Sunday, November 28, 2010

John Vanderslice - White Wilderness

The breathtaking clarity of sound on John Vanderslice’s seventh full-length album is less surprising than the twisted chord progressions and ominous overtones. After all, his production talents have always been one of his strengths. Vanderslice’s San Francisco recording studio, Tiny Telephone, is a haven for musicians like Beulah, who recorded When Your Heartstrings Break there. Instead of turning to his usual hyperperfected digital tinkering, however, Vanderslice finished the album with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, Tiny Telephone’s resident musicians, in three days. Under the direction of Minna Choi, the orchestra helps Vanderslice shape his most lush record. The swelling strings of “Convict Lake” are so overwhelming, if you played it underwater, it might make dolphins cry.

Though lyrically intimate, White Wilderness is a grand affair. Verses are separated by gentle bursts of piano, horns, and chimes. Trombones menacingly huff atop “The Piano Lesson.” The effect isn’t necessarily a pretty one. Pieces of the record challenge listeners with instrumental combinations that come off as troublesome when layered together. The title track details a trip through what sounds like a contemporary interpretation a Lord of the Rings-type journey—snowy, dark, and difficult. “Overcoat” splashes around with a squiggly woodwind introduction, embracing a more upbeat rhythm that might be familiar to fans of Vanderslice’s jumpier 2007 release, Emerald City. Most of White Wilderness, though, shows his softer side. It’s a welcome development in his long and diverse career, which continues to reveal Vanderslice’s remarkable creativity and willingness to evolve.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Slacker Nostalgia

There are so many things that are wrong with this video.

First of all, it is a horrifying remake of Grease, with a poor Sandy transformation that is just downright degrading. Instead of going from sweet to sassy, the girl goes from geeky adorable to slutty.

Second, Jordan Knight, you have the worst style of all time. Turtleneck/leather jacket/baggy pants? This was not cool in 1999, when this video came out, or ever!

Third, this guy was about 30 years old when he made this video. 30! A little old to be doing bad high school cliche movie-music video remakes.

Fourth, I think the guy who did Darrin's Dance Grooves (also known as the best infomercial of my late childhood) - I guess his name would be Darrin, right? - choreographed this. And it shows. The little finger wiggles? Laughable, and so very admirable in their own self-importance.


This is also one of the most catchy songs of the '90s! I forget about it for years, but when I hear it again, it has not lost any of it's amazingly cheezy-fabulous aura! Plus, a 30-year-old Jordan Knight seducing me with a turtleneck and really embarrassing dance moves still gets me going... and I think that's a testament to his vocal crooning power. Long live the '90s. I mean, yeah riot grrl. Yeah grunge. But let's not forget where I spent most of my time - in my friends' basements dancing to the Backstreet Boys. This is important history.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bear Hands - What a Drag

So I was minding my own business, listening to some Beach House as I watched the Cleveland Browns dominate. All of a sudden, Teen Dream ended, and this great catchy song came on, and I had to leave my facebook conversation, stop trying to stalk Tapes 'n Tapes' publicist, and click on to iTunes to figure out what wonderful new band was coming through my headphones.

I have this thing called download compulsive disorder. I read two music blogs, I listen to the songs they post, and then if I like them, I download them. I often leave those songs hidden somewhere on my external hard drive, where they often rot and expire while I listen to other new things.

Every once in a while, however, these miscellaneous downloads lead to a magnificent discovery, months or years later!

Thus, I present you with Bear Hands, who Pitchfork says (I couldn't find any other internet happenings with this band) chugs Coronas between songs and has a beastly bass player. I can hear Modest Mouse and some of the raw guitar I'm liking from Ted Leo and So Cow. Can't believe they're coming to Cincinnati over Cleveland. Come on Flowerbooking! Get with the program. Send the lame bands to Cinci, and the good ones up to Cleveland.

Bear Hands // "What A Drag" from Cantora Records on Vimeo.

Bear Hands - What a Drag

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mixtape of the Week - 11.5.10

It's been FOREVER since I posted a mixtape, and it's time. The theme is Home vs. the World. My life feels like a tug-of-war between my mellow home life and my insane travel schedule. We start at home, travel to beaches, cities, and new adventures, and end at home.

Mixtape of the Week 11.5.10 - Take me Home - Click here to download on Mediafire.

1. Glasser - Home

Obsessed with the tribal time signatures and the harmonies that float through the air like a thousand veils in the wind.
2. Dale Earnheart Jr. Jr. - Vocal Chords
The band with the worst name makes up for it with laid back pipes and a beach cookout vibe.
3. Jenny & Johnny - Big Wave
Girlfriend & Boyfriend, writing the songs I might write, you know, if I played an instrument and had a boyfriend.
4. Matt & Kim - Red Paint
This brings Hot Chip to mind because the geeky synths sliver around all the other great parts of this song like an epidemic.
5. The Chap - We Work in Bars
Almost as thrilling as Earlimart's "We Drink on the Job" was to my 18-year-old self. But this one feels whimsical. And is the first song that makes me consider moving to Europe and becoming a bartender.
6. Belle & Sebastian - I Want the World to Stop
I'm sorry, but how do you not love this song the minute you hear it? Pure pop glory.
7. Kelly Stoltz - Pinecone
I listened to this song on repeat for an entire week when Sub Pop first sent it to me. I gave it a break. I came back to it. Not sure if this is possible, but I love it more. It's kinda Beatles/60s, and it's kind of cheesy (jazz flute), and I'm ok with that. I'm more than ok. I'm great.
8. Sun Airway - Waiting on You
How many people am I going to have to brag about Philadelphia's Sun Airway to until they become huge? This song floats on air, hovering above all other songs. It is on a higher plane. It is my dog, if she sprouted wings and lost her attitude and became graceful. Actually, on second thought, it's nothing like my dog.
9. Motorifik - Ghosts
Everyone compares everyone to U2, but I'm going to compare this to U2. I own every U2 album, listened to them every day of my childhood, and went to see them when I was 10 at the stadium in Columbus. Therefore I can sort of legitimately claim to know and love U2, thus making my comparison of Motorifik to U2 only slightly superficial. This song just has a bigness and a greater purpose. It has a profundity.
10. Deerhunter - Helicopter
Music to be blissful to. I just want to lay down and think about the significance of the world.
11. Phantogram - As Far as I Can See
Did any album in 2010 have more amazing singles than Phantogram's Eyelid Moves? Maybe. But these sound so original and really special. This song is quiet, and it's on the edge, a lethal combination.
12. Cloud Nothings - Hey Cool Kids
Lo-fi, amazing melody, play-on-repeat caliber.
13. Sufjan Stevens - Futile Devices
Good ol' Sufjan left us this peaceful, gorgeous folk tune. It was the calm before the storm of The Age of Adz , which twisted our minds in ways we didn't know it could.
14. The Tallest Man on Earth - I Won't Be Found (Daytrotter Session from '09)

