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!
Friday, May 30, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
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.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
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.
Friday, May 23, 2008
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
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 last.fm tags is "yay."
Friday, May 16, 2008
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.
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.
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'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.