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!