Here’s my trip with these guys – 5 years ago I was immediately intrigued the first time I heard “A-Punk.” I went out and bought the first album, really dug it, and contented myself with having Vampire Weekend in my life. Then I saw them play at Bonnaroo and was quite taken back at how lifeless their live performance was. It wasn’t bad per se, but it did feel like a rudimentary running of the motions. Now admittingly, their music doesn’t necessarily instill the notion of a bombastic show, but I was looking for a little bit more motion on the stage… or something. Regardless, the half-naked 16 year-old girls seemed to love it so you can’t really fault the band for that. That moment did ingrain this spot of disdain for the band in my brain though, and I somewhat unconsciously blew them off after that. I feel like I subtly succumbed to the VW hatred that many of my peers held, and I decided the band wasn’t worth paying attention to anymore. I never really gave Contra a shot, and in recent hindsight I’ve found myself to actually be pretty into it. Backburner admiration, but still a slight affinity nonetheless. Cut to recent times when the local radio station is playing the fuck out of the new single, “Diane Young.” It’s fun, I get it… I could do without the weird auto-tune part, but it’s still not drawing enough to make me want to go out and listen to the whole record. What I’m saying is that the band has somehow crafted this image of themselves that makes them seem unnecessary to my ears. And that’s odd – because I listen to everything. I check out every new album that anybody considers worth half a damn, but I just feel like I really don’t need to hear Modern Vampires of the City. Then I see that Pitchfork, the greatest haters on the planet, gave the album a 9.3. That’s a huge number for Pitchfork. That’s .2 higher than what they gave the new My Bloody Valentine record which I presumed would be a shoe-in for their top album of 2013. And we haven’t yet seen how much they’ll spooge over the new Kanye, but the lingering question is whether Pitchfork can disband their hipness and give album of the year to a band that’s become so mainstream. How mainstream you ask? Well…
Yesterday while in the home of one of the kids I teach piano to, I was slightly distracted when the 16 year old babysitter stopped by to discuss her schedule with the child’s Mom.
Babysitter: “Yeah, I can’t do it that night because I’m going to see Vampire Weekend.”
Mom: “Oh really? That’s where I’m going to!”
Babysitter: “No way! I can’t wait – I’m going with my Mom, my Grandmother, and my little sister.”
Wow, that’s a three generational, babysitter/parent mesh there. It’s pretty impressive and a conquering moment for Vampire Weekend’s stretch into the family market. The only place to go from there is playing under Garfield on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I wonder if when the play “Oxford Comma” these days if they just say “F” instead of “fuck”. Either way, that moment yesterday has spiked my interest again and I’m ready to give them another shot. But please be careful if you’re going to rip a joint at one of their gigs – there’s definitely children around.
Over the past 15 years, I probably contemplate the potentiality of a Talking Heads reunion about every 4 months or so. And I’m not saying I have one of those What If/Wouldn’t That Be Cool moments, I’m saying I literally imagine myself at such an event and try to visualize what exactly is happening. I’m in one of those 4 month moments right now, spurred on by watching disastrous footage of recent Rolling Stones gigs, contemplating the cycle of events that could lead to a Ween show in 2013, and by reading a recent quote from Robert Plant where he actually hints about wanting to do a 2014 Led Zeppelin tour. So here’s my really shitty vision of being at a T-Heads reunion show: I’m in Madison Square Garden and I’ve somehow landed tickets at face value even though face is like $135… half the crowd is over 50, and 2 songs in I realize that 25% of the crowd knows nothing except for “Burning Down the House” and “Once in a Lifetime.” The band is essentially just running through the motions, and David Byrne has a look on his face like he just traded his soul for a ham sandwich. The guy sitting behind me then taps me on the shoulder and asks me both to sit down and if I can stop smoking that joint. I’m bummed – I feel hollow – I think back to when I wrote a blog about imagining this moment and realize I should have accepted fate as it was… Am I right? Can’t we all see that situation? So here’s my really awesome vision:
I’m in NYC’s Roseland Ballroom. The Heads have announced a 23 night run there dubbed All or Nothing. Tickets were hard, but I managed to land some $70 ones at face for 2 consecutive nights in the middle of the run. The stage set-up is minimal – very little lighting – and the full lineup is there. Alex Weir and Adrian Belew are both on guitar – Belew in amazing form after his stint in the Nine Inch Nails reunion. Tina Weymouth is thumping the bass with all the pent-up passion she’s been waiting to unleash for the past 30 years. It feels like it’s not even the same woman I’ve seen play with Tom Tom Club. It’s hot in there. It’s smoky. It’s sweaty. Each show of the run has followed a fairly similar setlist, but there have been divine moments that make each night stand out. This is a Tuesday, and currently the band is 8 minutes deep into “The Great Curve.” I am getting down harder than I ever have in my life, but still not as hard as the 70 year old woman sweating bullets to my left. To my right, a 21 year old EDM kid stands still staring at the stage with his mouth on the floor and a slight tear coming down his face. During “Houses in Motion” I glance to my left and notice James Murphy dancing anonymously amongst a circle of friends. At several times during the gig I check my pulse to make sure I’m still on planet Earth… And am I right on this one too? Couldn’t we all see this?
