Tag Archive for 'New York'

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Asobi Seksu Fluorescence – A Sweet Balance Of Old And New

I have been an avid fan of Asobi Seksu ever since I was introduced to them via a 2005 blog post in which David (or was it Chandler?) of Snowden outlined some bands he was listening to at the moment (Snowden had played Gothamist’s Movable Hype show with them the previous November in NYC). In 2006, after having jammed their 2003 self titled debut full length probably tens of dozens of times, I was really excited to hear about a forthcoming follow-up, Citrus.

Citrus lived up to my every expectation, including a crushing combination of face-melting walls of distortion and Yuki’s super-catchy vocal and keyboard harmonies I fell in love with on their first. Going one step further, the album featured a much improved audio quality, no doubt due to its being recorded at Gigantic Studios and featuring production by Chris Zane (by the way, it’s worth mentioning that despite being a minor label release, the s/t features excellent production and sounds teriffic). Citrus still blows me away, and I placed it at #31 on my Best Albums of 2000-2009 list.

I was a bit worried when the band’s next move was signing with Polyvinyl. While I generally think it’s got a great lineup of bands, I feel there’s been a “Polyvinyl Curse” on many bands I like. The curse was – after signing with the label, the band would put out something way less impressive than previous records. Just one week prior to the Asobi Seksu announcement, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin released their Polyvinyl debut, Pershing, a disappointing follow-up to their self-released Broom, which is an epic record (I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t heard it). My only comfort was in the fact that label mates of Montreal were putting out some of their best records one after another on Polyvinyl, namely a trilogy consisting of Satanic Panic in the Attic, The Sunlandic Twins, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? The last of which, by the way, is my #2 record of the last decade.

Anyway, Hush was released in 2009 and my reaction was mixed. I definitely felt the familiar Asobi vibe and was digging it, but the noticeable difference was the missing wall of sound. While the name Hush suggests something like an acoustic record or stripped down / intimate set, this wasn’t quite “quiet,” at least not in a traditional sense. Compared to their previous records, though, Hush definitely missed the mark in terms of the layers of distortion I had come to know and love (and expect). Still, with a batch of excellent songs and the solid production of  Zane, the record left on me a favorable impression.

Asobi followed through with a tour only release of an acoustic set recorded at Olympic Studios (later reissued as Rewolf – and I would claim this would have more aptly been the release named “Hush”), and the Transparence EP whose title track was a glimmer of hope for the Asobi I was craving, but was otherwise mainly electro-leaning. While these were fantastic in their own right, I was beginning to wonder if the full sounds I had enjoyed so deeply on s/t and Citrus were gone for good. Signal 2011, and Fluorescence.

On their fourth full length, Asobi Seksu strikes a sweet balance between the supremely pleasing walls of noise found on Citrus, the evolved song-writing illustrated on Hush, and yes they have even honed that flirtation with the electro on tracks such as “Counterglow” (rounded out with a more trademark Asobi sound that leaves a more organic end result). The band also explores some new ground, including an almost Goblinesque “Deep Weird Sleep,” and “Leave The Drummer Out There,” which borders on the Pink Floyd inspired. Maybe the next record will be a full-out 70’s prog rock revival? (let’s hope its not!) :]

All of this coupled with excellent production (once again the work of Zane) and the result is: after only a few listens I am in love with this record! You can pre-order CD or 180g vinyl (two versions, one limited) here. And in the meantime, check out a preview track, “Leave The Drummer Out There.”

Asobi Seksu – Leave The Drummer Out There

- breathmint

Btrxz’s Haiku Reviews of 2010 Or Things We Over Look (in no particular order 5/18)

Artist: Sharon Von Etten

Title: Epic

Label: Ba Da Bing

Country: US, Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Ambient, Folk, Indie

Date: 9-21-10

Sharon Von Etten- Epic

Peace and sorrow live

A voice is found deep in lose

Embracing gentleness

Peace Sign

- Btrxz

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #1. The National – High Violet

High Violet

yellow voices swallowing my soul

#1. The National – High Violet

The National’s High Violet works for a lot of reasons, but foremost as a demonstration of melody. Melody makes songs catchy, but catchy melodies can easily be annoying or too pop or cheesy. The National gets right in there and writes melodies that only make their songs more powerful. They wouldn’t work half as well if they were sung differently. The melodies sometimes build drama, sometimes jump out at you, and always add to the mood of what are already very moody songs.

