Monday, March 30, 2009

Rant: When Indie Goes Mainstream

When it comes to Kings of Leon, I was an early bloomer. I have been listening to and loving them since high school. I started out with Youth and Young Manhood, moved on to Aha Shake Heartbreak, and even got my hands on an advanced copy of Because of the Times (thanks, WERW). Somewhere along the way, a funny thing happened to those Tennessee raised Followill brothers (and cousin). They gained popularity and entered “the mainstream”.

They had already achieved super stardom overseas and I came to terms with that. I would hear them on the radio every now and then but the stations were obscure so I chalked it up to that. Liv Tyler said she loved them in a magazine interview. That was okay too because Liv Tyler is pretty hip, don’t you think? Because of the Times received critical acclaim (for the most part) and then Only By The Night posters began appearing on every construction site in New York City, and suddenly Kings of Leon were selling out Madison Square Garden. That was when I knew; my little indie band was no longer. They had crossed over.

From there it only got worse. The boys secured three Grammies and the celebrity namedropping began. Really, it was only a matter of time. Chelsea Handler of E’s pop-culture comedic jaunt “Chelsea Lately” mentioned that she had been “hanging out” with them. On a radio interview, Miley Cyrus took a breather from bashing Radiohead to talk about the crazy rumor she heard that Kings of Leon are preacher's sons! Omg, no way!? I am attempting to be happy for them and embrace their more commercial tunes but it has been very trying, indeed.

This brings me to the question at hand; why do we hate it so much when our favorite bands make it big? Maybe Mrs. Eisen failed to teach me that, “sharing is caring,” in kindergarten or something. Shouldn’t I be happy that a band that I like is finally getting the recognition that they’ve worked so hard for? Along with their newfound success I gain bragging rights but I lose a little piece of my identity. When a new fan is telling me how much they love the song, “Sex on Fire,” I can casually say, “Oh, Kings of Leon? I’ve been listening to them for years.” Yet, if a person asks me what my favorite bands are and I say Kings of Leon, it no longer reflects my music preferences in an accurate light. It might lead people to believe that I like other bands like them who can sell out MSG, which is not usually true.

In moments like these, I feel the only remedy is to find new little bands to fill the void. And so, I’d like to introduce you to Cage the Elephant. Hailing from Bowling Green, Kentucky, these boys bring the rock and the southern twang. They also have a solid English fanbase and their single “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” reached number 32 on the UK Singles Chart, not to mention they grew up on a Christian commune. Sound familiar? The band is comprised of Matt Shultz (vocals) and his brother Brad on guitar, along with their friends Jared Champion and Danielle Tichenor. Lincoln Parish later asked to join via email and his request was granted. While their sound lacks versatility, it so catchy that it just about makes up for it. They are a little less indie and a bit more rock n’ roll than Kings of Leon but a good substitute nonetheless.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Where to start with...Bright Eyes

Recently, I've come to realize that there are many bands that I would like to get into but feel as if I cannot. The main reason for my general avoidance of some groups stems from being overwhelmed by their expansive discographies. There is just too much and I never know where to begin. Do I start at the logical place: the beginning? Or do I go straight to their most recent release? Is there an album somewhere in the middle that best represents their talent? It can just be so confusing! 

For example, I've always been interested in listening to Peter Bjorn and John and Pavement but was quite intimidated by the amount of albums they have released. With a little bit of guidance, though, such bands may be conquerable.

And that is where our new feature comes in. Called "Where to Start With...," it will focus on bands with huge discographies - whether it be because of numerous years of existence or just an overly-ambitious nature (::cough cough Ryan Adams::). We will break down their best releases and explain which ones make the most sense to "start with." So get ready to take a deep breath and get ready to learn from "the experts," (at least we think we are).

First up....Bright Eyes (aka. Conor Oberst)

When Conor Oberst started recording under the pseudonym "Bright Eyes" in 1995, his voice and guitars were far too raw for most listeners to enjoy. However in his early stuff you could still see a glimmer in his unsurpassed talent, especially if all that emotion was harnessed. The song writing skills were there. The guitar skills were there. As time went on he cultivated his ideas and skills and has become one of the best songsmiths of this generation.

To embark on an appreciation of Bright Eyes, I suggest not starting with his first release. Instead, begin your Bright Eyes journey with  "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning." This 2005 release is the most accessible of the Bright Eyes albums. It is a folk masterpiece with widespread appeal.  In the opening track, "At the Bottom of Everything," Oberst tells a story about passengers on a plane that is plummeting into the ocean and then counts into a tune about American materialism and society (with guest vocals by Jim Jones of My Morning Jacket).  Three tracks feature Emmylou Harris's delightful voice: "We are Nowhere and It's Now," "Another Traveling Song" and "Poison Oak.")  "First Day of My Life" is an acoustic gem with a simple, heart felt video (note: it actually made a single tear trickle down my cheek). "Lua," a song about an evening full of drunken flailing, is another track that highlights how quiet yet poignant Bright Eyes can be.
  • "We Are Nowhere and It's Now" mp3

Second go to "Cassadaga." It is a fine example of Oberst's shift towards a more twangy style of rock.  The single "Four Winds" feels like an old time country song with an intensely political stance on the current condition of world and the differences people claim ("The Bible's blind/ The Torah's deaf./ The Qu'ran is mute./ If you burned them all together/ you'd get close to the truth").  Songs 6, 7, 8 and 9 ("Soul Singer in a Session Band," "Classic Cars," "Middleman," and "Cleanse Song") are truly the standout tracks. They highlight Oberst's songwriting, singing and guitar skills in an entirely different way than on previous albums. It is more of a big band style, with harmonic vocals and strong backup guitars. 
  • "Soul Singer in a Session Band" mp3

