Articles posted in August 2009

Makeout Videotape’s two-man (?) assault

Makeout Videotape - Heat Wave
Makeout Videotape‘s website claims that the band is a two-piece, a collaboration between Mac DeMarco and Natalie Gitt. The group’s Heat Wave EP, however, sounds suspiciously like the work of one man. With songs that are comprised of nothing more than distorted guitar chords, buried vocals and thumping, monotonous drums, it’s even possible that the collection was recorded in single takes, Chad VanGaalen-style.

With such simple arrangements, it would be easy for the Vancouver group to get repetitive in large doses. But Heat Wave blows through its seven songs in just 13 minutes, meaning that you never have the time to get restless. Each song is a blast of white-hot distortion, the rudimentary recording style meaning that everything is buried in dense fuzz and reverb.

Like fellow no-fi rockers Wavves and Times New Viking, the songs themselves are gleefully catchy, aping ’60s surf and bubblegum pop. The hazy, blissed-out riffs of “Slush Puppy Love” give way to punchy, double-time verses and sing-song vocals; the lyrics are impossible to discern, but the title suggests they’re probably every bit as sugary as the melody would imply. “I Guess the Lord Is in New York” is a bouncy Harry Nilsson cover that ends up sounding a bit like Lou Reed at his most accessible. Best of all is “Heat Wave,” a haunting groove with an infectious, wordless falsetto refrain.

mp3: “Heat Wave”

Makeout Videotape released Heat Wave on CD-R earlier this year, but it’s currently sold out. If you shoot the band a message on MySpace, they might be kind enough to hook you up.
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A basket full of memories

Dan Mangan - Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Earlier this year, Dan Mangan released Roboteering EP, which previewed of material from his latest album. These new songs, and especially the single “Robots,” were a massive leap forwards for the Vancouver singer-songwriter: the lyrics were catchy (“Robots need love too”), the melodies were hummable, and arrangements were beefed up with keys, banjos, group vocals and even a triumphant horn section.

mp3: “Robots”

On the full-length album—Nice, Nice, Very Nice, which comes out this week—most of the first half is similarly ornate. Opener “Road Regrets” describes the pitfalls of life on the road, its densely layered acoustic guitars accompanied by chiming electric leads and thundering drum rolls. “Fair Vernona” is even grander, beginning with a hypnotic drum-and-bass groove and backedmasked guitars before swelling to a glorious climax of rising horns and sweeping strings.

The second half of the album is less flashy, mainly comprised of sparse ballads that emphasize Dan’s nimble fingerpicking and gruff, soothing voice. These songs are no less memorable than the high-production numbers, evoking the intimacy of Dan’s one-man live shows. “Basket” is a stunning ballad about growing old—a well covered topic, but the spine-tingling strings and Dan’s ragged growl make it sound like a revelation. “Won’t you take my cane and hold my hand / You’re holding onto all I have / Just a basket full of memories,” he sings during the song’s heart-stopping climax. It’s a staggering moment, one which ought to give a further boost to Dan’s already expanding fanbase.

Nice, Nice, Very Nice is out now via File Under: Music.
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A retro look for modern ideas

Girls - Lust for Life
Remember when Black Mountain released that song “No Satisfaction” a few years ago? You went in expecting to hear a crappy, overplayed cover, and then discovered that it was actually an original—and a pretty good one at that.

Girls just released a new video for their tune “Lust for Life” and, as you’ve probably guessed from my preamble, it’s not an Iggy Pop cover. Its melody is sweet enough to be a (pre-Pet Sounds) Beach Boys song, although the lo-fi jangle, out-of-key melodica and slurred vocals make it sound closer to ’80s college rock. But it’s the lyrics that are the main draw here, making a heartbroken plea for life’s simple pleasures, including “a pizza and a bottle of wine.” An all-male band called Girls singing about wanting a boyfriend? How modern.

As for the video, it’s the typical shaky Super 8 clip you’d expect from a DIY retro rock band. Pretty stuff. It comes courtesy of Pitchfork.

This is actually the second video the band has released for the same song. Last year, they released the simple but weirdly compelling clip below.

“Lust for Life” appears on Album, due out September 22 via True Panther Sounds.
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The Dodos have life in them yet

The Dodos - Time to Die
Time to Die is the Dodos’ first album since their 2008 breakout Visiter. This time around, they’ve teamed with producer Phil Ek, best known for his work with Fleet Foxes and the Shins. The result sounds exactly like what you’d expect: the Dodos’ folk metal mayhem streamlined into richer, more focused arrangements with crystalline production that emphasizes melody over intensity.

Of course, writing pop songs was never really the Dodos’ strong suit, so it’s a but disappointing that the tribal epics have been reigned in. There’s nothing here on the scale of “Fools” or “Jodi,” nor any quirky 90-second songs fragments like “It’s That Time Again.” Nevertheless, lead single “Fables” is easily the group’s catchiest tune yet, with vocal harmonies pilfered from Visiter-standout “The Season” and a chorus so hummable that it could almost be a nursery rhyme.

