Sunday, December 14, 2008


i never much cared for secret machines, so let's just say that benjamin curtis, now of school of seven bells, used to play with that (reasonably successful) band, but left to work on this project. musically, it's pretty clear he made the right choice.

as i said previously, 2008 has been an amazing year of music for me, mainly due to a newfound love of electronica. it's a way to make music that isn't subject to any physical restraints, it's only limitation is imagination. well, it's not like the genre isn't decades old, but i'm talking about my personal epiphany here, and my enthusiasm for it is like any greenhorn's. so, in a year when i delighted in taking in everything from gary numan to booka shade, the fact that alpinisms, school of seven bells's debut record, has riveted me is a testament to it. full disclosure here: school of seven bells reminds me more than a little bit of my previous electro-crush, last year's award winning au revoir simone, and not just because SVIIB (which, p.s., is a wicked acronym) also have dark hair and are from brooklyn. but just because i'm predisposed to like them doesn't mean that i'm wrong, and you'll hear why just around thirty seconds in. then, in the span of three minutes, the combination of intelligent harmonizing, imaginative beats, and the dramatic contrast of minimalist beats and swirling psychedelia will hook your brain, line and sinker. then, all of a sudden, you'll realize it's three hours later. time flies when you're having fun.

the first taste of alpinisms is the potent "iamundernodisguise," previously a prefuse 73 single ("class of 73 bells") with the band, which retains its powerful, sensuous undercurrents and indulges in a wash of hypnotic distortion and canonical vocals. these come courtesy of alejandra and claudia deheza, who helm the band alongside benjamin curtis. previously in on! air! library!, they met curtis on a tour, and the idea for school of seven bells was born. channeling the mysticism and beauty of classical indian form, and combining it with swirling distortion, SVIIB's approach is nothing short of seductive. in addition, the production on this record is totally immaculate (done by the band themselves), which makes it all that more of a joy to listen to - the vocal mixes are sublime, the perfect amount of reverb. it's probably the best sounding record i've heard since the magic position.

alpinisms is nearly bookended by its best songs, "iamundernodisguise" and penultimate track "prince of peace," both of which combine brooding distortion with explosive choruses. urgent and propulsive, "prince of peace" is delivered with no small hint of menace - there is no safety in the deheza sisters voices when they sing "we are the prince of peace / we are the hand of god." this isn't a song praising the munificence of a generous god, this is accompaniment to a deluge of some straight up old testament fire and brimstone, and the dehezas' are the killing angels singing a siren song. these two are the most pronouncedly ominous, but SVIIB don't ditch a good thing - while none of alpinisms's other songs come closer to the implicit threat of "iamundernodisguise" or "prince of peace," "wired for light" builds slowly but relentlessly, voices soaring (thanks to even more reverb than normal) over the sounds of a restless sitar, dropping out suddenly, leaving us startled and hollow.

school of seven bells's psychedelic bent reaches its climax on the 11 minute opus, "sempiternal-amaranth," which is notable chiefly because it hardly feels like more than 4 or 5 minutes long - it lulls you into a SVIIB stupor that is both impossible and undesirable to rise from. yet despite alpinisms's fluidity, there is a rather large conflict at its center, which is difficult to navigate for the critical listener. it's pretty clear that i favor heavy SVIIB, but what about the rest of the album? at times it seems odd, the juxtaposition of intense, transcendental tunes with upbeat, in-your-face treble ones, epitomized by "face to face on high places" and "half asleep," which many consider album highlights. i don't deny their quality, yet the (abrupt) transition from "iamundernodisguise" to the substantially more pop "face to face on high places" is rarely anything but jarring. the battle between pop and psychedelia rages throughout the record, and while the two are not always mutually exclusive, it does occasionally put SVIIB at odds with themselves. that being said, "half asleep" well deserves its release as a single, being one of those instances when pop and psychedelia blend to create something excellent.

alpinisms's press releases speak of the band's desire to literally climb above the physical world, a goal they have neatly accomplished. every second of music strives to elevate the listener above the conventional, to disappear among the folds in the music, to find a groove and follow it. pragmatically, alpinisms is almost flawlessly constructed, each song progressing and adding elements at deliberate speed, enough to hook but not to overindulge, so that you keep coming back for more, time and again. it is a curious twining, of restlessness and repetition, but SVIIB easily make it their own, especially on songs like "white elephant coat." drawing you into its clutches with a simple drum pattern, expansive guitar lines, and the same ethereal vocals that make the record essential, "white elephant coat" reflects alpinisms as a whole. for a remarkable first record, both in style and substance, school of seven bells' alpinisms is one of the most important albums of 2008.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

future reflections

as another year draws near its close, wetter and far warmer than the last, a healthy dose of perspective is vital to comprehend 2008 as a music lover, and a registered american voter. the election overshadowed all else, and our optimism and hope foreshadowed the still-exhilarating phrase "president-elect obama." but even as it became slightly more tolerable to be an american citizen, the stateside music scene left little to choice but to shop the import section. brooklyn spewed forth another crop of aspiring scene queens, their local triumphs spearheaded by overzealous brooklynvegan commenters, but the best american album of the year was issued by some hip pop outcasts from the left coast; though yoni wolf's bitterness suited our collective national disgust from january to june, one hopes change has come to him as well. but president-elect obama's administration is too fresh for its successes to be rewritten as music, and the election cycle, though it dominated virtually everything else this year, is not much of a yardstick to evaluate music by.

so what, then, defines 2008 in music?

the internet continues to redefine our understanding and appreciation of music in ways that continues to send shockwaves through the industry (and its observers), from the FBI-sanctioned intervention in a leak of chinese democracy to the blogosphere's self-serving, endorsed explosion of bands like vampire weekend, for whom the backlash is hopefully just beginning. the virulence and dogmatism of chat room crusaders and anonymous respondents is certainly nothing new (though the depths to which the dialogue can sometime stoop still has the power to bewilder), but talking shit about a pretty sunset is what made the internet famous. though the reach of blogs and other democratic music promoters has grown longer since 2007, its weaknesses are nearly as numerous as its successes, which i realize is an odd statement if you're reading this. i turned away from reading music blogs (save the ever reliable BV) sometime soon after january, and found a less self-referential (and more exciting) font for new music in the form of the now-defunct album blog robin hood of indie music. facilitated by the loss of OiNK, album blogs are the new medium for serious piracy, and pose few of the dangers associated with torrenting or (god forbid) file sharers. for me, 2008 in music meant a literal cornucopia of new bands every day, new and old releases that radically reshaped my tastes simply by virtue of their availability.

