On The List :: Magic Man @ Fete Music, Providence, RI [3.28.13]

By pressing a heart icon, some 2,500 people have indicated their affection, maybe even their love, for Magic Man's latest single, "Texas" on the Hype Machine. More than twice this number fell in this sort of "like" with the band's other recent single, "Paris", a song that drives at heretofore unknown spot between the Cure and Passion Pit. In the past month or so, this was good enough to make the band one of the most discussed and buzzed about bands in certain corners of the admittedly cavernous Internet. On this night, a languid and clear weeknight in Providence, RI, Magic Man played to far less than 5,700 or 2,500 people. This is the quietude before the noise, and there exists a rather substantive gap between what happens on the Internet and what happens in a midsized American city on a Thursday.

The band opened with a song off their coming LP, a song they know and their audience doesn't. The main lyric is, "what are looking for?", which represents an appropriate rhetorical question for the Providence five-piece to ask of the label and A&R community. It was also an enormous opening movement. Frankly, given the sound coming from the stage, it was abundantly clear that this band is going to make themselves and someone else loads of money in 2014. Frenchkiss Records should come calling, and if they don't, Glassnote should, and if they don't, the majors should take a long look. Unconcerned with these long-view derivatives, the set built into old material, "Darling" from Real Life Color before transitioning back to the two recent singles, "Paris" and "Texas". It wasn't just a mediation on places; this is West Providence, Olneyville, a neighborhood that houses noise bands, lower-middle class moral victories, RISD student lofts and a weird, half-hearted gentrification. There are no miracles here.

The band thanked the audience at the end of their set, joking with the sound guy to, "cue that sad Ryan Adams music". Obliging, the sound guy played a piano ballad that wasn't from Adams' catalog, causing the adorable Magic Man keyboardist to say, sardonically, instructively, "Sadder." The band packed their gear, chatted with three fans who approached the stage, and I turned to the bartender and said, "you'll remember this band in a year's time."

Rogue Wave :: "College"

Zach Rogue's most recent release as Rogue Wave was the troubled and bombastic long player, Permalight. Without enumerating the album's many failures, auto-tune was featured prominently, and Rogue, allegedly penned most of the album in the throws of multiple slipped disks in his back. As is so frequently the narrative with mid-career bands, by the time of Permalight, Rogue had drifted awfully far from the college radio fare that made him so intensely likeable at the early 2000s. "College", the first single from coming LP Nightingale Floors, returns Rogue Wave to the more propulsive designs of his early work. Relying here on a clattering piano riff and fuzzy guitars, "College" has one of those hooks that calls for instant replay. The long outtro, the long sense of a come down after the frenetic high points of, as Rogue describes it, a confusing and long form adolescence.


Float Fall :: "Someday"

The heartbreaking and brilliant first single from Belgium's Float Fall is the sparse and warm, "Someday". Patterned after the aesthetics of the xx with the figure-eight methodology of boy-girl pop, "Someday" provides the space for a conversation between the two lead vocalists. The result collides in a duet in the chorus, a harbinger of the swelling arrangement that unwraps with organic and terrible efficiency. Guitar plucks descend on melting wax wings before being consumed by a full and surprising middle movement that collapses in a return to the opening conceit, a wilting resolution, "Someday you'll smile."


The Zolas :: "Escape Artist"

The Zolas - Escape Artist from Light Organ Records on Vimeo.

Last year the Zolas gave the world the Spoon record that Spoon didn't write. While it isn't a direct analog, the Zolas sophomore record, Ancient Mars was full of lively piano arrangements and probing hooks. On "Escape Artist", ostensibly the second single behind the sublime, "Knot In My Heart", the band crafts a lyrical meditation on anxiety, avoidance and self-destructive modalities. The video, a beautiful urban tableau, gives new and provocative corners to this argument, including a bucolic climax under the fuzzy lights of a night club. Coupling with the graphic lyrical imagery of the chorus, the Zolas find a gauzy and grimy conclusion to a bizarrely charming pop song.


Marika Hackman :: "Bath Is Black"

Back in October, one of my roommates and I engaged in a sort of stupefied email exchange around Marika Hackman's group of cover songs she'd thrown together as an EP. Who had the balls or the insouciance to cover Nirvana's "Lithium" and Nico's "These Days" on the same record? Hackman's versions of both songs proved reverential and new, something so good that it made the wrenching heartbreak of Nico's lyric "don't confront me with my failures" seem absurd and vaguely ironic. We were stunned. Hackman's string of nearly unsettling successes continues on her best track to date, "Bath Is Black". The arrangement evokes shades of Joanna Newsome with the edges sandpapered down. Crackling percussion pitches itself between taut restraint and Hackman's soft and distant vocal, as winning a middle section as any song you'll hear this year. All a bit unsettling - "if the bath is black and the soap is old" -  Hackman is a sweet and innocent center, something that will stun and mollify without entirely meaning to.


