Sunday, August 30, 2009

iPhonic: Four Dudes get iFunky

If I was to tell you that four white dudes formed a band in Athens, Ohio, some assumptions might kick in. Indie rock? DMB cover band? Bluegrass/alt-folk? Naw, in this case we're talking hip hop.

It didn't start that way. Drummer Ed Planisek says the foursome started strictly as a covers band. It wasn't until they realized that Dave, the frontman, could write a killer hip hop song that they made the switch. But they are pretty happy with the change, and so are its followers - a mix of ages, genders, and crowds. Planisek says iPhonic brings in fans of pop punk, metal, and rock, with one characteristic in common: "they like to go out and party."

Songs like "She's Got It" and "It's Ok" take the rhythmic flow of The Roots, a big iPhonic influence, and throw in the pop sensibilities of LFO (hey, remember them?). It's chill, easy to sway to, and injects keyboard, synths, and guitar into the mix.

Up next for iPhonic? Check em out at Peabody's tonight or at the Grog Shop this Thursday, September 3rd.

Sondre Lerche - Heartbeat Radio

One minute the dude is orchestrating brilliant numbers that spew with life, the next he’s writing simplified bullshit that wouldn’t sound out of place on a recent Jason Mraz record. Lucky for us, both ends of the spectrum exist concurrently on Sondre Lerche’s Heartbeat Radio. Over the course of 45 minutes, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Norway artist puts some of his best material ever next to, well, some very average pop songs. The title track highlights his collaboration with the High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan, displaying a fearless, explosive mastery of strings. Lerche’s vocals are crisp perfection, a flawless mixture of rasp and crystal clarity. “Easy to Persuade” is a throwback to the slick production of the Cure, with distant electric guitar riffs edgily breaking into pretty acoustics and bubbling synthesizer. The influences here are diverse, from 80s synth pop to 70s Brazilian folk. It’s all fine and dandy until it goes overboard. Underdressed Vegas showgirls come to mind when you hear the backup vocals on “If Only,” a tune where sparkling sound effects transform Lerche into a total cheeseball. Heartbeat Radio is like a game of “she loves me, she loves me not” – except we’re peeling off songs instead of pedals.

David Bazan - Curse Your Branches

The lyrics of David Bazan’s first solo album under his own name read like a personal guide to his conflicts with the Christian faith. He starts at the very beginning, opening the album with “Hard to Be,” a song that doubts the validity of the story of Adam and Eve. Bazan seems to reach up to the heavens for answers with graceful piano and swelling synthesizer, questioning what he has grown up believing while hoping to understand the truth. He reveals deep fears – wayward traditions of the church, alienating his family – as pedal steel guitar swirls around crunchy synthesizers and sweetly strummed guitar. Musically, “Please, Baby, Please” sounds like a digitally cleaned-up version of Neutral Milk Hotel with vocals comparable to Okkervil River’s Will Sheff. What makes the album a stand-out, though, is the Seattle-based musician’s ability to craft his self doubt and personal struggles into poetic prose. Taking a deep, concentrated listen to Curse Your Branches could move you to tears, regardless of your religious standing. The turmoil in Bazan’s voice, the honesty in his lyrics, and the musical craft here make this album a must-hear. Everyone has doubts; Bazan spins his into art.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ra Ra Riot Keeps on Striking

Fresh off a tour with Death Cab for Cutie, life is looking good for the six members of Ra Ra Riot. Last time they played the Grog Shop, they were opening for Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. Now they return to the venue as headliners, a position they have earned rightfully. Touring behind The Rhumb Line, the Syracuse-based band’s 2008 debut, the indie poppers continue wowing audiences with a unique take on rock – one injected with the blooming flourishes of cello and violin. The last time fancy string instruments sounded this good was in pop-punk band Yellowcard, and these New Yorkers figuratively have years and years of maturity on those SoCal punks. After this summer’s collaboration with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij in a side project they dubbed Discovery, RRR’s Wes Miles has probably stolen a few of VW’s fans. They two bands are of the same breed, bringing fans sheer happiness through a rush of choppy drums, bubblegum pop, and simple vocal incantations. RRR’s pals Princeton open with Chicago’s Maps & Atlases at 8 p.m. at the Grog Shop.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Hawk and A Hacksaw

