Phantogram :: "When I'm Small"

For fifteen seconds at the beginning of Phantogram's "When I'm Small" I have this panicked feeling that someone made a dub-step version of Cold War Kids' "Hang Me Out To Dry." The lazily threatening bass-riff, the thumping drums - it all feels like indie rock for a nightclub. The hooting vocals chirp over the top and this thing sounds equal parts dangerous and delicate. Of course, the album is titled Eyelid Movies, implying that once the lights (or the lids) go down, the show is just beginning; that the line between wakefulness and subconscious fantasy is no more than a blink away. None of this leaves us feeling comfortable as we drop into nothing. The old epistemological questions persist and our waking dream continues.

Listen :: Phantogram - "When I'm Small"

Wolf Gang :: "The King and All of His Men"

We posted the video for Wolf Gang's newest single, "The King and All of His Men" last week but we've got the mp3 today. It is the end point, or maybe a beginning, of a months long process towards their debut record. "The King and All of His Men" delivers every ounce of the promise of previous demos ("Nightflying") and smash-single "Pieces of You." This is the sound of a break out. This is the moment right before a band gets very, very popular. I've been telling you to listen to this band for months. It's not entirely too late.

Listen :: Wolf Gang - "The King and All of His Men"


On The List :: Florence and the Machine @ Bowery Ballroom [10.27.09]

This review runs on Bowery's Houselist Blog

Watching Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine sing is like watching any number of acts, absurd in their direction, scope and control. She is a dunk from the foul line, a release of water held furtively behind a dam, the climactic scene of Scent of a Woman. She is mind-blowing. In fact, she may directly oppose every visual metaphor in this paragraph. She is like the Grand Canyon - you've either seen it up close, or you haven't.

Dressed in flowing white, Florence spilled to the stage with her black-clad band, The Machine. Opening with "Two Lungs," Welch exploded into to chorus. She didn't need all of the considerable orchestra, including the harp, to vibrate the floor of a completely packed Bowery Ballroom. With the Island Records crew stuffed into the balcony, Welch flitted around the stage, pushing her elbows back and popping her chest out like some mechanical and delicate bird. She repeatedly pointed at us, directly, to emphasize elements of her story, only to cover a smile with her hand. She is emphatic and wilting, if these two things are possible at once.

Florence, referring to herself as "Flo," sang almost every song on her album. "Drumming Song" was predictably tribal and elevating, making you think this is the twenty-years later incarnation of Kate Bush. "Cosmic Love" was the best song of the night and closed the set before the encore. Her voice pushed us back in our seats; grabbed the visual to zoom and pan. She defies visual simile. As much as you try, she is not like anything else.

Listen :: Florence and the Machine - "You've Got The Love" [The xx Remix]


[CMJ 2009] Little Girls :: "Growing"

It is more than impossible to see every band you want to at CMJ. It is also impossible to know which bands will settle into people's hearts as hype builds from Tuesday to Friday, crescendos Saturday afternoon/evening, only to wash out like the tide from a beach full of pasty kids in skinny jeans. Little Girls are a band I both didn't see and one that set some worlds on fire in the last 96 hours. They play a style of lo-fi post-punk that sounds like Pains of Being Pure At Heart covering some lost New Order song from '84. The guitars have all been angled-off with something jagged and not terribly sharp and the vocals call from the bottom of a well where, we can imagine, this is all being recorded into a Fisher-Price tape deck. That said, it wouldn't be a stretch for Sophia Coppola to use this in her second try at the Marie Antoinette movie, as something grave, graceful, and extremely far away.

Listen :: Little Girls - "Growing"


CMJ 2009 :: Golden Silvers, Mumford & Sons and The Temper Trap @ Music Hall of Williamsburg [10.22.09]

This review runs on Bowery's Houselist blog.

Temper Trap lead singer, Chris Mandagi beckoned the crowd to surge forward. The band was in the middle of an eight-song set at a nearly sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg and things tilted with furious telemetry. It wouldn't be fair to say the set up to this point was pedestrian, but it certainly wasn't an elevating artistic moment. The band's much-licensed, smash-single, "Sweet Disposition" tipped the whole evening towards something different. So as Mandagi chanted the lyrics, he beckoned us forward.

An hour earlier, British folk-rock act Mumford and Sons dominated the same stage that Mandagi would later try to crush the crowd against. Rife with banjo, upright bass, and full-on four-part harmony, Mumford and Sons are the first band to ever move this many people without a drummer. The crowd knew the lyrics though the band would later joke that their album isn't out in the states yet. The implication is clear (you stole our album) but the accusation is invisible (still, thanks for singing along). They closed with a new song, "Whispers in the Dark," featuring the closing line, "let's live while we're still young." There isn't anything better to tell a room full of people who are mortgaging sleep and jobs for the sake of a music festival.

