Articles posted in October 2009

Atlas Sound @ the Biltmore Cabaret, 10/30/09

Atlas Sound
Last night, Bradford Cox played an unaccompanied acoustic set at the Biltmore under his solo moniker Atlas Sound. The following quotes from Cox should give you a pretty good idea of how it went:

“I’m going to stand up, and maybe you guys can shut up.”

“You know what it’s like, playing in a concert in a grocery store…in the frozen section.”

“Am I a dick?”

“There’s been about 45 minutes of [music] that you’ve just fucking ruined.”

“This is a little awkward for me because, like I said, I’m short a band tonight. But I like making things happen.”

“Can I get less of the audience in my monitor?”

“Imagine working in a mall and being covered in fucking vomit. It seems real fucking pointless.”

“SHUT UP AUDIENCE MEMBERS IN THE BACK.”

“Your loud-ass fucking chatter is drowning me out.”

“WHY DON’T YOU COME UP HERE AND SUCK MY FUCKING DICK.”

“I don’t come to your work…I’ve been banned from 7-11.”

“Justice is coming for you, you fucking cunts.”

“Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou….”
 
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Robots need love, still

Dan Mangan
Dan Mangan has already released the song “Robots” twice this year: first as the sort-of title track of the Roboteering EP, and then again as song two on the full-length Nice, Nice, Very Nice. For those that missed it on the first two go-arounds, the Vancouver singer-songwriter has just issued a video of song.

Fittingly, given how insanely catchy the song is, the video for “Robots” is one of the most memorable of the year. In it, Dan and his yellow-clad posse face off against a purple gang, led by Said the Whale‘s Ben Worcester. It looks like there might be a ’50s-style throwdown (Greasers vs. Socs!), but instead the two groups channel their rivalry into a heated battle between two toy robots. As the euphoric “Robots need love too” coda kicks in, the video takes an unexpected twist for a hilarious finale, so be sure to watch the whole thing. Also keep an eye out for Vancouver musicians Tyler Bancroft (Said the Whale), Zachary Gray (the Zolas) and Laura Smith, all of whom make cameos in the clip.



mp3: “Robots”

Nice, Nice, Very Nice is out now via File Under: Music.
 
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Shonen Knife @ the Biltmore Cabaret, 10/25/09

Shonen Knife @ Biltmore Cabaret, 10/25/09
Shonen Knife has a song called “Ramones Forever,” and that song alone tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the all-female pop-punk trio. On Sunday night at the Biltmore, the long-running Japanese band (now in its 19th year of existence) performed a set of bubblegum surf punk, with nearly every song sounding like a carbon copy of the Ramones. Take for example, the bouncy “Johnny Johnny Johnny,” which sounded near-identical to “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

None of this mattered, however, since the ladies of Shonen Knife were fucking adorable. “Banana Chips” featured a sugary chorus that consisted of the title repeated over and over, while “BBQ Party” was a ridiculous rocker with lyrics that mostly listed off types of food (something about squid, eggplant, sausages and marshmallows). In between songs, singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano regaled the crowd with charming banter in broken English, joking that she was so short that most of the audience couldn’t see her, but promising to jump a lot so that everyone could get a view.

Towards the end of the set, the trio began to venture into noisier territory, bashing out heavy, Sabbath-style riffs while Naoko posed with one arm raised above her head, Pete Townshend-style. It was simultaneously totally absurd and completely awesome, and I can say with absolute honesty that it was the first time I’ve ever thrown up the devil horns at a show.

Openers Apollo Ghosts put on an equally invigorating performance, racing through a too-short set of punkish college rock and gleefully slapdash jangle pop. Singer Adrian Teacher was a ball of nervous energy, scarcely waiting for one song to end before thanking the audience and counting in the next number. Behind him, Jay Oliver laid down his basslines stoically, while Amanda Panda was the smiley-est drummer I’ve encountered Kim Schifino (of Matt & Kim).

Much of the set was made up of new material, including a disco song about Bigfoot. But the band also dipped into its back catalogue with a series of cuts from Hastings Sunrise and the EP Forgotten Triangle. The highlight came during “Little Yokohama,” when professional wrestler the Divine Prophet performed a stage dive and was nearly dropped on his head. Occurring only a few minutes into the beginning of the performance, it was a moment of insanity that typified the night.
 