in april, i was hired by a concert venue in what has become the undisputed best job of my (albeit short) life, but its implications were much further reaching than my happiness - it has altogether changed my perception of hearing music. reading a review earlier this year, i was struck by the author's claim that we rarely think about how music is made, and just appreciate the end result. since april, i have been learning about the process of music-making, and i'm not talking about the notes. which microphone to use, how guitar amps work, the best way to mic a snare drum (one on the top and one on the bottom), small details that add up to determining how we experience music, specifically in a live setting. why you're an idiot if you stand in the front row and complain about how bad the sound is. simple things for someone who plays music, or works with sound, but significant developments for a layman like me, though i don't think i can call myself a layman anymore.

i'm not sure how these two factors add up, album blogs and working at a nightclub, but the timing is proof enough of my ear's evolution, an unexpected and bold change of course. in just a couple months, i've discovered how wide the world of electronica really is, and immersed myself in its numerous pleasures. though i was not a stranger to its appeal, i have opened myself up to every corner of the genre in a much more dramatic fashion, appreciating artists as diverse as julien chaptal, venetian snares, and róisín murphy with equal vigor. in short, 2008 was a year for joyous aural exploration, and my favorite albums of the year reflect that. as with last year, i still have a problem with the word "best," and am shying away from that with a list of records that were important to me this year. without further ado, here they are, listed alphabetically.

camille - music hole
cut copy - in ghost colours
foals - antidotes
i am robot and proud - uphill city
iglomat - iglomat
mogwai - the hawk is howling
mr. scruff - ninja tuna
mutyumu - il y a
school of seven bells - alpinisms
slaraffenland - private cinema
spiritualized - songs in a & e
why? - alopecia
wild beasts - limbo, panto

provided i am blessed with enough time, i will do a short writeup for each album (of course with mp3s), so stay tuned.

Monday, July 28, 2008

they flock like vulcans to see old jupiter eyes on his home craters

within the "eminently prolific" subsection of songwriters, there often exists a delicate balance that can either alienate or excite. a counterpoint to the relentless outpouring of music, it is often the case that most of these songs sound extremely similar. john darnielle, a man most of us instantly pinpoint as head honcho of the "eminently prolific" genre, has released over 40 albums, which all sound more or less than same (especially once you discount the varying fidelity). that's why it's enormously refreshing that kenny anderson, another old hand at the prolific game, has released an album that runs against the grain, a challenge to presumably kenny himself as well as his fans. they flock like vulcans to see old jupiter eyes on his home craters is a vibrant departure that finds anderson embracing an entirely new sound, as well as a new penchant for impossibly long album titles.

king creosote, anderson's recording name, has a reputation for stately, melancholy songs that come out of the gate mostly fully formed, placid backdrops for anderson's verbal talent. bombshell, the scottish folkster's previous album (and his first fresh effort for a major label), was a mild diversion from this course, yet still result in inspired accusations of betrayal by some of the more hardcore creosote fans. not coincidentially, bombshell is the album that gave king creosote more attention than ever before, its poppier sound appealing to a wider range of listeners, evidenced by last year's sold-out homecoming show at edinburgh's queen's hall. they flock etc. doesn't follow in bombshell's footsteps, and, judging by its unorthodox distribution, isn't likely to be a 679 release either. you see, king creosote's new album is only available at king creosote shows, a business model that makes so much sense, it's fairly astonishing that no one else does it. fence will be releasing it proper come september, but it's rather wonderful that they flock is only available to real k.c. fans (or, actually, was only available before the internet got its pesky thieving mitts on it, which all of us foreign faithful are grateful for). perceivable as either a two-fingered salute to bombshell's detractors (though that isn't kenny's style) or just an example of how mutable and evolving king creosote can be (more likely), they flock, in addition to being a solid record, is a bright reminder of how welcome unexpected experimentation is from predictable sources.

but enough talk about what it signifies, let's talk about how they flock sounds. king creosote meets the human league? okay, that's a bit overstated, but certainly puts you in the right frame of mind. this isn't a basement recording, not a 4 tracked CD-R, and not your typical k.c. fare. on some songs, there isn't even a guitar, much less an accordion! kenny's manifesto has long been that k.c. writes "songs with relatively few chords in a non-bluegrass style," and while nothing on they flock could be construed as bluegrass, but i'm not sure the maxim still applies. opening number "on esther's planet" has relatively few chords, and is the most accessible song on the record (i'm pretty sure the two are related), but the shimmery synths are a new development, and a little bizarre the first couple listens. i almost gave up after that, since "no one had it better" is the ultimate definition of throwing a spanner in the works, but "on esther's planet" kept drawing me back because of the inexorable pull of anderson's sweet scottish voice, and due to the relish with which he sings "let's go west, and let's get damaged," which is a mighty fine verse (its couplet is the equally awesome "let's drink water, and let's get healthy"). after "on esther's planet," however, anderson's voice get second billing for the next couple songs, along with his guitar and typical song structure, which are more or less abandoned. "ear against the wireless" finds kenny singing from a radio light-years away, backed by a menagerie of electronic sounds, a description that more or less suits roughly half of they flock's songs. which is definitely not to say they sound alike, since, as you will recall, the starting point of this post was how defiantly different of an album this is for the otherwise predictable scotsman.

the bevy of mostly electronic songs aside, they flock is (hopefully?) a turning point for king creosote's more traditional songs as well. as aforementioned, the accordion doesn't get a lot of credit throughout, but kenny employs the trusty squeezebox on standout "a mighty din of 'what if?'," even if only for a moment's turn in the spotlight. "44BC" is the closest we get to old-style kenny, but with a female backup and the faint sounds of synth, though the lyrics are predictably gloomy: he refers to himself variously as "a worthless cause," "a helpless case," and "a songless bird." the title "dead mouse's diary" should hint that some weirdness is afoot, and the union between casion beats, 2001: a space odessey-reminiscent synth effects and acoustic guitar is certifiably awkward, yet simultaneously enrapturing. on the other hand, the straight-up scatting that introduces "home creatures" feels genuine, an accomplishment in light of the fact that the album's impossible title comes from its lyrics. and even when you think a song is more or less in the standard k.c. vein (like "all mine, except for the falsetto[!?!]), it goes and breaks his self-imposed rule about samples: "no sample should be longer than four seconds, and although samples should be in tune or in time, not necessarily both," and you know whatever the hell is going on here, nothing is predictable.

it would be interesting to learn whether (or to what extent) ole' king c-sote was inspired by our current obsession with all things smooth and synthy. "the minter scale," to name but one example, could be a space-house track - hell, it is a space-house track, just one with a couple seconds of didgeridoo up front. also, kenny's placid, regretful voice, singing about stinging embarassment doesn't quite jel with our normal understanding of lite trance, but, hey, what are you gonna do about that? keep an open mind, like kenny. and just accept the fact that a different king creosote is still king creosote, and still writes awesome songs. despite the new direction k.c. takes on they flock, it is a cohesive and exciting ride, thus satisfying the most important law of king creosote: a kc album starts at the beginning, and don't finish 'til the end - by design."

