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Month: July 2011

Knowin’ that this (stuff)’s gotta run! It’s gotta run!

So I’ve been getting back in shape after 1.5 years of what I will euphemistically call “productive desk-sitting.” Changed up my diet (less Taco Bell, more Shakeology), started working out again (can I get a grunt for P90X?!?!) and, most ambitiously, started running.

I used to get all my running in from playing Ultimate Frisbee, but I’ve been out of that for a couple years now. So after getting up my guts by running with some friends, I’ve set out upon a course that will hopefully take me through a half-marathon on Thanksgiving. This is probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever tried (other than that time I tried to start a magazine or whatever).

So I’ve needed some music. On the road trip that I’m still currently on, I’ve been rocking the bootleg of LCD Soundsystem’s last show at Madison Square Garden. (I don’t think it’s on Spotify, which makes me happy; but that’s a different post.) If you haven’t heard this, you’re just in the wrong. It’s almost three hours long, and LCD just goes for it on every song. “Yeah” and “Losing My Edge” together are almost twenty minutes of music, which is perfect for my two-mile runs. (The title of this post comes from “Yeah,” incidentally.)

James Murphy is probably one of the best motivators in the world: he absolutely loses his mind as he’s yelling “YEAH!” dozens of times. And in “Losing My Edge,” there’s a extra background vocal bit right when Murphy starts screaming out band names, accompanied by a drum freakout, which results in adrenaline infusion.

“Tribulations” and “Movement” are also killer run tracks, although “Movement” makes me want to run much, much faster than I can currently sustain. I’ll write a full review of the album (I’m counting it as an album) soon.

If you’re not up for LCD Soundsystem (I feel for you, truly), Chris Lawhorn of RunHundred sent over a list of ten tracks that users voted on as the best running tracks of 2011 so far. RunHundred is a running music community, and it’s pretty sweet. I’ll be hitting it up a lot in the next four months. Without further ado:

105 BPM – Adele – “Rolling In The Deep (Jamie XX Shuffle)”
122 BPM – Jason Derulo – “Don’t Wanna Go Home”
125 BPM – Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream (Kaskade Remix)”
127 BPM – Deadmau5 – “Sofi Needs A Ladder”
128 BPM – Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera – “Moves Like Jagger”
129 BPM – Cee Lo Green – “Fuck You (Le Castle Vania Remix)”
129 BPM – LMFAO – “Party Rock Anthem”
129 BPM – Pitbull, Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer – “Give Me Everything”
130 BPM – Tiesto, Diplo & Busta Rhymes – “C’mon (Catch ‘Em By Surprise)”
150 BPM – Avril Lavigne – “What The Hell”

Not super indie, but there is a Deadmau5 track! More interesting is the several remixes, proving that particular music method is becoming more and more important.

So run on, indie world. Run on.

Odds'n'ends: Concert and mail

I missed posting yesterday because of the triple bill at Tulsa’s Eclipse: Brother Rabbit, The Fox and the Bird, and The Duke of Norfolk. Tulsa’s Brother Rabbit featured siblings (real or claimed), covers of “House of the Rising Sun” and Mumford & Sons, and a wide-ranging indie-rock sound that could use some focus. From Bright Eyes-esque country rock to southern rock to instrumental post-rock to Parachutes-era Coldplay pop, the quartet covered a great deal of ground. Their male/female vocals and instrumental skill say to me that they could be quite successful if they pared down their scope and honed in on a smaller set of skills. It was enjoyable set that made me wonder how good they’ll be in two albums.

The Fox and the Bird, on the other hand, are laser-guided. Their vocal-heavy country/folk would make Fleet Foxes jealous: at times, all six band members were singing in harmony. With a small army of smile-inducing instruments (ukelele, bass ukelele, banjo, fiddle, trumpet, etc.), the band produced a warm, inviting set. Each of the vocalists that took the mic for lead were fantastic, allowing the songs to be vital and impassioned. They walked throughout the audience for their last tune, making the set even more electrifying. There is nothing like having the members of a band inches from you, singing their hearts out. I bought a CD and a poster, the former of which will be reviewed soon. The Fox and the Bird put on the best set of folk that I’ve seen this year.

The Duke of Norfolk was great too. His new EP Nightingale comes out next Tuesday, so he played many of the tunes from it. I produce his music, so I won’t lavish any more praise on it here, but it was a great end to the evening.

Also cool in the world: Snail Mail My E-mail. From July 15 to August 15, a group of people headed up by artist Ivan Cash are writing out the e-mail that you send to by hand and mailing a letter to the person of your choice. It looks really, really cool – it appeals to my love of analog things, as well as my passion for words. Check it out, but do it quick!

