July 13, 2010
Dear Comrade EP
2010 | Unsigned
I wanted deeply, in my heart of hearts, to not compare Dear Comrade to stellastarr*. But I truly think, even had I not known that Dear Comrade is the work of stellastarr* drummer/keyboardist Arthur Kremer (with the help of Emmett Aiello on lead guitar, bass by Dan Freeman, and backing and occasional lead vocals by Stefani Pekin – who also goes by Dex, and Dr. Dex, though I doubt she’s board certified), my mind would have immediately leapt to that conclusion.
Moody instrumentals, soaring female backing vocals behind almost-speaking-rather-than-singing post-punk male vocals (think almost Interpol), yeah, I could be describing either band. But while stellastarr* began reaching out toward what I would argue is a more gothic sound (in the literary sense of the word) with Harmonies for the Haunted, Dear Comrade is a little less flashy, more stripped down, and attempts to show a broader mix of influences.
“Badlands” opens the album, a semi-political track mostly about apathy. “Conflict of interests, clashing of faith / What would John Lennon fight for today? / Where’s the amber, where’s the glow / Where’s Black Panther, I just don’t know.” While I assume Kremer is referencing the 1960′s radical party, he could just as easily be asking for the Marvel Comics superhero. Oh, the joys of interpretation. The track itself is certainly enjoyable, but I think it lacks a certain spark, especially when compared to later tracks on the album.
June 25, 2010
ART OF SONG
RCA | 2003
It’s summertime, and the bars on the Lower East Side have seemed more crowded than ever, drenched in the uniquely cloying smell of sweat and desperation…something you don’t seem to notice as much in the winter. People want to get laid in the summer, I can respect that. As I’ve attended party after party in these dark booze-filled basements where successful people asked me what I’m doing and I responded with three bleak words: “looking for jobs,” I could feel myself sinking farther and farther away from what I wanted. And that left me searching for music to comfort me, which inevitably brought me to 2003.
I always feel like stellastarr* doesn’t quite get the respect they deserve, as the Brooklyn-based band (who, interestingly enough, played their first show at a Lower East Side venue) has faded into the patchwork of other post-punk indie bands of the era. ”Jenny” was the first single off their debut, self-titled album. And, while I suppose I always sort of sympathized with the titular character, this summer it’s really hitting me, the way good songs should. This is a fairly standard, if catchy, alt-rock song. There are stripped down instrumentals, a pretty awesome female backing track, and a danceable beat. However, what’s important here are the lyrics – this is a song about a person. I can imagine Jenny; a quiet, sad looking girl, sitting in the corner, maybe whispering along with the music from the sound system…desperately wishing for another drink, a cigarette, or someone to meaningfully connect with…something to break the monotony. ”Jenny was sitting in the lounge / She was talking to herself / Well maybe things like that turn you on / Maybe you felt that for yourself / Well I’m a believer!” Lead singer Shawn Christensen is key here, his emotional voice, complete with tears and breaks, is necessary for you to believe that HE believes.
June 9, 2010
ART OF SONG
“He’s Got the Power”
He’s Got the Power b/w Drama of Love
United Artists | 1963′
During my last semester at college, I had a radio show on WNYU.org called HIGH-CLASS & BAD-ASS. Mostly a garage rock venture, I explored a lot of older music for it, and it left me with a deep love for Japanese group sounds and early 1960′s girl groups. It’s through the latter avenue that I discovered The Exciters. Based out of Queens, they’re not technically a girl group, since Herb Rooney – lead singer Brenda Reid’s future husband – joined the group. He can be spotted in the Scopitone film for “He’s Got the Power,” the song I’m going to expound on today.
I consider myself (among many other jumbled and sometimes conflicting labels) a feminist. Listening to the lyrics of some of these songs makes me feel a little bit strange inside, but that doesn’t undermine their power. “He’s Got the Power” is a chief example of this.
It starts off grabbing you with a “YEAH YEAH YEAH!” that I’m shocked hasn’t been sampled more often. I can get behind that. Who can’t? But then we get into the questionable territory. “He makes me do things I don’t want to do / He makes me say things I don’t want to say / And even though I want to break away / I can’t stop saying I adore him, can’t stop doing things for him / He’s got the power, the power of love over me.” Okay…that stanza makes me want to call the police.
May 1, 2010
ART OF SONG
Self-Released | 2010
“The New” didn’t exactly offer me a lot to work with. The title of the album this song is on, for example? No idea. Not a one. Although, if they want to hit me up for suggestions, I think I’d be good at that. I’m really good at making up awesome band names, not so good at forming actual bands. Maybe it’s why I find myself on the listening-and-writing-about-it side of the music industry.
But I digress.
Opening with a perky guitar riff and handclaps, “High Life” is danceable and radio-friendly. Lead singer Joe (see? Not much to work with, guys) has an almost Paul Banks/Interpol voice…with a definite British edge. These guys are from Derby, England…that much I do know.
“High Life” has excellent potential as a single. The musicianship is tight, the hook is catchy, and the lyrics don’t really matter. Apparently the “High life” is also “The breakdown” and you can “Take what you want.” Sounds pretty good to me.
The song could be about girls, or about being broke, or most likely about the two in combination. No one ever said indie rock was Kierkegaarde. I personally find indie rock much more palatable.
