Thursday, April 29, 2010

WAIT, pause.

The National.

High Violet.

On my computer, legally.

Soon to be on my iPod, quickly.

Sure to be in my ears, indefinitely.

Is this day really here?

I'll report back early next week on my findings. I'm going to DC this weekend, the land of dreams and NPR. The city where I hope to spend a good chunk of my life. (subliminal messages: npr, please hire me. npr, please hire me.) The city where I think the National will sound the best. Just because. It's DC. Does stuff really get any better than the National and the District of Columbia in one weekend?

I thought not.

Alien Invasion - Yeasayer

The three members of one of Brooklyn's weirdest bands wear their eclectic influences on their sleeves. As industrial music bleeds into dancehall, and dancehall blends into hip-hop, Yeasayer's music evolves into a fusion of oddity and experimentation.

Odd Blood, Yeasayer's second album, begins with "The Children," a bizarrely creepy apocalyptic tune where Chris Keating and Anand Wilder sing through a large fan. It's not a trick they learned in the studio — the idea actually came from something a lot simpler.

"It was something I used to do when I was a little kid," says Wilder. "We would scream into a huge fan in the cafeteria, 'Auntie Em! Auntie Em!'"

Just like that, childhood fun was transformed into wild, off-the-cuff vocal riff. Wilder likes the little details that make the music slightly off-kilter: "We were like, 'If aliens were thinking of the history of pop music on the radio, what kind of music would they make?' And this is it."

Read the rest here at the Cleveland Scene.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Apples in Stereo - Grog Shop - Live Review

Last night’s smug Grog Shop crowd did the time warp, and we’re not talking Rocky Horror Picture Show. The seven members of the Apples in Stereo’s touring posse arrived onstage dressed in customized silver space suits ready to take fellow humans back and forward in time, fueled their seventh album, Travellers in Space and Time.

Their goofy futuristic apparel – blinking sunglasses and all – planted smiles on our faces, but it was the gooey pop goodness that kept feet tapping through the night. The extent of our literal time travel only reached back to 1992, when the Apples played the first song they ever wrote and recorded (“Tidal Wave”). Yet the synth-flavored grooves that litter the new album go back a little further, to the days of Electric Light Orchestra’s prime.

“Dream About the Future” and “Told You Once” put fans in a frenzy of ‘80s dance paradise, while “Dignified Dignitary” played up what bassist Eric Allen refers to as the “scrappy punk band” side of things. After playing much of the new material, the Apples reached back to 2007’s New Magnetic Wonder for crowd pleasers like “Energy,” “Same Old Drag,” and “Sun is Out.”

Frontman Robert Schneider playfully transitioned between songs with proclamations like, “this is what music will sound like in the future.” This was after an opening set by the Generationals, who took us back to the organ-happy ‘60s.

Last night was an exercise in understanding musical influences of the past. But more than that, it was about getting excited that some of our favorite music is still being created today.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter is one of the best songwriters of our generation. He weaves tales of exploration and growth, strife and love, and he stitches them with details so miniscule that every character is a living, breathing apparition. Whether he’s basking in alt-country folk (2002’s Golden Age of Radio) or rock-driven melodies (2007’s The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter), the Idaho-born folk artist explores his worldly curiosities through poetic lyricism and impeccable songcraft. Ritter claims So Runs the World Away has been his most difficult album, and it sure sounds like his most diverse. In the haunting, starkly percussive “Rattling Locks,” Ritter barks, “I’d rather spend another night in hell” as his band creates heat and tension that seem to creep up from the floor of the desert. “Lark” and “Lantern” find Ritter exploring a different mindset – a hopeful one – and more of a cheerful pop mentality. But the best by far is “The Curse,” a touching tale of an archeologist’s love affair with a mummy. Its surrealistic fiction awes with its beauty, and in the five minutes, you actually grow attached to their tragic relationship. Every song is a separate story, inspired by everything from bird hibernation and the golden ratio to Newton’s studies. Individually, they impress. As an album, however, So Runs the World Away lacks the cohesion of Ritter’s past works. It’s hard for the listener to transition from a traditional folk tune like “Folk Bloodbath” to “Lark” without skipping a beat. With so much to take in, listeners might find the album as challenging as Ritter did when he created it. Still, nobody ever said that good music wasn’t worth working for.

