Articles posted in April 2009

I bet they’re still sleeping together

Is is the Cure? Is it the Smiths? No, it’s exlovers, whose new single, “Photobooth,” evokes the crystalline jangle of ’80s Brit-rock. The chord progression is a close approximation of “Just Like Heaven,” with subtle lead licks mingling with hypnotic open-chord strumming. The vocals, when they enter, are sung in tight harmony, and recall the shoegaze androgyny of My Bloody Valentine. It’s a bit of a pastiche, but that isn’t such a problem when it comes to a song as catchy as this.

“Photobooth” was released as a double A-side single with “Weightless,” which sounds a bit like a dream pop take on Nirvana‘s “Heart-Shaped Box.” Another tune, “Just a Silhouette,” is available here for the cost of an e-mail address.

The band is entering the studio soon to record an EP with Stephen Street (who produced Strangeways, Here We Come).
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Good things come in threes

I normally prefer albums that are short and sweet, but in the case of Joel Plaskett‘s Three, I can’t help but admire its sheer scale. It’s a triple album, with each disc comprised of nine songs, making for close to two hours of music. Song titles include “Pine, Pine, Pine,” “Heartless, Heartless, Heartless,” and “On & On & On.” “Good things come in threes,” Plaskett sings on “Through & Through & Through”—no kidding. His fixation on the number three is the kind of obsessive compulsion usually reserved for the genius or the insane. Thankfully, Plaskett is closer to the former.

The most remarkable thing about Three is that of the 27 tracks, none of them suck. (Okay, the comically deep vocals on “Drifter’s Raus” aren’t great, but the song itself holds up.) The album doesn’t have much in the way of curveballs, but what Plaskett lacks in adventurousness, he makes up for in consistency. The majority of the songs on Three vary between rootsy, countrified folk and electro-tinged rockabilly, full of call-and-response harmonies and bluegrass accompaniment (including pedal steel, fiddles, and the occasional banjo). Only “Rewind, Rewind, Rewind” offers much in the way of a stylistic counterpoint, with a tick-tocking beat and retro girl group vocals.

With double and triple albums, people are wont to speculate what songs would have made the cut had the album been cut down to a single disc. But here, that debate is irrelevant, since every song makes the album stronger by its inclusion. It’s an insular album, full of self-refences and recurring themes. As well as repeated musical ideas, the same lyrics keep popping up in multiple songs: “rewind,” “beyond,” and (of course) “three.” There isn’t much of a stylistic distance between any of the three discs—the second is little mellower, perhaps. For the most part, the songs could have been placed in almost any order and the effect would have been the same; this makes Three the kind of album you can get lost in, allowing the songs to wash over you without the need for a linear structure. This is also handy because it means you don’t have to listen to the entire thing in one go to get the full effect. (Because how often can you really devote two hours to listening to one album?)

There is a slight tendency on Three for the songs to blend into one another—no wonder, since 27 songs is a lot to digest at once. But standouts begin to emerge on repeated listens. The best of the bunch is buried way back in the third disc, the stomping hoedown “Deny, Deny, Deny.” With gorgeous female harmonies and a chorus melody that could have been borrowed from a nursery rhyme, it sounds a rootsy take on 60s AM pop.

Three is out now via MapleMusic.
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A small victory

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Pains of Being Pure at Heart‘s new single, “Young Adult Friction,” I said “The tune has a hazy, nostalgic quality, so here’s hoping the band makes a sun-bleached Super-8 video to go along with it.” The video for “Young Adult Friction” was released today, and although it isn’t sun-bleached (since it takes place inside), it was shot with an old-school film camera, with washed out colours, missing frames, and plenty of weird flashed of light. So I’m going to claim a win on this one.

It’s a cool retro tune on an album full of cool retro tunes. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s sound is pure summer, with jangling guitars and warm, shoegaze harmonies—it keeps sounding better and better as the weather heats up, so I’m bound to keep raving about it for the next few months.

