They Might Be Giants :: "Can't Keep Johnny Down"

There was a time in my life where I knew every lyric to They Might Be Giants first six studio LPs. It was the mid-90s and I was in the full embrace of the band's nerd-rock empire. This all culminated at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island on the night of my 14th birthday when the band played a life-altering set of songs I knew by heart and I pogo'd up and down next to my best friend while my parents stood in the back and watched and supervised. It was miles from the grunge rock I had just missed by age (you were either a teenager for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1991 or you weren't, and I wasn't) but it spoke to the upwardly mobile desires of an over-educated, upper-middle class kid. I wanted to be whip smart and culturally relevant, and still be able to make fun of being whip smart and culturally relevant. Thou shalt not take yourself so seriously, I would have thought during the chorus of "Birdhouse In Your Soul" as my adolescent calves tried to rocket my body to the ceiling.

That night the band most certainly played, "Ana Ng", a catchy power-pop number that once went to #11 on the Alternative Rock chart. Meaning, roughly, They Might Be Giants have always existed in this liminal space between being critically acclaimed and just weird enough to keep everyone at bay, always with an outside chance of mainstream crossover. So, it is this band that returns with a quirky, and desperately singable song, "Can't Keep Johnny Down". John Linnell's trademark nasal vocals spin a tale of big dreams in small towns (or it could easily be some post-Breakfast Club anthem for all the kids who made you feel terrible in high school), while the band with a Swiss Army repetoire sounds like, well, a nerdy rock band. It will stick in your head instantly, as if it was 1996 again and your brain was so full of their lyrics it hurt. They Might Be Giants return in earnest this summer with a new LP, Join US. Until then, we will explore the the trench of nostalgia between here and our adolescence.

Listen :: They Might Be Giants :: "Can't Keep Johnny Down"

Team Me :: "Dear Sister"

Team Me stumbles out of Norway with the kind of looping architecture that seems to be all the rage at the moment. Like a seriously punched up Loney, Dear, Team Me relies on a critical mass of delicate instrumentation all layered together, creating something edging toward cacophony but never with the full anarchist impulse to embrace outright chaos. There is organization in this sea of backing vocals, chiming loops, xylophones, delicate guitars and shimmering synthesizers. The main reveal, "I guess I fell in love with a state of mind," is neither particularly damning nor guilt-ridden, given that it comes wrapped in such a complex and catchy package. Perhaps inevitably, "Dear Sister" ends up in an unfinished crescendo which counts as the exact moment before all this started.

Team Me - Dear Sister by Anorak London


Eleanor Friedberger :: "My Mistakes"

We are a sucker for a good confession. The kind that sneaks up on you in the middle of a crowded party - and the din of other peoples' chatter offers part of the drama and the backdrop - where someone stares at your face and tells you something exciting or terrible. Their eyes are clear, like we imagine Eleanor Friedberger's are when she writes lyrics like, "I thought I'd learn from my mistakes." It is simple and the refrain around which the author stuffs other asides like, "She's got kind of a native vibe before that was so cool/she's got kind of a native vibe before I even knew who was who/And he's ignoring me like it's 2001." We are clearly at the mercy of her universe, not entirely rational, as the singer of the Fiery Furnaces builds the kind of soundscapes that slide between territory already well surveyed by Feist and more meditative Arcade Fire cuts (this is purely based on a few measures of shabby guitars and is particularly unuseful; I mean, there are horns at the end). Her tone is revealing, in this case not meaning worthy of a second layer of meaning, rather simply the pulling of drop cloth off a piece of furniture, like leafing through an old notebook. Her debut will be out later this year on Merge.

Listen :: Eleanor Friedberger - "My Mistakes"


On The List :: The Pipettes @ Mercury Lounge [4.20.11]

This review runs live and in color on Bowery's House List.

The Pipettes appeared like an intensely fashion-coordinated vision, all in various permutations of checkered print, a throwback to a time when such collusion was charming, romantic and unironic. With two endearing female leads and an all-male backing band, they embrace the sounds of the ’50s without toting its misogynist social mores. The vocalists effusively thanked the crowd, and mentions of delayed passports and it having been such a long time since they’d played New York City would come later. For the moment, they were just two bubbly girls, their band and a series of killer dance moves to challenge a city steeped in cynicism, sarcasm and caustic irony. Without ruining the ending, one of these two entities—band or bitter urban milieu—would lose.

