December 28, 2009
ART OF SONG
Don’t Fear The Reaper [Holy Ghost’s B-Live Mix]
2009 | BACARDI B-LIVE Free Downloads
The year is drawing to a close. I can’t speak for you (though oh, how I try!), but I’m getting ready to put on my sparkliest outfit and go out to some lame New Years party where I will inevitably drink too much and end up trying to kiss too many people when the clock strikes midnight. That’s how I roll.
Do you know what’s as earnestly convoluted as my New Year’s intentions? The Holy Ghost remix of Van She’s cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” (See, I told you it was convoluted.) But as convoluted as this mixture seems (a remix of a cover) it’s really quality. The work and care is present, hence the earnestness of this equation. This wasn’t Van She just crapping out a cover, and Holy Ghost deciding they’ll fuck around with it a little. There appears to be actual effort here, which is something I can certainly appreciate.
A fairly mellow remix (to be fair, “Don’t Fear The Reaper” isn’t exactly a booty-shaking jam), I would imagine this would enter the New Year’s party rotation after the ball dropped, when people are still going, but not with quite the enthusiasm they were previously. A collective breather, if you will.
Van She doesn’t really take too many risks with this cover, instead going with the flow and sticking to the roots of the original. Holy Ghost throws in enough of a backbeat to keep you moving. And it intensifies, hitting the first peak around 1:50, throwing in some swelling piano in the background to add a little drama.
More on Van She | Don’t Fear The Reaper [Holy Ghost’s B-Live Mix]
December 22, 2009
Send in the folk (clowns?). Brooklyn’s Darrin James Band just sent over “The Lovely Ugly Truth,” the title track off their recently released sophomore album The Lovely Ugly. In 2009, it is hard to give great singer songwriters the attention they deserve – we receive so many submissions from guys with acoustic guitars, that it is sometimes easier to just talk about the ones that the big name blogs give the most press (I’m looking at you, Kurt Vile…I see you over there, smugly profiting off your questionably deserved hype).
But “The Lovely Ugly Truth” is such an enjoyable track: raucous, bluesy, and obviously classic, a composite piece of “rock and roll.” James has a such smokey gruff voice that it seems it would have been a rejection of his own birthright not to sing the blues. James isn’t going to invent any new genres, or get called a sonic pioneer, but with a song this genuine and immediate, who cares?
Darrin James Band – “The Lovely Ugly Truth”
by Max Sebela
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
December 10, 2009
2009 | Dedpop
A newer band’s initial EPs are tasting plates, of sorts; ideally, they’ve created a sampling of their style and potential, of which they’ll elaborate the better parts in their subsequent, more comprehensive LPs. Connecticut’s Bluebird Handwriting claims the usual suspects as influences (their MySpace account lists Radiohead and Sonic Youth), but it’s with Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, M83, and My Bloody Valentine that they share the most in common. Though these comparisons are lofty and divergent, Bluebird manages to meet them.
They have the spastic rhythmic flourishes of Aphex Twin; the subdued industrial simplicity of Boards of Canada; the brash keyboards of M83, with all of their romantic undertones; and the static dreamscape of My Bloody Valentine. Some of it holds up, and some of it doesn’t; one can’t really fault a band too much for this so early in their career.
The Tortulous EP is at its best during its more ruminative, ambient moments. It’s at its weakest when it attempts Aphex Twin and the louder side of M83; these sounds are dated, and can’t be sustained by any amount of revision or nostalgia. Considering what they get right, though, Bluebird Handwriting manages the rare ability of making the most simple arrangements resonate, with little need to dress up their sound in overwrought production or theatrics.
Bluebird Handwriting’s best moment is at the end of “It Is Broken Soon:” the song hardly moves beyond its simple theme and metronomic beat, before the rhythm drops out and we have just the keyboard hook. It’s a great moment, conveying the bittersweet sound of an orchestra leaving the stage after a beautiful performance, or the temporal escape from the shortest day of winter. They’re most definitely a band to check out.
You can download Tortulous for free here.
Bluebird Handwriting – “It is Broken Soon”
by Joe Veix
December 4, 2009
Total Slacker Demo
2009 | fmly rcrds
N/A (Disqualified: Too Young)
What am I supposed to do with this debut demo from Brooklyn’s Total Slacker, which, from what I gather, is one of the first recordings from any band heavily inspired by 2009 buzz bands. The demo, just five songs, are rough, home recordings of fuzzed out, slowed down Wavves songs. And by Wavves, I mean WAVVES, not WAVVVES (the preceding sentence is composed almost exclusively of homonyms – this is why I’m growing excited about Nathan Williams’ ongoing career).
If Waaves is lo-fi surf rock, then Total Slacker, as they stand right now, is the closest we’ll get to lo-fi jam rock; they replace the sped up distorted scales found on “So Bored” with the lazily distorted blues riffs of “Taco People.” They take the same Nathan Williams amateur drawing stylings that crafted such wonderful images as stoned Garfield, and draw a little skateboarder. They do away with Wavves’ constant lyrical references to drugs and boredom instead referencing something called a “Psychic Mesa,” and seem to hold some kind of belief in err…uhh…taco people. I don’t know what it means, just like I don’t know what Phish means when they express a desire to run like an antelope, out of control. Antelope are fairly orderly creatures, just as human beings are not meat filled tortillas.