"ear against the wireless" & "the minter scale"
they flock like vulcans to see old jupiter eyes on his home craters will be available from fence records in september.

Friday, July 18, 2008

awesome song day! - "baby i'm just a fool"

awesome song day! is a spontaneous feature, when i am moved by a song's singular awesomeosity and feel the urge to share its awesomeness with all of you. the song below is awesome.

spiritualized - "baby i'm just a fool"
songs in a & e was released in may.

spiritualized and portishead share common ancestry, in my head at least. both hyper-pioneering english bands who peaked and kinda faded by the time i was hip enough to know who they were, it seems like more than coincidence that they have both returned in 2008, each with a fierce, career-defining record. the history of songs in a & e is so well-established as to be chicken feed by now: jason pierce got some terrible form of pneumonia, and found the inspiration for this record in his near-death experiences in the accident & emergency ward. pierce's work has always favored the ethereal/transcendental, so songs in a & e isn't much of a departure; instead, it is a bold, fervent, and engrossing work that builds on spiritualized's druggy past and finds a semblance of redemption in pierce's restoration of life and livelihood. fluctuating wildly between sorrow and serenity, songs in a & e is nearly divided in half by "baby i'm just a fool," a tender-seeming track backed by a melody beaten on wooden blocks, anchored in the repeated lyric "you're so fucking self-assured / i'd rather let you down than let you go." though not as catchy as "soul on fire" or as self-pitying as "don't hold me close," "baby i'm just a fool," with its faux-carefree singalongs and languid latin feel, is the song that stays with you the longest, and feels better with each listen.

Monday, July 14, 2008

a week in EPs day #6: amiina - seoul

yup, i've returned to the EP and am loving it. nearly a year to the day since i left off with land of talk's applause cheer boo hiss (which i still avidly listen to, by the way), i return with another five-day dose of the best in great extended plays. only one of this year's entrants was released between july 20, 2007 and july 14, 2008, but a couple more were introduced to me in that time period; the others are old standbys that are aging excellently. while i haven't narrowed down my list totally yet, i can say there will be no repeated bands (sing jonathan david very nearly made it, but "take your carriage clock and shove it" just plain sucks), and i'm excited to make amends to some of the very great bands i skipped last year. so, without further ado, here is seoul.

rarely do i muster the courage to defy the all-knowing wikipedia, but i'm going to today with impunity. last year, for my final entry, i stretched the meaning of "EP" in one direction; this year, it's going the other way. wikipedia classifies seoul as a single, but i don't care - amiina's second release is sophisticated, mature, and playful, and contains the only recording of "ammaelis," a song so deliriously enchanting that it alone merits seoul's boost from a single to an EP (even if it's only for my nefarious purposes). so overlook the fact that, of seoul's three tracks, two are on amiina's full-length kurr (though "ugla" was subtly renamed "rugla"), and just embrace the three songs that heralded amiina's crowning as the cutest band in the world (an assertion validated by the band's photo gallery).

it's been too long since i last talked about amiina, but not much has changed since then. unfortunately, the icelandic quartet has been quiet as mice, though sigur rós's return to touring surely (hopefully) means that amiina will also regain their place as opening act. the band - maría huld markan sigfúsdóttir, hildur ársælsdóttir, edda rún ólafsdóttir, and sólrún sumarliðadóttir - congealed through sigur rós's touring schedule, the four women in close contact as sigur rós's backing string quartet. amiina first performed in july 2005, on the takk... tour, with a set of hastily stitched together songs. i saw sigur rós three times on the takk... tour, and was impressed exponentially each time by amiina, whose songs tangibly improved each time. two songs of that set stood out especially, which i referred to in my mind as "that song with the musical saw" and "that awesome video game one." both of these songs are on seoul. "that song with the musical saw" is the title track, a seven-minute exploration grounded in a hypnotic xylophone riff and buttressed by the saw's atmospherism. "the video game one" was "ammaelis," amiina's set-ender, which exemplifies the band's quirky cheerfulness vis-a-vis a 80s casio beat surrounded by shimmering synths. together with "ugla," which was written between tours at home in iceland, seoul is a mature work that rewards multiple, contemplative listens.

amiina's songs are lush, performed using a table's worth of gadgetry and toy instruments, and their seamless fusion of new-age devices and centuries-old ones is one of the band's most bewitching features. i was reading about something called "steam punk" the other week, a style that mixes 1850s fashion with high-tech electronics, and it struck me that amiina is doing much the same in music. wikipedia (whose wisdom i once again acquiesce to) has a list of 18 instruments used by amiina, ranging from the aforementioned saw, to a baroque guitar (seen in the lower right-hand corner of the picture above), to a compact synthesizer (their live shows also have a ubiquitous macbook). watching amiina perform is like watching four one-man bands work together, such is the band's concentration and diligence as they build their songs.

somehow, it isn't surprising that "seoul," "ugla," and "ammaelis" are arguably amiina's best songs, each possessing a learned dignity and the allure of simplicity. with an innate appreciation for timing, amiina's songs are just long enough for you to be able to lose yourself in the music, gentle crescendos and repeated phrases that acknowledge amiina's debt to minimalist composing. ultimately, their songs are just happy, and that's the most appealing quality you could hope for.

