Surfer Blood :: "Swim (Til You Reach The End)"

We're going to take two disjointed anecdotes and tie them together with loose strings.

One: I have understandably mixed feelings about the movement being called "glo-fi" by some, "warm-fi" by others. For one, it comprises too many individual things. Are you a synth-band with a shitty microphone? Welcome to the club. Are you a surf-rock band with an authority problem? It's probably glo-fi. Are you a folk-band with a penchant for shoegaze? Glo-fi. Like the upbeat cousin of No Age and Times New Viking, we've fallen another foot deeper down the meaningless-genre-rabbit-hole. It's not that these bands are bad. They are just another exhibition of the indie rock taste-machine, loose and disorganized as it is.

Two: My favorite speech in a bad movie is Leo Dicaprio in 1999's seminal disaster The Beach. It comes moments after he's killed a shark and is re-telling his story to the group. He's already sleeping with the French guy's girl and has developed the same relationship with Karma that Michael Vick once had with pitbulls. You know something bad is going to happen. This is his last great moment; the apex before the fall. If you were an over-zealous high school student, you would rush to use the word "hamartia." All of this is irrelevant as Dicaprio scans the crowd and describes his fateful moment with the words: "No. I will not. die. today!" I don't care for this movie but I love this line. It is defiant and bold and the exact moment before everything goes bad.

So Surfer Blood have this song, "Swim (Til You Reach The End)." It's both glo-fi and I like it. The genre isn't about to go horribly wrong, but it is living on borrowed time. And when it's gone, and completely forgotten, we will be left with little moments like these, all tied together with almost nothing at all.

Listen :: Surfer Blood - "Swim (Til You Reach The End)"


Evan Voytas :: "So Sure"

When Evan Voytas falls asleep the packaged drums slow to a stop. Hours later his alarm tones some combination of the keys in his newest release, "So Sure. As he stumbles out of bed, confused and disoriented, the Casio-drums kick back in; everything begins to fall in time. His day has an electronic heartbeat.

Off the self-aware and newly released EP The New Dynamic Sound Of Evan Voytas, "So Sure" thumps and pulses surreptitiously until it stumbles into a chorus of electronic chimes. The vocals, equally measured, are draped in reverb and hush. Voytas, though not trying to write the theme song to an 80s cop drama, has nonetheless used metallic keys and humming synths to create something that sounds old but is, undeniably, new. Never a slouch on the emotional pathos, he delivers "So Sure," as equally uplifting and meaningful. It all comes together. If everything isn't going to the beat, the beat is going to everything.

Listen :: Evan Voytas - "So Sure"
Bonus :: Evan Voytas - "Give It Back"


R.E.M. :: "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" [Live In Dublin]

R.E.M., a band who arguably defined college rock in the 80s, made huge crossover success in the 1990s and then drifted into relative quiet in the 2000s, was ripe for a comeback last year. They shut it down, got frustrated, recorded a new album, Accelerate, that was rife with pissed-off riffs and the backing vocals that defined their career and, most importantly, they came back. In the throws of this journey, they played the material before it was released on record for five straight nights in Dublin. The band describes it as an exercise in fear but you might read it as something else. The live footage and audio was turned into a record and DVD, Live at the Olympia, directed by Vincent Moon of the "Take Away Shows." It comes out in October but you can see Stipe, frustrated, focused and in black-and-white right now. Here's the appropriately titled, "Living Well Is The Best Revenge."

Living Well Is The Best Revenge

Newislands :: "Out Of Time"

Newislands' "Out Of Time" inspires a series of immediate responses, not necessarily regarding the music. On a day when Islands released a song from their upcoming record, Newislands has the same ring as New York and New England. This would be, of course, if Newislands wanted to duplicate, improve and free itself from the religious constraints of the band Islands. This would be if Newislands was a rebellious, if achingly indebted, colony of the band Islands. This is, perhaps, an unecesarily high-concept first paragraph. Newislands sound almost nothing like Islands and their most profound connection is that I happened to be listening to them on the same day in late August 2009.

