August 7, 2009
ART OF SONG
Thee Oh Sees
“Ghost in the Trees”
The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In
2008 | Tomlab
Put on your imagination hats, kids, it’s time to get hypothetical. It’s a hot summer night, and the air is heavy and damp. It’s dark and the moon is mostly covered by thick clouds, leaving you with limited visibility and a sense of adventure. You’re standing in front of a giant old haunted house, on a grassy lawn with weeping willows and other foliage that looks creepy in the dark. Do you go inside?
I probably wouldn’t.
But it doesn’t matter, the ghosts are in the trees.
With a “one-two-three-four!” the chugging bassline starts, and suddenly you are surrounded by otherworldly visitors. These visitors? They’re called Thee Oh Sees.
Formerly known as Orinoka Crash Suite, the Orange County Sound, the Oh Sees, The Ohsees, and a bunch of other names/spellings I don’t have the space for, Thee Oh Sees are a lo-fi San Francisco based group. I managed to see them at the Woodsist & Captured Tracks Festival, (though I missed their set at Siren Fest), but they’ll be back in New York in October if you’re curious.
I would really love to tell you the lyrics to this song, and offer an in-depth analysis of their meanings. But this is not that kind of song. In fact, as I listened to it on repeat, struggling to glean words out of Thee Oh Sees’ melodic shrieks, this is about as far as I managed to get. “I can see, I can see you / You’re shaking the leaves.” And something about “hiding behind a waterfall,” I think (maybe).
More on Thee Oh Sees | “Ghost in the Trees”
July 24, 2009
ART OF SONG
“Drive Your Car”
Drive Your Car
2008 | Greco Roman
Let me start this off by saying that I learn about a lot of great music from my friends. If your friends don’t influence your music taste, I have three words for you: find better friends. Trust me, you’ll be better off in the long run.
My friend Chris listens to electro. I generally see it as great to have around for dance parties, but overall something I don’t really sit down and listen to. He recently compiled an excellent mixtape called “Midnite Lazer Vol. 1”, meant to bring about an 80s, pastel t-shirts and ridiculous sunglasses, palm trees, coked-out kind of vibe, I gave it a listen and kind of forgot about it. I’m in New York City, when am I going to be riding in a convertible with a Member’s Only jacket and neon tights?
Then I talked to my friend Ryan, who had also traveled on Chris’ sonic journey (I’m hoping in a DeLorean). He told me he couldn’t get over this one song, called “Drive Your Car.” See, kids? Listen to your friends; they have your best interests at heart.
Grovesnor, the band behind the track, was formed by ex-Hot Chip drummer Rob Smoughton. Now a full six-piece band (for live purposes), their next show is September 4th in Venice. It’s not Vice City, but it’ll do.
The song starts out with a catchy synth line that seems to move you back in time as it picks up, getting you right where it wants you. It brings in the echo-y drum machine noises, a must on any 80s influenced track, and what I fervently wish is a keytar. It’s not, but a girl can dream.
More on Grovesnor | “Drive Your Car”
July 3, 2009
ART OF SONG
“These Few Presidents”
2008 | anticon.
I like hip-hop; a lot of people like hip-hop. A lot of people claim to like hip-hop. A lot of people hate hip-hop. A lot of people claim to like hip-hop but hate rap. Some people think rap is violent and hip-hop isn’t. People don’t know the difference between the two. Most people (including myself) don’t know shit enough about hip-hop to really make a justified claim. I know this. I still like hip-hop.
Instead of discussing the merits of the genre, or attacking it because Q-Tip doesn’t shred a guitar, and Clipse sold cocaine, and therefore obstructs the morality of our kids, I’m going to make a claim that’s more fun to debate: anticon. founder Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf (aka Why?) is a contender for the greatest active lyricist in music. And he raps!…sort of.
“These Few Presidents” is the third track from last year’s brilliantly morbid Alopecia, and one that best exhibits what Why? is all about. In his somewhat nasally, sneer of a voice, Wolf rap-sings “At your house/ the smell of our still living human bodies/ and oven gas/ you pray to Nothing out loud/ two first names and an ampersand/ embroidered proudly on a kitchen towel.” In a single line, he hits on: 1) impending death 2) the human desire for marriage 3) fear of commitment 4) uncertainty in a higher power 5) the perceived simplicity of intimacy. And none of these themes are buried; the listener doesn’t have to dig them out from a pile of symbols and non sequiturs the way Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst, Silver Jews’ David Berman, or any non-ODB member of the Wu requires.
More on Why? | “These Few Presidents”
June 23, 2009
2008 | Self-Released
C (but A- potential)
And what a strange little album hath Xylos wrought; an album that agitates the embers of that perennial question: what happens when incomparably gifted musicians decide to pursue shamelessly derivative pop music? What would that fabled amalgamation between The National and LFO sound like? Or Sufjan Stevens and Smash Mouth? Or Grizzly Bear and Sublime? Or, god-willing, Yeasayer and Hoobastank? It’s a complicated but endlessly enticing paradox: can the most effusively un-cool music in the world be honestly performed by the most immaculately and devastatingly cool Brooklynites? And will it sound good?
