Sunday, August 26, 2007

pitchfork strikes out again!

since starting mr. mammoth, i've made an effort to keep my public relationship with pitchfork cordial. i mean, they were really important a few years ago, and i know i got introduced to some seriously good artists because of them (even though it took me a little while to take their opinions with more than one grain of salt). however, i really can't stay silent any longer. i think the sluts' practice of referring to them as bitchfork is more than a little puerile, but pitchfork (pitchdork?) has become so unbearably intoxicated with their self-ordained position as preacher of indiedom that the only reason to look at the site nowadays is for news. still, i do get suckered in by their reviews and the best new music section - after all, they are fucking iconic. but as of two days ago, i decided i'd had enough.

pitchfork has always taken a rather odd approach towards classifying what is the "best" of new music, arbitrarily awarding the "best" label to albums that tend to be more controversial than actually outstanding. before i learned better, i bought several albums based on pitchfork's say so, only to feel as if i wasted my money (which i had). this year's best new music list already numbers twenty-five, which doesn't include their "recommended" releases. true, lots of good albums have been released this year, but pitchfork increasingly seems unwilling to cut through their often self-generated hype and call a spade a spade (or a mediocre album a mediocre album). the newest addition to the best new music category has really been the last straw for me. maybe pitchfork is using this category like the oscars, when good actors get the award for bad movies, as a way of apologizing for not giving earlier work appropriate praise. at least, that's the only reason i can guess at for pitchfork's inclusion of caribou's new effort andorra on that list.

the man responsible for andorra's review (and BNM nod) is mark richardson, none other than pitchfork's managing editor! aside from that, i know nothing about him except that he prefers to contextualize the album, as if by namedropping other bands he can cover up the plain and simple fact that he doesn't really know anything about this album (like, for example, that it's not very good). pitchfork's reviewing m.o. seems to be that modern sound can best be described through its similarities to older music: thus, we get richardson's exhaustive list of artists caribou sounds like, in the first paragraph. yet for all of richardson's exhaustive referencing, andorra doesn't really sound like the beach boys, the mamas & papas, or the zombies. it sounds like caribou. ultimately, by opening his article with a deluge of RIYL: caribou artists, richardson proves nothing as much as his own inability to confront andorra's obvious failings, disguising this with a hollow trumpeting of caribou's current "AM radio" sound.

by no means is this richardson's only fault, yet he blunders through the article without bothering to question andorra's innate quality, or his own hypotheses. for example, he casually refers to andorra as the first time that "[caribou] seems to be paying attention to chords and melodic progression first." now, i'm not exhaustively versed in caribou's back catalog, but as a proud lover of two of his previous albums, up in flames and the milk of human kindness, i would consider myself rather familiar with his style, and if there's one thing daniel snaith (the man behind the mammal) doesn't lack for, it's melodies. his previous works have been stuffed full of melodies, from the antsy toe-tapper "lord leopard," to the joyful and climactic "bijoux," and i would go as far to say that andorra actually contains fewer snaith melodies than we've come to expect. perhaps richardson feels that one melody per song is enough - that alone explains his deep affection for the oft-repetitious andorra. but for those of us who have been keeping track of snaith's artistic (and melodic) progression, this effort seems lacking.

as a writer (and a recent college graduate), i've been known to make some fairly substantial diction errors, but the outrageous metaphor that richardson uses to open his fourth paragraph trumps even my worst ones. referencing "desiree," andorra's midpoint, richardson shares this totally arbitrary metaphor: "we know from her name that this girl might trip down the streets with the association's windy, perhaps looking for kicks or waiting for mary to come along." call me a cultural boor, but fuck me if i know what the hell he's trying to say there. come on mark, let's use some english. try this on for size: "'desiree' is, at its heart, the closest snaith comes to a stripped down soulful ballad, the antithesis of the image he has worked so hard to cultivate over his three previous album, a song so devoid of both lyrical and musical content that one usually enjoys andorra more by passing over this track (and the next one) to 'sundialing,' one of the album's best songs." a bit long, i know, but i wanted to get it all in one sentence (and you should see the length of some of the ones richardson spits out). a few sentences later, we see this gem: "then there's 'sandy' and 'irene," also [like desiree] names more likely in 2007 to belong to grandmothers." wow. mark, thank you so much for your input on trends in naming! how valuable this comment has been to my understanding and enjoyment of andorra. (i wikipediad the association; forgive me if they're familiar names in your household, but i think referencing a song that hit #7 in 1966 as common knowledge is is a TAD arrogant.) furthermore, richardson makes the baldly audacious claim that the name "desiree" automatically "dates it perfectly," as if no one named desiree could have been born after 1966 (untrue, as one of my sister's friends is named desiree, just for the record).

one reason richardson finds this album to be so delightful is because of snaith's unprecedented reliance on his own vocal cords. while i need not remind you that both up in flames and the milk of human kindness did include singing, it is true that, in andorra, snaith uses his voice in a new way - as that of a "proper" songwriter, as richardson claims. i fail to understand how caribou could have released three albums without being a songwriter - maybe richardson can only fully understand songs when they are carried by a voice - a severe failure for a music critic.

indeed, it is plain to almost any ears that andorra is a step backwards for caribou, an unwarranted, unnecessary, and unwanted change in what has otherwise been a distinguished career. while retaining some parts of his previous sound (though not as many as some would hope for), caribou has been completely overhauled, generating an album that does not seem to have logically followed the milk of human kindness in the slightest.

ironically (to my ears), what mark richardson praises the most about andorra are its biggest failures. we've already discussed the vapid "desiree," one of richardson's favorite tracks, and while we agree that "melody day" is probably andorra's best song, he feels as if "sundialing" is a misstep by snaith, a tired "return to the repetitious neu!-isms" of his last album, i believe it to be one of the few cuts on this album that actually sounds like caribou.