On The List :: Alt-J @ Terminal 5 [3.24.13]

Ed. note: This review runs first and with outstanding photography on Bowery Presents' House List.

Alt-J revealed that last night’s sold-out show at Terminal 5 was their biggest audience to date. This admission came directly on the heels of the band’s third song of the evening, “Something Good,” which had directly followed the deeply haunting “Tessellate,” both of which had already removed any doubt that Alt-J, the quirky foursome from Leeds, could handle themselves in a room of any size. Surrounded by marine-style light fixtures—the kind of superfluity that Canvasback Music buys for you when you’re playing Webster Hall on Friday with a Terminal 5 chaser to close the weekend—the band then played “Buffalo,” a song from the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack, another relatively small project that, like Alt-J, exploded into the hearts of many over the past calendar year.

The middle of the set contained “Dissolve Me,” both buzzing and brightly sanctimonious in its final moments. Next, “Fitzpleasure,” a song matched with a strobe and roving red tracer lighting, traded some of the mournful for more of the deeply tribal. With the low end of the arrangement firmly moving the audience, the band screamed their haunting harmonies into the rafters. Slowing toward the end of the main set, Alt-J played the charming “Matilda,” “Bloodflood,” which always sounds a bit like a cold-medicine “Baba O’Riley” live, and the methodical and chilling “MS,” featuring its eerie lyric “the dark seeks dark.”

The set closed with the figuratively murderous and cannibalistic “Breezeblocks.” Those in the audience moved around dutifully, fully in on the joke: No one was really going to die here, even in the dark, all together, singing along about a murder. Closing their encore with the predictably awesome and vaguely Eastern “Taro,” Alt-J left the stage, magnanimous to the end in their T-shirts and jeans, heirs to a growing sense of purpose and size. If this was their biggest gig to date, Terminal 5 represented nothing of a confine. Rather, on this night, it was merely the next spatial iteration for a group of incomparably talented songwriters and performers, likely, on their way to something even larger than three floors worth of 3,000 people.


Magic Man :: "Texas"

Boston's Magic Man, now a slightly different outfit based in my hometown of Providence, RI, were one of our favorite discoveries of 2010, and their debut record, Real Life Color, represented the best independently released album of that year. Reconstituted a bit, Magic Man, returns with booming single, "Texas", the second hint of a coming full length. The synth hook gives a bit of an homage to EDM, a drunk loop that weaves along, frenetic, like an urgent trip through a moving and disorganized crowd. Like the best music of restless and surging youth, "Texas" describes the specific power and peril of being young - the imagery is a veritable Levi's ad "sun-kissed light", "bonfire burning tonight", "at home on the road", "remember the time we slept on the roof" - a final movement of drums that thrill to the downbeat and an organized chaos brought into place and time, a bit like the youth that is never quite wasted on the young.


Vance Joy :: "Riptide"

Vance Joy makes himself easily the most sought-after unsigned neo-folk act on debut single, "Riptide". The narrative is full of warm and dangerous imagery, pleasant lumps in your throat, being pulled out to sea and Michelle Pfeiffer. Bearing homage to Beirut and a major-key version of Bon Iver, Vance Joy offers just enough boldness to "Riptide" to break some of the ubiquitous mainstreaming of things that fit under the big tent of Major Label Folk. The stakes feel just high enough, or perhaps Vance Joy is simply willing to court danger in an increasingly safe genre, the danger of the "dark side," which isn't particularly dark, and the power of singing the right words to the right song in the right moment.


Keebo :: "Native American"

London's Keebo channels portions of Warpaint's freezing-cold guitar pop and Best Coast's sun-blasted half-anthems. On "Native American", the band, an all female foursome, layers vocals and guitars in a hazy, cold medicine architecture. Noticeably changing tempo between verse and chorus, a slower drive in the refrain, indicating something of an inside-out ethos, already lilting guitars gone contemplative in a nearly wordless chorus that is respite inside of respite.


Home Alone :: "Sleep.Walk.In"

In a bit of plagiarism that trends toward the reverential instead of the felonious, Toronto's Home Alone re-appropriates the guitar melody from Santo and Johnny's 1958 hit, "Sleep Walk" for the reverently named, "Sleep.Walk.In". Of course, if the original conjured something vaguely pacific - all sunshine, mournful afternoons and a lilting umbrella in your rapidly sweating glass - the recasting, off a cassette released EP appropriately titled Teddybears and Weed, chases the melody back to the overgrown bedroom. Home recording at its best, Home Alone's "Sleep.Walk.In" proves rugged, shabby and a bit brilliant, the product of languid mornings and interminable late afternoons, the sleeplessness and exhaustion of a post-adolescence spent on shag carpet with thoughts the size of your parent's subdivision.


