The Suburbs, Spike Jonze's symbolic film accompaniment to Arcade Fire's 2010 release, The Suburbs, a cadre of white Houston teens face off against one another and their families under the umbrella of an ever-present, menacing police state. SWAT teams in black hoods patrol the streets, even at one point gunning down an innocent in cold blood, an image that looks all too real to anyone with a YouTube account in Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Oakland or Detroit. The film's narrative fulcrum involves the two main characters held against a chain link fence as their friendship crumbles under the questioning of a faceless police officer. They've done nothing wrong, and this is the point - the metaphorical figures of state security forces holding the place for the unsettling panic of kids with so little to do, even less to stand for, slowly being ripped apart by something they do not understand and cannot quite make out. The violence in the Suburbs is lyrical, imaginary and important, but these invocations have weight. For in too many parts of America's inner cities, you can recast Jonze's work with teenagers of a different color, pull the film shoot out of the subdivisions and into the street, and these bits of symbolism become all too real.


[Preview] Magic Man @ Piano's Tonight [6.27.11]

One of the best records that it seemed not enough people heard was 2010's Real Life Color from the electro-pop brains of Boston's Magic Man. Over the past 15 months, they are the band I have recommended most and most directly, as they occupy this soft center between sounding critically credible and dreadfully committed to pop music. Still up for pay-what-you-will download from the band's bandcamp page, Real Life Color is full, deep and immensely replayable, with track two, "Monster" clocking in as our 12th favorite song of 2010. Tonight, as a part of Future Sounds' on-going series of showcases, The Rumble, the band takes the stage at Piano's at 10pm. The show is free and, like their album, not to be overlooked.

Priory :: "Lady Of Late"

This is good news for people who love Good News For People Who Love Bad News. It's even better news for people who love "The Good Times Are Killing Me" from the aforementioned Modest Mouse record from the summer of 2004. Priory, a Portland, Oregon four-piece, have a dark little single, "Lady Of Late" with a plinking second movement. Giving way slowly to more bombast, the centerpiece of the song is the same vaguely didactic, down-tempo lyrics that made Isaac Brock so famous that he was sampled in a top 40 rap song. Priory, we assume doesn't refer to the a priori justifications of the world of philosophy, but there is something about this that feels known, given and already great.

Listen :: Priory - "Lady Of Lady"


The Echo-Friendly :: "Same Mistakes"

The brightness knob, the one that controls everything (just invented, just now), is going to be dipping toward dim on The Echo-Friendly's "Same Mistakes". Your dashboard lights, your desktop background, your kitchen track lighting, your city's skyline, all toned down around a graveled male vocal. Of course, this wouldn't be fun if "Same Mistakes" turned all lights down until they were off, and here comes a female voice to pull the dimmer up, brightening and lightening in time. The major turn, beyond a slow-drive piano progression, is the interplay between these two - dim, bright, dim, bright - a slower, more organic version of the idea that drove the Postal Service's "Nothing Better". It's gut punch pop: dark and light, nodding your head in the throws of a disaster.

Listen :: The Echo-Friendly - "Same Mistakes"


Len Bias :: "86 via Harvard"

We have a thing for unremembered nostalgia. I often wear a shirt with Larry Bird's face on it. Only I know the secret that the two times I actually saw Larry Bird play in 1988 and 1989, he spent most of the evening laying face down on the hardwood vainly attempting to stretch out his ailing back. I was six. Larry Bird is a permutation, an unseen memory, an oral history, but he is certainly not, in any tangible way, mine. Boston's Len Bias, a shabby surf-rock outfit with underrated hooks, draw their name from a similar decade, the unremembered 80s and, in this case, a Boston Celtics draft pick, supposed to take the torch from Bird, who exploded his heart with cocaine before he ever played a minute in the NBA. The turn in "86 via Harvard" is one that reminds the listener of other lo-fi post-punk, echos of Real Estate and Beach Fossils. But this is, perhaps, only a mirage, a world where I easily could have spent that evening in 1988 falling in love with the second year pro, Len Bias, and not caring a lick that Larry Bird's back was shot and would never be the same. We are only robbed in the counterfactual, the memory of an "if", a moment both passed and passed on.


