Sunday, October 18, 2009
I have written many things about Andrew Bird over the years, releasing glowing reviews of both his live act and his recorded output, making it clear that I am a fan. I had already seen him in concert twice before last weekend, and I own –yes, own—more of his records than anyone else.
So as I was adding more candles to the Andrew Bird shrine in my room the other day, I started to worry that this form of worship simply makes it harder for me to write a legitimate review of the man. Since I’m fairly certain I will fall in love with anything he releases, what’s the point of giving my official “opinion” of it to any reader I may have, when they already know what I’ll say?
But after going to the much-anticipated two-night stand of Andrew Bird last weekend at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, I think I figured out a reason. Simply put, I have no choice. The man is not perfect, I have realized, and not everything he releases is gold – if pressed, I may admit to not liking certain songs on Noble Beast – but he’s one of the most unique and intriguing artists out there right now, and it’d be a crime to not try and share this with as many people as possible.
So enough with all that, let’s get to the show. The two-night stand was special for several reasons: Bird would be playing the first night with a full band and the second night by himself as a solo performance; the first night would feature Dosh as opening act, while the second night would give us St. Vincent in the first slot; and on top of all this, the shows were being filmed for an official DVD release of the live show.
With all of this up in the air, the first night had a sort of electricity in the air, as cameras rolled and Bird joked with the audience – “Just act natural, everybody.” Bird and his band ripped through a longer-than-usual setlist, which included several songs from his latest release, Noble Beast, along with some old mainstays like “Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” and “Fake Palindromes.” For the encore, the group huddled around one microphone in the front of the stage and performed the rare “Some of These Days” before plugging back in to finish with “Don’t Be Scared.”
The second night started off with St. Vincent, who I was almost as excited to see as the headlining act. Annie Clark tore through several songs from her newest release, Actor, with her backing band, wowing the Pabst audience with her fuzzed-out guitar licks and angelic vocals. Laying the groundwork for the soon-to-be epic night, she retreated into the background as Bird took the stage all by his lonesome.
Bird’s solo set featured many songs that were not played the previous night, and it was peppered with new and rare songs, like the early version of “Dark Matter” called “Sweetbreads,” a song from his instrumental release Useless Creatures that now has lyrics, and “Lusitania,” a new song that he had played the previous night. In the middle of the set, Bird started up “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” before stopping his progress as he confessed to not knowing the first line of the song, drawing laughter from the sold-out crowd. He stood there, gazing off into space trying to remember the line, before a helpful audience member called out the correct lyrics, and things proceeded as normal.
For “Lusitania,” Bird called out St. Vincent’s Annie Clark to come and play along with him, leading to an elegant take on the new tune. After this charming display of two talented artists working together, Bird announced they would play one of Clark’s songs next, and she launched into “Marry Me” as Bird played along on the violin. An instant show highlight, the audience was treated to a rare collaboration on the much-adored song from St. Vincent’s first album.
The rest of St. Vincent’s band came on stage to rip through some outstanding versions of “Scythian Empires” and “Tables and Chairs” before Bird and Clark once again took to the lone microphone at the front of the stage to perform Bob Dylan’s “Oh Sister.”
All in all, this was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve witnessed, with the excitement of new songs and new collaborations added to the fact that all of this would go down in history as a live film. I will readily admit that Andrew Bird is not perfect, but he’s closer than most.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
When I first heard that the Flaming Lips were planning a double album full of sonic freak-outs and sound experiments, I was a little nervous. I love the freaky side of the Lips as much as the next guy, but I've always thought that Wayne Coyne and company did their best work when they combined their weird, spacey freak music with more conventional pop structures, resulting in such gems as "Race for the Prize" or "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1."
After my first listen "Embryonic," their new album that takes up over 72 minutes of space, I thought that I was right to fear this new development. Where are the singalong choruses? The fake orchestras? The songs made to soundtrack a confetti gun gone mad?
After each subsequent listen, however, I've gotten more and more excited by "Embryonic," and now I can safely say that I'm a big fan. This album easily tops 2006's "At War With the Mystics," which tried a little too hard to appeal to a mainstream audience, and I believe it is close in quality to my previously favorite Lips albums, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and "Soft Bulletin."
First of all, let's just get this out of the way: this album is weird. The sprawling work goes from fuzz freakouts to animal sounds to massive walls of noise like it's no big deal. There are a couple songs that veer closer to the traditional Lips song, like "If," which features Coyne singing, "People are evil, it's true. But on the other side, they can be gentle, too, if they decide."
"Embryonic" is one of the loudest albums the Lips have produced, both in instrumentation and in the way the album was mastered. But where this was annoying before -- "At War With the Mystics" - the loudness is now a crucial part of the texture. Songs like "The Sparrow Looks Up At the Machine," "Aquarius Sabotage," and "Worm Mountain" -which features guest artists MGMT - owe much of their existence to the distortion pedal, as huge waves of fuzz roll over the listener.
There is also a very loose and unrehearsed quality to the album, something that makes it stand apart from the last three albums. Studio chatter and throat-clearing is all over the place, and many of the tracks have a loose, improvised feel to them. It's quite refreshing to hear this kind of spontaneity out of the usually heavily arranged group.
