Articles posted in March 2010

A photograph and a baseball hat

They sure do like seafoam green
If you’ve never heard of Happy Birthday until now, you’re forgiven. This Vermont-based trio came out of nowhere to get signed by Sub Pop, who explained that the group was a spinoff of King Tuff—another band I’ve never heard of.

“Subliminal Message” appears on Happy Birthday’s self-titled debut, and its bubblegum melody sounds like it was written after bingeing on birthday cake and Orange Crush. It’s a sugary tune, but the gritty guitars and bleary production keep the sweetness from ever getting cloying. It almost seems like the track is being played at 10 BPMs slower than intended; rather than sucking the energy out of it, this gives the track a blissful, hazy quality that sounds more like a sugar crash than a high.

MP3: “Subliminal Message”
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I’m far more accident prone

Real Estate goes on a double date
Yeah, yeah, I know that I’m a little late onto the Real Estate bandwagon. But really, if you think about how long the earth has been around for, I’m really not late at all. If you condensed the history of the earth into a single year, my lateness would only occur a few milliseconds before midnight on December 31. Right? Apology accepted.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying the band’s self-titled debut, which came out last November via Woodsist. In buzz band years, that makes Real Estate about 35 years old.

Check out “Fake Blues,” a shimmering beach jam with echoing, harmonized guitar licks piled on top of reverb-soaked vocals, which are buried down low in the mix. New Jersey tends to get a lot of flack (the Surrey to New York’s Vancouver, if you will), but this tune makes the Jersey Shore sound like a summer paradise.

MP3: “Fake Blues”
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When I look at you, hell is on fire

They didn't set heaven on fire, but the neighbour's barn burned nicely
Only a European could write a song this sweet. (Americans are too brash, Canadians too mild.) “Heaven’s on Fire,” the latest single by Swedish guitar pop outfit the Radio Dept., evokes the starry-eyed romance of Daft Punk‘s “Digital Love” but with a more human touch (less digital, more love).

Even the opening sound bite—Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore arguing, “I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture”—seems practically sunny when set against the twee chord progression (Belle & Sebastian‘s “For the Price of a Cup of Tea,” anyone?). The paves the way for three minutes of bubbly electro beats and echoed vocals—a gorgeous tribute to a girl who’s hot enough to set heaven (and hell) on fire.

MP3: “Heaven’s on Fire”
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I’m too dumb for that

I can always recognize Vancouver by the tankers
If you’re wondering how a polished jazz pop ensemble like Brasstronaut got signed to Unfamiliar Records, the same label that released rock fuzz duo JapandroidsPost-Nothing last year, the answer is simple: frontman Edo Van Breemen co-owns the label.

Clearly he’s got good taste in signings, so it’s not too much of a surprise that Van Breeman’s own band delivers the goods. The recently-released Mount Chimaera features eight solid piano pop tunes bolstered by jazzy horns and occasional rambling instrumental passages.

Opener “Slow Knots” is perhaps the least jazz-influenced of the lot, based primarily around chiming guitar arpeggios and moody keyboard flourishes. It’s a slow burner, starting as a hushed ballad before swelling to a mid-tempo rocker and ultimately morphing into a stark tribal jam with echoed shouts and mournful horns. It isn’t the kind of single that beats you over the head with its hooks, but give it time—it gets under your skin with repeat listens.

MP3: “Snow Knots”
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It’s always the same as always

Which one's Pink?
Until now, Ariel Pink has been a DIY purist, releasing home recorded albums on a serious of small labels. He and his band Haunted Graffiti recently signed to 4AD and, by the sound of things, the songwriter has upped his recording budget considerably. The result is one of the best songs of the year.

“Round and Round” is glitzy ’70s pop based around laid back disco beats, soft-focus synths and a repetitive, cyclical bassline. It’s a pleasant ray of sunshine until the two minute mark, when an explosion of sublime choral harmonies immediately takes it to the next level. This gives way to a Bee Gees-infused bridge (check out the Barry Gibb-style falsetto at 3:20) and a reprise of that euphoric chorus.

MP3: “Round and Round”
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You blew into my life

Reluctant city folk
Last year, Woods released Songs of Shame, a solid collection of rustic folk with occasional forays into meaning psych rock. It was an enjoyable and often creepy collection of lo-fi acoustic ditties, although the stand out song was actually a cover (Graham Nash‘s “Military Madness”).

