Thursday, August 27, 2009

The band is called ...

Excited to see Cymbals Eat Guitars show at Brooklyn Bowl tonight. Cymbals Eat Guitars ... what a great band name. Not only does it basically describe their cacophonous sound, but its also evocative of tripping on drugs (not surprising considering their lyrics). It's also totally unique, and doesn't sound too awkward rolling off the tongue. One of my favorite band names of all time belongs to the Cymbals' musical forebears, Modest Mouse. Alliterative and self-deprecating, and paradoxically seems simultaneously totally unsuitable and absolutely perfect for the band. Coming up with a good band name is an art. I could go on at length on this topic, but in the interest of not wasting time, I'll cut right to the chase and get to the point of this post: ideas for band names. If I were to form a band, what would I call it. Hear are a few ideas I've been kicking around my head:

Cookies For Breakfast

This is one of my all-time favorites, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it references the old school commercials for Cookie Crisp cereal, back when the cereal's mascots were the policeman, the burglar, and his burglar dog. I think the line came from an incredulous remark by the policeman about the absurdity of eating something as unhealthy as cookies for breakfast. Which leads to the main reason I like this band name: what's wrong with starting your morning with something delicious and totally unwholesome?

The Bulimics

Actually, I'd be surprised if there aren't already a half-dozen hardcore bands that have already adopted this moniker. And why not: it's gleefully offensive, and evokes imagery of depravity and vomiting. Additionally, if you take the average punk rock band, I guarantee that at least half of the members will look like they have some sort of an eating disorder. 

The Hearts on Fire

If I were to form a band today, this would be the name I would choose, because it references so much music that I love. I'm not talking about the Cut Copy jam, but the greatest rock song of all time, 'This Heart's On Fire' by Wolf Parade. Equally as important is the connection to the legendary Portland power-punk band The Exploding Hearts, who's sole album Guitar Romantic, I love with all of my heart. And finally, this band name is reminiscent of the greatest song name from the last few years, 'Sex on Fire,' of course.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My baby wants me dead ...

Leaving Death By Audio last night after the Vivian Girls show, I overheard a bro say to another bro "That was definitely one of the better shows I've seen in a long time." As a musical experience, I can't say I entirely agree with that bro, but as an overall spectacle, last night's show probably was one of the most memorable rock show's I've ever been to.

I show up at DBA in southwest Williamsburg a little after 8:30 pm, and was lucky I found it because there were no signs or advertisements on the street to denote its existence. I just happened on a group of hipsters starting to line up outside an unmarked door on a squalid building, and followed my intuition in. Once inside, Todd P was there personally checking IDs and marking the wrists of 21 year olds in red pen. The interior to DBA was a classic DYI Williamsburg setup, and I think I overheard someone saying that the show would have to be shut down if the police showed up.  Just two dingy, medium sized rooms, one with a stage for the performances, and the other with a merch table, and a makeshift bar selling PBR in can form. 

The show kicked off around 9:15 with openers Best Fwends, who were pretty much as retarded as their band name. I won't waste time describing their act, but suffice it to say they must have sucked dick to get on the bill, even at such a crappy venue.

Thankfully, the second group, Real Estate (picture above), were fantastic. I'd heard some buzz about them, and I kind of expected the group to be the typical Woodsist-esque lo-fi bandwagoners that are popping up in droves these days. However, they really won me over with their convincing musicianship, and jammy sound that reminded me a little bit of Yo La Tengo. I struggled through their set a little bit because the room was completely packed, and I was soaking in my own sweat, but I definitely look forward to checking out more of their stuff. Their opening song, 'Green River,' kicked ass.

After Real Estate, I briefly left the sauna-like performance room, but returned in time to catch almost all of the set by The Beets from Jackson Heights. They played straight no-frills bratty garage rock reminiscent of the Nuggets sound and the first wave of punk rockers. As one might expect from a 'Doug' referencing band, their sound was entertainingly juvenile and energetic. However, their formula got stale a little quickly, although they did do a mean version of 'Mean Mister Mustard' towards the end of the set.

In between acts, I was shocked to find myself standing next to former MTV superstar VJ John Norris, who was yammering on to some random dude. He may have been drunk, because I caught the following, somewhat embarrassing, snatch of conversation from Mr. Norris, something to the effect of: "I'm at the point where I've learned to block out what other people say about me, like 'he doesn't act his age, or he doesn't look his age.' You know what I do when I hear that kind of stuff? I stick my fingers in my ears and start saying 'NA-NA-NA-NA-NA'!"