Sweden's Kristian Matsson has a voice that knocks me down on my knees. I can't help but completely melt every time I hear this. Not sure why Grey's Anatomy hasn't caught on to this yet.
15. Villagers - Home
Conor O'Brien is my songwriting hero. My next post will be an in-depth interview I did with him for Under the Radar, where he reveals to me how he makes his magic.

What songs am I missing? What do you love?

Share the love.

Glasser - Home

Are we in heaven or what?

Happy weekend. Bliss out.

Best Coast vs. Jenny & Johnny

It could be 31 degrees, icicles dripping down the sides of my gutters and hanging off my eyebrows. I could be struggling to breathe, the wind catching in my lungs like a trap, suctioning all life from my chest.

It could be the kind of day where your arms feel sticky, as if they were traps for mosquitoes. The zipper on your top burns marks into your chest. Sweat drips from your hair.

I don't care what it is. I don't care how cold or how hot or if I'm on a business trip in Arizona or I'm hibernating under my covers. I could be in France, I could be in Zimbabwe. I might be stepping onto a plane, I might be digging a hole in the sand.

I don't care.

Best Coast makes the kind of music that just makes me feel good. It's the kind of carefree whimsy that I want my every action to reflect. It's 60's and it's modern, it's the past and it's so very right now. It's edgy and it's sugary. It's everything at once, and it's brutal and honest, and sometimes you get this unmistakable urge to blurt out the lyrics at the top of your lungs.

I don't care that you say it's simple and vacant and that Bethany Cosentino makes shallow, shallow songs about her selfish life. Don't pretend like you aren't selfish and self-righteous and indulgent sometimes. You are probably selfish all the time. (Unless you have kids. I've heard that changes things.) And don't pretend like her music has less worth than some more snobbish high art form.

Don't put her on a list of "overrated albums of the year." Just don't even make those lists. Those lists are worthless and hurtful and aren't contributing anything productive to our society. I talk about bands that bug me all day long, but I'm not going to waste my time or anyone else's writing it down.

Best Coast is relatable and it's easy, and sometimes I don't want to have to try that hard to like music. We're not talking Ne-Yo here. We're talking real songs and real instruments and real talent. But it's not challenging. For a change, that's nice.

Jenny & Johnny: I haven't listened to you much. I enjoy a does of Rilo Kiley every now and then, and I have been championing Johnathan Rice since he released Further North in 2007. And let me tell you: nobody cared about Rice in 2007. I couldn't even convince my mom to listen to him, let alone my college radio pals. But I never was the kind of fiend that sat like a really drool-y dog waiting for a denta-bone as I anticipated the next Jenny Lewis album.

That said, with my limited knowledge of Jenny & Johnny separately and collectively, I must say, I love the song, "Big Wave." It's airy - some badass guitars cut through big huge passages of sunshine and openness. Lewis' vocals are the perfect mix of whiny and strong, and the chorus is as glorious as any pop song released in 2010.

Still, all I can think of is Best Coast.

How is this song even a little bit different than Best Coast's "Crazy For You"? Same woozy oohs and ahhs, same summer glory. West coast, best coast, best couple, couple of hits. I'm all over the sound. It's not original, nor is it new or special.

Yet it's wonderful.
Crazy For You by Best Coast by Pam Ribbeck

Big Wave by Jenny And Johnny

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mark Ronson - Catchiest Song of the Year?

I mean, really. I have not been this psyched up after listening to a song since Estelle and Kanye West did "American Girl." Mark Ronson's latest work - "Bang Bang Bang" - off his debut, Record Collection, is to die for. I want to bounce, I want to shuffle, I want to swagger. (I'm not really much of a swagger-er. I probably look like I'm faking a bad limp. Once, when I was a junior in high school, they cast me as the Artful Dodger in the school musical. He's Oliver Twist's best friend, and I was supposed to teach him how to be a pickpocket. The directors of the play spent about 3 weeks trying to teach me how to walk more like a little boy. I think I really just ended up looking like I was limping and sticking my crotch out. I mean, can I really help that I walk like a lady? These are things that take lifetimes to change. I'm not Halle Berry or anything. I can't just be a Monster's Ball or get fat immediately or go all Hilary Swank and win awards for playing a man. I am just not that talented.)

Anyway, this video is pretty great. Without further ado, I present to you, the catchiest song of 2010. I didn't say the best - I said the catchiest.