On The List :: Antlers, Dawes, Deer Tick, Pela, Tokyo Police Club @ MHOW [5.27.09]

If there was a bill in New York not to miss, it was this one. Kicking off at 8.30 with Antlers taking the stage in front of a nearly empty Music Hall of Williamsburg and closing with Tokyo Police Club hitting the stage at nearly 1.30 in the morning, this show didn't quit and it didn't miss.

Antlers took the stage and opened with an ambient progression of fuzz and held-keys. It was a quiet way to grab a crowd but this is a band that wrote an album about terminal illness. Were you expecting chimes and G, C, D progressions? The band is a little precious at times. Their lead-singer over-does it with his falsetto and the band is a little too in-love with being serious. "Two" was pumped up live, trading it's tragic reverence for double-tap drums and a pace the band rarely approaches in other tunes. Leaving the stage someone leaned over and said, "I liked that." He would later admit it wasn't that good. This sort of sums it up.

Dawes offered an inoffensive, if well-manicured, set of southern-rock. Roots rock doesn't always rub New York the right way but on this night the crowd bought in, stayed upstairs and sang along. Surely, this band has a secret collection of Neil Young records they listen to late at night. The songs are smooth and the band is tight. That doesn't mean it blew the doors off. But it does count for something.

The night turns during Deer Tick's set. From my native Rhode Island, the band brought the state flag on stage. The word emblazoned on it was unmistakable: "hope." But by the end of the set it very well could have said, "dance." Deer Tick, a throwback four-piece, are equal parts 1950s rock and 2009 folk. That's meant as a compliment. Using stand-up bass and tight-as-a-drum three-part harmony, the band got the crowd shuffling around. The lead-singer's voice is as harsh as it is cathartic - full of pain and pathos.

With considerable pressure, Pela took the stage announcing themselves as "The Pelas." It was a joke from their frontman, who looks like he could have played linebacker in college. The guy is an absolute train of human mass and energy. It's a wonder this band isn't huge. They are everything good about The National with none of the self-flagellation. With a clear desire to kill the crowd, Pela busts around the stage with little regard for their own equipment or personal safety (this is a band that canceled a tour after one member fell on broken glass and suffered a massive wound). The moment of the night comes in the band's second-to-last song: frontman, lit from the back, sweating furiously, with a rapidly burning cigarette in his mouth. The smoke pours from his mouth as the band thrash through "Tenement Teeth." It's after midnight in Williamsburg and you can be sure that this is everything your parents warned you about. Smoking, bars, loud music, personal injury, rock music - but Pela is the best band in the world in this moment, thrashing, moving and in control. There's nothing dangerous about passion, the pitfalls are at the periphery.

And Tokyo Police Club, well, it was 1.30 and after Pela the night was over for me anyways. I heard later that the set was good. For the best bill of the year, it almost didn't need a headliner.

Listen ::

Antlers - "Two"
Dawes - "When My Time Comes Around"
Deer Tick - "Easy"
Pela - "Waiting On The Stairs"
Tokyo Police Club - "In A Cave"


Cloud Cult :: "Take Your Medicine"

I am frequently suspicious of statements that are prescriptive and imperative. They generally bring up my latent problems with authority and I resist them out of principle, regardless of content. Don't tell me what to do. It gets my blood up. So Cloud Cult's "Take Your Medicine" didn't have a chance when I rejected its title on ideological grounds.

But that was before I soaked the richness of the arrangement. The peeling chimes, the intimate acoustic guitar, the group vocals - it all makes "Take Your Medicine" fantastically lush. Consider the song grinds to a halt at the 1.28 mark, the chimes run down the side of everything before the layers kick back in. This happens again at the 3.30 mark before "Take Your Medicine" whirls into something else. This is liquid.

