November 29, 2009
THIS WEEK IN SHOWS
WEDS, DEC. 2
Jaguar Love, The King Left, Yes Giantess, Violent Soho
8:00 PM, $10 adv/$12 do, 21+
People have said that Johnny Whitney of Jaguar Love sounds like “Robert Plant on steroids.” I was gonna say he sort of reminds me of Jay Reatard in a higher register. Either way, we’re talking shrieky, jolting energy. These guys make some catchy, noisy, uptempo pop with y’know, canned beats. Enjoy!
Werewolves, Strange Rivals, Heliotropes
8:00, $5, 21+
Never underestimate the power of the keys to take something dramatic and make it cinematic. I’m using the term “cinematic” very liberally to mean that you might find yourself playing out long scenes in your head while listening to Werewolves. Or maybe it’s their sneering vocals that do it, I don’t know yet. What I do know is that they’re dynamic performers and they’re playing Glasslands this Wedsnesday…
SAT, DEC. 5
8:00, $10, 21+
Did you know that the male bowerbird hops around with a flower in his beak in an attempt to woo a mate? How sweet! On the other hand, the male angler fish sniffs out the female, bites her, releases an enzyme that fuses the two at the blood-vessel level, and then atrophies until he is no more than a pair of parasitic gonads. The world is ugly, but if you want to linger on the more poignant aspects of life, why not get all acoustic and snuggly with Bowerbirds for the night? They’re also playing Bowery Ballroom with Elvis Perkins on Thursday, but I like to promote the more intimate, boozier, cheaper shows…
Or you can just head towards Kent Ave. and then decide…
More on This Week In Shows
July 30, 2009
Gather, Form & Fly
2009 | Hometapes
So my advanced enthusiasm for Gather, Form & Fly was pretty unwarranted. Which is my fault, because I misunderstood and overestimated the relationship between Megafaun and Bon Iver and Bowerbirds. And because I’d heard their absolutely incredible song “The Fade,” and thought, “Well, here’s another North Carolina folk-rock band that’s going to make a perfect record out of the gate and generally be all awesome.” Which isn’t really the case, as Gather, Form & Fly is imperfect and as Megafaun doesn’t actually sound anything like Bowerbirds or Bon Iver. I mean, Megafaun is a really interesting band that has made a really interesting album. And it’s an album that begs comparison and contrast to other albums. But, in its quiet ways, it consistently circumvents any attempt contextualize it.
Gather, Form & Fly is probably best described as some sort of revisionist folk album, albeit a maniacal and schizophrenic one. It segues thoughtlessly from the spectrally beautiful instrumental opener (“Belle Marie”) through its two sun-baked folk-rock jewels (“Kaufman’s Ballad” and the truly inspired “The Fade”), into “Impressions of the Past,” which itself is a restless and not-quite-seamless blend of quiet folk, propulsive and rhythmic distorted improvisation, orchestral pop, and even – dare I say it? – barbershop quartet. All of which are in fact quite lovely genres. And then it continues right on into “Worried Mind,” the first of the album’s true downturns, a near-gorgeous classic folk tune that’s weighed down by a shamefully underperformed lead vocal track. “Solid Ground” is a repetitive basic blues riff that has no right following the fascinatingly raucous, hell-raising “The Process.” “Gather, Form & Fly” is a stunning (mostly) instrumental piece, all scratchy guitar and banjo, the kind bound inextricably to nostalgic reminiscences of summer, front porches, starlit country nights, the creak and howl of the forest. And that’s followed up with the awful a cappella opening of “Columns” (which never betters its embarrassing first moments), which is itself followed by “The Longest Day,” with Christy Smith, one of the finest true male-female country duets of this or any other year.
So one can see what the problem is here: Gather, Form & Fly is one of those records. It’s the kind of record that’s near-brimming with fantastic material, inspired performances, and interesting ideas, and yet weighed down at every turn by surprisingly sour efforts. What is made of an album like that? Disappointed expectation? Imperiled or defeated potential? Or a promise of hope? There’s so much good there, so much energy and enthusiasm, that it virtually guarantees Megafaun’s success, if only for their quite apparent capabilities, if only for the consistence of perfection they might someday give to the world.
by Chris Kiehne
July 16, 2009
2009 | Dead Oceans
It seemed inconceivable that Bowerbirds could improve their debut, 2007’s Hymns For A Dark Horse. That album is one of the most assured and realized debuts in recent memory; more so, it’s one of the most cohesive and inspired albums I’ve ever heard. It’s an incredibly complex valentine to a diseased Earth and a call to arms against its assailants, and yet it asserts and maintains significant distance from any topical American music: it mourns and rages, but never proselytizes. It was powerful, but not forceful. And so I was fearful when Upper Air was announced; it seemed hubristic to attempt a follow-up so quickly after such a meticulously crafted piece of work. I didn’t want a sophomore album from Bowerbirds – I especially didn’t want a rushed one. I wanted another masterpiece.