With one of its frontwomen an inspiring images of ’90s Cardigans singer Nina Persson and the other referencing the thick-rimmed glasses of an American Apparel librarian, the Pipettes are truly a different lineup from their original three-part-harmonies version. They opened with “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me,” a song about, well, exactly what the title indicates. And this type of directness, unobfuscated by bullshit and snark, would be the theme of the night. The band quickly ran through, “My Heart’s a Bomb,” “Dirty Mind” and “Thank You,” all about exactly what you might think, before thanking the audience again.

The set closed in a moment of supreme good feelings with the band playing recent single “Stop the Music” before finishing with their most widely appreciated track, “Pull Shapes.” The final lyrics, “Dance with me pretty boy tonight,” which we have to assume was directed at those in the crowd, who obliged, perhaps admitting some kind of defeat to the two effervescent women onstage, their colors coordinated and their eyes sparkling.

The Pipettes - Pull Shapes (RAC Mix) by RAC


Tom Vek :: "A Chore"

It isn't worth putting Tom Vek's debut album We Have Sound in a cultural context. You were either paying attention in 2005 or you weren't. And, frankly, if you weren't and someone didn't make specific mention of the multi-instrumentalist between then and now, you would have missed it entirely. After all, the indie rock world moved on. But if you waited around for Tom Vek these last six years through two Strokes and Radiohead records and Arcade Fire winning a Grammy, he returns this June with a new album and a first single entitled, "A Chore". The video centers on an a easy but good gender-bending joke. If you were wondering where to find the modern record that TV On The Radio suddenly lost the ambition to make this year, it is here. It is still undeniably a solo show. Suitably, by the end, oscillating between televised black-and-white and real life color, Tom Vernon-Kell is left standing alone on stage like he'd been waiting there the whole time or it was us who left him, not the other way around.


Therapies Son :: "Touching Down"

The music for the last scene of a movie that hasn't been written yet, Therapies Son offers "Touching Down" as a soundtrack powerful enough to forge a narrative around. Is it one of those road movies, something American enough to paint counter-culture with romantic tones in a mainstream media? We will need a motorcycle and some fresh-faced kids. We will need long shots of big smiles (or Stern Faces, depending on where we are in the plot) and yellow highway lines gliding under the edge of the camera with the kind of poetic apathy required of metaphorical inanimate objects (read: roads, see: coming of age story) in movies like these. And, we suppose the fun here isn't the characters or the shoddy writing or the production assistant who put all the wrong things in someone important's coffee on the third day of shooting. See, none of it has been written. Therapies Son, a 19-year old kid from California just happens to have the sound, friction coefficients set to less than zero, to float us in the right direction. You write it and I'll get the bike; we'll meet on the coast.

Listen :: Therapies Son - "Touching Down"


Little Scream :: "The Heron and the Fox"

In 1977, NASA launched the second Voyager mission into deep space. One of the loneliest moments in the history of science, the craft did not intend on returning, only to broadcast for as long as it could and then silently carry certain contents to anyone who might find them. On board was a golden record, not coincidentally the title of Little Scream's debut album. The golden record of the Voyager mission contained the sounds of earth: animals, running water, language, laughter, what Carl Sagan would call, "a message in a bottle on a great ocean." Little Scream, sounding an awful lot like Jenny Lewis on downers, with help from Aaron Dessner of the National, sets out to frame this moment of the Voyager's unrequited quest. It was an unmanned mission, a little ball of tin foil and circuits hurtling through the planets, carrying the documented proof of life on earth in the hope that someone might find it and begin to understand us. At some point a few years ago, it passed Pluto and kept moving. The darkness certainly dilated around the craft; its cargo so arbitrary and yet so important, its mission so dutifully performed and so solitary in nature.