So here’s Xylos, and they do their damndest to offer an album that answers our desperate curiosity. Is it successful? Not really. Is it interesting? Sure. Basically, what we’re given is an impeccably crafted and performed EP of, at best, almost-interesting, rarely good songs. I want to be perfectly clear here: these songs sound amazing. They are incredibly produced – incredibly produced – and flawlessly performed. They’re lush and grandiose without sounding showy; organic and instrumentally complex. This is true Asthmatic Kitty territory. And they often eclipse that prodigal son of symphonic pop music in their own degree of artistic and compositional expertise and innovation.
More on Xylos | Bedrooms
May 26, 2009
2008 | Mercury Records
As the legends continue to release albums well after the years of their youth, the questions of both artistic validity and posterity remain – does their current material meet the standard set by their previous output? Despite limited touring from the Manchester-based band as of late, and an earlier extended break through much of the new millennium, James has had a prolific 20 plus-year career. And now they’re climbing to the next bracket. The Fresh as a Daisy boxed set and finally realized Hey Ma have brought renewed interest back into one of the original Factory Records bands. James’s current stateside touring has had them opening for some of the biggest bands in AOR/Adult Contemporary acts, such as Squeeze – and this follows after years as a headliner for Creation, Sire, and Fontana touring rosters, which brought them on bills with The Smiths, Oasis and Radiohead. Ironically, these bands all managed to go on to more successful careers, while James continued to label jump throughout the 80s, with an ever-evolving lineup of players. Once Tim Booth announced his return to James in 2007 though, after a six-year hiatus, a new album was prepped and announced as Hey Ma, the band’s tenth studio album.
The album overcomes all the harbingers of doom that have clouded major label veterans on their current releases. With Hey Ma, it seems, they had the time and the perspective to hone their sound and keep it true to the James fan base. The album operates on a visceral level that’s in tune with many of their heavier singles, as well as Gold Mother, an album released at the height of “Madchester.” The improvisational spirit of James still lays intact and Tim Booth’s lyrical mind continues to show itself through his spirited voice of inspiration. The eleven tracks here represent the humor and guile of a band in middle age whose heart still lies in touring and has an always-competitive stride and local pride.
Standout singles, “Under the Waterfall” and “Whiteboy” hit with that same feverish passions that recall “Sit Down” and “Come Home.” The album has all the givings of a band that always has, and now continues to, deliver. Other tracks, such as “Oh My Heart” and “I Wanna Go Home,” completely bring back the band’s momentum – poising them to leave a legacy not only as one of Manchester’s greatest bands, but also as one of the UK’s finest.
by Gordon Sharp
April 9, 2009
The Mountain Goats
Satanic Messiah EP
2008 | Cadmean Dawn
It seems an unnecessary exercise at this point, to attempt to convert any of John Darnielle’s disbelievers. He’s really only one of two things: either the best young songwriter of the past decades, or a cloying and over-hyped nasal howl, keening along in the general din. His adorers are fearless and devoted, while those unengaged or disinclined are viciously stubborn and unforgiving. So, while I could attempt proselytizing, while I could quote “Going to Georgia” or “Broom People” or “Quito” or that perennial crowd favorite, “No Children,” it seems safer to assume that The Mountain Goats’ output is polarizing in the truest sense and that no conversion is possible. You either hold Darnielle’s songs in your heart as living beasts, or you dismiss him as just another songwriter. He is either one of the true great living authors, or simply another dude with a guitar.
So, I’ll assume that if you’re reading, still, then you want to read about The Mountain Goats, that you track their progress as ardently as a God-fearing congregant, that the release of a four-song EP, like Satanic Messiah, is of utmost critical interest. Because that’s what Darnielle inspires: disinterest or (perhaps) overzealous enthusiasm.
More on The Mountain Goats | Satanic Messiah EP
April 3, 2009
ART OF SONG
“Red River Shore”
Tell Tale Signs
2008 | Sony BMG
Now that the Red River has gone down – and, barring any too-strong wind gusts or too-heavy snowfall, will stay down – immediate concerns give way to a tangential thought left in its wake; namely, the role music plays in mapping and conjuring the geography of America.
News of the Red River flooding sparked a vague connection in my mind between the river itself and a song that memorializes a Red River: Bob Dylan’s “Red River Shore,” one of a collection of outtakes and previously unreleased recordings included on 2008’s Tell Tale Signs (double-album version). This connection was vague, mainly for one reason: prior to its most recent bout of flooding, I’d had no knowledge of the Red River – of its existence, let alone its location. This lack of hydro-knowledge left me with a sense of having missed some part of our musical heritage, intimately linked with the American landscape (e.g., “This Land is Your Land,” the Delta Blues, Appalachian folk).
More on Bob Dylan | “Red River Shore”
March 29, 2009
Big Love: Hymnal
2008 | Suma Records
For those unfamiliar with the TV series, HBO’s Big Love focuses on a family of polygamists who believe in old-school Mormon beliefs, and hide their polygamy from all but a few confidants. The show is both about being faithful to a religion that is misunderstood and harshly judged, and also about the interpersonal relationships that have formed because of this unique situation. Big Love has had two of the most compelling and talented composers, who have crossed over from the rock world to the film/TV world, on their staff – Mark Mothersbaugh and David Byrne. Byrne took over after the first season, and much of his work on the second season is collected on Big Love: Hymnal.
More on David Byrne | Big Love: Hymnal