32 Feet West :: That's how it starts.

The blog is moving to Los Angeles for the month of July. Consequently, I will also be moving to Los Angeles for the month of July. We're calling the project 32ft West. It is an experiment and it will be a minor miracle if we make it back alive. In many ways this changes nothing. In some ways, it changes everything.

If you think of something we absolutely can't miss in LA, let me know. It's a big city with an allegedly cool scene. I don't know it very well. I am here to learn.

If you're an LA band and think we might like to come check you out, let me know.

If you work in the music industry (you know who you are) and want to do stuffy meetings in your cool-looking offices, let me know. I'm just kidding. The offices aren't that cool. Again, jokes. Ha.

We leave July 5th. Pick your brains when you get a minute. We'll be at 32feet(at)gmail.com

Listen :: The Decemberists - "Los Angeles, I'm Yours"


The Traditionalist :: "I Know My Ocean"

I seem to be locked in a series of conversations where I can't fully express myself. Perhaps, it is our PR-driven culture. Sitting at the bar at Bowery the other night, a girl named Copper (you can't make this up) offered, somewhat seriously, to help recreate a friend's personal brand. She meant well and he, politely, didn't reject this proposal. But it was a revealing moment. We don't have interactions anymore - we just direct questions to our press room. There was a time when we were reckless in our endangerment. There was a time when we were honest; when hurt hurt and joy was joyful. We used to feel feelings. Now, we just manage the message.

The Traditionalist, not just for their reactionary name, step into this void with something approaching an attitude. They make just shy of alt-country, folk-rock. On "I Know My Ocean," the instruments are well-recorded and pop out in their own moment before filtering back into the momentum of a moving, deeply textured arrangement. It's shabby while being put-together.

More importantly, the lyrics deal with hurt and declaration. Even the opening line, and title, "I know my ocean" seems an attempt to quantify and state clearly. It is no coincidence that most of the couplets begin with the prefix: "I know ..." The hammer is in the second verse, with rapid-fire delivery: "I know a promise/and I know how to take my time/and I know how to recreate a moment without faking that I'm fine/ just for you." You might have to slide the song back to listen to it twice. But it's all there. In fact, underneath the urgent piano, you'll find the hope that only heartbreak can bring; an honesty built on personal sacrifice.

So let the hurt sting and let the joy feel good. And when things are the hardest to say, it's usually the best time to say them.

Listen :: The Traditionalist - "I Know My Ocean"


Bloc Party :: "One More Chance"

Bloc Party are back with another single, out mid-summer. And, again, it's bound to make people upset.

If you thought "Mercury" was a jag off the reservation, you probably won't like "One More Chance." In fact, the first ten seconds of the track are unrecognizable as Bloc Party - it sounds more like prelude to "Rhythm Is A Dancer." But, Kele's vocals explode into the mix and from there on the song mirrors the narrative of "Flux." Which is to say: if you weren't expecting prototypical Bloc Party, you might like it - but if you were expecting Silent Alarm, this will be another chance to say, "what happened to this band?" or "what the hell is this?" So more specifically, "One More Chance" is more a creature of your expectations than it is a stand-alone piece of art.

This band, in visual metaphor, is like a wild animal. Silent Alarm dropped and we discovered them in the wild - relatively untouched and unaffected. We had a little window into the band's sound, largely unfiltered and seemingly pure. And then we brought them to the city. Like putting King Kong in New York, it wasn't a wonder that the band changed. It wasn't any wonder that they wrote A Weekend In The City. It was urban and anthemic and a little pleading ("tonight make me unstoppable"). It was what they thought we wanted. And instead people ripped them for either being too safe or not safe enough. In an unbelievable turn of events, Bloc Party was accused of not being "Bloc Party" enough.

So they disappeared for a year, emerging only to release "Flux" as an early "eff you, we'll be what we want to be," returning a year after that with the left-hook of Intimacy. We tried to domesticate the animal, tried to teach them our tricks, to colonize their sound with our desires. And they learned just enough to flee the city. They ripped their tracking devices off and headed for the woods. They fled the radar screens, fried the matrix, and didn't just color outside the lines, they burned the coloring book. They started talking about the apocalypse, about crushing break-ups, about redemption ("Ion Square") but redemption on their own terms. They went back to nature.

"One More Chance" is a club-burner and it wasn't what you expected. Give up. This band isn't going to try to be what you wanted ever again. They're off the reservation. And it's great.

