On The List :: John Roderick @ Mercury Lounge [1.28.11]

This review runs live, first and in color at the Bowery Presents' House List blog.

The first time I saw John Roderick was with his full band, the Long Winters, at a now-defunct East L.A. venue back in 2008. He was in rock-star mode with long hair and a loud maroon jacket, and he never took off his sunglasses. But on Saturday night, a mellower version, perhaps a more authentic Roderick, took the stage at Mercury Lounge with an acoustic guitar, plaid shirt and horn-rimmed glasses. It ended up being more of a group-therapy session than a rock concert. He seemed to accept and embrace this, one of the most self-aware and whip-smart musicians of his generation, positioned at the edge of being an indie-rock icon and a guy, like everyone else, getting older.

Roderick came onstage, tuned his guitar and asked for requests, later admitting he had half a mind to make the entire hour-plus set all requests, but this emerged as mildly problematic in the night’s second song. After playing “Hindsight,” Roderick took another suggestion, “The Sound of Coming Down,” a song from the Long Winters’ nearly decade old When I Pretend to Fall. After the first verse and chorus, a perfect and sublime Roderick hook (“Hey, you know nobody’s chasing us”), it was clear the singer struggled with the lyrics to the second verse. When an audience member shouted the first couplet, Roderick laughed and picked up the thread. He would apologize for the misstep, but it was a perfect reflection of the evening: audience members throwing requests, help, sarcastic barbs and Roderick responding in kind—a sort of hyper-literate ringleader for this circus collection of liberal arts degrees, facial hair and memorized indie-rock lyrics.

The audience wanted more than the 11 acoustic versions of Long Winters songs that Roderick played. “The Commander Thinks Aloud,” which Roderick informed us was “about a spaceship crash,” produced the type of silent reverence that brought all these quippy, culturally relevant fans to the same place. It was Roderick, alone, describing the last moments of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The final chilling lyric, “The crew compartment is breaking up,” describes the fatal perils of reentry. And the moment transcended any snappy comebacks as Roderick earnestly, and somewhat awkwardly, struggled to thank everyone for coming.

Listen :: The Long Winters - "Pushover"
Listen :: The Long Winters - "Ultimatum"
Listen :: The Long Winters - "Blue Diamonds"
Listen :: The Long Winters - "Stupid"
Listen :: The Long Winters - "Carparts"
Listen :: The Long Winters - "Unsalted Butter"
Listen :: The Long Winters - "The Commander Thinks Aloud" [Live at Union Hall 4.2.2007]


Deportees :: "A Heart Like Yours (In A Time Like This)"

We need vanishing points. Those dots on the horizon, the end of a long and tragic orthogonal, represent some better bit of accomplishment, some better vision of the future. Of course, all things being relative, we never arrive there exactly. We move forward, a halting and bizarre procession, but we never capture those lost black dots at the edge of what we can see. There emerge new ones. We steel ourselves, rekindle optimism and proceed. We find a platitude that works in this moment. Deportees' enormous and mournful single, "A Heart Like Yours (In A Time Like This)" feels cut from this type of cloth. Big, pulsing, background vocals take a choral turn on a song that runs over six minutes and never raises above head height. No grand final movement saves the listener. There is no transfiguration, just a routinized march forward on lyrics like, "Save it for another world"; we assume he means "your heart" if we take the title at face value. Each choral loop offers a few glossy steps forward, but the outcome is no more or less defined at the end. The final lyric, "I miss you when you're gone" is the lone vanishing point on the horizon, any progress towards it receding and receding in kind.


Loney Dear :: "Loney Blues"

Loney Dear mastermind Emil Svanagen seems to get a lot of mileage out of his project's name almost sounding like the word "lonely". This was particularly problematic in 2006 when the band's first LP broke into the hearts and minds of listeners with an ear for well-crafted bedroom pop, occasionally mistaking his name in confluence with his sound as "Lonely Dear". On latest promotional single, "Loney Blues", Svanagen leaves us with a self-referential signifier that does little more or less than its central lyric, "It gets to your head, it gets to your heart." In short, Loney Dear is back where he is most comfortable: making lonely, orchestral creations, this favoring slow-drive pop. The miracle isn't that he recovers from these lowest of lows, but rather that he never recovers from them. The ability to get and stay sad makes his work not of catharsis but of a more elemental depression. This darkness is not the moment before the clouds clear and the rain stops. This, in some sense, is the most terrible of fictions, the real opiate of modern life. It is, perhaps, just darkness, and darkness is enough.

