obits :: an experiment in blogging from my phone

Let's see where this leads.



The Hundred In The Hands :: "Dressed In Dresden"

Remember 2005? Remember when you heard Bloc Party's "Banquet" the first time? Wow, right? Angular, uncompromising, and entirely aggressive.

This isn't that. But, hit "save as" and then press "open" and you'll find they do share a guitar riff. Close your eyes and ignore the growling synth-hum at the bottom of the mix. The guitars are entirely Kele and Bloc Party. It is nearly identical, like that girl who looks a little like someone you used to date, and it would be creepy if it weren't so familiar. Replace the vocals with a more hard-nosed Jenny Lewis and a sing-song final movement and you've got The Hundred In The Hands.

Where does that leave us? At the same derivative train station we've been held in since the second cave painter looked to his left and thought, "I wouldn't have thought of that ... but I'm pretty sure I can follow the design." And so began a tradition of artistic borrowing. Put into my own words? We didn't start the fire. It was always burning, since the world's been turning.

That about sums it up.

Listen :: The Hundred In The Hands - "Dressed In Dresden"


Shout Out Out Out Out :: "Guilt Trips Sink Ships"

I won't blame you if you don't make it to the good part of this song. They're called Shout Out Out Out Out. It's a long intro and, frankly, it's not even a good one. Bad looped drums, artificial snaps, wood-block, and then some really spacey synth-work makes for a brutal two minutes. But, if you make it, you might get underneath this thing. Even if you get to the first verse, it'll be a challenge to accept vocals that sound like they're being recorded in the bastard child of an airplane hanger and a Zoob Tube.

What I'm saying is complicated. I don't know why I enjoy this song. I don't have a single good reason. But that doesn't stop it from being a little effervescent and a little necessary. It doesn't stop me from driving around the corner of Brooklyn and looking at the Financial District across the river and thinking, "holy hell, the world is on fire and I don't know if I care." This song is the soundtrack to something brilliantly apathetic. It's not bad, even though you might think that. It's not bad, even though you might have a right to say so.

The melody is infected with something. I can't place what it reminds me of (except the tonal similarity to Airborne Toxic Event's famous line, "well it's awful I guess/but it's the awful truth"). Something about the melody, the vocals, the whole thing just stomps. It makes you nod your head. It makes you want to sing along (go get your Zoob tube from 1991). It makes you feel better. An as much as you hear people argue we need to care more - maybe we need to care less. Maybe the Financial District has always looked like a covered candle and maybe the world needs a little less fire.

Listen :: Shout Out Out Out Out :: "Guilt Trips Sink Ships"

Phoenix :: "1901"

There's always something triumphant about new music from a band called Phoenix. Even if they haven't been away that long and even if there's no tragedy - it always seems like an improbable comeback. Remember 2002's "If I Ever Feel Better?" Like a blazing rip from nothing. Like an elevation from an earthquake. Like a free download from the band's website.

And "1901" we can assume is about what the chorus says: "fallin', fallin" - which we can assume is a French Disco-pop way of saying, "we're back, baby." It opens with ominous synth-stabs before a lighter-than-air drum beat demands, "hey, are you going to keep up here?" Because before you know it, the song is galloping along with promises like, "I'll be anything you ask and more." Really? Wow. That's a lot to handle. But for a band as polished and temporarily perfect as Phoenix, we can guess they deliver. Until they touch down, blow up and disappear only to return. It's the modern rhythm of all things.

Listen :: Phoenix - "1901" (click through to the band's site, no email address required)


Manchester Orchestra :: "I"ve Got Friends"

Just got back from the DR, which (thankfully or not) means we can retire the 32ft Down concept. I might bring it back in April or over the summer when I am 90% sure I am moving to Bahrain to pursue petroleum speculation as a full-time career. That is 95% a joke.

I walked in the door and in my mailbox was the new Manchester Orchestra record. I have loved this band since 2007 when, ostensibly to impress a VP at Virgin Records, I pulled some publicity contacts and got tickets to see them play the Knitting Factory on three hours notice. It was maybe the coolest thing I did that year. Although, in retrospect, maybe it was all a little overdone - the night held some real meaning at the time. Me, trying to impress my boss. Me, leveled and rebuilt by a band who, until 2pm that afternoon, were absolutely nothing to me.

Things to take away: 1) My boss was not suitably impressed by my contacts or the (in my opinion, pretty good) review I wrote the next morning while I was supposed to be servicing the new Interpol record to college radio. 2) Manchester Orchestra was the best band in the entire world that night.

The new record is good. Is it great? Let me listen to it eight more times and tell you next week. For right now, love the first single, "I've Got Friends" and understand that it's only the lacquer on the surface of a really deep, important wardrobe. I'll let you know how deep the rabbit hole goes but for now, Andy Hull and Manchester Orchestra are ready to lay you out like a Third World village in a tropical depression. I mean that, indisputably, as a compliment.