As well as improving the production values, the Dodos have added a new member, vibraphonist Keaton Snyder. His contributions are subtle, but they help to create a textured sound totally unlike the stark two-piece line-up of old. “The Strums” buries its furious strumming pattern (go figure) in a lush bed of delay and chiming vibraphone, creating a reverent, nostalgic atmosphere that wouldn’t sound out of place on your average TV drama.

It’s sonically gorgeous, but the Dodos are still best at high energy freakouts. “This is a Business” is the most upbeat song on the album, and it’s the clear standout. Drummer Logan Kroeber hammers out a thundering beat while singer/guitarist Meric Long blazes through frantic arpeggios over swells of distortion. When he sings the titular phrase, he almost screams it—if only someone was pounding a garbage can in the background, then maybe the Dodos would have a song of Visiter-worthy proportions.

Time to Die is available now as a digital download. It will be released in stores on September 15 via Frenchkiss.
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The Exorcist of art rock

Das Wanderlust - Horses for Courses
There’s nothing more terrifying than corrupted innocence. Forget zombies, vampires or chainsaws—the scariest movies are those about little kids gone evil. That’s what makes Horses for Courses, the debut full-length by British trio Das Wanderlust more terrifying than any death metal band. The group’s mixture of twee pop and abrasive art rock is as unsettling as it is infectious, with goofy 8-bit keyboards set against fractured blasts of guitar and drums.

This dichotomy is best captured by “Puzzle,” which pairs singer Laura Simmons’s soft, girlish vocals with thundering crescendos and creepy keyboard arpeggios. The song ultimately breaks into a propulsive major-key outro with wordless yelps that evoke the joyous mayhem of Ponytail. It’s one of the only moments of catharsis on the album, most of which favours threatening buildups and bone-chilling screams. Even when the band momentarily scales back, as on “We’re All Doomed,” Simmons builds tension with quivering singing and high, gasping breaths; this inevitably explodes into jarring noise rock fireworks.

mp3: “We’re All Doomed”

Das Wanderlust’s sound is based primarily around Simmons’s vocal transformations, with arrangements that seem to move in accordance to her freakouts. Still, the band is hardly a one trick pony: the collection’s only true ballad, “Turn to Grey,” is perhaps the best song on the lot. With plunking piano and tinkling glockenspiel playing off a fluttering snare beat, it feels like it blow up at any second; it never does, and you can’t help but breath a sigh of relief when the song slows to a gradual halt. It shows that, as well as making a glorious racket, Das Wanderlust knows how to toy with listeners’ emotions, a talent that sets the band above the majorty of its noise rock contemporaries.

Horses for Courses is out now via Don’t Tell Clare.
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Saxophones and honey in the sun for you

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
Camera Obscura albums have an unfortunate tendency to run out of steam after the first track. It’s not because the subsequent songs are bad—it’s just that track one is so brilliant that everything after it seems like a letdown in comparison. The group’s 2006 breakthrough Let’s Get Out of This Country had plenty of good songs, but all of them paled in comparison to “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” which kicked off the album with an orchestral splendor that single-handedly eclipsed the rest of the album.

The group’s latest, My Maudlin Career, suffers a similar fate with its gorgeous opener “French Navy.” Thematically, the song is pure Glaswegian twee, describing a failing relationship with bookish lyrical references to dusty libraries and dietary restrictions. But the arrangement is majestic chamber pop, with sweeping swings and triumphant horns that buoy up singer Tracyanne Campbell’s characteristically deadpan vocals.

Nothing else on My Maudlin Career even comes close to matching the glory of the first track, but that’s not to suggest that the album doesn’t have its share of good tunes. The orchestral instrumentation is even grander than on the band’s previous offerings, transforming the humble retro pop of “The Sweetest Thing” into a cinematic anthem. But despite the instrumental largesse, the tone is almost always melancholic; on the country-tinged “Forest and Sands,” Campbell poignantly signs “I pretend that my heart and my head are well / But if the blood pumping through my veins could freeze / Like a river into Toronto then I’d be pleased.”

The album ends with the joyous “Honey in the Sun,” its majestically rising horns set to a thundering drum beat. Lyrically, it’s the near opposite to the rest of the album—Campbell attempts to will herself into depression, but is ultimately unable deny her own happiness: “I wish my heart was as cold as the morning dew / But it’s as warm as saxophones and honey in the sun for you.” The euphoria is impossible to deny, and its placement as the closer is perfect, almost making you forget that you spent most of the album fighting the urge to skip back to “French Navy.”

My Maudlin Career is out now via 4AD.
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Lightning Dust ups the ante

Lightning Dust - Infinite Light
Lightning Dust‘s self-titled debut, released in 2007, is one of the most sombre, depressing records in recent memory. The album is entirely made up of piano ballads and sparse acoustic dirges, many of the arrangements featuring only a single instrument to accompany the vocals.