Listen :: Loney Dear - "Loney Blues"


Kishi Bashi :: "It All Began With A Burst"

For a second the glittering electronics offer a vivid flashback to Animal Collective's "My Girls". It's a dream, Kishi Bashi stuttering a bit to turn over the engine on the bizarre, colliding pop arrangement of stunning single, "It All Began With A Burst". But what begins with fits and starts - at first, synth loops and hand claps, vocal yelps and melody all tuning against each other like a Bushwick orchestra (editorial note: Kishi Bashi are not from Bushwick) - finds a down-beat, pulling all these disparate elements into synchronization, something approaching linear, ordered time. Of course, like any good slice of magic realism it is only engages formal structures as a method of bending and exploding them, holding together just long enough for the viewer to notice when things falls apart. The title lyric - noticeably also the chorus, such as there is one - serves as the marching orders, an arrangement percolating and yelping as it tears its own periphery and the listener can't help clap in time.

Listen :: Kishi Bashi - "It All Began With A Burst"


Harriet :: "I Slept With All Your Mothers"

It's important to build part of your first single around a falsehood, an adolescent insult. Harriet and slamming first single, "I Slept With All Your Mothers" is neither as graphic nor as illicit as the title and central lyric let on. The song pitches either a tragic brand of anti-heroism ("I'm sorry I let the gas run out") or the weirdest love song in history ("I slept with all your mothers/ I slept in bed with you") or both. Presupposing the notion of universal maternal sexualization is lyrical, and it certainly is, the listener assumes a sort of complicity, a voyeurism, on these shared asides between broken lovers. Even the hollow barbs about financial considerations, "I love money", "I want your money, you know I do," ring as empty and bitterly sarcastic as the title lyric, something thrown backwards with retributive flair, these the last lashes of a terrible collision. But, "I Slept With All Your Mothers" has a secret even more precious than these obvious embellishments. The final 30 seconds let the pianos pound, the guitars rip and the strings surge, all of us screaming now, "I gave myself to you." This part feels good and true and everything else.

Harriet "I Slept With All Your Mothers" by HarrietMusic


Capybara :: "Neighbor Crimes"

A suburban ethos proves appropriate for Capybara's "Neighbor Crimes", a certain intimacy mixed with a critical distance. Sounding like a UB40 demo taken out to the garage and then shot up in the sky, ripping guitars erupt over a lullaby, upstroke melody. The song focuses on three big guitar chords, alternately setting them against a glittering arrangement of reverbated pop and pulling them out on their own, something dragged outside to explode alone in the backyard. Of course, the most memorable lyric isn't particularly domestic, the austere and pastoral, "Thinking, going, Mexico", both grammatically incorrect and also the perfect foil for those same guitars. Featuring some of the best pop hooks of 2012, "Neighbor Crimes" rings as idyllic, troubled and completely elevating, a family garage where the electric guitars sound like lions, the pianos ride the off-beat, and the next destination is undeniably elsewhere.

Listen :: Capybara - "Neighbor Crimes"
Listen :: Capybara - "Late Night Bikes"


Oberhofer :: "HEART"

There are a few Bradley Oberhofers on the cusp of the release of his debut full length album. There was the college student and label intern, so absurdly precocious that his demo songs demanded attention. The cuts were organized cacophony, colliding time signatures and arrangement shifts all thrown against Oberhofer's trademark, tweaking caterwaul. He had just moved from Tacoma, Washington and most of his song lyrics involved either staying ("Haus") or going ("I Could Go"). Then there was the Oberhofer I saw at Bowery Ballroom, shrieking with such intensity that the upstairs bar shook and the British girls to my left wrinkled their noses and said, "What the fuck is that?" This was not a compliment. The frenzy - frenetic and urgent - didn't always deliver. Then there is the Oberhofer of lead single, "HEART", the promotional track from his upcoming Glassnote debut. It is more plaintive, the mercy of a furious style worn smooth with time and a terrible relationship. The lyrics handle the latter in negative space, the architecture of the arrangement mirroring this impulse, rising and dwarfing the lonely narrator. The vocals, piano, and strings collapse into each other and Oberhofer finds himself all these people at once. A murderous young talent, unstoppable in so many ways, anxious and tweaking in so many others, sailing to the top of his ability, collecting all of his selves in one triumphant, terrible, moment.