Listen :: Little Scream - "The Heron and the Fox"


Delta Maid :: "Under Cover Of Darkness" [Strokes Cover]

I can't say much for Delta Maid other than to regurgitate some press blurbs about how she is small in stature, from Liverpool and generally writes country music. Her cover of most recent Strokes' single, "Under Cover Of Darkness" proves a crushing reimagination of the original. Reducing the arrangement down to acoustic guitar and a few, well-placed harmonies, the melody of the original emerges as a long goodbye, the notations more playful and the lyrics more fully heartbroken. Casablancas' 1000-yard stare sings through the lips of this girl from England, her voice shifting gears easily as they sing "So long my friend and adversary, I'll wait for you." It sucks the air out of the room. Maybe this proves the power of melody, or the malleability of the form and function of rock music, like this emotional Swiss Army knife equally useful for cutting bark or filing your nails. Or maybe it proves that a girl in Liverpool can deliver and relieve so much pain through words of a sad, lanky guy on the Lower East Side.


We Are Augustines :: "Chapel Song" and "Book Of James"

The question isn't how the world will burn, but rather what we will build in the aftermath. We Are Augustines forged their band on the broken rubble of the excellent Brooklyn outfit Pela. Sonic cousins to mid-career National records, Pela's instrumentation drew a broad swath through the American indie rock tradition, their melodies finding dilated heartbreaks in second movements. But, the band didn't make it out of recording their second album and their late night shows in the backs of bars they used to do for friends on Smith St. We Are Augustines are a resilient second attempt to make this work. Sounding very much like their precursor, "Chapel Song" and "Book of James" traffic in the same vague religiosity of the Saint from which Augustines' picked their name. Men of confession, of former sin, of documentable salvation, they move forward. And this is the hard part, now, the trick even, to make again and anew out of thin air the almost of that previous thing. They are certain to do it.


MNDR :: "I Go Away" [The Oos & Ahs Remix]

New York production team The Oos & Ahs have turned Brooklyn pop starlet MNDR's "I Go Away" into what they call "the dub step remix." The irony here being that the original is slightly more "dubby" (and it's moments like these where you realize how stupid genre descriptions are). So, we turn our focus to the tangible, a well-spun, soaring remix of an already catchy song. Here, they've given Amanda helium vocals (thanks, pitch adjust!) and glittering electronics as the solar system for the chorus to whir through. The final elevations of the refrain shock our sensibilities, big synths stabbing the bottom of the mix as MNDR soars up to the top of the room, flitting around like a bee trapped in a florescent light fixture. The lyrics insist she'll go away (did the title give that away too soon?) but here she is trapped in this hot mess of electronics that she built and the Oos & Ahs retrofitted into this sweeping castle. It's a pretty prison, and doesn't feel a bit like a jail.

I Go Away (The Oos & Ahhs Dubstep Remix) by nymc


The Head And The Heart :: "Lost In My Mind"

Like a staircase with little regard for its surrounding architecture or general utility, Sub Pop's edifying folk band, The Head And The Heart have never seen a major key they didn't like and are firmly setting a course for higher elevations. On "Lost In My Mind" they begin small, a tiny acoustic guitar progression (it's folk; what did you expect?) before opening up to bigger and bigger and bigger harmonies. Like Mumford and Sons if you swapped the banjos for keys ("I hear that you and your band have sold your banjos and bought pianos/ I hear that you and your band have sold your pianos and bought banjos") The Head And The Heart channel life affirming lyrics and chord progressions. These are songs made to feel like something to everyone, like all great pop, just oblique enough to allow for interpretation and just general enough to apply to almost any part of the human condition. But this, like Hegel or Icarus, is built only for the sky, however flawed that premise may be.

Listen :: The Head And The Heart - "Lost In My Mind"


AgesandAges :: "No Nostalgia"

Like the combined works of Carl Newman, the progressive group folk of AgesandAges manages to breathlessly synthesize influences without sounding particularly pedantic or too heavily footnoted. On the perhaps ironic, "No Nostalgia", the band, a seven-piece from Portland, channels leading guitar lines and some intentionally shabby - though nonetheless indebted - versions of the group harmonies that can still work the Mamas and the Papas into a playlist of songs for a serious mixtape. The unrushed tempo, the funk of a twisting guitar, and the only barely restrained (or do I mean organized?) exuberance all add up to something that will have you drumming your fingers on a local inanimate object. The keyboard is the final New Pornographers give away, playfully referencing a soon to be contemporary and breaking just enough new ground.