"seoul" & "ammaelis"
the seoul 12" with a remix by frakkur is available at boomkat.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

the last really good new album i heard idea. one of the reasons i've been absent from the mammoth realm is the absolute dearth of good new music. i'm not quite sure how noisy punk & feedback queens became the toast of the blogosphere (times new viking, no age, titus andronicus, crystal antlers, these are powers, abe vigoda, etc.), because none of them are actually good/listenable for more than 35 seconds, but that has been pretty unbearable. that au album was okay, but too derivatively animal collective, lp3 only confirms the fact that i don't like ratatat, i can't understand why fleet foxes are "the best new band on earth," the appeal of crystal castles wore off about two songs into their full-length (and the storm of controversy about their version of music piracy just adds fuel to the fire), i don't even know what dark meat IS, the black ghosts blow, monotonix put on one hell of a live show, but music doesn't really factor into their performance much, black kids, of course, still suck at life, the new girl talk leaves something to be desired, whatever excitement hercules & love affair provoked burned off quickly; as established, stay positive makes me sad, arm's way isn't much better, modern guilt is solid without being impressive, a thousand shark's teeth is meh, don't know why is anyone attracted to the sound of the ting tings (besides that one really good song they have)?, the one track that has leaked from the hawk is howling is weird, dude, sam sparro's press quotes ("like lcd soundsystem plus marvin gaye) are better than his songs, kaisercartel makes me want to stab myself in my thigh with a fork, and crystal stilts just plain suck. ponytail shows a healthy level of eclecticism, but can't say i would ever really want to listen to them voluntarily.

i liked
songs in a & e enough to buy $40 tickets for the seated spiritualized show at music hall of williamsburg, and i'm currently having a serious crisis because why? and mount eerie play the same night as mogwai and fuck buttons (all four of which have [or, in mogwai's case, will] put out great records this year). in all honesty, it's probably the toughest decision i will make all year. if i didn't have tickets to mogwai already, it wouldn't even be a question, but i think i'll have to wait and see if the hawk is howling is better than mr. beast. if it ain't, i'll see you at bowery.

anyway, now that i've shat all over bands you like/dislike/don't care about, we can get to the meat of the matter. i'm finally getting into
situation after digging that buck 65 orchestral show for a couple months, but i haven't heard anything, new or old, that matches up to alopecia, antidotes, or at war with walls and mazes, and it's totally killing my mojo. i've been enjoying some classics lately, as well as nas's new not-nigger, but 2008 is shaping up to be a year of bad albums. there are plenty of good songs, but i don't want to overabuse the "awesome song day" anymore than i already have, and one reason i've been so quiet is because there aren't any albums i really want to talk about. i've had a couple ideas to get myself involved in blogging again, so fingers crossed those go somewhere, and you can count on me weighing in on whatever the next seriously good album of 2008 is, if it ever arrives.

where the hell is heartland?

correction: oracular spectacular is another album without many peers.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

awesome song day! - "took my lady to dinner"

awesome song day! is a spontaneous feature, when i am moved by a song's singular awesomeosity and feel the urge to share its awesomeness with all of you. the song below is awesome.

king khan and the shrines - "took my lady to dinner"
the supreme genius of king khan and the shrines is available on vice records.

it's kinda ironic (and more than a little disappointing) that "blog bands" tend to suck more often than not, and i've learned to approach any buzz band with a hefty level of trepidation & skepticism - explaining my delayed appreciation of the 11-piece psychedelic soul garage monster & king khan's decidedly personal lyrics. the supreme genius of is a "greatest hits" collection (no mean feat for a band with only 4 full lengths), and sounds more lo-fi than no age. their kickstarted soul finds common heritage with the dirtbombs, whose "your love belongs under a rock" invariably finds its way into my head after only one king khan song - their frontmen share a puckish extravagance and a smoker's croak, and their grit-coated guitars dominate wholeheartedly. "took my lady to dinner" has the most irresistible chorus - wailing so loudly that his voice cracks, king khan belts out a love song to his woman - "she's fat, she's ugly, she's fat and she's ugly but i love her!" true love has never sounded so true.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

grizzled old mammoth

sorry for the smallness of the banner, blame blogger.

anyway, the important point is, despite the fact i haven't heard anything worth blogging about lately, i do have something exciting to report: mr. mammoth has a radio show again! i will be streaming online every sunday at 8 pm EST on wbar, my "local" "radio" station [a) in nyc, pretty much everything is a local radio station and b) it's only online, so it's not actually radio. but i digress]. anyway, ignore what the site says, if you "click here to listen," you'll be listening to the show.

i'm gonna be making my playlist in advance, but wbar has a good selection of cds, so if you want to request something i'll do my best to satisfy it. and you can hit the dj up at wbarrequest on aim, so add that shit.

8 pm, sundays, eastern standard time.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

awesome song day! - "the bears are coming"

awesome song day! is a spontaneous feature, when i am moved by a song's singular awesomeosity and feel the urge to share its awesomeness with all of you. the song below is awesome.

late of the pier - "the bears are coming"
their debut album fantasy black channel is due in august on parlophone.

late of the pier is one of those bands that kinda became ubiquitous in my head for no particular reason; i credit their rather unique/inexplicable name for their staying power. i had heard of them a couple times before i tracked down whatever they had floating around online, and i'm mighty glad i did so. while late of the pier's influences seem rather transparent at first, "the bears are coming" is a really intelligent song that far surpasses any off-hand dismissal of "nu rave." i've listened to it as much as i have anything else this week, and not only is it beyond catchy, it's diverse, eclectic, and smart. though musically dissimilar, i've found myself comparing this song to one of beck's more tangential tunes in its approach, but that might just be me. "the bears are coming" has a sick hook, but the final minute of the song is arguably the best; that's after the song finishes its verse-chorus-verse rotation and delves into something far less predictable. it's definitely a grower, but also definitely an awesome song.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

writing for a symphony

everybody knows i love owen pallett. everything he does pushes the envelope, and his music is just so beautiful, and my girlfriend is a little worried that i love him more than i love her (i don't, but it's close). so even though i had mixed feelings about twelve polearms, a work of new music by pallett commissioned by the bang on a can all-stars (who subsequently performed the work with pallett at last weekend's bang on a can marathon), you won't hear me say a single bad word about it. anyway, the real importance of twelve polearms isn't its substance, but its significance. there is an increasingly awesome trend in music, of independent artists composing classical-style works or performing with orchestral ensembles, and i just want to say i think it's amazing, and has incredibly exciting potential.

though twelve polearms is perhaps the least conventional of these collaborations (the work was prefaced by a lengthy, humorous introduction read by pallett that detailed its origins; suffice it to say that they were... otherworldly), it is certainly not the first. aside from metallica (which doesn't really count at all anyway), the first major piece of this trend was probably the bqe, sufjan stevens's homage to the brooklyn-queens expressway. new yorkers went mad for tickets (i don't even want to say how much they went for on craigslist), but it wasn't a huge creative stretch for stevens - after all, the illinoisemakers are practically an orchestra in themselves! so i think a great deal of credit for this promising trend is owed to musical directors, whether of BAM (who commissioned the bqe as part of their nextwave festival), bang on a can, or symphony nova scotia, who performed in conjunction with native son richard terfrey in april. this final collaboration is my personal favorite of the three, because of the deep level of cooperation between terfrey, who performs under the pseudonym buck 65) and the symphony, who performed a selection of buck 65 songs as well as a 15 minute work entitled "hymnpeace (remixed)," commissioned from conductor dinuk wijeratne by the cbc with solo parts for cello, percussion, and turntables. i came upon a recording of this show while trawling the pirate bay one afternoon, and though i downloaded it for its novelty as much as anything else, i've since found it to be absolutely brilliant.