Well, it’s been delivered. Upper Air is an incredible and profound accomplishment. Whereas Hymns was meticulous and measured, Upper Air is sprawling and breathless. It is to their credit that Bowerbirds Phil Moore and Beth Tacular recorded and released these songs as quickly as they did. In doing so, they circumvented any threat of a sophomore slump. Upper Air bears no real interconnected relation to Hymns. It feels isolated entity, alive, and couldn’t have been measured or delayed. It’s an album of love songs. As in, like, about a girl.
More on Bowerbirds | Upper Air
July 13, 2009
IN THE TUBE
It’s been a string of wonderful months for me as a music listener. My enthusiasm for contemporary music had been kept alive, for some time, almost exclusively by the prospect of new material from Bowerbirds or Bon Iver. Otherwise, my listening rotation was confined almost exclusively to Willie Nelson, Gene Clark, and Andrew W.K. The thrill was gone, the flame had embered. Subsequent to the release of Phosphorescent’s To Willie – and for a time preceding it – I felt dustbowled, draughted, desertine. And then, almost relentlessly, the releases of Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, and Bowerbirds’ Upper Air, three astoundingly strong efforts that have already achieved, in my mind at least, canonical status.
And now there’s this, perhaps the release I’m most overzealously enthusiastic about: Brooklyn’s own Hem is releasing the material they composed for The Public Theater’s recent production of Twelfth Night.
I hate to comment on this production of Twelfth Night because the other night was its final performance and, thereby, nobody will ever be able to experience it again. But it was absolutely incredible, certainly the best production that I’ve seen – and I’ve been fortunate enough to attend each production of Shakespeare in the Park for the past half decade. It was, I shamelessly laud, “magical.” And perhaps the most critical element of its success was Hem’s orchestral score and inspired re-envisioning of Feste’s songs. I will, without hesitation, say that the cast-wide performance of Feste’s final song, “The Rain it Raineth Every Day,” was (with the exception of seeing Andrew W.K. for the first time) the most singularly revelatory musical performance I’ve ever seen. Of course, a lot of this is context: you can’t remove the weight of the play itself, of the momentum propelling the playgoer towards those final moments. But the possibility of in some way reliving that wonderful performance is deeply exciting for me.
Hem’s not for everyone. In many ways, they’re too pristine and polished to appeal to many Brooklyn listeners, yet they’re far too talented and interesting to appeal to a mainstream audience. I find a lot of their recorded material too saccharine. Still, there’s no denying its beauty. Below are two of their finer compositions: a wonderful live performance of the inspired “Half Acre” and an incredibly clichéd music video for “Redwing.” The music Hem composed for Twelfth Night – a gorgeous marriage of Irish and English folk music and American Appalachian music – is, in my mind, their best work. I am getting all English Lit geek here, but I’m more excited for this release than any other upcoming release (that I’m aware of). I can only hope that the recording (featuring the full cast of the Public Theater production) can prove a tenth as effecting as the play-going experience itself – which was, truly, once-in-a-lifetime.
Videos after the jump.
More on Hem | Twelfth Night
July 2, 2009
2009 | Domino
Were Bitte Orca reduced to only its first thirty-five seconds, it’d still be one of the finest albums of the year. Opener “Cannibal Resource” stutters to life with ringing guitars, tangled in a magisterial phrase that feels immediately canonical. It segues masterfully into a jagged, stomping verse, and Dave Longstreth’s broken-bell delivery of what is unquestionably one of the finest album-opening lyrics ever conceived: “Look around at everyone/ Everyone’s alive and waiting.” And then the ladies enter: soaring, squawking, and riotous, they deliver the album’s first and finest, impeccably interwoven, wordless harmony. It’s an incredible start to an album; it’s a battle cry, a statement of purpose, a synopsis of what’s to come.
Bitte Orca is consistently revelatory and complex throughout. Its finest songs are maniacally composed pop symphonies that consistently and unexpectedly change and manipulate genre, tone, and rhythm: “Temecula Sunrise” begins as a fractured folk song yet somehow evolves into tumbling crashes and lunatic electric guitar lines; the inspired “Useful Chamber” is comprised of equal parts delicately finger picked acoustic folk, hip hop, R&B, choral music, chugging distorted guitars, and that same tumbling, crashing and sinewy guitar shredding that previously asserted itself on “Temecula Sunrise.” Neither of these songs can be logically explained. And, often, the changes in tone are so abrupt that it’s difficult to keep up. But they’re flawlessly and seamlessly conceived. Whereas they might have felt like patchwork, like fragments pieced clumsily together, they instead feel organic and spontaneous, like living documents.