If you are still curious about what pre-refined Bright Eyes sounds like then try "Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground."  Okay, this is the first Bright Eyes album I ever heard.  At first, I did not enjoy it because it was just too raw for my underdeveloped ears.  But lyrically, this is an excellent album. Each track tells a different story but contains themes of not quite being good enough. "Lover I Don't Have to Love" is classic Bright Eyes as it features a story about being in a drunken blur, struggling to find some person-to-person comfort for an evening. "Bowl of Oranges" is charming and hopeful.  "Waste of Paint" is more of a pessimistic view on the world.  The last track, "Lets Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)" is a 10 minute masterpiece featuring a variety of themes that characterize the human experience: ambition, disappointment, mistakes .  Most notably, it contains hint of Oberst's shift towards political activism ("Well, ABC, NBC, CBS: Bullshit./ They give us fact of fiction?/ I guess its even split...As we take eye for an eye until no one can see,/ we must stumble blindly forward repeating history."). 
  • "Waste of Paint" mp3

Also, if you find yourself drawn to the raw end of the spectrum (like "Poison Oak" or "From A Balance Beam") you might want to check out "Fevers and Mirrors," especially "The Calender Hung Itself," "When the Curious Girl Realizes She is Under Glass," and "Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh."  It has some great songs but, in retrospect, not entirely important to understanding the music that Oberst is currently releasing because it sounds nothing like this.   
  • "The Calender Hung Itself..." mp3

As a bonus if you enjoy music with a bit of electronica, be sure to check out 2005's "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn." It features a totally different sound and feel as other Bright Eyes records but it has some incredibly poignant songs about alcoholism ("Hit the Switch") and sex/love ("Take it Easy - Love Nothing"). Also "Gold Mind Gutted" and "Easy Lucky Free" are both stand out songs even though this album is an overall grower.  
  • "Easy Lucky Free"  mp3

Note: Oberst has dropped the "Bright Eyes" name recently and started releasing music and touring with the Mystic Valley Band.  Check out the self-titled "Conor Oberst," especially the songs "Get Well Cards," "Cape Canaveral" and "Danny Callahan." This album is further example of what happens over time with Oberst; the songwriting is still as strong as it always has been but the vocals and guitars are even more developed than they were in the past.  He is set to release another album with the Mystic Valley Band, called "Outer South," sometime this year.  On his website, you can stream one of the songs from that album, "Slowly (Oh So Slowly)."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eureka! Drug Rug

Drug Rug was formed by a darling duo of musicians who merged artistically and romantically to bring us some truly charming acid-folk. Although, Sarah Cronin and Tommy Allen shy away from the cute-couple image, it is apparent in the music, interlaced between their harmonizing voices and hazy guitar riffs. In fact, the Cambridge, Massachusetts youngsters began playing together on their very first date as they sat in Tommy’s bed drinking whiskey. Young love! They have since added more band members and producers, Carter Tanton and Julian Cassanetti have helped to put a bit more rock into the equation. Let’s hope they’ve since found a new rehearsal space!

Things took a turn for Drug Rug when they where signed by Apollo Sunshine’s Jeremy Black to his Black and Greene label after catching their show. They have since played at The Bowery Ballroom during the CMJ Festival of 2007 and after their self-titled debut was released, they spent the month entertaining the young crowds holding court at Mercury Lounge. They recently returned to open for Dr. Dog.

The fuzzed out opener, “For The Rest of Your Life,” eases along like an old collectors car with enough pep to keep on going. “Winter Time” keeps it simple, and cheerfully chirps to a tune that is somewhat reminiscent of the childhood favorite, “Down By the Bay”. Raffi anyone? “Lie Lie Lie” offers an extra helping of folk served up with some scratchy and screechy vocals courtesy of Cronin, and “Walden” picks up the pace on the comparatively lo-fi album. Drug Rug is definitely a band to keep your eyes on.

Walden mp3
The Sound Alone mp3

For more information, check out Drug Rug's myspace page.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From Stage to Screen: Best and Worst Rock Star Cameo’s


1. David Bowie
He's afraid of Americans. I'm afraid of him. David Bowie is at his creepy best in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth playing the evil 80’s glam Goblin King. Bowie co-stars with scary Muppets, singing songs (like “Magic Dance”) while trying out some lanky dance moves and trying to seduce a 16 year-old Jennifer Connelly. I know its only Muppets and the Thin White Duke, but to this day I still can’t watch that movie.

2. Ringo Starr
As the pocket-sized conductor/song-smith on Shining Time Station, Ringo Starr took over the role from the equally as improbable casting choice, foul-mouthed comedian George Carlin. Maybe it was his drowsy Liverpoolean accent but Starr always seemed kind of stoned, and either way, for the man with the All Star Band it seemed like a sideways career move.

3. Keith Richards
It was either the ultimate pirate joke or the most redundant move ever. Over the past several years Keith Richards has started to look more and more like a swashbuckler. Due to drug use, non-stop partying for the last 49 years and the passing of time, Richard’s once sweet, boyish face has become grizzled and his hair a rat’s nest, unkempt with hanging bits and pieces. So does Richard’s cameo as Jack Sparrow’s (played by Johnny Depp) father in Pirates of Caribbean: At World’s End, mean the joke’s on us now?

4. Bob Dylan
With a hard to follow plot, some revolution is taking place in some totalitarian run government somewhere in the Southwest; Masked and Anonymous stars Bob Dylan as a washed up rock idol that comes out of exile to headline a benefit concert. Confused yet? Dylan doesn’t act, so much as look pensive and occasionally say things in his weathered voice, but he does perform some amazing new versions of songs like “Cold Irons Bound.” The perfect name for the film, Masked and Anonymous is just as mysterious as Dylan himself.