Sigh… dreams and fantasies can really mess with your head sometimes, but that’s what makes our weird human brains so amazing. God bless you David Byrne, and God bless whatever decision you ever make to reconstruct my reality. A few months back a friend of mine turned me onto the Bonus Tracks that were released on a Remain in Light reissue. I had never heard them. They crushed me. I cried when I first heard this jam called “Right Start” – it’s kind of like a mash-up of “Lifetime” and “Electric Guitar.” I imagine it as the soundtrack that the great creator had playing in his head when he was manufacturing the universe, and I kind of imagine the after-life as a world where this thing is just playing on loop for eternity. Dig in…
The first weekend of Coachella just happened, and it’s really a massive blessing that there’s 3 different Youtube channels streaming video from the fest all weekend long. It’s really a testament to the physical of-the-moment power of live music that it gives you such a different sensation when you’re watching it live. I don’t really have any desire to watch recorded footage of any new Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, but I had a blast watching it stream live from the comfort of my home last night. Likewise, anybody who watched the live stream of Phoenix‘s set Saturday night felt the same holy-shit rush that the crowd there did when R. Kelly came out for the mash-up encore of “1901″ and “Ignition Remix.” Unfortunately Coachella has removed the video footage so you can’t watch the awesome smirk on lead singer Thomas Mars‘ face when he’s getting ready to sing along the chorus to “Ignition.” Shit was pretty flippin’ dope though, and you can listen to a great clear version HERE.
Regardless of all the great performances over the weekend though, the biggest new of the weekend was the 90 second video preview of the new Daft Punk single that aired on the jumbo-trons before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ set. This morning fan-shot video of the clip is nearing a combined 2 million views, with one shot nearly at a million all by itself. Yep, that’s right… a low quality iPhone recording of a video screen playing a 90 second snippet, and people have watched it nearly 2 million times. You think people are excited about the new record coming out or what? But here’s the thing I’m not afraid to admit – that 90 second clip is probably the freshest shit I’ve heard in a year. The French robots have made a record composed of all their own instrumentation, highlighted by Nile Rodgers from Chic on guitar and a range of guest vocalists including Panda Bear and Pharrell. What’s ironic is that there is this whole massive EDM craze happening right now, where pilled-up kids sweat their asses off to fairly soulless and incredibly redundant beats, and many people consider Daft Punk the fathers of this new craze. But this new track sounds about as far away from Deadmau5 as Beethoven does from N.W.A. This is a return to the power of the groove, and it portends to be a phenomenal blessing to the world of current music. The life-force of the their new record, Random Access Memories, due out in a month, has the potential to completely flip the game. Even Pretty Lights is about to release an album composed of new in-studio instrumentation, and it feels like we’re on the tip of people demanding more humanity from their dance-beats. And of course that demand should be spear-headed by two dudes who play in robot masks. These motherfuckers just raised the bar with a 90 second video, and that is some tuned-to-the-beat power that possibly no other artist could produce right now. I predict the record to be so breathtaking that it makes James Murphy reunite LCD Soundsystem by the end of the year. Watch the clip below, and go HERE to listen to what could potentially be the full track – either that or somebody made an amazingly tight home-mix of the song. It does seem like it only contains parts from the 90 seconds, but it’s hard to tell – either way, get ready to hear this groove coming from everywhere throughout 2013.
