Two Door Cinema Club :: "Something Good Can Work" and "Undercover Martyn"

If you had to pick a band out of the north of Ireland to make it big this year, it would be Two Door Cinema Club. Well, that's not quite fair. You could replace "north of Ireland" with "European continent" or even "potential signees to XL or Gigantic records." The indie rock world could lay down at their feet. Or it might not. But the fact is, if Two Door Cinema Club doesn't blow up, it won't be because they're not good. That's a triple negative.

The sound is equal parts lighthearted guitar-riffs out of the Paul Simon school and processed beats out of the catalogue of the Postal Service. The attack is two guitarists, a bassist and an iPod. It's the 21st century version of a band. But it works. Take "Undercover Martyn," a song that swings wildly from plaintive strumming to twirling, head-shaking riffs and melody. The guitars drunkenly pitch and wail in a chorus that thrives in the song's blinking, seizure-ready video. This is Vampire Weekend meets Magistrates. This is flinching colors and flashing lights. This is what you should be listening to.

"Undercover Martyn"

As a bonus, we're throwing in the demo for "Something Good Can Work;" a tune, ostensibly about the success of success. It's a little more meditative but that would be like saying caffeine is a slightly more reflective version of amphetamine. It still moves and the chorus sails over the top of everything like an air-mailed cut-off throw. It's rich and it's easy. And if any band out of the north of Ireland should make it this year, it should be this one.

Listen :: Two Door Cinema Club - "Something Good Can Work"


Passion Pit album preview/Ra Ra Riot remix

Passion Pit might be awful and they might be awesome. I've listened to the EP. I saw their residency at Piano's. I've recommended the music to people. But it's hard to tell what will become of the band. Put another way: in two years, will I still be listening to their tunes or thinking, "hell, 2008 was a weird year and we were voting yes on anything with synths and can you really blame us?"

Luckily, we live in a world with portable cameras and embedded video. Why wait until the album comes out to have feelings about it? You can have those feelings right now! Better yet, Passion Pit is working with the children's choir from PS22 and the small samples of the tracks (rough cuts too) sound pretty over the top. And I mean that as a compliment. It sounds like the EP is growing into something big and potentially valuable.

The producer says they're trying to make something big enough to "crush the hype" like it was some sort of paper skyscraper. Meanwhile, lead-singer Michael Angelakos talks about how "children's voices" inspired him to make "Sleepyhead." This after he said he wrote the EP for his girlfriend on Valentine's day. Our emotions, officially being played with. Is it possible to hate love, bells, and the sound of children's voices? Yes, but the hype-scraper is getting dynamite loaded in the basement and the backlash machine is about to be crash-tested into a brick wall. So, let's stay on board. This band is going to blow our minds. Say it with me. Disappointment, averted. 2009, planned.

Listen :: Ra Ra Riot - "Ghost Under Rocks" [Passion Pit Mix]


Friendly Fires :: "Skeleton Boy" [Video and Single Release]

Friendly Fires turned in one of the best records and best singles ("Jump In The Pool") of last year. But "Jump In The Pool" wasn't the best song on the album. It was the only song produced by Bloc Party creationist and super-producer Paul Epworth. You had to wonder why Epworth wasn't lending a hand elsewhere. And for the single release, finally, of "Skeleton Boy," back comes Epworth to rework the album version of the song into something that is twitchier, more blip-hop, and entirely satisfying. Which means, one of the best songs from last year just got a lot better.

The video might be the best part of all, where the band dances and revels in a world of exploding packing foam. And the track's opening line, "I close my eyes on the dancefloor/and forget about you" seems less tragic and more pragmatized. Maybe even a little fun.

Listen :: Friendly Fires - "Skeleton Boy" (Single Mix) [via mediafire]


Say Hi :: "November Was White, December Was Grey"

An aside: I attended a Say Hi show over the summer at Spaceland in LA. It was a great night that culminated in me writing that lead singer, Eric Elbogen, looked like an unattractive Dave Attel. I forget what I said exactly but about an hour later I had an email from Eric saying, effectively, "thanks for the words (signed) Poorman's Dave Attell." I fumbled something back about Dave Attell being cool and it being a flattering comparison, blah, blah, blah. No response. I am not so arrogant to think that the lead singer of a moderately successful indie rock band thought twice about me but, put simply in an English sentence:

Eric Elbogen from Say Hi hates me and I know it for sure.

