Elastic Resonance does the 2008 Pitchfork Readers Poll

December 2, 2008

nerdbound denies this, but he’s basically a huge Pitchfork whore.  Oh, don’t worry, he doesn’t read the reviews — nothing that horrific.  But he checks their Best New Music section religiously and listens to everything they jam down his throat.  Just like a whore.  Except that whores typically favor a different sense for things jammed down their throats.

So when it came time for the 2008 Pitchfork Readers Poll, what choice did we have but to throw in our meager opinions to be swallowed by this communal pool of trenchant hipster wisdom?  Enjoy this capsule look at our general opinion of 2008, and expect a full list of the year’s top albums and underrated releases closer towards the end of the year.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Deerhunter’s Microcastle is perfect

June 4, 2008

I’ve heard all kinds of rumors about when this album is supposed to be released: August, October, Novemeber… It’s a moot point now because it has leaked. The cover art isn’t even out yet. But whatever: None of this is important. What is important is that this is one of the best releases of the decade: it’s currently in my top 3 of the 2000’s for sure. I really can’t praise it enough.

Look, I have finals going on right now, so there’s no way that I can really make a review right now that does justice to how great this is. In fact, this album is already interfering with my finals because I keep putting it on when I’m supposed to be working and drifting away listening to it. If I flunk all my classes, at least I get to be sublimely happy while doing it.

A brief history of Deerhunter: They release a debut album that is harsh and unfriendly. Nobody notices. They experience a bunch of in-band tension and nearly do not release their second album. What is eventually released, 2007’s Cryptograms, comes from a couple of different sessions and varies wildly in style and aim. The first half alternates between long ambient meditations and hard-as-nails post-punk where the band locks into a killer groove. The second half is largely psychedelic pop. Pitchfork loved it, and, after many many listens attempting to understand it, so did I. But it’s a hard album to listen to because of its enormous stylistic variance and the fact that it’s easy to feel a little… bored by the white noise noodling. A lot of people just heard it and went “WTF?” That said, “Cryptograms”, “Octet” are perfect, and many other songs are absolutely riveting and sound totally fresh. The band also got a reputation for their weird live shows in which the frontman, Bradford Cox, would show up in women’s clothing and discuss his feelings and… Deerhunter followed this album with the Fluorescent Grey EP, which lacks any of the ambient noodling and has a few good songs in its short length. Pitchfork and I love it too.

Bradford Cox has been spending most of this year doing solo work under his moniker Atlas Sound. The 2008 release Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is a good album, but IMO not as good as his Deerhunter work (although some love it more). It certainly lacks the confusing lack-of-centeredness of Cryptograms and has a number of good pop songs, but lacks the awesome grooves that come from having a band.

My co-blogger and I had the privilege of seeing Atlas Sound live when they came to Stanford campus. We were both favorably impressed, and I liked his album more afterwards. He let his songs be less ambient and more dance-y because that was what the crowd wanted, and that displayed the pop hooks underlying them to great effect. I also got the impression that Bradford Cox is awesome: There is a story involved. Atlas Sound was going to open for the Breeders at a festival the next weekend, so Bradford was wearing a Breeders T-shirt. My co-blogger was wearing a Pixies tee. So of course, Bradford called him on it. He asked the crowd which was better (we thought it was the Pixies, to his dismay. We were also right) and challenged my co-blogger to an arm-wrestling competition. Any discussion of this arm-wrestling match would be incomplete if it didn’t mention a) that (from what I understand) Bradford is gay, cross-dresses for shows, and said that the arm-wrestling match would determine who was the more masculine (yay subversion!) and b) has Marfan syndrome, a disease which (I believe) makes him look a bit strange and stops him from having much muscle.

My co-blogger let him win for a moment, but then crushed him. We talked to him a bit after the show and he was really cool.

So up until I heard this album, I liked the band but their recorded output all left me unfulfilled. Cryptograms was too hard to love, Grey was too short, and Blind lacked the band and rock tendencies. Nevertheless, I was convinced that Deerhunter was AWESOME and had tons of potential. They have now proved me right. This album is Deerhunter at their tightest.

