Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Rural Alberta Advantage

The Rural Alberta Advantage at The Music Hall of Williamsburg

I went to this show a few Tuesdays ago at Music Hall of Williamsburg, mostly because it was a free show. I also happened to be having dinner across the street. These guys are fantastic live musicians, and I really loved the show. It was the 5th concert in a row for me that week though, and I just didn't have the energy to write about it initially. Having listened to the record I bought in the weeks since then, and after having discussed it with several friends, I really had to revisit them to get down my thoughts.

RAA are a three piece from Canada, and although the name makes me cringe, I am growing increasingly fond of their record HOMETOWNS. It has a subtle charm that is somewhat hidden under the initial similarity it bears to Neutral Milk Hotel via the Arcade Fire via the Decemberists etc. Indie rock is like the mob: there are really only four or five families of indie rock at any one time. I think this has something to do with the social aspect of popular music as an art form, or maybe genres do just kill each other off. The styles that have been popular in recorded music do also seem extremely cyclical, considering its short life so far, which I think supports my hypothesis. Regardless of why it came about, the RAA does fit snugly in the lineage of the Neutral Milk Hotel family.

photo: Partick Leduc

Under close scrutiny, only one or two elements of a couple of different tracks sound like they were lifted, but they jut out noticeably in comparison to the more original and worthwhile elements to the tracks like "In The Summertime," "Drain The Blood," "Four Night Rider" and "Sleep All Day," which can be distracting. So be it. So a few elements of the songs initially sound like other bands. To save time I will just tell you that if you listen closely, you will get past that. The vocal delivery, though very Mangum-esque isn't affected and is full of emotion. The sparse landscape the band goes for at times is simple and familiar, but very effective at highlighting the various melodies. RAA is very melodic; in fact I think this is the band's strong point. The simple, folky lyrics are very poetic at times and trite at others, but overall I think this record is a success. The only free track I could find to post is the single, "Don't Haunt This Place." I think the songs I named above are the must-listen's of the record.

"Don't Haunt This Place" by The Rural Alberta Advantage download mp3 (from insound)

RAA on MySpace

Buy The Rural Alberta Advantage records!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SHARE @ the Issue Project Room

Lazaro Valiente at SHARE, hosted by Issue Project Room

After the Cinema 16 event last Sunday, we followed Lazaro Valiente across from the Bell House to the Issue Project Room, where an all night audio / visual jam was happening. I still had about 20 minutes of tape, so we let it roll. The program is called SHARE, and it happens every Sunday night at 8pm. It was one of the coolest things I have ever stumbled upon. We hung out until about 1 am, but I was beat. I have no idea how late they actually go. Here is SHARE's official blurb:

SHARE is first and foremost a platform to explore expression, in a variety of artforms. Through its weekly open jam sessions, engages its participants and spectators in a continually changing dialog on art and culture. Share is an open jam, not just for digirati, but for all new culture lovers. Participants bring their portable equipment, plug into our system, improvise on each others’ signal and perform live audio and video. We furnish the amplification and projection. Share happens every Sunday.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Come and Gone: Last Free Exit

JT Stewart of Last Free Exit

I rarely do "Come and Gone" segments, because people seem really only to care about bands that are current. Fair enough, I suppose, but in the pre-Myspace era there were a lot of great bands that simply never had their moment. Last Free Exit was the biggest band in my small college town, and they moved to Austin, broke up and scattered. I posted some old footage of a show on my Youtube channel, because I knew a handful of people would get a thrill out of it. Judging by the response, I drastically underestimated the number exit-heads who missed the good old days. Here's "You Up I down," after which the band predictably starts a jam. The tape was a little damaged, so the end of the song is missing.

For the non-nostalgic: Last Free Exit were a combination of Jam Band, Classic Rock Band, and Funk Band, with a strong singer-songwriter at the helm. As all young bands do, each member exerted his tastes in the songs regardless of the "vision" of the greater whole. Sometimes that doesn't work out, but with Last Free Exit, the music was just really good. One common complaint I have heard among the old fans of this band is that no one can find a copy of the S/T EP that was released between their two albums. It's actually my favorite recording of the band - much more raw and exciting than the Concert G, which I personally find over-produced. Anyway, here it is, with the secret track "Christian Boy," which I still play religiously (NPI) on the guitar for people when I am in my cups.

