Friday, October 30, 2009

Vincent's "Actor" saintly

St. Vincent - "Actor"
4ad Records
-out now
4 / 5

Surprising song arrangements make Annie Clark's second solo album a deep, complex treat. Clark, aka St. Vincent, has a penchant for constructing songs that demand multiple listens; after the initial shock of "The Strangers" and its bizarre instrumentation (Clark's whispery voice supported by keyboard and a basic beat), the album fills in with several songs of warmth and worth. One such song is the gorgeously personal "The Party," whose simple cadence and contemplative vocals highlight an awkward moment together. The lyrics here ("my pockets hang out/Like two surrendered flags") capture the beauty of the moment and speak it truthfully, which is, of course, the two things any artist should strive for. Expect an album replete with such moments ("Black Rainbow" and "Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood" provide as well), though don't expect an easy listen-through or two. Recommended.

Listen to "The Strangers":

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fun. certainly has a lot of it

Fun. - "Aim and Ignite"
-out now
4 / 5

Replete with caliope, trombone, and cello, these playful arrangements by the sugary pop band Fun. bubble with excitement and poppy youth. The sheer brightness of the songs here would assume superficial treatment of the somewhat light material, but the biggest pleasure is the care taken for the crafting of the songs; each twists about creatively, playing with the listener, and each new segment unfolds into the next unexpected part. Yes, these songs feel a bit airy and colorful like a carousel, but that still doesn't detract from the pure fun on the cheeky and cheesy "I Wanna Be the One." When Fun. hits their strongest tracks in "All the Pretty Girls" and "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)," it's easy to find yourself dancing about with the goofs, which is certainly not a bad thing. The trio knows their territory inside and out, and while they don't have the most somber take out there, they show pride and care in their inventive and topsy-turvy songs. All the carnival sweetness without the tooth rot; recommended.

Listen to "All the Pretty Girls":

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A little bit ticked - Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel, 10-23-09

Zeus hurls lightning bolts thundering through a crowd of various ages. Floorboards rumbled, viscera shook and teeth chattered with each thunderous note. This, the Holy Suns noted, is what a bass should sound like. Unfortunately for the audience, it was a less than pleasant experience.
As the opener for Providence-based Americana band Deer Tick at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, Holy Suns did everything a good opener band is supposed to do: make you wait for the headliner. Dolorean, who performed next, was untouched by the need to crank the low end of their speakers, and their Jeff Tweedy vibe and balance contributed to a gorgeous set. Dolorean was a welcome musical oasis from the bands it followed and preceded, as Christopher Denny argued (in poor taste) with the sound engineer and managed an even louder and more unbalanced bass. As the saying goes, God helps those who help the sound engineer.
With Christopher Denny gone, the anticipation only grew amongst the 'Tickers, as the hour grew closer to midnight. When John Joseph McCauley III and his band took the stage, it was to introduce yet another act, Nashvillian Jonny Corndawg, who performed country-tinged songs backed by Deer Tick. As the fourth song wore on, an a capella piece, something extraordinary gave way and McCauley's voice rung out familiar lyrics.
Scraggly, squeezed vocals formed an a capella version of "Dirty Dishes," with the crowd following along. As they jammed into a cover of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love," Deer Tick wasn't on their perfect game that Friday night. They seemed a bit rushed, gassing through their first four songs in little more than ten minutes, and McCauley certainly seemed a bit more raucous on the stage than his counterparts. Still, at $3 a band, it was a fair deal, even if just for Deer Tick and Dolorean. Though less might've been more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Embryonic" experiment

The Flaming Lips - "Embryonic"
WEA/ Reprise Records
-out now

The much-anticipated double-album from the nigh-underground indie outerspace rocker trio (whew!) is out. The Flaming Lips test the bounds with a dark, spacy concept album that seems to take its inspiration from the ending to Kubrik's "2001: A Space Odyssey"; that is to say, don't expect the tight, orchestral twinkle of "The Soft Bulletin," or the brilliant playfulness of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." Those crowds may be fairly disappointed, but those who will find themselves tickled are the early listeners to the Lips: these tracks play homage to their original outsider, discordant sound, and show the more fearless and exploratory side of the much-lauded band. The main drawback on this release is the lack of a real sonic anchor, singles, or much of anything that you'd want to hum to. On the other hand, the instrumental tracks are truly gorgeous ("Aquarius Sabotage" and "Gemini Syringes"), and the album is deserving of the multiple listens it needs. "Embryonic" plays far more to an experimental ear than the Lips' previous material; an acquired, though not perfect taste, but still recommended.