Whether you are at a concert or a very traditional bar mitzvah celebration may remain a mystery. A Hawk and a Hacksaw evoke Eastern Europe with minor chords and accordion-flavored ditties that fly by with quick ease. Faster than a hawk flutters its wings, countless notes twinkle past the eardrum. The only thing that changes more frequently than the tunings of the band’s string instruments is its lineup and home base. More than twelve musicians have performed or toured with AHAAH, which was temporarily based in France and Budapest, and now rests in Zuzax, New Mexico almost 10 years after the group’s origin. For this tour, founding members Heather Trost (violin) and Jeremy Barnes (drums) share the stage with Sam Johnson (trumpet) and Mark Weaver (tuba). While the set list will consist mostly of rich instrumentals, the occasional whoop or cheer escapes. And on “Kertesz,” sly vocals float over a thrilling masquerade of violin, mandolin, and accordion blasts. AHAAH’s show is a celebration of a different kind, and you don’t have to leave the states to bear witness.

Jesse Dee is the New Soul

The most prized piece of vinyl in your collection comes to mind when you hear the soulful voice ooze out of burgeoning performer Jesse Dee. A surprise is in order – this is today, and these songs are not covers. The new crooner out of Boston is one of a growing group of musicians ushering in a new era of music by drawing from old R&B. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Jamie Lidell, Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears, and Amy Winehouse are all joining Dee, who is re-awakening the beauty of honest, sing-it-from-the-heart soul with a voice that’s thick as paste and a backing band that complements his pipes with snazzy arrangements and swinging style. The current definitions of R&B are thrown out the window when Dee walks in the door; T-Pain and Sean Kingston are not welcome. He pays homage to his old favorites in live shows, emanating his heroes – Al Green, Etta James, and Sam Cooke (the first two for which he has opened).

Oasis is DONE??

I don't even know what to say.

Breakfast of Champions

After two consecutive nights of dark and ominous nightmares, I needed to snap out of my moodiness something fierce this morning. It was pouring outside, everything in me felt like crap, and I just hated life for a second.

I needed the right lift. Oatmeal. Yes. With peanut butter and butterscotch. Yes.

MORE importantly, Hall and Oates "You Make My Dreams Come True," blasted as loud as it gets. As I packed a lunch, I danced around the kitchen with such delight... you wouldn't have even suspected that I woke up as a grumpy stooge on the wrong side of the bed.

This was ME.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Andy Warhol + the Velvet Underground

I went to the Andy Warhol Museum today in Pittsburgh. I spent 2.5 hours of my day walking through a Pop art paradise. I felt a strong craving for the Velvet Underground, again, as soon as I left the museum.

All I can say is: I wish I was at one of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows in the 60s. I'd kill to just witness.

Today, I was taking some medicine while listening to the Velvet Underground's "Heroin." I thought to myself, "this is the closest I'm gonna get to the '60s counterculture."

New Magnolia Electric Co.

A friend just described the new album to me as
"impeccably douchey good."
I don't know what that means, at all.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Blitzen Trapper - Black River Killer EP

If you ever get a chance to take a time machine back to the late 60's, bring Blitzen Trapper with you. The Baby Boom Generation would have embraced the Portland based folk-rock band with open arms. Eric Earley, the band's songwriter and vocalist, has an affinity for Neil Young, bluegrass, and songs about nature. He mixes the road-weary inflections of Bob Dylan with - fast forward to the 80's - the nasal drawl and rootsy grit of Tom Petty. The Black River Killer EP feels like a long-lost part of old vinyl collections, full of sprawling American rock songs and gentle ballads. Blitzen Trapper has been selling 6 of the EP's 7 songs on a CD-R at live shows, and figured they should make it more widely available while they work on the follow up to last year's Furr. "Black River Killer" opens the EP with ominous synths, crawling guitars, and Earley's tale of a psychopathic murderer. Harmonica-heavy "Silver Moon" kicks up the drums for a road trip-worthy tune, and "Shoulder Full of You" sets the mood for seduction. Black River Killer is short and sweet - a great bunch of songs from a band that's only getting better.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Every Show I've Ever Seen

my attempt to recall my own personal history of music is to follow. do we have the same taste in music? tell me who you've seen.