HEART - Oberhofer by Glassnotemusic


Jagwar Ma :: "Come Save Me"

Calls for help have never sounded so good or so insincere. Australia's Jagwar Ma recently released "Come Save Me", an effervescent and crushing treatise on unrequited love, yet managing to never sound totally bent or broken. If the heartbreak remains on-going, "Come Save Me" sounds more like an invitation than a document of surrender. The sound is thrown back in that way that made Cults so instantly appealing, and the hooks work like velcro on lines like, "Oh, it's not what you wanted" and the title lyric. The arrangement rises and swirls, but never manages to sound solipsistic, one of those lost love stories where the protagonist isn't insufferable. It makes Jagwar Ma an artist to watch in the coming months, packing more melody than can suitably fit in most pop songs with no masochist after-taste.

Come Save Me by Jagwar Ma


Cillie Barnes :: "Indian Hill" and "Hey Hi"

Paying only cursory attention to the Los Angeles music scene has its benefits. The murky resplendence (see what happened there) of Cillie Barnes came to our attention due to her being sandwiched between LESANDS and PAPA, two bands we like a lot who don't care much for lower-case letters, on a bill at the Satellite in Silverlake next Saturday. Barnes is a face that faux-vintage photographs were made to take. Her two promotional songs should suitably make A&Rs sit up in their seats and check their Internet connections. "Indian Hill" is a 4/4 slow-rock track with a clear ode to The Pretenders, letting Barnes' tweaking, raspy vocals come through the wires. "Hey Hi" is cut from a different swath, more built for the soundtrack of a romantic comedy with some dark edges. The lazy piano progression and Barnes' vocals are almost sweet enough to rot teeth, or at least stick to the roof of your mouth, and maybe this doesn't work if she isn't so pretty, but something saves "Hey Hi" from the commercial pop dust bin. It could be "Indian Hill", so listen in order, and then someone sign this girl to make the record in the style of Holly Miranda, something brittle and beautiful for the rainy days in October.

Indian Hill by cilliebarnes

Hey Hi by cilliebarnes


Porcelain Raft :: "Unless You Speak From The Heart"

Porcelain Raft is sneaking up on everyone and no one with his upcoming album, Strange Weekend. The tiny arrangements and demos released by the band in late 2010, evolved into more spacious, wistful, organ-driven creations. The sonic territory flecks the edges of the reverb-heavy drowned pop of the past few years, but cuts like "Unless You Speak From The Heart" rely on slicing sharp craft and breezy hooks. In short, this is the Youth Lagoon of the coming months, save a more upbeat ethos. In that very modern way, critics and listeners have both a sense that Strange Weekend,"will be good" and a willingness to be surprised by its goodness. This is the new magic trick, knowing the Prestige is coming - a quiet, little record about quiet, little heartbreak - and still being impressed when it arrives.

Listen :: Porcelain Raft - "Unless You Speak From The Heart"
Listen :: Porcelain Raft - "Put Me To Sleep"


Tiny Victories :: "Lost Weekend"

Tiny Victories self-actualize in the second verse of "Lost Weekend". The arrangement whirrs around them and the snapping rhyme whips, "I know you, you got a stereo heart. You got an ache in your mind, and that's a bad way to start." It's a dreadfully simple way to get kicked in the teeth. The loops and structural architecture call on the recent work of Clock Opera, a simple chiming melody turned into a glittering array of twinkling synths. Predictably, this moment of meta-cognition only preludes another, the crashing conclusion of all these disparate motifs organizing themselves behind the lives drums in a seething final movement. The lyric-less final act proves appropriate for a song about "spend[ing] a lost weekend walking around in your head." Just because the band self-actualizes doesn't mean the listener always gets to join them. For now, they suggest, it will be enough for you to wander.