Here's your video hookup

Independent Clauses is pretty much your Hoodie Allen clearing house. Thankfully, this new Hoodie video is much less confusing than that other one that one time. This time he just looks supremely uncomfortable at a raging house party cause he can’t get to the prettiest girl in the room. I think we have all felt this pain before. But then… well, just watch the vid. It’s cool, and the song is smooth as well. His mixtape Leap Year drops tomorrow. And yes, there will be a review.

This is also pretty much your Josh Caress fanblog, so this gorgeous live session rendering of “Follow the Firelight” is a must.

The world gets bigger and smaller when you’re deep into a subject: Even though Football, etc.‘s tour video doesn’t have the band It’s a King Thing in it (as far as I can tell), the phrase appears twice on a wall (big!). Also, they go through Oklahoma City, which until recently was my stomping grounds (small!).

Quick Hits: Nikki Lane

Nikki Lane‘s Gone, Gone, Gone EP is about as good a primer on old-school country as I could ask for, and about as solid an introduction as an artist can give.

The title track is an ominous, spaghetti Western-inspired piece that showcases Lane’s husky, gritty alto voice. The guitar reverb is dark and a tad malicious, which makes the lyrics of leaving all the more cutting. “Western Bound” sees her voice in a higher register, invoking drawling, old-time country divas. It’s the most immediate of the four, with charming pedal steel. “Down to the Wire” is a straight-up Western swing tune, to make Bob Wills proud. I felt wrong not dancing to this tune about drinkin’, which features Lane’s voice in the higher register again.

“Comin’ Home to You” shows her voice with the most character on the EP, as she drops affectation and just lets it be. It’s an arresting one, and full of grit and turns and pockmarks, and while the songwriting is impressive, it’s Lane’s voice that sticks out at the end of the ten-minute EP. I can see Lane going quite far with both of those elements in her pocket. One to watch.

Phratry Week: Terminal Orchestra

The last post in Phratry Week covers the quietest material the Cincinnati label puts out: the contemporary classical/acoustic post-rock of The Terminal Orchestra. “Contemporary classical” is a foreign phrase to most indie rock listeners, but “acoustic post-rock” means pretty much the same thing, but with some context.

A telling fact: this sextet lists one person (Anna Eby) dedicated solely to “bells.” Other credited instruments include violins, bowed stand-up bass, and classical guitar. This is not your normal band, and the music they release is not your average sound.

The strings play a large part in making up the sound, being on par with the acoustic guitar in the melody duties. Composer Jesse DeCaire is credited with guitars, percussion and conducting/arranging, and while there are percussive elements (“Fall Song”), the first and the third are the primary items of importance.

The Seasons is eight songs long: a song for each season, with an introduction/interlude preceding each one. DeCaire chose to represent the seasons as an ode to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as it “is situated in just the right place, geographically, to allow for four distinct seasons.”

“Summer Song” is the first of the seasons, and it’s a portrait of a lazy summer instead of a hyperkinetic one. It’s a touch on the morose side for what I envision of the hottest season, but it’s a pretty song nonetheless. The waltzing middle part does evoke summer nights extremely well.

“Interlude No. 1” is a walk through crunchy leaves that leads into “Fall Song,” which is surprisingly martial. It has a bit of an ominous feel to it; I suppose that with a brutal winter coming on, fall in Michigan must feel a little bit foreboding (in Oklahoma, it’s the most anticipated season of the year). The guitar and strings interlock nicely here. There are no vocals in The Terminal Orchestra, but the acoustic guitar takes up the melody mantle.

A desolate, cold wind blowing starts off “Interlude No. 2,” which leads into “Winter Song,” the bleakest of the compositions. The violin takes a lead role here, shuttling the listener through the slow, pensive piece. This is the winter I know: the song goes on for eight minutes without very much variation in tone. The soloing violin keeps the interest level up, but it’s definitely a bleak winter.

And then, finally, it’s time for “Spring Song,” which is 15 minutes long (the whole album is only 40 minutes long). If I was going to visit the Upper Peninsula, I would certainly do so in the spring, because DeCaire’s musical transcription of it is the most beautiful of all his pieces. Adding a rumbling tom into the guitar/violin duology, the hopeful song sounds similar to some of Josh Caress’ earlier works. Caress used to live up there in Michigan, so it’s not surprising that the two have a kinship. The song still has a fair bit of sad to it before the optimistic conclusion, but perhaps that’s just life up in Michigan. Or maybe that’s just spring.