Listen :: Bloc Party - "One More Chance"


On The List :: Little Joy @ Bowery Ballroom [6.23.09]

Something was different at the Bowery Ballroom for the Little Joy set. A member of The Strokes leaned in to the bouncer near the right of the stage and said, "It's the 2000 crew again." It was a bit of nostalgia. He was certainly referring to when his band stormed through the New York club scene at the turn of the millennium and, allegedly, saved rock and roll in the city. Whatever actually happened, it earned something approaching reverence. Which is exactly the word that loosely connected to Little Joy, a band devised by Strokes' drummer Fabrizio Morretti. Now, Little Joy weren't trying to save anything. They were just trying to finish their tour before going to Mexico.

Sonically, the heat of Latin America wasn't a bad starting place. The band was fronted by Rodrigo Amarante, a Brazilian, and Bikini Shapiro, a stone fox. Amarante opened the show alone but was quickly joined by the whole of Little Joy, including horns courtesy of The Teenage Prayers. The night oscillated between eruptive and quiet. Just like the record, it had its quiet moments and it had its movers. During "No One's Better Sake" and "Keep Me In Mind" the crowd shifted to the beat of something both tropical and gritty. Shapiro was chatty in a suggestively thin dress, while Amarante was an undemanding stage director.

Moretti would make only a cursory appearance in the set's last song, "Brand New Start." As an addition to the New York-downtown-Illuminati, Regina Spektor lilted on stage to add her vocals to the closer. It was raucous and it was a perfect conclusion. For a night steeped in the past, the show looked forward - with celebrity additions and rock history in perfect balance. It was, spectacularly, a little different.


Vivan Darkbloom :: "Cold War"

And we're back. Thanks for your patience over the last week.

Most importantly, we're back with a bullet - Boston's Vivian Darkbloom. Their latest single, "Cold War" opens with the dark, meditative tones of another historically minded-band, Cold War Kids, before turning on the pop-propeller and launching into something that sounds like a hard-edged Bishop Allen. All the finger-picked guitar lines are there, and aside from an ominous bass-line, "Cold War" is lighter-than-air. Well, until the chorus where things get considerably darker.

In what could be the lyric of the year: "I loved our cold war/we didn't have to speak/we lived like communists, darling." It's morose. It's crushing. It's actually a little funny. To summarize: it's every disastrous interaction you've ever had with women. In a shocking twist, maybe the disasters are the most interesting part. Maybe the stand-offs, the negotiations, the detente - maybe that's the good stuff. So take that idea and set it against one of the most singable choruses you've heard this month and you've got "Cold War." It'll stick in your head for days - or at least until the red phone rings. Because we're either going to figure this thing out or we're going to blow the world to bits. Like communists, darling.

Listen :: Vivian Darkbloom - "Cold War"


There Will Be Fireworks :: "Foreign Thoughts"

It was a little over 18-months ago when Frightened Rabbit first blasted out of my former roommate (pour some graduate school research out for a fallen homie) Tom's speakers. It was winter and we were feeling sorry for ourselves. It was exactly what we needed to hear. The grey-edge of a Scottish accent and the crushing words about falling apart were perfect.

A year-and-a-half later, Tom's room is empty, swept clean and I'll handle a new Scottish band alone. This time There Will Be Fireworks is the next to step into the void. Echoing guitars and low-end fuzz sew a backdrop for an eirily Frightened-vocal. The most charming moments are lyrical repetitions like, "she chokes on words that won't come out/the TV's turned up far too loud, too loud." Meanwhile, the arrangement builds until front man, Nicholas McManus is screaming catharsis, "she says she barely sleeps/and when she does it's fitfully," and saving his best for last, "a sad song in a minor key/a sad song in a minor key."

So, for the kid who made his departure this weekend, let's not feel sorry for ourselves. But that still doesn't mean we're going to be writing this in A-major. We'll miss you, buddy. Can you play this shit on the violin? Absolutely.

Listen :: There Will Be Fireworks - "Foreign Thoughts"


Wolf Gang :: "Pieces Of You"

We wrote up Wolf Gang back at the beginning of March. We predicted that they would blow up this year or next. While it's hard to predict an exact timetable for success, new single "Pieces of You" is certainly a step towards that eventuality.

First, the minuses. The recording quality is still low. We'll imagine this is intentional or maybe necessary. We'll imagine that at some point, someone will give these guys enough money to clean up the recordings. Remember the first Black Kids' demos? They showed promise but sounded like they were recorded in a bathtub. Wolf Gang, for all its ambitious sound and arrangement, will need to clean up their records. Bear this in mind when one of your friends plays you an over-produced version of this song (or another by the band) in 9-months. This is the fun part. You were there at the beginning ... sort of.

The pluses: This song is great - really great. Wolf Gang is perfectly lush and flourishing, while never losing momentum. The verses have a no-nonsense down-beat and the chorus is soaring. The lyrics: "You think that you understand/I've got pieces of you in my hands" don't do justice to the sweeping melody which might be one of the best of 2009. Let me put it simply: if you're not listening to this now, you're doing yourself a disservice. I don't ask for a lot. Listen to this.