"Pick & Stride" by Last Free Exit download mp3 (with permission)

"Landshark" by Last Free Exit download mp3 (with permission)

"Billy Lift" by Last Free Exit download mp3 (with permission)

"Marley And Morphine" by Last Free Exit download mp3 (with permission)

"Christian Boy" by Last Free Exit download mp3 (with permission)

Buy A DAY WAITING on iTunes!!

Buy THE CONCERT G on Yahoo Music!!

I had a chance to reconnect with a couple of the guys at one of these recent SXSW's. Kyle has a band in Austin called About:Blank, and JT said in a recent email that he is "likely [to] put something out within a year. likely just me." I hope he's serious about that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Free Eels Session on MySpace

Mark Oliver Everett performs on MySpace

Probably the most interesting rocker for me personally is "E" (also known as Mark Oliver Everett, sometimes I call him MOE). His poor dad came up with the theory of parallel universes and died relatively un-praised for it, a fact which is featured in a recent British documentary about father and son, which served as the opening act for the last Eels tour in lieu of another band. Apart from "It's a Motherfucker" ** and "Jeannie's Diary," which both still go on mix tapes I make, the Eels' BEAUTIFUL FREAK is the first non-mainstream record I can remember loving when I was younger, introduced by that crazy friend who your mother dislikes. I think it marked the transition for me from just a music fan into a thinking listener. Needless to say, I am very fond of E's banging away at the piano on MySpace to help promote his new record. It's some sort of new session idea they have devised to keep teens even more glued to keyboards. Weird, but also well worth a squint, as he does a version of "My Beloved Monster." Because of some movie executives with very little imagination, and its subsequent inclusion on the Shrek soundtrack, even my 10 year old niece loves that song.

Go and download the free session from MySpace (limited time)

Buy Eels records!!

** check out the cover version by Rachel Fuller

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Animal Collective @ Prospect Park

woman dancing at animal collective at Prospect Park, August 14, 2009

The Animal Collective show last night in Prospect Park was an ethereal experience, a true example of music powerful enough to keep the delicate balance; a glass shoe on the toe of an outstretched foot, feeling the breeze of 30 stories below tickle and move it delicately. The mood was never shattered, but overcoming the negativity inherent in those sort of massive corporate shows is not easy. Try to slip past it at the door, and hands are placed on you, even only for a second, just to make sure they are acknowledged.

"Ticketmaster, who IS the master of this section, has the right to search your bag. Oh you don't have a bag? Proceed then, but only with the our good auspices."

Hands then are removed, but I still feel them on me.

animal collective at Prospect Park, August 14, 2009

I don't mean to sound cynical, but those monster, corporate-sponsor, automaton-at-the-door, Budweiser-only, chicks-all-wearing-jean-shorts-and-sneakers shows are usually a deep pit, into which I reluctantly climb with the promise of a good summer-time day outside and maybe some good music, but at the bottom the inescapable stench of people's humanity as they swarm, chokes and depresses me. I am extremely happy to say, that with a couple of hiccups (including my having to find a nearby bartender willing to stash my camera bag so that I could gain admittance), what I got was an extremely nice summer day outside and in this case, a substantial musical experience. I was strangely aware of the statue of the Marquis de Lafayette as we entered the park. Later I would think about he and Mesmer at their Paris meetings, as the music was literally sending my mind into action involuntarily.

prospect park during the animal collective show, August 14, 2009

Clearly the best avant-garde band around, Animal Collective recreate their sound flawlwessly live, and the system at Prospect Park's Bandshell was amazing. I was coming in with an impressive headache, but I wasn't marred for a moment. Bleeps and blips have a way of boring into your lobes, but last night there was no noise at all, just beautiful music. After the show, we wandered over to the pub that graciously kept hold of my bag for me (Thanks Harry Boland's), and then had a great dinner across the street. The waitress there was wearing some beautiful jewelery that she made. Her name is Rory, and the brand she started is called Róisín. I woke up this morning feeling fine, still with disbelief at what a great show we had just seen in the park.

"My Girls" by Animal Collective download mp3 (from betterPropaganda)

Go and download umpteen free Animal Collective shows!!