The New Pornographers - Together

What’s love? It’s what turns up in the dark. That’s according to the New Pornographers, who have created another stunning array of songs on the subject. Themes of togetherness and love, both familial and romantic, turn up all over the album. More often than not, the love they find inspiration in is the kind that falls apart. A.C. Newman wrote most of the songs here, Neko Case is as much of a force on the mic as ever, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, Beirut’s Zach Condon, and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark contribute to the star-studded cast of players. The opening track, “Moves,” starts with a crunchy heavy metal guitar riff, only to be juxtaposed by the delicate piano clinking that enters next. It sets the tone for the entire album, which builds piece-by-piece, bringing multi-faceted chamber pop to life. The (mostly) Vancouver-based bandmates prove yet again they are masters of the popular song, paying tribute to George Harrison on “Crash Years” and Chicago’s famous “25 or 6 to 4” on the aforementioned opener. Slow-burners like “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” find as much power and life as the uptempo counterparts, like the Belle & Sebastian-esque “If You Can’t See My Mirrors.” It’s not going to take a dark room to find love for Together. The bond finds your ears regardless.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Deer Tick - "20 Miles"

Tomorrow is a new day, and a new interview.

I'll be talking with one of the guys in Deer Tick. I'm a little slow on the uptake as far as these guys go (don't tell them this secret!), and although I've had last year's Born on Flag Day for a long while, I've only now gotten around to listening to it.

They are fierce. John McCauley III sounds like he swallowed some kind of lemony cleaning solution, and it absolutely ripped his vocal chords to shreds. In a good way, of course.

They just put out their first single from The Black Dirt Sessions, their third full-length, which comes out on June 8th. It creeps around like a rattlesnake, with all kinds of slivering guitar notes that are all shaded with an alt-country vibe. I really love the lyrics - especially where he tells her that he loves her teeth, and that even barbed wire couldn't get in the way. (There is, however, some strange kind of humming from the strings that makes me feel on edge, like my phone is vibrating or my computer speakers are exploding. It bugs me.) Anyway, I think you'll enjoy it.

Deer Tick - 20 Miles

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

(Day) Tripping with the Apples (in Stereo)

When Denver’s Apples in Stereo asked Eric Allen to play bass with them in 1995, he accepted in a heartbeat. Joining the Apples wasn’t an opportunity he was going to pass up. At the time, the band had only been together for a few years and was known for its revolving cast of players. Allen had never really played bass (he was a guitarist in other local groups), but anytime they had a show, he would go, so he figured he might as well join the band.

The Apples have come a long way since then. What started as one of the living, breathing musical incarnations of the Elephant 6 Collective — a community of artists sharing apartments and recording studios — has evolved into a creative monster. While initially lumped in with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples have evolved into a superpower themselves.

As its title implies, Travellers in Space and Time, the Apples' seventh album, takes listeners through a time warp. We not only glimpse the Apples' history, but also stop in the '60s and '80s along the way. At first listen, "Dream About the Future" is like hearing Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky" for the first time. You want to sing along shamelessly with the falsetto vocals. You want to dance maniacally around the room pretending to pound on keyboards. The song produces that kind of joy.

Read the rest here at Cleveland Scene.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Record Store Day!

A few of the things that I'm most excited about for tomorrow's annual Record Store Day:

1. Beach House is releasing a 12"! I've only bought a few "new" records for my record player, so I think this will need to be the latest addition. You can hear two songs streaming online.

The Arrangement

Zebra (UK Radio Edit)

2. Other notable releases: live David Bazan LP, the new Black Keys single, Neko Case's Middle Cyclone in clear vinyl, the Flaming Lips' take on Dark Side of the Moon, singles by Jamie Lidell, MGMT, Phoenix, Passion Pit, brand new Josh Ritter album... MUST I GO ON?!??