“I Was Gone” is the first taste of new material since then, and its ramshackle acoustic riffs and ghostly vocal harmonies aren’t much of a departure from the band’s previous work. Think of it as “Paint it Black” as performed by a group of nomadic forest dwellers.

It appears on the upcoming album At Echo Lake, which I wrote about over at Exclaim!.

MP3: “I Was Gone”
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Mass adulation, not so funny

Andrew VanWyngarden proves that even cool bands have bad tattoos
The guys who live upstairs from me are, to put it delicately, dudes. Or, to put it less delicately, meatheads. They’re nice guys who drive a massive pickup truck, scream at the TV when they watch hockey and throw drunken ragers that tend to get violent at around three in the morning. For music, they favour AC/DC, top 40 rap and…MGMT. Over the past few months I’ve frequently heard “Kids” blasting through my ceiling, proving once and for all that MGMT is the most populist of all hipster bands.

Not to sound like an elitist snob (the blogger doth protest too much, methinks), but the guys upstairs aren’t so likely to enjoy the band’s latest single, “Flash Delirium.” In fact, I’m not sure that I enjoy it either. It takes a shock-and-awe approach to songwriting, blazing through numerous stylistic shifts and disorienting changes. With lite-funk grooves, tuneless group shouting, and beach pop harmonies, it’s barely even recognizable as MGMT—at least until the final minute, when a hook finally emerges in the form of a triumphant backing vocal. Of course, it speeds up to a breakneck noise rock freakout in the final few seconds.

Clearly, MGMT is a band out to prove a point. If I could invent a genre to describe this song, it would be called “definitely not boring.”

MP3: “Flash Delirium”
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Ain’t got money to pay the door

Ain't got the money to pay for colour film
My updates have been a little more sporadic lately due to technical difficulties. My hard drive crashed on Tuesday and my internet is constantly in a state of malfunction. I think I need a new computer, and maybe a new modem also. Oh well, money is overrated, probably.

Petroleum By-Product knows what I’m talking about. This plastic-obsessed Vancouver trio recently released a song called “(Ain’t Got) Money.” It’s a trashy post-punk rave-up with glitzy synths and dance beats aplenty. Complaining about her poverty, frontwoman Sally Dige Jørgensen sings in a brash sneer that’s halfway between Johnny Rotten and Fred Schneider of the B-52s. Except, y’know, female.

The song appears on the recently released album Superficial Artificial, which is full of more of the same bedazzled new wave awesomeness.

MP3: “(Ain’t Got) Money)”
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Are you able to?

See? Not that summery.
Summer nostalgia is the overriding aesthetic of lo-fi music these days, as artists like Wavves and Best Coast evoke the July long weekend with blasts of sunburnt fuzz and warm beach pop harmonies.

Despite a name that suggests otherwise, Eternal Summers don’t have much in common with this crowd. Sure, they favour lo-fi recordings with buried vocals and plenty of reverb. And yes, they have a video that looks like this. But songs like “Able To” eschew gauzy pop in favour of crisp guitar chords and a straight-forward alt-rock groove. Meanwhile, frontwoman Nicole Yun sings in a breathy voice that recalls Ottawa folkie Kathleen Edwards (although I’m not sure if anyone outside of Canada has ever heard of Edwards, so that’s probably just a coincidence).

Perhaps it’s best that Eternal Summers distance themselves from the beach pop crowd—they are from Virginia after all.

MP3: “Able To”
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She’s a fiend for love

Just like Sasquatch, no one has managed to take a clear picture of Zeus
It’s been almost a year since Japandroidsmania, meaning that Canada is currently on the lookout for for the Next Big Thing. Apparently many critics are nominating Zeus, seeing as the band is currently on the cover of both Exclaim! and NOW.

The Toronto pop rock outfit certainly has all of the right friends, performing as Jason Collett‘s backing band and getting signed to Broken Social Scene‘s Arts & Crafts label.

The band also has some catchy songs, including “Marching Through Your Head,” which is the lead single off the recently released LP Say Us. Its got a steady piano bounce and a chirpy melody that sounds like it was pulled directly out of the Paul McCartney songbook (post-Beatles, mind you). It’s a nice tune, but the squeaky-clean production means it comes out a little sterile—not quite the fire you’d hope for out of the Next Big Thing.

MP3: “Marching Through Your Head”
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