regardless of andorra's innate quality, mark richardson's review is pathetic. while demonstrating a complete lack of appreciation for the caribou sound, he also takes it upon himself to add illogical, arbitrary, and ridiculous addenda to most of his statements; we've already seen his comments on names like "desiree," "sandy," or "irene;" there are many richardson asides that are superior even to these. for example, here are richardson's thoughts on caribou's buoyant and joyful sound, his very hallmark since start breaking my heart: "a half-decade after the elephant 6 movement first started to fade, snaith's move can be seen as risky, but it succeeds, oddly enough, in part because of the one-man-band nature of his project." where to begin? with richardson's need to say "half-decade" instead of "five years"? or maybe his ability to disregard all of caribou's previous output of high-energy electronic joy (which is six years old, therefore pre-empting the "half-decade" of decline elephant 6 has experienced)? in fact, because richardson puts all of his references to past caribou albums in the first paragraph, it begs the question of whether or not he's listened to more than one song off each. from his glowing endorsement of andorra, it seems unlikely.

caribou - "sundialing." buy andorra here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

countdown to connect!

well well well - only one week until connect, and i haven't said a single thing about it! how remiss i've been. i hope this makes up for it, and whets your appetite for what will surely be the most attractive festival of the summer. located in inveraray, on the shores of loch fyne, connect has secured a lineup even more appealing than its location for its inaugural year. i'm really fucking excited for the show, as i haven't been lucky enough to see most of these bands even once. also, i'm a festival virgin.

so, here's a list of the acts i'm most excited for, in no particular order. the set times haven't been released yet, so i don't know what conflicts there will be, but if i have to decide between two gallants and the hold steady, i won't be a happy camper.

the aliens - "setting sun"
king creosote - "grace" (jeff buckley cover)
super furry animals - "tradewinds"
the go! team - "keys to the city"
the jesus and mary chain - "just like honey"

two gallants - "you losin' out"
modest mouse - "king rat"
the hold steady - "knuckles"
mogwai - "we're no here"

m.i.a. - "paper planes"
hot chip - "my piano"
lcd soundsystem - "all my friends" (live on kcrw)
patrick wolf - "the libertine"
bjork - "earth intruders"
the polyphonic spree - "guaranteed nightlite"

by no means are these the only bands i'm planning on seeing, but i'm most excited for them / have some of their tunes. there are a number of bands i've heard of but haven't actually heard which i'd like to find time to check out, but we'll see how it all plays out. i'm also hoping to do day-by-day posts, with pictures and few words, and do a big long post afterwards. connect starts friday august 31st and concludes sunday september 2nd, and tickets are still available here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


certain artists make great news: for new dirt on amy winehouse, pete doherty, or bradford cox you certainly won't have to work too hard, and the results are always amusing. but some bands never make news. when was the last time you saw jón Þór birgisson in the news for boozing, cocaine, or questionable revelations about poo? right. that was never. that's because birgisson, frontman of the simply lovely icelandic quartet known as sigur ros, is a delicate and restrained person (not that you'd ever guess from their songs). in fact, i'd lay a handsome wager that, when the 'ros boys say they want to get together for a drink, they're talking about soda pop. why all this fiddlefaddle about the drinking habits of sigur ros? because i couldn't think of a better way to open this post.

here's the real deal: the world's favorite icelanders (yeah, bjork, i said it) have been busy boys (though you'd never guess it from the torrent of press releases we've seen). the music slut reported today that they're lending two old songs to a leonardo dicaprio documentary, 11th hour, to be released tomorrow, but we haven't heard much from the 'ros in a while (unless, of course, you actually listen to what nme has to say). here to rectify these reporting inequities is, well, me.

first of all, they've got a movie of their own coming out. entitled "heima," the film documents their 2006 tour through iceland. rather than have me butcher a number of fine icelandic words, here are some of the places they played. "heima" is set to be released on november 5th, the same day as the sigur ros compilation disc "hvarf-heim." "hvarf" features new studio versions of four live standards, while "heim" is made up of six acoustic takes on old sigur ros classics. in peripheral sigur ros news, amiina is currently touring north america. sadly, i will not be in attendance as i am not in north america.

so, there you are, all fresh and caught up with the news from the unparalleledly (not a word) awesome sigur ros. what you do with it is up to you. but i'll be biding my time until 11/5 and saving up.

here's the heima trailer:

sigur ros - "von" (live in reykjavik 1999)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

slint performing "spiderland," glasgow, 8/20/07

from the start of david pajo's bewitching riff in "breadcrumb trail," it is instantly obvious that spiderland is no ordinary album - that's why i went to go see slint perform it last night in glasgow. i'd never before been to a don't look back concert, and i had never really thought about how odd it would be; after all, even when you see a band with only an EP, they don't play the songs in order - a live show deliberately disrupts the order and regularity of an album, injecting a new sense of vitality into songs heard a thousand times through headphones. but the point of don't look back is to consciously reject the traditional live concert, an idea that i didn't even consider before going to this show. as a result, it was weird, mostly because slint isn't a band anymore - all they play is this album, basically. as isn't even forty minutes long, slint tacked on some extra songs at the end, giving us a little more punch for our pounds, but fundamentally, slint only exists now as a vehicle for spiderland's live performance.