3. White Hinterland is playing a DJ set at Music Saves @ 4pm. One of my Cleveland faves, the Lighthouse and the Whaler, plays @ 5:30.

4. The Beachland Ballroom is screening "The Life of the World to Come," a DVD about the Mountain Goats @ 1:15 and 2:45.

5. Waterloo Rd. (where you find Music Saves and Beachland) also has a gazillion craft shows/art galleries open for super-happy-artsy-fartsy day.

I mean, SERIOUSLY, this day sounds like heaven, does it not? Record Store Day in Athens was peachy, but Record Store Day in Cleveland is about to knock my socks off.

Ben Folds - Live Review - HOB Cleveland

“You all don’t know what it’s like, being male, middle-class, and white,” Ben Folds shouted loudly and repeatedly during the first song of his encore last night. “Rockin’ the Suburbs” pretty much summarizes Folds’ physical appearance and sense of humor, but it doesn’t even begin to encompass the breadth of his talent.

Playing a two-hour set to a sold-out House of Blues, Folds ripped through songs on both sides of the spectrum, as well as a whole bunch that don’t even fit on a spectrum. Last night's take on “Rock This Bitch,” a song whose lyrics and melodies change at every show, included a hilarious drum solo. “You say, ‘You can’t write a bridge on a hi-hat,’ and I say, ‘Fuck your ass, I can’,” Folds told his overjoyed fans.

Folds transitioned from a song about a middle-aged man who screwed and then married his 17-year-old daughter’s best friend to the sincere “The Luckiest,” a ballad newlyweds have been using at their weddings for years.

His lyrical storytelling has always been immaculate, detailing personal struggles in two ways: with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and guile, or with complete seriousness and earnestness. The audience enthusiastically sang along to “Landed,” “Zak and Sara,” “Bitch Went Nuts,” and “Emaline.” They also contributed harmonies to crowd favorite “Army.”

All the while, Folds’ hands bounced around his piano with incredible ease. His fingers conveyed trickling water in “Free Coffee,” and a deliberate stampede-like clunking gave power to “Annie Waits.” The flashy piano work in “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” danced circles around Folds' vocals. A jazz pianist might be able to play it, but Folds injected insanely quick flourishes that brought the ivories to life.

As Folds walked off the stage grinning and bowing to the crowd, gigantic pit stains covered his shirt. No sweat. We’re talking about a guy who plays his heart out night after night — a guy who has such passion for his craft that it seeps through his every movement. He might come from the suburbs, but his true home is the stage.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ben Folds @ HOB - Tomorrow

Ben Folds defines the word “ham,” which is slightly surprising when you look back at the song that made him famous; “Brick” is a quiet piano ballad about his high school girlfriend’s abortion. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina native shares intimate moments like this with his audience, but then offshoots them with live Chatroulette performances and stages full of enormous smiley face props. You never know what to expect from the piano maestro and self-proclaimed geek. To avoid leaking Way to Normal, his most recent album, Folds recorded a set of brand-new songs with the same titles as the real tracks. It’s this same strange spontaneity and unpredictability that makes Folds’ live shows so exciting; one minute he’ll have the audience contributing multiple harmonies, the next he’ll be improvising the lyrics and musical style of “Rock This Bitch,” a song he changes from show to show. The common denominator of everything from “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” a cheesy ode to living “male, middle-class, and white,” to “Bitch Went Nuts,” a kiss-off to an ex, is Folds’ ability to bang out beautiful, soaring piano rock without missing a note. Matt Pond PA opens the show at 8:00 pm at the House of Blues (308 Euclid Avenue, 216.523.2583). Tickets: $35, advance; $37, day of show.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yeasayer, While You Wait

Which face does not belong?

I apologize for the slowdown in posts. It's all for good reason, I assure you. I've been slaving away (ok, fine, so interviewing some of your favorite bands isn't slaving, but cut me a break) writing some hefty articles on the Apples in Stereo, Yeasayer, and schtuff. (P.S. I also work a day job. 45 hours a week. If you can pay my salary to blog full-time, my answer will be "YES!" in a hot second.)