The Lawlands :: "Elsewhere

San Franciscan indie pop outfit The Lawlands craft single, "Elsewhere" as the crux of a teleological crisis. Do the traveling circuses of our lives have any intentional destination? Do these moveable feasts have a meaning in their movement? Full of Smiths-indebted affectation and Magnetic Fields-inspired baritone, "Elsewhere" crashes around with a dark purpose: the doubting of place and purpose. Vocalist Anthony Ferraro describes these sojourned locations as powerline jungles, brilliant darkness, echoing wastelands, an aggressive modernism with a flippant hook, "by the time you arrive/we'll have evacuated elsewhere." The interstitial proves more disorienting, the ends we seek either transformed, obfuscated or somehow unrecognizable in the very arriving at them. In essence, by the time you get there, it won't be there anymore.


Here Is Your Temple :: "So High"

Here Is Your Temple set off lead single, "So High," as mixture of crystalline chiming synths and a menacing low-end anchored by a fuzzed bass line. Paying passing homage to the distant, moral-victory pop of Beach House, singer Emily McWilliam touches down cold and tremulous, a restrained and chilling force, allowing herself only a modicum of release on the song's icy refrain. She stares deeply into the austere abyss on the song's signature lyric, "talk about what the TV don't know," as tragic and modern as tragic and modern gets. Itching at the edges lie odes to Fleetwood Mac and the Shout Out Louds, McWilliam positioning herself centrally amidst the rolling drums and the echos of an arrangement concerning itself with the very meaning of being so far away.


Jon Lawless and Anna Wiebe - "Go For Broke!" [ft. Nicole Jasper]

The First Rate People collective continues to churn out genre-bending singles, this, "Go For Broke!", a collaboration between brainchild Jon Lawless and Anna Wiebe. It is an archetypical FRP ballad, a loose association of keyboards, a progression bent on resolution, yelping loops hiding in the corners, and a lilting and confessional vocal from Wiebe. Lawless enters late, a half-spoken bridge about the heat of being overly invested, the object of this investment being Wiebe's risk-adverse lyrics in the hook. It is ultimately about the power and perils of restraint, an unlikely angle for a group so bent on allowing any good idea into their music, an even less likely vessel, the relative quietude of "Go For Broke!".


Smith Westerns :: "Varsity"

The Smith Westerns have always sought to define musical laissez-faire, a sort of a shabbiness that they redefined as cool. The image was manufactured, an intentional brand of performance art, the process of trying to not try. After all, a band simply couldn't build compositions as lush and winking with so much nostalgia by accident. On latest single, "Varsity," the band sounds like a opiate-laced Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, the pre-chorus lyric, the shrugging, "I guess that's a point of view," before the synthesizers metamorphose to the top of the room. Still barely beyond college-aged, Smith Westerns traffic easily in unremembered nostalgia, the memories of things that just happened or never happened at all, shot through a hazy filter and packaged for consumption. Like the crafting of their image, it sounds intentionally, difficultly languid, a prettiness that isn't a bit insouciant.


A Q U I L O :: "Calling Me"

Like a slightly more austere Wildcat! Wildcat!, Britain's Aquilo (or A Q U I L O for maximum visual impact) make a version of this same genre of glittering, slow-drive pop. While flashing ode to the big tents under which James Blake, the xx and the WEEKND have re-appropriated, and in some cases bastardized, the weird R&B fever that took hold in 2011, Aquilo show more interest in a cloud-clearing chorus on lead demo, "Calling Me." It is bifurcated to be sure, verses at one timbre and refrain at another, but the design is an intentional dualism: at once elegant and memorable.


Walker Lukens :: "Kindle to Your Fire"

It isn't quite the dulcet hook-loop of Animal Collective's "My Girls" that seized nearly everyone who heard it in 2009, but Walker Lukens' "Kindle to Your Fire" channels the same type of big tent vocal, wrapped in a melody designed to be staircase on which the listener will traipse up and down. "Kindle to Your Fire" roots in something less specifically glittering, more organic, maybe richer even, as Lukens wails the title lyric into a World Music-indebted arrangement. The loop is a vocal, Lukens singing a modulated series of tenor, "oh's" from the outset through the conclusion. It swells, you knew it would from the very adding of the initial layers, before eventually retreating into the first vocal loop which bore its existence, a story of creative destruction, high tides and the recidivism that always follows.