The new album is far more immediate than any of their past work. This can be seen through the production, which is much brighter and up-front, and the music which finally captures their sound. They describe themselves as ambient punk, but this is the first time that those two completely different styles of music have come together so well. Songs still vary quite a bit from the more ambient to the more psychedelic pop to the more punk but they now all sound like the same band. Part of that comes from the excellent sequencing. The first third is more pop-oriented. It slides from there into a more ambient middle section. Unlike Cryptograms though, every song is short and sweet and has a pop hook somewhere. Frankly, each of the short songs in the middle is absolutely gorgeous, shocking me every time I hear them. Finally, just before the ambient music becomes too much to take the guitars hit HARD and you’re thrust into “Nothing Ever Happened,” and the more raucus final third. But even at their most rock-oriented, you can hear their ambient textures which mean that these rock songs continually change and never get old. You hear them a second time and notice a little bit more of the subtext, the hidden sounds, the sort of little Easter eggs which are always there in truly great music.

So now I’ll just mention a few highlights. “Nothing Ever Happened” is probably my favorite, with its awesome guitar soloing, and solid groove. But “Little Kids” is a close second: It returns more to the themes and style of Blind and is absolutely transcendent. By which I actually mean that it sounds kinda spiritual in its lifting-upwards of innocence, increasingly submerged in static. “These Hands” is a brilliant little shoegaze track. It uses some beautiful textures: what sound like strings but might not be, underlining vocal wails and guitar noise. “Agorophobia” is also great: It’s more like psychedelic pop, but is more driving than typical for such music. “Never Stops” and “Saved By Old Times” both rock pretty damn hard, while still having great pop hooks, and “Twilight at Carbon Lake” is a beautiful drifting closer, which feels like it’s going to float away before the guitars come crashing in for the shoegaze-esque (reminding me of Ride) finale.

It’s a wonderful thing to listen to a record that is this good. You can stream some tracks at their Myspace.

9.7/10

posted by nerdbound


Fleet Foxes Are Awesome

March 15, 2008

Fleet Foxes - Sun GiantI suppose I’m a bit late to this party, now that Pitchfork has already given Best New Music status to their Sun Giant EP. But shit, a) sometimes the Fork has bad taste, and this is not one of those times, b) I’ve heard that not everyone reads Pitchfork (really? But don’t you want to be cool? Oh wait…), and c) their forthcoming Ragged Wood LP is similarly great. As in, it is the best album of 2008 so far.

Describing the music is tough. It’s folk music: not 60’s-style folk music, but something older. Of current artists, it most reminds me of Califone, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, etc. Kinda folk music with a bit more rock influence than any of the acts mentioned before (although still not very much rock as such… As I say, it’s hard to describe. But it’s definitely livelier). While Califone and Grizzly Bear often sound fractured and muted, Fleet Foxes even at their quiet moments sound like they’re winning. It’s very spiritual-sounding music, in the old “Simple Gifts” sense. Their MySpace calls it “baroque harmonic pop jams.” Not too bad, actually.

Honestly, what they remind me of most (emotionally, not at all stylistically) is Nirvana’s live acoustic cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” That’s kinda a bizarre reference, I’m aware, but the two are similar in that both artists seem to believe that they’re something powerful (as opposed to merely ‘pretty’ or ‘personal’) in old folk music classics, and they bring out that power. It’s emotional music, and not always happy music, but it’s never whiney music because it’s not about the personal emotions of the artist. It’s about the emotions of the artist’s culture, the collective unconscious. It grafts a connection between the listener and some much bigger shit.

Many of their songs (such as “Blue Ridge Mountains”) alternate between soft, weary, nearly a cappella parts and big, ridiculously happy parts with the whole band. The emotional tension between the two styles is a lot of what makes the songs work so well. It makes the ‘sad’ here sound more like ‘ loss and redemption’ than ’emo’ and the ‘happy’ more like ‘at one with the birds’ than… well, however ‘happy’ is usually defined.