"Out Of Time" is a sparkling bit of synth-pop. Its most memorable moment is a glittering, tumbling synth-loop that sounds a shade like Animal Collective's "My Girls." But Newislands are up to something more retro than the far edges of freak-folk. "Out Of Time" sounds like a lost New Order single, right down to the wistful lyrics and the echoing, distant vocals. In this way, Newislands, musically, are tipping old influences, while very actually sounding far away. It's a charming mixture of metaphysics and reality; like a more recent version of something old, like a brand new (order) colony. And everything comes together, if only at the last minute.

Listen :: Newislands - "Out Of Time"


Alec Ounsworth - "Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans)"

In 2005 the world watched in horror as an American city was covered in ten-feet of water and no one did anything. People died, drowned in their houses. I watched about 24-aggregate hours of news footage in the first few days and while I was horrified by our government's slow response, I did comparatively little. I didn't hop a plane. I didn't donate money from the absurd day-rate I made working on a television production. I carried pallets of bottled water to a truck. It took 45-minutes. This is not the part where you feel guilty, but it's not the part where you feel proud either.

Alec Ounsworth was on tour in 2005, fronting the wildly successful Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Their record sounded cool, turned the right heads (Bowie and Byrne) and they had The National opening for them most nights. Then New Orleans drowned on our televisions. I don't suspect Ounsworth feels any more guilty than anyone else but I don't suspect he feels pride either. On "Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans)," the debut song from his solo album Mo Beauty, Ounsworth sounds predictably mournful. Even the baroque keyboards in the bridge sound more like a funeral than a Sunday morning service. Otherwise, the arrangement is stripped and close. He hope, next time the water level rises, someone would be there to part the sea. I suspect he thinks we can do better.

Listen :: Alec Ounsworth - "Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans)"


The Mountain Goats :: "Hath Thou Considered The Tetrapod" [Live]

Lazy day for the blog and we'll dig into the catalogue. I was late to the Mountain Goats party (October 2005), though, perhaps it doesn't matter. John Darnielle is someone with whom his fans have an uncomfortably close relationship and recency isn't the focus. Though if you were listening to the Fisher-Price recordings in '96, sure, I give you all the credit in the world. For me, it was fall '05 and almost immediately, Darnielle felt relevant. He was candid when I wasn't entirely sure what that would sound like. Without exaggeration, he turned my whole year around.

Tonight in the car, weaving through disinterested traffic, we switched on The Mountain Goats. It was exactly the right choice. And maybe it's disjointed to turn to a song that is wantonly about abuse after a great weekend with friends. Live with it. This is about the exact opposite emotion and Darnielle reminds of the struggle: "Held under these waves by your strong and thick veined hand/but one of these days, I'm gonna wriggle up on dry land." Always remember the tetrapod.

Listen :: The Mountain Goats - "Hath Thou Considered The Tetrapod" [Live]
Listen :: The Mountain Goats - "Linda Blair Was Born Innocent" [Live]


Modernage :: "Creatures"

We're packing up the car and heading up the coast. The gang is getting rallied together from all over the northeast. We'll be spending one of the last weekends of the summer in a one-story house tucked in a neighborhood where people park on their lawns and burn meat in their backyards. When in Rome ...

1,500 miles to south, in Miami's buergeoning (yes, kind of) indie-rock scene, Modernage will be playing "Creatures." It's a sort of warm, sort of dark, sort of angular rock song. It chirps and moves and finally settles into a simple, catchy chorus, "we should have made things better/we should have stayed together/I should have been more clever." As guitar riffs peel off and vocals sail, the lead singer finally insists, "I want to know if you miss me." It's the kind of bridge that could end your summer. We know how we'll end ours. And we'll play Modernage all the way up 95.

Listen :: Modernage - "Creatures"


Tigercity :: "Fake Gold"

An aside: [In April 2007 I wrote a high-concept article about seeing Tigercity. The narrative thrust of the piece was about how weird it would be if tigers organized themselves into a sustainable and cohesive social fabric. What if tigers, instead of being exotic jungle cats, were just like the rest of us? What if there actually was a "tigercity?"It was an exciting trip into magic realism and just the kind of thing I thought was groundbreaking 2.5 years ago.]

