Grand Resort :: "Night Is Dark"

The bedroom pop of Brooklyn's Grand Resort, like the best of all small projects, holds the ability to create a universe in its entirety. Like Youth Lagoon, and others before him, the delicacy, the hands-on lushness of Grand Resort's "Night Is Dark" lies in its slow construction, a sort of musical diorama that feels both complete and entirely limited. But this discretion is the important twist, a meditation on optimism and transcendence, immortalized here as, "Take me away, far away."

Listen :: Grand Resort - "Night Is Dark"


Deleted Scenes :: "English as a Second Language"

The way to the top is a peculiar journey. First, you identify a style, then you perfect it. In the pursuit of this perfection, you become a parody. People glance at your work and think, caustically, "They would do something like that." You move from climber to monolith, a literal becoming of the object of your desire. If it can happen to Hemingway, it can happen to anyone. James Mercer of the Shins finally succumbed to this fate in 2012. Jettisoning his entire band and trading his anxieties (see: Wincing The Night Away) for sureness, Mercer released his slickest and more commercially accessible album yet, the quixotically titled, Port of Morrow. It was James Mercer playing what he thought James Mercer would play. It ended up next to the other impulse purchases of nuts and mints at your local Starbucks. You may own a copy. This type of pinnacle is, at the very least, lonely - being the band with the album at Starbucks - but, this type of inverted ascendancy leaves a trail. Deleted Scenes and their stunning next single, "English as a Second Language" are rooted firmly in the tradition of the strange-pop that Mercer made so popular in 2003, but they confront none of the same pratfalls as the Shins of 2012. "English as a Second Language" retains much of the pleasant weirdness and off-beat hooks of early Shins material, here featuring an unavoidable f-bomb and a final movement that kicks the doors off the arrangement, a move Mercer would never have chanced. It is a charming, fun and dark, a band on their way up, whatever the risks.

Listen :: Deleted Scenes - "English as a Second Language"

The Hague :: "Everyone"

Even for the least cynical listener an opening lyric like, "Love is complicated and cruel" rings as a bit of platitude. After all, another small rock song about small heartbreak is like another big Michael Bay movie with big explosions. We have seen this movie before. For The Hague, a bunch of seemingly earnest Pacific Northwesterners, their lead single, "Everyone" for forthcoming LP Black Rabbit runs deeper than this initial lyrical foray. "Everyone" rather immediately spirals into a melody backed by a string arrangement that implies a street full of spinning people, maybe even a full cast, our narrator now cast a legitimate protagonist in a musical where people wear dark jeans and have tattoos. Some of this Central Casting is in the chorus where the band shouts, "Everyone in this town looks like everyone in this town", turning a song about a small heartbreak into a song about heartbreak in general. The first verse lyric of "you were selfish and now you're alone" changes noticeably to a final verse about everyone quitting, fires of pity and regret, a platitude that actually works here. The particular becoming the general is another rock music trope, my pain is your pain is everyone's pain, a sort of Kantian imperative where one sadness is writ large for "Everyone." The antagonist here is accused of the worst of crimes in the grammatically incorrect last lyric, "you wouldn't know nothing about that." This, unlike the rest, is specific.

Listen :: The Hague - "Everyone"


Bogan Via :: "Kanye"

A high school acquaintance of mine relays the following story about meeting Kanye West. I suspect many people have a similar version with personal specifics. On the night his second LP, Late Registration dropped, West shuffled past my former high school classmate at the release party. After exchanging pleasantries, West said, "Have you heard my new record?" Before allowing time for a response, he answered his own question, "It's fucking incredible." This moment, and thousands of others like it, lodged Kanye firmly in the consciousness of the modern music fan, a brand of excellence and arrogance of the type that yields single-name soccer players and single-name musicians. Kanye. Or consider Bono, who once leaked his own music by listening to it at volume with the windows of his French villa conspicuously open. It resounds with arrogance bordering on the sublime. After all the anxiety, relativism and pragmatic thinking, it is a relief to hear confidence in art. Brooklyn-by-way-of-Phoenix band Bogan Via have released a single, "Kanye" that reflects this cultural evolution. But instead of brashness, they hollow out the center, replacing it with minor key synthesizer progression and lyrical urgings like, "Give your heart to everything, you gotta move when the move seems right." The vocal duet and somber mood evokes something caught between Mates of State and Beach House's records before you knew about Beach House. This is a diet of sadness, the knowledge that so many have put hope in your arrogance, alone in a tower of your own making, sentenced to a lifetime of the same conversation and your same trope answers. Here, this is beautiful, but they already know that.