first: The Beach Boys/Chicago @ Blossom
The Police
Brand New
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Handsome Furs
Other Girls*
Smith Westerns*
Via Audio
Ha Ha Tonka
The Lighthouse and the Whaler*
Craig Ramsey & the Nice People*
Cass McCombs
The Walkmen
A Hawk, A Hacksaw*
Arcade Fire
The Strokes
Dr. Dog
Jason Mraz
Dashboard Confessional
The Get Up Kids*
John Vanderslice
Bishop Allen
The Little Ones
She Bears
Southeast Engine
Nostra Nova/Adam Torres
Wheels on Fire
Princes of Hollywood
Jake Householder
Joe Anderl
Five Deadly Venoms
Birthday Suits*
The Good Life
Afternoon Naps*
Kevin Devine
Matt Pond PA
Oh My God
The Cribs
most recent: Los Campesinos!
The Cinnamon Band*
The Deer Hunter*
The Avett Brothers
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Ten out of Tenn tour w/ Matthew Perryman Jones, Butterfly Boucher, etc.
Andy Hull*
Beach House
Ra Ra Riot
Jose Gonzales
Jeffrey Lewis*
Josh Ritter
Ben Folds
The Black Keys
The Backstreet Boys
John Mayer
Jack Johnson
Mason Jennings*
The National
A.A. Bondy*
The Jealous Girlfriends*
Denison Witmer
Captain of Industry
Something Corporate
The Adademy Is…*
Straylight Run*
Jenny Owen Youngs*
Los Viejos Blanquitos
Lindsey Moyer
We Are Scientists
Lobsterfest 2007: The New Amsterdams, Wussy, Detachment Kit, Machine Go Boom, Chin Up Chin Up, Owen
Lobsterfest 2008: Andrew WK, The Gunshy, Six Gallery
Lobsterfest 2009: Jay Reatard, Blueprint, Ruckus Robiticus, Kyle Sowashes
Lollapalooza 2006: The New Pornographers, Ben Kweller, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, The Raconteurs, The Flaming Lips, The Shins, Ryan Adams, Broken Social Scene, Nada Surf, Feist, Aqualung, The Go! Team, Mates of State, Sound Team, Eels, Matt Costa, Andrew Bird, Stars, Gnarls Barkley, Elvis Perkins
Lollapalooza 2007: Pearl Jam, Daft Punk, Ben Harper, Interpol, My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, Regina Spektor, Spoon, TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, !!!, The Polyphonic Spree, The Rapture, Tapes n Tapes, The Fratellis, Aqueduct, Dios, Los Campesinos!, I’m From Barcelona
Lawnaroo 2008: The Flotation Walls, Kaslo, Sealove, Jamie Rymers, Bob Stewart, Bruce DalzellPitchfork 2008: Public Enemy, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, !!!, Animal Collective, The Apples in Stereo, Les Savy Fav, The Dodos, M. Ward, Spoon
CD101 Day 2008: Switches, The Duke Spirit, The Whigs, Von Iva
Nelsonville Music Festival 2009: Willie Nelson, Mudhoney, Jolie Holland, T-Model Ford, The Royales, Woody Pines, Balthrop Alabama, Never Evers
Man Man
This is a Shakedown*
Gil Mantera's Party Dream
Jesty Beatz
Black Horse Wind*
Dreadful Yawns*

* = opened for a show I saw

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Choir of Young Believers - This is For the White in Your Eyes

