Thursday, May 28, 2009

In the wee small hours ...

Over the last few weeks I've gotten into the weird habit of putting on an album as I go to bed every night. Not sure how this got started, originally it was just one song to send me to sleepyland, then all of a sudden I started playing Any Other City by Life Without Building in its entirety every night after I'd put out the lights. For some reason I wanted to listen to a sexy brittish voice cooing suggestive non-sequiters to me over a bed warm and gooey post-punk grooves as I drifted off. The thing is, I rarely made it past 'The Leanover' before conking out, so it's not like I was even getting to enjoy the full album experience. This lasted for about a week or so, but then I started to branch out, mainly into dronier stuff like Yo La Tengo and My Bloody Valentine. Last night I was in an odd mood, and threw on Bonnie Billy's I See A Darkness. After a few songs I was wandering in and out of conciousness, but snapped back right at the conclusion of 'Black', just in time for 'Raining In Darling,' which ended my night on a near-perfect note. The habit is starting to spill over, though. Woke to my alarm at 9 this morning and decided to lay in bed for a few minutes as I didn't have any obligations until 11:30. Put on Vivian Girls for no apparent reason, heard the opening strains of 'All the Time' and immediately passed out for another 45 minutes. Oops.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Song of the Week

I'm not going to even pretend to know what week this post is supposed to represent. Who cares, this post might as well represent all of 2009 so far, because I've gotta really strain my brain to think of anything better than Japandroids 'Young Hearts Spark Fires' released in the last 5 months.

Where do I begin, this song has it all. Soaring, bleeding guitars crash into the thunderous drumming from this wondrous two man show. The duo wails each word of the song together in desperate two part harmony over a fantastically catchy melody, and their entire sound seems to be drowning in a garagey murk. Heaping praise on a two part group that can make a lot of noise and that plays lo-fi noise pop is painfully amateur right now, I'm aware. But these guys sound too damn sincere and their sound too damn timeless to be considered the product of any sort of popular fads in the indie music scene. If anything, its a blessing that they emerged in this atmosphere, because it means folks might actually give a fuck about the gloriously sloppy and unpolished music they are creating. Lets be grateful for that.

Now that I've done some ranting, I'll get back to actually talking about the song. Both sonically and lyrically it strikes directly at the confusion/romanticism/disillusionment of crossing the threshold from youth to adulthood. So much so, in fact, that I feel like if someone cleaned the song up and gave it some sparkling/nauseating production and a nasally voiced singer, it would sound just like the top of the charts pop punk that dominated the radio a few years ago during the heyday of Fall Out Boy and their ilk. Still, I feel the lack of pretension or self-awareness in both the bands delivery of their tune, and in their lyrical trappings, separates them from such potentially dangerous links. Check out some of the lyrics:
You can keep tomorrow, after tonight we're not gonna need it
Beat up, beat down, on the ground, we're too drunk to feel it

I can't help but think of some of the slacker greats of indie history listening to these guys, like Pavement, or my beloved Replacements. At the very least, its hard to deny that the tune has one of the better song titles in recent memory.

Check it out the Japandroids myspace:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Singing from my little point and aching in my every joint

I'm not quite sure I can do justice to last Thursday's Bonnie 'Prince' Billy show at the Apollo Theater due to my lengthy delay in writing about it. Thankfully, it was an impressionistic enough experience with enough highlights that I should still be able to cobble together something at least moderately representative. Here goes.

I arrived at the theater with younger brother/straight baller Rob Holowka at around 8:30. I'd had little prior experience with this part of Harlem, and it seemed pretty legit. However, once inside the theater, it was nothing but young white, hip folks, so I don't think I quite got the authentic Apollo experience. I guess I'll have to start hitting up Amature night with greater frequency. 