I actually like the Sun Giant EP a bit more than Ragged Wood. It’s a little artier, has a couple of amazing hooks, and is (of course, given its shorter running time) more consistent. As of now,”Mykonos” is my favorite Fleet Foxes song, due largely to its unusual song structure. It starts as a big, happy tune that slowly breaks apart, before voices enter a capella in the middle with what could be a totally different song. The drum sound is fantastic, and both sections have great hooks. It’s kinda like having two songs in one, but the two sections play off each other in interesting ways. “Drops in the River” and “English House” are also fantastic.

That said, Ragged Wood is the greater achievement. Every song on it is a success. “Ragged Wood” and “Quiet Houses” are big and exciting, and probably my favorite (given my rarely downbeat mood). “Ragged Wood,”like “Mykonos,” sounds like several songs in one, with hooks galore. At least two or three guitar parts that are beautifully combined with the vocal melodies: in parts, it really swings too. “White Winter Hymnal” wins the contest for most memorable hook, a big circling choral bit; while “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Meadowlark” are just gorgeous in their simplicity. “He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Heard Them Stirring” sound like they’re going stratospheric.

I could literally praise every song here individually. No two are alike, and none fails.

9.1/10

posted by nerdbound


Nerdbound’s Somewhat Belated Top Albums of 2007

January 18, 2008

2007 has ended, and with it, I’ve lost my chance to listen to 2007 albums while they’re still fresh and new. This is a problem because 2007 was a year packed with music in a way that many recent years haven’t been. It felt like almost every top band in independent music (broadly construed) had an album that got released this year. It was my first year really attempting to track down every release I thought might be interesting and listen to them all. I failed, but it was a noble effort.

So I’m going to jot down my top albums of the year. There are a few caveats. For one, this was one of the strongest years in recent memory for metal, yet I did not get much metal onto this list. My listening habits have changed, and metal releases that would ordinarily have enthralled me seemed more distant this year. Additionally, the year was so strong for independent rock, that even fantastic metal releases did not make the cut.

Further, this is all just my opinion, and my opinion is biased by a love of experimental shit and angry motherfuckers. There’s a variety of stuff here, including some pretty twee pop, but that’s the exception not the rule. Of course, I would argue that I’m right to enjoy experimental and badass music. But some people don’t and they should not hate me for this.

Without further ado… Read the rest of this entry »


Muscles – Guns Babes Lemonade

November 7, 2007

Muscles - Guns Babes LemonadeYou know that Art Brut song “Emily Kane” about how the singer is still in love with his middle school crush? It’s pure unchained irrational exuberance (thanks, Greenspan) about naivete: Holding hands, thinking crushes will last forever — you know, sunny emotions, happiness, that shit. Somehow, Muscles has found a way to distill those things and stretch them out over an entire album. Well, actually the mood varies a bit more than that. But in general, the songs are about: ice cream, dancing; holding hands; ‘peace, love, ecstasy, unity, respect’; seizing the day; and having Muscles’s babies. Essentially, if the LCD Soundsystem wrote the great electronic/dance album about being old (nostalgia for old friends, love for New York), Muscles have just written the great electronic/dance album about being innocent. Perhaps just ‘a’ great album because there’s more competition (think Daft Punk: “Digital Love”). But it’s a damn good album.

The music uses synthesizers, but the memorable compositional thing is the use of vocals: Background voices yelp and glide at high pitches, with nothing close to ‘good’ singing technique; calls are responded to; vocal bits circle in and out of the mix; and the frontman yells his heart out at the top of the mix, sounding like he’s continually exhausted but orgasming. It’s so charismatic that it almost hides the artistic worth of the underlying material. And yeah, after all that discussion of the music’s mood and fun, I do need to mention that it’s seriously artistically valid. Jarringly so, in fact: You can tell it’s an indie-sort of record by the fact that things like ‘harmony’ are often seemingly ignored: Willful dissonance is not often associated with dance music, but here it’s brilliantly done. And as I say, the sheer charisma means you might not notice.

The best track is “Sweaty”. It’s hard to mention all the stuff that this track does right. The big shit is obvious: Both ‘peace, love’ etc. and a big refrain about holding hands with someone special are used successfully and will not make you barf. It’s unbelievably charismatic. And you could hypothetically dance to it, although it has totally the wrong emotional content and comes off as unbelievably irritating on the first listen… Anyway, the details are awesome too: Somewhere deep in the mix are tinkling synths waiting to be loved. And it’s SO dissonant. I love the way that the voices speak naturally, as though there are no notes that they’re trying to reach. Sometimes they’re hitting notes that fit the key of the surrounding music. Sometimes they aren’t. What, you care?