Listen :: Bogan Via - "Kanye"


Lovepark :: "How Do I See?"

Riding a warm and sparse guitar line into a falsetto chorus, Lovepark craft an extremely promising first 7" single, "How Do I See?" The band hails from Brighton, the place that Kele Okereke once encouraged us all to go for the weekend, a cultural mix between the rough ex-fishing towns that exist everywhere from Marseilles to New Bedford with a side of the devastating vacation-blight of Coney Island. "How Do I See?" exhibits some of this same dualism, the first two hooks phrased as "Because it feels good" and "How does it feel now?". The arrangement slows and expands around the central theme of how anyone ever manages to move forward and on. It is the kind of question that can be of aching importance when you are from a place most people just visit, where their transience is your permanence. But this is no blue-collar anthem, no silly "Downeaster Alexa" with a British accent. Rather, the band sounds careful and deliberate as they explore juxtaposed elements like, "in the middle of the night, a thousand scorching suns", a song about the desires to leave cast against the realities of leaving, the brightness of midnight sunshine.

New Beard :: "Doom"

"I heard that you and your band sold your turntables and bought guitars", muttered James Murphy on "I'm Losing My Edge." But even Murphy, waxing philosophical about the complimentary New York trends of house, rock and rap, never could have foreseen a band that sold their bass guitars and bought a tuba. This is the gimmick - without being derisive - for the whimsical and straight-faced indie pop from Brooklyn's New Beard. The low end you hear on "Doom" is exactly this tuba, firmly divorced from the kid in your high school orchestra who either had a poor sense of humor or a good one. The band's debut full length is out Tuesday, and single, "Doom" resounds as a circus tent of baroque melodies, strings, and a winking Metal guitar progression that ties the arrangement together at the very end. It all sounds like Wes Anderson movie that left the set and walked right into non-fiction. Then again, perhaps, this is Brooklyn, the serious turned ironic and the ironic turned kitsch, unblinking as you burnish the shine on your tuba.

Listen :: New Beard - "Doom"


The History of Panic :: "The Chase"

Modern love songs are often and best written with dual perspective, a sort of twin cinema, the bias and narrative of a protagonist offset with the opinion of another. The Postal Service described this methodology with crushing clarity on 2003 release, "Nothing Better" where Ben Gibbard's romantic solipsisms were redirected by Jen Wood's corrections, a style immortalized for all time with, "I feel I must interject here." The rest was history. If love and loss are done by two people, perhaps they are best sung this way. Sounding an awful lot like Stars - also pioneers of this boy-girl synth pop, The History of Panic craft a big, buzzing, boy-girl single, "The Chase" of this same archetype. Of course, "Nothing Better" was a cautionary tale where "The Chase" is more of a conversation, the male narrator, here History of Panic's mastermind Gerald Roesser, still playing the role of the bleeding heart against the distant laissez-faire of their counterpart. The key difference being, "The Chase" ends with the open-ended conditional, "If we want to ..." as the vocals merge briefly into a duet before the individual recidivism again creeps at the corners.

Listen :: The History of Panic - "The Chase" [Vimeo]

On The List :: The Echo-Friendly @ Mercury Lounge [6.21.12]

[Editor's Note: This review runs first on Bowery Presents' House List blog]

Nothing and everything changed this spring when the Echo-Friendly’s best song, “Same Mistakes,” was featured in the closing montage of an episode of HBO’s popular and divisive show Girls. This moment brought the band untold numbers of new fans, many of whom easily related to a show about the tragic comedy (or sometimes just tragedy) of mid-20s romance. Of course, the irony is that the Echo-Friendly represents the real version of some of the narrative heartbreaks offered as a somewhat credible facsimile on Girls.