Listen :: Manchester Orchestra - "I've Got Friends"


32ft Down :: Young Love :: "Black Boots"

Post this week are being flown in from the beach in the Dominican Republic. The write-ups will be smaller, the music a little more off the map, and the theme a little more relaxed. So, enjoy it. 32ft/sec has fallen into the Caribbean. Can you blame whatever happens next?

There are guilty pleasures and then there are guilty pleasures. In 2006, I briefly engaged Young Love's "Discotech." The facts were: 1) it was the catchiest song of the year, 2) we were going out a lot and, 3) it came on, with terrifying regularity at dark, dark downtown dance clubs. Wait. I just made it sound cooler than it was. Let's skip to the end.

In early 2007, I heard "Discotech" in a Gap in Tampa, Florida. For a song that you love, this is a little like finding out your girlfriend has a collection of Barbies that she keeps and plays with. It's corporate. It's out of touch. It's frankly a little embarrassing. And so ended my relationship with Young Love. It just wasn't meant to be.

Fast-forward to three minutes ago (or, roughly, the time it is taking to write this), Young Love has a new song, a new single, "Black Boots." It's not the same as "Discotech," (although, in fairness, what would be?) but it is sort of catchy and sort of that song that every artist puts on their second album that they think will make people pump their fists in the air. But it's good and certainly not bad. And if pleasures have to be full of guilt, this is a shame that I can bear. 


32ft Down [Posting from the Dominican Republic]

Posts this week are being flown in from the beach in the Dominican Republic. The write-ups will be smaller, the music a little more off the map, and the theme a little more relaxed. So, enjoy it. 32ft/sec has fallen into the Caribbean. Can you blame whatever happens next?

The Harlem Shakes once were only famous for their fabulous potential and their name. Nominally, the ceiling was something like The French Kicks or a million other post-Strokes bands in downtown New York. It was good but not great. But now, The Harlem Shakes are threatening to make the record that Wolf Parade should have made last year. It arrives in March and it sounds great from the three songs we've heard so far. Try "Strictly Game," a song about turning the calendar, fixing things up and getting through. Listen to the chorus and get behind the line of the year: "make a little money/take a lot of shit/feel real bad/then get over it."

Listen :: The Harlem Shakes - "Strictly Game"


32ft Down [Posting from the Dominican Republic]

Posts this week are being flown in from the beach in the Dominican Republic. The write-ups will be smaller, the music a little more off the map, and the theme a little more relaxed. So, enjoy it. 32ft/sec has fallen into the Caribbean. Can you blame whatever happens next?

PAPER are a furious post-punk trio out of Sweden. Someone made a Joy Division comparison but that doesn't quite wash. What does make sense is the fact that the Swedes are finally getting an edge. This isn't The Radio Department or Jens Lekmen or PB&J. This is short and quick and aggressive. It's completely out of breath. They'll be in New York in March for a residency at Cake Shop where, we can only assume, they will play more than just this song.

Listen :: PAPER - "Out Of It Into It"


The Winter Kids :: "Another Break" and "Wonderland"

The Winter Kids were supposed to break big. But things didn't quite wash that way. It was 2007 and they played back-to-back shows in New York. We caught them just after sundown at the Mercury Lounge after missing a Sunday night gig at a bar that doesn't usually sponsor concerts. One of the biggest buzz bands in the UK had been reduced to playing off-Houston/Delancey venues and sliding in at the Merc on a Monday at 8pm. This isn't exactly the red carpet treatment. Their leadsinger gave me their CD. And they went back over the ocean and never came back.

They still make music though. Their latest two offerings, "Another Break" and "Wonderland" are more of the same bouncy, synth-rock that colored their first LP Memoirs. It's catchy and singable and likeable, if you like that sort of thing. If you don't, it's cloying, desperate, and vapid. Luckily, a few chimes and a lighter-than-air guitar riff and I'm sold. "Another Break" is perhaps the band's thesis statement. "Here we are calling, calling/here we are calling for another break." It's a polite request. How many more chances can we have?

"Another Break"

The Winterkids - Another Break from Blake Claridge on Vimeo.

"Wonderland" has equal and opposite emotions. Making the simple statement of fact, "if this is your wonderland/I will run away," you could certainly apply some meaning, like heavy eye-liner, in the right or wrong places. Is this about being a band that made it within in the last 500 yards of being huge and then lost out? Is this about getting great press but album sales that only hit five-figures in Japan? If this is the dream, then why does it feel so hard?



La Roux - "In For The Kill"

People are saying this will be the year for La Roux. Which, more astutely was referred to by the BBC as, "it looks like everyone is doubling down on electro for 2009." Where is music headed? We don't know much but we're operating on one truth: indie music is dead, the only question is, what will its funeral sound like? It could sound like La Roux's "In For The Kill." A song, that if not for slightly fuzzed out vocals and a more aggressive synth-line, could have appeared on Lily Allen's first record. Ouch. True story.