Contrary to many probable assumptions, Choir of Young Believers is not a throng of Christian rock prodigies looking for the proper way to speak to the heavens. It’s orchestral pop centered on Denmark’s Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, the brains behind a collective of musician friends in Copenhagen. Makrigiannis’ crystal clear voice echoes through the album, interweaved with cello, horns, bells, guitar, and piano. Everything on This is For the White in Your Eyes sounds grand, as if the music seeps through a hallway that stretches on forever. “Action/Reaction,” the first U.S. single, mixes traditional with exotic, blending euphoric harmonies with syncopated drumming. The album fuses classical music styles with something more modern. In “Claustrophobia,” a reverb-loaded, haunting background offsets the sweet repetition of the song’s title. “Under the Moon” might have been on Grizzly Bear’s latest album. In it, Makrigiannis’ stark crooning and a faraway-sounding piano stretch out like jello does as it melts in the sunlight. The beauty in Choir of Young Believers’ debut can be heard as a whole, but also in parts. Short bursts of warm cello, subtle vocal layers, gentle but firm drum hits – this group has the details down.

Brendan Benson - My Old, Familiar Friend

Let’s talk about the Raconteurs for a minute. Push Jack White aside, kick two other band members to the curb, and you’ve miraculously got some of the best power pop of the decade. Brendan Benson, the Raconteurs’ forth member, consistently churns out sparkling gems of pop perfection. Although he has been disguising himself as White’s sideman for the past few years, he has been releasing solo work since 1996. Lapalco, his second – and completely underappreciated – album, is full of jangly guitars and quipping lyrics. Yet the Nashville-by way of-Michigan musician outdoes himself on My Old, Familiar Friend. A swirling string section adorns “Garbage Day,” a Motown throwback with witticisms like “if she throws her heart away/I’ll be there on garbage day.” Rodeo-style guitar bounces around the repetitive and persistent pick up attempt that underlies “Feel Like Taking You Home,” and red-hot organs pepper “A Whole Lot Better,” the firecracker that opens the album. Benson’s warm voice sizzles like a hot spring on ballads like “You Make a Fool Out of Me” and “Lesson Learned.” His self-harmonizing is sugary and sing-along friendly. My Old, Familiar Friend is a piece of pop mastery that you absolutely cannot pass up.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Los Campesinos - The Cardiff Kids

A feature I wrote on the band in this week's issue of Scene:

It started simply: A few kids at Cardiff University hung out between classes and wrote songs about algebra homework, fizzy party drinks and dressing up in costumes. Effervescent happiness and a chipper attitude permeated the university halls, where seven college kids messed around with instruments. Drummer Ollie and the other six members of Wales' Los Campesinos! (who all use the surname Campesinos!) didn't expect their quirky collective to evolve into a beloved indie-pop band.

"We never really thought it would actually come to this," says Ollie. "We started this [in 2005] in our second year of university. We never wanted this in any way."

Since then, the band has seen pretty much every corner of the world by touring. Ollie still sounds shocked when he talks about their unexpected adventure.

Read the rest HERE.

Los Campesinos - Live Review

If I was writing from the perspective of the six-foot-tall girl standing in front of me, spreading horrible B.O. as she flailed her arms in a wild attempt at dancing, I would say that Los Campesinos! was the greatest band on Earth. I would say that their music infected my bones and embraced my muscles, rendering me a slave to spastic movement and complete upper-body whiplash. I would say that the seven-piece Welsh pop band could do no wrong, so long as they continued blasting eardrums out with a barrage of instruments, including guitars, glockenspiels, bells, a violin and drums. And about half the crowd would probably agree with me.

Surprise! I’m not writing from Tall Girl’s perspective — though I wish I were. I recently interviewed the band for Scene. I love them. They are grounded and goofy, just how young twee-poppers should be.

The show started with two great songs from the band’s debut, Hold On Now, Youngster: “This Is How You Spell Hahaha …” and “Death to Los Campesinos!” Yet, they still haven’t mastered an important element of the live show: balance. With 8,000 instruments going at the same time, many of the songs came off as energetic ruckus. Each song is interesting; the lyrics evolve, repetitiveness is never a problem and there’s never a shortage of creative musical elements. Still, it gets to be too much.

“You! Me! Dancing!” pulled the show back together with a blanket of chimes, violin and strong guitar riffing. For the closing number, “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks,” lead vocalist Gareth ran through the crowd nudging the dudes around him. It was a testament to Los Campesinos’ playfully fun attitude — one that does a pretty good job outshining any of the band’s shortcomings.