More on Dirty Projectors | Bitte Orca
June 22, 2009
IN THE TUBE
The Dirty Projectors’ new album Bitte Orca is really good. A lot of people have been saying that and now I’m saying it too: it’s really good. Right now – now – I’m thinking of how to review it and of what nice things I might want to say. I’m going to give it an A probably. Maybe an A-, but probably an A. Check in later in the week to find out!
But for now, here’s a performance of “Remade Horizon” that I think is pretty remarkable. First up, of course, are some incredibly inspired female harmonies (though Bitte Orca’s version doesn’t start with these harmonies): a couple them with Dave Longstreth’s spidery guitar lines and you’ve a hell of an introduction to the band’s maniacally and meticulously composed pop songs. And, from here, the album only gets better, elegantly employing elements from any and all genres, from symphonic to soul. Bitte Orca, as a whole, is consistently challenging and revelatory, comprised of seemingly fractured melodies and compositions that show their flawless design after repeated listening. Between realizing last week how sadistic was my refusal to appreciate Grizzly Bear (I cannot overstate how good Veckatimest is) and now this eye opening with Bitte Orca (I’ve never heard the Dirty Projectors as their devoted hear them; this album convinced me), June is going to be a tough music month to beat for me. Although the Bowerbirds’ forthcoming Upper Air is straight A+. God. I’m just giving away the endings to all sorts of reviews today.
by Chris Kiehne
May 4, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Mercury Lounge
April 27, 2009 | Bowerbirds w/ Bell and La Strada
Rejoice, we did, rejoice, at Bowerbirds’ sold out show last Monday night at Mercury Lounge – as did the rest of those in attendance, feeding off lead singer Phil Moore’s pleasure at performing in front of such a packed room. “Thanks so much to all of you for coming out tonight,” he said at one point. “This is awesome, but unexpected.” Unexpected? To whom? Certainly not anyone who’s heard their, to quote Mr. Kiehne from the last post, “perfect” Hymns For a Dark Horse.
Talk about a band with no pretensions. Moore, together with Tacular, new drummer Matt Damron, and guest bassist Joe Westerlund of Megafun, put on such a convivial, casual performance, I nearly expected them to take off their shoes, pull up a few stools, and invite members of the audience to come up and sing with them around the stagefire. They played a pretty long set, a bunch of stuff from the new album, and quite a few songs from Hymns, but not a chipper body budged – not even as they began their second encore number. “I didn’t think people had patience for this kind of stuff…you know, music,” Moore remarked. “You’re wrong!” yelled one or two members of the audience. And wrong he was. Nobody seemed to be in much of a rush that night. We were all too damn caught up in the sweet sounds filling the North Carolina country air. Wait a minute, I thought I said this show was at Mercury…
Anyway, check out some shots of the Bowerbirds set here, as well as a few from opener Bell’s, whose strangely enchanting, somewhat Bjorkian creations captivated the crowd. Also playing that night was JezebelMusic.com past Feature Artist, La Strada, who gave an, as expected, inspiring performance. Our photographer wasn’t there to catch them, but you can SEE THEM LIVE from back at their show in April .
by Elana Jacobs
IN THE TUBE
Rejoice, he said, rejoice: Bowerbirds have finished their sophomore album. They’re Bowerbirds, they’ve titled the album Upper Air, they’re releasing it on Dead Oceans, and it contains ten tracks. Would it be overzealous to assume that all of these factors are going to converge and expand and birth a perfect record? Possibly. Unless, of course, you’ve spent time with Bowerbirds’ debut, Hymns For a Dark Horse, which was perfect. And I don’t say that lightly. I’m talking Veedon Fleece perfect, Blood on the Tracks perfect. That Hymns and Bowerbirds’ buddy Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago were released in such quick succession alone solidify, to me, 2007-2008 as the landmark year for new millennium folk music.
Bowerbirds’ Phil Moore crafts loose, organic epics, living songs that seem like something dark and moving and mysterious discovered in the night woods. His incredible compositional sensibility informs his serpentine, labyrinth melodies, melodies that are surprising and complex yet feel entirely natural and contained. Here’s a Take Away of Bowerbirds performing “Ticonderoga,” a favorite from their Danger at Sea EP and resurrected on Hymns. It plays as an eerily perfect Bowerbirds video: Moore, Beth Tacular, and multi-instrumentalist Mark Paulson (who, live, incredibly plays, simultaneously, violin and organ) singing on a city street, like backwoods preachers calling congregants.
That Bowerbirds’ music (like Tacular’s incredible visual compositions) is decidedly opposed to any homo-centric view of the universe, that it often sounds like a plea for relief sung from the belly of the earth itself, is fairly apparent; what makes this performance so much more haunting is its context; is the disinterested and unconvinced populous walking by; is Bowerbirds’ perseverance and passion in performance. Bowerbirds might be ambassadors to the purest protest music ever sung. That Moore and Co. are capable of deciphering and relaying these earthen songs to us is a grace and a gift. I cannot wait for their next album.
by Chris Kiehne