Slipped back in medias res and Temper Trap crushed their final four songs after "Sweet Disposition." Closing with "Science of Fear," Mandagi does his best vocal clown car, with a surprising amount of material coming out of a seemingly tiny vessel. As the song closed, he turned to his band and let the mike thud to the floor. The Temper Trap urged us forward and then retreated in kind. We were left to live while we were young. And that's what we did.


Ohmyrockness 5th Anniversary Party/Oya Festival @ Santos Party House

My CMJ begins when I stumble through the doors of Santos to be confronted by three Norwegians in short shorts and glittery tops. They are men. They are the men of Ungdomskulen. I quickly send a text to someone in the room about the glitter shirts. They are, empirically, awesome. But it is the music, not the aesthetics, that is moving the front of the room. Packed against the stage are all the usual CMJ kids: plaid shirts, tight pants, expensive cameras, notebooks stuffed in the spaces between textiles. But in this case, they are moving as Ungdomskulen closes their set with animated and amused aggression. At least one girl, having never seen the band before says, "That made my CMJ. That was the best thing I'm going to see." This is what bands from Norway come to do; impress you - you in the graphic t-shirts and winter hats inside, you - and in this case, they do.

From the Norwegian meat market, we run a quick jaunt downstairs to catch the last songs of Evan Voytas' set. He and I have never met but I once made an inside joke about him being confused and disoriented and he liked it enough to put it on his website. It is rare that anyone pulls press quotes that you actually like. Evan Voytas pulled an inside joke that I didn't expect him to get, let alone appreciate. He is wearing a cardigan sweater two sizes too big as he motors through "Higher" and "Astro" to close his set. "Astro" takes a particular level of commitment as Voytas resolves to sing it almost entirely in falsetto. Voytas packs his things in a neither confused nor disoriented fashion. The trip from California was long and maybe by the end of the week we'll know if it was worth it.

After Voytas, and a reasonable soundcheck, the night belongs to Small Black. The Long Island by way of Brooklyn set bring decks of synths and loops to burn. Backed by live drums and a wave of sound big enough to sink this basement in 10 feet of water, Small Black are the unquestionably the most exciting band of the evening. The electronic soundscapes feel more personal in person and the undulating synthesized melodies are more meaningful at higher volume. They play "Despicable Dogs" fourth out of six and when they're finished it's too soon. If there's a band to catch at CMJ 2009, in that way that small bands are still just small bands, it is Small Black.

Meanwhile, upstairs, I Was A King power through a set thoughtful, yet not unself-conscious, indie-rock songs. Even after I'd been prepped to hear them sound like Teenage Fanclub, they sound A LOT like Teenage Fanclub. This is far more of a compliment than it is an accusation of derivative influence. They are our second Norwegian act of the night and are expected back in Oslo in three days time. Their female guitarist is one of the more compelling parts of the evening, wailing on her whammy bar like it is joystick to an outdated videogame.

The night would end with dueling indie rock from Cymbals Eat Guitars upstairs and Real Estate downstairs. Cymbals Eat Guitars finds its stride in the middle of their set, channeling that time in the mid-1990s when music was about pain and independent labels marketed emotional catharsis to all those thousands of destroyed, hyper-literate, post-Smiths fans of this country. If Steven Malkmus was in the building, he wouldn't be upset, but he wouldn't be entirely impressed either. Real Estate provides a more mathematical, and at once lush, solution to the same problem: fuzzy guitars, delicate arrangements, and confusing song structure. It is far better than I just made it sound. And like that, the lights come up and we're asked to leave.

Listen :: Evan Voytas - "Astro"
Listen :: Small Black - "Despicable Dogs"
Listen :: Cymbals Eat Guitars - "Wild Phoenix"
Listen :: Real Estate - "Beach Comber"
Listen :: I Was A King - "Norman Bleik"


Wolf Gang :: "The King And All Of His Men"

Wolf Gang are making up and breaking out just like we said they would. We've written about the band a few times over the last few months but never more prophetically than in our writing about one of their first demos, "Nightflying" last March.

"Maybe 2009 is the year for Wolf Gang. Given how roughed around the demos are, it could be 2010 by the time anyone really hears this but for now, let's call it: This band is going to blow up ... It's hard to picture now, but close your eyes and try anyways; richer production, maybe some strings, a real clean vocal mix, and those piano peel-offs in perfect crystaline hi-fi. It's hard to envision but the framework is there. I Promise." - 3.02.09

And here we are today, with the release of the band's latest single, "The King And All Of His Men." It all happened. They signed to Atlantic, made a big, clean album. "Richer production, maybe some strings, a real clean vocal mix, and those piano peel-offs in perfect crystaline hi-fi." And that was exactly the way it went.