Listen :: AgesandAges - "No Nostalgia"


Various Cruelties :: "Neon Truth"

The UK's indie soul spitters Various Cruelties are ready with their next single, "Neon Truth". It tips towards the type of sound that Kings Of Leon made so popular 24 months ago or put another way, it does what US Royalty never quite got around to. The shabby guitars mix with reverby vocals that sound like they were recorded into a wax paper microphone, like some Razorlight A-side from the "America" sessions. This is a certainly dense series of references, and one that might not be intensely useful, rather the fear being that it reads like a dissuasive trail of Hansel and Gretel crumbs. Instead, Various Cruelties are worth watching and following, even into the woods.


LCD Soundsystem :: "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" @ Madison Square Garden [4.2.11]

Goodnight Moon/...Goodnight room/ Goodnight moon/ Good night cow jumping over the moon/ Goodnight light/ And the red balloon/ Goodnight bears/ Goodnight chairs/ Goodnight kittens/ And goodnight mittens/ Goodnight clocks/ And goodnight socks/ Goodnight little house/ And goodnight mous/ Goodnight comb/ And goodnight brush/ Goodnight nobody/ Goodnight mush/ And goodnight to the old lady/ whispering "hush"/ Goodnight stars/ Goodnight air/ Goodnight noises everywhere

Goodnight LCD Soundsystem. The pleasure was certainly all ours.


The Strokes :: "Take It Or Leave It" @ Madison Square Garden [4.1.11]

In a show that featured a guest spot by Elvis Costello on up-coming second single from Angles, "Taken For A Fool", the Strokes still elected to close their encore with a staple from their first record, "Take It Or Leave It". Casablancas was his usual bizarre self, punctuating sentences with unnecessary swear words and wearing high tops the color of a highlighter. But, for a band that has taken a seemingly unending stream of criticism about their internal relations, they successfully united around their MSG show, sounding tight and furious throughout, managing to fill an arena with the sounds of the best club rock band of the past 10 years. On "Take It Or Leave It", Casablancas drove into the crowd for the second time, finding himself at the bottom of one of the 100-level sections, screaming into the darkness. 13,000 people joined him. In a tender moment, Casablancas awkwardly nudged Albert Hammond Jr. upon his return to the stage. For two guys that clearly aren't totally fond of each other, it was a declaration of a momentary, "Hey, remember this used to be fun?" The audience agreed. It didn't matter that almost none of us were there at the Mercury Lounge in 2001-2002. After all, as Casablancas reminded us, "everyone has been playing the same song for ten years." They played it again, we took it, and they left.


The Strokes :: "Angles For The Young" [An Alternate Proposal]

Could New York's most darling band have combined their front man's solo record and their most recent LP and started saving their legacy? The band plays a sold-out Madison Square Garden this evening.

The collective anticipation for the latest Strokes LP Angles was followed by a group exhale riddled with the disappointing notes of a sigh. This wasn't what we wanted, especially the latter half of the album. These emotions were quickly ratified by a series of editorial pieces about the record, most of which refused to even address its musical content, choosing to focus on the methodology of the album making. All criticism distilled down to the functional reality that the Strokes tried to make a more equitable song writing process and had essentially failed. Barbs were traded. Casablancas is a dictator. These other guys are schlubs. Hammond was on drugs and then in rehab. Casablancas finally copped to the need to make a fifth Strokes LP as quickly as possible, either an ode to how comparatively mediocre Angles was or a need to finally escape the grip of the totalitarian five record deal the band has with RCA. But it didn't have to go this way did it? Or, at the very least, we can envision a different path for the band.

So for a moment, let us ride the counterfactual train into 2008 when the band could have taken some of Casablancas' ideas (and their reluctance to do drove him to make Phrazes), added a few of their own and made a record truly worth the wait. In essence, drop the filler off Angles and fill it with the most reasonable matches from Phrazes For The Young. After the jump, we give you, Angles For The Young, the Strokes album that never happened but maybe should have.