Buy Animal Collective records!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cinema 16 with Lázaro Valiente / Nathan McKee

Lazaro Valiente at Cinema 16 in Brooklyn, 2009

Mexico City experimental rocker Lázaro Valiente and Brooklyn's own electro-acoustic-experimental guitarist Nathan W McKee were put in charge of 3 short films each for the latest Cinema 16 screening at the Bell House in Brooklyn. I grew quite interested in Cinema 16 after becoming familiar with LV's music through a review I wrote of his last Brooklyn show. I had basically decided that I was down to try anything he was involved with, even at 7pm on a Sunday. Cinema 16 is indie rockers scoring great silent films from the era before we descended collectively into childish wants and embarrassingly low standards. It is a very real eye opener when you realize that an artful animated cartoon entitled "Tight Rope Tricks" from 1933 was children's entertainment, while now, grown men are watching Transformers 2, bouncing around in their seats with the same enthusiasm.

Nathan McKee at Cinema 16 in Brooklyn, 2009

Also in the program, were a couple of great experimental films from 1920's and 30's included Slavko Vorkapić's THE FURIES and EVEN AS YOU AND I by Roger Barlow, Harry Hay and LeRoy Robbins. I have included video below of these two films; It exists as both a "mixed" version (shown) and a version that only shows the performer (with the screen in the background). For all of the video, visit my YouTube Channel or Vimeo. Anyone in doubt of the live scoring experience must attend. My only complaint is that I only have one pair of eyes!

My video of Nathan McKee's portion of the screening captures only sections of the first two shorts. The camera ran out of tape or battery or both, and so I left it as one clip here. The next Cinema 16 screening is on August 29th at The Brooklyn Yard. Unfortunately I will already be away on my Summer Holiday, but everyone left in the dog heat should trickle over there: Julianna Barwick will be doing the sound.

Buy Lázaro Valiente Records!! (or download the Free EP from the band's MySpace Page)
Buy Nathan W. McKee's Records!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Phonograph Live @ Brooklyn Bowl

Phonograph at Brooklyn Bowl in 2009
Phonograph played a free show on Tuesday at Brooklyn Bowl with Alberta Cross. They are just on the verge of starting a tour in support of a new record called "okno," which is set for release in a few weeks. Brooklyn Bowl is such a unique place, but not a bad idea. Making people in bowling alleys feel cool again is a little like bringing someone out of a coma. Even if it wasn't such a great place, any new venue that will let one video record is fine by me. The first video below for "You've Got My Broken Heart" is special because the song is only a few weeks old and thus not on the new record.

I recorded 6 tracks in all, which are all there for you to squint on my Vimeo Page. If you have an unhealthy love for Phonograph, you should be able to hang out there for 30 minutes or so. I was sad to see that Phil Sterk wasn't with the band this time, but Jason Domnarski is formidable on keys, and the switch apparently makes the band much more similar to the original lineup from their S/T first disc. Here are a couple from OKNO and "Charles Bircher" from Hiawatha Talking Machine EP.

"Somewhere Between" by Phonograph download mp3 (with permission)

Go and read about Phonograph's upcoming tour dates

Buy Phonograph's records!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Los Campesinos! Secret Show

Los Campesinos! at Union Pool in 2009
The Los Campesinos! secret show was actually fairly secret after all. According to Dave-at-the-door, the show was only announced day-of on some blog called "Brooklyn Vegan" and the Union Pool website. As a result, I assume, of relatively few people seeing either of those sites, the venue was at a comfortable capacity. My last "secret show" at Union Pool was affectionately dubbed "Here We Go Suffocate."

Both in name and performance Los Campesinos! have excitement built in. I grabbed copies of their last two LPs, of which I have become very fond with much listening these last 24 hours, and a new record is set for January, according to Ollie. It was really nice to see these guys put on such a great show at what could arguably have been called a warm-up gig. I much prefer Union Pool to Webster Hall, where I am sure they would been even more difficult to capture with my iPhone camera. Here's a pic of Ellen, gassing after the set. Topics included: the writing process, whether or not it's OK to like blogging (it is), and the impact of campsite bears both on Ellen's evaluation of her own survival mechanism and on food storage box designers' sense of hopelessness.

Ellen Campesinos! and David Hurwitz
These guys are quite famous, so I don't really feel like saying anything about their sound or what makes them unique. Pitchfork reviewed both of their records well, I think, although without the number system they have on the site, I would be less confident that I deciphered them correctly. They reminded me of music reviews from the New York Times actually, in which the real art is staying deceptively neutral so as not to alienate one's self by saying something bad about the next Grizzly Bear. In the spirit of confessing, I must admit that reading the reviews of both Los Campesinos! records was literally the first time I have looked at Pitchfork, so I shouldn't generalize. I fell lame admitting it, but wow. They have EVERYTHING on there!