But listening to these songs is to find them quickly engrained in your mind. There’s one moment in particular that I think is indicative, both of their use of melody, as well as their songwriting in general. On “Conversation 16, Matt Berninger (the singer/lyricist) goes through a verse/chorus, semi-speaking, semi-singing. The band is burning behind him, and they repeat a couple of times. He seems to be describing a somewhat-perfect, romantic siutation: it’s a “Hollywood summer,” dinner with friends, “we belong in a movie,” “we should swim in a fountain.” But then, then The National hits on a short bridge: “I was afraid I’d eat your brains / ‘Cause I’m evil.” Now clearly, this isn’t a song about zombies. Nor is he actually evil. He is just worried, you’re not going to like me anymore, I’m going to ruin this soon. This line stands out, a bit of a shock, but once you find it and it works and makes sense to you… that’s when High Violet will start clicking. (There are many moments throughout which may trigger this, actually, but that’s my favorite.)

And once High Violet starts clicking, you find a pretty genius record. Throughout, it explores these kind of worries in various detail, via either wickedly funny or moody songs (often times, both). “Sorrow” rides along, finding him “living in a city sorrow built / it’s in my honey / it’s in my milk.” “Anyone’s Ghost” is about desolate isolation, having been left alone (“didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost”). He burns down blackberry fields, doesn’t think to make corrections, owes money to the money to the money he owes. His shortcomings are always right there, haunting and lurking under everything. The first song, the terrific “Terrible Love” is an analogy for life and all its worries: “it’s a terrible love / I’m walking with spiders / it’s quiet company.”

The way I decided which album was #1 was, in the end, pretty simple. I mean, really, there probably is not a lot of difference in quality between #1 and #3 or even #12. That is not what I am doing here, weighing this album versus that album versus all of recorded musical history. But looking back at 2010, what it came down to was that for about six months, I rarely stopped listening to High Violet. It never left the cd player in my car, and still remains right there ready to play. Many albums work as a full concept, others work as collections of individual songs… but the very best albums work as both. I can listen to High Violet straight through, or I can jump around, finding myself needing to hear a different song each different day. That’s what happened with High Violet. 2010 was the year The National drug their songs into my brain (because they’re evil).

The National “Conversation 16”

The National “Afraid Of Everyone”

The National “Terrible Love”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #3. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Here's To Taking It Easy

Hej, I am light

#3. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck) has made a number of albums, each one embracing lo-fi storytelling and recording. He could go from jaunty country, to Americana ambience, to covering The Beatles, Willie Nelson or Nick Cave. All this practice built up Houck’s skills, and leads directly to Here’s To Taking It Easy. This album approaches many of the same areas as his earlier works, but does so with a growing ease. Where some of his other albums and songs had a ramshackle fragility to them, Here’s To Taking It Easy is full-blooded and shimmering with confidence.

The songs here are quite often road-weary, with a lot of far-off cities, and wishing to be somewhere other than the place you are. Over upbeat soul horns, long slide guitar breaks, barroom piano, Houck sings of travelling, of everywhere starting to look the same, blurred together. “We’ll Be Here Soon” and “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” explore further the struggles of the road: “Oh I wish I was in heaven, sittin’ down / I wish the road we were taking / Wasn’t made for breaking down.”

Naturally, being on the road means leaving someone behind. In “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” he even tries to call her on an “old foreign telephone.” On “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly),” he is wistful: “Well I wake in the morning and I dress / I hang that charm of gold around my neck / And I haul to her window and I look / And I crawl on inside and wake her up / Singing love me foolishly / Love me foolish-like.” Clearly, a dream, a hopeful wish that carries him through. Will he ever get back to her? There’s lots of doubts about that. The brilliant “The Mermaid Parade” is a story of a man missing a flight to LA, where he could have met up with his love, Amanda. Instead, he’s left in New York, and their “two years of marriage in two short weeks” is but a memory, a gigantic loss over his head. When he ends the song, “God damn it, Amanda, oh God damn it all,” it explains everything.

Whether these subtle and simple stories, fun lyrics like “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing,” or tapping into gospel, country, or whatever is necessary for the song, Houck’s confidence has kicked Phosphorescent into another level entirely. After his last album, which was entirely covers of Willie Nelson songs–pleasant, but whatever–this turn is stunning. Maybe exploring Willie Nelson pulled something out of Houck, I don’t know. But whatever happened, Here’s To Taking It Easy is as perfect an album I have heard this year.