Tigercity released their six-song EP Pretend Not To Love in the fall of 2007. I more than expected them to blow up; national tours, college and maybe even modern rock radio. It kind of happened and it kind of didn't. Things should have been "awesome" for this band and they just got "good." In the intervening period, my major connection to the band was limited to seeing the lead-singer on an Uptown F train a few times.

Now, in late '09 the band looks ready to deliver with a full-length entitled Ancient Lover. Lead-single, "Fake Gold" is a glossy, stomping affair. The synths take over in the bridge and the production shine is as intentional as it is appropriate. The candor of the lyric, "I just want you to know/that I'm wearing fake gold," is as funny as it is crushing. We're dealing with artifice, image and how they can be divorced from reality; or maybe artifice as a form of reality. But this is a windows down, summer rock song and there's nothing fake about it.

Listen :: Tigercity - "Fake Gold"

On The List :: Ambulance LTD @ Mercury Lounge [8.18.09]

This review runs on Bowery's Houselist Blog

Ambulance LTD’s lead singer Marcus Congleton, had a gigantic tiger on the front of his T-shirt (and one on the back). It was, in fact, a tiger shirt. The type that is either grossly ironic or more earnestly worn in shopping malls throughout America’s red states. It’s hard to tell if these animal graphic T-shirts, first popular in the ’80s, are seriously old or very, very new. And for a frontman with uncanny calm, a tiger leaping through the front of his major textile garment is either fun as hell or extremely disjointed.

The band opened with material the sold-out crowd didn’t know. Working on a new record after years of label disputes, Ambulance LTD appeared committed to honing the new songs in a live environment, which is difficult to evaluate, both artistically and performance-wise. Are the new songs less impressive because we didn’t know them? Or was the audience too focused on old material to spot the brilliance of the new offerings? For 10 songs the debate raged and the concertgoers kind of swayed, equal parts happy to be there and confused about where this was going. And then the set shifted.

After a pleasant prog-rock breakdown, the band delved into its first full-length album, LP, playing “Ophelia.” From there on out, with one exception, the band played material from that first album. The crowd responded to the expected, bouncing and nodding along. But what about the tension between old and new? As Congleton noted in the lyrics of one of his first songs, “I’m too young to belong to anyone/ But I’m too old to be taken.” It was achingly serious and pertinent—the divide is challenging. Except for the tiger leaping out of his chest. That needs no reconciliation.

Listen :: Ambulance LTD - "Stay Where You Are"


On The List :: The XX + School of Seven Bells @ South Street Seaport [8.14.09]

On one of those Friday evenings that make you not only like, but love New York City, we headed down to the Seaport for one of those outdoor concerts that make people wistful, either because they are good or because they are free. South Street Seaport is usually full of the worst concoction of tourists, bankers and people who simply crave a manufactured historical experience. We know one good kid who likes it down there, but we're friends with him so it doesn't count.

For The XX and School of Seven Bells the surrounding dynamic stayed the same; into which was inserted a pocket of those serious-faced hipsters who are either too young to knowingly be ironic or too old to do anything besides be knowingly ironic. It was an awkward mix and if you were sitting on the patio on the second floor of Pizzeria Uno, you could be forgiven for looking down, listening and wondering, "what the hell was that?"

The XX are dressed almost identically; black pants, loose black shirts of one variety or another, and black shoes. This is the kind of band that should never play in daylight. This band should maybe never play outside. There is a natural claustrophobia to their music that is best suited to low-ceiling clubs sometime after curfew. Granted, they sound incredible live and loud, something that is hard to get a feel for on their album. It is mood music, to be sure, but the mood is a dark one. They are gracious, if tautly unenergetic. It could be the pants.