1. Pearl Jam
Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film, Singles, is as much about dating as it is Seattle’s grunge rock scene, and as itss crowning jewel, features cameos by Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. Not only does Pearl Jam perform in the film but they act, playing Matt Dillon’s band Citizen Dick, with drummer Eddie Vedder.

2. Iggy Pop
With jet black hair and even darker eyeliner, Iggy Pop is the greasiest of the greasers. As Uncle Ricketts in John Water’s wonderfully quirky and cult-status-worthy Cry Baby, Pop’s lip curling acting style manages to convey his own unique lust for life.

3. Placebo
Velvet Goldmine, the glittering film that pays tribute to 70’s glam rock, features a small musical and acting cameo by Placebo as The Flaming Creatures, a Roxy Music/Brian Eno-like band. Preferring impressions to ideas and dressed in leather underwear and sparkle eye shadow, lead singer Brian Molko performs an awesome cover of T. Rex’s 20th Century Boy.

4. Elvis Costello
About a group of people on the way to a New Year’s Eve soiree “trying to find love, happiness and cigarettes (IMDB),” 200 Cigarettes captures the journey to the most epic (and first) party of the year. And how better to start off 1981, but with a cameo by famous party guest Elvis Costello!?

5. Bob Dylan
With a hard to follow plot, some revolution in taking place is some totalitarian run government somewhere in the Southwest; Masked and Anonymous stars Bob Dylan as a washed up rock idol that comes out of exile to headline a benefit concert. Confused yet? Dylan doesn’t act, so much as look pensive and occasionally say thing in his weathered voice, but he does perform some amazing new versions of songs like “Cold Irons Bound.” The perfect name for the film, Masked and Anonymous is just as mysterious as Dylan himself. (Come on, it's Bob freakin' Dylan!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Live! The Ting Tings @ Terminal 5

Who says white people don’t like to dance? Last Monday night (March 16th, 2009) the floor of Terminal 5 was alive with a sea of bodies grooving to the pop sounds of the Ting Tings. In neon green sunglasses, Jules De Martino and Katie White dawning sparkling sky blue eye shadow and patterned art deco leggings, cat walked around the stage like models, playing a 45 minute set that could easily have doubled as a photo shoot. White’s perfected the rocker chick image, strumming her guitar and holding her microphone above her head striking a Statue of Liberty pose, beckoning the poor, the tired, and the hip.

But the Ting Tings were not all image. Playing the entire contents of the first—and only—album, their dance beats were infectious, a mix of Franz Ferdinand’s charging guitars and 80’s new wave electro-pop. White’s high pitched girly squeal combined with simple, lighting guitar riffs and a driving momentum had the crowd jumping. But nothing had the floor shaking more than the band’s singles, the second song of the night “Great DJ” and “Shut Up And Let Me Go,” which ended the first set. With easily repeatable choruses the crowd sung took up the nonsensical call, “And the girls ah ah ah . . . and the boys ah ah ah . . . and the strings e e e . . . and the drums (x4).”

At the end of the first set, the Ting Tings played an extended version of the album’s title track “We Started Nothing,” which featured a short musical reference to Talking Heads “Psycho Killer,” and four rainbow wigged hipsters to fill in as a brass section. The all female rainbow coalition of sound heralded out their parts in sharp blasts, or when not blowing revelry, promptly returned their hands to their hips, posing like an action league ready to fight crime.

The Ting Tings then returned to the stage for a brief two-song encore, closing with, “That’s Not My Name.” The band and crowd alike tired themselves out endlessly repeating , “That’s not my name,” the oddly feminist empowered chorus, and leaving behind no confusion as to what NOT to call the Barbie Doll-esque lead singer.
Opening for the Ting Tings was female rap group Hottub, who played dress-up, jumping around in a sequined pink party dress, hot pink leopard leggings and tribal eye makeup. But don’t be mistaken, these girls were anything but delicate. Like something out of the Riot Grrrl movement the three female MC’s paraded across the stage grabbing their crotches while shouting out songs like “M.A.N.B.I.T.C.H.” and raunchy, confessional lyrics, “I lost my cherry when I was 16.”

However shocking the lyrics, the raps were only mediocre and the beats loud and indistinguishable. Though the music wasn’t something to put on your IPod queue, their stage antics were radical. It was like performance art meets Gymboree, with the girls tackling each other on stage, falling down in heaps and then performing prone, air humping on the floor. Ambr33zy flashed her breasts and Loli Pop her jungle cat underwear, while both spit out mouthfuls of water at each other. In an effort to be closer to the crowd Co-Co Machete stood on an unstable crowd barrier maintaining her balance by alternately holding on to a concertgoers hand and leaning on a bouncer’s head, before jumping over it to dance with the crowd. Hottub’s performance got a mixed reaction (their sound itself just wasn’t that good) but hey kids, if the water’s too hot, get out the tub.

** If forgot my camera so for more pics of the show see PrefixMag.

5 Short Assessments for Your Tuesday Troubles!

Hello Music Fans! For this week's entry I have decided to present a few brief reviews of albums I've gotten my hands on recently. Some have not come out yet and some are just new to me. In addition, there is an MP3 with each album so you can get a wee little taste of what to expect.

Camera Obscura "My Maudlin Career"
(April 13, 2009 on 4AD)
Kudos to Camera Obscura for putting out another incredibly whimsical album. Each song is full of uncertainty and love. Tracyanne Campbell does an excellent job of inserting a degree of vocal innocence into each song. "Swans" has an extremely familiar melody ("Mr. Clean...Mr. Clean"?) and made my head bop back and forth on the subway. "James" seems like a direct letter to the one who she "thought [she] knew well" but instead "broke" her. The violins soar and the drums hum along with the melodies. It is lovely and makes the listener feel like spring is on the horizon.