Phosphorescent “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing”

Phosphorescent “The Mermaid Parade”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #4. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here

I'm New Here

the ghetto was a haven for the meanest preacher ever known

#4. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here

When you think of the blues, there are generally not too many variations out there. You’ve got acoustic Delta blues with mysterious and spooky legends like Robert Johnson or Skip James. Or you might think of more electric bluesmen, bigger-than-life and creating rock and roll, like Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. But the one thing that connects these bluesmen, and makes them eternal, is their wisdom. They all have lived–struggled, fought, lost, made it out alive. That’s the blues in a nutshell.

Gil Scott-Heron, by all accounts, has lived. He is becoming more and more recognized as a legend, one of the pioneers of hiphop, with his ’70s spoken-word jazz recordings. He might not have been the first rapper, but he was a leading black poet, focused on urban social issues. I’ll cut his bio short, but by the ’80s and ’90s, he had more or less quit recording, and the ’00s found him in prison for drug possession. This all leads to I’m New Here, Scott-Heron’s first album in 16 years (and only second since 1982).

The amazing thing about I’m New Here is the way it takes old parts, yet sounds so new, so modern. The slide guitar and handclaps of “New York Is Killing Me” are skeletal blues, but the production includes electronic buzzes which make it feel current. The ghostly ambience of “The Crutch,” the fluttery beat of “Your Soul And Mine”: they may be distantly related to Skip James but could only have been made in modern times. The opening track, “Me And The Devil Blues” reworks the old Robert Johnson song into something almost triphop. This makes I’m New Here a rarity, an actual twist on one of the oldest and most familiar genres.

But what makes that twist special is that Scott-Heron is old enough to know. Throughout the album, there are number of short snippets of him speaking, offering thoughts (“certain bad things that happen…make you realize you’ve been here a whole lot longer than people thought you would”). There are no dirt crossroads in Gil Scott-Heron’s blues, but it is clear he has met the devil a few times. But as he sings on the title track (ironically, a cover of a recent Smog song), “no matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around.” Gil Scott-Heron was pretty far gone, but I’m New Here hopefully is an announcement that’s he’s come back around. The world needs his voice.

Gil Scott-Heron “New York Is Killing Me”

Gil Scott-Heron “Me And The Devil”

and PS. check out this video for a remix of “New York Is Killing Me”… I think it gets to exactly what I wrote here earlier. It’s not the dirt road blues, it’s the subway blues. Watch him here.

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #9. Yeasayer – Odd Blood

Yeasayer - Odd Blood

everybody clouds up in my head

#9. Yeasayer – Odd Blood

With their second album, Yeasayer started to turn their undeniable creativity into funky funky songs. I use “funky” twice, for both meanings of the word: the music has strong groovy beats, and is also slightly strange.

Odd Blood starts with the dark and swampy “The Children,” before kicking into some of the strongest cuts on the album, “Ambling Alp,” “Madder Red,” and “O.N.E.” These songs show off their style perfectly. All are filled with deep percussion, swirly guitars, catchy harmonies, and just a hint of a sensual groove. The long intro to “Love Me Girl” sounds like Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack,” except all warped. Heck, deep down, a lot of the beats sound like they could have been influenced by Timbaland. Needless to say, the production throughout this album is pretty amazing. Everything fits together, creating a unique musical space.

Turns out, Yeasayer uses a lot of experimentation in making their music, such as plugging samplers into a television to create a wall of sound, sampling found Moroccan music, or singing harmonies through a fan. Never has experimentation sounded so catchy! I say “turns out,” because I had no idea about these strange tricks until I read about it on Wikipedia. Listening to Odd Blood, and having seen them live (Coachella again), I had no idea. The tricks never sound avant-garde, never sound like prog rock. (Thankfully.)

So yea, I have no idea what to call Yeasayer’s music. They borrow from all over. The hiphop comparisons from earlier were subtle, because this is by no means an R&B album. Or is it?! I get the sense, and I really hope I’m not wrong, that Yeasayer is still figuring it out themselves. Like, hey, we can make great recordings and do this right! When bands come to that realization, they often return with an epic. (Radiohead, for example, did that after The Bends.) I fully expect an epic of a third album from Yeasayer. But for now, I’m digging on Odd Blood and it’s odd collection of songs.

Yeasayer – “O.N.E.”

Yeasayer – “I Remember”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #13. Sleigh Bells – Treats


did you do your best today?

