December 18, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Glasslands
December 10, 2009 | Ana Lola Roman, Behavior, Perpetual Mvmt <> Snd
The night at Glasslands was off to a slow start. For a long time, it was impossible to tell whether it had started at all. Perpetual Mvmt <> Snd, a performance group from Philadelphia, toed the line between art and accident in a kinetically monotonous, tepid act. A man played a large clarinet-like instrument that sounded like a car backfiring with a kitten wedged in the exhaust pipe, and was joined by a cellist doing a convincing imitation of fingernails on chalkboard. As one man rustled paper into a microphone, two women made halting movements toward the center of the stage, cruelly teasing the audience into expecting something to happen. Then, as would continue between all movement sequences, a seated non-performer hissed “stop” and the beep of a stopwatch resetting was heard, the girls returning to their seats amid farting noises from the not-quite-clarinet and generically ominous sonic atmospheres emanating from a laptop controlled by another performer.
There was a briefly entertaining zoological moment as one girl started flapping her arms in the birdlike fashion of five-year-old kids playing Pretend and the other prowled the stage like a lioness. The primate camp was represented by the formerly paper-rustling man, who squatted purposefully at various key junctures as if relieving himself.
The paper-rustler repeatedly presented what appeared to be his interpretation of an open mic night—tapping the microphone, clearing his throat, clapping abortively—a non-indictment perhaps even less interesting than his concentrated bouts of mimed shit-taking. Everyone periodically referred to papers under their chair, all business in between spasms of bunny-hopping and ticking noises. One girl turned around and began flapping enthusiastically again, revealing an unintentionally hilarious tramp stamp. End. Naming one’s group Perpetual Mvt <> Snd and displaying as little as possible of either movement or sound may be high concept and ironic, but it makes for a very dull show.
More on Ana Lola Roman, Behavior, Perpetual Mvmt <> Snd @ Glasslands | 12.10.09
December 16, 2009
2009 | Gigantic Records
Kids Aflame, the debut record from Brooklyn group Arms, is an upbeat, shiny slice of capital-lettered Indie Rock, and reminds the listener of this fact with every note. While its lyrics treat a range of subjects, not all of which sparkle with the good-time haze of the album’s music, the overall impression is of a forced smile—technically flawless, if spiritually flaccid.
The cleverly-titled but mostly non-musical opener “Sabretooth Typist” is merely a prelude to “Whirring,” which sets a pattern that will prove difficult to break for the rest of the album. Cheery pop instrumentation (complete, on this song, with a quiet guitar/jingle bell interlude) is the rule, while singer Todd Goldstein’s voice glides smoothly over the top like a young lounge singer’s, delivering ever-so-slightly sneering social commentary packaged with a retinue of ooh’s and aah’s. The guitar riffs that drive the song are pleasant and catchy enough, if ultimately not too memorable, and the percussion stays politely in the background, offering only the slightest of kicks when necessary to keep the song moving.
The vocals start inducing motion sickness on “Construction,” where Goldstein’s nasal delivery slides languidly from end to end of the major scale while quiet guitars and near-nonexistent percussion shuffle around trying to look busy. The jingle bells are still here, now joined by a few hand-claps. It’s enough to almost make you want to pinch the song’s cheeks, until the vocals slimily chime back in.
The title track continues in the nauseatingly precious vein, with strummed ukulele echoing over warm harmonica-like programming and Goldstein’s whiny, unctuous lilt interrupted by sunny arpeggiated nonsense syllables. This song has some staying power, with its catchy melody and general unrelenting cheer, but repeated listening induces tooth-grinding unless you’re prepared to throw yourself headlong into the album’s grating, near-senseless positivity.
More on Arms | Kids Aflame
November 25, 2009
Journal of Ardency
2009 | Terrible Records
Brooklyn group Class Actress’ debut album opens with an inviting electronic shimmer, drawing listeners into the polished pop of “Careful What You Say,” a perky dance track strewn with keyboard riffs mined from familiar ’80s territory. Fortunately, instead of a computerized drone at the controls, there’s Elizabeth Harper and her stunning voice, which soars breathily over the 808 handclaps and retro bleeps, smoothing out the rough bits for a mix of harmonies that sits comfortably above cheap imitators. Harper is also the band’s songwriter, and the seamless interplay of voice and instrument is no accident.
