The D.A. :: "Pastels"

Four years ago in the dead of winter, on the snowiest night of the year, three of us ventured into the borderlands between Bushwick, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens. It was an art-space party, the type you are invited to by a bartender and performance artist you know, someone who had recently rebranded herself under a new name to divorce the patriarchy of her old one. It was more circus than party. A heavy-set man, resembling Damian Abraham of Fucked Up, offered to let you staple American currency to his arms, chest and forehead, handing out his staple gun with a smile. Gymnasts twirled overhead and people walked on stilts. I would swear someone was swallowing a sword and breathing fire. Our trio got fantastically liquid, a 3am attempt to sign the band who played the party and a memorable slip and semi-concussion on a low cement wall. The night wound down and we propped ourselves up on one another, trying vainly to find a car who would take us in. Taking pity, perhaps, our eventual gypsy cab driver piloted us through empty apocalyptic streets, melting snow clinging to our sweaty faces. When El Paso band, The D.A. sing, "All my friends are feral cats, hipsters and scaredy rats, hobos and acrobats", it makes me think of that night, a slice of youth and New York that could never be recovered, of things and scenes we were certainly not but wondered at anyways. It was cultural ethnography to be sure, but it was a dark, cold evening in the middle of nowhere and the ladies spinning on the ceiling were unforgettable.

The D.A. - Pastels by Low Life Inc

Youth Lagoon :: "Afternoon"

The wistful electronic pop climbs out of your speakers like a Sunday morning, instantly private and familiar. Youth Lagoon, another excellent member of the Lefse family, opens his recently BNM'd record, A Year Of Hibernation with the glimmering, slow burning sounds of "Afternoon", caught between these introverted impulses and a need to share them. This is only the beginning of a slow, clapping build that reaches the paragon of all bedroom pop, seeming important without being grandiose, feeling handcrafted without risking a lack of ambition. These are dreamy anthems for a generation capable of building brilliance in home studios and laptops, both terrified of the outside world and necessarily affecting of it. The band's debut record is out now and they play Glasslands tomorrow night.

Listen :: Youth Lagoon - "Afternoon"


Jonquil :: "Mexico"

The keyboard bumps are warm enough to melt the ice in your glass. The condensation on the outside a reminder of both the cold within and the heat without. In one of those bursts of optimism that accompany the new year, we picked Jonquil as a band to watch in 2011. Their debut EP, 100 Suns was by far the best of a 2010 crop of sunny bands, a focused, unacademic version of the afro-pop that Vampire Weekend provided the Spark Notes for four plus years ago. On, "Mexico", a one-off 7-inch single, the band washes their typical cascading guitars with backing vocals that tumble in time. But, it is those keyboards, and the drums once they kick in, that provide the vaguely syncopation, the poly-rhythm so unconscious of post-colonial politics that it somehow doesn't feel ripped off. These modern trajectories are curious; white kids from Oxford, England playing a style of music revived by kids from Columbia University who were accused of stealing it from Paul Simon who was accused of stealing it from the entire nation of South Africa. It brought us here, a small dose of the Southern Hemisphere called, "Mexico", melting by any means at all.

Listen :: Jonquil - "Mexico"

PAPA :: "Ain't It So"

Los Angeles-based PAPA seem to inspire comparisons to the Strokes, though this is a little like saying your extroverted, upwardly mobile, politically-minded friend reminds you of a young Bill Clinton. It isn't particularly fair and remains one of those general specifics. In reality, PAPA seem to channel some of the more muted influences in T.Rex. "Ain't It So" is a slice of glammed out rock with an absolutely gratuitous (and this isn't always bad) key change thrown in during the finishing kick. The guitar hooks, the real hallmark of this band, will stick to your temporal lobe like the name of your first girlfriend, somewhere between absolutely arbitrary and a chunk of important, sepia-toned memory.
PAPA: Ain't It So by Hit City USA


On The List :: The Shins @ The Bowery Ballroom [9.25.11]

This review runs live and in color on Bowery Presents House List blog.

Venture a look into the vaguely wounded visage of James Mercer—the soft, tight-knit eyes, a curious combination of a furry Moby and a less self-important Kevin Spacey. From the moment of his band’s inclusion on the 2003 Garden State soundtrack, Mercer carried the weight of the indie-rock universe: praise, stereotype, epithet, all of it. Seeing him now, it had to wear on him, and even the most glib reading of the Shins’ last album title, Wincing the Night Away, would offer as much. Mercer openly admitted to insomnia during the round of interviews that accompanied the disc. It risked being a bad joke. He was, after all, an institution, and one that needed to equally hold our affection and our sarcastic disdain. So, for his first run of live shows in nearly four years, the songwriter strode to the stage at a very sold-out Bowery Ballroom trying to figure out if any of this was to be recaptured or if being a big enough deal to be picked upon alone was, in and of itself, enough.