Cursive "Mama, I'm Swollen" (2009 on Saddle Creek)
I started to listen to this album at about 8:20 AM. Big mistake. I am not saying it is not a good album but what I mean is that it is way too loud for a morning commute. Tim Kasher's vocals are as raw as ever. The melodies rise and fall in a sort-of Pixies fashion. The same battle topics present in Cursive's previous albums are still apparent: doubt, growing old and a dash of political awareness. "From the Hips" is the battle between being at one's best and at one's worst (a normative battle in the land of Cursive) while "Caveman" is all about the battle between moving on up in the world and staying put. As a whole, the album is a typical Cursive record and a good one at that.

The Decemberists "Hazards of Love" (March 24, 2009 on Capitol)
G-d Dammit, Decemberists, what are you doing with yourselves? In this release, the band tries to pick up where they left off with "The Crane Wife" (an album I am not too fond of besides a few high points-"Sons and Daughters," "O! Valencia" and "Summersong"). Instead of constructing an album with catchy melodies, like seen in the "Always a Bridesmaid" singles series, they shoot for the stars and fall short. All of these "preludes" and "interludes" read more like an ornate rock opera than a solid rock record. "The Rake Song" (the song released as a free download) is the only tune that does not falter off. But background melodies and "Alright"s are just too much. The next track "Annan Water" has really lovely guitars.

I am sorry Colin Meloy, I love your music (and your accent that I can never really place). But stop trying so hard. It would be much better if you would put out shorter records with a solid group of witty songs. Instead of a 17 song album half good songs and half filler tracks. Make an album like "Her Majesty" or "Picaresque" again. I know you can do it. Thank you.

Note 3/30/09: I listened to this album several more times recently and the truth is that I really like it. It is an album of mostly high points and only a few low points. I am not going to edit the content of my original review, I just wanted to make a note of my change of heart. So to the readers: Check out this album, give it more than one listen. Don't be so quick to judge, like I was.

Jessica Lea Mayfield "With Blasphemy So Heartfelt" (2008 on Polymer)
I have heard so much about this 20-year old singer-songwriter from Ohio on KEXP and WRSI (93.9 The River). But I always dismissed her because, of course, I rarely like female vocalists. But the other day I gave in and realized that Mayfield has something different to offer. Her songs are, as one reading the album title would imagine, incredibly heartfelt. Even the G-ds at Pitchfork liked this album - giving it a 8.2/10. It starts off soft with "Kiss Me Again." Her voice has a raw drawl, especially in "I Can't Lie to You, Love" and "The One That I Love Best." "We've Never Lied" is a tune about trying to correct and deal with a relationship that has gone sour. "You've Won Me Over" is a strong acoustic song outlining being around that person who knows all the right thing to say. But you are never sure if they are sincere or just has a tendency to " kiss all the girlies [he] know[s]." Each song on this album is perfectly suited for a different type of mix cd (ie. unrequited love, new love, friendship, broken relationships, etc).

M. Ward "Hold Time" (February 17, 2009 on Merge/4AD)
M. Ward strikes again with another heartfelt record and a great follow up to 2006's "Post War." His voice is raspy. His guitars are strum-tastic. The harmonies are reminiscent of camp-fire bliss. The single, "Never Had Nobody Like You" features Zooey Deschanel in all of her troubadour glory. In "Rave On," a Buddy Holly cover, Ward, as expected, injects his own special charm into the words and melody. "Stars of Leo" is another gem that discusses "pick me ups" and "bring me downs" in this crazy world. "Fisher of Men" is just the type of mountain-living song we would expect from M. Ward.

Keep the hits on coming, M. Ward. We love it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Synth Masterpiece: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is an example of a band with a very intriguing name, so intriguing that I decided to check out their self-titled album on a whim. Without any preconceived notions to what the band sounded like, who their influences were, or where they were from, I waited 15 minutes for the album to download to my hard drive and then spent the rest of day listening to all 10 songs on this lovely album.

The Pains are a New York-band with a sort of low-fi, 80s rock sound. The name of the band came from an unpublished children's' story written by a friend of front-man Kip Berman (according to their wikipedia page). They have been hailed by Stereogum as a band to watch. They have become a staple of KEXP and are currently playing at South by Southwest. By utilizing both female and male vocals and a variety of instruments - including synthesizer keyboards, the band is reminiscent of such groups as New Order and My Bloody Valentine, but with a bit more modernity.

They released their debut album in 2009 to Slumberland Records. It has been hailed by critics, including Pitchfork. "Come Saturday," the second track on their self-titled debut album, reminded me of 80s Brit Rock, like The Smiths without Morrissey's stand-out vocals. Other songs, like "Young Adult Fiction," have a happy-go-lucky synth-infused melody. "A Teenager in Love" is their most dance-tastic track. Its clap-along drum beat is easily recognizable over the boy/girl vocal styling. "Gentle Sons," the closing track, has a generous guitar solo and leaves a sense of desire in the ear of the listener.

When I told Jenna I was going to blog about this band, she said, "That band sounds emo! Is it?" That is a fair question. I respond, "No. Not really. Although the name does suggest a certain degree of 'emo-ness'." But the fact that their influences are placed largely in the 1980s make them a desirable band for anyone who appreciates a low-fi synth masterpiece, which is what I believe this album, and this band, evokes.