Finally, the Vivian Girls took the stage, and the crowd went bananas. They were super high energy, imploring the audience at regular intervals to dance and make noise, and constantly remarking on how much fun they were having. Of course, they looked great. Kickball Katy was all smiles and swagger, and Cassie Ramone looked like she's just staggered out of a meth-lab, but was still in delirious mid-float. Unfortunately, the sound quality of the show was terrible. A lot could probably be blamed on the rooms acoustics, and on poor mixing. Katy's and Frankie's vocals were too low, so the band lost a lot of their girl group charm. Also, Cassie's guitars were drowned in the bass and drums. The set was composed almost entirely of new songs, which was exciting, but also disappointing in that I missed out on many of my favorites, in particular 'Where Do You Run' and 'No'. However they did a great 'Tell the World' performance. The highlight of the night was the encore, when the Girls launched into a ferocious version of 'Damaged,' that slowly became unhinged as they all traded instruments. In the song's cacophanous conclusion, Cassie, now on bass, grabbed two mic stands and held them up to her face and cooed, with eyes closed , "My baby wants me dead/ He wants to put a bullet in my head/ Tell me why, o why, does my baby want me dead?" The band pounded on their instruments making as much noise and feedback as possible for another minute before ending their show. It was a great finish to a fun, sometimes strange night.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

i'll tell the world

So, it looks like I'm going to the Vivian Girls show at Death By Audio tomorrow night. Right now it looks like I'll be rolling solo, which is cool, I'll be getting back to my Chicago-roots. 

Actually, to offset the loneliness of going to the show by myself, I plan to hookup with one of the Vivian Girls after the show. My preference would be the blonde (Cassie Ramone), but redhead Kickball Katy would be a close second. Compared to eating disorder-Cassie, Katy is pretty intimidating. She might be tough to handle. I'd settle for Frankie Rose (above, center) though if it came down to it. 

I haven't quite worked out a plan, I'm kinda new to this whole groupie thing. Maybe I'm supposed to hang around at the 'back door of the venue' after the show and wait for the band to come out. Or maybe I'm supposed to wander into their 'dressing room'? Do the Vivs already have other groupies? The though of competing against uber-hipster dudes for the affection of uber-hipster chicks frightens me, so I'll stop thinking about it. Instead, I'll move onto my next problem: how do I go about seducing a Vivian Girl? I could try coming on really strong and being hyper-flirtatious/stalkerish. Actually, I think I'll be really shy and coy around them (i.e. act my normal self) and bank on one of them misinterpreting my behavior as mysterious and inviting. I think my plan is pretty failproof. 

If everything goes smoothly, the Girls will right a song about me, preferably a retread of 'Going Insane' or 'Tell the World.' Hmmm, actually it would pretty cool if I was the inspiration for one of their heartbreak songs like 'Damaged', about getting ditched by a dude. Either way, I'll just assume any song about a dude on their next album is about me, unless it consists of them dissing the dude's sexual ability or penis size, ala-Lily Allen.

Damn, I can't wait. It's gonna be an awesome show ...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Roam, unless it's got that thing

Late one night last week, while suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation, I caved to my weaker impulses and paid an embarrasing amount of money to order a copy of the single 'Love Trinity', the final studio release from the Greatest Band of All Time, Life Without Buildings. Remarkably, the disc arrived at my apartment not 5 days later, and I found myself holding an item I had always considered a mythical document in my own 2 hands. I rabidly through the CD into my stereo system (my laptop) and hit play.

To put my excitement in perspective, I was only priorly familiar with 'Love Trinity' in its live form as the end to the A side of the incredible Live At The Annandale Hotel album. A very powerful track, I'd always considered it a sort of 'All Apologies' moment for Life Without Buildings frontwoman Sue Tompkins. Over a somber but poignant groove, Tompkins confessed "Don't leave the visual world/ I'm not willing to leave the visual world/ I'm not willing." Considering shortly after that album was recorded, the group disbanded as Tompkins left to pursue her interests in the visual arts, this statement held a lot of gravitas for me. In addition, the live version of the song closed with Tompkins murmuring "It's the end ..." as the music faded out. It has always been one of the most devastating moments in the history of pop music for me, and as such I've always viewed the studio version of 'Love Trinity' as a sort of holy grail, something that would give me a window into the Buildings legend.

