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 28, 2010
King of the Beach
2010 | Fat Possum
“I’m stuck in the sky / I’m never coming down,” shouts Nathan Williams on “Linus Spacehead.” It’s more of a sneer really—the bratty whine of a kid who still feels invincible. It was that kind of mentality that landed Williams, better known as Wavves, on stage at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival last May hurling insults at the crowd and dodging flying beer bottles. It was a meltdown you’d expect from an aging rock star, not a 22-year-old who happened to have his
bedroom pop project declared the next big thing. Then again…
But that was over a year ago—in Internet years, a lifetime; Williams is like a seasoned vet at this point. Or at the very least he’s just hitting his prime, something more than evident on Wavves’ newest record, King of the Beach. While at heart Wavves is still the gritty, lo-fi pop-punk group they were on last year’s self-titled breakout, this new record is something completely different. The most noticeable thing: You can actually hear every instrument; the omnipresent, sometimes oppressive, wall of fuzz from Wavves’ first two records has been checked thanks to the simple luxury of having a studio in which to record. And the results are unsurprisingly wonderful.
As a songwriter, Williams has always been strong. On King of the Beach he churns out his usual array of slacker anthems with ease—powerhouse pop-punk gems based around three-maybe four-chord progressions that, this time around, retain just the right level of Wavves original bedroom aesthetic. But mixed in with these tracks are lazier, shoe-gazey cuts like “When Will You Come” and “Baseball Cards,” the latter droning along in hazy synths and vocals, but anchored by clean choral “sha la la’s.” One of the record’s most unexpected surprises is “Convertible Balloon,” a song that’s pure bubblegum doo-wop, carrying elements of “Under The Boardwalk” if The Drifters had smoked weed and played Nintendo all day.
May 18, 2010
2010 | Mom + Pop/N.E.E.T. Recordings
The internet hype-cycle can be a fickle thing. Either you live up to the acclaim like The Strokes did back in 2001, or you don’t and get completely screwed over like the Black Kids a few years ago, or you just find yourself perpetually trapped in the blogosphere like, well, most bands. It’s been less than a year since Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells found themselves in this world after playing a handful of breakout shows at last year’s CMJ and releasing a five-song demo that seemed to make its way to every corner of the internet. Throw in two national tours opening for Major Lazer and then Yeasayer, and signing to M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. Recordings, and the buzz surrounding the group’s debut, Treats, grew to a fever pitch—not to mention the fact that before it’s online release on May 11, the album had miraculously not even leaked.
Treats is loud and relentless—thirty-two minutes of non-stop, in-your-face, cranked-to-11, ear-drum-shattering noise pop. Derek Miller’s guitar screams wildly over hammering 808 beats and claps, creating a hurricane of sound that provides the perfect foil for Alexis Krauss’ blissed-out voice that’s still got just the right amount of bite. And while much of the charm on Sleigh Bells’ demo was the bedroom-production values, getting into a studio has been far from detrimental. As producer, Miller has given the re-recordings of demo songs new life: “Kids” (formerly “Beach Girls”) is tighter and more powerful, its once drawn-out synths now staccato punches; and “Infinity Guitars” retains its Spartan, lo-fi glory until the last forty-seconds when the volume gets kicked up a few notches more, ending in a pounding whirlwind of noise and distortion.
May 13, 2010
At Echo Lake
2010 | Woodsist
It’s been a little over a year since Woods released their last album, 2009’s well-received Songs of Shame, a record of lo-fi folk that garnered the group some pretty significant attention and made them standouts among the rest of the fuzz-heavy Woodsist family (e.g. Wavves, Vivian Girls, et al.). Still, Woods has wasted no time following up Songs of Shame. Their fifth record, At Echo Lake, bears many similarities to the group’s previous releases (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing), but also finds them toying with their rustic-Brooklyn sound.
“Blood Dries Darker” kicks off the record with a sunny guitar lick and a distant tom-and-snare beat that’s right out of 1960’s San Francisco, before floating into an acoustic melody that would make Crosby, Stills, & Nash jealous. “Suffering Season,” one of the record’s highlights, sways effortlessly and cheerily, balancing James Earl’s fuzzed-out vocals and an overdriven electric guitar with steady acoustic strumming and crisp background chimes. “Who knows what tomorrow might bring?” Earl sings, his Neil Young-like falsetto still strong under the heavy bedroom production.