The title track is the album’s best, all ominous synthesizer bubbling and agile lyrical delivery full of defiant emotions from Harper that would otherwise be lost in translation if merely read off a lyrics sheet. The surging keyboard chords behind the chorus hint at a power that she’s only controlling with her voice because she doesn’t want to hurt you yet – like a cat toying with her prey, she’s simply waiting with infinite patience for the right moment to strike. In between verses, juicy keyboard interludes swell lushly in the speakers. What exactly is a “journal of ardency”? Just a pretty metaphor, but hearing her say the words conveys a spine-tingling thrill amid the icy beats and predatory sweetness.
“Let Me Take You Out” is a breezy, smooth ride, upbeat and poppy, but the breathy vocals start to grate quickly, especially during the chorus. Harper sings sweetly, but there’s no edge at all – the seductive whispers have turned sedative. Overproduction turns her blissed-out “oohs” into yawns, and the next track, “Adolescent Heart,” continues the downward slide. Pleasant, woozy lyrics and twinkly synth swirls are anchored by only the most minimal percussion track, with more elongated vowels piled on like shovelfuls of Ambien.
More on Class Actress | Journal of Ardency
November 18, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Market Hotel
November 12, 2009 | Slim Twig, Dirty Beaches, Ela Orleans
Ela Orleans, a Polish musician based in Brooklyn, was a surprise act not listed on the Thursday night lineup at Brooklyn’s Market Hotel. It was a pleasant surprise, however – she quickly mesmerized the audience with hazy melodies; the sampler, guitar, and voice delicately layering atop one another. Orleans held the guitar across her lap and stroked it like a black plastic pet, with reverb giving it a sound somewhere between that of a dulcimer and a theremin, producing high notes that settled tentatively over the undulating backdrop of the opening song. The idyllic beach-house guitar conjured up an atmosphere all twilight and palm trees – a far cry from the stark onstage cluster of sampler boxes in a drafty warehouse. The next song’s preprogrammed percussion and bass supported a creepily climbing scale of vocal harmonies that maintained the tranquility of the opener while hinting at a touch of evil beneath – but playfully, with electronic twinkles and whistles sprinkled around to keep listeners guessing. A thunderclap of sharp electronic noise gave way to an alluring tidal wave of surf-guitar lullaby, but the calming spell was fractured when Orleans demanded a halt to the proceedings due to technical difficulties, stubbornly refusing to work around whatever flaw had nested in her loops until the track could be restarted.
Someone in the audience chose a moment of silence to cackle hysterically, and Orleans flashed that hint of evil again with a nonchalant near-whisper – “Somebody’s laughing? Not after this song…” What followed was no threat, but another quietly delivered harmonic mesh of vocals entwined with barely-there guitar strumming, a barely-alive “I am lost without you” drifting over the music that itself floated like a held breath afraid to let go completely. By the end of the set, the idyllic plucking of the guitar was threatening to lull listeners to sleep, but she naturally drifted to a close in time to prevent the lullaby from becoming literal.
More on Slim Twig, Dirty Beaches, Ela Orleans @ Market Hotel | 11.12.09
November 16, 2009
photo by Kourosh Keshiri
Toronto’s Slim Twig makes rockabilly dangerous again. His album Contempt! is not merely a deconstruction, but a distillation — no a fermentation — of all the menace that made rockabilly so exciting from the get-go. Slim bends and warps old school rock ’n’ roll with disarming electronic sounds and noise, but watch out, he’s looking to take things even further. Helen Buyniski met up with Slim before his Market Hotel show last week to talk about what it means to be a sample-hoarding, instrument-hopping musical “magpie,” why rock musicians don’t give out free mixtapes (but should), and how cool it is to be compared to Wu-Tang.
JM.com: Where did the name Slim Twig come from?
Slim: I thought it was a funny name, partially because it describes my frame, I guess, and I think Slim is a good rock ’n’ roll name. When I started this project a while ago, I was just looking for a cool name, and that was the one that stuck.
JM.com: Musically, were you doing anything before Slim Twig?
Slim: Yeah, I’ve been in a band called Tropics for about 7 years, I was guitar in that, and I was in a metal band when I was in middle school, but I’ve been doing music for about ten years.
JM.com: What instruments do you play? I know you’re the only one in the band but I was listening to some of your tracks, and it seems like there’s a lot of instruments in there.
Slim: I do a lot of sampling, so sampler is a big instrument, I play a lot of organ, guitar obviously, a variety of things. I like making mysterious sounds, phone sampling and that kind of thing, where the origin is kind of unclear.