The multi-spectrummed Detroit wonder boys known as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. announced today that their new EP, Patterns, will be released April 16th, and have debuted the first single off of it – “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On the Dancefloor.) Can I first say that I’m really enjoying this new wave of bands announcing the release of their new record only a couple weeks before it comes out? It’s so much better than a band saying they’re going to release their new record on a specific date in 5 months – like you would really need that kind of preparatory hype and you’ll be marking off the days on your calender until the thing drops. Anyway, I placed DEJJ’s debut record, It’s a Corporate World, as my album of the year in 2011. I thought it was a fairly genius conglomeration of neo-folk music interspersed with modern digital sound and head-nodding dance grooves. So my first instinct upon hearing this new track is that it falls far deeper into the land of dance-pop than they ever came close to gravitating to before. Sure it starts with a solid minute of odd faux-acoustic build up, but if I had heard the core of it on the radio, I would have presumed it was another one of these brand new bands who are trying to sound like old MGMT. There’s no doubt that it’s catchy, but it seems to be reaching out to a less critical demographic than those that their initial intricacies took hold of before. I suppose there is a touch of irony to the song, and I suppose that everybody needs a song that the 17 year-old girls in day-glo headbands want to dance to, but it doesn’t really reach the high bar of expectations I had for their sophomore record. Hopefully this single is merely a tool to draw new fans into hearing their music, and the rest of the EP will branch off more stylistically than this, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see. Til then, give it a spin…
Ever since Yacht Rock rekindled all of ours’ fascination with the smooth jams of the late 70′s and 80′s, a multitude of bands have tried to make a modernized version of the sound. Side-note: if you haven’t yet watched the Yacht Rock 12-part Mocumentary Series, then stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now. They just re-released it in Hi-Def even. Anyway, I’d say a solid 99.2% of the bands that try to embody this sound in the modern era just all-out totally fail. There’s a reason all those Hall & Oates grooves and Kenny Loggins hits are so amazing, and the key factor is that there’s no sense of irony in them. Thirty years ago, the musical world was a different place, and you were able to completely lose yourself in your own absurdity. It was a time when critical reaction was not on your mind – you could just make music that felt fucking great. Side-note #2: Steely Dan has, still does, and will always blow massive doo-doo rod. But moving on… today’s artists think that there’s something funny and ironic about making smooth music. They’re like the kids born in the 90′s who go see Chromeo, and they show up in day-glo leggings and headbands because they think it’s some kind of 80′s mockery music. They can’t just accept that the tunes are good, and that they should just dance like normal people – instead of pretending they’re doing a skit at their 3rd grade variety show. There is one modern artist however, that is able to fully realize the simpler moments of the smooth groove – Benny Sings.
The main reason Benny Sings is able to abandon all sense of irony is that he is Dutch. Plain and simple. If you’re from the Netherlands, then you’re born with an inherent sense of comical naivety – which sucks if you want to be a stand-up comic, but which is amazing if you want to kick out some smooth-ass jams. I’ve only recently stumbled upon the majesty of Benny Sings, and now I’m basking in all his glory. He;s still bigger in Asia and Europe than he is over here, but the dude is a fucking gem. I really can’ t believe this video for “For Your Love” has under 2,000 views! Dig in…
So I’m a few years late on the tip to Wild Light, an indie-pop band out of New Hampshire predominantly known for featuring one of the 57 previous members of Arcade Fire. The band had their moments opening for Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, and The Killers at different points, but it looks like they haven’t bounced back or up or anywhere since their brief touch of fame a few years back. Their website is currently defunct, and I doubt they were ever able to craft a song as catchy and fresh as “California on My Mind.” But I’ll be damned if it isn’t one hell of a cut, and also a beautiful, instinctive response tune – which are usually my favorite.