It’s songs like these that show Woods undoubtedly growing as musicians and songwriters. The melodies on At Echo Lake are infectious and never hard to distinguish amidst the wide range of instruments and noises that fade in and out of every song throughout the album. “Time Fading Lines” is, for the most part, hauntingly clean and open, but sporadically the song swells with clatter —“As the hours let go / Time fading lines creep into control” sings Earl, his voice stoic, as the drums grow and a wail of feedback crawls out of nowhere.
May 9, 2010
Souls on Lockdown
2010 | Self-released
Even though most music performers are referred to as “artists,” M. Lamar really earns the title. Lamar seems interested less in conventional songcraft and more with creating, for lack of a better word, “pieces.” His work engages the audience in a way that is unlike the standard consumption of pop entertainment. This is not to say that Lamar’s new full-length album, Souls on Lockdown, is no fun. In fact, though Lamar repeatedly explores the issues of race and sexuality in an intensely analytical way throughout the album, it’s not like an undergrad lecture. Souls is stuffed to the gills with potent melodrama.
Lamar’s work is often confrontational. Before this full-length, he released a 7-inch EP that included songs called “White Pussy” and “Dirty Dirty Nigga.” They’re actually great songs, but they have the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Similarly, Lamar’s mode of performance is often very direct. He sings in a soaring countertenor which, when listened to blindly, could be easily mistaken for the voice of a female opera diva. He accompanies himself with simple, pounding chords on a keyboard. I’ve seen a few live performances by M. Lamar, and the uncomfortable squirms of the uninitiated and unappreciative were quite obvious.
Well, screw those people. M. Lamar is not only an incredibly interesting musical performer – following ably in the footsteps of the likes of Klaus Nomi and Diamanda Galas – but he’s a hell of a writer too.
The opener, “The Conquest,” is a new (and improved) version of the third track from his previously released 7-inch record. This new version alters Lamar’s keyboard sound so that it more closely resembles a heavily-reverbed electric guitar. It’s a wonderful contribution to the ominous atmosphere of the piece, which depicts seduction and sexual domination in an era of imperialist warfare. As Lamar put its, “Defeat is not an option / My weapon is yours to fear.”
Lamar returns again and again to the imagery of slavery. The CD cover features an illustration of an 1863 lynching of a black man, hanged from a tree. It’s an image which Lamar states in the liner notes that he hopes can stand as “a symbol of hope, possibility, and faith for blacks, queers, trans persons, and all who turn away from white supremacy and identification with domination and power,” in the way that Christians use the crucifix as such a symbol. This theme is key to the song, “The Tree,” which sounds distinctly like a Negro Spiritual and features the lyrics, “Renew my soul / With your violent hand… hang me from the tree.” It also pops up in slightly mutated form in the provocative “Get Down,” where the narrator (presumably a white john looking for a black hustler) orders, “Get down from that tree / And give me that nigga dick.” Lamar interjects with a description from a sex ad (“I’m a top / Outcalls only”) and talks to the potential john, who is looking for a black man to dominate and humiliate him. “You say I’m the superior race,” Lamar comments. The lyrics, as with most of the songs, are very sparse, but Lamar knows how to pick the right words to create a vivid picture – and not always one the listener is prepared to understand.
While “Get Down” is cut from a similar cloth as the tracks I mentioned above from Lamar’s 7-inch record, it is actually in the minority on the album, as far as in-your-face provocations go. It comes late in the album, at a point at which Souls on Lockdown has established a mood of both ecstasy and melancholy. While Lamar never abandons his directness, the first two-thirds of the album have a surprising tastefulness. Lamar’s voice throughout the album shows a vulnerability that makes the work accessible, allowing the listener to get swept up in the songs no matter how elliptical or fragmented the lyrics. Lamar’s performance fills in all the details we might be missing from the text.