there's a quite a tangible difference between symphonic rock and rock with symphonies, and while i can't stomach the expansive, layered sounds of the arcade fire or their ilk, david christensen's nuanced arrangements complement and re-envision buck 65's songs en masse; the symphony isn't terfrey's backup band, and their parts are integral, not afterthought - this isn't a bullshit string tribute to buck 65. yet, even though the majority of the performance is buck 65 songs, wijeratne's "hymnpeace (remixed)" is the worthiest composition, and the truest collaborative effort of the evening. as he explained in the work's introduction, the fragments of melody tossed back and forth between terfrey, solo cello norman adams, and the rest of the orchestra was written as a deliberate counterpoint to the first few televised minutes of the war in iraq. wijeratne then adds a wrinkle to an already daring production: terfrey's part in "hymnpeace (remixed)" is entirely improvised, and one section of the piece was composed so that terfrey and adams improvise simultaneously, as the rest of the orchestra plays their scripted parts. wijeratne's piece is not a work of new music, unencumbered by the almost petulant rebellions of that movement, and is an engaging and rewarding composition.

as exciting as the indie artist-as-classical composer idea is, i think it remains the responsibility of music directors to encourage and promote this trend, and bring even more musical prodigies into the mix. without their guidance (or financial support), there will be little impetus for successful independent musicians to try and write music for symphonies, especially for solo artists who are far more comfortable creating and performing alone (throughout the concert, terfrey repeatedly mentions his high levels of nervousness, and pallett apologized for his anxiety on saturday night as well). there is a lot of promise in this trend, and judging from the support terfrey, stevens, and pallett have received already, there will be more to come.

if anyone with influence is reading, you should commission a work from dan snaith, right now.

"feels like" & "misdeed"
stream the entire concert here, and an older buck 65 show here, both courtesy of the cbc.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

leak of the week - stay positive

there's an epic scene from animal house (hell, they're all epic scenes!) when john belushi stands up, belches, and says "what the fuck happened to the delta i used to know?" that, my friends, is how i feel about the hold steady. what the fuck happened to "positive jam"? or separation sunday? or holly, whose parents named her hallelujah? craig finn has never been one to mince his words, but for the first time, he's saying too much. stay positive, the minneapolis-cum-brooklyn quintet's fourth full-length, is a feel good summer special (as if the uncharacteristically posi title couldn't give it away) that marks the band's continued self-distancing from their previous work, and gives skeptical listeners one more nail to hammer in the coffin. while stay positive does redeem some of boys and girls in america's mistakes, it ultimately just affirms the fact that the hold steady will merely continue to try and sound more and more like bruce springsteen, and less and less like feminax junkies with big decision blues.

stylistically, the hold steady made their biggest leap between two revelations - that hallelujah was a hoodrat and that boys and girls in america have a sad time together - and there are few musical surprises nestled in stay positive's arena americana folds. the still-cursory evolution on this record belongs to finn, who wrestles into a new role with all the grace of a character actor playing a lead, and even sings a bit! wonders cease pretty quickly after that though. regardless of whether there was anything left of the affectionately insane, neo-revivalist sidewalk preacher that described the pipes and planks of underground catholicism once the southtown girls finished with him, finn has decisively retired him for a middle-class slummer singing about middle america, and the character change goes down less than smoothly. long known by their drinking habits, the hold steady raise their voices to declaim "get hammered!" on stay positive's leadoff track "constructive summer" - no subtle slumming joke that. and just in case you missed the message, finnsteen waxes "work at the mill until you die / work at the mill and then you die" a couple minutes later. his level of comfort with first-person collegiate female perspective increases, but it's unlikely that the heroine of the breaking away homage "one for the cutters" goes to bowdoin; no, she's a good city girl who walks on the wild side and gets in touch with "real," blue-collared america and pays the price.

it's no accident that stay positive's sharpest songs can't help but dig up pieces of the past - for all of his fresh, working-class cheerleading, finn still has a narrative gift, and resurrecting his lyrical ghosts answers questions posed albums before. it's almost a tender move, reminding the faithful that they're the same band, only different. the album's eponymous track epitomizes the hold steady's self-reverential self-reflection, a shoutout to 'positive' jams as well as their adoring fans, which, despite its cloying optimism still provokes a full-blown smile - in public. sometimes finn's allusions are less direct, like on the sanctified "both crosses," when the return of his unique christianity seems both poignant and hopeful. the transubstantiation of christ to midwestern high schools rings hollow, however, and almost stinks of pander; instead of holly's "lord, what do you recommend / to a real soft girl having real hard times," echoing and reverberating, "both crosses" comes off either as a insincere memorial to a matthew shepard or a meth-induced vision of the crucifixion, and either possibility is almost too depressing to consider.

finn's lyrics used to be the heartstone of the hold steady, but that role is more tenuous than ever in stay positive. he still is in privileged company (that of john darnielle and stuart murdoch, for example), in terms of narrative skill and poetic evocations, but his instances of sheer verbal genius appear less reliably often. finn introduces this unfortunate development in "constructive summer," with the declaration that "our songs are sing-along songs." yeah?, cuz that's the first i've heard of it. the hold steady used to write speak-along songs, and the first few rows would be red in the face midway through "charlemagne in sweatpants" and hoarse by "killer parties"... but never sing-along. but the hold steady play festivals now, and big outdoor arenas, and no one is out of breath in the front row, unless it's from trying to not get squashed. but rather than bemoan the band's well-deserved elevation, a more serious cause for concern is repetition, a tool that finn turns to more often than ever here. some of his finest lyrics bend repetition, like the last few lines of "barfruit blues," rhyming "lose," "choose," "blues" and "bruise," but the flat re-recitation in songs like "lord, i'm discouraged" and "yeah, sapphire" are both uncharacteristic and unwelcome. sure, "fortified wine" is a great phrase, but hearing it four or five times is not what i expected from craig finn. booze has always played an unfortunately large role in the management and development of the hold steady, and maybe it's time to question how much damage that's doing.