Fans of Balmorhea, first-album Bon Iver and orchestration will find much to love in Terminal Orchestra’s The Seasons.

Phratry Week: State Song

Phratry‘s State Song has one of the strangest RIYLs I’ve ever seen: The Shins, Sunny Day Real Estate and Ziggy Stardust. I almost entirely disagree with The Shins reference, as there is nothing quirky, warm or bubbly about Dear Hearts & Gentle People whatsoever. Even when I sub in Death Cab for Cutie (a more appropriate RIYL), that’s still one of the weirdest lists ever.

But they are all real elements of State Song’s sound. The modus operandi of State Song’s members is to make songs that have the intensity and aesthetics of rock songs, but the drama and melodies of pop songs. The mix also skews more toward the vocal-centric engineering of pop music. The band that most closely appropriated this style was Deja Entendu-era Brand New, making that album the ultimate (if a bit esoteric) RIYL. Tunes like “4-6prn” move from from nuanced, quiet pop songs to an all-out rock attack, capped off by the mournful roar of Scot Torres.

Torres has the sort of voice I adore. His is on the high end of baritone, so he can ratchet up to a mindblowing intensity without succumbing to a whiny tone.  His comfortable range is somewhere around where most people talk, but he can command a muscly tone that borders on a scream (“Highway Machine (Loud Version)”) when he wants to make a point. But when he’s just singing comfortably, his voice sounds weary and real (“Skeleton Key”). If the voice is what makes pop music, he’s got a voice to make it happen.

The songs are brilliant as well; from the emo-rock of opener “Blank Lake” to the supremely Death Cab-esque chill of “The Concierge,” the songs are instantly enjoyable. In addition to its immediacy, it has staying power: It’s a rare album where each song reveals its own wonders, while still hanging together in a cohesive mood. “Houses” drops in some synths that create great atmosphere before the song explodes into throat-shredding, distortion-crushing angst. Then it goes back. “Dig” sounds like a tougher Bright Eyes, which is a huge compliment from over here.

Dear Hearts & Gentle People is an excellent album. Not much rock has impressed me this year, as it’s all just the same old same old.  But State Song‘s ten-song collection brings vitality to their songwriting and thus is currently sitting atop the list of “best rock in 2011.” Fans of Brand New will be all over this. Can we get the bands on tour together? Kthx.

Phratry Week: Mad Anthony

Out of all the releases in Phratry Week, the most surprising one is Mad Anthony‘s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal, which is actually not speed metal. That would have been somewhat inside Phratry’s considerably varied oeuvre, but instead they throw listeners a loop and release an album by a four-on-the-floor garage rock outfit.

Honestly, the most outsidery thing on the album is the demonic picture on the cover, which is another reason I thought it might actually be Slayer-inspired. Nope. This is every rock band you like. Jim Morrison, Danzig, Toadies, Misfits, Fugazi, Electric Six, The Clash, The Police, new wave, lo-fi, and garage rock all get shout-outs in the press quotes. I have no idea what half of these people are hearing, but that’s the beauty of Mad Anthony (and of rock in general): people hear different parts.

I mostly hear the connections to early 2000s garage rock revivalism, as “Naugahyde” is pretty much a song by The Vines (man, what happened to them?). “Uphill Both Ways” has early Strokes connections, while “Soul” and “Strangest Dream” have a First Impressions of Earth-era sound going on. The roaring, low vocals are chock full of attitude, which only lends credibility to the sound.

These songs are fist-pounding, headbanging rock’n’roll. The melodies are great, the band is tight, and the overall cool is top-notch. Each of these songs stand on their own, but “Beautiful Daughter” and “The Solution to the Indian Problem” rank high in my book. Mad Anthony’s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal does have one thing in common with the rest of the Phratry releases: it’s written by guys who did their homework and are subsequently on top of their game.

Phratry Week: LKN/Knife the Symphony

Knife the Symphony is my favorite Phratry band (well, except maybe newcomers State Song, which you’ll hear about tomorrow). Their furious, frantic, atypical take on punk rock is pretty much what keeps me from feeling that punk is dead. Their choice of LKN as a split partner (on a split titled Split) makes perfect sense, as her angular take on music fits in with Knife the Symphony’s oeuvre.

LKN is Lauren Kathryn Newman, a Pacific Northwest DIY everything with an extensive discography. My first introduction to her comes via “Set Intro,” which establishes her as a jazzy, atmospherically-minded songwriter with a rock bent. It’s pretty cool.  “Roll the Bones” ups the ante, as it’s a rattle-trap indie-rock tune with a barely-submerged punk energy and attitude.