School of Seven Bells slide to the stage with the knowing comment, "We're just going to wait for it to get dark." They sound great, with packaged instruments and drums blared out over keys and two thrashing guitars. I immediately regret not going to see them when their publicist sent me emails with subject lines like, "You should really catch this band." We are, perhaps, a little over-stimulated but sonically, the band is just right, with a spacious and driving sound. Five blocks away, you can still hear them on a roof top. And in the summer, this is exactly what we're looking for.

Listen :: School of Seven Bells - "Half Asleep"
Bonus :: The XX - "Crystalised"


Samuel :: "Starry Eyed"

Samuel just returned from a trip to Cape Cod with Ellie Goulding on repeat. He was thusly inspired to re-work Goulding's would-be smash "Starry Eyed." With a production assist from The Knocks, Samuel covers the song faithfully, leaving the carbonated chorus largely intact. In other places he annotates - a cascading synth here, a replaced vocal there - but these remain merely the notes in the margin. We thought this would be the year for Goulding, and amazingly people are still sleeping on it, but it could be a hell of a fall for Samuel. We'll keep pulling for both of them.

Listen :: Samuel - "Starry Eyed" [Ellie Goulding Cover]


HEALTH :: "Die Slow"

Noise-rockers HEALTH didn't exactly grab me with their first record. But second album, Get Color is quickly burning its way into my soul/itunes. The music is just as pissed off and menacing as the first album, just a shade more melodic. On "Die Slow," we're slowly introduced to a tweaky dance-party that comes at your ears like a fuzzed-out wave, flowing down a long hallway. It is both far away and incredibly close. The threat of the initial riffs never truly leaves, even if it becomes more familiar. In a churning, vaguely-industrial finishing kick, HEALTH prove they are not ones to be looked at directly in the eye. So, lower your gaze and back away slowly. Or, in a turn of events, run quickly towards it.

Listen :: HEALTH - "Die Slow"


Avi Buffalo :: "What's It In For?"

My first real challenge at my first real job out of college was teaching fourth graders how to tell the difference between declarative and interrogative statements. On the surface, for native English speakers, this is not difficult. These students were not native English speakers. But eventually, something clicked; it sort of made sense. It was one of the few successes in a year that I filed somewhere between "flaming disaster" and "moral victory."

Of course, learning how to ask a question accounts nothing for slang. This is where things break down. For instance, "what's up?" or "what's good?" or "how's it hangin'?" are all effective in practice but, when taken literally, are confusing as hell. Language is a wonderfully organized city, but Slang is a talented graffiti artist with no job and a healthy issue with authority. Whatever the structure, we decorate it for better and worse.

So Los Angeles' Avi Buffalo can be excused for their mournful epic, "What's It In For?" and its mild nonsense. Sitting somewhere between first album Shins and last EP Fleet Foxes, Avi Buffalo have something a little crunchy, a little glistening and completely infectious. But that's just the frame. You fill in the rest.

Listen :: Avi Buffalo - "What's It In For?"


Happy Hollows :: "Faces"

Across from the Silverlake Lounge in east LA is a nondescript strip mall called Silversun Plaza. It has a liquor store, a laundry, an inexplicable dentist's office and some restaurants; not unlike a million other bastards of American urban sprawl. And yet, the Silversun Pickups named their band after this collection of pavement, neon and rebar. In this way, Silversun Plaza transcended its complete ordinariness and became something else, not more or less important, just something else. Like the association you have with your first girlfriend's first name, it might not be entirely positive but that noun, that collection of letters, will simply never be the same.

The Happy Hollows don't sound exactly like Silversun Pickups but it's close. Churning, textured, wall-of-sound guitars rip out of the gate. A loose but not ill-conceived chord-progression allows for the low-end power of female vocals and enough productive fuzz to keep you in business through Sunday. Their publicist tells me they sound like PJ Harvey. I'm leaning more towards what would happen if Fleetwood Mac made a punky, post-rock album. A little menace and a little propulsion and the uncertain prospect of becoming something else. Get transcendental, people.

