12/09/2010

Betsy Lee does The AntiVillains: A guest post.


Have you ever been in a music space or bar, hanging out with your friends, and suddenly heard music so striking that you had to walk away from your conversation to listen intently? This July, The AntiVillains did that to me. I was one of maybe 20 people in the bar, and only a handful of us were standing and watching the set—which is a bummer for the music scene in LA because that show was a must-see in my mind.

In classic Album-A-Week style, the first 3 adjectives that come to mind are:
Aching
Gorgeous
Harmonic

Choosing my three favorite songs on the record was difficult because So Much for Romance has many styles and strengths in different tunes. As of this moment, I’m going to bite the bullet and go with:
"The Only Sound"
"I Can’t  Fall Asleep"
"Warning"
"Don’t Get Excited"

Wait, that was four. Just listen to the whole record, really, like in the Wayback Times. Nothing can replace the experience of hearing an album beginning to end, anyway, like the old school folks did. You know, for people who were alive before mp3s. Not that I was, of course. I’m 4 and a genius who met the blog host when they volunteered at a pre-school. But I digress. Back to the music.

At the beginning of “To Be the One,” the opening track, you might think of Mazzy Star. Hopefully, that sounds like the compliment I mean it to be—Hope Sandoval’s voice is ethereally gorgeous, just like The AntiVillains’ chanteuse Sarah Cohen’s is.

Some of the songs feature harmonies with a male voice, Sarah’s brother Ben, that evoke some tunes by Dean Wareham & Britta or a couple tracks off Jesus & Mary Chain’s Stoned & Dethroned.

Along with the gorgeous, dreamy quality to the music, though, is a jazz component brought by the band’s drummer, Sam Woldenberg. Not afraid of sparseness and with a great dose of smart syncopation, Sam brings a critical component to the band, elevating them from the folksy singer-songwriter duo they might be to a more well-rounded, artistically diverse band.

I implore you to start here when listening to The AntiVillains: http://vimeo.com/16047235.This video highlights the ineffable beauty of deciduous trees in Autumn, layered with the gorgeousness that is the band’s sound—simplicity at its finest. This newer song is not on So Much for Romance, and it was just recently released and sent to me by Ben Cohen. The first time I watched this, I was so moved that I actually cried.

As for the album cover: right after I saw the show, I went to Sarah Cohen and bought the album. However, since then, I’ve lent it to a friend, and so I can’t take a picture as is the normal procedure for this blog. I can tell you, though, that the cover features bouquets of flowers hanging upside down, and for me, that image conceptualizes preserving temporal beauty, much as this recording does.

I have much more to say about The AntiVillains; in fact, I’ve already done an interview with them and have another piece of writing in final draft stage (blatant plug) if anyone out there has a place for a piece on this fantastic young band. You want to say “I was there when…” about them. Trust me on this.

Author’s Note:
Betsy Lee is a music fiend who started playing instruments at 2, got her Fisher Price My First Record Player at 6, and started hitting shows in earnest as soon as she was able. She’s a freelance writer and photographer based in LA and can be reached at betsy@thetimeyouhave.com

11/22/2010

Temporary tattoo. Enough said.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Vintage
Sultry
Quirky

Three favorite songs on album:
"I'll let you be my Baby"
"Oh La La!"
"Wood Lead Rubber"

From the first steamy, confident electric guitar note of "I'm Alright," Agent Ribbons matches my moodiness note for note. With their engaging sophomore album, Chateau Crone, this duo (currently) is a musical montage of DIY, post-feminist, vintage, garage-pop, surf-rock, genius.

The cigarette soaked vocals cascade over witty lyrics effortlessly, especially in the slightly indulgent–yet reminiscent of Chicago (The musical, you ass)–track "I'll let you be my Baby." The Parisian, gypsy styled tune dances through the chorus, "He's not too clever/ he's not well read/ but he's good in bed/ Enough said," and makes me chuckle a bit. It also makes me press repeat. Multiple times.

Overall, this is a finely crafted album with purposefully placed elements that bring the listener back. It's vintage to the point of being nearly nostalgic, yet when thrown on the canvas along with wit and mood, it enters into a category all its own. One might draw comparisons to Best Coast or Camera Obscura, but in either case, I'd grab the Agent Ribbons album instead.

Show:
December 20th—The Bootleg Theater, Echo Park CA

Q&A: (With Natalie Gordon of Agent Ribbons)
1. Who or what is your musical inspiration?
"Our inspiration is all over the map, so it's hard to draw a straight line from one thing to another!  As far as this latest album specifically, there are specific artists and albums that went into it. For one, Grey Gardens--the documentary about the Beales--was a huge inspiration!  We were listening to a lot of the Girls in the Garage compilation as well as Kurt Weill, Os Mutantes, Bow Wow Wow, Deerhoof, Neutral Milk Hotel, Eartha Kitt, and Josephine Foster.  I don't know...it's hard to isolate specific points on the inspiration map when there's so much happening at once!"

2. How long has Agent Ribbons been together?
"Lauren and I started the band in the spring of 2006, but we didn't really start touring and all that until late 2007.  Then, Naomi joined the band in January of 2009, recorded a 7 inch and an album, and then quit a couple months ago.  Now we're back to being a two piece and are going on five years next spring!"