As with much of the Buildings' catalogue, the studio version and live version of 'Love Trinity' seem very similar on the surface. Most of the lyrics are the same, and the tune maintains its muscular efficiency and catchiness in both forms. On its own, what sets 'Love Trinity' apart from all other Buildings songs is Tompkins vocal performance: she actually does some singing, rather than her usual spunky, cheerleader shouting. Surprisingly her singing voice turns out to be fairly melodic. She also displays a relatively high degree of lyrical economy, prefering to repeat certain key phrases over and over, instead of providing a steady stream of non-sequiters as in 'The Leanover' model of Buildings songs. As such, the listener is forced to try to figure out what she's trying to get at as she repeats "Roam, unless it's got that thing," and "It's a love trinity". Musically, the song also veers a bit from the usual Buildings blueprint: the opening features that gradual fade in of a throbbing baseline, before the usual beat and rythmic guitar riff drop in. Midway through there's also a sudden breakdown, with guitarist Robert Johnson performing probably the closest thing to a solo the band ever released. The passage is effectively melancholy, and leads into Tompkins cooing her "Roam ..." line a few more times as the song fades out. The song fits together as a beautiful whole, and fits easily in alongside the best songs of the Buildings' limited catalogue.

The single also contains 2 b-sides: 'Is Is and the IRS,' a studio outtake from the Any Other City sessions, and 'Daylighting,' which was included as a bonus on the US release City. The former appeared as the false climax on Annandale Hotel, and was a rousing, high energy moment in the live setting, with Tompkins responding to the crowd's malaise over the end of the show with a sudden "1 2 3 4!" The outtake is unpolished and a much more low key affair. The song has solid groove, but suffers from the slight, underwhelming production value that plagued parts of City. Additionally, its lyrics are remarkably bizarre and inscrutable, even by Buildings standards. All this adds up for one of the weaker songs in the Buildings canon, although it is still a fun and infectious track. 'Daylighting' comes out much better as bookend to this single than it did tacked on after 'Sorrow' on the original album. Both songs are relatively slow and quiet, which made it hard to appreciate the charms of the later track. Here it is something of a revelation: soft and bittersweet, affording another possible glimpse into the soul of Ms. Tompkins, who coos "I left you, I left you/ When we were young, when you were mine," before pleading to be "Taken to das kino." For superfans like myself, each line from Tompkins lips is worthy of over-analysis, because that is all Buildings left us with.

What's most interesting about the 'Love Trinity' single as a whole are the new directions it suggested for the band. 'Daylighting' and 'Trinity' were both slow numbers that improved upon the two ballads from the City LP, 'Envoys' and 'Sorrow.' Additionally, both displayed a lyrical directness that, while still opaque relative to just about any other band, suggest Tompkins was improving on her ability to use the sounds and imagery evoked by unrelated words to convey a particular emotional state. It is very difficult to imagine how Buildings might have evolved as a band, given the pared down signature sound of their debut. It's easy to speculate that they folded in the face of pressure to improve upon a formula that they had essentially already perfected. I however prefer to listen to the words of Sue Tompkins, and trust that artistic wanderlust was the true cause for her departure.

In all, I'm glad I made the absurd purchase, even though my Buildings thirst will never be completely quenched. Unless maybe I can get my hands on a copy of the original 'Leanover' single ... 

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Songs of the Week throwback

Remember when I used to do song of the week posts ever weeks? When I was young and full of life and and actually posted on a semi-regular basis, rather than the 0-4 times per month of late. Maybe my month off of posting has reenergized me a bit, or maybe I'm just in a perky mood, but what the hell! How about a 'songs of the week' post, for old times sake? And in a week's time I guarantee I'll either do another one, or get lazy and feel like I don't have enough time and neglect my posting.

'Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)' by Cymbals Eat Guitars

This is a new song! Cymbals Eat Guitars are a wildly talented group of 20 year old out of Staten Island who just self-released a very impressive if choppy and occasionally overproduced debut LP, Why There Are Mountains. Again, I repeat, the album is very strong, but 'Wind Phoenix' threatens to sabotage the whole mess by being almost too good. Lately I've been finding myself in the mood for some Cymbals, but I automatically skip to 'Wind Phoenix,' because I don't want to wait through the first 6 (mostly good) tracks for. The song has the overall feel of a recent Modest Mouse song, probably because it was produced by the same dude who did Mouse's last album. Now, I'm automatically suspicious of any rock song that begins with a trumpet section, but these kids have the ambition to make it all work. The song follows a very Brock-esque template, with a beginning section building to a crescendo with frontman Joseph Ferocious screaming at the top of his lungs. Then the song chills out for a bit, and builds back into the original melody from the beginning. The tune is deliciously catchy, but what gets me are the wonderfully non-sensical lyrics, my favorite being "make love to inanimate objects," followed closely by "we're not used to the pull, she said, got sent round infinity," and "eye on his liver, grayin' decayin'." As such, I have no idea what the song is about, but I don't really feel any urge to figure it all out. Definite song of the year candidate.