Mercer winked at any burden of being in a band that launched a thousand others, opening with “Caring Is Creepy,” the song that Zach Braff ensured nearly every high school and college student of the early 2000s would have an opinion about. The group moved methodically through “Australia,” “Mine’s Not a High Horse” and “Phantom Limb,” a mix of the jangly, glossy sounds that define where this band began and from where it has traveled. Sounding rehearsed and tight, this vastly different version of the Shins (Mercer fired the drummer and had creative differences with the rest) than the one that recorded the previous record, featured the very excellent Jessica Dobson on rhythm guitar, an improvement by any measure.

In the spirit of return, the Shins folded a few new songs from a record due early next year into the middle of the set. But each time, Mercer returned to familiar material, in one three-song sequence playing the beautiful “Saint Simon,” with its line about blue-eyed girls, “Girl on the Wing” and “Know Your Onion.” The set closed with “New Slang,” a pathological pop song that bookended any movie-soundtrack jokes (this writer’s included), and “Girl Inform Me,” replete with a prog-rock inspired jam. Mercer cracked a smile that registered just between a wry laugh and knowing that there is power in being someone’s punch line.

Phantom Limb by theshins

Real Estate :: "Green Aisles"

This is the part where you say something about the fading summer. This is the part where you say something about the last warm rays of orange sunshine slipping out the side door and through the buildings of your version of the American city. And this is where you build the metaphor, something rooted in the changing of seasons and the passing of time, a lazy tautological conjecture about, well, moving on. To be sure it is something wistful, and we will look at each other in earnest fashion and in the eyes. We mean it, you know, even if the message rings a shade predictable. Near the end of a season of dilating days (thanks, Chabon) we aren't left with heaps of wisdom, just some long, great afternoons, now getting short and shorter in time.

Real Estate - Green Aisles by DominoRecordCo


Color Radio :: "Quiet House"

The risk in making big, atmospheric rock songs is falling just short of orbit. Fill your ambition with jet fuel - or maybe it's the other way around - and try to get your bird in the air. Chicago's Color Radio, a pair of brothers from Mexico City now turned into a driving four-piece, aren't necessarily daunted by the challenge of having "Quiet House" get the nose up over the skyline and turning the arrangement toward something perpendicular. The chorus, one of those thrashing savageries with its edict, "They're breakin' in", said twice for emphasis, rises under its own power, a punching rhythm section and big shoegazing guitars. The backing vocals slide up a third and the feeling is the first half of a parabola but without the irritating comedown. The final seconds are a chiming reward and an unmistakeable feeling of weightlessness, we assume, right before the fall.

Listen :: Color Radio - "Quiet House"


On The List :: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah @ Bowery Ballroom [9.20.11]

This review runs in full and in color on the Bowery Presents House List blog.

It’s one thing to have been away, but it’s quite another to have been away long enough that your fans feared you might never return. And by early 2009, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah seemed destined for the latter scenario. The combination of a lukewarm second album, a lead singer with a solo record on the way and the use of increasingly creative synonyms for the word hiatus, left most of the group’s fans waxing poetic about the 2005 tour and all the promise and energy of those (relatively speaking) halcyon days. By 2011, almost four years removed from their last record, Some Loud Thunder, and seemingly a generation away from their 2005 seminal self-titled debut, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah took the stage at The Bowery Ballroom in just this sort of resurrection.

Like with most pseudo-religious experiences, these fans were here to see the prestige, some tricky reveal: youthful exuberance from the jaws of near destruction but also, if they were honest, they turned out to reverse history a little. Not only did these 600 people want to see CYHSY come back to life, they wanted it to feel like 2005 again. So with winking appropriateness, the band opened with “Sunshine and Clouds and Everything Proud,” the anomalous intro to their debut album. Quickly turning to their latest single, “Same Mistake,” a high-hat-rife synthesizer paradise, the band slammed their way between that group people wanted back and those songs they wrote seven years ago. Alternating between older material, “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found),” “In This Home on Ice,” and newer cuts “Hysterical,” the haunting “Misspent Youth” and the frantic “Maniac,” the band continued to split this difference with aplomb.

