Sunday, September 23, 2007

So Post All 'Em

Digging through my computer I found some reviews that I must not have ever posted. They're all reviews of old albums (like from beginning of this year) and there's also one from a show––The Blow––that I went to in February.


The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America, Vagrant, 2006

Us kids, we love our music. Though, very often that music has nothing to do with us kids. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad music, completely foreign or inaccessible, it’s just not all about the kids. Craig Finn, the Hold Steady’s lovably goofy frontman, borrows inspiration from his younger years, giving us some of the most relatable, observant and well-written rock n’ roll music of the decade.
Teenage angst, love, drugs and general partying are not new subjects in the wide genre of music known as rock, what is new is the Hold Steady’s approach to teenage angst, love, drugs and general partying; he enlists honesty and authenticity in a way that has us exclaiming “that is so true!” at least once per song, often four or five times. In Boys And Girls In America, the Hold’s third album, the songs get less specific but no less observant.
On the first two albums, Finn used the names of specific people and places quite often––especially on the second album, Separation Sunday, with closely follows three characters––making the songs slightly more alienating, yet his startling observations still rang true. The songs’ getting less specific make them even more relevant, which, in turn, makes it easier for the listener to situate himself squarely inside of the narratives. The “that is so true!” factor also increases.
In Boys And Girls’ epic opener, “Stuck Between Stations,” Finn heaves a line right out of Kerouac’s On The Road with his cry of how, on some nights, he thinks Sal Paradise was right when he said “boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.” He then dives even deeper into his uncanny knowledge of youth and lists, bullet point style, how boys and girls in America do, indeed, have such a sad time together: “Making sure their makeup’s straight/Crushing one another with colossal expectations/Dependent, undisciplined, and sleeping late.” How does he know all of this?
Each track on Boys And Girls features a story line revolving around a party, a girl, dating, or, in the case of “Chillout Tent” a pair of teens who go to a music festival, do too many drugs and find themselves hooking up in the paramedic tent. The song is sung with such straightforwardness and attention to detail that it’s as if Finn is sitting in the bar telling his buddies about something that happened last weekend, metaphors be damned.
Finn’s lyrics are beautiful in their directness and accessibility and the same can be said for how he sings them. His blunt half-singing/half-talking delivery works for what he is saying; anything closer to proper singing would ruin the effect. When the words are nearly spoken over music it becomes really, really easy to sing along, and with goose bump-inducingly poignant lines like “we kissed in your car and we drank from your purse” you will be singing along.
In fact, goose bump-inducing poignancy is one of the Hold Steady’s most powerful weapons, and one that Finn wields with outstanding authority and precision. Also the music, which by no means suffers by the commanding presence of the lyrics, is not a something to trifle with. The four other members of the band keep it all together with their timeless I-think-I’ve-heard-this-before guitar riffs and powerful drums. While Finn isn’t singing, his band is jamming behind him, launching solos and continuing their classic melodies.
Great music is that way because of its accessibility and subject matter that relates, somehow, to your own life. The Hold Steady must have written the book on this matter, or at least found a really good copy; any good band could write the lyric “I love this girl,” but only Craig Finn would think to add “but I can’t tell when she’s having a good time.” The second half of the line instantly catapults the entire song from a run-of-the-mill piece of rock music to a hyperaware explanation of how anyone who’s ever liked someone feels.
The Hold Steady appeal very much to both adults and kids because their subject matter is totally rooted in youth. While adults want desperately to remember the great times they had in their younger days, much like Finn must, us kids want to know that those experiences are just and that everyone has them, and we want to have those events occur in our own lives so that we could, someday, write descriptive, reminiscent songs about them ourselves.

-February 10th, 2007

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Some Loud Thunder, Self-released, 2007