More on Slim Twig
October 29, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Pianos
October 23, 2009 | Terrible Records CMJ Showcase
Brooklyn band Arms opened Saturday night’s Terrible Records CMJ Showcase with a breezy, blissed-out pop set, their casual tone clashing distinctly with frontman Todd Goldstein’s jagged movements and nervous between-song banter. Though clearly uncomfortable under the spotlight, his guitar playing was effortless; unfortunately, like the rest of the set, it was also somewhat passionless. The band seemed to be in a hurry to finish, neglecting to put emotion into the music – there was a lukewarm smiliness that persisted even through a song that was, according to Goldstein, “about the end of everything,” and while the lyrics were crisp and audible on the venue’s excellent sound system, they were delivered in a nasal monotone. The music was pleasant enough – barring an irritating excess of ooohs and aaahs in the backing vocals, sung in stock harmonies that wobbled off-tune occasionally to turn the dreamy pop into the stuff of nightmare – but quite bland, and easily forgettable.
The next set was all too brief. Toronto act Little Girls wasted no time in creating a stormy atmosphere, sending whorls of dark noise over ominously simple minor chord progressions that teetered on the edge of control. Frontman Josh McIntyre’s vocals wove skillfully in and out of the noise, shouting and singing with equal effect. The thrashing guitars piling up over the main chords threatened to descend into total anarchy at any moment but never did, drummer Anthony Gerace’s speedy yet metronomic percussion keeping them in line. Even when McIntyre started flailing around the stage, savaging the keyboard and then jumping into the audience, no one missed a beat, merely speeding up to match his convulsive dancing. The legendarily-jaded CMJ audience was surprised, to say the least, when this energetic tornado with his weird brillo-pad haircut landed in their midst, and he helicoptered around shouting his way through the last song all too briefly before crashing to an end and taking the set with him.
JezebelMusic.com @ Mercury Lounge
October 4, 2009 | Chain and the Gang, Silk Flowers, Julianna Barwick
Last Sunday night at Mercury Lounge, Brooklyn-based solo artist Julianna Barwick played the eye of the world’s sweetest, mellowest hurricane, standing almost perfectly still in front of an effects pedal with her own voice expanding and mutating around her, drifting over lilting beach-house ukulele and a warm bed of soft-plucked harp. She fed the machine her vocals and layered them, one loop stacked neatly atop another, angelic harmonies growing to tower over the human figure on stage, with a sweetness that wobbled a bit, but to its credit did not fall over the edge into the realm of the saccharine. It was at times a difficult act to watch, mostly because there was so little happening visually that the slightest audience movement or commotion looked explosive in comparison, but Barwick provided a pleasant ethereal soundtrack to whatever utopia listeners were able to project on the inside of their own eyelids.
October 9, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
October 3, 2009 | Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Sightings, Talk Normal, Drunkdriver
The final performance of the WFMU Fest, featuring seminal 1970s No Wave ensemble Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, took place last Saturday in the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Opening duo Talk Normal cloaked the cacophony of antisocial Jerks-style noise in their velvety effects and drones, while Drunkdriver chose feedback over musicianship and Sightings gave an earnest but disappointing recital of squeaks, squeals, and grunts. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks then took the stage, lashing out with a fury that has lost no intensity over the last 30 years.
Brooklyn’s Talk Normal began mysteriously, launching straight into a cacophonous dirge, not bothering to turn the stage lights up, introduce themselves, or indulge in any other formalities. The twinned noise of guitar and effects writhed against a chugging motor of a beat, overlaid with what sounded like the cries of small mechanical creatures caught in the gears. Hypnotic rhythms lured listeners into a sluggish sonic whirlpool enveloped by vocals that channeled early Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, husky and pleading. Both Andrya Ambro and Sarah Register of Talk Normal share vocal duties, and their voices settle seamlessly into the sea of effects, half-atmospheric screaming and wailing harmonies alternating with chanted bits to give the wall of sound an almost silvery lining. Later songs upped the suspense, each pause piling apprehension around the dizzyingly repetitive churning of the noise.
Suggesting variously the ominous creep of an oncoming train, the disorienting circling of vultures, and calming, surprisingly melodic nighttime lullabies, the trance-inducing loops of Talk Normal were at once soothing and disturbing. When the girls thanked the soundman and audience, listeners were jolted awake from a dark hallucination that, in retrospect, did not nearly last long enough.
More on WFMU Fest @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg | 10.3.09