Adding to the already-strange collection of songs, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs makes an appearance on "I Can Be A Frog," submitting animal growls and chirps over the phone, turning what could have been one of Coyne's childish, nonsensical songs into a much more intriguing track.
Overall I will say that this album will stand the test of time as one of the Lips' best. Even if you don't necessarily like it, you have to applaud the band for giving us something unexpected, taking a left turn when going straight would have been perfectly acceptable. To exist as a band for over 20 years, releasing 12 albums along the way, and to still have this level of unpredictability, is something to be admired.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
If last Monday’s Sufjan Stevens concert was an example of a relatively young artist still finding his way, then Friday’s concert with Wilco in Minneapolis was just about the polar opposite. Starting the night with a song named after themselves, and then going for 2+ hours without letting up once, Wilco played with the utmost confidence and skill, making it clear that this band is the happiest it’s been in years, and we can all agree that the feeling is well deserved.
Many Wilco fans, myself included, may feel that the band has never quite matched the level of artistry they achieved with 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Their last album especially – Wilco (The Album) – has not met with the highest of critical approval. But as Friday night showed, the band could not care less, and is completely satisfied with where they are as a group. This level of confidence was overwhelming, and made the night a complete success. From jokingly adopting rock-star poses on stage to playfully goading on the audience, Jeff Tweedy and crew were extremely loose and relaxed, and it resulted in one of the more enjoyable “rock ‘n’ roll” concerts I’ve seen.
The band has gone through many lineup changes over the years, but the one that Tweedy has settled on for the past few years is arguably their strongest on the concert stage – not necessarily in the studio, but the live shows are on a whole other level than their albums at this point. From guitarist Nels Cline, who dominates the stage with his exciting stage presence, to drum veteran Glenn Kotche, to Pat Sansone, who may not dominate the Wilco headlines but certainly won over a large portion of the crowd with his humorous stage antics, this group is filled with skilled musicians who are undeniably some of the best in the world at what they do.
The show was heavy on tracks from (The Album), but the set was long enough that this fact did not wipe out any of the other, more anticipated tracks like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and others. Opener Liam Finn put on an electrifying set and came back on stage in the first encore to strum and sing along with “You Never Know” and “California Stars,” the latter of which also featured guest guitarist Gary Louris of the Jayhawks.
Tweedy was relatively quiet for the first part of the set, as the band went through several of the new tracks, but as things got going he got more into the crowd, whether it was encouraging us to clap along during “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” – “It’s gotta be healthy for you” – or leaving the singing duties of “Jesus, Etc.” entirely up to the audience, as the entire Roy Wilkins Auditorium crowd sang along in unison.
Tweedy and the rest of the band injected energy into every single track, as the set came off as much more “rock” than their newer albums would suggest. Cline and Sansone even engaged in a couple of guitar duels, trading off virtuosic solos with grins on their faces, making it clear that they’ve done this before and have loved it every time.
Overall, this may have not been the single greatest concert I’ve ever seen, but it is definitely one of the more “fun” exhibits I have witnessed. Wilco may never release another masterpiece, but that would be fine with me as long as they keep touring and giving the audience these kinds of shows. As long as Wilco keeps loving us, we’ll keep loving them.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Wearing a Wisconsin t-shirt to the delight of a sold-out Madison audience, Sufjan Stevens strolled onto the stage of the Majestic Theatre on Monday night and declared "Sup y'alls, I'm 'Suff-jan' Stevens." And with that, he and his backing band were off to perform one of the best shows I have seen in a long time.
The world has not seen a proper full-length album from Stevens since 2005's "Illinois." Orchestral pieces and remixes have come since then, but this new tour seems to be the most promising bit of evidence yet that a new album will be coming before the end of time. Stevens and crew brought out four new songs Monday night, and all of them featured a much heavier and darker feel while pushing the boundaries of what an acceptable song length is -- most of these new songs pushed the 10-minute mark.
There's something electrifying about seeing bands try out new songs on the road. The audience knows that they aren't simply going through the motions, which may be true of the older songs that they've already played hundreds and hundreds of times on the road, and are playing more for the audience's sake than their own. These new songs are still fresh, they still have room to grow and improve. Things could go wrong, or they could take a turn into an unseen path that reveals something new.
Stevens and his band did not shy from bringing out these new songs, as they stretched each of them to its fullest length. Songs like "Too Much Love" and "Age of Adz" delved into noise jazz freak-outs, with the horn players belting out scattered hiccups of melodies as the rhythm section deftly moved between time signatures.
Introducing "Impossible Souls," Stevens said, "I've been accused of never writing a love song, and so this is my response." Building from a simple progression on his Wurlitzer, the song veers into a repetitive jam under the phrase of "don't be distracted" from Stevens and backup singer Nedelle Torrisi of opening band Cryptacize.
"All Divided People" borrowed lines from Simon and Garfunkel - Stevens' use of "Hello darkness my old friend" drew a whoop from the crowd - and traveled from quiet whisper to huge guitar freakout in a matter of seconds. These new songs showcased Stevens' guitar skills in a way unseen before, as he showed musical chops well beyond his already known composing and arranging skills.
Beyond the new songs, Stevens pulled from his back catalogue to give the crowd a mix of “hits” and lesser-known but still familiar songs. "Casimir Pulaski Day" and "John Wayne Gacy" were both performed alone by Stevens on acoustic guitar, and they brought as much intensity and focus as any of the more abrasive new songs. The band closed their set with a somber, acoustic version of "Chicago" that left behind the triumphant drums of the original version for a more subdued, reflective take that left the crowd slack-jawed in awe.
