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 19, 2010
I meet Avan Lava outside St. Cecilia’s Catholic School and Church in Williamsburg. Father Jim walks past and exchanges hellos with multi-instrumentalist Michael “Le Chev” Cheever and singer Tom Hennes as the two finish their cigarettes. Father Jim walks back up the stairs into the school and a few seconds later Cheever and Hennes lead me down to the Church’s basement, filled with rooms that Father Jim rents out to artists, dancers, and musicians. We walk through a maze of dust- and clutter-filled rooms until we reach the recording studio where I sit down and talk with the band.
Avan Lava’s music doesn’t necessarily sound like it was recorded in a church basement—it can certainly be haunting and ambient at times, but still the group switches easily between shoe-gazey, dream pop and bouncy, dance-ready neu-disco. Avan Lava have already released their first EP, Vapors, which you can get on iTunes or their website; but the two are still hard at work, spending hours upon hours in the basement of St. Cecilia’s figuring out and perfecting their constantly changing sound.
Jezebel Music: So how did you guys meet and decide to start working together?
Michael Cheever: We were working with a friend of mine, Ian, and all of us were writing this song together.
Tom Hennes: Yeah, and Ian had seen me sing in something random, and was just like “Hey come sing with me.” So I showed up at the studio and it was the four of us, and Mike and I kept having the same ideas. It was weird.
MC: Especially because we were working with like a 70s, glam rock melody. And everyone was kind of saying, “I dunno, I dunno,” and Tom and I were like, “Yeah, that’s it!”
TH: It’s funny because we were the two people whose input wasn’t really wanted, because we were kind of invited into this project.
MC: I actually don’t think it was fitting the track very well, but it was exciting for us.
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.
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.
April 5, 2010
2010 | Matador
Harlem’s jangly sound isn’t really anything new: It’s simple yet catchy, and continues to ride the wave of lo-fi garage pop, not to mention surf-inspired garage pop. But with Harlem comes an almost overwhelming sense of scatterbrained idiosyncrasy, and one that goes beyond normal indie-rock quirkiness. It’s the feeling that these guys are making music just for shits and giggles—hell, their band biography on Matador’s website is an elaborate, feline-centric story about how their band name was suggested by a cat named skullcrusher [sic] who was high on crystal meth at the time. Of course this sentiment carries over rather overtly to their music as well with plenty of smart, genre-crossing songs about girls and oddly named basketball teams. But Harlem manages to pull it off pretty well. The Austin trio’s second LP and first Matador release, Hippies, is filled with quick, no-nonsense tracks that ring with solid, straightforward melodies and clever lyrics.
March 23, 2010
Brad Oberhofer dresses the way his music sounds. At their core, his songs are wonderfully catchy pop tracks: perfectly simple and even a bit traditional, like his skinny jeans and narrow sneakers. But at the same time they’re meticulously layered with pulsing drums, slightly overdriven guitars, and even a glockenspiel now and then; when I met up with Oberhofer, he was wearing a t-shirt, under a black-and-white polka-dot button-up (which he tells me he found in the “Old Woman’s” section at Goodwill) and a beat up leather jacket. Attached to his jacket was one of his many thrift store pins and broaches—this one a multi-colored, smiling rain cloud—that echo the whoops and hollers that adorn almost all of Oberhofer’s songs.
At just 19, and currently a sophomore in the Music Composition Program at New York University, Oberhofer has started to make a name for himself with his blend of do-it-yourself indie-pop. His music has garnered comparisons to groups like Vampire Weekend and Surfer Blood, but none of these seem completely right. Really, it’s like Oberhofer’s in a class all his own. Something new and different, and kind of indescribable. But it’s definitely catchy as hell.
JM.com: When did you first start playing music and writing your own music?
Oberhofer: I started playing piano in 2nd grade and quit after 2 years. Then I picked up freestyle rapping in 7th grade and also started playing drums. When I was about 16, I started playing guitar and writing my own songs. And after I moved to New York, I started writing the songs for Oberhofer, except “Gold,” which I wrote the summer after my senior year of high school.
JM.com: What made you really want to start getting into song writing once you moved to NYC?
Oberhofer: It was something I was already getting into, really. And in Tacoma there are a lot of really inspirational people who write really cool songs. It just became a part of my life, and I had nothing better to do when I was in a dorm by myself. So I just started playing guitar and making cheesy little songs.
JM.com: Who are your favorite songwriters? More on Oberhofer