Check out the glory of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart for yourself with these mp3s...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Assessment: Dan Auerbach's Solo Album, Keep It Hid

Dan Auerbach has been quite busy since his latest album with The Black Keys, Attack & Release, dropped on April 1. On February 10, Keep It Hid snuck onto the scene leering and quickly marked its territory as a solo project that does not disappoint. The retro treasure was recorded at Auerbach’s home studio in Akron, Ohio. Laden with blues folk, the album opens with the acoustic, “Trouble Weighs A Ton”, before launching into the grittier sounds of psychedelic rock.

By the time “The Prowl” starts playing, you will probably have a bottle of whiskey in your hands and a swagger in your step. Auerbach menacingly croons, “I see you walkin’ after dark/ Trading looks with other men/ But I’m the only one you need/ And I know just where you’ve been” and you can practically picture him making eyes at you from across a smoky dive bar too late at night.

One of my favorites is the paranoid track, “When I Left The Room”. In a haunting whir of soulful psychedelia, Auerbach artfully laments a love affair gone rotten. He unapologetically moans, “But now her eyes foretell/ Only impending doom/ And I just wanna know/ What she said when I left the room.”

Although still a tad melancholy, “Goin’ Home” is more uplifting than its previous contenders. It rounds out the album with a comforting and familiar twang. Auerbach seems to have found a morsel of peace as he openly admits, “I want the sun to hit my face/ Through oak trees in the open lot/ Forget about the things you want/ Be thankful for what all you got.”

The Prowl mp3
When I Left The Room mp3
Mean Monsoon mp3

For more information check out Dan Auerbach's myspace page.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Video Killed The Radio Star: 6 Awesome Music Videos To Kick Start Your Weekend

When was the last time MTV played two music videos consecutively? When was the last time you saw a music video?
Since The Buggles first appeared on MTV the possibilities for music videos has grown, just look at Michael Jackson’s epic short feature and now soon-to-be Broadway musical, “Thriller” video. They come in many shapes and sizes, whether it’s exclusive backstage footage, band’s flexing their acting skills and playing dress up or an artful animation sequence. So here’s some vid picks, some old, some new, some borrowed (kinda, thanks for your suggestions girls, even if they didn’t make the cut) and some blue (or rather from the band that brought you the Blue album), for your viewing pleasure:

Fleet Foxes- White Winter Hymnal

The idea for this video is super cool, comparing the cycle of life to the round structure of the song, and besides, who doesn’t love claymation?!

A-Ha- Take On Me

One of my favorite videos ever, these pretty boys from Norway leap off the page.

Radiohead- Just

I LOVE this video! Conceptually brilliant, the unknown, possibly existential crisis combined with Radiohead’s abrasive jam is the work of genius.

The Strokes- Reptilia

If you don’t like The Strokes you may not like the video, but clean partial shots of a shoe, an eye, or a frenzied hand strumming guitar strings make for a visually aesthetic experience.
Favorite moment: As Julian sings: “Now every time that I look at myself,” curly headed Hammond Jr. slowly turns to face the camera, his eyes glancing upwards.

Weezer- Keep Fishin’

Known for their videos, the geeky 90’s rockers team up with the Muppets for a most sensational, inspiration, celebrational, Muppetational performance!

Loney Dear- Saturday Waits

In the style of photographer William Wegman, dogs dressed as human’s act out a tragic story of a relationship gone bad.

Appreciation! F**k My

Okay. Okay. I know I am a little behind sometimes when it comes to exciting new websites.  But I find myself newly obsessed with F**k My Life or FML.  

FML is a website where people submit short sentences complaining about real life events that warranted a "wtf!" or "are you serious?" response. Categories range from love to money to sex to work to miscellaneous. Each page is chock full of entries that will make you laugh hysterically out loud.  Who doesn't love to chuckle at another person's bad luck and affliction ? I know I do.   

Here are some examples of entries on FML: 
  • "Today my boss fired me via text. I don't have a text messaging plan. I paid $0.25 to get fired. FML." link
  • "Today I tried to prove to my dad that he snores by secretly putting a tape recorder under his bed. I soon found out that my parents had sex that night. Apparently my mom likes to talk dirty. FML."link
  • "Today my brother's new girlfriend, who is blind, asked to feel my face so she could tell what i look like. She said i was 'unique.' I got called ugly by a blind chick. FML." link

So go to the website. Maybe waste some time at work.  It will definitely be worth it. Just make sure not to laugh too loud because your co-workers will stare and you will be forced to answer with a resounding "FML!" 

Appreciation! La Blogothèque

In a hallway, in front of elaborate iron-worked windows and two green trash bins, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon leads his band in an acapella version of “For Emma,” off his debut album "For Emma, Forever Ago," clapping rhythm like a human metronome. Vernon tries and fails to open the door for building residents, vocalist/pianist Sean Carey then buzzes them in, bassist Mike Noyce smirks at Vernon’s ineptitude, Carey stoops to pet a friendly dog that runs over; throughout all of which the band never pauses in their acapella serenade. The long hallway, lit by a soft pink glow that seems to radiate off every surface, fills with beautiful three-part harmony. As the song winds down the camera pans to the other end of the entrance-way where a crowd has gathered to listen, and the same dog jumps playfully, looking to be pet.

No. 93 in an ongoing series of Les Concerts A Emporter or 'Take Away Shows,' this Bon Iver performance is one of my favorites. Produced by La Blogothèque, brainchild of Chryde and French indie filmmaker Vincent Moon, the artistically filmed live performances take music out of the concert halls and into the streets, literally. Bands play acoustic and/or acapella sets walking down the street, in parks, bars, apartments and even elevators!

The groups, with guitars strapped to their backs, portable percussion (maraca’s, a single drum) and vertically carried keyboards travel through quaint city backdrops and everyday soundscapes (birds, rushing traffic, surprised screaming fans a la The Kooks video) like bands of roving troubadours. In an I’m From Barcelona video, lead singer Emanuel Lundgren leads an unprompted ever-growing pedestrian chorus that follows behind him, like a pied piper of indie rock.