The great thing is, as I slave, as I transcribe, and as I rub my head against the wall in tedium, I find some gems - er, amusing quotes.

When I asked Anand Wilder of Yeasayer how he feels about the uniformity in the sound and mood of a Beach House album, as compared to the wild mood swings of Odd Blood, here's what he said:

“If I’m in a mood where I just want to listen to really beautiful music, and relax, and kinda bliss out, then I want to listen to the Beach House album. You could listen to it all the way through without getting annoyed. I feel like our album, we’re trying to do something different. We’re trying to do something different on every song, and some songs are soothing, some songs are dancey, some songs are kinda hypnotic and mesmerizing, other ones are really dark and sound maybe more like movie background music than a song. You could say there are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. Maybe our album is not very cohesive, and it’s all over the place, but I think I would just get too bored if I was playing songs that all sounded the same on the road. We like to use a sound for one song, and that’s it – it’s kinda used up. You want to find something new. But I think that’s really just up to a person, the individual taste. I think if we were really sophisticated, we could make an album that had a similar kind of sound, and it would also be really interesting from front to finish, but I don’t know if we’re good enough to be able to do that.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rocky Votolato, The Real Thing

Check out this article I wrote for Scene a few weeks back. (And give Rocky lots of love - he's pretty much one of the nicest guys I've ever had the pleasure of interviewing.)

"Sparklers," Rocky Votolato's best new song, is surprisingly simple. Its one-word title and sparse arrangement (only acoustic guitar accompanies his gentle voice) hint at the minimalism of his recently released sixth album, True Devotion. But it would be a mistake to categorize the beauty here as "plain." His fingertips swim over the strings, etching a sonic landscape that's fluid and very much alive. And his voice is a portrait of both pain and acceptance.

The Seattle-based singer-songwriter says the "sparklers" represent the transience of our world: Everything is constantly changing, and we're only here for a little while. As he tries to accept this fact, Votolato translates his struggles into songs. In a mix of autobiographical material and fictional characters, True Devotion simultaneously details his struggle with depression (a lifelong battle that got so bad that he barely left his apartment for a year) and his vivid characterizations of stories and poetry by Louise Erdrich and Sylvia Plath. "There's a lot of run-down characters that were calling to me through the process of making this album," says Votolato.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Avi Buffalo & Japandroids @ Grog Shop

Avi Buffalo were on the Grog Shop stage before Japandroids last night, looking young and meek at first. The members of the four-piece Long Beach group are barely out of high school. Yet as soon as their fingers touched their instruments, age was just a number.

The structures of Buffalo’s songs resemble a spider with nine and a half legs. As strange as it seems, the extra appendages accentuate the spider’s greatest strengths. Frontman Buffalo’s (real name: Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg) extra legs are the mini guitar breakdowns he inserts between verse and chorus. When Buffalo starts soloing in odd places, it messes with typical pop structures, but it’s a welcome change and an interesting new direction.

Japandroids' second dead-on Cleveland performance of the past half-year blew minds and eardrums alike. Drummer David Prowse and guitarist Brian King created the same energy they did in October at Now That’s Class. This time, the audience was three times the size. Ringing power chords and cymbal-heavy percussion radiated back and forth between the two Vancouver buddies as they played every song off their debut album, Post-Nothing.

If it wasn’t already, “Young Hearts Spark Fire” became the anthem for youth angst. Thrusting their bodies toward the stage, Cleveland fans made it loud and clear. The entire crowd screamed fervently, “I don’t wanna worry about dying/I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls.”

A few new tracks also made their way into the set. “Darkness on the Edge of Gastown” and “Art Czars” are quintessentially “Japandroidsian.” In other words, they’re low-fi garage rock that sounds scummy as hell.

“Heart Sweats” was a show highlight, if only for the interplay between King and Prowse. King stopped to tune his guitar in the middle of the song, joking with the audience that his talent lies in making us believe the screw-up was part of the plan.

When King nudged Prowse to start back-up, the two took turns jesting each other, until King gleefully shouted that he was going to need a countdown.