3. How did Agent Ribbons start and what was the process for creating Chateau Crone? 
"Some songs on the album were written over the course of a rather sprawling chunk of time...Wallpaper of Skin, Grey Gardens and 'Wood, Lead, Rubber' we wrote a lot earlier than songs like 'I'm Alright' and 'Oh, La La!' which still feel pretty new to us.  Half the album was written within two months of recording, so many of the ideas developed in the studio while it was all happening.  First, we recorded all analog in Los Angeles with Manny Nieto, who worked on the last Breeders record, Mountain Battles.  Since he didn't use any digital equipment whatsoever, it was a huge learning experience for us!  We would stay up all night in this warehouse just adding stuff and cutting stuff until it sounded good.  THEN, months later, we went into The Hangar (home of Tape Op Magazine) to work with Scott McChane.  There, we did more digital recording that was later mixed to tape, and we really got to work on the nuance and arrangements a bit more.  The Hangar is a sprawling, old building full of cool instruments, so that's where we added vibraphone, harpsichord, and things like that.    I think that experimental trial and error process was really good for us because we had to think things out and also practice restraint despite having all these new options we never had before."

5. Favorite music format? Compact disc, vinyl, or mp3?
"Lauren and I both prefer vinyl, but mp3s sure are handy when you're on the road."

6. Favorite album of the moment?
"Joanna Newsom's 'Have One On Me'"

7. What's next for Agent Ribbons?
"Well, a lot of things.  We're touring Europe through early December, then we'll be home for a week before we fly to the west coast and do a handful of shows in California.  We have a feature in the December issue of BUST Magazine, and then in Jan/Feb we're going to try and work on some new material before touring Scandinavia in March, and then the SXSW festival!  We're hoping to tour the U.S. again in May 2011."

Album design:
The concept of Chateau Crone's art contains a heavy dose of DIY culture. The album booklet is a scrapbook of sorts for a hypothetical Chateau Crone, which is a collaborative space of love and support for all aging crones (man or woman).

The artwork contains various illustrations of different rooms in Chateau Crone from the fantasies of seemingly random individuals. The handwritten descriptions of said rooms give a friendly, intimate touch.

Last, but not least...call me a 5 year old, but I was pretty psyched when I realized there was a temporary tattoo of the Chateau Crone bird-woman illustration. Nicely done, ladies, nicely done.


(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for free by the lovely people at Antenna Farm Records) 
 
Next Up:
Guest Post by Betsy Lee! The Antivillains, So Much For Romance











10/20/2010

The steady rain storm of José González.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Uncomplicated
Serene
Beautiful

Three favorite songs on album:
How Low
Teardrop
Cycling Trivialities


Listening to In Our Nature by José González is much like watching a steady rain storm approach in a desolate area of Wyoming. There's a peaceful warmth, a tender yet raw undertone, and a slight tinge of anxiety.

The album produces a steady, centered flow of singer-songwriter tracks. González's style is minimalist and lo-fi. No intense electric guitars, heavy bass, or thundering drums. Just an acoustic melancholy troubadour.

Lyrically, the album delves into themes such as war, selfishness, love and the dark side of human nature. The lyrics convey a subtly sinister undertone that slowly oozed into my consciousness after multiple listens.

One of the album's highlights is a cover of Massive Attack's "Teardrop." González does Massive Attack justice with his version. It's a sparse, intensely beautiful track. One of the best covers that I've ever heard.

In Our Nature is a fascinating album. It doesn't push boundaries but delivers a mighty sound without too much indulgence. Ideal for a soothing rainy day.


Album design:
Exquisite. The album design reflects the delicate musical vibe of In Our Nature—simple yet appealing in color scheme, paper selection and font choices. 

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for free by the people at Imperial Recordings) 
 
Next Up:
Agent Ribbons, Chateau Crone (2010)






9/29/2010

Last Chance Runaround.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Bittersweet
Upbeat
Intriguing

Three favorite songs on album:
Lonely More
Cast A Shadow
Two of Us

Alter Idem by Last Chance Runaround is a rock album seasoned with bits of traditional folk and pop. The duo, Scott Roberts and Sue Volkert, have created a solid foundation of an album with its guitar driven tracks and surprisingly beautiful harp-guitar duets.

Tracks like "Lonely More," are vaguely reminiscent of artists like Wilco, minus their (Wilco's, that is) overextended moodiness. "Lonely More" is bittersweet yet full and vibrant.

The other two songs that ended up being amongst my favorites are covers—"Two of Us" and "Cast A Shadow"—the latter of which showcases Sue's impressive vintage pop style vocals. This track has a similar feel to the dreamy 60's female surf rock that is currently being made by musicians like Best Coast and Vivian Girls.

Alter Idem is an entertaining and straightforward record. The members of Last Chance Runaround definitely have talent, vocals, and technical abilities. The only problem that Alter Idem runs up against is that its tracks sound pretty similar throughout. It's consistent but maybe a little too much at times.

Q&A: (With Scott Roberts of Last Chance Runaround)
1. Who or what is your musical inspiration?
Generally speaking, when I was a little kid, I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and I KNEW then that singing songs and playing guitar (preferably in front of screaming girls!) would be my destiny. I also listened to a lot of traditional folk music as a kid, then later to British Invasion (especially The Kinks) and then new wave and "college-rock" stuff in the '80s (Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, XTC, The Jam, REM, etc.). Since I've been in bands myself, my main goal is always to write the perfect 3-minute pop song--but with meaning and depth ; ). 