spiderland did feel like a performance more than a concert - the difference being attending a classical recitation or watching the holy steady shred in front of you. slint played their opus (which they themselves must be sick to death of) with detached perfection, delivering a show that was in no way different than the album's i've listened to so many times (i took two movies, of "don, aman," and "washer," and their lengths are less than ten seconds different than the studio versions). for me, the show was confusing at first - why did the album, which has produced such admiration and emotion in me, suddenly feel so dead? then i realized it was because slint themselves were dead - not literally, of course, but basically in every other sense. these songs which they had written, riddled with seething angst (however reserved), these songs were not played by the band that had written them, but by a band that performed them as an homage. ironically (yet still sadly), slint only came alive, and only for a brief moment, during "good morning captain," spiderland's final track. in fact, i don't believe anyone but vocalist brian mcmahan actually opened their mouths during the show, except for drummer britt walford's guest turn at vocals for "don, aman." the crowd was most appreciative, clapping and whooping at every song, as if they were surprised by what the next one would be, but one clearly got the sense that slint would have played exactly the same whether there were 400 or 4 people at the show. granted, slint's music doesn't necessarily lend itself to much more than restraint, but the extent to which slint went to to ensure the audience knew it was a performance, not a concert, was rather disheartening.

the stage setup was more than a little odd, with mcmahan's mic set almost entirely on stage right, so that he would have been just a profile to anyone in front of him - fortunately, i set up directly in front of paho, so i was able to see the whole band. walford and pajo sat opposite each other in the center of the stage for "don, aman," a nice effect, but one that didn't see to have any discernible purpose. abc's lights were terribly bland, and nearly the entire set was blue and pink, only changing colors very late in the set.

i was a little worried about the length of the show, considering spiderland clocks in at less than forty minutes, but slint tacked on a few songs at the end, namely "glenn" and "rhoda" from their 1994 self-titled ep, and a new song called "king's approach," in which pajo's work with early man is an almost overpowering influence. a long (and very heavy) instrumental jam, "king's approach" really did not communicate any part of the slint aesthetic, and really sounded as if it would be more appropriate at a metal show. because "king's approach" is a new song, rumors have abounded about a reunited slint releasing an album, but there didn't seem to be any serious chemistry between any of its members - they looked pained to even be on the same stage as the others, which must be why there was so much physical distance between them onstage.

all in all, seeing spiderland made me sad. i feel bad for slint, performing the same songs each night in the same order, songs that they wrote sixteen years ago when they were different people in a different place. yet this spiderland tour has none of the excitement of an ordinary "greatest hits" show, just a cold, dead emptiness. yes, the music was superb, but we knew that; what i paid for was a chance to see slint. what i saw was a shell of them, and that is a shame.

"don, aman"


Monday, August 20, 2007

best concert of the year (projected):

final fantasy and cadence weapon at bowery ballroom on november 11.

i've never had the opportunity to see either one, and seeing them together - it boggles the mind. what makes this SO very exciting is their collaboration on CBC earlier this year, each playing three songs. i would be VERY surprised if we don't get some crossover action at this show, and you best recognize that doing anything else on that night is pure folly. unfortunately, the bowery presents has sold out to the devil, so you'll have to pay fees for corporate bitches, unless you can get down to mercury lounge.

final fantasy - "the lamb sells condos" buy he poos clouds here.
cadence weapon - "black hand" buy breaking kayfabe here.
final fantasy & cadence weapon - "this is the dream of win and regine" (live on CBC)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

playing catch up

i decided to take a week to relax, for no other reason than i was tired (and writing a long-ass article for the wonder boy review), which is why my posting has been rather lethargic. here's what you might have missed this week:

1. nyc-ers: we're probably gonna lose mccarren pool as the site of some of the summer's best and freest shows. mayor bloomberg wants to make mccarren park pool a year-round recreation center with a full-time pool...but where else can 4000 people see YACHT? (where else would 4000 people want to see YACHT?) i'm really sad...i've seen some really quality shows there (both free and for ca$h money), and it's one of the best large spaces in new york (god knows summerstage doesn't cut it). if you feel sore about it, as i do, try filling out NYC Parks & Recreation's survey here, and maybe we can have a polyphonic spree/patrick wolf show next summer.

2. i found out about aol's spinner earlier this week, and have spent all the wireless time i can steal downloading shows, like this week's performance by art brut. eddie and co. burn through an alternate version of "pump up the volume," "post soothing out," "direct hit," and their classic "good weekend." you definitely get the sense that art brut don't work as well without an audience to feed off of, but, if you've been paying attention, that's old news.

3. dead flowers has a fucking sick dj shadow set from 1997. the sound quality is excellent, as is the set itself.

4. this is definitely old news, but def jux offered another aesop rock track from his upcoming none shall pass, which features john darnielle, among others. dropping august 28, none shall pass is a-rock's third full length, and "citronella," the new track is produced by rock, a murky mess of thick bass and horns and the command to "kill your television." he plays irving plaza on september 9.

aesop rock - "citronella"

5. i've got another feature in the works. titled "the regret files," it will be profiling bands that aren't around any more that i wish were. the first story is on out hud, and i hope to publish it tomorrow or tuesday.

6. i'm seeing slint tomorrow night!

7. i had a dream about o'death last night. odd...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

who needs english? - peatbog faeries

well, seeing as i'm in scotland, what better time to do a post on such a quintessentially scottish band? sure, belle & sebastian nail the glaswegian moroseness very well, but you don't see them clad in kilts, do you? well, if you are lucky enough to see peatbog faeries in concert, you will. hailing from the isle of skye, the largest of the hebrides, peatbog faeries are one of the most popular contemporary celtic bands around. their website boasts of tours as far away as borneo and botswana, and to america, australia, and the rest of europe, and they habitually make the rounds at scottish festivals every year, like their appearance at the the hebridean celtic festival earlier this summer. scottish born and bred, the faeries have honed their sound over five albums, insistently assimilating trance, house, and drum n' bass elements into their scots sound. fronted by peter morrison, their piper and primary songwriter, the faeries defy tradition with the inclusion of the wayward boys (saxophone and trombone), and new inductee greame stafford on keyboards, all while manufacturing unmistakably celtic jams.