That kinship is what makes Japandroids' live shows so compelling. That, and, uh, the sheer number of amps they use. And the way the two of them are always completely attuned to each other’s movements. And… do I really need to go on?


P.S. You can find this review and most of my others at the Cleveland Scene. Check out other things on the site, too - there's snarky blogs, melodramatic commenters, some pretty good writing, and most importantly, a bunch of cuss words.

Two Presents

Because I'm a) delirious, as it's 2:50am and I'll be waking in 4 hrs, b) feeling ultra young and alive via a Japandroids concert I attended tonight, and c) feeling pretty generous, I come to this blog post bearing gifts.

Although I cannot really see the computer straight right now (not drunk, just dead tired), I know that it is important to spread the wealth of good music. So start with these two tracks, a couple new ones from Japandroids. One comes out on an album of singles, one comes out on a 7". Yay vinyl. Both of these wonderful occurrences will take place within the next month or so.

By the way, if you don't own Post-Nothing by now: a) kill yourself, or b) take $10 from your bank account, and get yourself to your record store, quick.

Japandroids - Art Czars
Japandroids - Darkness on the Edge of Gastown

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Apples (in stereo)

You can look forward to a full-force mega-article on Apples in Stereo coming soon. In the meantime, a few things you need to know:

1. Travellers in Space and Time is a shameless dance record. Translation: You are required to dance shamelessly around your house, apartment, shack, boat, or maybe around the trash receptacle behind your office. You MUST. This is geeky music for really geeky people, and if you can't come to terms with your inner-nerd, get out of my blog right now.

2. Elijah Wood and science experiments?

3. I am extraordinarily happy when I listen to two songs in particular.
a) "Dream About the Future"
b) "Dance Floor"
This stems from the fact that at the very moment the robotic vocal harmonies and synthy squiggles enter, my brain is taken back in time (Aha! The album title is on to something.) to the first time I ever heard ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky," and the moment my love affair with ELO began. My brain is teeming with possibilities! Could someone make a remix of "Mr. Blue Sky" and "Dream About the Future" and please deliver it to my inbox for my birthday?


Here's what you get in return - a portal to listen to some of these songs BEFORE the record comes out. Lucky you. I'd say it's a fair trade.

Mommy Knows Best, Right?

When your parents told you not to play with your vegetables, they obviously had not seen the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Julian Casablancas - Live Review

Julian Casablancas @ House of Blues on 4/3/10

The last time Julian Casablancas performed in Cleveland was April of 2006, at the Agora. My memory escapes me, but I remember two key things. First, Casablancas and the rest of The Strokes were stumbling drunk, occasionally forgetting lyrics and often messing up entire parts of the song with wrong notes. Second, nobody gave a shit – it was The Strokes, after all. We were just glad they were in Cleveland.

Yet four years later, I was hoping for a little more, and Casablancas delivered. Performing most of the songs from his solo debut, Phrazes for the Young, the New York native showcased tunes that sounded like The Strokes’ Is This It? injected with a large syringe of the ‘80s. The dude must like symmetry; his band is made up of two guitar players, two guys on keyboard/synthesizer, and a female-male drum duo.

Casablancas strode onto the stage in red pants and his signature leather jacket, starting immediately with the slow shuffling of “Ludlow St.,” which showcased Casablancas’ hidden talent; in all his years with The Strokes, his smooth and (dare-I-say?) pretty voice never was a big focus. “River of Brakelights” was a full-forced wall of sound, with guitar after guitar piled on for a dirty, crunchy buzz.

True mayhem broke loose when the band started into The Strokes “Hard to Explain.” A huge cluster of high school kids in Strokes t-shirts flooded the front of the crowd, making Casablancas remark that his favorite part of the tour so far was the guy in the audience who just did the “zombie seizure” dance. “Hard to Explain” transitioned into an acoustic take on another Strokes song, “You Only Live Once,” that Casablancas prefaced with, “Here’s a b-side you guys have probably never heard.”

