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.
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.
Ok, so this post might push me over the top into full cynical jackass mode, but that’s what I’m here for I guess. First off, I’m a big fan of Ben Folds, and I think it’s fantastic that Ben Folds Five are finally releasing a new album after 13 years apart. Could I honestly tell the difference between a solo Ben Folds song and a Ben Folds Five song? No flipping way, but regardless I’m happy that the old backing band is back together. Secondly, I dig the fucking Fraggles a bunch. I love to talk about the transcendental implications of their final episode – I bring it up all the time and it usually results in some half-cocked sneers of quasi-appreciation. And the 30th anniversary of the Fraggles is coming up, so it’s about time they got rediscovered. So instinctually, the idea of having the Fraggles in a new Ben Folds video seems perfect. His sped-up rag-timey piano licks are ideal for the fast movement head-nodding of these wacky, subterranean Muppets. The problem? The video sucks. Yep, that’s it.
While there could have been any assortment of different mini-story lines that could have played out in the 5 minute video, they basically use it as a simple re-introduction to the Fraggles. Here they are, they live underground (kinda) and they’re dancing to the song. Sure it puts a nerdy smile on your face, but any substantial message or story is completely abandoned for some Henson-head bopping. I understand that they’re not as well known as the mainstream Muppets, but still I was hoping for way more than “Oh, look it’s that dude.”
I watched the behind-the-scenes footage and the producer-ish dude said this: “Phil, the director, who’s done a lot of puppet based music videos, came in with all these huge ideas. Oh we’ll make it a Western, or we’ll do this… And we said a new Fraggle thing hasn’t happened in a while, and the simplest idea is the best, so let’s just rediscover them…” So basically, the director realized all the epic implications that could take place, but he was basically shot down. It’s like they made the video for some 14 year-old girls hearing Ben Folds for the first time, not for the dudes in their early 30′s who base their lives on twisted childhood memories. The thing is, I don’t know how many 14 year-old girls are really discovering Ben Folds for the first time – there’s no house beat and digital bass womp here, so why would they? All I’m saying is if you’re gonna do something really random and awesome, then you should cater to the folks who already know how awesome it is, not cater to the folks who only acknowledge how random it is. It’s like if somebody made a new Thundercats movie, but took out Mumm-Ra because they didn’t think he’d go over well with the kids.
Here, you decide if you really need to watch this a 2nd time after your initial viewing. Sure, the song is great – classic Ben Folds shit, but the video is booooorrrrriiinnggg…
Now in contrast, this video I could watch 2-3 times in a row…there’s a story, all the characters’ true personas are expressed. This is how you make a Henson-related music video. I’m calling do-over for Ben & The Fraggles.
I’ve been flipping back and forth a lot about whether I should think James Mercer is a total dick for firing everyone who was once The Shins and just making a whole new band out of it. I mean I totally think Billy Corgan is an asshole for that same reason, so I feel like I should try to keep my band-morality ducks in a row, ya know? But then I realized that Mercer is just a wicked introverted cat – always kind of sad and lonesome – and that’s why he is able to write such amazing music. And after this new video for “It’s Only Life”, I’ve decided to hang up all my preconceptions of how the man lives his life and just fucking rock his tunes. Hell, I live in Portland just like he does and I’m well aware of how the drabness can enter your soul if you’re not on top of your game.
Port of Morrow initially seemed too simple for me, even by Mercer’s reductionist pop standards, but lately I’ve been finding myself emotionally owned by its simplicity. The lyrics to “It’s Only Life” make depressing circumstances sound beautiful, and like all of the album it’s draped in a calming tone of acceptance. He’s really able to reach back to that early 20th century vibe when sad songs were what you sang to feel better. He’s kinda like the 21st century’s version of Robert Hunter in the Pacific Northwest. The video itself takes place in a post-apocalyptic PDX, and basically combines the kid from Where the Wild Things Are with the monster-vibe from The Village and imagery directly stolen from this past January’s Cloud Nothings video for “No Future/No Past.” I mean there’s no possible way director Hiro Murai didn’t get at least a little inspired by it. Regardless of that slight artistic stealing though, this video for “It’s Only Life” has my vote for video of the year. It’s tough to make a complete, let alone inspiring story line in under 5 minutes with no dialogue but they totally pull it off. Suck it November Rain…
Get it? They don’t fuck with the kid because he put the antlers on him and his dog – smart thinking, and a killer way to add some past and extension to the story. Totally makes me a little teary-eyed. Yes, I am a pussy. But here, now watch the 5 month old Cloud Nothings video and tell me there isn’t a striking similarity. I do love this video too, and if you haven’t yet gotten into the magical world of Cleveland kid Dylan Baldi, then you’re missing out on the greatest collaboration ever of punk meets post-punk. The latest Cloud Nothings album, Attack on Memory, is at the top of my 2012 list.