Listen :: Cloud Cult - "Take Your Medicine"


Sean Bones ::"Easy Street"

I'm in the process of writing a piece on New Yorkers Sam Champion. Now, that's not quite fair. They don't know I'm writing it - but it does concern them. The article is loosely about their commercial and financial failure as a band. Which makes it entirely reasonable that their guitarist, Sean Sullivan, broke away for a solo project called Sean Bones and got himself signed to Frenchkiss this winter. Sam Champion worked for six years to get something like that. It took Sean Sullivan nine months.

It helps that Sean Bones is a dub-stub/reggae, Caribbean explosion. You get shades of Vampire Weekend in 2007 except this won't break nearly as big as that. It's a fun summer record. Like a less commercially-viable, male, cold medicine Santigold. The upstroke guitars are there. The lazy keys, the easy melody, the sense that we listened to Israel Vibration and Burning Spear sometime in the last two weeks - it's the Asher Roth of reggae. Because people will like this. It's not white people liking traditionally black music done by black artists. It's white people liking traditionally black music done by white artists. Call it the Elvis of suburbia. But if this is culturally confusing or insulting - musically it's fun and full of sunshine. So, forget the references and tip your way into June.

Listen :: Sean Bones - "Easy Street"


On The List :: Low vs. Diamond @ Bowery Ballroom [5.22.09]

Standing just to the right of the stage at the Bowery, I'm trying to mask my disappointment in Low vs. Diamond. Other than their wholesale theft of LCD Soundsystem's Sounds of Silver font (just look), what is this band really about? My list of grievances is long and somewhat irrelevant. Their singer looks like a kid you wouldn't take seriously in high school. In fact, if it weren't for supportive parents and a six-figure education, you wonder if this kid would have found music at all. Recast the whole thing: music not as a passion but music as an activity for upper-class kids taught that passion is important. He's also wearing an expensive watch. It doesn't fit with his bohemian rhapsody. It glitters like a scarlet letter. If I were more conscious or volatile I might yell "bullshit."

Just at the critical moment, when I'm down on the set and looking for reasons to hate it (see: the watch), some girl pokes me. She says, "you need to have more fun." Now, let it be known, I am not not fun. But she's right. I am not enjoying this and now looking for reasons not to enjoy it. I foolishly engage a conversation. "I mean, what is the real difference between them and say, Matchbox 20?" I say. This is between her contention that they are: 1) young, 2) fun, and 3) good. "I mean, I don't like Matchbox 20. So what the hell are we doing here?" I say. It's a rhetorical question and it isn't fair. Low vs. Diamond aren't nearly as bad as I think. They're also not nearly as good as the cabal of 20-something girls in front of me think. They are bouncing around like someone carbonated their bloodstream. If I were mean-spirited I would say, "you'd dance to anything, wouldn't you?"

The last song of the night begins with an anecdote. "Last night in Philly, everyone came on stage and it was ... well, it was awesome." The lead-singer with the expensive watch encourages fans, without explicitly encouraging them, to join him on stage. I watch the bouncer visibly wince at the prospect of having to regulate some 140-pound kid with a 6,000 dollar camera trying to get on stage. This isn't rock music. It's a lawsuit waiting to happen. Nonetheless, kids get on stage and sort of move around. It's as safe as a ball pit. All the danger has left rock clubs. This is rebellion for kids who don't know how to rebel. This is fun for people that don't know how to have it. If I were nasty I would say, "this is music for people that don't know music."

Listen :: Low vs Diamond - "Heart Attack"

Celebration :: "Almost Summer"

"Almost Summer" is from 1978. This is in the interest of full-disclosure. Celebration is the band The Beach Boys generated in the summer of '77 to record the soundtrack for the movie Almost Summer, a thin narrative about a contested student council election and (roughly) coming of age. In that light, this isn't revisionist or derivative. It's original source material. For a Memorial Day Monday, nothing can hang with this.