#13. Sleigh Bells – Treats

For a little background, Sleigh Bells started making some waves on the internet when their demo started floating around. They signed to M.I.A.’s record label, and then I saw them at Coachella before their album dropped. They showed up, blasted the packed tent in the early afternoon for about 20 minutes, leaving everyone blown away. I definitely bought into the hype after seeing them in person.

Similarly, the explosiveness of their debut album, Treats, lands it high on my countdown. Treats is a compact blast of razor-sharp riffs, modern in its simplicity and lo-fi arrangement. Alexis Krauss (the singer) subverts the hard guitar with her female energy, giving Sleigh Bells a more interesting sound. Krauss and Derek Miller’s guitar make up the entirety of the band, and their interplay is what impresses. (Live, they use a drum machine, I assume on the record too.)

The basic set-up is that Miller riffs like crazy, while Krauss goes all out too. She brings a slight pop catchiness to the mix. Imagine M.I.A. with an electric guitarist. There are a couple of tracks, like “Run The Heart,” where Krauss sings like she’s the guitar, riffing with her voice, while Miller plays more atmospherically behind her. Some songs they trade back and forth, like “Riot Rhythm” or “Crown On The Ground.” Subtle, but they are not doing the exact same thing in every song. It hints to me that they may be capable of changing things up as they move on.

The songs touch on a lot of young topics: best friends, straight As, cowboys & Indians, boyfriends, braces. However, the lyrics don’t take place in, say, high school, but from later on, looking back. Krauss seems to be using the act of remembering to remind that, hey it can be stormy when young. It’s nostalgiac, but looked at as sincerely and real as one should. That said, the lyrics are pretty much the last thing to focus on with Sleigh Bells. I hate to write that, I always like to give them the thought they deserve. They are entertaining, but for me, they get lost beneath the music.

While I definitely think Treats is a killer, I am left wondering about its staying power. This style of music could lose its draw when there’s a second album just like it. Or might it eventually sound dated? Right now, it works because Sleigh Bells is right now. Looking back at 2010 though, they were a highlight.

Sleigh Bells – “A/B Machines”

Sleigh Bells – “Tell ‘Em”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #15. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

This Is Happening

LCD Soundsystem Is Playing At My House

#15. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Many of LCD Soundsystem’s songs on This Is Happening are about moments. The moment you get lost in music, forgetting all your troubles (“Dance Yourself Clean”). The moment you make a connection (“One Touch”). In “All I Want,” James Murphy writes of another moment: “from now on, I’m someone different / ‘Cause it’s no fun to be predictably lame / From now on, there’s true indifference / ‘Cause I want what I want.” Like the lyrics, LCD Soundsystem’s music is also usually about moments. You ride through the amazing production of “Dance Yourself Clean,” as the instruments dance all around each other, waiting for that moment it breaks into a phat groove. Numerous moments slide in and out of the album, catchy harmony vocals, keyboard licks, beats, percussion.

It took me awhile to figure out what was happening with This Is Happening though. I had trouble placing it. Right now, maybe it’s overrated on the list. But next time I listen, it might be underrated. I’ve moved it all up and down and this is where it ended. I’m not sure why. It’s not as if James Murphy had any big change in style. In fact, if anything, he has expertly learned to trim the fat on his records, and now puts out strong, lean albums. Nothing is extraneous. His first album has some epic tracks but is at times a little goofy, a little hectic. He has an impressive ability to write music that is simultaneously locked-in tight and builds dramatically.

This Is Happening is his third album, and there’s less goofiness (though I’m not sure what to make of “Drunk Girls,” I could do without it). He’s also cut out the occasionally heavy electric guitar riffs that he used to use sometimes. What remains are the phat grooves building into dramatic release, and some notably emotional tunes (“I Can Change” and “Home”). If that’s what you like best in LCD Soundsystem’s music, you should dig This Is Happening.

LCD Soundsystem – “I Can Change”

LCD Soundsystem – “All I Want”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #18. Vampire Weekend – Contra

Vampire Weekend - Contra

look psychotic in a balaclava

#18. Vampire Weekend – Contra

I know this choice is particularly hipster of me. But so is counting down my top 25 albums of the year on a friend’s blog, so whatever. I’ve been charmed by Vampire Weekend. I saw a bit more than half of their set at Coachella this year (another hipster alert, what am I turning into?) and thought they were pretty fun. I’ve listened to more than half of their new album, as well, and also find it pretty fun.*

Anyway, I find Vampire Weekend’s music tantalizing. Their songs all seem to be right on the edge of busting out into some massive LCD Soundsystem-like funk. But they don’t. They hold it back. Or they just flash it briefly. This tension is what they do best, and is pretty addictive. The African polyrhythmic drums mix with Ezra Koenig’s catchy and creative melodies are a blast, and by the time you get to the heart of the album, it all makes sense and you’re groovin’.