Hype Machine: Muscles

posted by nerdbound


On Mashups

October 28, 2007

In the grand scheme of things, nerdbound was right in pointing out that writing full-blown Reviews with capital R’s is a bit intimidating after a while, especially after I blew my literary load all over that Feist concert review. Writing anything else that could live up to that onslaught of verbal masturbation became unthinkable, and so I’ve been spending the last few months wallowing in a sort of audiophilic paralysis, listening to awesome songs and doubting my ability to capture its majesty.

Well, fuck majesty. From here on in it’s going to be hack work all the way — you know, the kind you see on the typical music blog run by college students who like to fawn all over their favourite new artists with worn colloquialisms and stale verbal jisms of delight. (Incidentally, does ‘jism’ refer only to the substance or also to the act of discharge? I’m using it in the latter sense, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s valid.) Here’s the difference though, the one that will keep you coming back — here at elastic resonance, we take the hack to new levels of hackiness. It’s like irony, except instead of being sly and clever and ever so subtle, we’re just bad. Think of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s entire oeuvre — yeah, that bad. And yet we’ll conduct the entire enterprise smartly, with a sharpness and cheekiness that will become a recognizable brand of brilliance. That’s what we’re all about here (and really, anywhere that writes about music) — revelling in shittiness to the point of glory. How else could we live with ourselves?

And speaking of hack work cum brilliance (hackneyed transition drumroll please!), it’s time I displayed some of my love for mash-ups. Here’s the thing about mash-ups — they usually have no point. Seriously. There are times when the demands of musical fusion entail mixing two songs together, but mash-ups are not the children of those times. Mash-ups are the children of times when DJs sit around thinking to themselves, “Let’s see what I can do with my infinite skills! Oh my Gawd, look how clever I am! No one could have imagined mixing Journey with Ciara! The ironic juxtaposition is just too much for the ordinary mind to handle! When people hear it, their minds will be overloaded by the lack of sense the song makes, and they too will begin thinking in exclamations! Rawk!”

You think I’m just playing this up for yuks here, but mash-ups are seriously the musical expression of some sort of postmodern angst. Turntablism is about DJs using samples to create new aural textures, mixing in snippets and fragments from the most unlikely sources to generate a vast landscape of sound, with every sample and beat and learning video speech clip a natural, organic inhabitant. Mash-ups are about jamming songs into each other, hammering the square peg into the round hole, and calling that a work of art just because it doesn’t make sense but you did it anyway. The enjoyment you derive from a mash-up is ultimately a referential pleasure, not a pure one — when “Don’t Stop Believin'” is mixed with “Sexy Back”, you listen because damned if it isn’t an unexpected idea given our cultural context. How good it sounds is inconsequential to how good it is. And that’s because mash-ups, at least as the genre is primarily practiced today, are not music. They are cultural excrement. They are the third season of Arrested Development, all in-jokes and no real ones. They are surviving purely on the audience’s knowledge of the real music that has gone before, and their value is judged on where they fall on the cultural scales of relevance and unexpectedness, rather than any actual musical qualities. Just look at the components of a typical mash-up — the vocals from a rap track and the beats from some terribly white indie band. Rarely does anyone think about mashing up two indie songs or two rap songs, despite the interesting lyrical, melodic, and rhythmic possibilities there, and that’s because there’s no cultural shock value from mixing two white songs or two black songs — it’s the “oh WOW, won’t you look at that, Agnes!” reaction that most mash-up artists are shooting for.

And that’s not a bad thing, just as the third season of Arrested Development wasn’t really all that disappointing once you got used to the idea. Self-referentialism can be brilliant, and savouring the deliciousness of an idea can be just as good as drowning in an awesome song. But you have to recognize it for what it is, and what it is is hack work that occasionally results in flashes of brilliance. It’s in that spirit of hackneyed genius that I bring you the following tracks. (Also, I was getting tired of writing, and defending mash-ups on a general level seemed much less interesting than either attacking them or writing about specific tracks.)