Listen :: Celebration - "Almost Summer"


Deleted Scenes :: "Fake IDs"

You can't advocate using a fake ID. Legally, it's identity theft. Morally, it's a misrepresentation. Emotionally, it could be confusing. Who are you really? How old are you really? Are you consistently places where you're not supposed to be? This is, at the very least, disjunctive.

Washington D.C.'s Deleted Scenes are actually more comfortable with lying. In fact, the first lines are "I don't mind you lying to me/If you think you're right/You must be." This is an expression of unquestioning trust in the face of capital L "Lies." But, this analysis of false identification runs deeper than a broken communication stream. Reflecting later, and perhaps a little weakly, "We've all got fake IDs," the implication is our identities are all, at least in part, fictionalized. Sure, it's a little pedantic. But any song about false identification that wasn't a little adolescent wouldn't be doing the job.

Aurally, you're hearing a fuzzy keyboard progression mix up with some Fleet Foxes-style harmony and a thudding kick drum that sounds a million miles away, until the snare snaps close to the ear. Later, a rollicking down-stroke guitar (think, the first two measures of "I'm Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend...") and the song comes crashing to a spatial finish. It's an ambitious, fuzzed-out project - like an anachronistic fresco or a chalk sidewalk drawing of the "Last Supper." It's art but out of context. It's pretty but it doesn't make great sense. And that's the point - nothing is exactly as it seems. We are all out of place.

Listen :: Deleted Scenes - "Fake IDs"


Foreign Born :: "Early Warnings"

We've been tracking the upcoming Foreign Born release like a streaking rocket. That might be an overstatement. We are tracking the new Foreign Born album like a blue whale that scientists tagged months ago and are currently studying to capture its migratory patterns. Where will it go next?

The appropriately-titled "Early Warnings" is the answer. Take your classic Foreign Born guitar strums - full, acoustic and rich - and then add some Vampire Weekend-esque guitar to the top of the mix and you have "Early Warnings." Do people still love Paul Simon's Graceland? You bet. It crashes and pulses and even has some hand-claps in the middle. If you could describe American folk music as "uncompromising," this is it. They are from Los Angeles and that's the next stop on our migration anyways. So, science, put a tag on our ears. Shoot us full of tranquilizer if you have to - we'll just wake up. We're on the move and I flat out dare you to keep up.

Listen :: Foreign Born - "Early Warnings"


Alex Metric :: "Head Straight"

I don't know anything about Alex Metric. If you rewind 72 hours, this song was blaring out of enormous speakers on the third-floor of a walk-up house in Central Pennsylvania. Some girl walked in and told us to turn it down. Excuse me. It's awfully loud. Can you just turn it down ...

No. Get your head straight. This is the new Young Love. This might be the song of the year.

Listen :: Alex Metric - "Head Straight"


1st Birthday

The blog turns one today. It has been a wild year. Thanks for all the support. And to the 21,000 people who have stopped in since this time last year: you make it worthwhile and I appreciate you wasting some time with me.

Here's Marina and the Diamonds with something vaguely celebratory and certainly, a little weird.

Listen :: Marina and the Diamonds - "Mowgli's Road"


Late To The Party :: Fanfarlo

Full disclosure: Fanfarlo is a dumb name for a band. There aren't too many ways around that. In many ways, it's actually misleading. I thought they might be a post-rock band. I thought they might be into some weird children's music. I thought a lot of things. This all adds up to me deleting press releases and ignoring most positive reviews of the band. I am, sometimes, extremely bad at this.

A near perfect hybrid of the lush orchestration of a Beirut record, the dramatic impulse of The Arcade Fire and the pop sensibility of Snow Patrol, Fanfarlo have one of the best records of the year. Hands down. No discussion. If I had been paying a lick of attention I would have caught "Harold T. Wilkins" sometime last year, or even the "I'm A Pilot" mp3 that the nice people at RadarMaker kept sending me. I am barely conscious sometimes. It wasn't until parts of the record were blaring out of my roommate's room that I said, out loud, "What is this? It's really good." Fanfarlo. And yes, it's good. The record is out and I can't say enough good things about it.