Purportedly, main vocalist Jordan Alexander wrote this track while living in California and having one of those “fuck this shit” kind of moments. It’s natural – we all have it occasionally about the places we live in, but it’s probably a little harder when you turn on the radio and every other song from the past 40 years in someway references how amazing and magical California is. I’m sure he just heard too much dribble about putting a flower in your hair and decided it was time someone acknowledged their disdain for the place too many pay homage to. Either way, it’s my go-to missed track of the week, so pour a little bit of your beer out for the folks who almost had the pop-rock game plan figured out.
A lot has changed on the musical landscape in the past 10 years, and a good deal of that evolution stemmed from The Postal Service’s album Give Up in 2003. If Kid A had taught skeptical folks like myself that the oncoming digital wonder-age of music was something that even true rock-loyalists could embrace, then Give Up was the next step in finding beauty in the modern era’s potential. Taking the emo lyricism of Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard and mixing it with glitchy electronica sounded like a total nightmare on paper, but it meshed in a way that none of us were really expecting. Hell, I can’t even remember or imagine what being sad on a plane felt like before I had “Recycled Air” to play on repeat. But seriously, if all you know of the band is the intro to “Such Great Heights” from the UPS commercials, then do yourself a favor and get on the tip before people figure out how lame you are.
Anyway, aside from announcing a few tour dates, Gibbard and co-collaborator Jimmy Tamborello have announced that they’ll be reissuing Give Up with a whole lot of bonus shit the first week of April. If, like me, you obsessively bought every EP they ever put out just so you could get the one or two bonus songs on each disc, then this reissue will be fairly old hat to you. There are two new tracks – “A Tattered Line of String” and “Turn Around,” but everything else has been released before. So of everything that’s been there before, here are my Top 3 must-hear tracks from all the B-side and EP albums.
“There’s Never Enough Time” – This is one of my favorite tracks of theirs, and I fucking love it when Gibbard’s guitar kicks in halfway through.
“Such Great Heights” – Iron and Wine cover – I’ve never been a big fan of Samuel Beam, but I think I love his take on the hit even more than the original.
“We Will Become Silhouettes’ – The Shins cover – James Mercer totally reworked the song and made it his own here. Dope, fun shit.
Hearing one of your favorite instrumentalists add vocals to their music for the first time is like seeing your aging mother buy her first pair of Uggs. In other words, sometimes the game doesn’t need to be flipped on its’ head that drastically. I’ve been a fan of Marco Benevento for nearly a decade now, and have always been enamored by his artistic attack of simplistic melodies. There’s even been times when his songs have held such a strong grasp of a melodic pop vibe that you can almost hear the unspoken lyrics float on top. I always thought this especially on “You Must Be a Lion” off of 2008′s Invisible Baby. In my head I always hear…”You must be a lion, because I can’t see, you being anything else.” But that’s the whole thing – the magic of the pop sensibility lied in my own personal and imagined connection with the music. If I had ever heard actual lyrics to the song, then it would have broken that spell.
Thus I’ve been quite torn by Marco’s choice to include vocals on the 1st two tracks of his recent release, Tigerface. First off, the vocals are provided by Rubblebucket‘s Kal Travers, who has quite an askew blandness to her tone. She always reminds me of the female version of the Hal 9000. But secondly, and most importantly, is how the inclusion of her vocals dispels the magic a great deal. It’s like when you read an amazing book, and it conjures this dreamy, hazy vision of the book’s reality in your head – one not defined by specifics and limitations. Then somebody makes a movie out of that book, and suddenly your own dream-scape connection to the story is squashed. That’s how I feel listening to “Limbs of a Pine” and “This is How it Goes” – like any chance I had of making a personal connection with the music has been automatically thrown out the window.