The distance from their early career—the group with that amazing line about David Bowie but sounded like David Byrne—coupled with their near death as a band managed to feel like nothing at all. In the end, pleasantly lethargic frontman Alec Ounsworth, head bobbling with casual emphasis on his consonants, ripped through “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” and “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth.” It was a little slice of salvation and we could all be young again.

Same Mistake by CYHSYband

Gauntlet Hair :: "Keep Time"

 The new tribes aren't the face painted kids of the concert festival circuit. A streak of blue and red on your cheeks doesn't make you a Wild Thing anymore than wearing a bandanna encouraged your parents to change the world during the Nixon years. No, these new villages are groups of kids that dance, aesthetics aside, and yelp and shimmy in place without thinking too hard about it. The sounds are underground, reverb heavy and buried in a backyard swimming pool. Gauntlet Hair add a clap track, as they are wont to do, on "Keep Time", the bombastic opener from their coming LP. The scope and breadth are stunning, a cacophony that holds desperately to coherence, or maybe a narrative structure newly disinterested in following a linear path. These are the hymns of the next thing, anxious and uncomfortable, driving and lost, ripping and humming in time.

Gauntlet Hair "Keep Time" by DOJAGSC


Amanda Mair :: "Doubt"

There is first the girl. Then, there is what people say about her. Last, there arises some vaguely Hegelian synthesis, a tacking jag between these two tangents. Bursting on to the scene last spring with the inspired single, "House", Amanda Mair garnered as much attention for her music as she did for her age. She was - and is still - just 16 years old. Perhaps her age shouldn't have mattered, the secondary option of journalistic focus being her uncanny sonic resemblances to Kate Bush (it has been the Year of Kate Bush for, like, two years now). On latest single, "Doubt" one of only a few recorded tracks completed for our friends over at Labrador, Mair deals a slice of glittering and brittle pop. Her vocals are equal parts smokey and unobfuscated, asking unblinkingly in the bridge, "Will love destroy me?", a question that demands both blurred edges and hard lines. The chorus posits the vaguely tautological, "I wanna become what people become", a dangerous upward arrow and one Mair immediately denies with, "but I know I'll stay here." It is this expression of stasis that land us in the midst of galloping drums, heavenly synths and the voice of a girl that can't possibly be this good. These are the things that have nothing to do with age or another girl who wrote "Wuthering Heights" when she was only 17.

Listen :: Amanda Mair - "Doubt"


Carter Tanton :: "Horrorscope"

It isn't the words, you think, it's the space between them. It isn't the sounds, it's the timing of the silence that matters. For Carter Tanton, formerly of indie rock outfit Tulsa, it isn't the guitar fuzz, a four-on-the-floor cacophony, that makes "Horrorscope", it is the ability for all that noise to allow for something at the interstices. The arrangement explodes into chiming breakdowns, momentary respites from a melody that never feels like it totally has its sea legs, the kind of song that moves relentlessly forward because it fears what lies behind. Maybe it sounds like early Ryan Adams fronting a shoegaze outfit, but the focus is still the dynamic. The last second is most revealing. Tanton, instruments sucked away in an instant, stands alone on a note before the whole thing runs away over the edge. And, like that, it's gone.

Listen :: Carter Tanton - "Horrorscope"
Listen :: Carter Tanton - "Murderous Joy"


Future Islands :: "Balance"

There is a running joke in my circle of friends that prominently involves caps lock and broadly superlative sentences. It should be noted that this has most recently found its raison d'etre in emails claiming Future Islands to be, "THE BEST BAND IN THE WORLD EVER." Unsophisticated, I realize, and only mildly sarcastic, but nonetheless reflective of the unknowable good thing that Future Islands cooked up on a debut record, In Evening Air, and the same thing that the band looks to break bigger (see: moving from Brooklyn art space shows to selling out the Bowery on December 1st) on coming record, On The Water out October 11. On latest promotional single, "Balance", the band seems to invoke those awesome one word New Order songs that were at once nouns and descriptions, "Ceremony", "Temptation", "Confusion", "Procession", in this case, "Balance", both a thing and something that your superego recommends. The pop is glittering, replete with lively, upfront bass and twinkling synths, all rolled in a mantra, "It just takes time." Time, we assume, to hack into the email of unknown strangers to find yourself the object of a somewhat serious, half-funny joke. It is, at least, pretty and powerful.