Listen to "Silver Trembling Hands":

Monday, October 19, 2009

A busy weekend

Hello night-time blogophiles,
Just got back from a crazy weekend including turtles and possibly a European country. To summate: Trampled by Turtles did a fantastic set, had the crowd cheering for them, and I bid them many welcomes and farewells and good lucks. Some incredible bluegrass stuff going on there; even got a signed t-shirt! Portugal. The Man had a great opening act (really nice dance tunes), and though I didn't much care for the outer-space jams of Drug Rug, P.TM definitely pulled the night through with some fantastic tunes. My only complaint is that I lost a good percentage of my hearing.
So, this week: going to recap a few CDs that I feel like I've missed. I'm already starting to think about my end of the year list, so I want to get my hands on a few right away. Thanks, peace out, and enjoy,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Portugal: The man behind Portugal. The Man.

The band with a penchant for punctuation are back with a fourth album. In case you haven't heard, the Wasila, AK-born quartet have been making waves with '60s pop-inspired "The Satanic Satanist," released in July of this year. I got to stake out a few minutes with this busy band to talk merch before their upcoming concert at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston (10-18-09 at 8:15p, $15 Bassist Zachary Scott Carothers reveals what it's like to be psychedelic in a recent phone interview. (Photo, L to R: Ryan Neighbors - keys, percussion, Jason Sechrist - drums & percussion, John Baldwin Gourley - guitar & lead vocals, Zachary Scott Carothers - bass)

MK: You probably get this question all the time: why the punctuation?
ZSC: I guess it's just to state that "Portugal" is the name of the character that we kind of created, and then just stating that he is "the man." It was supposed to be to clarify things a little bit, but I think it just ended up making things more confusing, to tell you the truth.

MK: This guy you've created, how would you describe him? Would he be the spirit behind your music?
ZSC: Yeah, definitely. It was kind of in the vein of Ziggy Stardust or Sgt. Pepper, just creating a fictional character that would perform our music, and we were going to be the backing band for this fake man. I guess it's hard to describe him physically, I don't know. I don't know if I've ever really thought about that. [Jokes]I guess maybe a mix of like Hercules and Jesus, or something like that...?

MK: So super-awesome feats, and Kevin Sorbo's hair. Would he look anything like your album cover? - which, I love the colors on it, but it kind of freaks me out.
ZSC: Yeah, it's pretty crazy. John (Gourley) and our buddy Austin Sellers worked really hard on that, and I'm really happy with what they came out. That thing just turned out awesome; we were all super-pleased with it. We've gotten really good reviews as far as the artwork goes.

MK: In addition to your psychedelic album cover, your opener, "People Say," is also inspired in part by Vietnam.
ZSC: We felt like a good-ole protest song, you know. There's not a whole lot of those going around these days. Oddly enough, you think that there would be.

MK: Now that you're in Portland, Oregon, is there anything you miss about Alaska?
ZSC: Definitely. My family, I guess first of all... I guess just the environment (too). It's really beautiful up there. And it's a really great place to grow up, especially being a kid up there, we just had so many woods and rivers and you get to do a lot of fun outdoors things growing up there.

MK: And your band is very technologically connected. According to your Twitter account, you're just getting into the Kinks?
ZSC: Yeah. Kind of a random thing to just be just getting into.

MK: Might I suggest listening to "The Village Green Preservation Society" and "Arthur"?
ZSC: We'll have to check that out. A couple of the other guys in the band have listened to them, but John (Gourley) basically had just been listening to them for the last couple days, mostly the song "Strangers." He's been probably listening to it about three times a day already.

MK: Where did you get some of your influences for "The Satanic Satanist?"
ZSC: A lot of it had to do with the stuff that we grew up to listening. Kind of oldies radio in Alaska, and there's a lot of old Motown and soul. We also took a lot of influence randomly from mix CDs that our producers had sent us. Before we went into the studio, we were emailing back and forth and talking about different sounds, and so we'd be emailing different songs; "we really like this drum tone right here," you know, this bass tone. They would send us these random soul mixes and Motown mixes of bands that we had never heard of, just little tiny bands from the 60s that were just absolutely amazing. We definitely got a lot of inspiration from that, and also just the gear in the studios. It was our first time ever being in a real studio that wasn't just run by one of our friends. [The gear] spanned all the generations [of music] that we've been listening to. We tried to do '50s and '60s structuring... we had equipment from the '60s and '70s, ... '90s production. It spans basically everything we know about contemporary music.

MK: Going with the psychedelic theme, what other merchandise might you offer? Are lava lamps in store?
ZSC: [Laughs] You know, we've been thinking about different merchandise. We've had a lot of ideas, but it never really comes through with anything in particular. We're still keeping it pretty basic. But we definitely want to get in to some of the weirder merch.