Listen :: Fanfarlo - "Harold T. Wilkins"
Bonus :: Fanfarlo - "I'm A Pilot"
Bonus :: Fanfarlo - "Fire Escape"


The Killers :: "A Dustland Fairytale" [Live on Letterman]

The second-best song off The Killers' latest LP Day and Age was "Dustland Fairytale." Two nights ago they took the song to Letterman and brought a full orchestra. Rarely, televised music performances take on some element of transcendence. Coldplay can do it. Kanye can do it. The Killers can do it. It takes a sense of the moment. It takes an absurdly over-the-top arrangement. If it all comes off correctly, the band even manages to blow itself away. In the last two minutes, Flowers almost crumples into a ball with how big the music is behind him. The strings churn, the drums are furious - the whole thing explodes. It is a moment that can thankfully be recaptured.


The Ballet :: "In My Head" and "I Hate The War"

The Ballet produce super-self-aware orchestral pop in the same vein as some of the less annoying twee music you know. Or if twee is a four-letter word, let's just settle on the fact that The Magnetic Fields comparison is something almost everyone supports. The melodies and lyrics are of the kinds of diary-entry heartbreak that would seem cloying if they were done any less well. Goldberg is clearly a student of pop, and writes tunes that safely reiterate and explain his influences. But it's safe and enjoyable. Once the "na's" in "I Hate The War" kick, you won't care where this came from or how it got here. We'd just be guessing anyway.

Listen :: The Ballet - "In My Head"
Bonus :: The Ballet - "I Hate The War"


Alligators :: "Where Does It Hide"

Alligators make sweeping, adult pop. That doesn't mean it's unenergetic or flat. It's Beach Boys harmony, melodies out of The Zombies playbook and less-intense affinity for Teenage Fanclub than The Brother Kite. That's a lot of references in one sentence. It's frankly unhelpful. You're right. We screwed this up - my bad. Let's try this again.

Alligators make sweeping, adult pop. That doesn't mean it's unenergetic or flat. It's melodic and sun-soaked and has a slick second-movement. It's fun without being vacuous, demanding without being irritating. The first two times through, the chorus is an anthemic stutter-step, elevating before managing to dial itself back down into the next verse. At times you can close your eyes and hear Tigercity or Grand Archives. We're doing it again. This was supposed to go better, I promise.

So, no overstatements or comparisons. Listen to the song. It's your world. We all just live in it.

Listen :: Alligators - "Where Does It Hide"


On The List :: Cut Off Your Hands @ Mercury Lounge [5.8.09]

I caught Cut Off Your Hands 18-months ago in the basement of the Delancey. It was CMJ 2007. They went just before Foreign Born and absolutely leveled the crowd. After the show, they handed me a copy of their EP. It was 11pm. While their guitarist slumped against the wall, sweating profusely, their handler informed him they had just booked another show later that night. In one of my favorite moments of all-time, he looked his manager dead in the face and said, "I am so fucking tired." They agreed to play the show.

Last night was a little different. Perhaps it was a bit more mechanical, if no less energetic. This runs in full on The House List.

The band, sounding like The Futureheads who grew up listening to Morrissey records, followed in time; bassist and guitarist shouting their vocals into their mics. It was only until after the third song that Johonson looked back at the sound board and said, "We're going to need more guitar. And more drums. And more crowd." The last sentence was so quiet, it was almost missed. But it was exactly what he meant: we are going to need more crowd. They launched into "Turn Cold," arguably their second-best song.

Listen :: Cut Off Your Hands - "Turn Cold"


Papercuts :: "The Dictator's Lament"

My friend Chuck cares about music more than anyone I know. He purchases albums - we're talking thousands of dollars of music - while the rest of you right-click, save as, open in iTunes. He goes to shows. He talks about bands with passion not hyperbole and passes this information along. In short, Chuck is everything that is right with the music industry: a player, a critic, a consumer. And he really digs Papercuts. I don't like everything Chuck likes. He's a better critic than I. But, I like this.