2. How long has LCR been together?
Sue and I started playing together in late 2005 and we formed a friendship and kind of spiritual bond over our mutual love for a New Jersey jangle-pop band from the '80s called Winter Hours. We kind of started with the idea that we just wanted to keep their music alive and then went on to start creating our own music from there. In fact our name comes from the lyric in one of their songs, "Broken Little Man" (which we play live fairly regularly).

3. What is the theme/motivation behind this album?
I didn't really have a theme in mind but there seems to be a natural thread in lots of my songs about loss and how to deal with it. Not always the easiest stuff to dance to ; ).

4. What's the best venue you've ever played?
Form me personally it was The Variety Playhouse in Atlanta--I opened for Iris DeMent in 1994 during my solo singer/songwriter phase (1992--2005). For LCR, our most memorable gig was playing at an art gallery in Maplewood, New Jersey as part of the release party for the Winter Hours tribute CD "A Few Uneven Rhymes." We contributed the song "At a Turtle's Pace" (a different version of which is also on "Alter Idem") and we got to play that song and a couple of others with Winter Hours' founder Michael Carlucci, a great guy and a guitar hero of mine.

5. Favorite music format? Compact disc, vinyl, or mp3?
I'd have to say CD because I like the tangibility of it over an mp3 (a friend of mine once pointed out that you can't have an artist autograph an mp3!), but I grew up with vinyl so I'll always have a soft spot for that and I like hearing about its impending comeback for this generation.

6. Favorite album of the moment?
I've loved Liz Phair's "Somebody's Miracle" this entire summer, and went to see Laura Veirs last week and have been listening a lot to her "July Flame" album.

7. What's next for LCR?
We're playing in Orlando again next week (we played there in March) with our pals The BellTowers and we're still playing here as often as we can to try to coerce people to fall in love with us. We'd like to travel to all the cities our friends live in and we hope to release another EP next spring.

Album design:
Unfortunately, the album design feels dated. The fonts aren't particularly incredible nor is the parchment paper type overlay. Given the quality of the music, the album design feels sub-par.


Next up:
José González, In Our Nature (2007)








9/22/2010

The adventures of tiny vampire robots and lunatic birds.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Endearing
Honest
Worthwhile

Three favorite songs on album:
Birds
Claws
Tiny Vampire Robot


I've said it before. I'm not a lyric person. I gravitate towards the sound of music (I once knew this girl named after Julie Andrews. Random, huh?). It takes a lot for me to notice lyrics. However, Buzzard's odd, intriguing and often relatable lyrics by Margot and the Nuclear So and So's caught my attention. With lyrics like "Tiny vampire robot / Wanna get sucked dry / And I don't know how to tell you / How long you've been on my mind," one must appreciate the sincerity behind this angst ridden love song to a small vampire robot. Another one of my favorites ends up being "Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic," which is a tale about the failures of a character named Allison and her "crack pot mind."

Not only does Buzzard have fail-safe lyrics, it also contains flawless, polished rock. "Earth to Aliens: What Do You Want?" is a perfect example of this. It's a mellow track, yet at 1:50 they turn it up a notch with a continuous stream of electric guitar bliss. This track, along with other segments of the album, have a distinct classic rock/Americana feel, similar to Tom Petty but more tender.

Want to check out Margot and the Nuclear So and So's live? Here's your chance.

SEP. 21          ANN ARBOR, MI   /   BLIND PIG
SEP. 22          COLUMBUS, OH   /   CIRCUS
SEP. 23          NEWPORT, KY   /   SOUTHGATE HOUSE
SEP. 24          AKRON, OH   /   MUSICA
SEP. 25          PITTSBURGH, PA   /   THE BRILLOBOX
SEP. 26          NEW YORK, NY   /   BOWERY BALLROOM
SEP. 27          CAMBRIDGE, MA   /   THE MIDDLE EAST (Downstairs)
SEP. 29          BROOKLYN, NY   /   MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG
SEP. 30          PHILADELPHIA, PA   /   FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH
OCT. 1           WASHINGTON, DC
  /   BLACK CAT
OCT. 2           ASHEVILLE, NC
  /   STELLA BLUE
OCT. 3           CHAPEL HILL, NC
  /   LOCAL 506
OCT. 5           TALLAHASSEE, FL
  /   CLUB DOWNUNDER
OCT. 6           GAINESVILLE, FL
  /   COMMON GROUND
OCT. 7           ORLANDO, FL
  /   THE BACKBOOTH
OCT. 8           TAMPA, FL
  /   CROWBAR
OCT. 9           ATLANTA, GA
  /   DRUNKEN UNICORN
OCT. 10         BIRMINGHAM, AL
  /   BOTTLETREE
OCT. 11         NASHVILLE, TN
  /   EXIT/IN
OCT. 13         ST. LOUIS, MO
  /   THE FIREBIRD
OCT. 14         BLOOMINGTON, IN
  /   THE BISHOP
OCT. 15         INDIANAPOLIS, IN
  /   BROAD RIPPLE MUSIC FESTIVAL
OCT. 28         MARQUETTE, MI
  /   NORTHERN MICHIGAN U.
NOV. 5           NORMAN, OK
  /   OPOLIS PRODUCTIONS
NOV. 6           DALLAS, TX
  /   THE LOFT
NOV. 7           AUSTIN, TX
  /   FUN FUN FUN FEST
NOV. 9           ALBUQUERQUE, NM
  /   LAUNCHPAD
NOV. 10         PHOENIX, AZ
  /   RHYTHM ROOM
NOV. 11         TUCSON, AZ
  /   CLUB CONGRESS
NOV. 12         SAN DIEGO, CA
  /   THE CASBAH
NOV. 13         COSTA MESA, CA
  /   DETROIT BAR
NOV. 14         LOS ANGELES, CA
  /   ECHOPLEX
NOV. 15         SANTA BARBARA, CA
  /   SOHO
NOV. 16         SAN FRANCISCO, CA
  /   GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL
NOV. 18         PORTLAND, OR
  /   DOUG FIR LOUNGE
NOV. 19         SEATTLE, WA
  /   THE CROCODILE
NOV. 20         BOISE, ID
  /   NEUROLUX
NOV. 21         SALT LAKE CITY, UT
  /   URBAN LOUNGE
NOV. 22         DENVER, CO
  /   BLUEBIRD THEATER
NOV. 23         OMAHA, NE
  /   THE WAITING ROOM