More directly, his music has changed my life from time to time and I sense he might do it again. "Sweet Sweet Heart Killer" was a slice of pop that didn't leave my brain for weeks. "Let's Talk About Spaceships" sung to me, as it does when conversations should be about anything but spaceships but aren't. In 2007-08, "Northwestern Girls" defined my inability to be entirely honest but an ever growing desire to do so. Eric Elbogen wrote all these songs for/about me because he hates me and I know it for sure.

Latest single, "November Was White, December Was Grey" is a dreary piece of keyboard rock. It still hums and shines in the right places but this is, in the end, a period piece. It's the Pacific Northwest and winters that bleed like un-coagulated cuts. It's about hope, I suppose. But it's more about not hope. Or it's more about hoping to hope; the moments before optimism. The 5am drive that becomes morning traffic. The sunrise over the Long Island Expressway and the sense that this too will be never ending. Or maybe that's just me. Because, Eric Elbogen wrote this song for me and he hates me and I know it for sure.

Listen :: Say Hi - "November Was White, December Was Grey"


Parachute Penguin :: "Your Crimes"

We can only assume that Parachute Penguin put their name together when considering the flight (or non-flight) of the penguin. Which presupposes that someone is just sick or creative enough to strap a penguin to a parachute and throw the mixture from the door of a moving airplane. How that relates to the college-rock mixdown, Edge-like guitar riffs, and the infectious disease that is their chorus, I don't know. But that, I suppose, is between them and God.

I've been thinking a lot of about this recently: go through your iTunes and assume you don't know any of those songs. Forget them all instantly. Then assume those bands will randomly play in bars and restaurants you go to over the next six months. Which songs make you turn your head? Which songs, with no attached hype or good recommendation or publicity blitz (paging Animal Collective) would make you pick your head up, tap your foot or sing along? Strip your musical taste down to immediate reaction. We'd all be surprised which songs speak to us most directly.

And "Your Crimes" is one of those tunes. It's easy and doesn't ask a lot. It sounds like a Better Than Ezra A-side from 1998 and I mean that as a compliment. The guitar-riff is spaced-out and stretches like a tarp over the verses. The chorus is a sing-a-long the second time you hear it and its lyrical plea, "blame it on somebody else" is as direct as it is sarcastic. So, you don't know this song. But now you do. And the question isn't how soon can you play it in your iTunes. It's: How is a penguin ever going to pull the ripcord if he doesn't have thumbs?

Listen :: Parachute Penguin - "Your Crimes"


Neko Case :: "People Got A Lot Of Nerve"

Neko Case sounds like nothing but destruction, abject sadness, and emotional betrayal. Needless to say, I couldn't be more excited to hear from her again. She's like a little window into disaster. She's like a little postcard from hell. She probably broke my heart. Needless to say, I still answer her calls.

It's been three years since Fox Confessor Brings The Flood and not much has changed. "People Got A Lot Of Nerve" is nothing new. The guitars are still plaintive and leading. The melody is haunting, the lyrics abstract and leveling. Her voice is still a tsunami of low-end sadness. It's been three years and absolutely nothing has changed. So, explain my excitement?

This is a woman who kept me hiding from daylight for the majority of 2006. This is a woman who actively promoted the use of opiates. This is a woman who effectively stabbed me in the chest, left me for dead and then re-appeared out of nowhere to do it again. And I still answer her calls. It's not pretty and on some level it's probably painful. But you let her back in because you still like her. And you never really let her go.

Listen :: Neko Case - "People Got A Lot Of Nerve"


Pompeii :: "Rabbit Ears"

You can see naming a band Pompeii two ways. One: you're naming your band after a town that was buried in ash and largely forgotten for hundreds of years. Didn't anyone miss them? This isn't particularly inspiring. But wait. Two: a band named after something that lived next door to one of the great natural disasters in human history, only instead of being leveled or destroyed - it was perfectly preserved. Pompeii stared extinction in the face and accidentally became immortal.

That's a lot to handle either way and I don't think Pompeii, the band, wants to be forgotten or remembered forever. They sound a little like a post-punky Death Cab lift-off playing Jimmy Eat World songs with Ra Ra Riot's cellist as a session player. That may not be a perfect description but it has got to be pretty close (Full disclosure, the previous influences were lifted from an instant message discussion with my boy CB from Deadbands.blogspot.com. The comparisons are his). Forgotten is out and immortality is unlikely. It doesn't help us understand the band but the music is better than good. Which should clear us of option number one with little hope of option two.