Behind the music, Stevens was one of the most sincere performers I’ve witnessed. I wasn’t sure before the show, but now I know for sure – Sufjan Stevens is an actual human being, just a regular guy, not some sort of musical wizard that lives on a higher plane than us. His between-song banter revealed a very likable, modest guy who wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself. After one of the more ambitious new songs, he confessed “Well that was tiring, right?” and joked, “Tonight is basically going to be a live workshop setting at your expense. Don’t be surprised when we begin stopping and starting songs over again and practicing our scales.”
If anything, the show Monday night revealed that Stevens has found his new way forward, and we can only hope that these new songs will find their way onto a proper album sometime in the near future.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
You may remember a little interview I posted a few months ago with Brent Knopf, mastermind behind Ramona Falls and one of the three members of Menomena. The rest of the world is starting to catch on, as Pitchfork just gave Intuit, the debut Ramona Falls record that was just released, a glowing review and an 8.0 score.
Ramona Falls (which includes Menomena's Danny Seim on drums) will be in Wisconsin next Thursday, playing at Madison's High Noon Saloon. See you there!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Pitchfork got a hold of the first track from the newest project from Wisconsin's own Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Collections of Colonies of Bees. Take a listen:
MP3: "Island, IS"
I like it, it's a lot more driving and pulsing than any Bon Iver stuff. Definitely something different.
The track is featured on the upcoming debut album from Volcano Choir, Unmap, which comes out September 22 on Jagjaguwar.
Overheard by a festival goer after the explosion of energy that was Dan Deacon's set, the above quotation sums up Lollapalooza 2009 for me perfectly. The final day was a little slower for me, but it ended things on a high note and left me smiling and satisfied, as Jim Halpert would say.
The big headliner of Sunday was the weather, as temperatures soared into the upper 90s around midday. I arrived around 2, intending on catching the second half of Bat For Lashes, but quickly retreated into the shade of the Citi Stage to watch Cage the Elephant, who I had never really heard of before. The Kentucky group put on a raucous rock show, but didn't leave too much of an impression on me. The crowd surrounding the stage was packed, but I suspect this had a lot to do with the previously mentioned shade that the set offered. Also, jean shorts sighting #2 as the lead singer sported the jorts with pride. I'm picking up on a trend at this point.
After CtE I braved the sunlight to catch an old favorite, Dan Deacon. Deacon is renowned for his frenetic live shows that include many crowd participation stunts. I wasn't sure if he would attempt these activities with the huge festival crowd, but as Deacon himself said "This is gonna be fucking impossible, but we're going to try it." And it paid off.
But first there were numerous sound issues with the monitor mix, as Deacon ran back and forth across the stage, having intense conversations with crew members and performers, trying to fix whatever ailments the mix was suffering from. After taking a 5-minute 'break' to fix the sound levels, Deacon said "I know I seem like a total dickhead right now, but that's OK." The crowd seemed to be alright with this, as Deacon may have earned their respect by displaying the kind of perseverance and attention to detail that makes his music so enjoyable. After struggling even further, Deacon appeared more and more agitated, at one point saying "Jesus fucking Christ" into the mic before yelling "I can't hear shit" to one of his drummers.
But the show went on, and eventually the sound seemed to meet Deacon's satisfaction, as it picked up from there. The set involved Deacon's 15-piece ensemble, and towards the end he brought on even more people, adding a marching band that brought the stage numbers closer to 30 people playing instruments at once. And he pulled off his famous crowd stunts, including forming a huge human tunnel around his end of the park, and an interpretive dance involving the band's bus driver. Through all of these stunts, the music didn't suffer as the band pulled off a brilliant rendering of Deacon's songs.
Next I made my way over to Passion Pit, who were slotted on the smaller Citi stage, which proved to be a mistake as the crowd was crushingly huge for this much-hyped group, and the show would have been much more comfortable at one of the bigger stages. I've always had my qualms about the live performances of this group, and I wasn't proved wrong again as the lead singer's vocals strained to reach the high notes that he so deftly supplied on the album, and the band just seemed a little thin in general. But for Lollapalooza, this didn't matter too much as the majority of the crowd loved every second of it. When the opening riff to "Little Secrets" hit, the crowd exploded with pure glee, and the dance party ensued.
That's all I got for Lolla '09. More posts will be coming soon, I've been slacking on this blog lately, but hopefully I'll remember to keep posting things.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Next I made my way to the other end of the park for Los Campesinos!. Before I even got close, I could sense the amount of energy the group was giving off. The band seemed to be having a blast with their infectious blend of violin, guitar, glockenspiel, and yelping vocals, and the energy was transferred to the audience. Also, the lead singer was wearing jean shorts, which to quote from a previous paragraph, was either courageous or idiotic. But I'm leaning towards awesome.