Listen :: Tiny Victories - "Lost Weekend"


Buried Beds :: "Ivory Towers"

It is easy to forget at this advanced cultural moment in 2012 that the Garden State soundtrack meant a great deal in 2004. It proved as divisive as it was exciting, an argument for or against its existence boiling down to whether or not you already owned the first Shins LP. It didn't change anyone's life, we hope, but it did change the landscape for independent music. Buried Beds' latest single, "Ivory Towers" taps this moment, a tender mash of the harmonies that forged Simon and Garfunkel's work and some of the self-serious cuteness that made the early Shins releases so charming. Both these references make "Ivory Towers" easy to dismiss, another delicate, little pop song that runs exuberantly downhill and features lyrics like, "Wear your honor, not your armor." But there existed a time when discovering something that sounded like this, even on the soundtrack to a staged solipsism like Garden State, would have meant a great deal to you. There is no going back, we suppose, but you can relive the perfect dark of 2004 for four minutes with Buried Beds and "Ivory Towers".

Listen :: Buried Beds - "Ivory Towers"


La Sera :: "Please Be My Third Eye"

Riding a year on the heels of La Sera's (nee Katy Goodman) first LP and fun, beachy singles, the part-time member of Vivian Girls is back with "Please Be My Third Eye" from her forthcoming sophomore record. This, considerably scuzzier than previous college radio sway, "Devil's Hearts Grow Gold" and "Never Come Around", features insistent guitars and attention-deficient drums. Goodman finds herself pleading the profoundly Eastern title lyric, asking another to be her enlightenment. And in a world of visions, Goodman needs no visionary. It is playful, in a Western context like asking for someone to be your transfiguration. In this case, she is her own clairvoyant, a rye seer ready to fall in love.

Listen :: La Sera - "Please Be My Third Eye"


The Denzels :: "Rae Rae" and "Black Girls"

 Music for a doom-and-gloom 1950s high school dance that you never attended, The Denzels craft a brand of rock that represents an odd mixture of thrown-back influences and post-punk updates. On "Rae Rae", the chorus breaks on the laissez-faire, "I like you/I want to keep it that way", as an angular guitars rip towards the ceiling and the drums do a Box Step in the center of the dance floor. A bizarre merging of the earnest 50s and the Robert Smith 80s, this a sock hop with eyeliner (apologies to Michael Stipe). "Black Girls" taps similar sonic territory, biting at the edges on a brilliant baritone hook around the stretched out lyrics, "Nobody cares for you." It stumbles and shakes to the finish, a bit of shabbiness inside of something that feels, at once, very intentionally old and very impressively new.

The Denzels - Rae Rae by Low Life Inc

The Denzels - Black Girls by Low Life Inc


Dozens :: "Forget Me"

Opening with a group of siren synthesizers, Dozens appear to raise the alarm from the very outset on "Forget Me". What follows listens like one of those emotionally sordid tales full of "too much wine", words that can't be taken back and, of course, mix CDs. The title lyric betrays some of the initial thrust of the chorus, a trampoline trip to the top of the room as synths erupt around the melody like all these brightly colored elastics. The main idea, a hope to be forgotten, is a paper tiger, a straw man, meant for destruction. Even as the band churns around the the hooky, "I was hoping you would forget me", the arrangement's ebullience tells a different story. It would make things easier, to be forgotten, but it isn't the salve for this narrator. It is a declaration of independence inside of a hymn for co-dependence, a delicate little distinction as the singer intones, "I still wouldn't take back what I said to you last night" right after the sublime surrender, "just give me some time to come around." She's back in the picture; don't say you weren't warned.



Ottilia :: "Forty Million Light Years"

She's in your ear, you think, or is it your head? Close enough to make you pleasantly claustrophobic, 17-year old sensation, Ottilia and her perfect first single, "Forty Million Light Years" whisper an instantly memorable melody and a vocal so charming you'll struggle against your vocabulary to say anything besides, "precocious" and "phenomenal". A flecking guitar line that recalls the work of Phoenix on "Lisztomania" mixes easily with Ottilia's disarming vocal singing vaguely fatalist lyrics like "Walls keep closing in and I can't win." She manages to save the listener and herself right before the chorus kicks, posing the coquettish, "But then again..." before trailing off into a refrain you'll find yourself singing without meaning to. It's glossier than Ellie Goulding's "Wish I Stayed" demo that seized the music industry by the throat in 2008 but the potential is the same, a young, big voice who can craft pop with the ease with which you make your morning coffee. With "Forty Million Light Years", Ottilia does a similar removing of the ceiling on what could be a mercurial rise in 2012 and beyond, all of which is close enough to be in your head already.