And listen, I love the album, but I can’t stop myself from starting it time and time again on Track 3. Marco learned a lot from his one-time teacher Brad Mehldau, and the biggest thing was the power of a simple melody. These vocal tracks seem like a step in the wrong direction – almost an admittance that the melodies aren’t strong enough to stand on their own. Of course, I applaud Marco on taking the risk, but I hope he never goes down the vocal path again. Try it out for yourself…
And here’s “You Must Be a Lion”
It seems odd that we’ve come to a time when a three-guitar rock band from Brooklyn sounds refreshing, but in a landscape dominated by laptops and synthesizers, Los Encantados are just that. Embracing the love and melodies of the greatest punk/50’s revivalists, but adding a little something called chops and talent, these guys have established themselves in just over one year’s time as one of the new bands coming out of New York actually worth paying attention to. Fresh off the release of the 3rd and final chapter of their debut album, The Same Damned Soul, I talked with the band’s front-man, James Armstrong, about the shockingly natural formation of their music, and how their dream gig lies somewhere between playing with a Miami gangster-rapper and a bisexual glam-rocker from London.
Adam King: So how did these songs move from your bedroom to the stage?
James Armstrong: Well, I had initially wrote The Same Damned Soul by myself as kind of an audio Valentine type thing for this girl. After a while, I eventually let a couple of my friends listen to it…it got passed around through some more friends and band members that were in different bands, and they passed it on to band members and then one night we just decided to go to our practice space and play the songs that I had written. And that’s kind of the short story of how we started playing together.
You guys had another band going and then morphed into this band?
Yeah, one of the guitarists in the band, Kevin, he has a garage-rock band that I played guitar in at the time, and still play guitar in as well. And all the other members are members of very official projects, and all those bands before Los Encantados was a thing, we had all shared the same practice space. But I just never had shown them the songs that I had written before. Yeah, so we just nailed down a date and went through the songs, and initially we were just gonna do this one show and play the whole project from start to finish, and following that show we got booked on another and we just kept on rolling from there.
Were all the songs on The Same Damned Soul written before you released the first EP?
Yeah, we recorded it all at once. All nine songs.
Why did you decide to release it in three parts then?
It was partly just because I think, or we think, it’s a little bit easier to consume as a listener – to have it in three little short bursts. And the arc of the record kind of mirrors out, well it flows nicely through seasonal changes, so those were the main theories, that there’s really sort of three peaks.
Did the album work with on the girl that inspired it?
Yeah! For a while…(laughs) You know everything has an end point…it was a good one.
I know you guys are working on this new album – is the new record still just you writing the songs or are you slightly more collaborating with the other guys in the band on it?
Yeah, it’s a bit more collaborative. I still primarily write them and then bring them to rehearsal to flesh them out. The first one, the first song is basically me in my bedroom just recording, so I think the next album will be a little bit more dynamic and there’s a lot more varied instrumentation, and a little bit more produced. It will be a little bit different.
Are you guys working with the same producer that you did on the EP?
No, the EP was my buddy Sammy Gallo – he did those. The new album we’re producing with Tim Wagner who’s the co-founder of Dither Down records, a dance-label in New York. He plays with other projects and DJs and stuff. I really like the sound of the dance records he puts out, like the drum sounds and the bass, and he’s got a lot of experience in the music scene besides producing records and working in the studio. So he’s great to work with, and he’s really got an awesome ear for great sounds.
I hear a bunch of influences in the songs, but in all of them there’s something about the whole vibe of the band that’s undeniably a New York sound. How much of a direct influence do you think that the city itself has on your writing, and how important do you think it is for the band to be based from there?
I think more than anything, there’s just so much here. You get to see so many different bands live. And not just bands, there’s art and cultural experiences and it keeps you inspired and makes you feel more a part of what’s currently going on. I was born in a super small town in Scotland called Nairn, it’s about 5,000 or so people, and I moved around the state sides as well, but that was my home base. And being so remote and removed from all the music you love…it’s cool and it’s fine, but it’s kind of a weird feeling, you yearn to be immersed in this scene that you think‘s going on, so I’m glad that I’m over here now and being more of a part of it and experiencing it first hand as opposed to through reading Kerrang or Spin or something like that, you know?
With there being 10,000 bands in New York right now, do you ever think about what you need to do as a band to rise above the mix of getting thrown in as just another hip new Brooklyn band?