But, all kidding aside, there is something simple and endearing about Total Slacker, even as they are obviously a little amateur – this is a demo, what do we expect? The three-some sounds confident about the languid pace of their music, the swimmingly buried bass lines, and the comedic, seemingly improvised lyrics. The hooks and riffs are written to put smiles on people’s faces, and the band makes no attempt a trying to take that higher. “These Condos Don’t Belong,” the second track of the demo, has a blown out chorus, screeching female vocals, and a solid stream of “ooo ooo”’s, which is as cute as it is awesome. Will they change the world? Not with these songs. Are they a fairly fresh, fun Brooklyn garage band? Hell yeah.
More on Total Slacker | Total Slacker Demo
December 1, 2009
2009 | Self-Released
I don’t think a single period of pop history was forgotten faster than the late nineties – no, I’m not talking about Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel, or Radiohead; they have all cemented themselves firmly into indie rock history. I’m talking about pop-rock, post-alternative; the Counting Crows, Third Eye Blinds, and Eagle Eyed Cherries that came, left infectiously innocuous songs ridden with overproduction, and reverted back to the musical hell from whence they came (well, at least most of them). Where did they come from? I mean, they must have heard punk-rock, right? Were the Replacements really enough to fuel an entire eight-year movement of shamelessly clever modern rock? And, as more and more musicians choose to dig deeper into the one-hit-wonder crates, pulling back toward disco, glam, and other once-hated genres, when will the 90s all-stars have a chance to shine? Who will be the Patrick Wolf to Stephan Jenkins’ David Bowie?
The answer, in my opinion, is dwelling somewhere under the surface of Ludlow Lions’ No Stories. The album, from opener “Keyboard Teeth” and onward, moves disjointedly through different genres. They touch on angular Pinback riffs, garage-fuzz, Replacements style hooks, R.E.M. delivery, and the occasional crunched distortion that could be stripped straight out of “Semi-Charmed Life.” And the lyrics move fluidly from intelligent and thought provoking (“Scopes Climbs a Tree,” which, from what I can gather, is actually inspired by the Scopes Monkey Trial) to the banal and innocuous (“I want a new Cold War/ I felt much safer before” is fine, but “If there’s a new Cold War/ I’d be so captivated” seems like the band may not actually understand what the Cold War was) to the completely meaningless (a soaring, layered chorus of “We’re so proud/ We’re so proud/ We’re so proud of…doom”).
More on Ludlow Lions | No Stories
November 19, 2009
Spit In the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool
2009 | Captured Tracks
Listening to The Beets’ debut album, my initial crotchety-old-man reaction is, “Who wants to sound like that?”
Drenched in reverb, the 12 songs on Spit In The Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool can be lazily referred to as garage rock, but they are actually more reminiscent both of The Velvet Underground’s first couple of albums and of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound recordings – that is, if Spector allowed his let-all-the-instruments-bleed-together approach apply to the vocals too.
I’m frankly baffled by this choice to bury the vocals and make it all sound like a murmuring radio on the opposite side of the room. After all, if you can spare enough dough to have someone put your album out on vinyl, why can’t you spare a little bit more to have someone mix the recordings so they don’t sound like they were made with a tape player stuck in a burlap sack?
Granted, that was my initial reaction. I’ve listened to the album about 4 or 5 times now (it clocks in at less than a half-hour, so that’s not hard to do), and the songs themselves are memorable enough to make me respect The Beets as a band. Heck, I’ll probably keep this album in regular listening rotation.
More on The Beets | Spit In the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool
November 13, 2009
It Will Be OK
2009 | Etch n Sketch
Brooklyn band Home Video released the follow-up to their first record, No Certain Night Or Morning, last January. The EP is called It Will Be OK, and continues the electronica/rock sound that they helped establish in the early 2000s, long after other bands with lighter stomachs abandoned the genre for newer trends.
It Will Be OK is softer than their previous LP, and aims for subtler electronic beats. It’s possible that the band is more confident in their sound, and feels less of a need to pound out a heavy backbeat to get a crowd on their feet at live shows. Despite the somewhat softer sound, the EP is very much danceable, and will likely be a joy to hear live [Editor’s Note: It was. Look forward to our write-up of Home Video playing the JM Monthly Feature Show].
The standout track on the EP is “Every Love That Ever Was,” which begins with what sounds like a nod to the sequencer in the Who’s “Eminence Front,” before snapping into an inspiring take on M83. Certainly, one cannot avoid making a comparison to Radiohead; the vocals are deeply and unashamedly in debt to Thom Yorke. And at this point, more than a decade after Radiohead’s first groundbreaking release (1997’s OK Computer), comparisons to the band should only be used to describe what another band is doing right, rather than to demonstrate a lack of originality, as was previously the case with these comparisons.
Overall, the EP is worth a listen, perfectly suitable for the slowly approaching winter malaise.
by Joe Veix
Home Video is our November Feature Artist. Read our interview with them here.