Stream “High Life” and a few other songs here.
by allison levin
April 14, 2010
ART OF SONG
“Emily Haines (On My Car Stereo)”
Jampops Records (Self-Released) | 2010
I’m a sucker for clever song titles. I think it’s the only reason I listened to Fall Out Boy. Oh yeah, that and because me singing “This Ain’t A Scene” REALLY annoyed my friends. Anyway, “Emily Haines (On My Car Stereo)” is not the MOST clever name for a song in the world, but it certainly paints a picture. We all know Emily Haines. At least….I hope we all do. In case you haven’t been paying attention, she’s a part of Broken Social Scene, lead singer of Metric , AND she has a solo career. Girl gets around.
But this isn’t about Emily Haines. This is, instead, a song FOR Emily Haines by fellow Canadians The Powergoats. Lead singer Jamie Douglas is pouring on the sex with a capital S-E-X in his vocals, because he’s “just a man/and you’re impossibly beautiful” and the slow, almost Santana-esque guitar flares up in-between the verses.
If I had to write a love song to Emily Haines, I definitely think it would be more electronic. But this isn’t my love song, and The Powergoats decided to slow it down and blues it up. The organ is enough in the background to not be a distraction, but it really adds to the overall tone of the song, the sort of late night, last call, jukebox-in-a-dive-bar feel that the entire song has. I know Emily Haines is apparently on the car stereo, but I’m imagining the bar that Wolverine is in during the beginning of the first X-men movie.
And after that sentence, I’m sure I will have no more Canadian friends.
There are some breathy Emily Haines-esque female backing vocals on the track, so if you close your eyes and wish real hard, you can almost pretend it’s the real Emily. This isn’t the kind of song you can really rock out to. It’s slow and sensual, and honestly? You could probably slow dance to it. Just close your eyes and pretend it’s with Emily Haines.
by allison levin
March 14, 2010
ART OF SONG
“Hug the Harbor”
The Law of Large Numbers
Chemikal Underground | 2010
Emma Pollock is a very trusting lady. In “Hug the Harbour,” she refers to you, yes, that’s right YOU. And though you should have “hugged the harbour,” which would have “avoided all the disaster,” there are still “all the people that are dear to you / sitting right behind / and trusting you. / My trust lies in your precision.” There is a neat little piano flourish that really drives the point home.
That’s just stanza one and already it’s more positive than most songs I end up reviewing for this column. People? Being nice? TRUSTING? Unheard of, really.
There is something about this song that reminds me of Neko Case-led New Pornographers songs. Although there is more pounding drums rather than tinkly bells, the floaty imagery and the strong-but-sweet female narrator is still there. And believe me when I say this, Miss Pollock and anyone else who may stumble across this article and wish they never found it, that’s a compliment. Of the highest degree. New Porn is very close to my heart.
The instrumentals are, for the most part, forgettable. Though the way they pick up towards the end is admirable. You can tell Pollock is amping it up to keep this from being just another slow-moving song about the choices you make.
It gets dark before that though. Literally. You, our intrepid adventurer, have to meet the dark. And your knowing leaves you. And now this is starting to turn into a Death Cab song about following people into dark places or something like that. There is no greater metaphor here, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“Hug the Harbour” is cute. It’s neat, and polished. The lyrics are deep, though they get repeated often. It seem like Pollock wrote a really good stanza, and decided to turn it into a song. But hey, it’s been done before, and done successfully. And Pollock seems to really believe what she’s throwing out at you, and sometimes that makes the difference.
“Hug the Harbour” is available to stream on Emma Pollock’s website: http://www.emmapollock.com/
by allison levin
February 22, 2010
ART OF SONG
“Rock & Roll Must Die”
Rock & Roll Must Die 7
Frantic City Records | 2010
My god, it’s just been Valentine’s day. We need, or at the very least, I need, something shameless. Loud and absolutely goddamn shameless.
I don’t know if they celebrate Valentine’s day in England. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, I’m sure they have Hallmark cards there…but anyway, I should get to the point. England: home of Atomic Suplex, garage rockers with accessories.
Atomic Suplex’s lead singer has the most amazing microphone-helmet-thing (see here). It’s olive green, it looks like it will protect him from nuclear warfare, and it says “rock * roll” on it. I guess it achieves the crazy lo-fi sound on the track, which prevents me from being able to discuss its lyrics in a meaningful context. But who gives a fuck? It’s not that kind of song. Anyway, Atomic Suplex put on their rock and roll helmet, it seems, and just get to work being rock superheroes.
February 11, 2010
ART OF SONG
“Do What’s Right By You”
Do What’s Right By You
Dirty Water Records | 2010
In my blind, ignorant times, as I held fast to 2003 and prayed the Soledad Brothers would get back together, I sometimes felt that garage rock was dead. It’s not, obviously. But bear with me for a second here, and take my mental journey. “All the Detroit groups I love have changed or become culturally irrelevant!” I wailed. “All the other music journalists make fun of me!”
But of course I was horribly wrong. Garage rock is still alive and well, in a couple of different forms. Now I’m all for Thee Oh Sees and other indie lo-fi bands who keep that garage rock sound alive while still being acceptable to reference in the ‘I know cooler music than you’ game, but I’ve found, when you want pure, unadulterated garage rock…classic, 1960’s style garage rock, you need to step outside the country.
Like to, oh, I don’t know…Japan?
The Routes are an interesting bunch. Founded by a Brit, Chris Jack, joined by Shinichi Nakayama (drums) and Toru Nishimuta (bass) in Japan, they are currently signed to a British record label. And their songs are in English…a fact which both delights and slightly disappoints me. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for group sounds.