The opening act, Lightening Dust I believe, were on when we got in, and they were pretty dull. They played electric folk, and their frontwoman sang with a vibrato, but that's about all I remember. In between sets I wandered over to the bar to try to get some water. The wait lasted a grueling 20 minutes at least, and BPB took the stage with his band while I was still in line. After finally making it to the bar, turning down the $4 water, then returning to my seat, I suddenly recognized the words Will Oldham was singing: "Your face, your race, the way that you walk." Realizing I had just missed most of a cover of Bowie's '5 Years,' I grew irritated. '5 Years' is not only one of my favorite Bowie songs, but in my opinion one of the greatest album opening tracks of all time. Goddamn it. But I digress. Oldham had brought quite an ensemble on stage with him, between 7-8 pieces depending on if Matt Sweeney or the saxophonist were on stage. They were obviously well rehearsed, and made wondrous country-folk together. Of particular note was fiddle player and chief back-up singer, Cheyenne Meyers. I can say without reservation that this woman was an actual 10. In addition, her singing and fiddling were fantastic. Even her name is hot. I mean, 'Cheyenne'? Come on! Remarkably, however, even she was unable to upstage the presence of Will Oldham. I'd gone in with some reservations about the quality of the showmanship and performances (I mean, this guy never tours!). But Oldham leaped around stage, making wildly overdramatic gesticulations, screwing his face into exaggerated expressions, and staring wildly into the crowd. He was very economical with his between song banter, but this didn't put me off at all. He turned in some incredible vocals too, much better than what I'd been expecting from listening to his albums. And that he was able to keep his pipes going strong through the nearly 2 hour long set was all the more impressive.

If the performances of Oldham and his band were pleasantly surprising, the set list left me a bit disappointed. Once again, I had no idea what to expect in this regard going in, although I knew I probably wouldn't be familiar with a lot of the material covered given my relative unfamiliarity with most of the post I See A Darkness pre Beware BPB catalogue. Surprisingly, the band hardly touched Beware for the first hour or so if there set, but finally settled into a string of strong performances from the album. 'You Don't Love Me' and 'I Am Goodbye' were particularly rewarding, although the band left out a few of my favorites from the LP, including the title track and 'I Don't Belong to Anyone.' Overall, the songs came off as much more lush and exciting live than on the relatively turgid album. BPB and co. also took on a few Palace era tunes, notably 'The Sun Highlights the Lack in Each' and 'A Group of Women' off Arise, Therefore. The full band dynamic added new dimensions to these songs, turning their skeletal structures into fully-formed pieces that worked out wonderfully. In general, most of the the songs with which I was unfamiliar were rousing and exciting. One of the performances, for which guitarist and Superwolf collaborator Matt Sweeney took stage, was particularly memorable. It involved a story about a dude unwilling to give up his lady to another dude, and involved a campy gothic spoken word interlude in which the aforementioned Cheyenne and Oldham talked solemnly about an act of adultery committed by the former. It was exactly the kind of fun I'd been hoping for going into this concert. 

The show ended with a corny hootenany freestyle session with all of BPB's band and the members of Lightening Dust, and one song encore, brining the set to nearly 2 hours. It was a fantastic experience overall, but I can't help but think I would have enjoyed a more minimalist show even more. I envision Will Oldham and maybe a couple other dudes on stage, back in the Palace days, playing that incarnation's emotionally-bare songs of pure desperation. Those are the Will Oldham moments that speak most to me, the unfiltered expressions of the id from a confused young man. Thursday night's show, in contrast, had an air of maturity, by one who'd finally come to grips with and even grown comfortable with himself, and his station in life. It seems that all of those ideas Oldham expressed in the shimmering early BPB song 'A Minor Place' have come to fruition.  That was the kind of show I saw on Thursday, and all of that considered, it was pulled off very well.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why am I workin here, it ain't workin here!