For those who know the band well, the story of the breakup and continued friendship of the two lead singers, Jake Rabinbach and Shannon Esper, is well documented. For the fans who found the band through HBO, many of whom filled Mercury Lounge last night, they were matched perfectly, the strange intersection of life imitating art imitating life again. Truthfully, both everyone and no one know the Echo-Friendly. The group’s first four songs are, to most, entirely unknown. When they played “There’s a Part of Me Nobody Sees but You” and “Worried” the audience girded itself with recognition of Esper’s Chrissy Hynde–inpsired vocals and Rabinbach’s effusive guitar playing.

Of course, the whole evening, to a certain extent, built inexorably toward “Same Mistakes,” the song everyone knew they would play last. This was the new Brooklyn slow dance, a grinding and beautiful ode to the poor choices of post-adolescence. Esper curled into Rabinbach’s shoulder as the song concluded, a moment that felt like real New York truth, like the fact that the girls and boys who live off the F train are undeniably less attractive than those who live off the L. But for a band from Greenpoint with a complicated history, a band that used a description of its neighborhood as an invocation, a band with lead singers who live just blocks apart, it was the girls and boys who live off the G train that will break your heart.

Listen :: The Echo-Friendly - "Same Mistakes"


Wild Combination :: "When We're Together (We Don't Worry)"

Wild Combination wouldn't be the first 20-somethings to wonder if interpersonal relations were better in person. Relationships, for better or worse, are best conducted at close range, or so the band contends on the bright and mournful single, "When We're Together (We Don't Worry)". Distance makes the heart grow jealous and biting, a compiler of so many miniature slights, an overly analytical librarian with a fatal streak. The arrangement buzzes with guitars recalling Foals and purposeful synths all leading to a cloud-clearing chorus around the eponymous and optimistic lyric, "We don't worry". Of course, the other, darker current runs through the verses with musings about lost sparks, faded love and broken faith. Proximity can be everything, the dividing line between a chorus of bleeding optimism and verses of over-blown despair.


Funkywalkman :: "Los Angeles"

From the brains and baroque sensibilities of Princeton masterminds/brothers Matt and Jesse Kivel comes the one-off single, "Los Angeles" under the new moniker, Funkywalkman. Andrew Maury, of RAC fame, handles the mixing duties on a single that resounds with lilting and uplifting sensibilities. The packaged drums snap with an unironic Reagan-era purpose as synthesizers bubble and zap from somewhere far away. The lyrics arrive as the confessional sort, first-person diary entries like, "grey and rain in Los Angeles, I was born today" and "I don't think anybody knows the right way of thinking about it" and the especially untrue, "I don't care." It is, ostensibly, a break-up song couched in a catchy chorus and, what these brothers do better than almost anyone else, a series of very satisfying chord resolutions. The each line of the verses arc upwards before settling toward a logical and pleasing conclusion. Compartmentalized successfully, the verses burn luminescent tracer fire in parabola over the night sky of "Los Angeles" before the chorus resolves the problem of rising and falling with a frictionless hook, an effortless take-off into nothing.

The Rest :: "Who Knows" and "Laughing Yearning"

The Rest's third and best album, SEESAW, almost didn't happen. And here "didn't happen" means more than the ordinary, being-in-a-band-is-hard, the-van-broke-down-in-Cedar-Rapids, we-almost-got-day-jobs sort of way. Nearing completion, The Rest discovered the sessions and final mixes for SEESAW vanished from their hard drive. The college nightmare turned real independent music reality. Thus began a six month odyssey that involved, not figuratively, the people who recover information from aircraft black boxes. Eventually, from the digital abyss, their record returned and finds release today. The outcome, regardless of this tremulous proceeding, is stunning. "Who Knows", the album's first song, is a mixture of big shoegazing guitars and an aesthetic that recalls mid-90s Radiohead. The reverberating conclusion offers the sort of pathos sorely missing - rarely attempted - in rock music. It isn't "Creep", but the comparison is flattering. "Laughing Yearning" rings with a bit of the tropical pop of wide-open guitars and drum sticks rattling across tams and the edges of kits. This is what the Harlem Shakes attempted with real vigor on Technicolor Health but couldn't quite achieve. The Rest, and their record that almost wasn't, offer an LP of depth and quality, an album of the year contender to rival any of the heaviest of hitters in independent rock.