The second half of the set featured a mammoth version of "Fireworks" that led into set-closer "Brothersport". One song was noticeably absent from the festival set, and that was "My Girls." The fact that they didn't feel pressed to play this song was very impressive in my mind, and they're probably sick of it by this point. Overall I was blown away by this group, and can't wait to see them in their own show.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Alright so I know it's been a while. But I'm going to Lolla tomorrow, and I'll try and post some reviews/thoughts. My planned schedule:
3 pm Bon Iver
4 pm Ben Folds
5 pm Fleet Foxes
7 pm OF MONTREAL
7 pm OF MONTREAL
7 pm OF MONTREAL
(Alright, I'm sorry)
I'll keep you updated. You can also get more up-to-date thoughts on my twitter: twitter.com/chemicalsblog.
Friday, June 19, 2009
This doesn't look terribly exciting, but they got some good bands on the album (of Montreal, Sharon Jones) so it might be worth checking out.
Coming June 23:
SPIN's tribute to the 25th Anniversary of Purple Rain
A copy of the July issue of SPIN will be your key to download the album, so pick one up today! Then, check spin.com/prince beginning June 23 for details on how to download Purplish Rain!Track listing:
1. "Let's Go Crazy" RIVERBOAT GAMBLERS
2. "Take Me With U" SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS
3. "The Beautiful Ones" FOL CHEN
4. "Computer Blue" OF MONTREAL
5. "Darling Nikki" CHAIRLIFT
6. "When Doves Cry" THE TWILIGHT SINGERS
7. "I Would Die 4 U" MARIACHI EL BRONX
8. "Baby I'm a Star" CRAIG WEDREN
9. "Purple Rain" LAVENDER DIAMOND
Thursday, June 18, 2009
From his website:
We've been working on changes to the website for the last few months. We'll be adding new sections as they're ready. The first one to be added is called Record Club, an informal meeting of various people to record an album in a day. An album will be chosen to be reinterpreted and used as a framework. Nothing rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track will be uploaded once a week on beck.com as well as through the web sites of those involved with the project.
For this first edition, after lengthy deliberation and coming close to covering Digital Underground's Sex Packets, all present voted in favor of the 'other' Underground's The Velvet Underground & Nico. Participants included this time around are Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Brian Lebarton, Bram Inscore, Yo, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Holmes, and from Iceland, special guest Thorunn Magnusdottir, and myself. Thanks to everyone who helped put this together, and to all of you for indulging in this experiment. More soon.
Check out his first song, the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" here.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Grizzly Bear (29 plays)
After seeing these guys in Milwaukee, I went back and found even more levels of appreciation for their studio work. If you haven't found a way to listen to Veckatimest yet, do it. Trust me.
of Montreal (22 plays)
Same as last week, but this week was focused on the Icons, Abstract Thee EP that came out after Hissing Fauna. The last song on the disc, "No Conclusion," is nine and a half minutes long, but it is worth every second. The last couple minutes is made up of one of the best-sounding string sections I've ever heard. It just sounds so nice and creamy.
David Bowie (9 plays)
Not much to say here, been listening to lots of Ziggy Stardust. "Moonage Daydream" is my favorite.
Dirty Projectors (6 plays)
Bitte Orca is definitely going to be in the top three of my favorite albums from 2009. Every time I listen it gets better.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Fiery Furnaces have released the first single from their upcoming album, I'm Going Away. I've always been an on-and-off fan of the Fiery Furnaces, but this song is quickly growing on me. It's a lot more poppy than a lot of their old stuff, maybe they're going the same way of the Dirty Projectors by releasing a more mainstream pop song for the first single ("Stillness is the Move"). Let's only hope that I'm Going Away has half of the brilliance of Bitte Orca and we'll still be in for a treat.
MP3: "The End is Near"
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I'm conflicted about my opinion of last night's Grizzly Bear show. On the one hand, and probably the more important hand, the music was impeccable, the band showcased an amazing level of musicianship and talent, and I was blown away by the sounds coming out of the speaker. On the other hand, the show itself wasn't that memorable; the guys smiled maybe twice, there was little to no movement on stage, and they just didn't seem that into it. But we'll start with the first hand:
The setlist was heavy on songs from recently-released Veckatimest, and it was a smart choice, as tracks like "Ready, Able," "Southern Point" and the impeccable "Two Weeks" were outstanding in the live setting. Grizzly Bear does an outstanding job recreating the album in a live setting, with all the dense textures and layers that come with it.
Chris Bear was especially notable on drums, I just couldn't stop watching him all night. Same goes with Daniel Rossen and his guitar work. Beautiful tone.
Now to the other hand. I think this quote from another review says a lot:
"(Grizzly Bear) leaves almost nothing to chance—at this point, the New York quartet is so practiced and disciplined it can probably go days or even weeks on the road without being thrown off script." - Express Milwaukee
I know this may not be a popular opinion, but this is what kind of disappointed me about the show. When I go to a concert I want to see something special, something unique to that night that came out of spontaneity and chance. The only time that happened last night was when someone yelled "Fuck yeah!" during show closer "He Hit Me" and the band broke into smiles. Everything was just a little too pre-planned for my taste, and they went about it in such a business-like manner, without much excitement or energy, that I just left feeling a little underwhelmed.
But I shouldn't complain, seeing a band perform songs from my favorite album of the year, and perform them with such talent, is a rare opportunity and I'm glad I was there. Thoughts?
Monday, June 8, 2009
Yes, that's right. The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather (whose album hasn't even come out yet), and now Jack White says he's planning on recording a solo album this later this year. Is this bad news for White Stripes fans? Time will tell I suppose. Read more here.