MK: Could you do those weird white suits on your "Do You" video?
ZSC: Our friend made them, actually. John, our singer, designed them, and then we took them to a friend who just kind of sews as a hobby, and she made them for us. We made some spyrograph screens and screen printed on them. They ended up coming out really really cool. Those things are definitely awesome. It's very tight. [laughs]

MK: I was hoping you'd have them on your website.
ZSC: I don't know if anyone would buy them. But it would be an interesting thing to find out.

MK: You've been doing one album a year; do you have your next one lined up?
ZSC: We have one that's done, pretty much done, I guess it's still got to be mastered. We're not sure if it's going to be a full album - it's ten songs - but we're thinking about weirder ways to release it. It might be something inbetween this ("The Satanic Satanist") and the next record that we do. We're scheduled to go back into the studio... sometime in January or February, and do another one. (The songs are) a lot more different, (have) a lot more drum loops and synthesizers, even more than on the last record.

MK: Any idea what it might be called?
ZSC: Not quite yet. Or, we've got some ideas, but I don't technically know if we're allowed to say them yet. Those things change pretty often for us.

Check out The Man's super feats at:

Trampled by Turtles races them instead

Minnesota's all-string quintet make an especially hirsute stop in Fall River's Narrows Center for the Arts this Friday (7 p doors, 8p show; $15 adv., $17 day of; needless to say, if you're a fan of frenetic banjoing and bluegrass mandolin, you might just fit in. Coming off their fifth album, last year's hometown-inspired "Duluth," singer-songwriter-guitarist Dave Simonett found some time on the road to wax nostalgic about racing turtles in a recent phone interview. (Photo, L to R: Erik Berry (mandolin), Ryan Young (fiddle), Dave Carroll (banjo), Dave Simonett (guitar/lead vocals), Tim Saxhaug (bass))

MK: Where did your name come from?
DS: Our mandolin player actually made it up as kind of a joke. We had some shows booked when we started, and we didn't have a name yet. But we couldn't come up with anything that we liked, and I don't know where he really came up with it, but he just kind of threw it out there as a joke. We didn't hate it, so we went with it at the time. You know, this band actually started as just a side project of a couple other bands. We kind of started not taking it seriously, anyway, so I think it's a little bit of a product of that.

MK: What were the other bands you guys played in?
DS: I guess you could call them all just kind of garage rock bands. Actually, the band that I was in before this one was my first band, so it was terrible, and it was kind of loud rock and roll. That's about the same for everybody.

MK: Who are some of your influences?
DS: I listen to a lot of songwriters. Some of my favorites would be Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Jeff Tweedy, and their respective bands; Neil Young. But I also like to listen to hip hop and some punk rock.

MK: Yeah, the punk rock definitely comes through in your music.
DS: Yeah, good, thanks. I kind of went through a pretty big punk phase when I was in high school, actually. All the first shows I saw were like basement punk rock shows. I'd like to think that a lot of that energy stuck with [me]. I really just dig that part of it: just the raw - not technically perfect music playing, but just the energy that drives it. I like that part of punk still.

MK: You didn't dress with studs in your black clothing and not talk to anybody in high school, right?
DS: [Laughs] Yeah... I did go through a look a bit like that. It passed, though.

MK: "Duluth's" tracks have a lot of frantic energy on them, but then midway you hit "Methodism in Middle America," which is sad and sparse and plaintive. It makes it a pain to characterize you guys.
DS: Good. [Laughs] You know, most people tend to focus on the faster side of our band, even though it's probably pretty equally distributed. But when people come out and see us live, depending on the room, it usually ends up being a more high-energy show. When we're playing live, man, it's just in the moment, it's kind of whatever's happening there. I do feel a little good to be hard to categorize. I think that's a good thing for a band. Sorry for you guys [as critics].

MK: What were some of your more unusual live experiences? You've recently been traveling to new places...
DS: Yeah, for sure, man. "Unusual live experiences," that's a good question. Well, there's been several instances of crowd nudity, some pretty rowdy... [pauses]. As far as crowd interactions go, there's been weird ones, but probably not weird in respect to being in a band. We haven't really had anything, off the top of my head, that really stands out. It might be because, when we're playing, I guess probably most of the stuff happening in the room goes right over our heads. So like nobody's trying to shoot us or anything onstage, other than a little bit of underwear flying up onstage and people stage diving once in a while.

MK: Basically, you're saying "anything goes."
DS: Yeah, I hope so. But that again depends on the scene, on the crowd, on the room. There are times that we will play kind of a formal setting... and the show will be different because of that. And as far as playing in a bar, or late-night club, if it's a crowd that's really into it and they're partying or whatever, yeah, "anything goes." I think it's a real fun atmosphere like that.