Album design:
The cover of this album features a striking woman and a bird (which I believe is a cockatoo) and the name of the band in a thin, understated font. The rest of the album art is literally the same. Every page contains said woman and said cockatoo. It becomes redundant and lacks explanation. 

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for free by the nice people at Cobra Camanda Publicity)

Next Up:
Last Chance Runaround, Alter Idem (2009)




 

9/15/2010

Airy, beaming guitars and superheros.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
DIY
Incredible
Underrated

Three favorite songs on album:
I Don't Mind It
Boss
Wild
Runners up: Sheep, Ghost Solo

The Screaming Females give me a musical boner. The first time I ever heard them was a happy accident. The track was "I Don't Mind It." The airy, beaming guitar tugged at me. Why the fuck had I not heard of this band before?

Forming in 2006, the Screaming Females are a trio of exceedingly talented early 20-somethings. In the short span of four years, they've done more than I have in my lifetime—putting out over four records, while consistently improving their technique and style.

As for Castle Talk...this album is almost perfect. It ranges from cheerful highs and moody lows without losing the audience or veering away from their style. It's genuine, substantial and witty. These kids make a surprisingly rich sound with only 3 instruments (guitar, bass, drums). The style is slightly reminiscent of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs, minus their confidence but with a more down to earth vibe. The singer/guitarist, Marissa, is no wimp at the guitar. Her range and style pretty much kill me. Between the shredding, vocal/guitar multitasking, and her illustration skills, she borderlines on superhero status. The boys (Mike, bass; Jarrett, drums) aren't too rough either. They balance her raw power with their experience and precision.


Album design:
When Castle Talk arrived, I came to understand part of the DIY attitude of Screaming Females. The album design features Marissa's illustrations, which are pretty kick ass. All in all, the design completely mimics the sound of Castle Talk. It's bold and vibrant, yet friendly and intriguing.

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for free by the people at Force Field PR)
 
Next Up:
Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, Buzzard (2010)








9/08/2010

Oh man, I need a life.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Disorganized
Sporadic
Unique

Three favorite songs on album:
Oh Man
Sole Brother
At Home Now

I used to listen to CBC Radio 3 frequently. For some reason, I really related to Canadian indie rock (although I'm from Tennessee, so I'm not sure why). I related to the cold winters, apologetic attitudes, and edgy fashion sense (yes, I realize these are generalizations, but I mean them in the best I-wish-I-was-Canadian way possible). Back to my point...during this time, I discovered a handful of artists (most of whom I still follow). One such band was Born Ruffians. Their track, "I Need a Life," became an instant favorite of mine with its contagious guitar riffs, shouted background vocals, impeccable drumming and upbeat yet sullen chorus...not to mention the brilliant last 30 seconds of the track.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2010 when Born Ruffians put out their latest endeavor, Say It. "Oh Man," the first track, seems to have a a similar style as "I Need a Life." Steady, continuous bass; quick, fluid drums; stand-out guitar pushing the vocals to their peak. A decent first track. Unfortunately, the next track takes a turn for the worse. It has all the right elements, but they seem somehow disconnected. The vocals are stretched, out of breath, and dip too low.

"Sole Brother" is an interesting, honest, melodic take on having unwanted siblings, and it ends up being one of my favorite songs. The guitar runs are oddly beautiful, as are the vocals.

To be honest, the rest of the album ends up being somewhat of a letdown minus one or two tracks. It's filled with chaotic moments where vocals seem to compete with instruments instead of enhancing them. There's no doubt in my mind that these fellas are intensely talented. That being said, they seem to have a hard time focusing their creative energy into concise, tight tracks.



Album design:
The album design consists of paintings of faces, fragmented into several pieces laid upon each other. The colors are muted, yet pleasing. There isn't much more to the album concept except there are partial lyrics (portions of each song) inside. The album design seems to mirror the sound of Say It with its fragments, leaving me unsatisfied. 

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for free by the people at 230 Publicity) 


Next Up:
Screaming Females, Castle Talk (2010)









9/01/2010

This message is brought to you by an instant gratification culture.

This post isn't going to be my average, run-of-the-mill music review. No fucking way. This one is...heavy.

Today the world lost another print publication. Paste magazine published its first issue in July of 2002. Now eight years later, we say goodbye to one of the music industry's best. How can a magazine go from being touted as one of the 50 best magazines, and magazine of the year, to just "focusing on its digital assets" (Pastemagazine.com)? Paste has become the latest victim of our instant gratification culture.