Challenger :: "I Am Switches"

Challenger, a very new band from New York, sound comfortable using metaphor and cliche. On what will be one of the finest debut singles of 2012, "I Am Switches", the first lyric presents a variation of the most common of visual metaphors, "I want to be with you when the other shoe falls." There are others, "my mind is a steel trap" and "I'm lost in the world", followed by the enticingly problematic, "that I'm in love with." For all this universality - these things can and do mean anything to anyone - there is an underlying specific that hurts and works. Behind the churning, ebullient arrangement of synthesizers and melody resides a deeper truth that says nothing of the song's second movement where the the lyrics play mostly in reverse; this is the central portrayal of the protagonist as "just switches". The image of being flipped on and flipped off, the image of the other shoe falling, of being lost in a thing you love, offers a sort of malleable projection for the listener while remaining chillingly specific for the artist. After all, the content of the inverted lyrics in the song's second half are still unknown. You, too, could be switches. It is unsurprising this project began as a film score and it will be even less surprising when the band releases a bizarre and compelling pop full-length, The World Is Too Much For Me, this fall. Think of a cinematic and American First Rate People. Like the sax solo in the midst of "I Am Switches", it will be both a bit cliched and unflinchingly appropriate.


Easter Island :: "Frightened"

The opening line of Easter Island's reverb-heavy single, "Frightened" is an absolute killer: "Honestly, it's hand-in-hand with whiskey, finding rest inside a bed to sleep it off." The backdrop is a step-down chord progression that sounds like something you might use to teach guitar or piano, the rest sounding like a circa-2003 Death Cab song played at volume in a stairwell for its echos and crystalline elegiac qualities. It is as beautiful as it is precious, only a sparseness of language and lyrics allowing a bit of listener projection, what those first lines might really mean, a sort of universality that steers "Frightened" away from feeling adolescent or pedantic. Gibbard toed these boundaries well and Easter Island follows this tradition, an effort to prove the credibility of pretty things without ever being unpretty.

Listen :: Easter Island - "Frightened"
Listen :: Easter Island - "Hash"


Seatraffic :: "Crimes"

San Francisco band, Seatraffic make music for basements. To be sure, there is a fair share of menace on single, "Crimes", something that evokes a glittering sort of film noir, a soundtrack for a world where Donnie Darko was not just metaphorically unsettling. The vocals and melody represent something of a break from this anxious drone, riding a wave of cold medicine out of the maw and into the sky. "Crimes" sounds both remote and distant, music for a film where there are only moral victories and the cities are made of ashes.


Erika Spring :: "Hidden"

You have almost certainly had dreams that feel more real than Erika Spring's latest release, "Hidden". The second song off her coming EP, Spring, born Erika Forster of Au Revior Simone fame, unleashes a haunting series of synthesizers and distant vocals. "Hidden" peaks in the middle with a bridge (and it could easily be a chorus but for her decision to use it only once) of pulsing vocal and synth peel-offs that begin at the 1.18 mark. The rest is a woozy and blinking drive through the singer's back streets around lyrics like, "It's just not the way it seems" and the substantially more judgmental final line, "It's just not the way it's done." More than a decade ago, I watched computer science students play Tetris on the side of a high rise building, all the windows wired with Christmas lights and all programmed to go together: blinking, organized and surreal in the spring evening. "Hidden" feels a lot like that, a small crowd gathering to watch something weird and beautiful, and waking up the next morning and thinking, maybe that didn't happen.

Digits :: "Where Do You Belong"

The existential crisis isn't new but it might be more delicately done these days. Or has it been recast as a litany of affirmed capitulations? We gave up, tripping into an apathetic and accidental nihilism. Wrapped in a world of consumer traditions, cacophonous digital geographies and comfortable cultural lowest common denominators, the youth aren't exactly screaming into the abyss, a moment depicted with such ham-fisted indelicacy in Garden State that it was never mentioned again. What did all mean? Whatever, relativism won and it wasn't close. Digits' latest single, "Where Do You Belong" taps this same sore spot, referencing heartbreaks and the essential and pressing question of belonging, all set against a landscape of gentle synthesizers and whispered vocals. Sounding a bit like a composition designed for a rococo-era harpsichord only, it isn't hard to imagine this 8-bit anthem describing another decline of the new acien regime, a new group of bland Marie Antoinettes representing the listlessness of the last two decades. The enemies are at the gates, the binary coded strings tell us in their most somber tones, and no one seems to give a damn. But it isn't true. The enemies have always been inside the palace and we belong out there, somewhere.