After a mathy, pattern-heavy turn in “July 5, 2008” (this woman can do everything), she finally synthesizes all her parts into the brutal, fascinating “Sign My Cast.” Everything that LKN had kept controlled in the previous three tunes comes exploding out: her calm voice becomes a raging, atonal wail; and the dissonant punk guitar that had been simmering beneath the surface becomes malicious. It is the sound of a woman unhinged. We need more of this in the punk rock world.

“Cha Cha” is another rhythmic, patterned indie-rocker with rumbling punk undertones. And then, just because LKN wants to mess with you, “You Are My Best Friend” is an emotional piano and voice piece. Expectations = subverted. Did I mention that she played all the instruments on every track?

After that whirlwind of a side, it’s time for Knife the Symphony’s three contributions. Their thirteen minutes start off with fifty seconds of squalling distortion before dropping into one of the tightest sections of rock/punk they’ve ever set to tape. It’s songs like “Squatting Warrior” that make it clear why people of lesser aspirations invented pop-punk; the song is so tightly written that it sounds like some sort of pop song. KTS isn’t bashing for the sake of bashing: These guys are talented instrumentally and have developed an incredible chemistry. The guitar, bass and drums lock together perfectly to lay a frantic, perfect foundation for the male yelling.

KTS is tighter in general on this split, eschewing dissonant slabs for a direct, punchy sound. The bass and guitar on  “On Your Knees” might as well be one instrument, as it’s impossible to tell them apart; the separated drumming seems engineered to point out the incredible guitar interactions. The band does let things space out on “Flat Time,” however, dedicating the bulk of the 7-minute run time to a section that drops to almost silence. It’s pretty much a ’80s emotional hardcore revival.

I’ll say it again: KTS is tight on this release. These are the most arresting pieces the band has yet produced, because the members have distilled their rage into meaningful, memorable bits while still pushing outward to new sounds. Ah, screw it: KTS is still my favorite Phratry band.

Phratry Week: The United Sons of Toil

Rare is the person who likes everything that Phratry puts out; that’s why there a billion different blogs in the world. Although I love The United Sons of Toil‘s name, their also-excellently-titled When the Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful is just alright to me.

It’s certainly not bad. When The Revolution is nine tracks of straightforward, heavy rock with dissonance (not just distortion, but actual dissonance). “Sword of Damocles” has a twitchy opening guitar bit that is very cool; the uber-heavy “The Contrition of the Addict” is enjoyable for its pounding wall of sound and screamed refrain “We want to wake!” “State-Sponsored Terrorism” sounds like MeWithoutYou post-hardcore, which is always appreciated.

The lyrics and liner notes are the best part of the release; thanks to the wonderful site Bandcamp, you can read them all. I would recommend it (especially “State-Sponsored Terrorism”), even if you don’t like heavy, wall-of-sound rock. I think they’re spot-on with their political theories.

Phratry Week: Swear Jar

Although not the loudest of the Phratry bands, Swear Jar still packs quite a wallop. The basic idea from the band is yanked from that time in the early ’80s to the late ’90s when punk rock became a true art form: let’s play loud, fast and hard, but not necessarily the way everyone expects us to.

Swear Jar’s punk rock never slips into musical pretension, which is to say it imagines ’98-now never happened. There are still good old punk rock sections (“Blinders”), but there are also sections of straight-up noise (“Sasquatch”), spoken-word post-hardcore (“Bad News”),  and lots more.

It’s the atypical rhythms and the bass that make Cuss the fantastic trip it is. Just when you think you know where a Swear Jar song is going, it’s not going that direction anymore. The drums have changed on you, or the bassist has gone nuts in a new way.

The metallic edge and “turn that way up, man” volume of the bass guitar in the mix makes for an arresting sound that doesn’t appear often anymore. Since there’s only one guitar in this band, the bassist has a distortion pedal on hand to take the rhythm guitar bits when the guitar is “soloing” (“On the Prowl”). In “Lonely,” it sounds like the bass is leading the sound and the guitar just there for rhythm. The interplay between the three members of the band is fascinating: see hyperkinetic “Rastallica” for all you ever wanted to know about band chemistry.

Here’s a note to prove the quality of this album: all of these examples come from the first half of the disc. Yeah. This band knows what’s up. If you’re a fan of serious punk rock (i.e. people who disagree that Green Day ever existed), Cuss should be a smorgasbord of delights.