Monday, November 30, 2009

Banging Around

Some albums I've been meaning to throw up here.

The XX is a British band which has been on the radar for a couple months. Impressive album from a young band. Reserved, intricate - they push limits at just the right moments.They have a true touch for when to ease in and when to lay it on. They have a lot of the funky syncopated rhythms of bands like Phoenix, but the guitar is a dead ringer for Modest Mouse and the echoey, hollowed out sounds remind me a great deal of the Walkmen. But put that all together with a female lead vocalist, some dark lyricism and extremely particular production.

Second up The Dodos. Three guys (used to be two until they added a vibraphone player) with a propensity for African polyrhythms and folk music. It's a nice combination to say the least. You might say, well isn't that just Vampire Weekend without the amps? No, because the Dodos have been around longer than Vampire Weekend. So there.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have that huge, full stage Polyphonic Spree kind of thing going on. Except without the weird hippy cult aspect and their music is better. It's more Arcade Fire, if the Arcade Fire came from LA instead of Canada. It's a lot brighter, sunnier - very conducive to trips across the desert and singing at loud volumes. Fun tunes.

Last but not least - Bear in Heaven has released a pretty overwhelming album. The music is half Interpol, half My Bloody Valentine. There are very poignant, spare sounds that kind of punctuate the songs, but they come jumping out from behind a big wall of sound. It makes for an unusual mix - you would think the subtle, ambient stuff would get lost, but it manages to stand alone in its way until they decide it's time to put everything together, and then the whole thing just knocks you over. It's intimidating.

The xx
The Dodos - Time to Die
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - From Below
Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Way Trippier than Melville

You're looking at the self-titled debut album of Moby Grape, the 1967 San Francisco critical darlings that time seems to have forgot. As one commenter put it, "The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad-luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less."

This album is equal parts CSNY, late-1990's Beck and 60's Motown. I realize how ridiculous that sounds but it just flat out has to be heard. The only "hit" on here is a song called Omaha which the Boss has been known to cover occasionally and which charted all the way up to #88. Other standouts include "Come in the Morning," "Hey Grandma," and the beautifully short ballad "Naked, If I Want To" (only 58 seconds).

Accolade-wise, the rock press has always been and continues to be very kind to both the band and in particular this album, which ranked #121 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The band's become more well known of late for in-fighting and litigation, but it's worth noting that they did in fact perform at the infamous 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, during which The Who smashed their instruments and Hendrix notoriously lit his guitar on fire during an odd sacrificial ritual.

Round 2

I threw this up here a few months back, but DC's main MC has just released his debut album and Wale is not going to miss his shot. This guy has been grinding it out in DC for years and he definitely has something to prove. Prove it he does. He draws a bit more from the Lupe Fiasco school of hip hop - smoother story-telling, somewhat more conscientious and abstract - than from the traditional top 40 radio stuff. But he has his moments of flashy cars and fashion labels and whatnot. Some lyricists just sound like they're working for it - he does not. On Mirrors in particular, you are with him every step of the way, same on Shades. Very tight, clean stuff with some excellent production from folks like Mark Ronson, TV on the Radio, and Pharrell. The backup lyrics on Pretty Girls is straight 70s smooth jazz, while Shades takes me right to a Mary J Blige 90s track - but it's all current, fresh and funky as hell. You don't hear a lot of hip hop artists working with staccato, syncopation and really using the off beats to their advantage, but he really plays with pacing, pauses and open space. It's impressive - dude has a style.

Attention Deficit

Saturday, November 14, 2009


(The third and fourth tracks will hook you)

I have been to a few live shows in my time. I generally avoid the opening act - by and large this has been an appropriate plan of action. There have been a few exceptions - the Cool Kids, Fujiya and Miyagi. tUnE-YaRdS takes the cake. Not only was this the best opening act I have ever seen - the Dirty Projectors had an extremely tough act to follow, they may have come up short. tUnE-YaRds is essentially just Merrill Garbus - a woman with a voice so incomprehensible, you actually spend a lot of time trying to understand where all those sounds come from. During the set, you could see the audience go from, "What the fuck is this," to "Wow, who the fuck is this?

To begin with, her voice is a cross between Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin and Fela Kuti (with some Prince thrown in for good measure). She borrows a lot from African and Reggae traditions in her singing. But when you listen to this music you absolutely must keep one thing in mind - she is the ONLY one singing, producing, percussing, strumming. She does the whole thing. To watch live is essentially to watch her record the album anew. She sings some background vocals and records them, then does some percussion and records it, then adds a little something oddball and records it, then mixes it all together and the song begins. It's nuts. Not to mention, wait for it, her main instrument is an ELECTRIFIED UKULELE. Not only does she play it magnificently, but you find yourself wondering why she was the first to think of it. To be fair, she has a bassist, but he is really just a dude that stands in the background.