All right, I’ve had a good chunk of time to ruminate on this concert, and I’m confident with my opinion. So my girlfriend loves the soundtrack to Amelie. You know, that French flick about the cute girl putting ripped pictures together or something… I don’t really remember. Anyway, the soundtrack is composed of delicate, quasi-eerie piano-heavy tunes done by one Yann Tiersen. It’s not the heaviest or most complicated stuff, but admittedly there is an ethereal draw to it. When I saw he was playing at the Wonder Ballroom here in Portland last month, I jumped on the opportunity to go to a concert that my girl would adore. Now I have a fairly geeky knowledge of most pop and rock music, but I had never heard Tiersen’s name outside of the Amelie context. In fact, asking around…I realized nobody else did either. Thus I thought it was a little odd when I read an interview with Yann where he said his rock band sometimes shocks people with their music, and he always sees a few couples get up and leave during the show because they were expecting Amelie. Uh-oh.
So I prepped my girl for the upcoming let-down. Yet as we had already purchased $20 tickets, and we did both appreciate the music of his that we knew, we decided to give it a shot. 3 songs in…it wasn’t bad. It reminded me of some band that if they tried real hard, might be able to get an opening slot on a tour with Yo La Tengo. But here’s the thing – there were 500 people at this show. 500! At 20 bucks a pop! And looking around the room, you could tell NOBODY was familiar with this music. In fact, I’d guarantee that 99% of the building only knew him from Amelie. And here in a Mecca of hipsters, nobody wants to admit that that were confused as to what the actual music was, so EVERYBODY hung around. It was a solid 2 hours of people standing there with half-smirks on their face – pretending like they knew and enjoyed the music, when you know that every single person there was waiting for a simple tune from Amelie. My sweet girlfriend, bless her heart, held out faith even through the encore that maybe he would play something remotely similar to the music he was known for.
But he never did. Instead it was one of the most fake “elephant in the room” concert experiences I had ever seen. Imagine going to see Jim Hendrix and he just played a penny-whistle the whole time – that’s how vastly different Tiersen’s band was to the music that made him popular. The thing is… he either is completely oblivious to what the crowd is expecting, or else he is just raking in the dough with this false impression. The rock shit wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t worth $20. Maybe I would have thrown down $5. I’m gonna guess that of the 500 people that went, probably 20 of them would go the next time he’s in town. But perhaps there’ll be another 500 people that just recently saw Amelie, so they’ll fall into his trap.
I wouldn’t have been so upset by the whole situation if Tiersen didn’t have this odd sense of confused pride emitting from himself. After every round of applause, he gave this smile or French accented mumbling about how everybody loves that tune. Yo Yann! Nobody knows any of this shit buddy! They’re all just clapping politely so they don’t feel like they’re the only ones who made a mistake in coming to see you! So this made me realize that Tiersen is succeeding on this model of the reverse sell-out. He started his career by becoming popular for a specific sound that I guess wasn’t really his bag, and now he tours successfully by people anticipating that shit and instead playing the music he wants to. I suppose I have to admire him for that, but I’d much more prefer to have my $40 back. If this show is free, then go check out 20 minutes of it. Otherwise I’d recommend your couch, popcorn, and a Director’s Cut of Amelie if you really want to hear Tiersen shine.
You will hear none of this at his concert:
You may not think you’ve heard the band Fun. yet – yeah, that’s right, with a period like moe. But I assure you this song has leaked into your ears from somewhere. When it’s in the distance, it has the anonymity of any random pop-rock radio tune. Up close though – it’s fucking awesome.