MK: I'll probably try to keep my underwear on, though.
DS: [Laughs] I appreciate that.

MK: Let's start wrapping this up: have you ever caught a turtle?
DS: Yes, actually, I have caught one. My grandparents' cabin in northern Minnesota, the little town that's the closest to their cabin I used to go to as a kid quite a bit, and they actually had turtle races. And I competed in one of those when I was like, seven years old. And I didn't win.

MK: Oh.
DS: Everybody had to get their little turtle, set it up at the starting line, and then they're supposed to walk across the parking lot, or whatever, in fifteen minutes. Mine, I don't remember what happened, but I didn't win.

Get your inner reptilian on at:

Interviews this week...!

Hello adoring and adorable fans,
Scheduled to post today was an interview with Trampled by Turtles, but it looks like it might have to push back to later in the week (which means Portugal. The Man will post later, too). Somehow, I'm going to have to fit in The Flaming Lips' review ("Embryonic" comes out today!) at some point. Ugh! I wish things would work out a bit better! Oh well, c'est la vie...
Hang tight! I'll stay up all night if I have to get you something!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

80s lovin' on "Ancient Lover"

Tigercity - "Ancient Lover"
-due out Oct. 20
4 / 5

Tight shiny pants and large golden rings prevail on Tiger City's latest release. "Fake Gold" opens up and sets the tone: classic rock guitar, male falsetto, synth, and a sultry swagger. From the decade that brought us faux wood station wagons and Cling-ons, Tiger City has infused their nostalgia with a modern temperament and straight groove. That's a good thing here, as their effort yields several strong tracks, including the title track, which feels will take you back to your high school close dance memories, and "Quicksand," which might have come off the pop radio decades ago. For all their flavor, Tiger City also displays a slight reservation in their structure, eschewing the more frivolous aspects of their influences, and paring down to the parts that we all enjoy: beat, sway, and simple fun. Fantastic for fans of Depeche Mode et al., but surprisingly still damn fun even for the naysayers. Recommended.

Listen to "Mallory":

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I'm a travellin' man

Hello fellow music-abusers,
Just going to warn you that I'm going to move into concert reviews as well; unfortunately, they'll be restricted to my immediate range of motion (and how much gas I can put in my car). Expect to hear from Deer Tick and hopefully others soon.

Benefits from such a policy:
You'll get an idea if the band's that good in person. If you were unaware, there is a huge difference between a live band and a studio band; think the difference between eating oranges and orange jello.
(The jello will also be shaped like oranges).
Negatives: It'll obviously be after the fact. You'll have to catch them on their next date, so keep up soon and often!
Also - you might be able to triangulate my exact address based on the concerts I attend. If you come bearing gifts (especially of music and assorted teas) then, by all means, come. If you come bearing an ax to grind and, quite possibly, an ax, then I'm out for the day.

Hope this comes as a pleasant surprise!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Glass Ghost doesn't give musical chills

Glass Ghost - "Idol Omen"
Western Vinyl
-due out Oct. 27

With vocals and a sensibility akin to Blonde Redhead, Glass Ghost creates sparse, vaporous songs on their debut. The tracks are, indeed, ghostly with a touch of haunting vocals, but what holds the band back is the same sparseness of the tracks; Ghost has no difficulty in creating a mood, but find trouble with fleshing it out. "The Same" suffers from this, feeling emotionally empty even with several electronic effects. "Time Saving Trick" and "Like a Diamond" succeed best on this album, both because they are filled with more traditional instruments, and also because of their better pace. But even these tracks don't wrap themselves around their listener like they should, and they just don't completely satisfy; also, considering "Idol Omen" is just over 31 minutes, all the tracks here could be of far better quality. There's not enough good material here to recommend it. A brief and slight disappointment.

Listen to "Like a Diamond":

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Warning: may have "fits" over Denim's latest

White Denim - "Fits"
-due out Oct. 20
4 / 5

Crashing, thrashing rough punk prevails on White Denim's second release. It's thick, viscous music that gets stuck in your throat; the opening tracks are full, well-executed twisting streams of sound that glut and flow, replete with guitar and drums. Any band that sets themselves to it can craft songs of these quality, but what sets Denim apart is their ability to change over to a calmer, more melodic and controlled M. Ward versing starting on "Paint Yourself," which goes acoustic against the Strokes-ish feel of "I Start to Run." The unpolished edge they cut into their music is surprisingly honed, and their sound opens up magnificently when they clean up and shave a bit on those last third of tracks. All in all, plenty for both the punker and the overall music enthusiast; recommended.

Listen to "I Start to Run":