The folding of Paste has become the current mirror image of what our culture has done to compact discs, vinyl and album art. The consumers of today no longer want to take the time to read a magazine or listen to a whole album. They instead choose to get their quick fix immediately, i.e. online, by reading music news about a particular artist or by downloading the specific track they want. They consider any excess to be a waste of time. In my opinion, this is what has dismantled Paste.

But what this instant gratification culture is missing is that a.) not everyone has innately exceptional music taste, b.) not every has the time or know how to access quality music that fits their current genre obsession. Much like how not everyone can be a professional graphic designer just because they have Photoshop. We need filters. We need an expert to show us what is excess and what is quality. Paste was this expert. Paste gave us the guidelines that helped us experience variety without getting overloaded. Paste helped us discover new artists, songs, and genres without pushing our boundaries too far. Don't get me wrong, Paste can still offer all of this in a digital format, but what it won't be able to offer is the forced consumption. We will no longer be able to pick up the latest issue and look at it from cover to cover with all aspects included, even ones we dislike. By offering forced consumption, a music magazine has a leg up on online media. Think of it this way. Let's say you bought an entire album just because you liked one song. After listening to that one song on repeat for days, you ventured into the rest of the album. After listening to the entire album, you ran across the best song of your life. Well, that would never have happened if you hadn't bought the album, now would it? If you just bought the single, you would not have learned about any other tracks on the album. Forced consumption in the magazine format is the same. It leads you through a maze of possible favorites; whereas, online only leads you through what you already know.

I, for one, already feel the loss. And while this is a sad day, it's only a fraction of what's changing in music. Independent vinyl record shops are closing, music publications are struggling to get by, radio stations are becoming obsolete and the entire music industry is having to reinvent its marketing strategy.

Fucking heavy...


Next Up:
Born Ruffians, Say It (2010)

8/25/2010

Broadway-rock without the AZT breaks.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
One-of-a-kind
Concise
Entertaining

Three favorite tracks on album:
Petty Games / Worries Grow With Time / Nothing's Wrong
Island Fever
Now or Never

What do you get when you cross the intense range of Adam Lambert, the crushing guitars of "Ballroom Blitz" by Sweet, and the perfected harmonizing of Rent? Stagehands. These kids aren't messin' around either. They've single-handledly written, recorded, and played/sang every song on the broadway-rock musical that makes up The Silent City.

The wow factor really set in after a couple of days of listening to the album. I began to notice myself humming the tracks. The more I listened to The Silent City, the more impressed I was. Don't get me wrong, it's completely an unnatural idea for me to imagine a musical as only an album; however, Stagehands pulls it off with expertise. Imagine listening to an album that is an allegory (of sorts) depicting the viciousness of the record industry (or life, for that matter) with its perfectly constructed pop ideals. Sounds good, right? And it is.

The only faults I found with the album lie in some of the aspects that come off as slightly cheesy. For example a few of the character voices are a little overly emphatic at times. Also, the storyline is a tad simplistic. Maybe add some knife fights or some AZT breaks.

In the end, if you like Broadway musicals and rock (or one or the other), there's a decent chance you'll dig Stagehands. And, what do you know, you can actually check 'em out for free. The album is available at stagehandsmusic.com.

Q&A: (with Marko Pandza of Stagehands) 
1. Who or what is your musical inspiration? 
"For real: Green Day, Queen, The Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack (Danny Elfman), System of a Down, Muse, Tub Ring. I love bands that don't care what people expect them to sound like. That attitude is something we definitely applied to The Silent City. For fake: Kenny G. For real, but wishing it were fake: Lawrence Welk." 

2. How long has Stagehands been together? 
"Going on 5 years, if you count the very beginning. It takes a long time to write an album, an even longer time to write a musical, so combining the two was a real stop-and-go process of learning, revising, hair pulling and cat fights." 

3. How did Stagehands start and what was the process for creating The Silent City? 
"The bassist/writer Dave had this idea of a band doing an album where there was a seamless story and the band members played the characters. Kind of like Quadrophenia, or American Idiot if they weren't all narrated by the lead singer through a more abstract story. We played in a Green Day tribute act together and he sprung this crazy idea on me when it was done and I fell in love with it. 

We spent a lot of time in a stuffy room with our guitars and some recording software for months and came up with about 50 ideas that were whittled down into the current incarnation of The Silent City. The story came from a 1 sentence story pitch I wrote, and we developed it scene by scene, word by word in tandem with the music. Funny enough, the show's not done yet even though it's recorded, so the creative process is still ongoing. So if you're bored of the album, TOO BAD! We're going to make it longer." 

5. Favorite music format? Compact disc, vinyl, or mp3?
 "Vinyl, no contest. I've stopped buying CDs, mp3s are worthless. That's why we give away our album free on our website. For me, mp3s serve the purpose of screening which records I'm going to buy. Vinyl looks nice, smells nice, and you never feel closer to the music then when you drop that needle.

That being said, some CDs are still cool. Malajube's Labyrinthes CD packaging was stellar, and Metallica's Death Magnetic had a cool booklet design even if the album sucked." 

6. Favorite album of the moment? 
"Same answer as favourite album of the year: Foxy Shazam (self-titled). I've been following these guys for years and they've finally hit their stride. It's impeccably produced, a joy to listen to, catchy and quirky as hell. Sean Nally is a genius and I predict big things for these guys. Imagine Queen on the back of a motorcycle with Evil Knievel and that's Foxy Shazam." 