The only other thing I am going to talk about is lyric-talking, which is a touchy subject for me personally, but undeniably also a component of the Los Campesinos! sound. Some other British lyric-talkers:

1. Billy Bragg - I LOVE Billy Bragg, but less when he lyric-talks, which isn't that often. Overall, I think he is a positive example.

2. The Streets - 100% lyric-talking with a thick Cockney accent. Rather than using his natural Birmingham tongue, which doesn't sound anything like Billy Bragg, he actually faking it (Mockney). Awful, because from now on, no one from East London can lyric-talk again without being associated and compared first to The Streets. I want to punch that guy in the face and see how slowly and stupidly he can say "ouch" afterwards.

3. Art Brut - Their recent Mercury Lounge show bored me. I think Eddie Argos has a lot to learn from Los Campesinos!, though I doubt it's a lesson he could grasp. I really hate to draw a comparison between the styles of Art Brut and LC!, but they are both good at dramatically arranging the lyric-talk. The language and sentiment in Art Brut is fairly lobotomized, so thankfully the comparison ends there.

"We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" by Los Campesinos! download mp3 (from AOL music)

Go and read the LC! blog

Buy Los Campesinos! records!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Octopus Project @ Mercury Lounge

The Octopus Project at The Mercury Lounge New York
All day Sunday, I was extremely excited to see The Octopus Project. I have a very fond if hazy recollection of their set at the SXSW 2007 Little Radio Party, where I saw them for the first time. I think they played with Peter Bjorn and John, Brothers and Sisters and PELA. Even through the haze, it's still one of the best SXSW shows I can remember. The GOLDEN BEDS EP came to me in an email, and I have been enjoying it a great deal. So much so, that I was actually writing a review when I saw the Mercury Show on the schedule. Seeing a band live in the midst of writing about their new record is such a catalyst, especially when the band's live show is as good as The Octopus Project. They have become even better than when I saw them a couple of years ago; I wouldn't hesitate to put Sunday night's show in the top 20 best all time shows I have ever seen.

The Octopus Project at The Mercury Lounge New York
Photo: Jeremy Arambulo

Yvonne Lambert commands the intense focus of the audience, like sort of visual keystone to the show. Perched over her machines, which make dangerous sounds, she controls them with a calm smile and measured movements. All of her instruments (save the guitar) seem disassociated somehow, and she seems to be conducting them rather than playing them. I know with a theremin this might seem like an obvious metaphor, but I found it to be a consistent throughout, more the reason that she plays the theremin than vice versa. It was every bit as intriguing as the Cindy Sherman portraits I had seen earlier that day the MET; the beautiful female in conversation with things beyond affirming or denying our fascination with appearance, being shocked by opposites etc. The entire live experience of witnessing the band making music is somehow just more exciting and moving than the sum of its parts. I can only attribute it to that mysterious unity a band sometimes manages to balance for a time on its collectively outstretched finger. With any discord at all, it simply rolls off the tip, but all moving in the same direction, it can be kept balanced for a time and perhaps even gained on slightly. Some bands can inch forward and get a better grip than others.

The Octopus Project at The Mercury Lounge New York
The Octopus Projects' ten years together really shows. Toto Miranda is an awesome drummer and an extremely invested performer. In every picture I see, the band are all bone-dry except Toto, who looks like he swam to the gig. As a "sweater" myself, I find him to be an inspiring example. When he switches to the guitar, at times it looks as though the instrument could literally slip out of his fingers. Switching instruments, when everyone is so talented really adds to the show, allowing each performer to express something completely different, while still in the embrace of the same musical identity. Clearly popular in enough to fill up Mercury, Josh Lambert was appropriately deferential in his opening gas, paying homage to the New York fans. He and Figgs, despite short mention here are just perfectly in control the whole time. The band, as I said, is beyond tight, beyond good. The only complaint I could possibly make is that the theremin might have been brought out too quickly. Watching someone actually PLAY one (rather than just messing about) is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. And it is such a crowd-pleaser. Once you bring it out though, nobody wants you to put it away.

"Wet Gold" by The Octopus Project download mp3 (from Peekaboo Records)

Stream the Entire Record (from Peekaboo Records)

Buy The Octopus Project's records!!