"one for the cutters" & "stay positive" (links removed)
stay positive is due out on vagrant records on july 15.

efterklang w. slaraffenland @ knitting factory, 5/28/08

the southernmost of the scandanavians rocked a double bill for the danish dynamite tour at the knit wednesday night, and it's hard to say who was more excited about it, us or them. it was the first show in new york for both tourmates slaraffenland and efterklang, whose lead singer blushed and earnestly thanked the crowd after every song. the bands seemed to almost be overcome by the occasion, but rose to it instead and left the crowd chanting for more.

slaraffenland has been getting lots of internet love, and they were certainly dressed for success in adorable matching t-shirts. even reduced from a quintet to a quartet (their drummer had to return home to look after his newborn), they played with confidence and even a bit of a swagger. to be honest, they might even have upstaged efterklang a bit. though musically similar to their more sprawling cousins (after all, slaraffenland and efterklang share a member), slaraffenland relocates efterklang's delicate compositions and channels them through some serious mogwai-esque transcendentalism, epitomized by set highlight "you win." and i wish i could remember the song that caused one member to jump into the crowd and distribute tambourines and maracas, because it rocked. their new album private cinema sounds a little less unique than their show attested, which is a shame. slaraffenland were great live and not least of all thanks to their constant instrumental tag-teaming, switching seamlessly from winds and brass to guitars and drums. even more impressive was their rhythmic dexterity, playing with time signatures more likely to be heard at bang on a can, which was even more impressive because they were playing without their drummer! in terms of energy, they definitely outranked efterklang, but for beauty, serenity, and diligence, not to mention crowd enthusiasm, efterklang was the clear favorite.

i find it's often hard for bands to translate album flourishes to a live setting, but efterklang nailed every nuance, no mean feat when your songs contain multiple xylophone solos. they had a full band and a half, complete with standard guitar, bass, and drums, and bolstered by a dedicated trombone, keys, synths, violin, and other percussions tchatchkas. kudos definitely go to efterklang's soundman christian thomsen for the great sound, though he's had a lot of practice, mixing the band since their first ever show. despite their overwhelming array of instrumental possibilities, efterklang remained mostly true-to-record, though i experienced no small thrill in watching their complex melodies be born from scratch. as with slaraffenland, a lot of joy came from watching the possibilities of each instrument develop as a song progressed, whether punctuated by a trumpet solo from drummer thomas husmer (as violinist peter broderick manned the drum kit) or a gentle tune from the recorder played by electronics expert mads brauer. as far as i could tell, the set was widely drawn from efterklang's recorded works, and included the live giveaway "mirror mirror," which was awesome. new singles "mirador" and "caravan" (which just had its own video made) were met with cheers, though it was quickly apparent that their bashfulness evoked just as many hollers as their songs (they were super adorable). for some unclear, yet wonderful reason, the whole band was dressed in white collared shirts and jodhpurs, often accentuated by suspenders. somehow, it lent an air of sincerity to the show, which is often missing from live performances. for most of us, it was another show in a week full of them, but it was great to see both efterklang and slaraffenland taking it so seriously. if they came to impress us, they certainly did a good job of it. when they returned to the stage for their well-deserved encore it was with slaraffenland and chris from labelmate grizzly bear, who nobly rocked the tambourine as a quartet of winds stole the number. the worst part of the evening was the disappointed uproar that signaled efterklang's decision to not do a second encore. here's hoping they will both be back soon!

Friday, May 30, 2008

a six page article on my favorite obsession

when i was doing a little research for bang on a can tomorrow (fyi: owen goes on around 11 pm), i came upon a previously unseen NYTimes magazine article, titled "the return of the one man band." i haven't made it through the whole thing yet (got to go to work), but anything that talks about my favorite genre glowingly can't be bad. so check it out, and go see bang on a can tomorrow!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

awesome song & dance day! - "swimming pools"

awesome song day! is a spontaneous feature, when i am moved by a song's singular awesomeosity and feel the urge to share its awesomeness with all of you. the song below is awesome.

thao & the get down stay down - "swimming pools"
buy we brave bee stings and all from kill rock stars.

you know her, i love her, here's thao's new video for "swimming pools."

Saturday, May 24, 2008


"look at us, we used to rip off the fall. we rip off eno now, and sing like jerry hall." - the long blondes

maybe if i had noticed the changes on the long blondes's myspace page, "couples" would have been less of a surprise. the new sleek black background, the quote above, the "new wave / idol / pop" description - i should have expected a different kind of band from the one that wrote my superfave someone to drive you home. but, really, i don't check myspace pages often enough to take notes on their aesthetic evolutions (except for team robespierre's, because a) they don't have a real website and b) i'm on it and vain). so i had nothing but awesome expectations for "couples", expectations that were dashed about fifteen seconds into "century." to top it all off, i've now come to the realization that "century" is probably the best song on "couples". the blondes were in town this weekend for two shows, and it was no accident that i didn't go to either - everything about "couples", from its irritating post-ironic ironic quotation marks (so irritating!) to its rather awful songs (yes, in that order) has spoiled the long blondes for me. i am pretty bummed, y'all. i used to really like them.

the worst thing about "couples" music-wise is, well... everything? why would a perfectly fucking rocking arty band go and ruin themselves with all this plastic disco crap? seriously, i wish i fucking knew. "couples" reneges on every single thing i liked about the long blondes, kate jackson's insecure femme fatale, dorian cox's jangly riffs, the aura of urgency that permeated. in their places are endlessly circular lyrics, garden variety licks, and an overwhelming sense that they rushed into this, their second album. "century," the album's leadoff track, has every glaring indication of being destined for single-dom, washy synths and faux dance bass abounding, an unswerving neo-wave homage to the capitulation of "heart of glass." and, like i said, it's probably the best song on "couples"! the biggest difference i can spot between someone to drive you home and this pile of garbage is the producer - instead of pulp's steve mackey, who undoubtedly had some hand in shaping the long blondes's sound, the group chose dj erol alkan, a fixture in the london dance scene, who undoubtedly guided the long blondes towards making this pile of crap. "century" reflects alkan's dance/electronica background the greatest, but "couples", being a terrible terrible record, is rich with accidents, mistakes, and absolutely wrong decisions. the worst (after those fucking quotation marks), in the sense of making the least amount of sense and the most amount of irritation possible, is the album's inexplicable punctuation by dour british voiceovers. despite those pitfalls (and more), there's little sense in blaming alkan for "couples"'s greatest fault, which is simply that the songs really aren't very good at all.

my favorite part of someone to drive you home was kate jackson's fierce delivery and dorian cox's nuanced, gender-crossing lyrics, so it's natural that i find "couples" lacking most greviously in this department. jackson's voice is in as fine form as ever, but her character, once a brazen post-feminist with an eye on style and men, is flat and utterly dull. and it's not just jackson's persona that has taken a hit; cox, the primary lyricist again, has scripted song after song of trite, unengaging material. "here comes the serious bit," my absolutely least favorite song on "couples", seems to only have five words in it: "here," "comes," "the," "serious," and "bit." even cleverer songs like "erin o'connor" (key lyric: "i'll pretend i really cum") suffer from "couples"'s endemic lack of depth.