I had just heard them live. This was a year or so ago and I was going in with no idea who they were and coming out with self-induced "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's" scrawled all over my arm and hand, as if the words were the numbers of the most beautiful girls I had ever met; I definitely did not want to forget them. Turns out I wasn’t alone in my excitement. At all. Everyone––specifically indie rock tastemakers typing away on influential blogs like––was going head-over-tattered Converse for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s catchy, powerful indie pop.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was self-titled, self-produced, self-released, yet entirely un-self-hyped and came complete with twelve solid tracks featuring warm melodies, fuzzy guitars and captivatingly odd lyrics sung in a is-that-really-how-he-sings voice by Alec Ounsworth, the band’s frontman. The striking yellow album also came with an equally solid 9.0 of 10 rating from the aforementioned blog. This helped the out-of-nowhere group sell over 90,000 copies of their debut and still remain unsigned.
With these facts in mind, it is no wonder that Clap’s second album had quite a bit more pre-release hype surrounding it than their first. Still, the band remained unsigned, although they opted to splurge on one important detail. They recruited Dave Fridmann, best known for his work with the Flaming Lips, to produce Some Loud Thunder.
Some Loud Thunder differs greatly from the CYHSY’s first record, which was sunny and full of thick, creamy melodies. Thunder still has thick and creamy down, mostly, but much of the sun is no longer visible. Considering the album is named after stormy weather, the lack of warmth does make sense. In fact, the ideal environment for listening to this album would be next to a rain-streaked window, under a wool blanket with a headful of languorous decisions to make.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was chock full of dense, driving and sometimes synthesized instrumentation that sounded incredible in headphones. The melodies were so worn in and well crafted that you could not help but turn up the volume and listen to every single tiny guitar riff and drum thump. Over and over and over.
Thunder’s music is just as sophisticated and there is a lot to listen to. Much more than initially meets the ears. The album announces itself, somewhat disappointingly, with its title track. “Some Loud Thunder” is steeped in so much distortion that is makes it sound less like music and more like someone scraped you’re new CD over your gravel walkway while you weren’t looking. Near the end of the song, though, it becomes evident that you’re disc is fine and it starts sounding better, although a little less distortion wouldn’t hurt anyone. Piano is prominent on a couple of songs, too, and distorted, electronic beeps and blips are used to build up and maintain the beat of the frantic guitar and kick drum-driven “Satan Said Dance.”
The songs are much less succinct than those of the first album, opting instead for a more atmospheric and swirling quality, due largely to Fridmann’s being on the payroll. Though, like the first album, almost every song has a lovable, if not off-kilter, melody that keeps you bobbing your head in time. Some songs disguise it better than others. In “Emily Jean Stock” the beauty becomes evident about 50 seconds in, with a sweep of guitar and short, coughing drums. Then, near the end of the song, you discover one of Clap’s great anti-choruses (continual yelps of “it is a radio tells me so”) and more of those quick, addicting drums. In “Underwater (You and Me)” the tambourine and bass-heavy tune moves up and down, in no hurry to be anywhere, like waves splashing calmly over a beach.
Lyrics also play a remarkable role in CYHSY songs. Since Ounsworth’s voice is an instrument in and of itself, you find yourself listening only to the sounds he’s making rather than the words he’s singing. Still, after repeated listens you want to know what he is actually saying, which is not nothing. The songwriting takes advantage of the odd vocals and deals with vague love stories, political observations, and more awkward love. Ounsworth will latch on to a certain line and repeat it with such emotion that it becomes the most important thing he has ever had to say in his life. The line is either so profound, so casual, or both at the same time, that it really is the most important thing ever. And don’t worry; you will find yourself singing––or wailing––along.
The songs on Some Loud Thunder do take a bit longer to wrap yourself around than those of the first album, and not every single song is one of the best songs you’ve ever heard, as is the case with the debut. However, once you’re wrapped up in and familiar with Thunder, you find that it is the perfect follow-up album to the perfect album. After all, you wouldn’t want it to be better than that brightly packaged album you first discovered while browsing concert calendars online, eavesdropping on the record store’s brutally hip clientele or rocking out in the busy bright sunset last summer with some of your best friends, would you?