On Parisian boulevards lined with trees and in the interiors of architecturally aesthetic buildings an honest, clean sound is captured in continuous, single-takes, through a lens that makes the images appear to have been sepia-toned and then filled in with water colors. The minimalistic performances paired with facial close-ups, lends an authentic experience to online viewers, granting intimate access to your favorite bands. The only audience is the omniscient camera, or occasionally impromptu crowds of curious locals drawn in (as are we), by the music.

Started in Paris in April 2006, the project has now spread globally and involves other directors in addition to Moon, who shoot bands in locations around the world such as Jerusalem, Montreal and Austin, TX. Lykke Li, The National, Cold War Kids, Fleet Foxes, Bloc Party, Beirut, Margot and The Nuclear So & So’s, The Shins, Andrew Bird and many others have performed for the web outfit. For a full listing of bands and videos go here.

“Our goal is to try and capture instants, film the music just like it happens, without preparation, without tricks. Spontaneity is the key word.”

Other Favorite Performances (in no particular order):

Squeezed into an elevator, the 8-piece outfit still manages to churn out a heartfelt rendition of “Neon Bible,” off their album of the same title. The jigsaw puzzle of guitars, violins, brass instruments and bodies are fitted together in a claustrophobically tight space, making for an intimate performance venue. Band members bang on the ceiling and rip magazines, while bowing violins swell in a tide of emotion, producing a sound that the small space cannot contain. Or if that doesn’t do it for you, the sheer fact that the whole band with instruments fit in that elevator is a feat in itself!

The camera encircles the foursome in a gated courtyard/parking lot as they play acoustic guitars, a keyboard laid down on the concrete, and use dumpsters as a drum set. Surrounded on two-sides by the windows of high-walled apartment buildings, Ezra Koenig’s squeaky voice echoes and amplifies around the courtyard. Something about the open space and stripped down rendition of “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance” with big drum sounds and a simple guitar riff just works. Then almost like an afterthought the video cuts to the band walking single file down the street playing a minimalistic guitars/vocals/maracas version of “Oxford Comma.” The band’s sparse song stylings echo Moon’s single takes and shaky panning shots, the marriage of which is a match made in heaven . . . or maybe Cape Cod by way of Paris.

You don’t need to do much to make Fleet Foxes look and sound good. With their beautiful, ethereal harmonies and signature Pacific Northwestern flannel outfitting, the group was one of the best to break out 2008. What makes this video great is that Moon in fact doesn’t do much, using subtle filming techniques such as an enhanced dark/light color contrast, and strategically picked locations to compliment the band’s sound and image. A slowed, acapella version of the “Sun Giant” on a park lawn brings to the foreground the naturalistic imagery abundant in the lyrics, and the epic “Blue Ridge Mountains” is performed in a deserted, high-ceilinged area of the Grand Palais, an old palace that fills and echoes with their brazen saccharine voices.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rant: Down with the Encore

If you ask me, the encore is a tired and outdated process. The band has left the stage, the lights are darkened, and yet, the audience continues to shout and clap like those wind-up toy monkeys with brass cymbals. “Encore, encore,” the French word for “again,” can frequently be heard and you already know that the band is gonna come charging back onstage and play that hit song of theirs that they not so inconspicuously omitted from the set list. When a concert is over, I am ready to leave. If it’s a weekday, I am ready to hop on the subway and go home, and if it’s a weekend, I’m ready to head to the nearest bar. Besides, if a band is good enough, I’d like to think that the audience members will be satisfied, encore or no encore.

So, you can imagine my delight while at a Bon Iver concert at Town Hall a few months ago, when Justin Vernon announced that there would not be an encore. One fan was outraged and unleashed some gobbledygook about the failing economy and wanting to get his money’s worth. Yet, Bon Iver played practically every song, not only from For Emma, Forever Ago, but also from their new EP, Blood Bank. We were even treated to a cover of Sarah Siskind’s tragically beautiful, “Lovin’s For Fools”. I felt that my money was well spent and left feeling pleased with the show.

Other artists agree with me on this matter. The Strokes generally skip out on encores and Ben Folds once poked fun at the useless ritual as well, saying something along the lines of, “I’m coming back, but you should try to act surprised.” Spare our voice boxes the screaming and shouting and take it from Elvis. Leave the building.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Have You Heard? Julian Casablancas Featured on Lonely Island Comedy Album

While The Strokes are on hiatus (and currently recording their new album!), all five shaggy mop-tops; Albert Hammond Jr., Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture, Fabrizio Moretti, and Julian Casablancas, have been pursuing various musical side projects.

Hammond Jr. released his second album Como Te Llama?, Fraiture his first solo album The Time of Assassins under the name Nickel Eye, Moretti teamed up with Binki Shapiro and Los Hermanos singer/guitarist Rodrigo Amarante to form Little Joy and release a self-titled album, while Casablancas collaborated with Santogold and Pharrell Williams on “My Drive Thru” for a Converse ad campaign. Sadly no tunes from Valensi, who has spent his time off getting hitched and livin’ it large as a new dad.

And now the newest musical foray to come out of that unruly pit of New York garage rockers is somewhat unexpected. Casablancas rich syrupy vocals can be found on Incredibad, the debut album from The Lonely Island. The comedy trio made up by SNL cast member Andy Samberg and his two childhood friends, Akiva Schaffter and Jorma Taccone, just released their first album full of tracks such as “Dick In A Box” and “Jizz In My Pants,” that you’ll recognize if you’re a fan of SNL’s Digital Shorts. Casablancas guest stars on “Boombox,” Samberg’s Flo-Rida-like slow jam about the powerful effects a boom box can have on a bunch of white people. In his liquid-gravel voice Casablancas intones the songs evolving hook, “Everything got out of control. The music was so entrancing. Everyone got out on the floor. It was a bunch of all white people dancin’.”