Radiohead (145 plays)
I know that Radiohead will never leave my music library, but this past week I dusted off "In Rainbows" again, rediscovering the beauty like it was the first time. I've been working on a few of the IR songs in my guitar lessons, and it's really made me appreciate how deceptively complex some of these songs are. That's the thing about Radiohead, they can write seemingly simple chord progressions but turn it into so much more than it seems on paper.
of Montreal (91 listens)
Kevin Barnes is just an undeniable genius. "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?" has slowly become one of my all-time favorite albums, and I've been listening to a lot more of "Skeletal Lamping" as well, which isn't as solid as "Hissing Fauna" but it's a grower.
Spiritualized (80 listens)
Unlike the first two, this band is a new one for me. I listened to a little of "Songs in A&E" back when it was released, but nothing really caught. But last week I got a hold of "Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space" and I was hooked. He has a great way of combining folk, drone, spirituals, rock, and ambience, as well as a knack for idiomatic sounds/effects, like the respirator/breathing effect in "Death Take Your Fiddle." Great stuff.
The Decemberists (27 listens)
After seeing these guys put on one of my favorite concerts ever, I've been spinning Hazards of Love ever since.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The CD will also see a re-release with seven unreleased tracks. If nothing else, you have to be excited about an album/movie that has both Jeff Mangum and Kevin Barnes on it, two of my biggest musical heroes. While it leans a bit on the whimsical/experimental side of E6, the album is still one of my favorite of the E6 outputs, it's worth checking out.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
When talk starts up of the Decemberists, the words you usually hear flung around are “bookish,” “nerdy,” or “bring a dictionary.” These all may be true, but they are no longer the band’s defining characteristics. Hazards of Love, their newest release, is a tremendously ambitious album centered on Margaret, who is tricked by a shape-shifting deer, and then runs into a forest queen, an evil rake, and…oh hell, who even cares. What really matters is that the new Decemberists know how to bring the rock.
Listening to the album, I had a suspicion that this show may be a bit different than their past performances. Many tracks start off in the same vein as songs from Castaways and Cutouts or Picaresque, before drastically veering off into half time, head banging sections filled with delicious near-metal riffs. A perfect example of this is “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid,” which turned into one of my all-time favorite live experiences.
The band played Hazards of Love in its entirety for the first set, as they are doing every night of this tour. The album came off very well in a live setting, starting with Jenny Conlee alone on the organ and growing into a pulsing, head banging set. The highlights of the live performance were the riff-laden metal sections of songs like “Repaid,” “The Queen’s Rebuke” or “Won’t Want for Love,” but even the softer sections served well to provide moments of rest in between those high marks.
I think anyone who was in the Riverside Theater Friday night can agree that Shara Worden stole the show. Worden, of My Brightest Diamond, guested on Hazards of Love along with Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond, and both women are accompanying the band on this tour to recreate the album. Stark was captivating in her own way, as she has a beautiful voice that she pairs with twirling, spinning dance moves that lead to a very convincing portrayal of Margaret. But Worden is something else. Storming to the front of the stage for “Repaid” in a short black dress, she absolutely dominated the song with her powerful vocals and fully assured stage presence. From there on out, she received a huge ovation from the crowd whenever she came out from her post in the back of the stage.
After playing the album through, the band took a short break before coming out for a second set. This section of the night served to please any remaining fans who weren’t convinced by Hazards, as they played old favorites “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect,” “Leslie Anne Levine,” “Yankee Bayonet” and “Sixteen Military Wives.”
The closer of the second set was a mind-blower. When the opening riffs started, I think the crowd had a collective, “Wait, no, is this…? Is it really…?” And yes, it was a cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” featuring both Stark and Warden on blistering vocals. Meloy seemed to be in awe of the two women as they belted out the vocals of this timeless classic.
Coming out for an encore, Meloy played a solo version of “Red Right Ankle” before getting the band out for one more song. Inviting crowd members on stage, over 100 people were on stage to sing along to “Sons & Daughters”, uniting on the “Hear all the bombs fade away” line from the Crane Wife album closer.
All in all this night was not one to forget, and I strongly encourage anyone who can to go see the Decemberists on this tour. If nothing else, at least go to see Shara Worden tear down the house.
P.S. Blind Pilot had one of the best opening sets I've seen. They had great songs, but even better, they created such a great atmosphere on stage, very charming and bashful, the perfect combination for an opening act.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I'm really looking forward to the full album from Jack White's latest project, The Dead Weather. So far we've just had access to a couple tracks, this being the latest. Featuring heavy drumming from Mr. White, and snarling vocals from Alison Mosshart, this is killer. Guitar solo at 2:25 or so is pretty great, being 4-5 seconds long and all.
MP3: "Treat Me Like Your Mother"
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I recently had the great pleasure of talking with Brent Knopf of Menomena about his upcoming solo project, getting Menomena's music into Hummer ads, and his love for Bon Iver. Check it out:
Brent Knopf: Hey, thanks so much for the call.
Come on Chemicals: Thanks so much for talking with me. So, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’ve been listening to the two tracks, so far, off the Ramona Falls record, and I’m really liking it.
CoC: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the whole process of recording the album, how it was done.