-February 3th, 2007

The Postal Service, Give Up, Sub Pop, 2003

Ben Gibbard is a superhero. He has multiple identities and his super power is the ability to write articulate, striking, metaphor-filled song after articulate, striking, metaphor-filled song without having any of them sound pretentious or wholly the same. He even has an instantly recognizable superhero costume made up of soft-hued sweaters, worn-in blazers and so-nerdy-they’re-cool black plastic glasses.
You, the average music-loving citizen of Metropolis, are familiar with Ben Gibbard because of Death Cab for Cutie and their low-key, mood-setting brand of northwest indie rock, but you may not be as in-the-know when the conversation turns to the Postal Service and their brand of indie-tronic pop music.
After hearing “Such Great Heights” or “We Will Become Silhouettes” (Give Up’s lead singles) a few times, you will find yourself trying to place the singer’s gentle voice and the way his stories of breakup and other such disaster unravel. You soon realize that the Postal Service is Ben Gibbard’s creation. It’s his Clark Kent to Death Cab’s Superman.
Formed in 2001, the Postal Service spent the subsequent year or so before Give Up was released pairing high-tech, sterile electronic beats, courtesy of the band’s second member, Jimmy Tamborello of the electronic group, Dntel, with oddly complementing and completely human lyrics and stories, courtesy of Ben Gibbard himself. Several tracks also feature additional vocals performed warmly by the Wonder Woman of indie pop, Jenny Lewis.
On opener “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” Gibbard describes how an ex seems “so out of context in this gaudy apartment complex” over a series of quick back-and-forth electronic clanks and snaps. The song sets the mood for the entire album: largely gloomy lyrics balanced with optimistic-sounding, synthesized melodies. The album goes by far faster than you’re expecting it to, although the last third chugs along noticeably slower than beginning and middle.
Each song is the proud owner of its very own articulately heartfelt story and a catchy melody made up of electronic whirrs and claps. The standouts include “Such Great Heights,” “We Will Become Silhouettes” and “Nothing Better,” with all its medical metaphors (rhyming “future” with “sutures” just might be the definition of brilliance) and call-and-answer vocals revolving around an undying love.
Give Up has balance. At times its songs seem larger-than-life, with soaring proclamations of “everything looks perfect from far away” or “I want life in every word to the extent that it's absurd” but then, there are those pedestrian and utterly tangible lyrics, too, and often in the same song as the extraordinary. It is this integration of beauty and mundane occurrences that makes Give Up so easy to listen to. Clark Kent obviously knows as much about ordinary life as he does out-of-the-ordinary life.

-February 11th, 2007

The Kingdom, K1, Arena Rock Records, 2006

What do lo-fi yet up-beat indie rock songs and snowmobile racing have in common? They’re both featured on the Kingdom’s full-length debut, apparently. K1 recounts, in 11 songs, the longest of which is just over 3 minutes, an epic transportation-filled cross-country race. The concept here is strong and executed far better than that of their first EP, which followed the life of NFL hall-of-famer Johnny Unitas as he navigated the solar system, complete with pretentious 20-second tracks with names like “Gamma 68 Yard Line” and all.
The whole racing thing does get a bit tedious, however. Charles Westmoreland, the band’s strangely-enunciating vocalist, sings about every form of transportation he can think of––motorcycles, hydrofoils, snowmobiles, spaceships, police cars, planes and even motorcades––and you soon find yourself growing very curious about where all of this motor sport influence is coming from. Songs with names like “Driver,” “Motorcading,” “Motorcycling,” “Polaris,” “Racer” and “Pilot,” make up about half of the album, yet the rest of seems to have nothing to do with racing, driving or piloting at all.
“Love Is My Nation,” the second track on the album, is a fast-paced, agitated pop song with synthesizers and a blasting chorus. It’s also the first time you notice how fascinating Westmoreland’s singing voice actually is. Him singing “With black and gold all over” sounds more like “I’m block! And go! I’ll owe her!” It’s as if he’s singing with his tongue shoved into his cheek while still enunciating every word as clearly as possible. It’s interesting to listen to, and adds several layers of texture to the songs.
The music is also happy as can be, and happy, in this case, tends to equal catchy. Almost military drumbeats and soaring but concise guitars never let up, save for the 3-minute piano ballad “Polaris,” with its strange chorus, consisting of the line “your leather snowmobile jacket fits like a dream.” The beginning, middle and ending songs, “Driver,” “Racer” and “Pilot,” respectively, are also quieter and recycle much of the same melody––and lyrics––building up to the terrific marching band finale and an image of a pilot who will “be walking down the concourse with my helmet stained with stars.”
K1 sounds good, and if you’re willing to overlook or embrace the oddly frequent transportation references you’ve got yourself a catchy, fun-loving and surprisingly solid listen. Additionally, there is a deeper side to this record that is up for interpretation, if you want it to be, because, seriously, there has got to be some reason for all of the motorcycles.