'Sword in the Stone' by Ted Leo

For good measure I thought I'd throw in an old song. 'Sword in the Stone' comes from a 2003 EP by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists which I recently discovered. The song in question is actually a solo affair, just Leo's melifluous voice and an electric guitar. Such is the case for the majority of the EP actually, save the rousing title track "Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead" and two throwaway dub experiments. Actually, the whole EP is fantastic, with Leo at his best: righteously pissed off, venting his fury into wonderfully catchy pop songs. I actually could have chosen any one of 4 or 5 of the tracks off the release for the prestigious song of the week status, but I chose 'Sword' because its hooks sink particularly deep, and its lyrics are some of the most pessimistic Leo has ever penned: "I'm not impressed with your desire to be the biggest in the bowl/ You'll still just be a little shit in a world that's just a big shit hole!" Once again, not really sure where the song's aimed, but given that it came out during Leo's activist phase, maybe the Bush administration? The republican led government? Knowing Leo, the meaning probably runs at least a little deeper than that. Whatever, I like to think you can direct the words from this song at anyone that you really hate: "And your crime won't make you a dime/ It's just like any other job where their gonna pay you for your time!" 

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pop music fast

I returned from a month long stay in Spain a couple of days ago, and for most of the duration of this trip I had extremely limited internet access. The first couple days of my trip were extremely busy, and without intending it, I didn't listen to any pop music. Then I decided I would see how long I could go without listening to pop music. I only lasted about 4 days before I caved, and I found myself listening to a lot of Neko Case. I’m not exactly sure what pulled me to her music, but I think it speaks to power of her songs that I chose her to break my pop music fast.  I ended up listening to, and then relistening to, her last 4 studio LPs (i.e. the Neko albums I own). This put me in a list-making mood, which I had to suppress for about 3 weeks. Now that I’ve got some time and prolonged internet access, it is my pleasure to present my top 3 Neko Case songs (as a solo artist, no New Pornos or Maow):

3. Twist the Knife

Off of Case's 2nd album, The Furnace Room Lullaby, 'Twist the Knife' sees her in full-on country soul ballad mode, belting some of the most masochistic lyrics ever put to tape: "Carefully, quietly, you took what's young from me/ Didn't deserve it, I gave it away/ Cowardly, thoughtlessly, you walk away from me/ And I'll tear my heart out to save you the day." The self-effacing lyrical content of this song would set the tone for much of Case's songwriting as her career moved forward. In addition, it boasts a killer guitar solo midway through.

2. A Widow’s Toast

This track is slotted towards the middle of Case's spectacularly spooky The Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, and album that saw her branching out lyrically into allegorical storytelling, and sonically into unusual arrangements and song structures. No song better epitomized these stylistic explorations than 'A Widow's Toast,' a thrillingly stripped down ode to loss and memory. The song is practically a capella, with only a faint background drone and the occasional guitar strum or piano note to accompany Case's piercing verses: "Better times collide with now, the tears were warm I feel them still/ They heat to vapor and disperse/ And cloud our eyes with weary glaze." A masterpiece of atmosphere, and one of the most purely beautiful songs I have ever heard. 

1. Deep Red Bells 

'Deep Red Bells,' off of Case's third album Blacklisted, is a fantastic song in its own right, but set against the context of Case's life story, it takes on a whole new meaning. The lyrics concern the Green River serial killer who took the lives of at least 48 women, mostly prostitutes, in the Seattle area throughout the 80s and 90s. Case has sighted the fear she felt as a young girl living on the streets of Tacoma, Washington during this time as her inspiration for writing the song, and nothing else she has done has so vividly evoked the sad vulnerability of her childhood. "The red bells beckon you to ride/ A handprint on the driver's side/ It looks a lot like engine oil/ And tastes like being poor and small/ And popsicles in summer," she sings. The first several verses of the song are accompanied by a swampy riff and mournful slide guitar, but the songs coda picks up to a rockabilly pace, as Neko asks "Does your soul cast about like an old paper bag/ Past empty lots, and early graves?/ For those like you who lost their way/ Murdered on the interstate/ While the red bells rang like thunder." What are the 'deep red bells'? Like much of Case's imagery, it's difficult to tell, but chances are that they represent something achingly personal, and terrifying to their author. Case has the remarkable ability to project personal emotions in her songwriting, and 'Deep Red Bells' conveys the fear and loneliness of a damaged childhood with painful clarity.