"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." 6.12.09

Listen :: Wolf Gang - "Pieces of You"
Listen :: Wolf Gang - "Nightflying"


CMJ 2009 Preview :: An Unofficial Guide [Part 2]

We will assume you saw Part One of our CMJ Preview on Monday. Here is the eagerly awaited Part Two, in which we assume you are able to teleport, rocketing you from borough to borough to borough, proving that almost every hour of the night, for four straight days, there is an awesome band out there somewhere. And probably more than one - after all, this was a suicide schedule with no repeats and we made tough choices in many of these time slots. Good luck out there.

Thursday ::

8pm - Small Black @ Bell House ["Despicable Dogs" (Washed Out Remix) mp3]

9pm - Golden Silvers @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

10pm - Deleted Scenes @ Union Hall ["Fake IDs" mp3]

11pm - Hockey @ Mercury Lounge

11.25pm - Temper Trap @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

12am - Local Natives @ Mercury Lounge

1am - Choir of Young Believers @ Pianos

Friday ::

6pm - The Uglysuit @ Rockwood Music Hall ["Chicago" mp3]

7.15pm - Holly Miranda @ Le Poisson Rouge

8pm - Silver Starling @ Mercury Lounge

9pm - ARMS @ Pianos

9.30pm - Generationals @ Union Hall ["When They Fight, They Fight" mp3]

10pm - Action Painters @ Crash Mansion ["456" mp3]

11pm - Bear In Heaven @ Lit Lounge

11.30pm - Yes Giantess @ The Studio at Webster Hall ["Tuff N Stuff" mp3]

12am - Headlights @ Bell House

1am - Japandroids @ Bell House

2am - Shout Out Out Out Out @ Mercury Lounge ["Guilt Trips Sink Ships" mp3]

Saturday ::

2pm - Emanuel and the Fear @ The Delancey ["The Rain Becomes The Clouds mp3]

7pm - Stricken City @ Bowery Ballroom ["Pull The House Down" mp3]

8pm - We Are Wolves @ Santo's Party House

9pm - Dan Black @ Santo's Party House

10pm - We Have Band @ Santo's Party House

11pm - Au Revior Simone @ Bell House

12am - Delorean @ Pianos

1am - Obits @ Mercury Lounge ["Pine On" mp3]

2am - HEARTSREVOLUTION @ Santo's Party House ["Ultraviolence" mp3]

CMJ 2009 :: An Unofficial Guide ... to the Official Shows

I officially covered CMJ in 2007 and well, it was a hilarious disaster. My experience with the festival, beyond getting to sneak out of my office at Virgin/Capitol to go see shows during the day, was pretty poor. Black Kids were the big buzz band that year and played a bunch of showcases and were underwhelming. No one else distinguished themselves and largely, the word on everyone's lips was, "ok." Determined, 2009 will be different, here's what your schedule could include (although, if you made all these shows, you'd have a time machine and a personal driver). It's a suicide pick, one band per hour/time slot for all four days. There are no repeats, just proof that could see 30-something great bands in 120 hours. Here is Part One of our Undefeated CMJ Preview. Good luck out there and look for Part Two later this week.

Tuesday ::

7pm - beat radio @ Glasslands ["Sunday Matinee" mp3]

8pm - Evan Voytas @ The Suffolk Backroom ["So Sure" mp3]

8.45pm - Free Energy @ The Studio at Webster Hall

10pm - Family of the Year @ Crash Mansion

11pm - Fanfarlo @ Music Hall of Williamsburg ["Luna" mp3]

11.45pm - Happy Hollows @ Lit Lounge

1am - Darwin Deez @ Cameo Gallery

Wednesday ::

7pm - Freelance Whales @ Bowery Ballroom

8pm - Javelin @ Mercury Lounge

9pm - The xx @ Mercury Lounge ["Crystalized" mp3]

10pm - Mumford and Sons @ Mercury Lounge

11pm - US Royalty @ Fontana's

12am - Fool's Gold @ Bowery Poetry ["Surprise Hotel" mp3]

On The List :: Airborne Toxic Event @ Webster Hall [10.16.09]

Airborne Toxic Event's frontman, Mikel Jollet is shaking a bottle of Jameson into the crowd like he just won an American professional sports title. Irish whiskey, not at all known for its carbonation, is somewhat dutifully spraying into the audience. The crowd goes wild. Rock concerts have gone stale and this sort of thing rarely or organically happens. Jollet whirls back around to his left and flushes the final slugs from the bottle. He pauses, looks a little dazed and moves on. But this is the thing about excess; your friends are on stage, the venue is packed and people know the words to your songs. You're facing down fame and it's a little overwhelming but you keep going.