Listen :: Wolf Gang - "Pieces of You"


The Local Natives :: "Sun Hands"

The Local Natives are the kids we used as our SXSW math problem all those months ago. We speculated that, against all the economic and mathematical odds, they could make it. We used Rogue Wave as a comparison and we're not backing away from it, though this band is far more collaborative than the Zach Rogue All Stars.

They played the Bowery this past Friday and though I couldn't make the show, I'm absolutely positive they crushed it. Considering the band drove (by their own admission) nearly 24-straight hours to get to the East Coast - you don't come that far not to light some worlds on fire. Label interest continues to be high and new single "Sun Hands" is out on Chess Club Records. It is their most unstable (and I mean that as a compliment) arrangement yet. The scream comes in the middle as the band comes together to insist: "and when I cannot feel with my sun hands/I promise not to lose her again."

There is a pause, slight, before a didactic guitar line explodes into the second-half. If you can picture 800 heads nodding in motion, you'll imagine your way into the shows these guys will be having in 6-months time. See you in the winter and keep your hands warm, kids.

Listen :: The Local Natives - "Sun Hands"


On The List :: The Hold Steady @ Bowery Ballroom [6.9.09]

[editor's note: this runs in full on The House List]

Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady, does not cut an impressive figure. He could just as easily be cheering on his kids at a youth soccer game as controlling the stage at The Bowery Ballroom. But his voice—a paradox, an unexpected power, a rapid-fire weapon—is the mediator. He belongs here. Looks can be deceiving but sounds rarely are.

A slowly advancing onslaught of sweat made its way down Finn’s blue oxford shirt as the evening wore on. It began with a small foothold near the neckline and built, like liquid manifest destiny, until it soaked half of his chest. Amidst this symbol of workmanship, Finn was plenty reflective and made sure to mention, “We haven’t played here since 2005.” It was a return in music, too, with the band playing the majority of the songs off Separation Sunday. Finn worked exceptionally hard with the older songs—slightly awkward in his movements and utterly explosive in his manner.

The Hold Steady began their encore with “Stuck Between Stations,” a song, like many of their others, about drinking recklessly. The crowd matched the band’s intensity, rocking the floor and bouncing to the ceiling. Finn, with his freestyle delivery, shouted the lyrics away from the mike and the band poured keyboard over the arrangement like drunk college students pouring lighter fluid on charcoal fires. Earlier, Finn maintained that, despite success, the band is still a “bar band.” No deception was necessary. The audience could not have missed what they heard.

Listen :: The Hold Steady - Your Little Hoodrat Friend


Marina and the Diamonds :: "I'm Not A Robot" [Starsmith's 24-Carat Remix]

"Guess what? I'm not a robot." It expresses the simple and the profane. It takes an accusation of inhumanity and turns it into a rhetorical question connected to a statement of tautological fact. Since we traffic in irony, it helps that an undulating synth-progression provides the background for an affirmation of a human heartbeat. Other than Marina's singular vocals (think Regina Spektor meets Imogen Heap), there aren't any human hand-prints on this song. It is almost intentionally not human.

After The Killers debated our humanity last year, you'd think this act would be tired. Well, guess what? It's not. Discussion of existence and red-blood-heart-beating definition won't get old. You can't program that debate into your personal device and wait for the right application to tell you what to feel or what to say or who to turn to. (Pedantic? Sure.) Zeros and ones can beat us in chess and take us to the moon. They fly our planes and they fight our wars. The binary system is, in fact, completely responsible for what you're reading right now. About 75% of the time, we live in the Matrix. Not today. Guess what?

Listen :: Marina and the Diamonds - "I'm Not A Robot" [Starsmith's 24-Carat Remix]
Bonus :: Marina and the Diamonds - "Obsessions"


Egyptian Hip-Hop :: "Rad Pitt"

Egyptian Hip-Hop is, believe it or not, a real band. And in the true spirit of independent rock, they are neither Egyptian nor hip-hop. Rather with "Rad Pitt," the Manchester kids have done something vaguely Joy Division and a track that could certainly soundtrack a montage in the 2009 Breakfast Club. It is both adolescent, depressing, and energetic - maybe even a little reminiscent of I Was A Cub Scout. The warm guitars hide crushing questions: "who am I to you/but a mighty fool?" And that's just the chorus - a fist-pumping, New Order-ride to the the top of a spare arrangement. Don't you forget about this band.

Listen :: Egyptian Hip-Hop - "Rad Pit"


On The List :: Art Brut @ Mercury Lounge [6.3.09]

[editor's note: this runs in full on The House List. the crowd was great and the band was explosive. it's easy to get down on the city and our music crowds. sometimes we get it right. ready, art brut?]