“Horchata” kicks Contra off, taking you somewhere warm in December, trying to “forget a feeling you thought you’d forgotten.” What is he trying to escape? Many of the songs hint at this escape, of feeling disconnected and instead of dwelling on it, getting away. I won’t lie though, while I find Koenig to be an interesting lyricist, I am struggling with them a little. They do at times come off preppy and overly clever. But the preppy and overly clever can feel worried and disconnected too, right? Honestly though, it took me many listens to even begin to look at the words; it’s Vampire Weekend’s music that won me over. And if that makes me a hipster sometimes, then so be it.

*Just kidding, I’ve listened to all of it!

Vampire Weekend “Giving Up The Gun”

Vampire Weekend “Horchata”

- almostaghost

Phoenix / Grizzly Bear / Girls (live at the Hollywood Bowl, Sept 18 2010)

Reviewing a live show is tough, even tougher than records. Basically, I imagine there were 17,375 Phoenix fans at the Hollywood Bowl last Saturday, and they probably all had a great time and walked away thinking, OMGZ! I mean, who am I to argue or say otherwise?

I’m not anti-Phoenix. I checked out their music prior to Coachella earlier this year, and caught about 10 minutes of their set there. Mostly I’m ambivalent. I was, however, more interested in seeing Grizzly Bear and to a lesser extent Girls. I tried to see Grizzly Bear at Coachella, but their tent was too packed, I couldn’t make it in. As for Girls, ok cool.

So, as someone not entirely wrapped up in any of the bands, I feel like I could think more about the concert-going experience and what these bands brought to the stage. Interestingly, despite their obvious differences in sound and presence, these 3 bands seem to me to have certain things in common (besides all having lame band names that are useless to look up in Google). Mainly, I noticed a similar songwriting style. I mean, I don’t believe there was any songs that had any sort of chorus; and they wrap their verses in relatively subtle riffs and melodies. This of course is cool on record, but to a giant crowd? Something felt lacking.

There are two types of live bands, in my experience: those that come out and play their songs, and those that come out and play. Girls is the first one. They came out, did their songs, and left. Though I’ll be fair, they only played for like 17 minutes. Their first couple songs made little impression, and then just as they were getting into it, their set ended.

Grizzly Bear came next. You know how their great records and songs can sometimes have an awkward yet beautiful momentum to them? Live, it’s slightly annoying. I kept hoping for a bit more groove, but all the constant changes kind of nullified it. Despite that, I’d say they came off pretty well on stage, I enjoyed their voices, and their songs have continually grown on me over the years. Halfway through, Leslie Feist came out and sang a song (and danced around and sang harmony on another), and she always sounds great.

Phoenix closed it down. They are a talented band, and have a sound that can fit in a big place like the Bowl. They definitely had a bit more muscle than either Girls or Grizzly Bear. The songs I liked the best were the ones that seemed to be built more on a synthesizer sound. Like I said, though, the lack of choruses made the show feel odd to me. I don’t want my bands to necessarily be U2 and sing a bunch of anthems, but by this point, I wanted something. Reach out and grab me, Phoenix! They did not. Since I didn’t really know any of their songs (not a radio listener, obvs), most of what they did went right through my ears.

At one point, Phoenix walked out into the middle of the crowd, and played a few songs from there. From my vantage point, up in the back, it was a giant lull in the show. But I guess that was nice for the people in that section. Also for a bit, they dropped a white curtain down and started to play behind it. I thought, hmm like The Wall? But you could see their silhouettes through it, and there was little rainbow lights lighting it up, and they kind of just noodled bass solos (which they seemed to do a lot) or something from back there. I’m not sure what statement they were making, but it certainly wasn’t anything like Pink Floyd’s statement about the wall between band and audience. I’m sure the whole thing is some sort of symbolic message about modern music I haven’t figured out.

Here’s a couple of mp3s:

Grizzly Bear & Feist – “Service Bell”

Girls “Headache”

I wanted to share this pretty cool cover of Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” that Phoenix recorded at some point, but the file size is too big, so here it is on Youtube:

and while finding that, I found an audience clip of the Grizzly Bear/Feist performance!

- almostaghost