But really, we're just getting to know each other, me and Pompeii, and anyone who lives in the backyard of a major disaster and comes up perfectly preserved might be too good to miss. So pay attention or suck on the ash that pours around you for the next few hundred years.

Listen :: Pompeii - "Rabbit Ears"


Loney, Dear :: "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl"

In 2006 I ran smack into Loney, Dear's "I Am John." There wasn't a cohesive rationale behind my affection, other than an immediate and unwavering need to listen to it. It was the cascading arrangement. It was the over-the-top cloying bells and chimes. It was that I couldn't quite make out the lyrics. It was a lot of things.

I had a job interview that afternoon on the top floor of a building on the East River in DUMBO. It was for a job teaching creative writing over the summer, a position for which I was incredibly unqualified. I had taught 4th grade English poorly for five months, which in my mind made me more or less able to teach creative writing to high achieving students in four-hour sessions through July. Or put another way, someone let me take care of their fish for the weekend and instead, I killed the fish and tried to steal their television. As I poked my way through the snow and up the stairs into the loft space that passed for an office, I pumped "I Am John" and it made me forget everything I just described to you. I was suddenly more than qualified. If they didn't hire me, it was certainly their loss.

I didn't get the job and two summers later I missed 2008's Loney, Dear's contribution, "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl." It's dreadfully small and I wouldn't blame you if you missed it too. Based on a languid keyboard progression and looping vocals that sound like a drunk bee hive, "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl" is the most beautiful thing since the 8th floor of that DUMBO loft. It's so tiny and so squeezed in the cracks; so brittle and so important. It's destructive in the most silent way possible and I defy you not to be moved by the final minute. It makes the eyes water and the spirit go sentimental. Put another way, it's overestimating yourself while watching snow blow across the East River.

Listen :: Loney, Dear - "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl"

Bonus :: Loney, Dear - "I Am John"


The Antlers :: "Two"

The Antlers are a little grandiose as a band. You could say that. The first song I heard was 2007's "The Universe Is Gonna Catch You." A ripped-off Shins chord progression and a fuzzed-out explosion of a chorus made it a satisfying ride. But look again: "the universe is gonna catch you." It's so big you could drive a truck through it. Trying to get your mind around a song title and lyric like that is like trying to tackle Philadelphia. It's too big to wrap your arms around.

So, here and now The Antlers, big as ever, are poised to be one of the "it" bands of 2009. With an album, Hospice, waiting in March and lead-single, "Two" already hitting the airwaves (read: internet), we're maybe ready to catch the universe or have the universe catch us. We might have finally grown up enough to handle this.

"Two" is a brutally tough meditation on death, possibly via cancer or some other terminal illness. Or it could be a metaphor. We do know that "Two" is subtitled "or, I would saved her if I could." Failed relationship? Cancerous mole? Hard to say. But it's six minutes long and is building for all but the last half. You hear a tiny little guitar progression that ends with something almost propulsive. But as it builds the lyrics tell of failure; crushing disconnection and loss. To be forever bound to another, to be one of a possible two, is nothing but a six-minute ache in your chest.

Listen :: The Antlers - "Two"


Top 5 Remixes of 2008

Another installment of our (now late) Best of 2008 mini-series, tonight we bring you the best five remixes of 2008.

5) Juno [Ra Ra Riot/Andrew Maury Remix] - Toyko Police Club

4) Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa [Teenagers Remix] - Vampire Weekend

3)Viva La Vida [Thin White Duke Remix] - Coldplay

2) L.E.S. Artistes [xxxchange mix] - Santogold

1)Can You Hear My Kids Now? - ABX [MGMT vs. Lil' Kim]

Can You Hear My Kids Now (Lil Kim vs MGMT) - The Hood Internet


Top 10 Albums of 2008 :: [Into this halfway home]

Thanks to everyone who tuned into to the Top 50 Songs feature. It almost killed me. But at the same time there was something therapeutic in the whole thing. I spent my commute home from work today listening to the list from 50 to 1 and I was struck by how much music I got to listen to this year and how much of it was good. And it wasn't just songs. There were great records that came out this year and here's the shotgun list.