"couples" can't quite stand on its own feet musically either. even discounting the vast gaping holes of "nostalgia" and "too clever by half," the album has a slapdash feel to it, like an essay written at 3 am and due at 8. "i'm going to hell" has the same five or six chords played over again, and "the couples" feels just as vapid. there's no meat to these songs, nothing that reveals itself only after four or five attentive listens. for the most part, it's just depressingly mediocre, which smarts all the more for someone to drive you home's excellence. true, there are some decent songs besides "century;" "erin o'connor" and "guilt" find the long blondes staying mostly true to their punker selves, and are mostly redeemable. in other words, they're decent enough to be someone to drive you home outtakes.

more than anything else, "couples" makes me sad.

"century" & "here comes the serious bit"
(both files are 320 kbps, so they're rather large.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

awesome song day! - "21st century pop song"

awesome song day! is a spontaneous feature, when i am moved by a song's singular awesomeosity and feel the urge to share its awesomeness with all of you. the song below is awesome.

buy their self-titled record from lex.

hymie's basement, a collaboration between why?'s yoni wolf and fog's andrew broder, is pretty awesome. recorded in 2003, this album is a study in suburbia epitomized by its first track, "21st century pop song." delivered in wolf's characteristic discontended deadpan, and buttressed by broder's unsuspectingly playful arrangements, hymie's basement captures the reckless bravado, gnawing self-doubt, and sheer tedium of "normal" american lives, a concept sold to us by the silver screen. wolf preaches like a boy in the trenches of suburban malaise, wrestling with shallow archetypes of humanity - the beer-swilling sports fans ("let's root root root for the home team, shout like you're dead at the tv screen"), the aimless drivers ("you put your life in the hands of the highway designers") - and emerges bitter, but determindedly his own person.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

songs i'm sent: sportsday megaphone

ready for a surprise? i'm totally into this new british one man band! like, i never saw that one coming either.

londoner hugh frost is the mastermind of sportsday megaphone and self-described purveyor of "elaborate karaoke," a concept he describes with, well, this (he also uses lots of vocoders & walkie talkies during live shows). frost recently sent me the the two songs that are on his june 16 7" release, LA, and though this is only sportsday megaphone's second release, he is planning for the future (and how). his debut so many colours / so little time is due out in august on rob da bank's sunday best label, but he's already slated to play bestival (not surprising) and zoo thousand festivals, in addition to a couple dates around england with i was a cub scout. the songs (grab both below without delay) are more hopped-up than many of frost's one man band colleagues, and his lyrics are quite vitriolic. "LA" is a furious anti-scientology diatribe, written while frost was (appropriately) living in los angeles and an observer of the church's two-faced policies, the chorus punctuated by the declaration "you can go outside / and you can fucking die!" ( in an interview with this is fake diy, frost elaborates on "LA"'s meaning and impetus. he also takes a potshot at americans... jackass.) LA's b-side, "young lust," is a little more par for the course, electro-pop wise. a slightly vulgar song about uncontrollable teenage sex, "young lust" overflows with twee cheekiness, and offsets "LA"'s anger evenly.

i like both of these songs a lot.

fun fact: one of sportsday megaphone's tags is "yay."

Friday, May 16, 2008

arm's way

islands just sent me/their myspace friends a special request to tell everyone that arm's way is streaming at their myspace, and to go see them next week (ok, 8 days from now) at webster hall, if you live in nyc.

i have my ticket already.

at war with walls and mazes

i got excited about son lux back in the day (february) and then didn't really do a whole lot about it, because, frankly, i thought the single "break" was significantly better than the rest of the album. i listened to at war with walls and mazes for a couple weeks without getting hooked, and it eventually got retired to the pile of "what could've been" records without me really noticing it. but i woke up today, with exciting plans about riding my new bike to the olafur eliasson exhibit at moma, and of course it was fucking raining. goddamnit. so, wallowing in my own self-pity, and with my music player pointed at the "S"s, i kinda accidentally found myself listening to at war with walls and mazes for the first time in a long time, and i've realized it's definitely a better album than i originally gave it credit for.

the major issue i had with it originally was how indistinguishable the music is, the songs often identifiable only when maestro ryan lott's lyrics change. assembled from his library of aural scraps and fragments, the album is cohesive to the point of nearly being interchangeable - though each song is uniquely constructed, they, as a whole, lose their individual character and blend together into a sonic haze. when i saw son lux open for why? in march, i had been listening to his album for several weeks, yet i couldn't identify a single song until he started singing verses. the problem stems, i think, from lott's graveyard of sounds, which are all different notes, or noises, or whatever, but all have the same aural integrity, the same neologic, electronic quality. his sounds have the same effect, so their nuances are like a tree in a forest - their very sameness makes them universally reductable. and even when lott uses organic sounds, like violins or pianos ("war," "stand"), they can are so disembodied that these snippets don't transmit the inherent atmosphere of such instruments. this problem, however, has been reconciled through ignorance though - since regaling it to the bench, so to speak, my ear is less anxious and more content to absorb than critique. so even though i find at war with walls and mazes's sameness occasionally oppressive, now that it's unhitched from the playing cycle i finally appreciate son lux.

the singular tonal hue of at war with walls and mazes can be jostling, as it was for me, accustomed to constant musical variety as my ear is. but then i started to perceive the album as a whole symphonic work, and the one-word songs as movements within the piece. every movement on at war with walls and mazes is titled by one evocative word ("betray," "wither"), lending the album a conceptual feel, and, for a while, i tried closely concentrating on lott's lyrics to see if it was. certainly, themes of doubt and unfaithfulness and revenge run through the work (and are evident in lott's vocal croak), but it's unclear what he is referencing, and it seems far too pedantic for lott to have written an album of love and loss. whatever its meanings, at war with walls and mazes is certainly a more successful work as a whole, a song's individual vagaries taking on greater meaning and significance. at war with walls and mazes's uni-hued tones are not recycled limiters, but an overarching stylistic choice, emblematic and representative of lott's fundamental message. and while i'm not 100% on what that message is, maybe it's not a verbal one at all, and merely a forceful reminder of the polarity of albums wholly conceived.

at war with walls and mazes has lots of good moments, some of which are songs and others which span songs. i think the second half of "raise" (starts at 3:27) is the single most compelling section of the album, a sizzling crescendo into a theme that could soundtrack a hollywood explosion. my personal preference is for son lux's most damaging tracks, the chaotic escalation and freak outs, epitomized by "weapons" and "wither," though it is the mellower songs that endure longer. "betray" and "stand" are twins here, easy and, at times, more conventional fare in a work that simultaneously provokes and soothes (in its defense, "stand" has an incredible mid-song choral eruption). however, i maintain that at war with walls and mazes shouldn't just be boiled down to its "best" songs - it's not the type of thing to listen to piecemeal. it is unified by an excellent cadence, lott's sound collages dipping and rising (without drifting) regularly, climaxing in the middle of songs or not at all with impunity; at war with walls and mazes tests new ground, defying and reigniting the stagnant expectation of the album in independent music.