The song is pretty funny and for some reason Samberg has an obsession with people eating boiled goose, but it’s worth listening to for Casablancas deep, mournful crooning. Especially stick it out to the very end, where he wails an ominous warning like a true 80’s power balladeer, “A boom box is not a toyyy!”

So break yourself off some boiled goose and listen to this:

(Plus) Coming Soon To A Blog Near You: Take It Or Leave It: A Comprehensive Guide to The Strokes Side Projects

Assessment! Lily Allen

God likes folksy Southern rock.
At least that is, according to Lily Allen.

On her second, more introspective album, It’s Not Me It’s You, Allen moves beyond conversations in the pub, to ruminate on more serious issues such as prescription drug abuse, family relationships, and metaphysical musings about God. “Him” asks some not-so-big-picture questions like, “Come election time who do you think He would he vote for?” and “Do you think He’s any good at remembering names?” and even definitively announces, “His favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival.” (God Are You There? It’s Me Proud Mary.)

Don’t let the subject matter fool you though; Allen’s private life in song is largely set to a dance soundtrack that puts the boogie first and pain second. Just as on her first album Alright, Still, Allen’s upbeat sound and sweet voice coat a bitter commentary, “So your daughters depressed, we’ll get her straight on the Prozac, but little do you know she already takes crack.” The world through Lily Allen’s big brown eyes is sometimes pessimistic, but listening to her school girl voice, you can’t help skipping through the tarnished landscape with a smile.

The album’s standout track is her first single “The Fear” with a disco dance beat and colorful electronic groove that recalls sounds of Joy Division. The song is a sharp, acerbic commentary on the celebrity and fame obsessed culture that has used her as tabloid fodder, from the opening line, “I want to be rich and I want lots of money,” to a later observation, “Life’s about film stars and less about mothers/ It’s all about fast cars and cussing each other/But it doesn’t matter because I’m packing plastic/And that’s what makes my life so fucking fantastic.”

And like in the video for this single, on her sophomore effort, Allen releases her personal burdens like a bundle of brightly colored balloons. She exposes her relationships, beliefs and sexual desires as unabashedly as she once exposed her now famous third nipple.

In “Back To The Start” video game-esque noises offer repentance for past mistakes and a plea to start fresh with her older sister, and “He Wasn’t There,” the album’s closing swinging jazz ditty, details her troubled past with her father.

Even more confessional is “Not Fair,” a twangy country two-stepper in which Allen repeatedly laments, “You never make me scream,” to a man who apparently never heard the wisdom Alec Baldwin had to offer in the film Outside of Providence, “Making sex is like a Chinese dinner: It ain't over 'til you both get your cookies.”
And speaking of Chinese food, this album marks a distinct change in attitude, as on tracks like “Chinese,” Allen has calmed down her party-girl life style to spend a night in watching TV and eating take-out.

In this same Adele, Sara Bareilles female singer/songwriter style, “Who’d Have Known,” is about a friendship that unexpectedly turns into something more, as she shyly sings with a giggle in her voice, “And today you accidentally, called me baby.”Allen not only broadens her lyrics, but her music style, moving beyond a pop/reggae hook to electro-synth pop, piano rock, and Slavic accordion beats (“Never Gonna Happen”).

It’s Not Me, It’s You sounds like one of the boldest break-up lines I’ve ever heard, and in the way the album does chronicle a break-up. Not only of Allen with her former live-in boyfriend Ed Simons of the Chemical Brothers (“I Could Say”- I’m only assuming), but with the pigeon-holing media and her cynical attitude. The album presents a more mature Allen, who’s self-assured, but not completely lacking the signature feisty, fuck you approach (literally naming one Carpenter’s inspired, 70’s pop sounding song “Fuck You”) that made us all love her so much in the first place. Truer to the name than Madonna, Lily Allen’s album is full of Confessions on [the] Dance Floor.

And a personal note to my fellow lady bloggers: Goonies Never Say Die!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Appreciation! Painfully Hip

Thrifting is not for everyone. Some people get skeeved out sorting through racks upon racks of fashion rejects, sweatshirts that were given out for free at bar mitzvahs, and clothes that were donated because their original owners are now dead. I am not one of those people, and neither is Amber Mortensen, the creator of

Amber started the site to ward off boredom while working for a sound studio for film and television in Vancouver, BC. She picked up and moved to Sacramento where she freelanced for News & Review, owned her own graphic design business, and occasionally hit the catwalk, modeling for local fashion shows. Now Amber can be found anywhere and everywhere. She has been traveling to her heart’s content, stopping every now and then to sing and strum her ukulele or rummage through the racks in the most fantastic of vintage stores.

Since then, fellow posters, such as Diana and Eve, have joined Amber and together they have helped Painfully Hip live up to its namesake. The site features topics such as thrift star of the day, which allows readers to send in photos of their own adorable outfits, as well as posts about new trends they are loving, and tips from the experts about how to make the most of your thrifting experience. There is even an interview with the always gorgeous Watson Twins who happen to be avid thrifters as well. Who knew?

For those of you who have felt the thrill of finding a designer bag with a $6 price tag attached to it, this site is for you. And it’s for you, holding up that blazer you found in the little boy’s section, thinking, “I can do something with this.” And it’s most definitely for you, wearing your parent’s old clothes from the 60’s and striking a painfully hip pose.

Beauty is pain, so read up.