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Any Murdoch is better than no Murdoch

God Help the Girl - Stills
Among a certain, bookish crowd of indie snobs, there is no band in the past twenty years better than Belle & Sebastian (full disclosure: I belong to this crowd). Backed by delicate chamber pop arrangements from an ever-changing cast of supporting musicians, Murdoch specializes in intimate character studies, usually involving religion or lust (or some combination of the two—see his signature tune, “The State I Am In”).

God Help the Girl, released in June of this year, is Murdoch’s first full-length endeavour outside of his usual group. It’s actually a soundtrack to a planned musical film about a reclusive girl named Eve who develops an eating disorder before seeking comfort in an array of supporting characters (each voiced by a different singer). As I discussed a few months ago, it’s an intriguing listen, but lacks the same personality that Murdoch has always achieved so effortlessly with Belle & Sebastian.

Stills is an five-song EP from the same project, and despite the occasional moment of brilliance, it suffers from many of the same problems that hamper the full-length. The shortcomings are mostly in the lyrics; too often, the songs feel like narrative vehicles, with blunt lyrics that sacrifice subtlety and poetry in favour of clarity. The Ireton-fronted “I’m in Love with the City” features a gorgeous scaling melody, but its tale of unrequited romance falls flat with clunky lines like “If he knew how I felt it would spoil any chance I had.”

Where the EP succeeds is in its arrangements, which vary between brazen cabaret pop and Latin-infused folk. The Murdoch-sung “He’s a Loving Kind of Boy” features vigorous acoustic strumming and mariachi trumpet solos, while “Baby’s Just Waiting” is a slinky piano ballad set against a bed of sweeping strings and purring woodwinds. Best of all is the title track, with Asya of Smoosh providing fragile, double-tracked vocals over a gentle arrangement that recalls “Fox in the Snow” (from B&S’s If You’re Feeling Sinister).

Hopefully, God Help the Girl is just a temporary diversion, something to occupy Murdoch until the next Belle & Sebastian album. Still anything from Murdoch is better than nothing, and with so little news coming out of the Belle & Sebastian camp these days, we should probably feel lucky to have a few more songs to help fill the void.

Stills is available now on iTunes.
 
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Said the Whale teams up with Shad

Said the Whale
Said the Whale is officially kicking ass, with the new album Islands Disappear spending all of last week in the top 10 on iTunes. This success is well deserved, since the album is one of best of the year so far, local or otherwise.

Barely a week after the release of the album, another new Said the Whale recording has hit the ‘net. This time, however, it’s a far cry from the shimmering indie pop that the group is usually known for. Instead, the new tune is a rap/rock crossover, based on the sugary folk pop gem “Gentleman.” The mashup begins with a keyboard riff from “Lovely Allen” by Holy Fuck, which is overlayed with “Time to Pretend” by MGMT. Soon, the band enters, singing the chorus of “Gentleman” over a pounding chord progression lifted from “Baba O’Riley.”

The real treat comes at the thirty second mark, when London, Ontario rapper Shad enters, offering a charmingly romantic verse that matches the sentiment of the original song. His verse lasts under a minute, but it features plenty of memorable tongue twisters, most notably “I’m trying to buy you a swimming pool with an inner tube in it and an entire Ikea living room.”

The track ends with a reprise of the “Gentleman” chorus, with snippets of a few other Said the Whale songs also slipping into the mix (I caught “Love Is Art” and “Strong Swimmers” from The Magician EP).

mp3: “Gentleman Remix” (feat. Shad)

Be sure to check out Islands Disappear, out now via Hidden Pony.
 
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Franco goes democratic

Franco - ...This Is Franco
Franco initially formed under the name Bridge, at which point the Vancouver group was essentially a vehicle for singer-songwriter Mark Bridgeman. Now, with a four-piece lineup firmly established, the band is releasing its first album under its new name, the simply titled …This Is Franco.