Newly signed to Island/Def Jam in the spring, Airborne Toxic Event are officially not sitting at the kid's table anymore. When we first saw the band two Junes ago at Pianos, they were good-naturedly complaining about having to use a printed-out set-list. It was their tour manager they said, not them, who insisted on making their eight songs official. As the band takes the stage at Webster Hall, two screens project loops of found footage. The lights go down and the band comes out one-by-one with Jollet arriving last. Entrance music surges in the background. This isn't a band taking the stage, it is a festival of return; a parade for the band that used to think parades were funny.

Like any band with one record, the front-half of the set is loaded with the deeper cuts. We get the New York-referencing "Does This Mean You're Moving On," the up-tempo "Gasoline" and staple-cover "Goodbye Horses." Portions of the crowd are distracted and you can see Jollet's frustration as a packed Webster Hall chats in between songs and even during a particularly delicate moment between violinist Anna Bulbrook and himself on stage. He glares to his left at a particularly in-attentive section of the audience. This is the problem with popularity: More people know your band but they might not be the people who you originally enjoyed playing concerts for. 16-months ago there wasn't a breath of talk between songs but that was 80 people and this is 2,500. Music industry rule #43: Once your song impacts at radio, you can't exactly control what happens next.

The night is not all the fight between a band and two-halves of their growing fan base. They play an intimate version of "Wishing Well" with upright-piano, cello, and sparse drums. What will become second-album stand-outs, "Right Now" and another song yet-untitled, draw the audience into a movement they don't fully understand yet. They will really like these songs in a years time when the second-album comes out. Of course, "Sometime Around Midnight" is predictably excellent and "Innocence" is the best live song they play. People are moved and that counts for something.

The encore is an explosive and disjointed affair. Featuring, "All The People Who Died," a Jim Carroll Band cover that Jollet dedicates to the now-dead Jim Carroll. Henry Clay People and Red Cortez take the stage and everyone is a mess of tackling, dancing, and alcohol. These people are young and this fun is real. Someone passes Jollet a bottle of Jameson and he sprays it at the audience. How else do you translate what you're doing on stage to a crowd this size? You do your best to share what you're going through, even if you're not the least bit sure the masses will get the right message. After all, if you've become a part of them - they've become a part of you.

Frightened Rabbit :: "Swim Until You Can't See Land"

Frightened Rabbit are back with a crushing new single, "Swim Until You Can't See Land." If you can't capture the metaphor, it's about being chased off the beach by a formerly significant other (she is throwing rocks) and swimming until you can't see land. Of course, swimming that far past the breakers (thanks, Everclear) is either liberating or suicidal. But whether you think you'll survive, I think we'll just watch the world die.

Official Video :: "Swim Until You Can't See Land"

Live, solo acoustic :: "Swim Until You Can't See Land"


beat radio :: "Sunday Matinee" and "Sleepwalking"

I have a particularly bad habit of pointing out my favorite part of a song. Now, this is not irrational but it is probably pretty annoying as I look increasingly excited, raise my hand in a "stop, no, no, keep going" sort of way and say something like, "wait, this is my favorite part." It is reductionist. It is socially gauche. It is still what keeps me coming back to certain moments in music - my favorite part, maybe at your expense, but my favorite part.

New York's beat radio have a fuzzy pop-record with lyrics from the confessional and observational school of Ben Gibbard. "Sunday Matinee" is a back-loaded meditation on what it feels like to go see rock music with a girl that you're uncontrollably into. Perhaps more importantly, it's about finding that moment, in yourself or in someone else, where you say "stop stop, this is my favorite part." Finding transcendence in one moment, "when the bass drops out/and the singer screams and shouts/and you say, 'this is that song I was talkin' about,'" and meaning in a quieter one: "and when you lean in close/and tell me it's the part you love the most." Yeah, waitwait, this is it. Right here. Listen.

Listen :: beat radio - "Sunday Matinee"
Listen :: beat radio - "Sleepwalking"


Kurt Vile :: "Hunchback"

I am not always in the mood for slow-form, pissed-off rock and roll. But if I were in the mood for slow-form, pissed-off rock and roll, I would be listening to Kurt Vile's new record Childish Prodigy. Lead-single, "Hunchback" is the head-nodding, after-hours-in-a-bar-with-no-sign-in-a-city-you-barely-know, over-use-of-the-hyphen type of rock and roll. On the surface it's simple, but that's until the sun goes down. This is downtown bar rock. It needs no comparison and it needs no introduction. In fact, it doesn't particularly care for you. So you walk away or you nod along slowly.