Listen :: Digits - "Where Do You Belong"


Ian McGlynn :: "Falling Toward Heaven"

Ian McGlynn's relentlessly poppy "Falling Toward Heaven" forces the listener between two surrealist choices. The very title suggests an inverted world where gravity now pulls upward, shot in reverse through the standard Calvinist lens, that we are pulled ever closer toward the divine and not the damned. The other option leaves Newtonian physics intact, suggesting that we are above Nirvana and gravity pulls us ever closer down towards it. It is an attractive series of images, all layered against a silky smooth chorus and a waltzy rhythm that inspires gauzy images of an idealized adolescence that certainly never existed. McGlynn's pop is sweet enough to hurt your teeth, saccharine enough to rip through fillings and stick to the roof your mouth, but something about the initial imagery, about all of us falling upwards, all of us grainy images of suspended Astronauts catching floating grapes in our mouths as we wave to the schoolchildren on the other end of the distant connection, feels exactly right.

Listen :: Ian McGlynn - "Falling Toward Heaven"


On The List :: Tokyo Police Club @ Bowery Ballroom [6.10.12]

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

The indie-rock universe has taken on an especially mercurial quality when the guys in Tokyo Police Club, the veritable old guard, find themselves headlining a sold-out Bowery Ballroom show just one night before warming up for Foster the People in Central Park. But this was the landscape outside, the fickle cultural one—the very same one that in 2006 elevated TPC from obscure basement band to playing Mercury Lounge to signing with Saddle Creek and beyond. Inside, the band was back playing a New York City rock club, a bit of nostalgia for a well-established group that in some respects had transcended spaces like this one.

As their new record steadily creeps toward the finish line, this was Tokyo Police Club’s first show “in a long time,” according to singer Graham Wright. So, suitably, they opened with something new. The song, one of the few the audience knew none of the words to, featured the signature lyric “Don’t look back,” a winking self-admonishment from a band ripping between its past and its future. Diving to 2006, they followed with “Nature of the Experiment,” the type of song that makes you remember where you were when you first heard it. The set oscillated among old, recent and new, featuring “Favorite Colour,” “Tessellate” and a new song with the words “I want to travel to the future” lodged prominently in its chorus.

The band finished the set with the twosome of “Breakneck Speed,” one of the best songs of 2010, and “Wait Up (Boots of Danger),” the first bringing the house to its fullest voice on the lyric “It’s good to be back, good to be back” before an explosion of high-fret guitar and keyboard. It was, perhaps, this tension between returning and moving forward, the old becoming new and the new becoming familiar, that stuck the set together, a sort of past and future tense architecture. And so it was no joke when the band encored with a cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and then closed with their second-ever single, “Cheer It On.” Only a few people knew the words then but everyone knew them now, bringing the evening both back and full circle.

Wild Ones :: "It's Real"

Heartbreak, like tall ships, can be delicately placed in bottles under the right circumstances. Folded up to pass the knave and then opened up in its container, these bottled ships represent a little slice of something terribly large reduced to manageable size, something that could reasonably be placed on a bookshelf. Portland, Oregon outfit Wild Ones do exactly this on single, "It's Real". Organ and synth chords provide the underlying architecture of what is ostensibly pure indie pop, a digestible blend of Stars and Rilo Kiley circa 2003, a slow-drive disaster made small. The chorus unveils itself with the kind of sheepish look usually closely associated with cute brunettes who wear quirky glasses, a Lisa Loeb archetype, grinning out behind lyrics like, "One more terror night, no I don't think we'll let that happen" and "I'll owe you one next time." Like the ship in a bottle, "It's Real" isn't entirely. It is a to-scale model of something larger, and presumably a bit awful, shrunk to being an anachronism of itself, a pretty, little facsimile of the original to take home.