For their second album, Infinite Light, Amber Webber and Joshua Wells (best known as 2/5 of Black Mountain) have opted for lusher arrangements, embellishing their songs with Hounds of Love-style synthesizers and thundering percussion. Webber’s shuddering vibrato is as affecting as always, but this time it’s backed with spectral harmonies and a chilling string section. Stylistically, “Never Seen” isn’t a huge departure from the last album, but its haunting electric piano chords are joined by atmospheric synth flourishes and a cavernous, slow-motion drumbeat. By the time the song reaches is reverb-soaked climax, the rich instrumentation is so soothing that it could almost be new age.

mp3: “Never Seen”

Elsewhere, Lightning Dust lifts the mood with major key pop songs that could almost be described as radio friendly. “The Times” features deep, resonating piano chords supported by a rhythm section of bongos and shakers, sounding for all the world like the Rolling Stones (think “Sympathy for the Devil”). The drums that enter in the final minute are so breakneck that it resembles a continuous drumroll.

Lead single “I Knew” begins with a jackhammer electro beat and countrified acoustic arpeggios as Webber adopts a southern twang in keeping with the backwoods atmosphere; with a chorus that repeats the lyric “I knew love,” it’s the group’s most accessible song yet.

mp3: “I Knew”

Lightning Dust’s progression on Infinite Light is so pronounced that it sounds almost like an entirely different band. And, mostly importantly, it’s better in every way imaginable: the production is crisper, the songs more memorable, the arrangements more dynamic. It’s so good, in fact, that it stands up against Pink Mountaintops‘ monumental Outside Love, another Black Mountain spin-off released earlier this year. With side projects this good, it’s hard to miss Black Mountain during its 2009 hiatus.

Infinite Light is out now via Jagjaguwar.
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Brooke Gallupe takes the reigns

Immaculate Machine - High on Jackson Hill
Immaculate Machine‘s last album, 2007′s Fables, was characterized by the interplay between singers Brooke Gallupe and Kathryn Calder. Backed by technicolour keyboards and choppy guitars, the pair split vocal duties more or less evenly, giving the impression that the band was a democracy.

Since then, however, Calder has been busy touring and recording with the New Pornographers, so it’s unsurprising that her involvement with Immaculate Machine has been reduced. On High on Jackson Hill, the group’s fourth full-length, Gallupe handles nearly all of the vocal duties himself; Calder sings lead on “You Destroyer,” and trades off verses with Gallupe on “And It Was,” but otherwise her role is that of backup singer. Even the keyboards are less prominent, buried beneath heavy psych-blues licks and mellow acoustic strumming.

Opening track “Don’t Burn the Bridge” pairs scuzzy guitar riffs with dense Summer of Love harmonies; with its start-stop structure, you half expect the band to break into “Time of the Season” at any moment. This classic rock pilfering is typical of High on Jackson Hill: the acoustic march “Sound the Alarms” is laced with wah-soaked riffs and guitar hero soloing, while “He’s a Biter” cribs its falsetto backing vocals directly from T. Rex‘s “Mambo Sun.”

These retro rock tunes are interspersed with pared down acoustic tracks: the dreamy waltz “I Know It’s Not as Easy” recalls Cripple Crow-era Devendra Banhart, and the campfire singalong “Blurry Days” features only sparse accompaniment for its dense group vocals and acoustic plucking.

Although the band sounds comfortable playing any style, the album’s best song is the most straightforward of the bunch: “Only Love You for Your Car” is pure pop, its jaunty strumming punctuated with clattering snare hits. With catchy keyboard riffs (Calder’s only memorable instrumental contribution of the entire album) and a joyous chorus, it surpasses anything the group has ever written before. Based on songs like this, it’s clear that Gallupe is well-equipped to fulfill the role of sole frontman.

mp3: “Only Love You for Your Car”

High on Jackson Hill is out now via Mint.
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Crocodiles favour sonics over songwriting

“I Wanna Kill,” the first single off CrocodilesSummer of Hate, is a perfect pop song. Sonically, it recalls the Jesus and Mary Chain, with fuzzed out guitars, reverb-soaked vocals and a jackhammer beat. But the tune itself practically floats, especially the jubilant singalong chorus, which repeats the lyric “I want to kill tonight.” It’s probably the most buoyant song ever written about homicide and, placed at track two (track one, “Screaming Chrome,” is a brief ambient intro), it gets the record off to a blazing start.

It’s initially disappointing that the rest of Summer of Hate, Crocodiles’ first full-length, sounds nothing like “I Wanna Kill.” Unlike the single, the rest of the album favours drones over concise pop songs; Crocodiles come about their hooks by way of repetition, not melody, mixing shoegaze guitars with warm synths and hypnotic electro beats. “Here Comes the Sky” is one of the standouts of the collection, despite not really going anywhere in its four-minute runtime; the plunking piano and tremelo-laden arpeggios sound more like a soothing interlude than a radio-ready single.

When the group does pick up the pace, the hooks are typically buried by the hazy production. “Refuse Angels” is short and punchy, but the vocals are so drenched in reverb that it’s practically an instrumental. But with Crocodiles, that’s part of the experience, since Summer of Hate is more about the sonics than the songwriting. This is best exemplified by the title track, its cavernous guitar fuzz the perfect accompaniment to the creeped-out vocal melody. It may not be the tight collection of pop songs that the lead single suggests, but the dreamy atmospherics are just as compelling.

Summer of Hate is out now via Fat Possum.
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