ABX is a denizen of The Hood Internet, a regularly updated mash-up paradise, and “Collide You A Drank” transforms the annoying vocals of T-Pain’s “Buy You A Drank (Shawty Snappin'” and the emotional, strangled guitar of Cloud Cult’s “Chemicals Collide” into a pulsing, urgent beat that sweeps and soars all around, weaving all the melodic elements together.

A plus D is the DJ team of Adrian and the Mysterious D, and they are just plain genius. I’ve got three tracks here, but they’ve got a ton more on their website, and each track is great in its own way. “Indie Hyphy” is an incredibly infectious mix of the most danceable elements from both E-40 and Keak Da Sneak’s “Tell Me When To Go” and Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Up To Dry.” Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” provides a rollicking disco beat to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” And “Love Will Tear You Apart (She Wants Originality)”, the post-punk pièce de résistance mix of Joy Division, Bauhaus, and She Wants Revenge, relies on no dance-club gimmicks to create a wonderfully layered atmosphere. A plus D is one of the only truly versatile mash-up artists I’ve seen, drawing from beyond the latest mainstream hip hop tracks to produce some of the most creative ideas I’ve ever heard. Be sure to visit their site and check out their other stuff.

And finally, one of my favourite songs of all time: Arty Fufkin‘s mix of “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani and Pharrell and “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz and De La Soul. “Hollaback Girl” is one of the most truly awful songs of our time, but surrounded by the bass and beats of Gorillaz, the chanty vocals and distorted croons take on a life of their own, eventually even adding back to the Gorillaz’ song. In fact, I can’t listen to either of the original songs now without feeling as if they are somehow empty. This mash-up is also unique in that it manages to trade off between the beats and vocals of each song, rather than merely laying down the vocals of one track onto the instrumentals of another; somehow, miraculously, De La Soul’s raps are supported by a refrain of “It’s my shit, it’s my shit” and it sounds good. The rest of Arty Fufkin’s tracks are sadly fairly hit-or-miss and mostly mediocre, but this one track remains my favourite mash-up of all time, embodying all that is wonderful about this genre.

Enjoy your bastard pop, kids.

MP3: ABX – Collide You A Drank (T-Pain vs. Cloud Cult)
MP3: A plus D – Beethoven’s Fifth Gold Digger (Kanye West vs. Beethoven vs. Walter Murphy)
MP3: A plus D – Indie Hyphy (E-40 vs. Cold War Kids)
MP3: A plus D – Love Will Tear You Apart / She Wants Originality (She Wants Revenge vs. Joy Division vs. Bauhaus)
MP3: Arty Fufkin – Hollaback Girls Feel Good (Gwen Stefani vs. Gorillaz)

P.S.
I have no idea why all these artists’ names begin with A.

posted by ninjajabberwocky


Good Shit

October 20, 2007

So: Two general blog things of note.

First, both ninjajabberwocky and I have been really busy of late, and both simultaneously dropped the ball on getting posts up on this blog. This is a bad thing, so I’m putting something up.

Second, we’ve noticed that one of the reasons why our blogging has dropped off is that our posts have tended to be too formal. Thus, they take too long to make, and we don’t actually spend time doing it because it’s too… well, ‘intimidating’ is not quite the right word, but some word like that. Thus, this post is going to take me like 20 minutes to make. Hehe. But it’s still going to be good, I swear.

There have been a bunch of good albums which have come out in the past couple of months. A couple of them are pretty generally known: Kanye West’s Graduation, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, etc. I wanted to put up a few more albums that I’ve been listening to which not enough people are talking about:Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends

First and foremost: Les Savy Fav’s Let’s Stay Friends. It’s some fucking great post-punk styled indie rock. Les Savy Fav have often been compared with Fugazi, who are one of my favorite bands ever, and it’s usually a good comparison. But here they don’t sound like it: They’ve gone really pop, compared to their other stuff. And it’s great news, which is rare. “Patty Lee” is a truly great pop song which is kinda a perfect example of how the album sounds: The angular guitars are still there, but they’re hidden under melodies and good singing. There are still some more aggressive tracks though, which are still awesome. And the rhythm section is fucking awesome, of course. That’s basically why the album matters: The rhythms are so tight that the songs will be driven into your head.

Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover

Sunset Rubdown’s Random Spirit Lover is amazing, and it’s hard to explain why. The songs are a mess. They don’t sound like anything else I’ve heard, which is a plus. But if I heard any of these songs alone, I would find them annoying and scattered. However, the album generates its own particular mood, within which the songs makes sense. The first third is just good pop music, but in the middle third of the album, starting with “Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns”, the songs become really experimental. And I keep thinking: I wish I knew why this is good music.

There are a couple of other great albums I want to at least mention, although they’re both very not-mainstream-listenable. A Place to Bury Strangers are this new band whose self-titled debut is brilliant. It’s basically shoegaze/Jesus and Mary Chain-style music, but along with beautiful lush pop feedback, it has a bunch of industrial noisy angry feedback. “To Fix the Gash in your Head” is one of my favorite tracks of the year. It’s almost danceable, but is about kicking someone’s head in. Between the Buried and Me are the other band I feel that I must mention, because their Colors is the best metal album of the year. For a lot of people, that’s like saying ‘the best knife to the stomach’ but if you give it a chance, there’s so much innovation behind the screaming. Seriously.The Boo Radleys - Giant Steps

The other album I want to mention is not a new release, but some 90’s stuff I’d never heard before. It’s the Boo Radley’s Giant Steps. Highest recommendation possible for this album, I swear. The stylistic variety is so great, it’s mind-boggling, but the songs all fit together too. It ranges from Beach Boys to 90’s alt rock to jazz to psychedelia to Britpop to guitar noise. And it’s all uniformly excellent. Best thing I’ve heard in a long time.

I’m not really feeling like uploading a lot of tracks, but here’s Hype Machine/YouTube:

Hype Machine: A Place to Bury Strangers – To Fix The Gash in your Head
YouTube: The Boo Radleys – Lazarus

posted by nerdbound


Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls

July 18, 2007

Electrelane - No Shouts, No CallsAfter the first listen, this album was good. By the second or third listen, it was one of the best of the year, and it just keeps climbing in my estimation with each time I play it. It’s a very vulnerable and delicate sort of album, which is not the sort of thing I usually go for (understatement). But there is power here too, and creativity. Never before have I heard an album that so ably blurs the lines between melody, harmony, and texture. Bass lines are hummable, vocal parts are used for harmony, and these and other musical elements alternate and rotate control of the melody, which is always central. These are not the kind of melodies you’re thinking of though, precisely because melodic voices often dive into harmony and repetition. The album’s minimal, natural sound and fantastic arrangements makes little things that otherwise might fade into the mix sublime. The sound uses droning, propulsive rock as a technique, but not as a controlling element. Previous albums have been accused of copying Stereolab, but this one, to me, sounds nothing like any Stereolab I’ve ever heard. Even the droning guitars are usually just a part of the system of interlocking melodic lines. This is no droning rock record with some pop bits mixed in: the droning is merely the often-brilliant texture beneath a shockingly melodic sound (or sometimes, the melody itself).

I’d never heard Electrelane before this album, but hearing it inspired me to go listen to their older material. At least on a first listen, nothing else is the achievement that this record is, although that’s not really fair, because never before have they seemed to be trying to make this record. Axes really is a droning rock record, strongly influenced by Kraut-rock. While The Power Out is more pop-influenced, it doesn’t have the natural, free sound and strong sense of identity that this record has (although “Enter Laughing” and some other tracks come close). Instead, it sounds like Stereolab (French pop drones) made a bit more punk. That’s a cool sound too of course, but No Shouts, No Calls is a brave step away from their influences. The sound isn’t entirely accessible, but more because it’s so personal and thoughtful than because its genre is drone or punk, and not pop.