while the faeries take their heritage very seriously (morrison and bassist innes hutton both usually wear kilts during shows, and the few words they sing are in gaelic), their music is what has been christened "celtic fusion," the organic blending of indigenous international sounds with the traditional scottish one. almost exclusively instrumental, peatbog faeries rely on morrison and fiddler adam sutherland to create brisk melodies that the rest of the band flesh out into ceilidh tunes for the post-rave generation.

the faeries' sound has matured since their first record, 1996's mellowosity, which was dominated by looser jams, thick organ, and more of a folk sound, a genre they have noticeably strayed from. faerie stories, their second release, brought them a small measure of success and european recognition, with good reason - it remains their best album. faerie stories was a major turning point for the band, with its unprecedented reliance on a synthesizer, and a much more upbeat sound overall, which causes toes to tap about thirty seconds into its opening song, "martin roachfords / the oyster womans rant." released five years after their debut, faerie stories became the blueprint for the current peatbog sound, rejecting the pub session feel for articulated production and a denser overall composition. 2003's welcome to dun vegas (the faeries are a bunch of jokers: peter morrison lives in the town of dunvegan on the isle of skye) re-trod the steps faerie stories had taken, slimming the songs down to their dancingest essentials, showcasing a band happy and confident with their sound. on 2005's croftwork (didn't i tell you they were jokers?), the faeries made the decision to add a new layer to their sound - the wayward boys, sax and trombone, who had played with acts as diverse as sir elton john and kylie minogue. despite this, croftwork was a disappointing album with some of the faeries' best songs - it was the other eight tracks that left a listener wanting. the title track was heavier than anything peatbog faeries had written previously, and it quickly became a live fan favorite, along with "scots on the rocks" and "the anthropologist." perhaps signifying their own discomfort with the album, the faeries played only three or four songs from it, even for the croftwork tour. now, in 2007, they have just released their fifth album, what men deserve to lose (on their very own peatbog label), purported to be their danciest release yet. i haven't heard it, so i'm not one to judge, but, as their last three releases have proved, peatbog faeries are happy with their sound, and it's doubtful it has changed since.

i've had the good fortune to see peatbog faeries three times, each of which was well satisfying and loads of fun. they have a few upcoming gigs, two in england, one at the glasgow proms, and some random dates throughout the rest of the year, including what will no doubt be a bitching new years' eve in inverness.

peatbog faeries - "the folk police" from faerie stories and "croftwork" from croftwork

buy all the peatbog faeries merchandise your heart desires here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

let's play the exclamation point game!

alas!, poor tan! if thunderbirds are now! and the go! team hadn't emerged around the same time, tan! might stand a chance of being the coolest band with a ! in their name (i don't personally like !!!, thank you very much). anyway, the fact that tan! and the go! team sound somewhat similar doesn't really help, because the go! team is, actually, much better than thunderbirds are now! at the spastic pop thing, as tan!'s third effort, make history, proves (also, their inclusion in forget remember when isn't really a ringing endorsement either).

i've tried hard to like make history, but it's time to face the facts: there's really only one great track on the album, and that's "why we war." if every tan! song sounded like "why we war," then pitchfork would be premiering their video this week, instead of this one. it's not that the other songs on make history are flops, they're just missing the little bit of oomph "why we war" has, unfortunately. and oomph is exactly why "why we war," in fucking spades. jagged, angular, with more than a daub of political angst, "why we war" comes right in the middle of the album, when you start to realize that you might've made a mistake in buying it. "why we war" is placed back-to-back with the other standout song on the album, "sound issues/smart ideas," and you start to cheer up, thinking that maybe make history just got off to a slow start - but no, it's just rather plain throughout, actually.

okay, "plain" sells make history short. it is filled with vibrancy, excitement, and spastic melodies, and i have been known to jump around and thrash to it, in the privacy of my own home. but it gets repetitive, and fast. "the veil comes down," the album's second track, is more worth skipping than sitting through, and the semi-ballad "shit gold," while adopting a different style than most tan! songs, isn't worth much either. but "why we war" is propelled mostly by ryan allen's nasalized shout/singing and a regular beat, and a sweet-ass breakdown chorus with some kind of synthesizer. tan! achieves a balance on this song - it is compelling not merely because the melody is more pleasing, or easier to dance to, but because it is not over the top, stuffed to the point of overflow with effects and angles. "why we war" is assured, straightforward, and has a maracas (always worth bonus points). mostly, however, "why we war" is make history's best track because it simply rocks. even with the maracas and synth and other fun bits, "why we war" is simple - it makes you want to dance, maybe yell out a "fuck bush" just for fun, and doesn't require all that much from the listener - and, really should a dancepunk song do more than that?

thunderbirds are now! - "why we war." buy make history on frenchkiss here.

p.s. - i counted 18 exclamation points, not counting the one in the title.

p.p.s. - here's a video from a band with more than one good song with lots of exclamation points.

Monday, August 13, 2007

this week at the fringe

well, you know that mr. mammoth is a music blog, but in case you're a little more cultured and like theater and spectacle as well as aural stimulation, here's my report on some shows i saw this week at the edinburgh festival. it was my birthday yesterday (woop woop), and i awarded myself the present of a ticket to the show that has been hyped beyond belief (and, possibly, beyond what it deserves) - i speak of none other than fuerzabruta. i also saw on danse, at the edinburgh international festival, and traces, playing at assembly rooms (where i am casually employed, get into shows for free, and presently biting off their free wifi). other shows of the week included best western and life in a marital institution, neither which were especially good or noteworthy.

on danse was very disappointing, considering how awesome its press photo was. the choreography was pretty incredible and humorous at the beginning of the show - frenetic, spastic dancing to calm, regulated classical music (all pieces by jean-phillipe rameau) - but it became rather tired less than halfway through the show. it was the uk premiere of the work by compagnie montalvo-hervieu, and a major centerpiece of the edinburgh international festival (different from the fringe, eif shows play only for a few days at most, and caters to an entirely different sort of audience). the crux of on danse was the projection screen that covered the entire back of the stage, on which hyperbolic and fantastic images were displayed, ones that the dancers on stage frequently interacted with. a fine trick, no doubt, and a finer one if i hadn't seen little howard recently. no, on danse's video was pretty neat, though also the source of their greatest shortcoming. the lighting of the show was simply atrocious. every performer had a line across their midsection, where the projector cut off at the bottom, a problem that could have easily been ameliorated with the addition of front lights, yet was not. the directors (mssrs. montalvo and hervieu) tried to inject a narrative of what dance is by inserting brief verbal sections at different points throughout the show, which, in reality, frequently served little purpose. on danse seemed crippled by its own potential - the images of elephants dancing on carpets was, once seen in context, deeply unsatisfying, a mere video trick, and one that was carried out without any of the physical exuberance of the dancing itself.

traces was an entirely different story. i see its poster every day, when i rush into assembly rooms (afraid of being late for the show i'm working on), which is now plastered with four- and five-star reviews, and i decided, one day last week, that i would go see it. so i did. it was pretty fucking cool. all heady lights and dank music (i'm not trying to sound like a stoner), and some of the more impressive acrobatic feats i've seen. the five person show is made up of people slightly older and younger than i, which really puts my inability to do a cartwheel in stark light. traces presents us with a emotionally and physically fragile setting, a veritable dystopia, into which these five kids are abruptly thrust. they mix work and play, catapulting their bodies every which way, performing from the pure joy and exhilaration of it - the pleasure they take it obvious every second of the show. interspersed with brief sketches - a member put in jail, a game show where the wrong answer results in death - traces is chock-full of darkness and desperation, sandwiched between amazing acrobatics that are all joy and light - dancing with a chintz sofa, or synchronized skateboarding. traces is visually stunning, a complete entanglement of the senses, and one of the rare shows that actually transports the viewer.

and now, fuerzabruta. if you're in edinburgh, you know that you cannot leave your flat without coming face to face with a flyer for this show - plastered on walls, billboards, buses, it is inescapable. also, very good. fuerzabruta is the second brainchild of the creators of de la guarda, a show that i know played in new york for many years, but one that i never went to (also, de la guarda is that rare phenomenon [fuerzabruta is as well] - a socio-cultural event without a wikipedia page). fuerzabruta's essential image is of a man running, and, indeed, it is a sight repeated several times throughout the show. lodged in the black tent, a self-designed space suited for the strangeness within, fuerzabruta is at times outlandish, at others a contradiction, but is most frequently amazing. after viewing fuerzabruta, one really gets a sense of what the term "total theater" actually means - not only does the show break the fourth wall, it breaks the first three as well. at the beginning, the audience is led in an empty, open space, demarcated most noticeably by four large pillars, light/sound/fog machine rigs that probably also serve as support for the tent. instinctively huddling in the middle, the crowd then parts, at the behest of the crew, for a wheeled structure - a skeletal metal frame with a stairway at one end - upon which a man runs, in a shirt and tie, on a moving walkway. he is shot once, then again, and after that, the show surrenders any attempt at narrative, choosing wisely to focus on the spectacle instead. fuerzabruta is a patchwork quilt made from a limited supply of fabric - despite the sheer beauty and originality of the work, too often were the most imaginative aspects of the piece recycled and reused, which begs the question of whether or not a narrative actually exists. the running man opens and closes the show - why? if fuerzabruta is not the kind of show you can ask that question of, then it behooves its director to imagine new elements of breathtaking splendor.

i don't want to give away fuerzabruta, in case you are in edinburgh, or are planning on seeing it at some point in the future, but i will answer two questions for you.

1. is it worth the appallingly high sum of £25 for a ticket? no.
2. is it pretty frickin cool? yes.

the thing that irked me and my date the most is that the show was only an hour long - we felt fleeced, to say the least. fuerzabruta positions itself as a part of the fringe festival, where most shows are an hour long, but by locating itself outside of the fringe (literally, in another city, leith), it consciously defies inclusion in the fringe - a troubled relationship. also, since this is a music blog, i feel compelled to note that i felt the music IN the show was excellent, but the pre- and post-show tunes were drab, old, and the very antithesis of what i felt the show to represent - something fresh, exciting, and not "intergalactic planetary" or "insane in the membrane." i can't guarantee that fuerzabruta is worth it -£25 is a lot of money, even for something as special and unique as this show is. and, despite my feelings of being let down by the length of the show, the reusing of original ideas so that they seem less original, and the appalling song selection by the djs, i fully and totally enjoyed fuerzabruta - it is really something i've never seen before, and am not likely to see again.

this is fuerzabruta's trailer:

photos courtesy of the edinburgh blog and beelzebub h disco.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

i fucking love anticon.

i don't think it can be much more obvious than that. my love is newfound, however - i didn't start enjoying anticon. releases until march of this year - a shameful admission, possibly, but it hasn't been for lack of trying. for years previous, i gave multiple anticon. artists multiple listens, without any of them resonating. why? was the first anticon. artist i listened to, only because the person who first reviewed his sanddollars ep for my college radio station was absolutely smitten with it. needless to say, i was not. but ears mature, thank god, and mine are evidently at the age where acerbic beats, stream-of-consciousness ramblings, and utterly insensible combinations of sounds and words are exactly what the doctor ordered. for years, i had looked at the cLOUDDEAD lp in my record store in wonder - what a strange name for a band, i thought. well, no shit, it's a strange fucking band. to be fair, cLOUDDEAD isn't on anticon, though that seems to be more of an accident than anything else, as all three members of the group (doseone, why?, and odd nosdam) are independently signed to the label. anyway, so cLOUDDEAD's self-titled full length had stared back at me from the shelves of my local record shop, and, finally, earlier this year, i gave in. since then, basically, it's been non-stop. 13 & God, telephone jim jesus (who i'd also been interested in for a while, because of this) - a friend turned me on to sole, (whose recent poly.sci.187 is excellent), subtle (another technically "non-anticon" band featuring doseone and jel, two of anticon's most prominent artists), buck 65 (whose 2006 ep dirty work is available in its entirety for free) - so frequently it seems that anticon. is more than a label - more than the collective that they call themselves, even - anticon. is (dare i say it?) a state of mind. few labels have anticon.'s commitment to genre-busting, to encouraging such dramatic and lucid reimaginings of hip hop.