Eddie Argos, lead singer of Art Brut, looked out into the audience and deadpanned: “My sex is on fire.” It was fairly late in the set and Argos had already made clear his disdain for Kings of Leon. But to clarify, he elaborated: “Twelve revisions and a million dollars and we got ‘My sex is on fire.’ What does it mean? What the fuck does any of it mean?” It’s an appropriate question—especially from the front man of the most deconstructionist rock band ever.

Made moderately famous in 2005 for the song “Formed a Band,” Argos remains one of the most candid, if potentially sarcastic, front men on the market. His forthrightness on this night bled as much earnestness as it did candor. He bounced around the stage spinning stories about DC Comics (even ad-libbing the company into “Modern Art”) and jilted lovers. Despite his rainbow-colored shirt, Argos was less ironic than you might think. In fact, underneath the whole deconstructionist act, Art Brut was lethally serious.

The band was smack in the middle of a five-night residency at the Mercury and they looked no worse for wear, though Argos mused, “I’m running out of original things to say.” This bout of self-awareness was disarming and the band immediately launched into “Emily Kane” with Argos annotating about the power of rock and roll. The show was sold out and the crowd had the band’s lyrics more than memorized. Art Brut eventually left on “Bang Bang Rock & Roll,” a song that again pointed the lens inward and still left the audience wanting more. What does it all mean? We don’t have coherent answers—just be happy Art Brut is asking the questions.

Listen :: Art Brut - "Formed A Band"


Throw Me The Statue :: "Ancestors"

I don't have mixed feelings about Throw Me The Statue. The kid is ridiculously talented and got his music licensed just about everywhere. If you're scoring at home, that's a combination of precociousness and creativity and straight cash. It helps that for those of us paying attention, he's closest to making a Neutral Milk Hotel record that we're going to get in the next five years.

Using the Neutral Milk barometer, this is less "Aeroplane Over The Sea" and more "Holland 1945." It has an edge to it. "Ancestors" has a dominant lead-bass riff, which turns angry-as-hell during the verses. You can almost hear the bass guitar muttering and fuming to itself as the lyrics ("we were having such flagrant fun") sail out like a case for oxymoronic juxtaposition. If the vocals were anything less than intimate and hushed, this song would be certifiably angry.

As it stands, "Ancestors" washes more introspective than furious. And that accounts for the wailing post-punky guitars in the chorus - which is, for the record, absolutely fantastic. Really, really fantastic. This is as anthemic as Throw Me The Statue is going to get. Which, makes him the king of carrot flowers. Part three.

Listen :: Throw Me The Statue - "Ancestors"


Guy Fantastico :: "Nom De Guerre"

"Nom De Guerre" was written and produced in Costa Rica. It sounds like it. Something vaguely tropical with a shade of futurism. It's a surf record and Guy Fantastico (we'll assume it's a stage name) wrote it in between surf sessions. Those are the facts. Onto the analysis.

"Nom De Guerre" leaves you with a far better impression than it begins with. The first two verses are forgettable, maybe even a little flat in places. The chorus rescues the track each time with all the flair of a parachute from free-fall or all the drama of a life-line thrown into an undertow. It is a profound turnaround. And things only get better. By the last refrain a synth-background fleshes out the sing-song melody, managing to balance the mechanical stomp of the percussion. Imagine a voodoo marionette: mechanized, tropical, lush, and a little crazy. "Nom De Guerre" asks us to name our conflicts. This is the kind of battle you can fight from the beach. All you have to do is sit through the first two verses.

Listen :: Guy Fantastico - "Nom De Guerre"

Fanfarlo :: "Finish Line"

One of my favorite moments of the last 72-hours involved screaming the lyrics to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's "Tidal Wave Of Young Blood." We were in the left-hand lane doing 85 through central Massachusetts. It was sunny and we were unleashing ourselves on the world with hurricane force. We were maybe the perfect storm. We were on the way to a wedding in a cemetery. You can't make these things up.

The loose connection is Fanfarlo. Their lead-singer sounds like a chalked up version of Alex Ounsworth's tweaking vocals from Clap Your Hands. The arrangements are more polished and stylistically, the two band's share little. But when it comes to marble-mouthed-roughed-up vocals, they are near twins. And the latest drop from the Fanfarlo camp is the understated "Finish Line." It is loosely and unsurprisingly about completing things. It has a slow build and doesn't quite pay-off like other songs on the wrecking-force new record Reservoir. But as we raced by people and made furtive glances at single-women in speedy cars, the weekend was wrapping up. The spring was coming to a close. We are in the next movement.

Listen :: Fanfarlo - "Finish Line"