Now this band’s been around for a few years – but they’re calling this latest album their actual debut some reason. Whatever. Here’s the thing… I think this is positively the best thing they’ll ever do. That 6-note jump up in the melody is a rarity in pop, and the ability to have a groovy hook come from that is sometimes a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Not that the band isn’t good, but I just don’t think they got the lasting power. And that happens. But sometimes the one hit that comes from a one-hit wonder is a killer fucking tune, and think this has a good shot at being the real record of the year. Actual Grammy-style, Record of the Year. I wish they could keep it going. At their other best moments, they do sound rather Queen-esque, especially lead singer Nate Ruess, and that’s obviously meant as a huge compliment, but I’m not sure if it’s all there. But what the fuck do I know? We’ll see.
So forget about the original, the hot shit is this acoustic version that’s blown up lately. I can’t believe it’s from November – I guess this tune being in some Super Bowl ad really launched it. Anyway, here’s why I love this shit: First off, getting Janelle Monae on your track is huge. If you don’t know who this girl is yet, then you’re out of the loop on modern female James Browns. Girl kills it. Total pro. Class act. Spot on shit. She becomes whatever song she is singing, and on this video you can just see her digging into this cut – it’s radical – not something that you see in shit on the Top 40 these days. Let alone at fucking number one and on the cover of Billboard Magazine.
Anywho, what would have blown in this video is if they did the cheesy look at each other and smile thing that most duets do. They don’t because Janelle is so locked into the music. And it makes it even better when you see Ruess anticipating her vocals and getting that sly smile because he knows how amazing it’s about to sound. Great cut, killer version. I hope I don’t get sick of it once I’ve heard it 200 times in 2012. Again, we’ll see.
And here’s Janelle’s “Tightrope” from 2 years ago – just in case you let this one slip by.
The master of pop-rock, Nick Lowe, still has fucking got the ability to write a catchy tune in a vein that most people would manufacture into drab hokeyness. If you have no clue who he is, then you’re wrong – because you do. The seminal, legendary, epic, cool-as-all-hell album Jesus of Cool was released in 1977 – if you’ve never heard it, then go purchase it right now. Or sit down and purchase it right now, or however these damn kids get their flibbity-flobiyt hard drive doohickity thingies… When released in the U.S. the album was given the less bad-ass but still epic title, Pure Pop for Now People. Which subsequently is why the independent record store in Burlington, Vermont is called Pure Pop Music – an ironic twist for people who don’t know the album and thus think that is the stupidest name for an independent record store ever.
Anyway, this is the album that has “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” and “Heart of the City” for starters for tunes novices would recognize from the random cool, oldies station. “Cruel to Be Kind” – you know that one? He also wrote a bunch of tunes for Elvis Costello including “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” Epic shit, get into it.
So Wilco seem to have been paying massive homage to Lowe as of late – bringing him up for encores at a couple shows, playing “Cruel to Be Kind” and also dropping quick cameos in the new video for “Sensitive Man.” The song and the video are both innocent and charming in a way that only Lowe seems to be able to pull off. Anybody else trying to do a song like this would just sound like a complete tool, but Nick Lowe has some magic pop touch that transcends lyrical preconceptions. It’s really fucking bad-ass when you think of how hard it is to pull something like that off. Hell, Wilco themselves sometimes sound like complete jack-asses when they try to be like Nick Lowe.
Here’s the brand-new video for “Sensitive Man”
And here’s “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”
And here’s my favorite – “I Love My Label” – another tune Wilco have been pulling out lately after they released it on Record Store Day last year. Hot friggin tune though.
Here’s Nick coming out with Wilco in Milwaukee in December for “Cruel to Be Kind.” I can only dream of being this hip when I’m 63.
When I first heard that Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween) was going to release a solo album, I was giddy as a school-girl. Ween hasn’t released an actual album since La Cucaracha in 2007, although Deaner did drop The Caesar Demos last year. If you’re in a serious need of hearing Ween tunes you’ve never heard before, it’s definitely a must-have. The download links are still up at MediaFire – Here’s Disc One and here’s Disc Two. Anyway, when I first heard Aaron was putting out an album, I had visions of slow ballads that were a touch too soft for Ween but would still have his off-kilter beauty shining through. The pseudo-bummer is that the album is actually a collection of songs originally penned by Rod McKuen.