Looks like Cam finally dropped the new album, and from the reviews, it sounds pretty wretched. While I suppose I shouldn't judge until I've heard it, I know what bad Cam'ron sounds like, and it's not pretty. That all doesn't detract from the power of former song of the week 'I Hate My Job,' now called just simply 'My Job' on the album. As a matter of fact, the album version is even better than the version that came out with the dingy video (and you don't have to listen to the guy telling Cam'ron that they're "not hiring murderers" for the zillionth time). Check it out on link below. Poor sound quality warning. At least we can resign ourselves to Cam putting out 1 transcendent track per album, but seriously, what a monumental waste of talent.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Great Moments in Songwriting, Pt. 1

In the run-up to the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy show at the Apollo a week from Thursday, here is the magnificent second verse from one of the greatest Palace songs of all time, 'The Weaker Soldier' from the masterpiece Arise Therefore album (see right).

Sold down the lane, in a way to restrain
You from calling a name and then regretting
If you say what you own, then you are always alone
And then what postpones the good death?
We are those who break laws when the cold body thaws
Who prefer breaking jaws but must lower ourselves
Unfit though we are to let you get very far
Still we would never mar your rightful dues

And I have not been feeling the same
I am not fit to carry your name
I am not fit, and I am not willing
To go on

For real, I could quote the full song, because verses 1 and 3 are just as good as two. But I love the 5th and 6th lines of this verse, 'We are those who break laws ...' Internal rhyming that would make Nas proud. The chorus of the song is what gets me though: I have not been feeling the same ... 

If you're in the right mood, it really hits you, and its almost too much to take.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Vivz + Timez Nu Viking @ Ballroom

Hit the Bowery Ballroom tonight for an absolutely killer double bill: Times New Viking and the Vivian Girls. There was an opening act too, wonderfully named 'Stupid Party,' but I missed them because I was seeing the new Star Trek movie. Got out of the movie (which was fucking rad) at ~9:46, and ran to the Bowery Ballroom from the Regal Theater at Union Square. Less than 10 minutes later I was there (felt like I was goin sub-7 along the way). Lady at the door assured me TNV hadn't gone on yet, so I hit the bathroom. As I was finishing up, I heard the crowd begin to cheer on the floor above me. Almost perfect timing.

As I made my way up the stairs to the performance area, Adam (the drummer) was saying something about "... our president smokes cigarettes," and then they launched into their first song (which I don't remember). It was a pretty standard TNV show: rapid-fire Ramones-esque pace, with the brief between song interjections by Adam (ex. "This song isn't about drugs"). Unfortunately, something about the band felt limp and bedraggled, unfortunate considering their tour just began. They just didn't seem to be having that much fun on stage, quite a contrast from the last time I saw them play at P4k '08. Beth looked positively haggard: maybe it was the lighting, but the bags beneath her eyes looked like they weighed a ton each. Whatever, I was still hypnotized by her, especially when she ditched the keyboards for a bright red electric guitar when the band played one of the 'new songs.' Actually, the song totally sucked, which highlights another major problem I had with the show: they didn't do my favorite songs. In fact, they hardly touched Ripped Off, playing maybe 3 songs from their breakout LP from last year. And they didn't play 'Teenage Lust!'! Goddamn it, that's all I really wanted! Egregiously, their set lasted approximately ~27 minutes, then they made a swift exit. I mean, I'm all about the Ramones thing, but that's going a little too far. Especially when they missed so many awesome tunes. At least they did 'Call and Respond,' maybe their 2nd best song. And when they were playing, I was definitely going ga ga. But c'mon, 27 minutes? What was the big hurry? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, and just assume drug consumption contributed to the early departure. But honestly, after getting so pumped for this show, I was a little disillusioned afterwards.