which brings me to two pieces of "news," called such because they are definitely not, but are to me. the first is that anticon has a podcast, and a bitching one at that. it seems to be updated with no regularity at all - sj esau dropped a mix early in july, and dax pierson (of subtle) did on in april, but before that was a christmas mix, a september one, and two from may 2006 - a collection of unreleased tracks by jel and a pre-album teaser by alias. my limited and irregular internet access means i've only had the chance to download one of the podcasts, and my appetite has been whetted.

the second piece of news has me close to salivating (not just because i haven't eaten lunch) - there's a new telephone jim jesus album coming out! really, i am so fucking excited for this - the track available for DOWNLOAD, "a mouth of fingers," is just as full-bodied and layered as anything off a point too far to astronaut, and is even more exuberant in its complexity. there are times, as a writer, when you are just thrust into the verbal shadows by what others have written on the same topic, and that is the case with anticon.'s description of the work - "a multihued textile of living song that can be admired both for its constituent parts—mini opuses with aural narratives unto themselves—and as a subtly evolving whole." whether TJJ's new album deserves such lauding remains to be seen - anywhere out of the everything doesn't come out until september 25 - a date that is turning into one of the most promising tuesdays of the year.

normally, i hate things that are just available for streaming, but this is most definitely better than nothing -

telephone jim jesus - "a mouth of fingers" from anywhere out of the everything

UPDATE: paper thin walls has "a mouth of fingers" available for download! read the interview here, and enjoy the direct link to the mp3 here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

some thoughts on britain

i moved in to my new flat in edinburgh last week, but with work and everything else, it's taken a while to set up. we got a tv the other day, and i sat down and watched some of it last night. i'm embarrassed to say what i sat through (the scorpion king), but i actually learned a few things - not from the rock, just from the adverts. two especially struck me, not because i was actually watching them at the time, but because i recognized the melodious strains that accompanied their attempts to sell their vile products. i first looked up during what turned out to be a sainsbury's ad, as i was filled with "light & day" and the desire to "reach for the sun." apparently, sainsbury's has a history of using the 'spree - the same song - for christmas some years back, in an advert with tv chef jamie oliver. i can't find the one i saw last night on youtube, so you'll just have to trust me on this one, considering "light & day"'s own history of appearing in unlikely places. still, it was most surprising to me, considering the most "indie" commercials in america have been volkswagen's over the past few years - from "pink moon" to "either way" - while respectable (more nick drake albums sold after the cabrio ad than had in the preceding thirty years), major advertisers using songs from niche bands is rather unknown in america. apparently, not so in britain, for mere minutes later, this came on. while i was not a fan of the album, there is no mistaking "it overtakes me" for anything else (also, it was mystics' best song). at war with the mystics did not get half of the critical or public acclaim that yoshimi received, so, in a way, it's strange to hear this song in an advert (a beck's one, no less), though, i must admit, it works rather well. the point, however, is the same as before - how often do you hear "indie" bands in commercials? you don't, generally. anyway, just an observation of a cultural difference where the brits obviously have one up on us americans.

the polyphonic spree - "light & day / reach for the sun"

so, if you've battled your way through that much-too-dense collection of links, here's a paragraph that should be much simpler to swallow. here's one link. it's about the itunes festival, which was held in london last month. now, you may ask yourself - why in london? isn't america good enough for california-based apple? well, i can't answer definitively, but i think it probably isn't. bitches. anyway, channel 4 replayed a segment last night (again with the tv!), which featured kasabian (gag), amy winehouse, and remi nicole (new s/s, mediocre). obviously, my eyes were all for amy, who was MOST disappointing. the controversy/ discussion around her has been pretty non-stop for months, and it was obviously with good reason. she seemed to be on more drugs than this guy, and the two songs we saw - "tears dry on their own" and "back to black" - were just as devoid of soul as amy herself seemed. she stared blankly, she sang mindlessly, there was nothing in her performance that reminded me of what i had been so excited about, back when i heard "rehab" for the first time. it's actually depressing - she's obviously not coping with fame and if she doesn't get some help soon, she's going to be as much of a butt for jokes for the rest of her career as pete doherty. i hope she gets it.

amy winehouse - "tears dry on their own"

photo by robin lingwood.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

caribou - melody day

this video has been making the rounds, but i like it so much, i want to post it here. "melody day" is the first single from caribou's upcoming album andorra, to be released on the 21st of this month, and the video was filmed on the beautiful beaches of sweden (who knew sweden had beaches?), right outside ingmar bergman's backyard. "melody day" is the first live-action caribou video i've seen, and it's fucking amazing. before andorra comes out, i want to do a caribou/manitoba retrospective, with particular emphasis on the marino dvd and ep, as they are so frequently overlooked. personally, i don't think snaith can ever top up in flames, and i blame "handsome" dickweed manitoba for killing the beauty that was manitoba, that shithead (manitoba isn't even his real last name!).

in any event, here's "melody day" for download and the video. the song is good but not great, but the video is goddamn superb. i'm really psyched for his show next month.

caribou - "melody day." pre-order andorra here.