Listen :: Happy Hollows - "Faces"


Deluka :: "Cascade"

We spent some of the last three hours trying to jump onto the ledge of my buddy Nate's roof. It was a somewhat risky proposition, up roughly five feet from the floor of the roof to the ledge above. While challenging it was far less than impossible, if not for a few disinsentives. I suppose the fear was dropping four stories on to a sidewalk. One overdose of bounce and this movie, though a little obvious in its construction, would all be over. This ending is not entirely unreasonable. For the record, everyone is fine and no one is left collecting their critical organs (except their heart) on Sixth Ave. Somehow, getting the gang back together makes me think of Deluka's "Cascade." My heart beats like a drum.

Listen :: Deluka - "Cascade"
Bonus :: Deluka - "Cascade" [Friendly Fires Mash-up]


On The List :: Rural Alberta Advantage @ Music Hall of Williamsburg [8.4.09]

This review runs @ Bowery's The House List.

It is the (bad) habit of live music reviews (and reviewers) to reduce an evening down to a singular moment. It typically is the first or last song, or the loudest or quietest moment of the night, wherein we substitute dynamics for substance. This crutch is as reductionist as it is not useful. In the case of band like Rural Alberta Advantage, to reduce their live performance at Music Hall of Williamsburg to a single moment would be an indie rock Sophie's Choice. There are bands who have one moment and there are bands who have many. Rural Alberta Advantage is not a band of one moment.

In a peculiar rarity, the Tuesday night show was both loaded and free. Escaping the contradictions, Rural Alberta, now a comfortable headliner, took the stage after 11, unloading their catalogue on a waiting and studied audience. Running through album favorites "Frank AB," "Don't Haunt This Place," and "Four Night Rider" in rapid succession, the band moved itself along in typically self-deprecating fashion. Lead singer, Nils Edenloff, after an unsuccessful explanation of "Four Night Rider," reflected, "well, I guess I need to learn how to tell stories." He will later tell us that they, "can't wait to come play here again." It is exactly the type of magnanimity that Americans so secretly envy in their Canadian neighbors.

We won't shrink the set down to these moments. Edenloff already tells great stories. It is we who need context. And we, along with greater and greater numbers, will have no choice but to see them again.

Listen :: Rural Alberta Advantage - "Don't Haunt This Place"
Bonus :: Rural Alberta Advantage - "Frank, AB"


Young Galaxy :: "Long Live The Fallen World"

Contradictions find their way into song titles like swear words find their way into cable television programs. It's not entirely unwelcome or inappropriate and, if you're being honest, you were prepared for something like this. You are not shocked.

Young Galaxy's "Long Live The Fallen World" is a disjunction in title and sound. Out of the gates they showcase an all-business 4/4 beat before unleashing some positively smoldering synths. The aesthetic is something out of an eastern European nightclub. The vocals, every bit like the girl from now defunct Vancouver band The Organ, are full of ache. And the chorus, sounding a little like a late 90s REM melody/backing vocal, spits the title lyric.

And maybe at the 3.50 mark, they could have called it a song. But the song is 4.57 for a reason. The pace quickens noticeably. The arrangement lurches forward like the relief of a loosening traffic jam. Plunking synth-stabs rain down until the sky is covered in electronics and then it's really over; maximum velocity and then nothing. It is a drastic turn and a good one. But hell, if contradictions are a bitch, you weren't built for network anyways.

Listen :: Young Galaxy - "Long Live The Fallen World"


Marina and the Diamonds :: "Seventeen"

We've written about Marina and the Diamonds before. Twice. This makes three. One part Regina Spektor, one part Lily Allen (this isn't controversial but it might frustrate some people and, well, she's British too) and one part late Rilo Kiley (think the glammed-out pop of "Black Light"), Marina is ready to kick down the doors of the United States. "Seventeen" opens with a pedantic and then down-right impolite piano-riff. The song then tumbles into a slicked-out chorus. It's irreverent. It doesn't matter. This girl is ready to blow.

Listen :: Marina and the Diamonds - "Seventeen"