Check out the video here, courtesy of Pitchfork.

mp3: “Young Adult Friction”
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Dan Deacon @ Richard’s on Richards, 4/26/09

About halfway through his set at Richard’s on Richards on Sunday night, Dan Deacon requested that the audience form a wide circle around the perimeter of the dance floor. He explained that we would be playing what was essentially a massive game of duck-duck-goose, culminating in the entire audience sprinting in circles around the floor. My friend turned to me with genuine panic in his eyes—”We’re all gonna die,” he said flatly.

The circle began spinning quickly, with fans racing as if around a human plughole. Except, with nowhere to drain to, the plughole inevitably resulted in a teeming mass of bodies, moshing and dancing without any semblance of formation. I suddenly found myself face-to-face with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in four years, as we were crushed flat against the stage. My head was swimming and I saw stars as I began to imagine the next day’s headlines: “17 Die in Dan Deacon Plughole Incident.” Looking up, I realized I was inches away from Dan himself, his signature red glasses sliding down his nose and his right arm in a sling (due to a shoulder dislocation earlier this week). Beside me, a girl reached up and handed Dan a shoe, which he held high above his head as he screamed into a microphone that made him sound like a chipmunk.

It was the most surreal moment of a night full of off-the-wall weirdness and crazy audience-participation stunts. At one point, Dan cleared the floor and began a dance contest; later on, he asked fans to link arms with one another to form a human archway, while others danced their way through the tunnel of bodies; during “Snookered,” he instructed audience members to rest their hands on the heads of the people in front of them and focus on a guilty memory. It could have failed miserably if everyone hadn’t played along—but everyone did, and by the end, anyone who wasn’t dancing like a maniac looked strangely out of place.

Compared to the audience-participation experiments, the music was secondary by comparison. The songs seemed like an accompaniment to the main show—which was Dan’s crazy hijinks—rather than vice-versa. This isn’t to say that the performance was anything less than spectacular, with a thirteen-piece ensemble thrashing away at xylophones, guitars, and drum kits. The live band transformed electronica anthems into tribal rave-ups, with almost all of the instruments being performed acoustically, then filtered through Dan’s mass of effects. The backing musicians did the majority of the legwork, but it was Dan who delivered the charisma, spending much of the show with one arm stretched high above his head as if hearkening the heavens.

The show went until past curfew, meaning that there was no encore, and the venue turned on all of the house lights in order to hustle people out the door. Looking around me, everyone was bathed in sweat, matted hair pressed against their foreheads and dazed expressions in their eyes. Of the few snippets of conversion I overheard, no one seemed capable of saying anything more substantial than “Oh my God.” Oh my God—if you ever have to opportunity to see Dan Deacon live, go. But be warned: it will make every other show you’ve ever seen seem tame in comparison.
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Hopping and bopping to the Crocodiles’ rock

Almost anyone who has ever written about Crocodiles has compared the duo to breakout lo-fi bands such as No Age, Times New Viking, and Wavves. Like those bands, Crocodiles coat their recordings in white wash distortion and bury the vocals behind a haze of reverb. But Crocodiles are unique in the movement because of their reliance on electronics; all of the drums are programmed, and synthesizers feature almost as prominently as guitars in the arrangements.

On April 28, the band will release its debut full-length via Fat Possum. It’s called Summer of Hate, and while I’m still digesting the album, I’ve completely fallen in love with the first single, “I Wanna Kill.” It sounds a lot like the Jesus & Mary Chain, with an ultra-distorted four-note guitar lick and cavernous percussion (which, remember, is actually programmed, although it sounds almost natural here). But what makes the song so exciting is its devastatingly simple three chord hook; it has a blissful bubblegum melody, which makes the refrain of “I wanna kill tonight” seem all the more gruesome by comparison. Homicide has never sounded so much fun.

You can stream the song from Crocodiles’ MySpace, or download it at Stereogum.
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Sufjan Stevens opens the vault

Of the seven major releases of Sufjan Stevens‘s career, only the first one (2000′s A Sun Came) lacks an overarching thematic focus; his other albums have been devoted to the Chinese zodiac, Michigan, God, Illinois (twice), and Christmas. But as a new post on Asthmatic Kitty‘s website reveals, these official releases are only the tip of a very weird iceberg. Prior to the (apparently aborted) 50 states concept, a college-age Sufjan Stevens sat in his dorm room, churning out songs about first names, planets, days of the week, the Apostles, and who knows what else. Many of these songs were recorded on a four track tape recorder, with “pillows and cushions stuffed in the air vents so no one would hear.”