Despite Franco’s one-man origins, there’s no mistaking this seven-song collection as anything other than the work of a democratically-operating band. Opening song “Forever” begins as a strummy folk rocker, but after the second chorus moves into an instrumental jam that gives keyboardist Andrew Rasmussen an electric piano solo that last nearly a minute. The rhythm section takes over on “Crowded House,” shifting from a pattering marching beat to an easy-going bounce to a steady rock groove, all within the first seventy seconds.

Of course, Bridgeman is still the group’s primary draw, his emotive vocals and jangly guitar licks providing the hooks that anchor each song. The sweetly nostalgic “A Quiet Love” is the highlight of the collection, its shimmering chord progression giving way to an epic half-time chorus.

It’s also worth noting that Franco is part of the proceeds towards Kids Help Phone. Which is especially notable considering that, now that the group is a four-piece, any profits are already being split four ways.

…This Is Franco is available now at Indie Pool.
 
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Bradford Cox keeps things simple (well, kind of)

Atlas Sound - Logos
Prior to the release of Logos, Bradford Cox promised that his second album under the Atlas Sound moniker would be more stripped down than last year’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel. He even compared the new collection to a live album, saying that many of the songs were first takes. Of course, when it comes to an artist like Cox, such descriptions are all relative.

Yes, Logos is more stripped down than its predecessor, but it’s hardly your typical live-off-the-floor singer-songwriter project. The majority of the songs are based on acoustic guitar, but these basic parts are doubled, harmonized, and overlayed with percussion and squelching synths. On opener “The Light That Failed,” layers of guitar pluck a simple riff while swirls of ambience set the mood for Cox’s soft vocals, which fall somewhere in between a whisper and a croak. “Shelia” follows a similar blueprint, although it’s much more catchy and upbeat, the slow-burning middle section giving way to an unabashedly romantic coda of “We’ll die alone together.”

As good as these songs are, the two best tracks on Logos are the ones that sound nothing like anything else on the album. Panda Bear makes an appearance on “Walkabout,” which borrows a sample from ’60s pop band the Dovers and ends up sounding a heck of a lot like something that could have been on Person Pitch. Meanwhile, Stereolab‘s Laetitia Sandler contributes vocals to “Quick Canal,” an eerie, nine-minute electro vamp that’s nothing short of revelatory.

The album ends in abrupt, unsatisfying fashion with “Logos,” a pleasantly chugging groove that suddenly fades out in the middle of a verse. It a strange rebuff to end an otherwise warm, comforting album, yet somehow it works perfectly, making you want to press repeat in search of a more gratifying catharsis. With Logos, Bradford Cox has brought his solo material on par with his work with Deerhunter. And with a prolific musician like Cox, more is bound to be just around the corner.
 
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Classic Britpop from exlovers

exlovers - You Forget So Easily
When I ripped exlovers‘ debut EP, You Forget So Easily, onto my iTunes, its genre came up as “unclassifiable.” Describing a group’s style in such terms might sound intriguing, but in the case of exlovers, it’s not even close to accurate. There is no shortage of labels to pin on the band’s music, and anyone with even a basic knowledge of indie rock over the past 25 years could draw plenty of easy comparisons to similar artists. The folksy strumming and whispered vocals of “New Years Day” sound so close to Elliott Smith that some listeners will probably wonder if the song was originally an outtake from the Either/Or sessions. Considering that it opens with the lyric “The day was lost / In a drunken haze,” exlovers don’t seem to be making any attempt to disguise the similarity.

Mostly, however, the five-song collection sounds like quintessential Britpop. This is especially apparent on “Just a Silhouette,” which begins with gentle arpeggios before breaking out into a breezy groove laden with shimmering guitar jangle. Fittingly, given the inescapable Britishness of the track, the singing is inflected with a thick London accent. The title track displays a similar set of influences, with dreamy, androgynous vocals floating atop a warm bed of acoustic and electric guitar strumming.

mp3: “Just a Silhouette”

It may be derivative, but rather than coming off as a pastiche, exlovers sound like the real deal. The band members doubtless grew up on a steady diet of the Smiths, the Stone Roses and Blur, so You Forget So Easily is simply a case of them playing what they know. “Unclassifiable” it ain’t, but the EP is a satisfying dose of classic Britpop.
 