Now if you’re like me, too young to have been a complete music geek in the 70′s, then you also have no idea who Rod McKuen is. Turns out Gener didn’t have a clue either, til producer Ben Vaughn turned him on. Well good ole’ Rod here supposedly wrote over 1500 songs in the 50s through the 80s, for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Madonna. And yeah, he’s got a little odd twist to his writing and his voice has an ironic snarl that points to a hidden amusement in even the most serious of moments, but these aren’t Ween songs. This is Aaron Freeman paying his respects to an artist that he truly appreciates and wants to turn more folks onto. So, it is what it is for what it is, but fuck, I was hoping for it to be just a little bit more. I guess it’s a good way to get your grandmother into Ween, but other than that it’s only gonna make you want to listen to The Mollusk on repeat a few more times. Give it a shot yourself. Here’s Freeman’s take on “As I Love My Own.”
And here’s some original Rod with “Marvelous Clouds.”
And if you need Ween you haven’t heard, here’s “Ambrosia Parsley” – another classic Prince on Mushrooms groove.
I’ve gone through an extended love affair with this band, and I don’t see it ending any time soon. Bringing melody and songwriting back into conjunction with something you want to bounce to, It’s a Corporate World is a refreshing taste of how the original pop-rock paradigm can cohabitate with modern sound. In this interview with half of the two-man team, I find Josh Epstein beaming with a stead-fast pride for his hometown of Detroit, an honest love for covering 80′s Winwood hits, and a conjunctive knack for crafting great songs. Read the full thing HERE.
I mean, yeah, there’s definitely that pressure from other people where “we need you to write songs that people like” just as much or more. But I think when you live like that, you’re writing from a fearful place. And I just don’t think that ever works for people. I think the sophomore slump comes from people’s heads. Daniel and I have to keep on thinking about that — this isn’t our second record. For both of us it’s like… number eleven. [Laughs] It’s not like we’ve never had to follow up an album before. Maybe not as many people listened to our other albums, but we’ve always tried to make one better than the last one.
2) Phantom Limb
3) It’s Only Life
4) Simple Song
5) New Slang
Ahh, the perks of being hip and unemployed in Portland, Oregon. Announced this afternoon only an hour before show time – the small confines of Mississippi Studio left little space for breathing room, but that didn’t stop half the PDX crowd from deciding that 2 in the afternoon on a Monday would be a great time for a beer or two. With a pile of ex-bandmates getting larger with every new album it’s safe to say these days that James Mercer is The Shins. Thus when seeing him play solo, it felt like the purest way to experience Shins’ tunes and surprisingly gave new depth to these songs.
The 5-song set opened with 2 tunes off the last album, 2007’s Wincing the Night Away. As essential as the reverb of an electric guitar seems to be to this music, the raw, acoustic guitar allowed them to open them up even more into their naturally intended environment. The lyrics made more sense, the space felt more necessary, and there was a simple way to lose oneself in the moment without focusing on a reclusive indie-star playing 10 blocks away from your home with the sun shining through the windows. Next were 2 tunes off the upcoming Port of Morrow. “It’s Only Life” came off as both a rather basic tune for Mercer to write, and as a somewhat dark window into the embraced loneliness he appears to project. I’m interested to hear how this one will sound with the full band, but I did have a moment here of noting my perceived pretentious meter for James Mercer fall a few notches into normal human being territory. The newest single, “Simple Song” followed and James himself seemed ironically amused at how simple the two-chord chorus came across in the solo format. After some charming commentary, he closed out the set with an awesomely beautiful take on “New Slang” from the Garden State soundtrack, then gracefully thanked the crowd. It wasn’t a mind-blowing half-hour of music, but it was great, and it was refreshing, and probably the best live set I’ve ever witnessed in-between loads of laundry.
Here’s a cut someone just posted of “It’s Only Life” from today, as well as “Simple Song” in its fully realized version off the upcoming new album.