“The Greater Times” did not impress me on a first listen, but it’s a grower, like many of the songs here. It builds very slowly, and beautiful melodic moments often occur only once or twice, as the melody continually meanders. The quantity of ideas here is impressive, and I think that might be why the song has grown on me so much. The lyrics also make this song a success: references to childhood and romance create a friendly atmosphere of innocence. The song really becomes superb around the two-minute mark: “You say you don’t know / What love means / Any more” is a beautiful “Modern Romance”-esque statement which grounds much of the rest of what is said on this album. It’s a call back to romantic comedies. You know, the ones where a cute guy and a cute girl who aren’t very personally compatible (they’re complete opposites, and hate each other at first) are drawn together by this inexplicable ‘love’ stuff. I’m not exactly a romantic, but the sentiment here is powerful, perhaps because, like “Modern Romance”, it doesn’t so much describe how this ‘love’ stuff is supposed to work as criticize its absence. The modern world is a big thing to criticize, but the album creates a little space where dreams of love seem grounded in reality. Which is kinda nice.

“To the East” is the single, and it is brilliant. The melodies are so well-arranged that every few seconds there’s another fantastic moment. When they sing “The East’s not so far away. / It could be home!” at 2:25, or “Come back / Come back / COME BACK / oh, to me!” a minute and some later, the emotion and beauty are both very real. “After the Call” follows, and is the first track that speeds up the pace and increases the sound of the guitar in the mix. It rocks, even beneath the fragile cries of “What can I do?” The contrast between the insistent rock guitars and the beautiful bedroom vocals makes for an incredible sound. The sense that the band really cares about the music shows through in the music’s insistent propulsion and emotional depth.

“Tram 21” is one of those tracks that’s almost an instrumental: vocals are present, but not lyrics, and instead the voices are used as texture and harmony. A great riff, then a guitar melody (I think that’s the ‘real’ melody, to be honest, and the vocals are just faking it), suddenly gaining in force. Then a chorus of ooh’s and ah’s forming a second melodic line. Then a second set of ooh’s and ah’s for more harmonic force. It’s a completely brilliant mood piece, full of ups and downs. The following track, “In Berlin” is perhaps the best track: it builds on a delicate arpeggio, adding strings, and slowly crescendoing to a brilliant climax: “You are all I long for this winter / and you are all I need”. The blend of sounds is intricate and seamless. “At Sea” is the joyous follow-up: “They say / There’s always tomorrow”, they sing, and then the guitar just starts bouncing.

“Between the Wolf and the Dog” begins as the hardest rocker on the album with an awesome riff, but when the vocals come in, they contrast strongly, somewhat softening the piece, and completely altering its feel. “Saturday” follows, creating a mood of innocence and wonder with a very simple yet gorgeous piano melody. However, it’s “Cut and Run” which really takes that mood and runs with it, achieving near-perfection. Acoustic (w/ ukelele!), it sounds like nothing else on the album, but is small, thoughtful, and ridiculously sweet. It’s a beautiful piece of bedroom sing-along indie pop, and the fact that it is this good is a testament to Electrelane’s song-writing.

Often, music about romance fails because it’s too delicate and wimpy, or because it’s over-emotional to the point where it glorifies destructive emotions (like the feeling of despair following a breakup). Either way, it can come off as brainless or whiny. This is highly successful music about romance, because it’s based on calls for strength and intelligence, with strong and intelligent music to back it up. It argues for romance, not because romance is a cure-all, but because romance is something worth working hard to achieve. And that’s a sentiment that even a real cynic can’t help but admire and treasure.

9.0/10

MP3: Electrelane – In Berlin
MP3: Electrelane – Cut And Run

posted by nerdbound


Astounding Album Alert: Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

July 17, 2007

AnimalCollective-Band1

ninjajabberwocky and I used to disagree on the issue of whether or not Animal Collective was really all that good. The disagreement is now officially at an end: I have finally come around to seeing that they’re pretty damn good. The reason is their new album, Strawberry Jam, which is a revelation, sounding totally new and fresh. On a first listen, it’s pretty fucking phenomenal. I re-listened to their older stuff, and it still doesn’t really fully click with me, but this album is a pretty clear classic, I have to say. It’s a bigger, louder record than any they’ve done before. Yeah, that means that it can be a bit annoying in places… But by and large it miraculously isn’t. It’s a record that needs to be listened to.