At the bottom of the post, Sufjan is offering one of the songs as a free sample (thus proving that these crazy song series actually do exist). It’s called “Sofia’s Song,” and comes from the series about names. Apparently it’s about Sofia Copolla, although this is not clear from the lyrics alone. The style recalls Devendra Banhart‘s home demos (as documented on 2002s Oh Me Oh My…), with layered vocals and haphazard fingerpicking. It’s a simple folk song that falls well short of the two-minute mark, but it’s touching nonetheless, especially when accompanied by Sufjan’s intimate account of the recordings: “The world of youth was where I tried on new ideas, new outfits, new names, and new rhyme schemes—-a world where the banjo was my journal, where Sofia Coppola was my imaginary confidant, and where singing out of tune was perfectly OK!”

Perhaps, buried in this nostalgia, there is a subliminal explanation for why Sufjan still has not released an official follow-up to his 2005 masterpiece, Illinois. By glorifying the freedom of obscurity, when no one was listening and he was able to experiment without consequence, he hints at the pressure he now feels as one of the most prominent names in indie music.

The song is well worth a listen, and the accompanying post is equally interesting. Click here to check them out.
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The dude from Carl Newman’s old band

In the mid-’90s, Jason Zumpano was the drummer (as well as the namesake) of the Vancouver power pop outfit Zumpano. The group achieved only moderate success, and would have likely been entirely forgotten if not for the later success of frontman Carl Newman. As it is, Zumpano’s place in the indie rock canon is as a biographical footnote in the career of the New Pornographers. This may not be the most glorious legacy imaginable, but it means that any release by Jason Zumpano will have a small guaranteed market based on his name alone.

I had seen his new album, Roses $9.99 a Dozen, advertised at Zulu Records and on the playlist at CiTR 101.9, so, on a whim, I decided to give it a listen. Rather than the pop rock I expected, however, I discovered that the album is entirely instrumental, made up of solo piano compositions. The album’s 12 tracks (the titular “dozen,” I suppose) can’t quite be classified as songs, but are closer to classical pieces—only the steadily pounding left hand chords suggest that the composer might have a background in rock music. The pieces are mostly jaunty and upbeat, bearing a vague similarity to Vince Guaraldi‘s soundtrack for Charlie Brown. Except, without a jazz trio to back him up, Jason Zumpano’s music is harder to place; this is an album that truly earns the “Unclassifiable” genre tag on iTunes.

Further research revealed that Roses $9.99 a Dozen is actually not intended as a stand-alone album, but as a collaboration with visual artist Shayne Ehman. It makes sense that the music is meant to have visual accompaniment, since it would make for an excellent movie soundtrack—preferably for a Jane Austen film, or an indie flick about the romantic tribulations of a lovable sociopath. It would probably also serve very well as dinner music. (Next time I have a family sit-down meal, I’ll put it on and let you know how it goes.)

But the best thing about Roses $9.99 a Dozen is its value as a curiosity—it’s fascinating that an album like this can be made at all. No label in the world would have chosen to release this album had not come from a (somewhat) notable name. This isn’t an insult—I think it’s fantastic that an album as off-the-wall as this is being released by Catbird Records, a label that usually specializes in indie rock. And here’s the best part—the label has already sold out of the album.

Although I had never heard of his solo work until now, Roses $9.99 a Dozen is actually his fourth album of piano music. His website contains free downloads from each of the albums, so be sure to give them listen (and maybe compile a playlist for your next dinner party).

mp3: “Beggars of Blue Sky”
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Like Portishead-meets-Wilco (okay, not really)

I don’t like to begin a review with a comparison, but in the case of Portico, I can’t help it: singer Lyn Heinemann sounds a hell of a lot like Kathleen Edwards, from the range right down to the enunciation. In fact, if I hadn’t seen the band’s promotional photos, I would probably think that “Lyn Heinemann” was just an alias, and that it actually was Edwards on lead vocal duties.