BK: Sure, let’s see, the intensive recording started in January, that’s when I got really serious about it, and I set out to record about 13 songs and I ended up finishing these 11 songs. I collaborated with a whole bunch of friends, and with each person, I would go over to their space, their home or church or practice room or whatever, and would record with them for about two and a half hours. So, I’d set up, and then for the first half, they would play along with whatever I had prepared, and then for the 2nd half of the time, I had pre-designed ideas that I was hoping to ask them to implement or interpret, or I’d have a beat in mind or a melody in mind. And so that was the collaborative part of it, but the rest of it was pretty much just me trying to conspire against my own procrastinating and perfectionist tendencies to try and make actual progress.
CoC: Did you record it on your own, with your own stuff, not in a studio?
BK: Yeah, it was really on a budget, so I did it on my own.
CoC: How much of the songs ended up being your ideas of what they should play, and how much was the players’ own ideas, that ended up being on the record?
BK: That’s a good question…I mean, the whole idea for asking people to come up with ideas is to try and create a space for happy accidents, and then to have those takes be amongst the takes to choose from when assembling composite tracks. So I’d say probably 20 percent was stuff that they had improvised, and 80 percent was stuff I knew I wanted, but they would often play off each other in ways I didn’t predict, so that was pretty cool. But for the most part I had a vision, I had a preconceived notion of what I wanted, but I also wanted to create a space for freedom, for some improvisation and some mistakes, because often in mistakes is where the best ideas are.
CoC: So were these songs things that you knew wouldn’t work with the band, or ones that you brought to them and they didn’t like? Why the solo project?
BK: Menomena has first dibs over what I write, and that’s of my choosing. So some of these songs I gave to them and there was no response to them, and so when it became clear that the Menomena record was going to take longer to record than we anticipated, I set about choosing a handful of songs that I was really interested in, that I decided to finish. So there were a few songs that the band had heard demos of, but didn’t really respond to, and so, that’s fine, you know, I don’t expect everything I write to be their cup of tea. And then there was a couple other songs that I kind of knew beforehand that they wouldn’t be interested in anyways.
CoC: Along those lines, is there a certain aspect to a song that makes it either a “Menomena song” or a “solo song”?
BK: There probably is some sort of subconscious mechanism where I kind of am secretly weighing what I perceive to be how they’ll react one way or another. Honestly I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason to it, I know that what makes a Menomena song is if all of us dive into a song. I think a lot of it is up to Danny (Seim) and Justin (Harris) and what they choose to dive into. So the fact that some of these songs were songs they didn’t choose to dive into, it just meant that since they’re not involved, its not Menomena. It’s a pretty fluid territory between stuff I write for Ramona Falls and stuff I write for Menomena. Its not like I put on a completely different writing aesthetic when I’m writing for Menomena. It’s pretty much straight from the heart, no matter what. I just try and write what interests me and I hope that it happens to resonates with them as well. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
CoC: Are you planning on playing shows with the Ramona Falls material?
BK: Yes, I’m hoping, it’s kind of short notice for our booking agent, but I’m really hoping to do some touring in August and September, and maybe beyond.
CoC: I just read the Pitchfork feature about the new Menomena album. Have you guys started pulling together stuff for it yet?
BK: Yeah, its an amorphous process, its hard to really put my finger on it and speak accurately, but, we’ve been working on it for the last couple years and I think that its agreed that the next few months will be the very focused time for us to work together.
CoC: Do you have any new toys that you’ve been playing with in the studio?
BK: (laughs) No, that would probably be a good idea. It never crosses my mind to buy new things. No, not that I know of, I know Justin was shopping for a triangle the other day, I think he was looking for an upside down one. (laughs) I haven’t made any big instrument purchases, I think we’re just dealing with what we have, if the need arises we can dive into other instruments.
CoC: What’s the next step you want the band to take, as far as certain things you still want to do?
BK: You mean besides having our music licensed in Hummer ads?
CoC: Of course, of course. (laughs)
BK: I think each of us has a different conception of what it means to be successful or living our dream or whatever. I already feel incredibly lucky, to me, the fact that I got fired from my day job and that I didn’t have to go get a new one makes me feel like the luckiest person on the planet, I already feel pretty happy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t . . . I’m sure we all have our set of goals and ambitions of what’s next, for me I’d love to see Menomena be more fully integrated in our writing and recording process. There’s all sorts of interpersonal things I’d love to see, but in terms of artistically, I think I’d like to see an album that is, you know, challenging for us to make and an album that means something to us and feels authentic. It’s a whole bunch of mushy mushy speak basically, but honestly that’s it, I mean, I love playing shows and it is really gratifying when someone comes up to me or us and lets us know that our music has meant something to them, but I wont be depressed if we don’t play the halftime Super Bowl show by 2012 or something. I get more gratification from making the albums and the process of writing and recording the music. Then I think we’re really lucky that we’re able to tour and to do this.
CoC: Speaking of touring are you guys excited to play Chicago this weekend?
BK: We are, yeah, absolutely. The Do Division Street Festival, right? And the Empty Bottle, that is one of our favorite, favorite clubs in Chicago. Yeah, it’s the last two shows on our calendar, its always a little nerve-wracking because we’re going to be using a lot of borrowed and rented gear and our setup is so sensitive on things being just right, so I’m a little nervous but I hope it will, I’m sure it will work out.
CoC: Favorite band of the moment?
BK: Current or past?
CoC: Let’s do current.
BK: Seeing Bon Iver live, a couple times, was definitely . . . it was really enchanting. I feel really lucky that I got to see Bon Iver live. And then I think the band The National is another one that I just adore. And then there’s a band here in Portland , his name's Matt Sheehy, I like his last record. Then there’s a band from like 1979 called the Homosexuals, from England, and that’s been my favorite record of the last couple years. It’s this strange art-punk music and its kind of been my favorite record of the last couple years. They only released obscure vinyl back then and it got compiled into a CD in 1984. I only found out about it a couple years ago, and ever since I’ve been really into it.
CoC: Well that’s all I’ve got, thanks so much for taking the time to talk.
BK: Well hey , thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate your curiosity.
Brent's solo album under the Ramona Falls moniker, Intuit, comes out August 18. Read more about it here, and listen to two of the tracks here.
As mentioned, Menomena is in Chicago this weekend:
Sunday May 31st -Do Division Street Fest (w/White Rabbits) - Chicago IL
Monday June 1 - The Empty Bottle - Chicago IL
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Well the day has come. Veckatimest is released in the States today, May 26. Pitchfork got their say in quickly, giving the album a 9.0, and a Best New Music title. Obviously it's a high score, I was thinking they'd go even higher, but does it really matter? Clearly no.
Unless Radiohead comes out with another surprise release, or Neutral Milk Hotel reunites for “Aeroplane, pt. 2,” I don’t see any other album topping this one. Packed with rich, dense layers of sound, it showcases everything that was great about “Yellow House,” their previous release, while adding so much more. “Two Weeks” is bound to be the song of the summer, as the band takes on a more straightforward pop approach than usual, and it pays off, with glimmering vocals set over a bouncing piano theme.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Go buy the album here.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Sad day for Wilco fans, past and present, as Jay Bennett has passed away. From Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times:
"Jay Bennett, a rock musician with deep ties to Chicago best known as a former member of Wilco, died early Sunday morning in downstate Urbana, where he had been running a recording studio, according to a spokesman for his family.
The singer and multi-instrumentalist was 45 years old.
"Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed," said Edward Burch, a friend and musician who collaborated with Bennett on the 2005 album "The Palace at 4 a.m." "The family is in mourning and is unavailable for comment at this time."
Born in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows, Bennett began playing in bands as a teenager. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned multiple degrees in secondary education, math and political science. In between, he co-founded the Replacements-like power-pop band Titanic Love Affair, which released three albums during the alternative-rock heyday between 1991 and 1996, when it was dropped from its label.
Bennett was working at a VCR repair shop in Champaign when he was tapped to join Wilco as it toured in support of its first album, "A.M." A talented arranger and versatile musician who could play virtually any instrument he picked up, from mandolin to Mellotron, Bennett formed a fruitful partnership with Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy. His contributions over a seven-year period were key to the albums that resulted in the band's national breakthrough, including "Being There" (1996), "Summerteeth" (1999) and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002).
Relations between Bennett and Tweedy, both painstaking perfectionists, soured during the latter recording, as documented in the film "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," and Bennett left the band. Earlier this month, Bennett filed a lawsuit against Tweedy for breach of contract and unpaid artist's royalties, stemming in part from his role in the film.
In late April, Bennett wrote on his MySpace blog about dealing with intense pain from a hip injury suffered during a dive from the stage while playing with Titanic Love Affair. He was preparing to have surgery, but was concerned about his lack of health insurance. However, he also was looking forward to finishing his fifth solo album, "Kicking at the Perfumed Air," at his studio, Pieholden Suites, named after the song on "Summerteeth" that best encapsulates his talents as an arranger.
"This whole experience [with the hip pain] has really taught me to look both inward and outward for support, and I've learned things about myself that I thought I had completely figured out years ago," Bennett wrote. "Family and friends have helped me to keep faith in a future that will actually be much more carefree than my constricted present state. I encourage you all to tell me stories of recovery, as they really do help... All in all, I'm 'in a really good place' right now; I'm just waiting until I can make it all happen."
Bennett's former bandmates in Wilco are touring in Spain and could not be reached for comment. But Burch said he had spoken to bassist John Stirratt, and the band was "broken up" about the news.
"He was an extremely talented musician and a great person, and I'll miss him terribly," Burch added."
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Veckatimest is out on Tuesday.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
First: "Coquet" as performed acoustically in the WTMD studio.
"Coquet" live, full-band:
From the WTMD sessions: "Like a Tourist":
From Rolling Stone's Smoking Section, "Tourist" has turned into "Teenage Unicorn Fisting"
So far "Coquet" is my favorite, it's very grabbing from the start. Thoughts? Am I missing anything?
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I just discovered this wonderful band from England. They've got the triumphant anthem feel of Arcade Fire, the indie pop joy of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and the soaring vibrato-ful vocals of Beirut. Yeah, yeah, if you've read a review of Fanfarlo, it probably said something very similar, but it's really, really hard to not hear the Arcade Fire + Beirut thing.
But none of this is meant to be negative. The fact that they pull from other established sounds is not a detriment, it is a strength. In my opinion Fanfarlo is taking all the best parts of the above-mentioned bands, and adding their own touch.
"The Walls Are Coming Down" is the most Beirut-y of all the tracks, with a mandolin strumming next to a shuffling snare and a high, clear vocal line, all of which are old standbys of Cordon's, but they work well for Fanfarlo as well, as he takes what would seemingly be a Beirut song and adds more of a pulsing drive to it with the percussion.
The album closer, "Good Morning Midnight", is only 1:26 long, and has no vocals, but it is an extremely pleasing closer, as it showcases a little of the experimentation that I would have liked to see more of throughout the album.
At times this leans into a little more soft, Snow Patrol-like vibe than I would prefer, but overall it is a very strong collection of songs. It is skillfully produced, it is a very warm album. Overall, well worth the buy.
MP3: I'm a Pilot
Buy the album
People don’t usually think of Rockford, Illinois, when they are talking about the hot music scenes of the Midwest, thinking instead of places like Eau Claire, Minneapolis, or Chicago. But unbeknownst to many, Rockford is turning into a hotbed of quality music.
I saw one such group, Kid You’ll Move Mountains, last weekend, and they did not disappoint. The band has been growing in momentum lately, with a positive review from the Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis capping off a stream of good press from their latest release, “Loomings.” Like any good band, the music is not easily categorized by one or two words, but it is undeniably energetic.
Corey Wills, the lead singer of Inspector Owl, steps back from the microphone in KYMM, instead creating walls of dense, unpredictable sound with multiple effects pedals that form a textured layer that surround and envelops the rest of the band. Lead singer Jim Hanke sings every word like it’s his last, and the rest of the band matches his intensity, including powerful, unorthodox drumming from Nate Lanthrum.
The song structures that KYMM comes up with are the most interesting aspect of the group. They use dynamics to a large degree, forming multiple peaks and valleys within each song, shying away from the “quiet verse-loud chorus” cliché that so many songs fall into. They also excel at the slow-building groove song, dropping out almost everything only to bring it all back in one by one to a most satisfying climax.
The band is not afraid to create walls of noise, which can sometimes be self-indulgent in the hands of other bands, who crouch over their pedals, noodling with various knobs to create subtle changes to already-monotonous drones. But KYMM embraces these experimental sounds, using them to create tension between the more-conventional upbeat sections. They use both experimental and conventional techniques in combination to create a truly unique sound.
KYMM has several shows over the next few weeks, bringing their new tunes to as many people as possible, before playing at Summerfest on June 28, which is a must-see set. The new album “Loomings” is available from their official website.
From an email:
Dear Menomenauts, Brent here. I'd like you to be the first to know about Ramona Falls. It's a "solo" project, but not really because I collaborated with dozens of friends. The debut album will be called "Intuit" and is 11 songs long. You can stream two songs now, if you're curious. Your support of Menomena has enabled me to do what I love, so thank you. I also want to thank Danny and Justin for their encouragement. Speaking of D+J, we'll be recording the next Menomena album together this summer. I'm so excited. Only two concerts on the Menomena calendar, both in Chicago : - May 31 : Do Division Street Festival w/ White Rabbits - June 1 : Empty Bottle w/ Pomegranates Love, Brent / Menomena
I really like the tracks he has up on the myspace, check them out for sure. Not as pulsing and rocking as Menomena, a little more instrumentation maybe, but it's got Knopf's signature melodies, definitely enjoyable.
Monday, May 18, 2009
I'm glad I did though. This isn't the strongest season by far, but it is a noticeable improvement from last season, and managed to surprise me well after I thought I had figured out every possible twist.
That brings us to tonight -- what did you think? I thought that the episode ended rather abruptly. One could applaud the subtleness that the writers employed; hinting at the ending rather than spelling it out for us. Jack will be saved by Kim; Renee will torture Wilson for answers. But I thought it could have used a little more solid of an ending than they gave us.
Also, I would have bet my life savings that Tony would not be breathing at the end of this season, but somehow he survived. Thoughts?
I had never really listened to Dirty Projectors before 2009. When the Dark Was the Night compilation came out, I really dug their track with David Byrne, and caught wind of all the pre-release hype for Bitte Orca. A couple weeks later, and I'm sold.
Bitte Orca is a masterpiece. There are a few hiccups; the closing tracks, "Remade Horizon" and "Florescent Half Dome" are the ones that still have yet to grab me, but I'm sold on the rest. The song structures are just so unique to this band. I can't imagine sitting down and writing a song like "Temecula Sunrise," I'd love to learn more about lead singer/songwriter Dave Longstreth's writing process.
Anyways, here's a track. Hope you enjoy. The album is officially released on June 9, this is definitely worth buying.
MP3: Stillness is the Move
Pre-order the album (on CASSETTE, vinyl, or CD)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
First thoughts? I think it's solid. Nothing really grabbed me on the first listen through, but after subsequent spins I'm more impressed. The Feist duet of "You and I" is pretty nice, not as good as I had hoped but I like it. Favorite songs so far: One Wing, Bull Black Nova, Sunny Feeling.
What do you think?
Friday, March 6, 2009
A new track has surfaced from St. Vincent's upcoming release, Actor, coming out on May 5th. I like this one, it's driving and atmospheric with some surprising distortion in the middle. I'm looking forward to the new album.
MP3: The Strangers
St Vincent's official website
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Buy Noble Beast
Andrew Bird's official website
Andrew Bird on Myspace