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Spiral Beach dials up the weird

Spiral Beach - The Only Really Thing
At first glance, Toronto’s Spiral Beach appears to be much like any other keyboard-heavy post-punk band, mixing choppy guitars with soaring vocals and the occasional dance beat. Compared to its ’80s-indebted peers, however, the outfit is much harder to categorize. The group’s new album, The Only Really Thing, draws on bizarre carnival music, bombastic cabaret and Bollywood film scores to create a mish-mash sound that’s unlike anything else in recent memory. “After Midnite” begins as a slinky drum-and-bass groove, swelling to a Moulin Rouge-style crescendo of whirling organs and blaring horns. The haunting “Raising the Snake” sounds like something you might encounter on the streets of Cairo—or, at least, the version of Cairo that’s portrayed in movies, full of snake charmers and men wielding scimitars. “Battery” is similarly Eastern-inflected, although it races past at a punkish pace, full of shouted vocals and blasts of trebly guitar.

As well as these unexpected stylistic forays, the album also delivers the occasional moment of pop rock perfection. The corkscrew guitar riffs of lead single “Domino” give way to a pummeling chorus hook that recalls Arctic Monkeys at their most energized; the refrain “Jumping around on six left toes / We’re gonna fall like dominoes” is pure Alex Turner. “Cemetery” is a slick dance groove with ghoulish lyrics, retro keyboard flourishes and a melody that borrows from Blondie‘s “Call Me.”

mp3: “Domino”

Lead singers Airick Woodhead and Maddy Wilde trade off on lead vocals throughout the album, often singing in tight harmony. Despite the gender difference, their high, occasionally bratty voices are so similar that it’s often difficult to tell who’s singing what. Similarly, it can be hard to distinguish the instruments, with keyboard melodies and guitar leads so soaked in reverb that the source of the noise is indistinguishable.

Closing track “Shake the Chain” is a sparse, spiky blues ballad, the majority of its percussion handled by a heavily clinking chain. Its an unsettling end to an album that’s sometimes joyous, sometimes unsettling, and always completely unpredictable.

The Only Really Thing is out now via Sparks.
 
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Karen O mellows out

Karen O and the Kids - Where the Wild Things Are: Motion Picture Soundtrack
Karen O has built her reputation on having the best scream in indie rock, and her performances on songs like “Art Star” and “Tick” won’t be forgotten anytime soon. But as well as her scream, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman has also got a heart wrenching croon, and her fragile emoting made “Maps” one of the best songs of the decade.

On her soundtrack for Where the Wild Things Are, Karen O explores this soft side, favouring Cat Stevens-inspired folksiness over noisy post-punk fireworks. For these mellow songs, she is joined by “the Kids,” an all-star cast that includes her YYY’s bandmates plus members of Deerhunter, Liars and the Raconteurs, among others. “Worried Shoes” is a stark ballad, Karen O’s breathy voice falling in and out of tune over the haunting plunking of a piano. “Hidaway” is equally chilling, subtle organ providing an atmospheric backdrop for a vocal line that follows the gentle plucking of an acoustic guitar. Her voice is so naked and intimate that listening almost feels like an invasion of privacy, an effect that’s just as unsettling as any scream she could muster.

Even the album’s upbeat songs are touched by this vulnerability. Lead single “All Is Love” races past at a gallop, but despite its brisk tempo, the accompanying children’s choir means that the song is a far cry from the bravado of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The album’s other rockers are similarly child-like, and the atmosphere is always one of innocence rather than anger.

All of the tracks are enjoyable, but it’s important to remember that it’s a soundtrack, not a typical album. Consequently, there are various instrumental snippets that disrupt the flow of the collection rather than enhance it. Tracks like “Lost Fur” and “The Food Is Still Hot” will doubtless sound great in the background of the film, but here they feel more like unfinished sketches than stand-alone songs. These songs will likely sound better once the movie is released and they can be heard in context. As it is, the soundtrack is an exciting departure for an artist better known for her bombast than her tenderness.

Where the Wild Things Are: Motion Picture Soundtrack is out now via DGC/Interscope.
 
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