And this is not to imply that Lily Allen killed indie rock. That would be both too much credit and not enough. And it isn't that La Roux is making the same glossy, international pop as people like Duffy and Lily, but there's something about all this music that's just so inoffensive. It doesn't challenge anyone and frankly, Duran Duran have to be asking themselves why they ever became unfamous. If this is where things were going to end up, why bother with hair-metal, grunge-rock, modern alternative, rap rock, lo-fi, rock revival, and indie garbage? Why go through phases at all? Why didn't music just stop at Depeche Mode's Violator? We already had a policy of truth. We didn't need to go anywhere to get here.

That being said, La Roux's "In For The Kill" is about as fun as wrecking an expensive car. Hopefully you don't have too much invested and it's better if you do it when no one is looking. The car is full of airbags and, frankly, you're sturdy as hell. You won't get hurt. But hopefully no one saw it happen. So you scratch out the VIN number, remove your personal effects, unscrew the license plates and walk down the side of the highway. It was a little embarrassing and a little awesome. But it's best we all just forget it ever happened.

Listen :: La Roux - "In For The Kill"
Bonus :: La Roux - "Quicksand"


The Joy Formidable :: "Cradle"

The Joy Formidable is a tempting bit of pronounciation. Is it the strict and tight English version? The. Joy. Formidable. Or is it the French, loose and mouth-full-of-marbles? Four-me-da-bleu. La Joix Formidable. It's possible.

But forget what the name sounds like, the band sounds like a more chunky Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but if Karen O and Nick Zinner split some vocal duties in some kind of boy-girl democracy. It's intense. It's a little over-the-top. It's the kind of thing that could be extremely important in Europe and never make it here at all. So say it how you want to say it. And say it a little louder. The Joy Formidable.

Listen :: The Joy Formidable - "Cradle"


Oh and you can get the whole album for free here.


Best and Worst :: Coldplay @ the Grammy's and TVOTR on SNL

It was a big weekend for music. It was allegedly music's "biggest night." Chris Martin was on "60 Minutes," the Grammy's had performances from everyone who sold 1,000,000 plus records this year, and TV on the Radio was on Saturday Night Live. Of course, some of these things played out well and some of them didn't. First, the worst.

Later scholars will debate if this was the worst moment of live music in human history. If you can last through the screeching, pitchy, disaster that is the chorus of "Golden Age," you deserve a medal. It approaches physical pain. Good song, good band, good album - just a bad night at the office. Luckily, NBC will kill this video in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ....

"Golden Age" [Live on SNL]

And then there was Coldplay. Like it or not, you're looking at U2 in real-time. I've gone back-and-forth on this but finally, this is one of the only legitimate arena-bands touring right now. Martin is equal parts skiddish, confident, twitchy and perfect. Just watch as he charges from the solo piano ending of "Lost" and onto the main stage to join the rest of the band as "Viva La Vida's" opening chords pulse in the background. Look at how he grabs the mic. Freeze that moment in your mind or pause it on YouTube. It's three minutes and 10 seconds in. Then play it forward as he skips toward the stage. This is self-actualization in real-time. This is greatness in motion. This is the sweetness that Michael Stipe told us would follow. Just enjoy.

"Lost" and "Viva La Vida" [Live on the Grammy's]


Bishop Allen :: "The Ancient Commonsense of Things"

Bishop Allen almost became a joke in 2007. I don't mean something funny. I mean, they almost became a parody of themselves. Even more dangerously, they almost became a parody and a paradigm at the same time. How do you become an outrageously successful indie rock band? Well, you have a gimmick that gets non-mainstream press. Release an EP every month, check. You write some good songs that someone will put on a mixtape for their ex-girlfriend. "Rain," "Click Click Click," "The Monitor," check, check, check. You license those songs to major corporations. Cash your check checks and put a down payment on a house. Check.

It almost seemed too easy. It was almost like watching someone you know become famous in a foreign country. Sure, it's impressive but maybe a little concerning that it all happened so quickly and don't these people know that this kid was sleeping on your couch like two months ago? For all the people who struggle endlessly to get paid making music, there is one Bishop Allen; a band who worked pretty hard and were fantastically rewarded.

And it might continue and it might not and it might not matter. The band returns with a new record, Grrr..., a title which, when spoken, either communicates a false edginess or a smiling, almost cloying defense. One of the first songs is the slightly urgent and slightly shaky, "The Ancient Commonsense of Things." The chorus is a tiny little slice of indie-pop. There's a xylophone and warm background vocals. Plucked guitars? Check. Languid but pleasing melody? Check. How do you think this band got famous in the first place?

Listen :: Bishop Allen - "The Ancient Commonsense of Thing"