*Special thanks to Amy Newhall for our thrifting adventures in Westcott and for showing me this site.

Appreciation! KEXP, the radio station to end all radio stations

One of the main ways I get through the work day is by listening to some sweet tunes. More often than not, my soundtrack for the day is a live online stream of KEXP. KEXP is a Seattle-based listener supported radio station that plays alternative, independent and eclectic music, like Harvey Danger, Kings of Leon, The Long Winters, Interpol, The Hold Steady, My Morning Jacket and TV on the Radio.

KEXP began in 1972, broadcasting from the University of Washington campus. Since then it has grown from a 10-watt to a 720-watt award-winning radio station with fans and supporters all over the world.

John Richards (aka. John in the Morning) and Cheryl (the afternoon show DJ) not only present an amazing playlist but provide the listener with an adequate amount of on-air banter. Sometimes sharing a bit too much information, the DJs seem to truly care about the music and the artists they play all day long.

Their website is truly expansive and features a live playlist, a blog (with live show reviews and band profiles), a donations page, concert calendar and information about its djs (even pictures of John Richard's son, Arlie). In addition to regular programming, there are frequent on-air Live at KEXP performances, countdown lists (like the Top 90.3 albums of 2008 and Top 903 albums of all time).

Although they focus on a lot of Northwestern bands, like Point Juncture, WA and Elks, KEXP also has a connection to New York. John in the Morning can be heard on 91.5 Radio NY from 9-12 a.m. Recently a program called To The Five Boroughs was launched. Also hosted by John Richards, it is broadcast from Radio NY's Brooklyn studio and features music from local New York bands old and new.

The beauty of KEXP is its interactivity. If you request a song, chances are they will play it (or at least respond to your inquiry). Also (and probably most importantly), KEXP serves as one of my main resources of finding new and interesting music, usually via the KEXP "Song of the Day" podcast. This free podcast features a song each day, selected by the DJs and staff that they deem as a standout. Some of the bands featured on the podcast have been Neko Case, Nada Surf, Miles Anthony Benjamin Robinson, The Gaslight Anthem and Ra Ra Riot.

Now here is a list of 15 bands I have recently discovered by listening to KEXP (with links to their respective myspace pages):
  1. Airborne Toxic Event link
  2. A.C. Newman link
  3. The Bird and the Bee link
  4. The Boy Least Likely To link
  5. Deer Tick link
  6. Elvis Perkins link
  7. The Felice Brothers link
  8. J. Tillman link
  9. MGMT link
  10. Noah and the Whale link
  11. Parts and Labor link
  12. Plants and Animals link
  13. The Rosebuds link
  14. School of Seven Bells link
  15. Vetiver link
This week they are doing one of their tri-annual membership drive. I donated $15. I will be getting a membership card and a free bumper sticker. How much will you donate today?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Top 5: Songs for a Snow Day

The snow is a beautiful thing, especially when it lets you stay home from work and/or school. It is like a mini-vacation from life where you can sleep late and stay in PJs all day long.  Even though it only lasts a day, it is a wonderful time to take a moment away from the daily grind and lay back.  Here is a list of 5 songs perfectly suited for that type of wintery day:  

1.  The Arcade Fire "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" mp3
"And if the snow buries my neighborhood/ and if my parents are crying/ then I'll dig a tunnel from my window to yours." 
Arcade Fire are originally from Montreal and have some pretty wintery songs.  Win Bulter's roaring vocals along with the violins set up this song that conveys that "snowed in feeling" of childhood (or adult-hood).  It is that feeling where all you want to do is meet up with friends at a local hill and sled down over and over again. With wind in your hair and frost on your face, it is a time to make everlasting memories. 

2.  Interpol "Obstacle 2" mp3
"I'm gonna hold your face and toast the snow that fell/ because friends don't waste wine when there's words to sell." 
Typically Interpol is one of those "rainy" bands and not in the "snowy" bands category.  But this song reminds me of that type of snow that happens in college: classes are canceled and friends gather to take advantage of the mid-week snow day by, often, enjoying a few cocktails.  Paul Banks seems to be no stranger to those wine-filled days. And his voice is a perfect match for the mood of the song which is mysterious and devoid of all responsibility.   

3.  Honorary Titled "Snow Day" mp3
"Please let the snow swallow the streets whole./ Keep the bus from coming./ Let us stay home/ so we can avoid the daily drudgery." 
The night before the possible snow day is often the hardest. In sleep, you hope that the snow will be enough to cancel whatever plans you have for the next day. Hopefully you will be able to stay in bed all day and drink hot chocolate as you watch the snow slowly falling outside your window.  This song holds on to that hopeful feeling.  

4.  Stars "Heart" mp3
"You disembark the latest flight from paradise./ You almost turn your ankle in the snow./ You fall back into where you started/ make up words to song you used to know."
Stars is another Canadian band that has so many songs about love and winter, but this is one of the strongest.    The dual vocals are just like two hopeful lovers meeting on a snowy evening, engaging in conversation that in the past never seemed to match up.  But suddenly they get it and realize they really are "still in love" with each other.  All it took was one snow-flaky evening.   

5.  Jimmy Eat World "Crush" mp3
"Faintest snow keep falling, falling/ Yeah/ Hands around your waist./ Nameless, standing cold, standing cold...My lungs are so numb from holding back." 
Jimmy Eat World really knows how to write and execute songs that hold on to a specific feeling. It was never done better than on 1999's album "Clarity." This song has always been one of my favorites. It outlines the evening where the slow snow is the main characteristic of an evening. It always makes things more magical.  As the cold air seeps into the lungs, words are harder to come back and every sentence must be chosen carefully as not to waste one breath on pointless words.