Listen :: Wild Ones - "It's Real"


Interview :: Jinja Safari [6.8.12]

Jinja Safari, a Sydney, Australia outfit, are poised to make a serious impact on US soil in the next calendar year. The kind of band that makes A&Rs salivate about cross-over potential and licensing opportunities, to say things like "the next Vampire Weekend", the band remains unconcerned and undaunted. Band member Marcus Azon went back and forth with us about the band's favorite records, doses of straight-faced sarcasm and on being in a band with your best childhood friends, all after the jump.


Lame Deer :: "Cheap Hollywood"

Sounding a bit like a shoegaze take on early Airborne Toxic Event recordings, Lame Deer, a band from Guilford in the UK, also root themselves in the imagery of broken American aesthetics. The lyrics, besides the title, address "cheap regrets" and references to lives wasted on the West Coast of these United States. This is certainly not new material, Los Angeles, like New York, is replete with stories of inflated dreams sent to pop behind tended bars and waitress aprons. "Cheap Hollywood" considers this geography in the general first (yes, people, plural do this) and then in the specific (this is, of course, about a girl, singular) and the haunting nature of a relationship gone wrong across 6,000 miles. Think of it as a "Sometime Around Midnight" with more reverb, the same structural disdain for a chorus and a second-act with a wall of sound big enough to dent the dreams of a girl in the American West.


Hills Like Elephants :: "Invisible Ink"

One of my favorite short stories is Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants. Typically assigned in 9th grade literature classes, it is an introduction to subtext and symbols, a practice run at seeing enormous things hidden in plain sight. The story is about an impending abortion but you certainly don't know this in 9th grade and Hemingway never says it directly. This is the point. See the hills being like white elephants is a nice visual simile, but Hemingway directs the reader to a different image, the valley that runs down from their summits, one side richly fertile, the other dry and barren. While the protagonist couple have a banal conversation about nothing, they are, in fact, having a conversation about everything. Upon later inspection, it is a bit heavy-handed. You are unprepared to see nearly any of this until you know what to look for. And then it reveals itself, a world of metaphor and subtext and symbolism, a world you never saw, emerging into view as a shadowy and terrible secret. It's all ruined, in a way, like when you learned about sarcasm or when Plato's escaped cave-dweller had to go face his old roommates. San Diego band Hills Like Elephants make music that hits with a similar ferocious quality, lead single, "Invisible Ink" suggesting other hidden, plainly stated secrets. Like seeing the unseen, this is hearing the unheard, a record about heartbreaks told over pounding piano and hooks that explain themselves. Like Hemingway's Spanish valley and hills, the ruination on "Invisible Ink" is perfect, the creative destruction of a world that said far too little, a world never seen until just now.

Listen :: Hills Like Elephants - "Invisible Ink"


Pontoons :: "Antidote"

With music that recalls the Elephant 6 catalog, Belle & Sebastian and bands like the Bodines, New York's Pontoons return after a 14 year layoff with the fantastic, "Antidote". Like an indie rock Mad Libs, "Antidote" features jangly guitars, a brutal lyrical allegory (here, poison, cures, etc.) and a driving chorus. The finest moment is the last one, a collision of barking lyrics - we presume about the kind of yelling, cathartic healing that people considered credible in the mid-1990s - and memorable, modulating melody. Of course, there isn't a much better "form meets function" moment than a lyric like, "I'm shouting my lungs out." Add the friscalating guitars at the fringes and we consider Pontoons - and everyone else - entirely healed.

Listen :: Pontoons - "Antidote"


Husky :: "History's Door"

No one has played a piano as delicately as the opening to Husky's "History's Door" since Sufjan waxed philosophical about a UFO sighting near Highland, Illinois back in 2005. The progression here rings of the neo-folk movement that rocketed bands like Mumford and Sons and Dry The River to the top of the building. Husky pursue the same set of imperatives as the aforementioned bands, a sparse arrangement that unwinds toward something more and more uplifting. The final act features rolling drums and a doubling of the chorus that features at least one memorable, pseudo-falsetto note. The sanctimony is never far from the backing vocals and the seriousness of purpose, all enlivened with enough to keep the elegiac qualities just a bit at bay. Put another way, if this is what sorrow sounds like, sorrow doesn't sound so bad.

Listen :: Husky - "History's Door"