7. What's next for Stagehands? 
"We want to create something special. Like the main character Stan, we want to leave a legacy. There's some preliminary work done on an expanded Silent City, as well as on a couple of potential future musicals. Those should be out around 2030, judging by how fast we work. But we're never going to stop writing."

Album design:
The design for the album matches sound and style of the music. It's simple, concise and sets the mood perfectly with its dark colors and theatrical imagery. Also, pop the disc into your computer and there's a pdf of the lyrics, which is always a plus. 


Next Up:
Born Ruffians, Say It (2010)

8/18/2010

"I wish my cat could talk," and other musings by Best Coast.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Solid
Warm
Pessimistic

Three favorite songs on album:
Goodbye
I Want To
Bratty B 

Crazy For You, by Best Coast, juxtaposes 60's female surf rock with honest, straightforward, introspective lyrics about relationships, weed and cats. Even an industrial-strength critic is no match for songs about cats.

I didn't put up much of a fight. Any willpower and preconceived ideas (such as my assumption that this current resurgence of female surf music is a passing trend and lacks true quality) were lost within the first track, "Boyfriend." With its sun drenched guitar licks and repetitive and obsessive lyrics, I quickly succumbed to the unequivocal, perfect summer album.

With each new track, Best Coast proves my predetermined ideas wrong. The tracks feel balanced and refreshing. The lyrics are ironic compared to the music. Take for example, "Goodbye," with its approachable, upbeat sound yet melancholy words. "I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk / Every time you leave this house / Everything falls apart..."

Whether or not Best Coast will be remembered in 5 years remains to be seen. They now stand on a pivotal point in their career. They've packed the goods into this debut album but unfortunately may get lumped into the trend category. Hopefully, with the next album, they will demonstrate continued success and staying power.


Album design:
In some ways, the album design mimics the music. Its simple, quirky design plays on the lyrics, but compared to the music, the design is that of a passing trend where as the music is not. If I saw this album (without having heard the record) in a store, I would never buy it.

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for free by the lovely people at Rock Steady Music)


Next Up:
Stagehands, The Silent City (2009)





8/05/2010

This is an album review.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Bluesy
Nostalgic
Distinct

Three favorite songs on album:
Howlin' For You
Tighten Up
Black Mud


My first encounter with The Black Keys was brought to me by the shameful promotions of Camel cigarettes. At the time I was living in the hot bed of Southern hospitality known as Atlanta. I'm not exactly sure where I was when the Camel representative approached me (probably because I was drunk at the time) with the opportunity to sell my soul to the devil in trade for a couple of The Black Keys tickets, but regardless, I thought it an even trade (although I had no idea who this band was).

The concert was at the Tabernacle. I distinctly remember being overwhelmingly impressed. Fast forward 3 years. The Black Keys introduce Brothers, the newest addition to their discography.

Brothers is full of grunge, blues, and throwback particles in a well-rounded record. It has a similar consistency and quality to The Black Keys' other records, and considering it's a two man band, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are able to create a surprising richness and depth that is generally found in bands with more members.

The themes on Brothers range from love ("The Only One") to death ("Unknown Brother") tossed together in a bluesy lyrical style. However, the real joy of the album isn't necessarily the lyrics, it's the emotion and craftsmanship that Auerbach and Carney put behind those lyrics...it all fits perfectly.

One of the stand-out tracks, roughly in the middle of the album, is "Too Afraid To Love You." The tone of this somber and honest ballad is slightly different than The Black Keys' usual styling of just a guitar and drums. The addition of the harpsichord gives the song the broken and overgrown feeling of a bygone era. It reminds me of "Life In Mono" by Mono (on the Great Expectations soundtrack) but a bit more gritty and eerie.  

"Never Gonna Give You Up" is another track worth mentioning. It is a slow, unexpected throwback to 60's pop reminiscent of Dusty Springfield.


Album design:
The album design for Brothers pretty much made me cream myself. It's simplistic, witty, and all around genius. Probably one of the best designs I've ever seen for an album. Here's why:

1. It appears as though the font is a hand drawn version of Cooper Black (or something similar). Cooper Black is a ironic, friendly and bold type face. In large amounts, it can become dangerous and slutty, but in small, tasteful quantities, it can add a dash of humor and style that not many other fonts can. Cooper Black can also be found on classics like Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys.

2. Only 3 colors are used: white, black & red. Sticking to simple basics will always make something seem more appealing and timeless.

3. Lyrics are included on the back of a large foldout poster. Lyrics and a poster? Wow, what a novel idea.

4. Wording. The album says things like "This is an album by The Black Keys," and "This is a Black Keys poster." Stating the obvious always makes me laugh.

5. Lastly, the actual compact disc is heat sensitive. Remember hypercolor shirts? It's much like that but in black and white. This kills me. I freaked out when I saw this. Ask my girlfriend. She'll tell you.

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for free by the lovely people at Nonesuch Records)  


Next Up:
Best Coast, Crazy For You (2010)









7/28/2010

Free paper.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Aggressive
Repetitive
Sullen

Three favorite songs on album:
Before That Day
They're Gonna Keep Me
Our So Long

If you blog, it will come. Music, that is. Wait, let me rephrase that. Free music. Thus the situation of An Object by Paper. A couple weeks ago, I was looking on the Imperial Recordings site and stumbled upon the track "Before That Day" by a Swedish band called Paper. I was hooked. The combative beat, the endless guitar, the lo fi punk vocals and simplistic synth are pushed together into a compact post-punk dream. With little effort on my part, I found a contact at Imperial Recordings and made the request. Next thing I know, I'm opening up a package with a Swedish stamp on it.  