what i'm up to

hey guys -

i owe you an apology for not explaining myself completely - i've had a busy week and no reliable internet access (i'm in a bar right now), which has made it rather difficult to write, and even harder to post. i'm due to get internet in a week or so, but this bar is actually at my place of employment, so i'll be able to update the ole mammoth more regularly. i'm currently at the edinburgh fringe festival, a massively huge international dance/theater/comedy/music festival, so i won't be in new york for any shows until october (missing the iron & wine show by one fucking night!). that being said, i'm trying to make it to as many shows as possible while i'm here, but no guarantees. i'm keeping my eye on the calendar, so there might be more upcoming shows than planned (i just noticed dj a-trak is spinning the kanye afterparty - definitely going if i get a chance). anyway, stay tuned.

if you happen to be in edinburgh, here's a quick list of what i've seen so far with * recommendations:
little howard and the magic pencil of life and death*
the book club*
russell kane 1/2*
talk of the fest with paul provenza (different guests every night, but it kinda sucked last night).

i'm looking forward to songs about vaginas and trying to save up for fuerzabruta, which looks awesome.

who needs english? - golem

english is totally overrated. who gives a shit that over 600 million people speak it? it's totally unnecessary. who needs english? is yet another feature from the ever-fertile brain of mr. mammoth - a feature devoted to bands that do not perform in english. this includes artists who are not english speakers, sing in languages that are not english, or whose music is solely instrumental, and is not from an english-speaking heritage. who needs english? is not a feature about "world music" - personally, i really dislike the term, and think that's its far too overused/abused. who needs english? is a feature about bands i like that don't use english. end of story. on to golem.

the first time i heard of golem was when music. for-robots posted a list of their recommended mp3s from the sxsw 2007 lineup, which included "warsaw is khelm" by golem. i can't recall why i picked golem to download - maybe i liked the name, or i already knew they were opening for balkan beat box, and i wanted to get a flavor of their sound. either way, "warsaw is khelm" absolutely captivated me - honest to goodness klezmer, the kind that a christian who wished he had a jewish mother craves. and though "warsaw is khelm" is (mostly) in english, the fact that their songs are usually in yiddish, ladino, or other slavic tongues sweetens the pot (and guarantees them entry into the oh-so-scrupulously chosen "who needs english?" feature). you'll remember how taken i was with them after the bbb show, and i picked up a copy of their recent fresh off boat, afterwards. golem's website boasts that the album is "thirteen tracks in five languages," a serious feat for a sad uni-linguist like myself.

now for some background: golem is a blistering six-piece from brooklyn (where else?), who have the unique ability to boast that none of their instruments requires electricity. from frontwoman's annette ezekiel's accordion, to alicia jo rabins's violin, curtis hasselbring's trombone, taylor bergren-chrisman's standup bass, or frontman aaron diskin's tambourine/vodka drinking, golem can rock it anywhere (and they do). names like hasselbring or bergren-chrisman don't really instantly summon visions of shetls or yarmulkes, but their gentile heritage is no impediment to golem's pure and honest klezmer - they even have their own hora. watch out, though - this isn't your rabbi's klezmer.

fresh off boat is golem's fourth release and their third full-length, so they are no fly-by-night sensation. i have no had the pleasure of hearing any of their other releases (half of which are sold out, alas), but if they're anything like fresh off boat, they're fucking phenomenal. golem revitalizes what is already an active and exciting style of music, especially in songs like "bublichki," "the rent," or their ubiquitous hit, "warsaw is khelm." "bublichki" is my personal favorite for two reasons: first of all, it fucking rocks. rabins's bow races across the strings while hasselbring's trombone bleats behind it, a fierce chorus that alternates with a provocative and sensual increase in tempo, lead by diskin's rough and guttural yiddish verses. it is impossible not to have the rhythm get inside your body - "bublichki" was one of the crowd's dancingest songs in their set - no mean feat for a relatively unknown warmup band. my second favorite thing about "bublichki" is diskin's brief english interlude (i know, who needs it?, but at least i can get the jokes that way), where he laments the state of his family - his mother is a cleaning woman, his father a drunk, he sells bagels on cold street corners while his sister whores herself out nearby, though his little brother is probably the best off - "he picks the pockets of hipsters on the L train."

while golem's vigor and intensity in their songwriting is not constant, the high level of skill and ability is, and their multidimensionality is no small asset. every member of golem seems to be a fucking virtuoso, and it shows. the rhythms and melodies are complex and interwoven, often abruptly changing mid-song, but never faltering. golem plays dancing and drinking music, and the proper way to enjoy it is to do both.

they have a show in a few days in new york - an excellent lineup with the welsh sensations los campesinos!, deleon (who were the first opener at the bbb show) and nous non plus, and you can buy tickets here. i will obviously not be going, as i'm in scotland for the duration of the fringe festival, but you should.

golem - ">bublichki", "golem hora"

buy fresh off boat from the not-for-profit jdub records here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

worth spending money on, volume tres

if you've been playing the home game (and if you're reading this blog, i'd say the likelihood of that is fairly high), then what i have to say is not going to surprise you. but just in case you've been out of the loop for the past several months, here's a real shocker: you should go out to the store right now, and fork over some paltry dollars for the incredible menomena sophomore album, friend and foe. until sometime around christmas last year, menomena was a name new to me, and it was only from a brief stereogum post that i learned their name and got a taste of the quiet excitement that surrounded their second release. the great reception it received from pitchfork (the first BNM nod of the year) only sweetened the deal, and drove me to undertake the safest option for anyone hearing about a new band - i downloaded friend and foe.