"break" & "raise"

buy at war with walls and mazes from anticon.

son lux has been getting a lot of press lately for his remixes. stereogum just published his vocal-only remix of jamie lidell's "little bit of feel good," his remix of radiohead's "nude" is popular, and my brightest diamond is selling his remix of "inside a boy."

also, don't forget that there's a free unreleased track called "do" available from anticon as well.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

i'm from barcelona & thao @ brooklyn masonic temple, 5/1/08

i've been extremely fucking busy as of late, friends. i don't even know if anyone still reads mr. mammoth anymore. i don't blame you if you've gone away, since i haven't been able to offer anything in nearly a month. i am still extremely fucking busy, but i'm going to try hard to find time to balance my working life with my blogging life, though i don't doubt that the scales will continue to tip towards work, since blogging don't pay jack. but it's a labor of love, so forgive me if the lapses between posts remain; i'm doing the best i can.

one reason i've been so busy is that i've taken a couple jobs at live music venues around the city, which rocks for me, because now i get paid to see shows! but since i'm working the bands, i don't have time to really think about whether it's any good or not (hence, no postings about shows i work). but working in concertry has really made me much more aware of how important technical quality is to performances - ultimately, a good soundperson can make or break a set, almost regardless of how good the band is. so i went to brooklyn masonic temple the other night with all this new awareness in my head, a little wary of the promoter's claim that doors were at 7.30, show at 8 (uh duh, show was at 9. masonicboom, you get a C- for honesty), but eager to check out a new space with what seemed to be a lot of promise.

even after the technical abomination that was the i'm from barcelona show, i still think that BMT has serious potential as a concert venue, but only if they fire most of their crew. to fill the (large) floor space, they only had six stage-mounted speakers, and i don't think there was a sweet-sounding spot in the house. adding insult to injury, these speakers (i didn't see the maker) apparently have no mid-range, but LOTS OF TREBLE, so every snare hit was like a painful laser through my eardrum even though i was straining to catch any of thao's vocals. even the between-set music sounded terrible - not that the between-set music really matters a whole ton, but how hard is it to set levels from a CD? (answer: not very). i was right up in front for thao, but she sounded so bad that i moved further back for i'm from barcelona. it did sound a little better, but i don't know if i should give the soundguy more credit, or just assume that it was from the 16 voices bellowing lustily onstage (i'm leaning towards the latter). i wasn't even able to find any comfort in the lighting - the performers were drenched with white front light, and the backlight couldn't compete in the slightest. the best-imagined part of that rig were some well-placed LED bars, but the lighting person had no clue how to use them. the stage had that hasty, sloppy look, and i hope (for their sake) that it was a one-day job, loading in in the morning and out after the show, because that is one fucking sorry house rig, both sound- and lighting-wise. i think there's finally a venue worse than studio b!

this was the third time i've seen thao (and the longest band name ever) this year, and while this wasn't the best of the three (that was the soundfix show - no surprises there), i really relish her onstage dynamism. she's had pretty much the same set each time, but the songs never are. unlike a lot of performers, she and the get down stay down (of whom only 2 were in attendance) freely stray from their recorded melodies and just improvise new ones that fit the tempo. thao's skill on her guitar is unquestionable, and without frank stewart, the band's electric guitarist, there was a lot of space for her to explore. her physical energy is another appealing trait of the get down stay down's live shows - whenever she doesn't sing, she gets down (but stays up).

thao is definitely doing well for herself, having copped support spots for a number of established names (rilo kiley and xiu xiu as well as i'm from barcelona), but i'm curious as to how well the saturation scheme has worked. by the end of next week, she will have played new york five times since february, but many heads weren't bobbing, even for the always-boisterous "swimming pools." then again, even i found myself drifting from time to time; "feet asleep," one of my favorite tunes of hers, was a little stilted, and i'm not sure if thao yet has the personal presence to command the attention of a large room like the BMT. i would prefer to see her headlining smaller shows for the time being. she was also showing off her new guitar (in that photo), but i'm a fan of her older one - i'm not sure if this one had steel strings or not, but the metallic twang of the black one is a part of thao's sound that i've happily embraced.

stymied by fate, i was unable to see either of i'm from barcelona's summertime shows (matt from musicslut saw both), and i was definitely psyched for this event (also, it was my first non-worked show in weeks). i had heard from several people that their live sets are similar to the polyphonic spree's (you know how much i love them), so i was all excited for a joyful night of carousing and un-self-conscious happiness, but i was kind of dismayed by the actual result. trapped behind a solid wall of stoic, unsmiling mid-30s guys, unaffected by emanuel lundgren and his merry band, my night consisted of ducking around them to see the band and taking my earplugs out every so often to doublecheck that yes, it did actually sound that bad. okay, i'm exaggerating a little (not about the sound quality), and i was able to get into the spirit of things, though not as much as i wanted to. that, however, wasn't because of the stoic guys, but because i had really overanticipated i'm from barcelona's stage show. the 'spree sing happy songs and have fun onstage, but their first commitment is to performing their songs well - i'm from barcelona were more interested in the spectacle, rather than the sound. it was fun to watch them (especially the mustachioed "caped crusader" and dueling guitarists perched upon their amps), but i definitely felt like the music suffered as a result.

that being said, there were plenty of highlights, not least of which was the awesome segue into "like a prayer" during "rec and play" and the adapted-for-16 voices version of "meet the mets." there were tons of pink balloons and we were repeatedly showered in confetti, explosions of which accompanied every other song (also punctuated by spontaneous fistfuls from the stage), and the encore of "ola kala" concluded not with the band exiting from the stage, but diving into the crowd for a conga-line to some euro house track. in addition to favorites from let me introduce my friends (show opener "treehouse," "collection of stamps," and "the painter" fucking rocked), i'm from barcelona played a number of new tracks and "britney," their 7" release. the band was playful and exuberant (and generously mustachioed), and i left with a smile on my face, but it didn't match my expectations. as i've made abundantly clear, a lot of the blame for that should be attributed to the venue, but the band themselves were a shambles more often than they were a band, and i was left wanting.