Unfortunately the album, which she recorded herself on a digital voice recorder, does not nearly compare to the live version. With that in mind though, I cannot say enough about the live experience. Blew my mind.

With that in mind: More

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Boy Crisis

Courtesy of Josh Holland

"As the story goes, sometime around the summer solstice of 1982, a meeting was called in the secret laboratories located below the throbbing floors of Studio 54. Among the attendees were Rick James, David Bowie, Giorgio Moroder, ESG, Herbie Hancock, Oates (Hall was on a ski trip), a young Gary Numan, and a 7-foot robot controlled from space by Afrika Bambaataa. According to legend, the meeting lasted over 25 days, because this consortium of musical geniuses was there for one unprecedented reason: to breed the greatest pop band of all time. With the help of some young Dutch geneticists, the Consortium collected each member's DNA and created specific "genetic cocktails." These were then spliced into five embryos that would soon bloom into the five cutest babies the world had ever seen. The babies soon turned into boys, and the boys to men, and then back to boys again, and then slowly into young adults, which is about when they met at the Wesleyan Pop Conservatory in Connecticut, USA (all part of the Consortium's plan). These five were Tal Rozen, Victor Vazquez, Alex Kestner, Owen Roberts, and Lee Pender (in order of height, ascending), and now, they are Boy Crisis. One part funk, two parts electrofunk, and ten parts electrosexfunk, Boy Crisis is here to make sure that all your parts feel like grooving, whether they want to or not. Each song is a 3-minute ritual to the Gods of Pop, like Prince and Quincy Jones (the band was at one point named Princey Jones), but they also sacrifice to a variety of Muses, like Tom Tom Club, Sade, and KC and the Sunshine Band."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Electric Feel

Probably nothing can sum up my love/hate relationship with Jay Electronica better than the short video above, a teaser for a track with Just Blaze off of his ever-forthcoming debut. For the first 45 seconds, it's the most pretentious thing hip-hop has ever produced, like a black Hansel from Zoolander inserted into a Wes Anderson film. I mean, really?

Then the beat goes full-retard at :46 and I forget where my face is.

Then Jay-E materializes out of the ether and tears it open with 4 bars that bleed in a way rap never does, with genuine vulnerability and uncertainty.

Then, just as I'm wrapping my head around it, around all of the dizzying possibility just laid in my lap in the space of a minute in a half, it's over.

So it is with the whole of Jay's career, a series of false starts that are all the more infuriating for their ineffable brilliance. The dude is a total enigma, disappearing for months at a time only to resurface with a track so untouchable, so right, that all the hype in the world doesn't seem like enough. Then, like clockwork, he pulls a Chappelle and flees. Such talent, such a tease.

In an era when every other rapper is using the internet to bury their fans with every half-baked idea that enters their mind (hi Weezy), Jay-E has slowly and methodically brought the entire blogosphere to a fever pitch. And for good reason - nobody in rap has ever set the lyrical bar as high as he does. He spits with an insatiable curiosity that this incurious genre has never seen before, a pleading, an effort, an exploding in every direction that reminds me of no one else. All of which means this: Jay Electronica might be the first rapper to be bigger than hip hop, or he might never release another song in his life. He’s 4 bars in and all we can do is wait.

Download the "What the F*ck is a Jay Electronica" Mixtape here

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lo-Fi Is Good for the Soul

Ducktails - Various Songs from Chocolate Bobka on Vimeo.

Apparently there is no shortage of these dudes making warm, worn-in, cassettes full of summer psychedelia and mellowed-out surf rock. This one comes from Matthew Mondanile, otherwise known as Ducktails. He's got his fingers in various projects, but it all boils down to another dude who lives with his folks and makes music all day that sounds like someone poured sun over everything and played it on an old sneaker. And damn is it good. Like Washed Out, Neon Indian, Memory Tapes, this guy just simply does his thing on this album. His stuff is a bit more raw and pared down than some of the others, and, as a result, has more in common with bands like Explosions in the Sky or Of Montreal than some of his other contemporaries - less synth, more guitar pedals. The instrumentation is basic, vocals are limited, but he just rides the sounds, pours on the echos and feedback and it all turns out quite wonderfully. One of the more soothing records I've heard in a long time.