What Casablancas’ solo material lacks in guitar riffs he made up for in polyrhythmic bliss and danceable synths. “11th Dimension” was a playground of rhythmic trickery and digitized vocals. “Tourist” fueled Casablancas’ second encore with an exotic Middle Eastern flair and intricate bleeping synthesizer effects. None of the songs ever reached the intensity level of The Strokes, which means we’ll have to wait for the band to get back together for full gratification. But let’s not be too picky – Casablancas remembered the words, and the band remembered its parts. One down, one to go.

*You can also find this review, and many other wonderful things, at

Question of the Hour

Are the members of Yeasayer aliens?

Folks, I'm about to find out. Interview, ensue.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Breathe In, One More Time

When I first listened to Air's ninth album, Love 2, let's just say I wasn't so carried away by it's greatness. Air is Air, and it's always great background. Sometimes it's much better than that, in that it invokes a strong mood and aura. Love 2 didn't really do that for me.

Yet when I was watching Gossip Girl last night (cut me a break! I'm allowed to have one guilty pleasure, no? And the music is so good, how can you even argue with me? They're all over Julian Casablancas, and this week they played the National's "Start a War"), I caught a second listen to "So Light is Her Footfall." The song is ridiculously sexy. It has those background strings that hang in the air like dust particles in the sunlight. Dude's voice just creeps around, and the piano is all ominous attic stairs-like.

The song haunts me, much like this girl they speak of must haunt them.

Plus, I gotta give 'em kudos - I read on LastFM that they named the song after Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost. And Oscar Wilde is crazy, nutso good. I'm reading An Ideal Husband right now, in fact...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Drunk American Scum

You know LCD Soundsystem's "North American Scum"? Hilarious mockery lyrics, awesome dance beat, tons of fun?

Yeah, I'm not the first person to tell you: they've done it again. This time it's about "Drunk Girls." And it is JUST as good, almost the same song, but with an updated theme, the not so subtle drunkness of, well, girls. LOVE it. love love love love love. James Murphy, where are you flawed? Please tell me you are missing your third toe or something. You are just too damn good.

Mimicking Birds - S/T

When you sit in a darkened room with nothing more than one other person and a guitar, you can only hope that the music created sounds as intimate as Mimicking Birds’ s/t debut album. Neither charming nor downhearted, the songs here are contemplative reflections, beautiful twisted atmospherics where sparseness is often the most distinguishing factor. When the picking of the acoustic guitar loops round, it is in a state of complete and utter seriousness you listen, transfixed. Though each song smoothly caresses its way into your head, “Burning Stars” stands out with a thought-through acoustic guitar melody that feels like it’s been on the back of your mind for years. If you’re a songwriter, this is the kind of song that probably takes years to form and finish, to polish to this level. Understated vocals hold the song together, as they do on most the record.

Natural sounds make their way into the album – coins rolling, doors shutting, and the like – only reinforcing that feeling of comfort and intimacy that the music instills. The scratchy distortion of electric guitar weaves ambiently through “Remnants and Pictures,” adding dimension rather than calling attention. Graceful strings (violin, perhaps?) meanders atop “Cabin Fever.” At times, Damien Rice comes to mind, at others, the gentle bob and weave of Kings of Convenience’s island sway sneaks inside. It’s a wonder; it’s a set of songs that will stop you in your tracks the within your first listen.

Mimicking Birds is on tour with Modest Mouse, and produced this album in Isaac Brock’s home studio. You can stream the album in its entirety here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Letter to Julian Casablancas

Dear Julian,

On Saturday evening, when you perform at the Cleveland House of Blues, if you are as drunk as you were when you played with the Strokes at the Agora in 2006, I will personally see to it that you get socked in the face. By me. Nobody wants a dude who plays the wrong notes and forgets all the words onstage.

On second thought, maybe I've loosened up since my freshman year of college. Maybe I'll go easy on you.

Go on, resume alcoholism. I'll still hang with you.


P.S. Tell your friend Fabrizio that I went to Little Joy while I was in Los Angeles. I'm pretty happy he named his band after a crappy bar in Echo Park. It would have been even cooler if he named it Echo Curio.