Just thought I’d post that brief note. A review will probably follow from one of us later. We’re both really swamped right now, so less is getting written here than we would like, but it’ll pick up again in a couple days, I feel. Meantime, do yourself a favor and give this album a spin.

MP3: Animal Collective – Peacebone
MP3: Animal Collective – For Reverend Green

posted by nerdbound


Feist, Grizzly Bear @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, 2007 June 26

July 14, 2007
photo courtesy of Muhammad Asranur

Visuals, baby. That’s what it was all about at this show. I’d bought tickets for my girlfriend Nicole and me with confidence that we’d hear a great show, and of course the music was great – a perfectly harmonized flood of sound flooring the audience at every turn – but what made this show amazing was how good it looked.

It starts when Grizzly Bear trudges up, slouching with a jaded weariness, staring gauntly out into the audience. After briefly announcing that they have just arrived from Portland, they silently turn to their instruments. The drums strike up and the guitar strings begin plucking their way into “Easier”, the first track from their 2006 album Yellow House. The song chugs steadily away for a while, the musicians silent and tight-lipped. Then, as the aural atmosphere coalesces, one by one each man slowly raises his head to gaze up into the lights, eyebrows lifting precariously, jaws finally wrenching open to deliver a magnificent mixture of moans and croons and wails, light and airy yet exquisitely piercing. The overall effect is to free the notes from their crude human sources – chords seemingly drift up out of nowhere, and ethereal voices layer on one by one, with bass/clarinet/flute player Chris Taylor’s almost imperceptible falsetto ringing in the echoing background of every beautifully blending chord.

Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor on flute
photo courtesy of Muhammad Asranur

As the set progresses, Grizzly Bear’s weariness seems to melt away as they become the heavenly vessels of a rare sonic purity. Taylor especially is an amazing spectacle to watch, his eyes shut beneath his pale hair, mouth stretched wide open in a Charlie Brown-sized wail as he clenches his hands tight over the edges of his bass guitar, which bucks and twitches with every crest and valley in his fluctuating falsetto. Drummer Christopher Bear too provides phenomenal stage energy; his body taut and twisted at an odd angle from all the tension within, he releases energy in incredible bursts of speed, sticks flying through the air to bottom out the songs with quick, pounding beats. Whereas on the album, percussion was relegated to the backseat for the swirling harmonies, here the beats are at the helm, driving and controlling the mood of each song. The songs overflow beyond their album instantiations throughout the set, especially an expansive, messily loud take on “Little Brother.” Thirty minutes of heavenly harmonies and textures, and then the band vanishes from the stage after some thank you’s, leaving the air ringing with the silent echoes of their performance.

After a short break, Feist’s backup band emerges under a dim blue light, scuttling across the stage to their places. The light beats of the xylophone begin, playing in the familiar pattern of “Honey Honey”. Feist enters and bends down to one mic, singing: “Ah-ah-ahh, ha-ah, ah-ah.” Her voice comes echoing back at her through the speakers, strained and fuzzy, reflecting off the walls as she stands still, listening carefully. And then she bends down again, a sweet harmony dropping from her lips into the mic, where it locks tight against the repeating melody. Feist lowers her head four more times, each time adding yet another harmony until the hall is filled with notes reverberating against every surface, clinging to one another in a beautifully fragile chord. And then, taking up the other microphone, she finally breathes the lyric into the aural fold: “Honey, honey, up in the trees, fill the flowers deep in his dreams…”

You know the way Feist’s voice is sultry and seductive, yet breathily girlish, seemingly encompassing all the romantic fancies of a seven-year-old girl in a summer dress running through the field as daisy petals swirl around her? Witnessing that voice in action is all that and more. The way she tilts her head from side to side, hair shaking out in a delicate wave behind her; the way she playfully punches pow-pow-pow along with the drumbeats; the way she peeks out demurely from behind her bangs with a spark of mischief in her eyes; the way she sways all across the stage, slow and mesmerizing during the quiet pieces but in wild joyful arcs for the upbeat numbers, stabbing at her guitar as she stamps her feet and flicks her hips back and forth. Innocent, girlish exuberance radiates from her in all directions, flowing through the crowd and infecting everyone with a silly childish energy.

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