"The Dictator's Lament" is maybe the best song off the latest Papercuts release. It sounds like a roughed-around version of The Shins singing REM classic "Crush (With Eyeliner)." Seriously, wait for the last measure of the chorus and sing, "it's a crush ... with eyeliner." It makes sense. Almost to the point where you sing the next line, "I know you ..." even though it doesn't fit or make sense with the music. Chuck would never do this. But you can.

Listen :: Papercuts - "The Dictator's Lament"


Loney Dear :: "Airport Surroundings"

Loney Dear's "Airport Surroundings" reminds me of my phone's alarm. The chimes in the background right before the chorus, well, they're the same as a possible alarm tone on a Blackberry Storm (WOOOOOOSHHHH!). Which means, there are parts of the chorus that evoke something painfully Pavlovian in me. Those chimes, those noises, say, "Wake up. And not in that epic Arcade Fire 'Wake Up' way. Wake up, in the tragic, 'you will feel awful for the next 90 minutes until you arrive at your job and realize you love what you do' way." 5:45am is a weird time. So, those chimes don't really elevate me. They make me exhausted.

But, "Airport Surroundings" has something dark and candid about it; something that reminds me about driving at night or taking a red-eye from California. You can almost feel the road slip under your tires. You can feel the tarmac release you from gravity until you wake up somewhere else. The vocals are hushed and full of nonsense (too many nas, not enough heys) but nonetheless front a song that feels moving. Because the only time you should wake up at 5:45am on the east coast is when you took off at 11pm in LA.

Listen :: Loney Dear - "Airport Surroundings"


Cloud Cult :: "Pretty Voice"

It's a grey day in New York, the hint of rain and the less-than-steely resolve of humidity. It rained yesterday and the pessimists are calling for rain tomorrow until the end of the world. Of course, the glass-half-full types see some beauty in the breakdown. Whether karma or statistical odds or some platitude (it's darkest before the dawn, the light at the end of the tunnel), some of us believe that the bleakest weather (metaphorically, like a sledgehammer) is the greatest time for turn-around. Frankly, how much worse could it get?

Cloud Cult, from all the way back in 2007, offer a melancholy position on hope. Invoking superhero literature and a dramatic sense of irony (what exactly does the crowd not know?), the band chases down something painful. "Strike up the band/here comes the storyline/of the usual struggle/between fear and love." The drama is high and the melody pulses like the hum of a forgotten, yet increasingly insistent television. The narrative is about loss. But, there are messages and signals in loss (see: paragraph one). Enter hero girl. That's a quote.

Listen :: Cloud Cult - "Pretty Voice"


The Lonely Forest :: "We Sing In Time"

A result of changing speech cadences, we've taken to saying "new" and then a noun. It indicates pleasure. It indicates approval. Someone plays a song you like. You say: New band. New song. The rough translation is: I enjoy this and would like to hear more. New song. This new way of talking (new talking) is almost complete owed to the marbled-mouthed, Midwestern speech patterns of one of our most recent friends. We took to it like wild fire. New fire. New friend.

So, I suppose it's no coincidence that The Lonely Forest's "We Sing In Time" spoke immediately to me. "I'll find a new breath. A new life. To take me away." It's pretty dramatic. Now it helps that The Lonely Forest are writing about progress. More specifically, they're writing about how progress, even the end of humanity might provide opportunities for new life. New song.

Sonically, The Lonely Forest sound like a sped-up version of Band of Horses; same throbbing drums and resolving melodies. Same ethereal vocals. It's good. So say it with me, say it with our entire group of friends. New song. New band.

Listen :: The Lonely Forest - "We Sing In Time"