Listen :: Future Islands - "Balance"


Luke Temple :: "More Than Muscle"

Frontman of synth purveyors Here We Go Magic, Luke Temple allows himself a different group of references on solo record, Don't Act Like You Don't Care. Apathy, addressed directly in the title, seems to run in the opposite direction of track two, "More Than Muscle" with its endearing chorus and wistful keys. The central implication regards how it will be more than a feat of historic strength to right some of our wrongs. The sound is lush in that way that feels nostalgic, bits of chirping guitars occasionally interjecting to suppose something that is between Generationals' "When They Fight, They Fight" and the isolated, art-rock triumph of "Stillness Is The Move". Temple doesn't specify what tools we will need beyond physical selves, perhaps a positivist spin on the album title - yes, caring despite its creepiness might be necessary - all wrapped such a breezy jam about the moment before you figure it all out.

Listen :: Luke Temple - "More Than Muscle"


Oberhofer :: "Gotta Go"

Some people just have a flair for departure. Brad Oberhofer, the label intern and NYU student turned serious indie rock commodity, spent most of his first best song, "I Could Go" yelping the title lyric to the enjoyment of everyone who listened. It was a mantra for a generation of shrugging kids who were content to, pardon the reference, take it or leave it. Newly signed to Glassnote, Oberhofer's latest track, "Gotta Go" is a different animal, suggesting a more lilting, emotional pathos about the power of a reverse impulse, the power of not leaving. If 19 year old Bradley was into the fact that he turned his back on Tacoma, Washington in a flourish, he has turned into more of a New York kid, full of solipsisms, a measure of rye self-pity and a narrative of co-dependency that is as intently argued as it is probably untrue. It is, in part or parcel, for show. When he rhymes "I don't ever want to leave" with "that would be too sad for me", he's putting us all on a bit. It doesn't mean that you can't grow up and lean yourself against someone else. It's just that he seemed a shade more earnest when he chirped about leaving us all behind.

Listen :: Oberhofer - "Gotta Go"


Keegan DeWitt :: "Colour"

A glossy bit of racing fun, Keegan DeWitt's "Colour" is relentless in its pursuit of something; the question is what? Brief color metaphors (pedantic, we know) add the weight to the chorus, but it seems as if the focus is less on our relationship to imagery, and more one the caustic, distant relationship we have to one another. The most memorable line is the rapid fire, "I hate the way we're speaking to each other", and it seems that DeWitt gets maximum mileage out of rhymes surrounding the word "other", nearly out of breath with the urgency of healing this gap between each other, the other, one another. The final 40 seconds are a glittering array of guitars and spitting drums, a final act that is neither reflective of what DeWitt calls the "black shadow at the center of love", nor our desire to kill each other that he blithely mentions in the refrain. It would be dark stuff if it didn't feel so damn aspirational, alive with the desire to crunch the distance between people, real and imagined, into an explosive pop song about how we talk to one another. Don't stop.

Listen :: Keegan Dewitt :: "Colour"


Sound and the Urgency :: "White Kids"

With a name that evokes the grandest gestures of Faulkner and his title source material in the fifth act of Macbeth, that old line about "sound and fury, signifying nothing", the sweeping, synth folk of Sound and the Urgency steeps itself in two signifiers that deny being signifiers. On "White Kids", Sound and the Urgency find this sort of interstitial tension appealing, crafting a head-nodding slow burn about, "white kids from the plains", a scathing rebuke of middle American mall kids. It is, of course, written by a white guy from the Pacific Northwest. No one said this would be simple; and it isn't.  The chorus, "I'm sick and tired of everyone" implies a critical turn inward, a magnanimous self-flagellation, an admission that we are all tied up in these failures. If they are disgusting, so are we. It is this distinction which is harder to parse or at least makes our ivory towers a little harder to inhabit. Maybe the mall kids watch Portlandia. The aesthetic is beautiful as rich synthesizers lay over a breezy acoustic progression and the loneliest lead guitar you'll hear this week."White Kids" is a fantastic slice of dark pop, electronic folk that, even in this post-modern analysis, absolutely means something.

White Kids by Sound and the Urgency


French Films :: "Pretty In Decadence"

Lead single, "Pretty In Decadence" from French Films' debut record, Imaginary Future, opens with the warmest guitars of 2011. Of the same genus as the Cure's trademarked tumbling post-punk, more recently perverted by bands like the Drums, French Films, actually from Finland, are more unique in their ability to find something new in these old archetypes. The glittering synths and pounding drums of the pre-chorus give way to a heartsick refrain with lyrics about helpless wandering and wanting to, "stay this way, baby". But, this is all semantic, the lyrical references to religion, cable television and hopeless love. You will more likely remember the sunny guitars and the infectious hook in the chorus. With a strong debut record and an excellent first single, French Films seem pleased to operate on these twin levels, catchy pop act with troubling depth beneath the surface.

Listen :: French Films - "Pretty In Decadence"