But luckily for Portico, the story doesn’t end there. While Edwards sticks to rootsy, Portico’s latest album, First Neighbours, falls much more on the “alt.” side of things; the guitars are almost entirely electric, and Heinemann typically plays with a gritty, distorted tone, even when strumming an old-timey folk waltz. The band occasionally introduces a baroque string section to augment its power trio set up, also making room for swells of mournful horns.

Despite its garage rock inclinations, the band never fully lets loose; aside from the occasional bizarre time signature, Mimi Mahovlich (bass) and Greg Murray (drums) are rarely flashy, instead placing the focus on Heinemann’s imagistic lyrics. She rarely sounds like she’s singing about herself, and her fondness for historical narratives makes Portico resemble the Decemberists (although, to be fair, she’s is much more grounded in reality than the fantastical Colin Meloy). Based on the evidence here, it sounds like Heinemann majored in Canadian history: “The Battle of Duck Lake” describes a conflict between Canadian government forces and Métis inhabitants; “Hallmark Poultry Ltd.” concerns East Vancouver prostitution; “Louis Riel Leaves the Collège de Montréal” is about exactly what it sounds like.

But Heinemann is equally successful when singing about personal matters: “Unreunion” is possibly the least romantic love song ever, with the fantastically biting chorus lyric, “I don’t really care if we can’t talk / We can always fuck.” It’s the most straightforward song on the album, from the brash lyrics to the driving guitars and thundering drums. As compelling as the history lessons are, the song is enough to make you wish Portico would be so emotionally direct all the time.
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Hey Ocean! fills your guitar with pigeons

Hey Ocean‘s previous single, “A Song About California,” reached #2 on the MuchMore Top 10—an incredible feat for a band that is essentially unsigned (it shares the Pop Machine imprint with Said the Whale). Quick on the heels of that success, Hey Ocean! has released another video, this time for “Terribly Stable.” Unlike the glizy clip for “A Song About California,” the new video doesn’t feature the band at all, opting instead for goofy animation made out of paper cutouts. The cutouts are are only marginally discernible as human, meaning they can perform actions that would be to risqué if shot in live action: they get drunk, have sex (then film it), smoke from a hookah, and attack one another with a fire extinguisher. The video ends with a spiky-haired cutout sticking a bomb down the toilet, causing the building to blast off into space.

The song itself is a slightly surprisingly choice as a single, with dense, clattering percussion and funky strumming that’s a bit too fast to dance to. It’s not one of the catchier songs on It’s Easier to Be Somebody Else but it’s still a great tune, showing off Hey Ocean’s range and rhythmic virtuosity.

Click here to check out the video.

Also be sure to take a look at the band’s previous videos for “A Song About California” (here) and “Alleyways” (here). It’s Easier to Be Somebody Else is available now.
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Hollerado’s new album still free, still kicks ass

The guys in Hollerado certainly have a flair for the dramatic: earlier this year, they released their (totally awesome) debut album, Record in a Bag, as a free download from their website. Then in February, they played a show every day of the month, rotating between the same seven venues (meaning the circuit was repeated four times). But their latest stunt is the craziest yet: at the end of this month, the band is playing a series of shows in China, starting in Beijing and ending in Shenzhen. It’s a crazy move for a group that is still unsigned, and hasn’t even done a cross-country tour since releasing its album. Still, I guess Hollerado is hoping to break into the great untapped Chinese indie rock market (that’s one 1.3 billion potential fans).

The band doesn’t have anything new in terms of recorded material, but I recently discovered the video for “Americanarama,” one of the catchiest tunes on Record in a Bag (and that’s saying something). The clip was actually shot long before the release of the album, and parodies the homogenized hypersexuality of American Apparel. The band is set up amid piles of boxes in a clothing factory, while revealingly dressed hipsters dance on top of tables. Dave Foley (of Kids in the Hall fame) stars, delivering a hysterical performance as the sleazy, sex-obsessed boss. The video ends with the guys stripping down to their Y-fronts for a photo session of their own.

Download: Record in a Bag
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