An Object is a fast paced, underground appetizer. At best, Paper's debut conjures 1970's punk with its raw, bellicose nature. At its worst, An Object becomes a repetitive batch of tracks lacking depth.

As a whole, Paper has their act together. They've managed to produce a cohesive album of tight, distinct tracks. That said, the tracks without vocals start to sound similar after a couple rounds. An Object is a tasty morsel but doesn't satisfy my cravings fully. I'll be awaiting their next course.



Album design:
The album design is simplistic with a clean sans serif font for album and band name. The insert is printed on a matte paper, giving it a nice tactile feel. On the flip side of the insert is a large image of the trio with album credits.

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for FREE by the lovely people at Imperial Recordings)



Next Up:
The Black Keys, Brothers (2010)





7/21/2010

I'm all fucked on irony.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Unconventional
Tongue-in-cheek
Fuzzed

Three favorite songs on album:
Ghosts Of Syllables
Sunburn Kids
The Thread

Admiral Radley's debut album starts off with a piano driven comical nod to California, but this isn't your average west coast adoration-Beach Boys-surfer tune. No, "I Heart California" is topped with a frothy dose of irony. With lyrics like "I am California / Ice tea in my hair /  Drugs fall out of diaper bags / As mid-westerners stare / I am California / Long walks on the 5 / Truck stops and the symphony / I'll be here when I die," I cannot help but be reeled in by this catchy sarcasm. My new found love affair doesn't stop there.

The entire layout of I Heart California is a moody battle of well done indie tracks with clever and honest lyrics. Pinning songs like "Sunburn Kids"—with it's angsty 80's sounding Billy Idol type battle cries—against songs like "The Thread" which comes across as a sweet and bubbly lullaby that could be in the movie Amelie.

Admiral Radley keeps my attention. Just the fact that they have a song called "I'm All Fucked On Beer" makes me appreciate them. It's not very often that a band has the balls to write an entire track about being wasted and actually has the ability to pull it off. Which brings me to comparisons. Admiral Radley reminds me of the good 'ol days of Weezer (Pinkerton especially), a bit of Wilco, and Silversun Pickups. Sometimes strange and witty sometimes honest and melodic.


Album design:
The design is quirky, bizarre and not cohesive (which some, not myself, might say about the tracks on the album as well). It appears to just be a collage of random items. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but throwing retro images together doesn't necessarily make ironic art.

(Disclaimer: This album was given to me for FREE by the lovely people at Daffodil Publicity)



Next Up:
Paper, An Object (2010)
 



7/15/2010

Speechless...or drunk?

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Mainstream
Avant-garde
Substantial

Three favorite songs on album:
Speechless
So Happy I Could Die
Teeth

"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination... Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: 'It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.'" (Jim Jarmusch)

Like a collage artist, Lady Gaga crafts and glues pieces of Madonna, David Bowie, Prince, Ace of Base, Pink, Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera and Boy George to the glossy canvas that is her career. She carefully and purposefully poses each influence in a cohesive layout for the world to view. With the addition of delicate themes such as feminism, sexuality, and monstrosities, Gaga is able to reinvent these icons and emerge as new pop superstar.

Admittedly, I originally thought this Gaga person was "too mainstream" to be worth my liking. I was pretty convinced that this review would end with the conclusion that there wasn't any depth, sincerity or talent. However, somewhere within the last week, those pre-conceived ideas were dislodged. It was somewhere between the catchy Ace of Base style dance beats in "Alejandro," the slight twang in "Speechless," and the edgy, sexualized grittiness in "Teeth" that I came to terms with my appreciation of Lady Gaga.


(...Time lapse...)

My girlfriend made me too many alcoholic drinks on the night I was supposed to finish this blog. Thus, it's going nowhere. Blame her, that sweet thing.



Next Up: Admiral Radley, I Heart California (2010)




7/07/2010

Nothing left to take away.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Minimalist
Dejected
Genius

Three favorite songs on album:
Heart Skipped A Beat
Basic Space
Infinity

XX by The xx reminds me of a quote I once had plastered on my wall. "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." (Antoine de Saint Exupéry) In light of the quote, The xx, in my mind, has successfully achieved perfection.

Negative space, purposeful hesitation, simplicity and raw awkward understated talent are what make this album brilliant. Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith have birthed a masterful and original debut.

XX is an album full of consistent, morose, and delicate synth pop melodies. Aspects of The Cure and Radiohead can be found throughout. The vocals slither smoothly back and forth between Romy and Oliver. Their honey dripped words are intertwined and focused on joint romantic introspection.

Another key aspect of The xx is Jamie Smith, providing the diligent, precise and fluid drum beats and synth tracks in addition to producing and mixing the album with just the right amount of restraint.






Album design:
Album art matches the music perfectly. It's a simple, yet clean, black and white scheme with abstract images and lyrics on the inset.

Also, the album has a die cut of an x, where the white of the album cover shows though to make a negative space x. Die cuts on albums are a rare breed. Thus, two thumbs up for that alone.


Next Up:
Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster (2009)




6/30/2010

An atmospheric serenade.