Listen :: Kurt Vile - "Hunchback"


Digits :: "Nonstop" and "You're Going To Age"

Digits spin tight electro-pop out of Toronto in a way that makes you think Phoenix and the Postal Service got together on a new NAFTA (all free-market connotations aside). The arrangements are lush, pulsing and emoting from one moment to the next. There are moments in "You're Going To Age" that evoke the best parts of Plastic Operator and there are moments in "Nonstop" that substantiate a more organic side of Phoenix's last album. Whirring keyboard loops, shifts of pace and complex, yet not overly academic, bleeps and blips color digital soundscapes that might represent the best electronic record you've heard this year. Digits are for real, as is Hold It Close, his debut record. Check it out in long-form. It just might make you head north.

Listen :: Digits - "Nonstop"
Listen :: Digits - "You're Going To Age"


Editors :: "Papillion" [LAmour La mourge Remix]

Editors returned with a booming, synth-heavy new single "Papillion" a few weeks back. The usual critics stepped up to say the predictable things. Frankly, they've never much liked this band in the first place. But "Papillion" wasn't necessarily in existence to please the illuminati. It was dark, sounding halfway like Orgy's take on "Blue Monday" from 1999 and halfway like a lost Human League single from '85. With all these electronics and synths humming around, it was ripe for remix. Striking the balance between love and death (about right for a band with this sense of over-blown drama), the L'Amour La mourge remix throws some 90s house-piano behind a major-key take on the the original melody. With room for an oddly spacious breakdown, it turns "Papillion" from a synthesizer throw-back to a club-ready dance cut. If you didn't like Editors before, don't get ready to change your mind. But if you thought Bloc Party's "Flux" was fun and "One More Chance" was even better, this remix of "Papillion" might set you on fire. And if you don't like it, the fake crowd-noise as we come out of the bridge will make sure everyone thinks you did.

Listen :: Editors - "Papillion" [L'Amour La mourge Remix]


On The List :: Rural Alberta Advantage @ Bowery Ballroom [10.7.09]

This review runs in full on Bowery's Houselist.

"... In all fairness, the band played the set they’ve been touring with for months. “Don’t Haunt This Place” and “Frank, AB” were lodged firmly in the middle. A cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” appeared unexpectedly and Cole explained, “Our first show was a cover show and no one came, so now, to be at The Bowery Ballroom….” She kind of trailed off but Edenloff added how lucky he felt to be there with us. Of course, we felt lucky to be there with them. The band closed with its best song, “In the Summertime,” and “Deathbridge in Lethbridge,” the most upbeat. The lyrics echoed out from “Summertime” as Edenloff said the things that make us sway. This was the moment where things went unexpectedly well. And we smiled because we couldn’t help it."

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


Temper Trap :: "Sweet Disposition" [Alan Wilkis Remix]

The Temper Trap album didn't quite deliver like we thought it might. Maybe the fall from grace started at SXSW 2009 when a series of A&Rs told us the band looked a huge future in the face and blinked. This was terrible timing. They were only a few months away from an enormous feature spot in a hugely disappointing summer movie, 500 Days of Summer. In fairness to the band, "Sweet Disposition" was a massive piece of arena-pop and it was used somewhat inappropriately in the film. At the critical moment, we needed to hear the band's erupting chorus, a series of half-statements, "won't stop 'til it's over/won't stop 'til we surrender." Instead, it was chopped-instrumentals and a few vague illusions. And when things don't turn out exactly like you expect, you can always fashion them back together like any number of discarded pieces. This is when we get a remix. This is when we try again.

Listen :: Temper Trap - "Sweet Disposition" [Alan Wilkis Remix]

Vampire Weekend :: "Horchata"

Yesterday, around the middle of the afternoon, Vampire Weekend descended from a nearly three year lay-off (let's remember when those songs were really recorded). What stumbled out of the speakers was something confident and glistening, thumping and primal, mercurial and wilting. "Horchata," a piece of pop music destined crush backlash like a whispering paper tiger, is a statement of purpose, a return to Ithaka to lay waste to all the impostors who dressed like you but never could string your bow. So we wait for Contra this winter and warm our fall with "Horchata" and its signature lyric, "here comes the feeling you thought you'd forgotten." Now, you remember.

Listen :: Vampire Weekend - "Horchata"