Um, not like gimmicky shit. (laughs) I think just continuing to play as much as possible. We rehearse a lot, and I listen to as much music as I can, and just try to improve my writing. But besides that, the only way that I would want to be recognized apart from any other band is just by the quality of the music we put out.
I dug the end of the 3rd EP where things get a little darker and more poignant. Do you find that for some of the bands you listen to, that the darker things resonate deeper with you, or is a mixture of things?
I think both. I like bands that can do both even within the same song. Like Jesus and the Mary Chain kind of have that thing where it’s dark and kind of noisy for the most part, but they still have this pop sensibility that kind of lightens it up. I like that a lot, that stuff resonates with me a lot.
Are there new bands out there that you gain as much inspiration from as some of these older bands that you’re into?
Oh, yeah for sure! I mean, within our own city even… Japandroids are a really great band. I like a lot of dance music as well. I’ve been DJing since I was 15 or so. I took time off writing rock stuff to just DJ, and I go back to it sometimes. I think the dance scene in New York is really cool – there’s a lot of great stuff. I love Wolf and Lamb – that sound is so awesome. Like inspired off of 90’s R&B but with Housebeats.
Do you think of Los Encantados as being a dance band?
No…not necessarily – I mean not like EDM. People dance at our shows, but we’re a rock based kind of group. We’ve had remixes on our songs and I like having that, just having the variation.
Suppose that a current Top 40 band asked you guys to do a co-headlining tour with them. What would be the ideal band in that limited range that you’d want to do it with?
Oh man, Top 40? Shit…(laughs) It’d be pretty funny getting on a hip-hop tour, like Rick Ross. That’d be pretty ridiculous. If I could open for Rick Ross I think my dreams would be met for the year.
Suppose in some out-of-time other dimension, Television, The Modern Lovers, and David Bowie all ask you to join their respective bands at the same time.
Which one do you join?
I would go for Bowie. Definitely. It’s funny, interestingly, last night at rehearsal I was saying my favorite rock lineup is the Spiders From Mars tour era Bowie, you know with Mick Ronson and Mike Garson. I think that would be like a fucking dream. Almost as good as Rick Ross.
So the Bowie/Rick Ross combo tour would be it all right there –
Oh man, that would be too much.
After my recent rant on the failed solo endeavors of one of my favorite modern artists, I thought I’d express my appreciation for another who is actually doing shit the right way. Last week, My Morning Jacket‘s front-man announced his solo debut Regions of Light and Sound of God will be coming out on February 5th. And even though he’s released solo projects before under the Yim Yames moniker with Monsters of Folk and his George Harrison tribute, this one gets the official debut of his real name. I presume that’s because it’s on MMJ’s same label, ATO Records, and they presumably have some contract with James where he can’t use his own real name on other labels. Either way, the first cut “Know Til Now” is already out, so take a listen:
So unless you’re breaking up your main band, let’s learn some key lessons here from James on how to make appropriate solo music. First off, highlight your greatest attribute, which in James’ case is his instantly recognized distant-space quasi-falsetto voice. Second, make the surrounding instrumentation sound well apart from your actual band. On this track, James uses a muted drum pattern that sounds far away from anything MMJ’s Patrick Hallahan would ever play, and the main riff is obviously looping like a sample of itself – almost like you expectHova to drop a verse any second. In other words, this song sounds instantly like Jim James, and equally as instantly not like My Morning Jacket. Oh, and it’s good too! I forgot about that, part three of the solo equation is to make sure your solo music is good, or else people will just think you’re a pretentious dick-fuck who’s wanking around in a studio and thinks he can make a couple extra nickels off of it.
I’d describe how I think the tune sounds but I think James says it best: “I wanted the album to sound like it came from a different place in time. Perhaps sounding as if it were the past of the future, if that makes any sense—like a hazy dream that a fully-realized android or humanoid capable of thought might have when it reminisces about the good old days of just being a simple robot.” I dig it, and I also like that he’s continuing the same theme of future projection that he brought in on my favorite cut off of the last MMJ Circuital album, “Slow Song.” It’s good stuff, and I’m looking forward to the full release which you can order now at www.jimjames.com.
Photo courtesy of dannyclinch.com.