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Whimsical
Mystifying
Soothing

Three favorite songs on album:
Slip Into Your Skin
The Storm
The Great Escape

Close to Paradise by Patrick Watson lulls me. It's a mixture of textures, oddly voiced instruments and rain clouds. Watson and company have created the perfect atmospheric music for Seattle, London and any individual of melancholy nature (myself included) that wishes to get laid (again, myself included).

This album contains similar elements to Iron & Wine (slow, beautiful, partially acoustic ballads), Timber Timbre (slightly eerie, still folksy), and perhaps a touch of Jeff Buckley (similar vocal styling). Still, nothing quite catches the fanciful sound that only Patrick Watson can create.

There's a touch of romanticism that comes with Close to Paradise. "Slip Into Your Skin" is a prime example of that, and its cascading sentiments of "Be the blanket for my bones / Be a place that I call home / Slipped into your skin and spent the night / ‘Cause I feel like a different man / I feel it when I’m with you" can woo even the hardest of characters.

All in all, this twinkling serenade is worthwhile. Even if you only listen to it on rainy days...or to get laid. Blogger tested, girlfriend approved.


Album design:
The album design matches the music tit for tat with its blurry, sepia images of model trains and an industrial complex set inside a glass bottle. It's just as mysterious and compelling as the album.



Next Up:
The xx, XX (2009)










6/23/2010

Paper clips couldn't even hold this album together.

Broken rib. Moving. Lack of internet due to the incompetence of AT&T/UPS. These are the factors which have plagued my life lately thus forcing me to write an every other week blog instead of an every week blog. Please take pity on me if only for the fact I spent over 2 hours listening to elevator music on a phone call to AT&T. At any rate, these minor problems shall no longer (hopefully) contribute to any delinquent blogging on my part...

On to the review!

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Sexual
Mercurial
Cheeky

Three favorite songs on album:
Woohoo
Elastic Love
You Lost Me

Merry-go-rounds. They're a fucking mountain of fun...at first. Then...suddenly you realize you have to puke. Such is Christina Aguilera's latest, Bionic.

I wanted to like Bionic. I wanted to be thrown under the synth-dance bus. I thought it possible. With cohorts like Le Tigre, M.I.A., Sia, Linda Perry, Peaches Ladytron and Nicki Minaj, I was certain that Ms. Aguilera had brought in the right crew to get the job done. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, expectations lead to disappointment.

The album starts of at an accelerated pace. From the oral sex innuendo oriented "Woohoo" to the vibrant electronic springing of "Elastic Love," I see definite comparisons to Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani and M.I.A.

Towards mid-album, a down shift takes place. The tone turns somber with songs like "Lift Me Up," "All I Need," and "You Lost Me." The majority of these are completely forgettable, except "You Lost Me" which is exactly the opposite. It has a rich depth and honesty to it and reveals Aguilera's incredible range. This is her at her best, and frankly it gives me chills when I listen to it.

The last few songs on Bionic include the Le Tigre collaboration ("My Girls") and two other upbeat tracks.

As a whole, this album is not consistent. There are about 3–5 decent songs, but after that it's all quite a mess. Not only are the other songs not worth mentioning, but it's a chunky mix of dance songs and ballads, which generally doesn't make a record flow well.

Highlights:
The rap by Nicki Minaj seals the deal in "Woohoo." Also, the rap by Peaches in "My Girls" is another example of successfully adding quality collaborators to enhance a song.

One element that Christina has successfully mastered is the crescendo. Quite a few of the songs on Bionic, including the title track, feature seamless crescendos.


Album design:
A scantly clad Christina is everywhere. I sort of feel dirty just looking at the liner notes.
I still am not sure why the album is called "Bionic." I was hoping for some glimpse in the lyrics (kudos for actually including them) but to no avail.
There's an illustration of a pussy (cat...you perv...get your mind out of the gutter for fuck's sake) on one of the pages that's rather adorable.
I found a typo on the last page. Missing space between the words "the" and "World." Do I get a prize for that?



Next Up:
Patrick Watson, Close To Paradise (2006)




6/09/2010

To my dismay...

First three adjectives that come to mind when listening to this album:
Honest
Unexpected
Unclassifiable

Three favorite songs on album:
Los Angeles
My Tears Are Wasted On You
Silly


I'll admit it. I generally don't venture into the genre known as "country." I'm not sure what it is...maybe it's the twang, the cheating banter, the cowboy hats, the trucks...all of it puts me off. Being from the South, I'm completely aware that this is a faux pas. Regardless of that fact, I've managed to grow up avoiding most artists, groups and songs that even slightly resemble country music...until now.

Roomful of Smoke by Leslie and the Badgers detains me. It's the perfect crossbreed of eclectic genres ranging from country/Americana to indie/rock. It's full-flavored, lighthearted, candid, and melancholy all at once. Singer Leslie Stevens' vocal tone draws comparisons to the likes of Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, yet unlike those two, you can imagine her sitting next to you in the neighborhood bar. The lyrics on the album are flushed with a delicate candor, which makes for an effective balance between sound and words.

Overall, this album is, much to my dismay, stunning.


Album design:
Pleasing and consistent without being over the top, the album design touches on the country/Americana flare with the rope font used for the words "Leslie and the Badgers."

My only complaint (as usual) is the lack of lyrics in the liner notes.




Next Up:
Christina Aguilera, Bionic (2010)