Washed Out :: "Amor Fati"

By far Earnest Greene's most ebullient track to date, "Amor Fati" is the second insight into what his Sub Pop debut, Within and Without, will sound like when it hits retailers on July 12. Drowned in seasick synths like all his other Washed Out work, "Amor Fati" traffics in a reverent melody cast against a slightly more aggressive BPM setting. Sounding a bit like a Breakfast Club soundtrack for an entirely reversed generation, where the kids are more polished than the music, the intentionally reverb-heavy Greene continues to spin beautifully flawed, cold medicine pop. At this, his most upbeat, you picture skipping detention in your sunglasses to put the finishing touches on your resume and complain about the perils of declining professionalism in the world of secondary education. This is looking cool incorporated. Fists in the air, my friends.

Listen :: Washed Out - "Amor Fati"

Capital Cities :: "Safe And Sound"

Remember the first time you heard "Kids" or "Sleepyhead"or "1901"? Each of these summer anthems were so transcendent that in retrospect you don't need to attach band names, only the years 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively; the songs spoke for themselves and the bands blew up. In 2011, it will be Capital Cities, a Los Angeles electro pop act with a buzzy summer jam, "Safe And Sound", replete with a hefty downbeat and an airbrushed trumpet hook. Easy rhymes like "even in a hurricane of frowns/we'll be safe and sound" or "in a tidal wave of mystery/I know you'll be standing next to me" and lyrics that run in exact time with the 4/4 time signature make "Safe And Sound" instantly digestable, the kind of lather, rinse, repeat pop that is so intensely satisfying. In the first lyric, "I could lift you up," served over stomping synths, arrives as the thesis statement. Even three years later everything is still going to the beat.

Listen :: Capital Cities - "Safe And Sound"


Warm Weather :: "The Dance"

Warm Weather are a Los Angeles group of recent college grads with an excellent debut EP, Dances. In the spirit of other esoteric, somewhat baroque pop acts like Vampire Weekend and fellow Angelinos, Princeton, Warm Weather drape swelling arrangements in layers of vocal harmonies and enough poly-rhythmic influences to make everyone have to use the proper noun, "Paul Simon". Lead track, "The Dance" very nearly explodes half a minute in with a cascade of backing harmonies, in essence a movement in three parts, this demarks the end of the of first and the beginning of the second. By the third, a roaring breakdown of so many individual vocal parts, the band is at the height of its power before an entirely satisfying resolution of a final chord. Fairly simple, these are the last collection of notes on the first song of one of the best debut EPs of the year.


Twin Sister :: "Bad Street"

The break for Twin Sister - and here I don't mean publicity-driven Top 40 radio, but rather something stylistic - was 2010's "All Around And Away We Go". It was the position from which they launched themselves out of a lo-fi haze (and obviously, the forecast was a still a little hazy) and into a more spacious, almost disco-infused landscape. On recent single, "Bad Street", the band continues this trajectory away from home-recorded, cold-medicine jams and into substantially funkier (if "funkier" can be used as a critical and analytical term) territory. "Bad Street" climbs to an apex around the lyric, "I want it bad, I want it bad", though leaving it abundantly unclear whether this is qualitative statement or an expression of supreme desire. Either way, Twin Sister have moved expertly from making pleasantly drowned lo-fi, to upbeat summery disco pop. And they've done it all, as they would tell you with pride, without a publicist.

Listen :: Twin Sister - "Bad Street"

Mumford and Sons :: "England" [The National Cover]

East Enders, Mumford and Sons recently recorded a cover of the National's "England" from 2010's High Violet. Perhaps, it is appropriate that an actual English band play the song written by the Brooklyners by way of Ohio, in a swarm of bees, you know the rest. The cover was a part of VH1's "Unplugged" series, more than a little ironic given that Mumford has never played anything approaching "electric" or "plugged". However, "England" wears well in the hands of the folk set, building to a stomping conclusion around the lyric, "'fraid of the house, spend the night with the sinners", one of those lines written by a divided atheist and appropriated to be worn smooth in the hands of a believer. But all religion and regions aside, this reminds us of the depth and talent of the National and Mumford's ongoing revelation that a banjo band can and will sound great all the time.