Thankfully the Viv Grrlz kicked ass. Their set was even more Ramones like in terms of loud fast songs with few short positives, but unlike TNV, they were excited and full of energy. I'm not as familiar with their stuff, but the passion they brought to their girl-group-surf-punk-lo-fi-garage rock odes to the disorienting highs and lows of love was intoxicating, and the crowd loved every minute of it. I'm a pretty expressive music fan, but even I was embarrassed by how some of the dudes were responding to the music. But honestly, who could blame them? Cassie Ramone and Kickball Katy were positively babelicious (shwing!), and the fun they were having was contagious. I'll even forgive them for skipping over their best song ('Where Do You Run' of course). Especially awesome was when they started to jam out on their last few songs, and let the shoegazey distortion slip into overdrive. The set concluded with the Vivz rotating instruments, which somehow turned out to be awesome. It was so enthralling that I wasn't even that disappointed when the Gurlz left without an encore. Great show.

Stuck around for a moment afterwards, and saw Beth Murphy chatting with some altish looking randos, probably just fans. I hovered for a bit hoping to get in a word with my goddess idol, but these bros would not quit. In the end, I took inspiration from Hutch Harris, and "I let it go." Perhaps the next time. And hopefully TNV will put a little more life into it then.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Songs of the Week (5/3)

Yeah, it's been a while. I'm busy, okay? Anyways, this is an extra special addition of 'songs of the week': the first ever videos of the week. It just so happens that my songs of the week have ill videos. Now, I still haven't figured out how to embed videos into my blog, so you'll just have to follow the damn link. But trust me, it will be worth it.

'I Hate My Job' by Cam'ron

Remember 'I.B.S.' off of Cam'ron's ill-fated Killa Season? Cam had spent most of that album, and it's forerunner Purple Haze, cultivating his image as a complete dick-head. In between his incredible free-associative lyrical wordplay, Cam'ron came off as an arrogant prick. Although this persona was charismatic to a certain point, it ultimately led to his downfall, and contributed to his alienation from virtually the entire rap community. 'I.B.S.' however was the one moment in which Cam let his guard down and spoke from the heart about the crippling gastrointestinal affliction that had had him contemplating suicide. I've sung its praises before on this blog, so I'll say no more, but I wanted to draw the connection to this new joint, the first track released from the long delayed Killa Season follow-up, Crime Pays. 'I Hate My Job' is a return to Cam'ron's vulnerable side, a canny move considering his current position in the eyes of most rap fans. His first verse comes from "the average everyday working woman," quite a departure for this avowed misogynist. The second verse details the struggles of an unemployed dude who gets patronized and rejected at job interviews, then returns home to find his woman is throwing him out of the house. Cam'ron tells the story humorously with his standard lyrical flare, and it would be easy to read this song as a context specific appeal to the common man. However, I see something a little deeper. Check out the chorus:

I put on my pants, put on my shoes 
I pray to god, paid all my dues
I'm tryin' to win, seems like I was born to lose
All I can say (yeah yeah yeah yeah)
I say let me through, but they won't let me through
You wanna quit?
Goddamn I'm ready to
The lifestyle I'm livin', ain't steady boo
All I can say ...

For once, Cam is seeming to acknowledge that he's in dire straights, and that he's dug himself into a hole from which he might not escape. With his career on the skids, it sounds like he's contemplating giving up and moving on. I'd wager that much will be determined by how Crime Pays fares. With this track though, I'd be cautiously optimistic about Cam's future. Of course it helps that the beat is a marvelous, catchy throwback to Kanye's early chipmunk soul days, sort of like 'Let The Beat Build' but much better. The video looks like it cost about $60 to make, which probably works to the song's favor. It's also hilarious. Check it out:

'Lessons Learned' by Matt and Kim

It feels totally entry level to post about this video, since its already been buzzing around the internet for a few weeks. But what the fuck, its a great video, and I'm hooked on the song. I love how Matt's super upbeat, chirpy vocals contrast with ultra emo lyrics: 'And so I stayed up all night/ Slept in all day/ This is my life/ Thinking 'bout tomorrow won't change how I feel today!' Also, the video really caters to my fascination with public nudity. It's a remarkable feat, even if certain moments seem a bit staged. I love the part where Matt casually tosses his underwear into the sky. See for yrself: