Saturday, May 30, 2009

[LIVE REVIEW] The Decemberists in Milwaukee 5/29

All photos by Dale Reince (Pabst Theater)

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting of the Decemberists before I entered Milwaukee’s beautiful Riverside Theater last night, but I can say without a doubt that my expectations were far, far surpassed. Colin Meloy and company put one of the finest, most memorable shows I’ve seen in the past few years.

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

The Dead Weather - "Treat Me Like Your Mother"

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"

Other songs:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

[INTERVIEW] Brent Knopf of Menomena/Ramona Falls

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.

BK: Thanks!

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

Grizzly Bear Day!

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

RIP: Jay Bennett

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."

Sun-Times article

Saturday, May 23, 2009

[VIDEO] Grizzly Bear "Two Weeks"

If you were on the internet at all yesterday, you probably saw this, but it's too good to not post. One of the most interesting videos I've seen lately -- such a simple concept, but the effect/slow-motion that is used is captivating, you just can't look away until it's over. Enjoy.

Veckatimest is out on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A round-up - New of Montreal songs

Lately I've been seeing more and more videos of new of Montreal songs popping up, so I thought it might help to try and gather them all into one place. If anyone knows of any that I'm missing, let me know.

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

[ALBUM] Fanfarlo "Reservoir"

Ever wonder what would happen if you molded together the voices of Win Butler and Zach Condon? Here's your answer: Fanfarlo.

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.

Score: 86/100

MP3: I'm a Pilot

Buy the album
Official website

[LIVE REVIEW] Kid You'll Move Mountains

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.

Official Myspace

Ramona Falls - new side project from Menomena

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

[TV Thoughts] '24' season finale (SPOILERS)

Right around the time that season 3 of Fox's "24" ended, I became hooked. One summer back in highschool I watched 4 seasons' worth of DVDs with my best friend, often devoting 6-7 hours a day to the trials and tribulations of one Jack Bauer. I kept this going strong through five seasons, but the sixth almost ruined it for me. Whatever it was about that season, it turned me off from the series and I almost wasn't going to watch season 7.

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?

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

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

Wilco (The Album) streaming now

Well, it finally slipped out - the album leaked late last night, and Wilco quickly launched the full-album stream from their website hours later. Listen to the album here.

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?