On The List :: The Decemberists @ Prospect Park Bandshell [6.14.11]

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

Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists, took to the stage last night in Brooklyn, a borough he unwittingly helped build. See, since the first Decemberists demos and EP back in 2000-2001, Brooklyn fully embraced the Meloy shtick, a delocated Portland East, full of beards, thick-framed glasses, microbrewed beers and sustainably raised chicken. In essence, Meloy turned his wanton nerdiness into a major label deal with Capitol Records, and a bunch of nerdy kids declared him their archetype and followed his excellence by deftly selecting their shifts at the Park Slope Food Coop. The memory of these 10 years is as powerful as whatever actually happened. You didn’t necessarily need to look like Meloy to get into the bandshell last night, although it didn’t hurt, but this was in so many ways the return of the king.

Dressed in a smart three-piece gray suit, Meloy strode to the microphone more or less on time, with a glass of red wine that he carefully placed atop an amp, to be largely forgotten. The band opened with “July, July,” potentially their most singable song, before moving into material off their latest and best record, The King Is Dead, playing “Down by the Water” and “Calamity Song,” which Meloy offered free of charge to Michelle Bachman’s campaign. The beards and cheese plates on the lawn roared their approval but it was only Meloy who pulled off the sarcastic lyrical reference to supply-side economics before singing, “Will we gather to conjure the rain down?” laughing as his followers stood in hoods and umbrellas under a spitting drizzle. He couldn’t have seemed more powerful.

Perhaps it was some of Meloy’s first lyrics of the evening that rang the most true. In “July, July,” he reflected: “And we’ll remember this when we are old and ancient, though the specifics might be vague. And I’ll say your camisole was a sprightly light magenta when in fact it was a nappy bluish gray.” Memories colored with the sheen of nostalgia. So those in the crowd would forget these silly beards and goofy haircuts and the sleeping baby at a rock concert and the organic cheeses and the sustainably fermented pinot noir, but they will remember how this felt, to be in the same ZIP code as the brilliant Meloy. As he sang in “All Arise,” a country-western joint played to Prospect Park West, “just be mine tonight,” and they were.

The Decemberists -This Is Why We Fight by MMMusic

FIRST RATE PEOPLE :: "Someone Else Can Make A Work Of Art"

First Rate People return with their most long form effort to date, "Someone Else Can Make A Work Of Art". For a band with such fine songs and many of them clocking under three minutes, the 4:38 run time on "Work Of Art" feels downright longitudinal. Carrying three or four distinct movements on the single, the band continues to be agile, Swiss Army popsmiths, shifting between melodies with a sense that you're never fully out of the chorus. The arrangement is spacious, with a production sheen that indicates that FRP's days of making little bedroom pop songs might be graduating into something larger, the proverbial roof deck above the cozy studio apartment. Most importantly, like everything else the band has done to date, "Work Of Art" can instantly become your favorite song, the special power of the Canadian kids with pockets overflowing with hooks.

Listen :: First Rate People - "Someone Else Can Make A Work Of Art"


The Heartrates :: "Midnight Crisis"

The clock strikes twelve and this is nothing new; it happens twice a day. Similarly, the hollow keyboards at the center of The Heartrates' first proper single, "Midnight Crisis" don't quite due justice to the angular guitars and the ripping vocals that crop up later. In fact, initially, it sounds a little like "horror pop", some soundtrack for a late night sock hop at a haunted house that is neither particularly scary nor winningly ironic. However, "Midnight Crisis" turns into a stomping bit of dance rock in the first chorus before giving way like a false floor to another hook, "Goin' downtown/gonna chase you pretty women around." Now, this reads a bit monstrous, you know, in analogy form: Frankenstein's monster is to the woods outside Geneva as this guy is to the Lower East Side. However, "Midnight Crisis" seems to revel in this danger, chasing a dueling vocal harmony from front to back, through steaming chorus and the most vile down beat, or, the perfect soundtrack for that time around midnight when the edge of the night gets a little serrated.


James & Evander :: "Constellating"

There won't be another Postal Service record, the delicate opening keyboards of James and Evander's single, "Constellating" informs us. A bubbling - and here, I mean figuratively, like watching carbonation work its way up the side of a glass - analog synth progression enters second, as the advance guard of a swelling arrangement, thudding drums, and one of those glittering second movements that are the raison d'etre of electro pop. This is the Oakland duo's first foray into making music with lyrics, in this case regarding human connections, all these invisible threads so easily forgotten. And here we assume they've divined their title, a cosmic connect-the-dots, taking individual balls of incandescent gas and forging them into shapes; one of those silly and desperately important projects that we carefully practice losing after our youth.


Sun Airway :: "Wild Palms"

A mixture of longing and lust, wrinkled like the last items in the bottom of a duffel, come blithely to the surface in Sun Airway's latest single, "Wild Palms". Dulcet strings form the backing loop and the backbone of the song, in the spirit of the work that Her Space Holiday did back in 2005. Glittering synths enter the frame, adding a dose of unbridled wonder before the band's trademark lo-fi vocals nearly trip over each other to find a shabby but brilliant chorus, as a packaged eighth note high hat bleeds urgency. The arrangement swirls and bobs like a drifting and nearly lost beach toy in the surf and tide. Then, it is not coincidence that Sun Airway's central lyric is the barely deciphered, "just to reach you ...", a receding moment and only that.

Listen :: Sun Airway - "Wild Palms"


Beirut :: "East Harlem"

No one does mournful, dignified orchestral pop better than Zach Condon's work with Beirut. A suitably sweeping, ukele-based single, "East Harlem" represents Condon's first product since 2009's March of the Zapotec EP and the singer's baroque, Stephin Merritt-style baritone lilts around lyrics like, "Another rose wilts in East Harlem." The second movement, the final 90-seconds, is a horn-rich, figure-eight melody that glides into the distance with serious ease and grace.

Beirut - East Harlem by Revolver USA


Light Vibes :: "Wish We Had"

Bring your sunglasses, brothers and sisters. It's going to be bright, whether the sun comes out or not. Plus, your Wayfarers, your women's sunglasses (re-appropriated and turned ironically and definitively male), your aviators, your five dollar gas station glasses, all just look so damn cool. Light Vibes, a Swedish outfit, testing the limits of brightness settings turn up the the treble to the highest of high-fi, turning an angular, blinking series of riffs into the most ear-splitting bit of brilliance since you saw Passion Pit on the Chunk Of Change tour. It's almost too much, and suddenly you're back on the playground in 3rd grade with your teacher telling you not to stare directly into the solar eclipse, handing you a shoebox with a pinhole and saying, "Here, now look." Of course, you're not a child anymore and the shoebox is now a pair of sunglasses, ironic or not, to both guard you against and allow you to see such absolute, rare brilliance. You do look cool too, staring directly at "Wish We Had", a slow drive anthem about something lost (for this metaphor, your childhood), something found (here sits your troubled post-adolescence) and something too bright to see. And we'll call that the future, tomorrow.


Bad Lamps :: "Never Know The Difference"

A very young and very snappy duo from LA, Bad Lamps have lead single, "Never Know The Difference" that is both pleasantly shabby and undeniably taut. Perhaps, this tension is appropriate, given that the band essentially recorded the songs live to DAT, only adding some backing vocals later on. The lyrical motif, "she's just a little spotty British girl" rips as a bit of understated staccato, like the looping drums that clap insistently at the back of the mix. The title lyric is backed by an elevating progression of guitar chords, the kind of thing that sticks in your head immediately and demands to be replayed. From an unexpected source, one of the songs of the summer plays rough around the edges and completely riddled with hooks.