-February 9th, 2007

The Blow, Live At The Showbox, Seattle, February 9, 2007

“Just how naked are we gonna get, just exactly how naked are we gonna get?” whispers Seattle native-cum-Portlander Khaela Maricich––who calls to mind a younger, hipper, way more musically talented Ellen Degeneres––as she nervously takes the stage. There is no instrumentation yet, and she keeps a beat merely by taping the microphone with her finger. Everyone standing in the audience assumed this a cappella performance was just a mic check, but as the song continues, with no abrupt mic checking end in sight, it becomes evident this is the Blow, and the audience is now fully captivated.
Of course, for the rest of the set there is music. Those addictive, plucky, body-rocking beats created by Jona Bechtolt, the Blow’s second member, are played underneath Khaela’s beautifully clean and startlingly sincere singing. The music is not live, though. Jona is nowhere to be found on stage; Kheala is up there all by herself with just a microphone and her awkward yet forceful white-girl-can-dance dance moves performed in time with the music. Plus, the solo performance makes the already heartfelt songs seem even more personal.
“You know those songs, where it’s just like ‘ugh, I want you!’?” she asks a few songs into her set, “well, those are the most interesting.” She then proceeds to tell the audience, who, as a whole, is still not at all sure what to expect from their evening, how she felt there weren’t enough songs like that out there and how she decided to write some more.
This explanation truly does explain everything: if you are at all familiar with the Blow’s album, Paper Television, you are sure to have asked yourself why are all of the songs are about some girl who constantly doubts herself (with lyrics like “I would consider myself lucky to be right in on your threesome,” “I guess I’m on the long list of girls who love the shit out of you,” or “you really wanna hold my hand?” it’s hard to focus on any other theme) and can never completely get that guy?
Well, the short answer is that the woman who wrote them thinks they’re more interesting and fun to sing. But, the long, more correct answer, is the woman who wrote them is very aware of how many people feel the same way about themselves and how difficult and awkward loving, or even just liking someone is.
It is evident that she is very, very adamant about this revelation, and, between songs, continues to talk in an animated and excited way, almost like a stand-up comic, about how strange love is. The beat keeps thumping as she tells us about this “guy who works at my work who yells at girls,” or good advice to use “if you’re out with someone and you’re not sure how things are gonna turn out.” That advice turned out to be the honest and precisely-sung chorus of the pounding, metaphor-y “Pardon Me”––“I’ve felt a heart before/And I’m learning what a heart is for/I believe. A heart. Is made to feel. The things that lay in front of it”.
The Showbox was packed with people confidently singing along with Kaehla and moving in-step with the music. The venue was also a good choice for an outfit like the Blow because somewhere bigger wouldn’t have allowed the dance club beats, intimate lyrics and delicate singing to be heard as clearly or thoughtfully. As she finished her last song and cheerfully left the stage, the whole club was filled with a feeling of contentment and silent vows made to love on your own terms could almost be heard over the applause.

-February 10, 2007

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Summer of 2007

Here we are at the Official End of Summer. School is back in session for just about everybody. This summer went fast. Much faster than any other summer I can remember. Summers seem to speed up as you grow up; how you spend your time during your summer also changes. The things you do, the people you see, the trips you do or do not go on, the music you listen to, the places you listen to it, the food you eat and the clothes you wear are all very different this summer than they were just one year ago. So now I'm going to look back on and review this above-decent, mostly fun-filled and occasionally crappy summer, the summer that was, of course, The Summer of 2007.

Let's start with that all-important element of any summer, music.

Best Musical Discovery:
Dandelion Gum by Black Moth Super Rainbow. The perfect summer album. It's full of sugary synthesizers, disembodied vocals and very summer-y song titles like "The Afternoon Turns Pink" and "Lost, Picking Flowers In The Woods."

Top Chill-Out Songs:
"Rollerdisco" by Black Moth Super Rainbow
"Ego Tripping (Ego In Acceleration Jason Bentley Remix)" by The Flaming Lips
"That's The Way" by Led Zeppelin
"Ramblin' Man" by Lemon Jelly
"Hallogallo" by Neu!
"The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
"Like A Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan
"Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles
"Stevie Nix" by The Hold Steady
"Comfy In Nautica" by Panda Bear
"5 Years" by Björk
"We're Always Waiting" by Yacht
"Second Hand News" by Fleetwood Mac
"Small Stakes" by Spoon
"Justin" by Against Me!
"Memory of a Free Festival" by David Bowie