oh, the blissful ease of torrents! the typing of letters, a little hunting, a few clicks, the brief wait, and voila! an album. the problem (for me, at least), is convincing myself of the need to listen to these albums that i've just acquired for next-to-nothing. friend and foe came out just as i was getting acquainted with the blogosphere, and i hadn't been quick enough on the draw to get any menomena mp3s, and i had no idea what to expect from the album. so friend and foe lingered in my library for some months, until, struck by the dreaded i-need-something-new-to-listen-to disease, i put it on my shuffle. at first, i was unimpressed. the only song that caught my ear was "the pelican," after which i usually passed on to another album. before you call me overhasty ("the pelican" is friend and foe's second track), et me offer a few words in my defense. despite the egalitarian simplicity of torrents, they are not without their own flaws, as i discovered after my purchase of friend and foe (mr. mammoth is no hypocrite). what i must have downloaded was a pre-release version of the album, a slightly smudged precursor of the final cut. among its differences (which also included different takes of "the pelican" and "air aid," as well as a alternate title for "my my"), was a complete shakeup of the album's middle tracks. it still opened with "muscle n' flo" and ended with the "evil bee" - "ghostship" - "west" trilogy - which, ultimately, probably made the album less accessible at first, but didn't alter its overall excellence in the slightest. so, even though many of the tracks that preceded "the pelican" in my bootleg version are now among my favorites, none of them really captured my attention during initial listens. a month after friend and foe's dry run in my shuffle, i returned to the album, for the simple reason that "the pelican" was inextricably stuck in my head, and i know of no other remedy for that than to listen to the song, which i did. since then (now that i listen not only to "the pelican," but the songs that surround it), friend and foe has, basically, remained on my regular album rotation. i can't get enough of it - and if you haven't given it a chance yet, now is the time to do so. for its enduring quality, sheer brilliance, and simple audacity, i name friend and foe the third album that is worth spending money on. read on for why.

there are, by my count, four best tracks on friend and foe: "air aid," "the pelican," "running," and "evil bee." this last one is my absolute favorite, primarily because of the lyrics (and bitchin' saxophone parts). "oh to be a machine / oh to be wanted, to be useful" croons guitarist/pianist brent knopf, a declaration of such stunning simplicity and earnestness that it wins you over immediately. "evil bee," like most menomena songs, is an ADD hodgepodge of sounds, stitched together piecemeal, almost haphazardly, but striking in its forthrightness. there is nothing hidden in menomena songs: there are only surprises, like the recurring maracas and the abrupt saxophone notes, used (at first) to punctuate the end of phrases (rather than in a leading role, as it is used in songs like "boyscout'n"), before it blends seamlessly into their soundscape. menomena's work lends itself to ordinarily foolish words like "soundscapes" very well - there are few better ways to describe their delightfully arbitrary sound matching, of adding melodies for the sheer cheek of it. they recklessly bend all rules of song structure, carelessly discarding chourses when they are not needed, or creating climaxes merely from a repetition of phrases, and then pulling the carpet out from underneath them, musically speaking. one song from friend and foe has more variety than most albums, and the work's quirkiness never bogs it down - unlike some progressive bands, who try to lump too much imagination into one song, menomena's inventiveness is almost sparse, always gently, lovingly putting song pieces together, never bulldozing their creativity down our ears.

one of my favorite things about menomena is the harmonies. while knopf and bassist/ saxophonist justin harris generally front the band, often trading off song by song, all three lend their voices to the others', fleshing out the vocals to the point where it is almost impossible to tell which parts are real and which are studio-produced. this is especially true on songs like "air aid," "rotten hell" (those two are tied for "cleverest song title," because of the way they are sung), and "wet and rusting." for menomena, the voice is not merely a device for delivering lyrics (which are highly sophisticated for such a young band), it is an instrument in and of itself, to a degree that is rarely heard elsewhere. in addition to the subtlety and nuances of their vocals, menomena also has some seriously exceptional drumming. i remember being struck by danny seim's drumming when i saw menomena some weeks ago - his energy and intensity far outstripped that of his bandmates, at least in terms of sweat. seim was dripping by the end of their set, the natural result of his labor. it is rare that i notice drums (beyond the cursory acknowledgment), but his drum lines are more than just underlying reinforcement, or a rhythm keeper, or any role that drums far too frequently function as - they are, like menomena's voices, an equal part of the music, adding its own style to the overall mix, never staying static but always fluctuating with the circumstances, fluid and versatile.

menomena's trademark is unexpectedness, a trait that is obvious from the first track, "muscle 'n flo." a jagged, abrupt guitar interrupts drawn out, stately notes and delicate piano, alternating between serenity and anxiety. "muscle 'n flo" is also one of the few songs that has something like verses and a bridge - many of their songs are just laid bare, stripped of pretense and false modesty. they stand proud without bowing to conventionality, one of the album's most endearing traits. i also find menomena's lyricism to be remarkable - it goes far beyond the wistfulness of gibbard or the historicity of meloy, disdaining continuity or even sense, focusing all their energy on turning clever/endearing phrases like "if only jesus would wash my feet" or "rain is falling through the floor " or "cover your ears / cover your eyes / cover your mouth / silence / blindness / tasteless violence," putting a new twist on the "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" aphorism. however, their best lyricism cannot be taken out of context - like their voices, or drumming, or any other instrument in their arsenal, menomena's lyrics are another layer of songsmithing.

on "air aid," harris sings about "people of the future," and that's exactly who the album is about. it's not a big stretch to say menomena is a little too cool for school - their rhythms, effects, and sheer bizarreness can't possibly have come from the same era as the black eyed peas, yet here it is. i don't doubt that harris, knopf, and seim are not a little startled by the immense acclaim friend and foe has received, though they shouldn't be. the word "pop" has far too many negative connotations right now, but, still, friend and foe is distinctly that: it straddles the line between the past and future of pop, and it is little wonder that people clamor to it, singing its praises. definitely WSMO, definitely awesome.

menomena - "the pelican," "wet and rusting." buy friend and foe here. live photo from nailgun.