Souls on Lockdown is an album that, despite its lack of lush arrangements, is fairly dense. It reveals more with each additional listen. Certain technical concerns (sometimes it sounds like Lamar sings an “off-key” note) melt away over time (now I’m convinced that at least some of those notes are not merely out of tune but are intentionally dissonant), and the power of the album grows stronger. It would be easy to spew a “not suited to all tastes” disclaimer when discussing Souls on Lockdown, but that’s a cop out. Really, your potential enjoyment comes down to this: Are you man (or woman or trans) enough to handle this album?
by Justin Remer
May 6, 2010
There’s a special place in my heart for bands like Elephant Parade; that is, bands that are sort of innocuous and unselfconsciously adorable. Those more callous than myself could probably sum up this record’s cuteness by using their index finger to gag themselves. Okay, perhaps that’s an acceptable reaction, especially if one considers the following lyrics, from “For You”: “I like you / You don’t make me cry / I like you / You always make me smile.” As far as I can tell this is delivered without irony or sarcasm. To me, that’s one of the main reasons this record is enjoyable.
It’s a short record, clocking in at about 22 minutes, and as evidenced by the aforementioned lyrics, it’s relatively harmless. They sound like a stripped-down version of Camera Obscura or Au Revoir Simone. It’s an acoustic record, male and female harmonies, with a lo-fi sound to match its title, Bedroom Recordings. The track “Boat Song” shows the band’s potential beyond simple acoustic songs, featuring a beautiful, floaty keyboard arrangement and a breathy melody; I wish the entire record was closer to this sound.
Like a lot of decent pop music, their songs are shallow enough that enjoyment of them beyond the few first listens is contingent on the positive experiences which the songs accompany. I also imagine that one or two of these tracks could nicely round out a mix tape.
by Joe Veix
2010 | Weemayk Music
The Antifolk group Elastic No-No Band is nothing if not prolific on Fustercluck!!!, their second studio album. Spread over two discs and over two hours, this record is a veritable smorgasbord of American folk and rock styles. These guys clearly love music and you’d be hard pressed to fault their energy or their execution. At its core, this record is simply a lot of fun. But it’s also a fairly extensive glimpse into the twisted mind of songwriter/singer Justin Remer (who writes for Jezebel Music) and a good platform for his off-the-wall sense of humor, as evidenced by the self-explanatory first single, “(The Shame About) Manboobs.”
Elastic No-No Band’s music, much like the other bands who make up the Antifolk scene that calls the East Village’s Sidewalk Café home, is quite possibly an acquired taste, but one well worth the plunge. The No-No Band is like the corn ice cream at Sundaes & Cones. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but after you have the sample spoonful, you find yourself ordering a whole cone.
Disc one – let’s call it “Fuster” – opens with a goofy cut from an old scratchy fitness record, and that sets the tone. Fuster is a workout of sorts, an aerobic and bouncy journey through American music that hopscotches from banjo folk to trashy indie to old-school country…you get the picture. The crunchy fuzz of “The Color Machine” stands out on Fuster, a meatball of a track that mashes a stripped down Stooges groove with the dirty alt-rock of Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion project. It’s catchy as hell and a bit of a departure from the rest of the record. Brook Pridemore (who also writes for Jezebel Music) co-wrote the track and sings lead, which isn’t as distracting as you’d think. since one of the album’s strengths is that the dozen or so guests who join in with the No-No Band blend in seamlessly. Debe Dalton, banjo player extraordinaire, is all over both discs and the album is all the better for it. Her banjo picking is timeless, as is her voice. Dalton and Remer’s duet of the old traditional song “There’s A Hole In the Bucket” is particularly funny and sweet.
April 27, 2010
2010 | True Panther
Remember last summer? The muggy haze of humidity that crept over New York City in mid-July coupled with the onslaught of lazy, sticky tunes from Washed Out and Neon Indian? It was like three months of lying on the floor—because the fabric on the couch was too hot—in just a pair of shorts, with a pack of frozen food or a can of beer resting on your forehead, unable to move because, you know, that would just make things worse. A chill-wave summer. Or something like that. But amidst all this was Delorean’s Ayrton Senna EP—four tracks of sun-drenched, electro-dance pop that felt like someone had just dunked your head into a bucket of ice water. Now, one year later, with temperatures climbing, the Spanish four-piece is back with their second full-length, Subiza, a fine record that highlights Delorean’s knack for crafting wonderfully simple yet layered melodies that dance, swell, and fall almost effortlessly.