Most Partied-To Songs:
"Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin')" by T-Pain
"Umbrella" by Rihanna
"Waters of Nazareth" by Justice
"Stronger" by Kanye West
"I Want To Love You" by Akon
"The Way I Are" by Timbaland
"Massive Nights" by The Hold Steady
"Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses
"Easy Love" by MSTRKRFT
"International Rock Stars" by The Punk Group
A tie between "Summer Love" and "LoveStoned/I Think That She Knows (Interlude)" by Justin Timberlake
"Eagle Eyez" by Mr. Flash

Worst Thing Ever/Second Best Musical Discovery:
Night Ripper by Girl Talk. For just over two weeks at the beginning of the summer this album was the best thing anyone had never heard. Then everyone heard it. Then it was all that got played. Now it's awful.

Best Song Titles (these don't nessacarily have to do with summer, but they're good names for songs):
"Let's See If Any Ghosts Are In Here, Yeah?" by Fuck Buttons
"Sleater Kinney Sucks" by The Punk Group
"Spinning Cotton Candy In A Shack Made Of Shingles" by Black Moth Super Rainbow
"Moonage Daydream" by David Bowie
"Jealous Guy" by Art Brut

Best/Cheapest Musical Find:
Rock Off And Fuck On by The Punk Group. With songs called "My Space" (about how it's easy to find someone to have sex with on MySpace), "I'm Not Wearing A Tie" (about, um, not wearing a tie) and "F-U-C-K-Y-O-U" (about the possibility of you fucking off) all sung as straightforward-ly as possible and set to so-crappy-they-rock synth refrains and guitar riffs, this album was well worth the 99 cents I paid for it at Easy Street.

Best New Release:
by Justice

Most Looked-Forward Release of the Fall:
Graduation by Kanye West (out 9/11 on Roc-A-Fella)

I think that pretty much sums up the music portion of the summer, now let's look back on TV, books, movies and all of that pop culture.

Best/Funniest/Most-Quotable Summer Movie:

Essential Summer Phrase:
"I am McLovin."

The Bourne Ultimatum, The Simpsons Movie, Knocked Up

Most Intense Movie I Saw This Summer:
High Tension. From the very same French hipsters that brought us The Hills Have Eyes comes this violent, lesbian-ist thriller. It's creepy-good!

Awesomest YouTube Video:
"Chocolate Rain"

Best New TV Shows:
Rock of Love with Bret Michaels on VH1
The Hills on MTV

Best Shows To Just Chill and Watch:
Family Guy on fucking douche-y Adult Swim
Seinfeld on every channel ever
Entourage on DVD
I Love The [insert decade]'s on VH1
Best Week Ever on Friday night on VH1

Best Late-Night Music Video Source:
Nocturnal State on VH1

Best Late-Night Bad Rap Music Video Source:
MTV2. They premiered Yung Berg's "Sexy Lady"!

Best Overall Summer Channel:
VH1. No question about it.

Worst New Summer Show:
Newport Harbour: The Real Orange County. "The people, the locations, the drama...Are all centered around Chrissy's strict parents!?" No thanks.

Biggest Item of the Summer:
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by some crazy English woman

Best Read:
Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman

Classiest Read:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I want to live in the 1920s and be an alcoholic.

Number of Books Read By Me:

That covers all of the things we read, listened to, bought and watched this summer. Next comes the stuff we created ourselves. And the stuff that we said. And the stuff that happened to us.

The New Thing to Call Bobby Morris Field:
"Cal Anderson"

Most Facebook Albums About One Weekend Made By One Person:

The Top Three Types of Parties That Did Not Happen Enough:
1. House
2. Beach
3. Dinner

Best Rediscovered Food:
Domino's Pizza

Days Spent Working:
Too many

Hold Steady Songs That We Recreated In Real Life:
"Stevie Nix"
"Party Pit"

Best Words/Phrases/Quotes:
"I dun even know, I'm just tryna get zooted"
"Are we seriously listening to Girl Talk?"
Anything Bret Micheals says on Rock of Love

Number Of Things I Did On My Summer List:

Number Of Things I Didn't Do On My Summer List:

Well, there you are, The Summer of 2007 pretty much summed up. Kind of. So much more happened that I can't really remember but it was certainly not a bad summer. It was not quite what I was expecting and it was definitely a little strange but it sure had its moments.