10)Dead Confederate - Wrecking Ball

9)Friendly Fires - S/T

8)Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Fight

7)The Killers - Day & Age

6)The Airborne Toxic Event - S/T

5)Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell

4)We Are Scientists - Brain Thrust Mastery

3)Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us

2)Bloc Party - Intimacy

1)TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

This isn't a real Power Ranking. In fact, other than the top three, you'd be hard pressed to rate these records against each other. They were all good in their own ways and some of them were misunderstood. The Killers and We Are Scientists tapped the 80s in the most interesting ways in years. Who would have thought that Erasure, Duran Duran, and Peter Gabriel could be reincarnated and sound so relevent? People didn't get it. But that was because pop music really pushed itself this year. Mates of State released the best album of their career so far. Same goes for TV on the Radio. Bloc Party challenged the hell out of us. People didn't get it. Some of these albums were unsettling or made artistic choices that made people angry. Well, not everyone can shit on a record and sell it. Some people have to try. Some people want to blow the roof off the joint. Some people self-actualize no matter what you say.

Honorable mention: Deerhunter - Microcastle, Vampire Weekend - S/T, Fujiya and Miyagi - Lightbulbs, Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line, Passion Pit - Chunk of Change, School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms


Top 50 Songs of 2008 :: Number One : Bloc Party - "Ion Square" [All the bright lights do is bore me]

Some songs are undeniably tied to a location. Now, this relationship is usually personal and for me, the journey with "Ion Square" begins on my couch. It was the summer and it was hot and I didn't have to work. The new Bloc Party album had snuck up on everyone like a surprise birthday party. I resolved to listen to the entire leak from beginning to end. It's worth noting, I was moved by a couple different moments on the 10-song digital leak. But song 10. Song 10 was something else entirely. Song 10 was "Ion Square" and song 10 ended up being number one.

I'm sitting, sweating, shirtless and alone in my apartment (it's more romantic than it sounds) and listening to the Bloc Party leak loud enough that I'm sure my Spanish-speaking, completely elderly neighbors must be about to call the police. It's 10am on a weekday and it's more romantic than it sounds.

This is how it starts: the woosh of a digital engine starting and an urgent but not in-your-face piano riff. And then the beat drops and Kele's vocals are mixed so close to your ears that you couldn't get them out of your head if you tried. Throw in some synth-stabs on the low end and an arrangement that you can literally hear getting larger. It's like an season of the Biggest Loser but shot in reverse with everything getting a little bigger at every possible moment.

And then it breaks. Really breaks. Kele makes the pedantic, dying, and incredible promise to "carry your heart here with me." He promises to carry your heart in his heart - like a concentric and perfectly matched shape. And the drums drop on you like a ton of vibrating, insistent bricks. You didn't see it coming or maybe you did. But just like that, the whole thing tips. I am sitting on my couch turning the volume up to a million and pumping my fist in mid-air. If I'm being honest, I'm close to tears and I can't explain why. This thing is moving at the speed of sound and everyone is just trying to stay ahead of the sonic boom.

And then it breaks again. Kele drops the f-bomb and we're flying even faster. You could argue it was unnecessary but go back and listen again. It was just what we all needed. And he returns to the chorus as so many elements of the arrangement are building and crashing around him. I carry it in my heart. The guitar is angular and unapologetic. It's climbing to a frenetic pace, just waiting to explode. The vocal loops, a literally insane amount of density is just waiting to blow the roof of my apartment, this city, the whole mess.

And then it happens: after Kele promises one last time to carry our hearts with him, the whole thing blows up. I've been pumping my fist for two full minutes now, which, it's worth noting, is a lot when you're alone in your apartment on a weekday. Kele's vocals soar over the top of everything in a series of angelic "ooohs." The whole thing lifts off the ground for just a second. The natural vibrations of the universe exist more in this one moment than anywhere else. Everyone has velocity. Every moment has power. Everything is moving.

And just like that, it's over. The arrangement is allowed to unravel like an over-wound ball of twine. The CD, the digital leak, is done. It's the last song. Silence. But you can go back. And you can listen again. And you can pump your fist in mid-air because this is moving. This is the most moving thing you've heard all year. And it all started on the couch. You started alone and you feel together. You started tired and now you're exhausted. And you never really moved. Let the sofa be your car. All the bright lights do is bore me. They bore me.

[Live in-studio]