Blog

Who’s Going To Win All The Grammys?

 

 

So the 2014 Grammys just happened and if you’re a horrid, unbearable indie kid like us, you either didn’t notice or are steaming with rage that it even happened. That’s weird, right? This blog entry is rooted in the thesis that that’s weird, so amend your contradictory mindset.

People who watch a lot of TV don’t seem all that upset when the Emmys roll around. Movie fans always seem pretty excited when the Oscars come to town. And when the Tonys are on, I’m not sure what happens. Theatre people get exhausting quickly and it’s hard to gauge whether they like or care about the Tonys at all. But it always seems like a fun affair.

Whoopi Goldberg, one of the few people to win an Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Oscar. Seen here using the mafuba on King Piccolo.
Whoopi Goldberg, one of the few people to win an Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Oscar. Seen here using the mafuba on King Piccolo.

But not so with the Grammys. Now why is that? Are the artists and groups recognized undeserving or uninteresting? Are individuals nominated and awarded based on ridiculous and unrealistic standards of talents and musicality?

Yes, that sounds about right. The same dull pop people are nominated for the same awards and perform the same songs every year. And the “rock” category is always laughably weird and outdated. This year’s nominees for best “rock” album include Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin (for a recording of a benefit concert from 2007), and Kings of Leon. I’m leaving out David Bowie, Neil Young, and Queens of the Stone Age because I still respect them, but still, that’s 60 percent artists from the 70s. Are there really no other rock bands?

This shouldn’t just be a rant about the Grammys, however. Let’s think about this. There’s lotsa lousy music that’s popular. But the same is true of movies. The Academy Awards would likely be received much differently if Grown Ups 2 were nominated alongside 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Especially if Grown Ups 2 also won.

So are the Oscars and Emmys and Tonys more nuanced than the Grammys, and that’s the source of their relative praise? That’s a hard case to make. Look at how many categories the Grammys have. “Best Regional Roots Music Album.” “Best Jazz Ensemble Album” and “Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.” “Best Comedy Album.”  These maniacs even have an award for “Best Album Notes.” This isn’t a pass for the Grammys, though. The nominee list for “Best Comedy Album” is especially sad.

Without award shows, this picture would not exist.
Without award shows, this picture would not exist.

There’s also the Polaris and Mercury Prize to nitpick over.  Are the “indier” music award shows any better? Well, maybe. Any list of “best album” nominees that includes Jon Hopkins or Metz is probably in pretty good shape. But really, is this any better? Is having music compete within itself a damaging concept? The beard boys over at Godspeed! You Black Emperor seem to think so after they won their Polaris Prize. Maybe they shouldn’t have been cleared of terrorism charges after all.

But what benefits can even a horrendous music blog-reading, college radio-listening ruffian get from the Grammys? Well, without it, we wouldn’t know about most pop music, I imagine. Without it, who among us would know there’s a musician named “Sara Bareilles” or that she’s apparently well-liked? Or that it takes five people to write a Katy Perry song? Or that Bruno Mars is a very short man?

So are we any closer to answering the question of whether the Grammys are really any worse than another award show? Eh, probably not. Still seems like it’s a pile of garbage. But all award shows are pretty bad, and even pretentious seapunks can watch some fun performances by some legitimately talented artists like Janelle Monaé and Daft Punk and Kendrick Lamar and others and learn what’s going on in the world of pop music. So good luck to the deserving artists and performers who are nominated, let’s forget about the different tiers of irony and enjoy the-

 

Never mind. Throw the Grammys in the dang trash.

Album Retrospective: Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer

dragonslayer

By Michael Papich

Sunset Rubdown’s Dragonslayer came out five years ago this summer, and a typical music site or an ordinary fan might take the opportunity to reminisce about the album’s merits. How it merged Spencer Krug’s experimental style with a more palatable pop-rock sound for a smoother experience. How it paints a more cohesive and present picture lyrically than any of the bands past releases. How it ended up being the band’s last album, thus allowing for a look back on Sunset Rubdown’s work.

But this is no ordinary music site and I am no typical fan. Instead, it’s much more important to talk about how Dragonslayer secretly tells one long story about a man’s life, death, and subsequent travel through the afterlife to find a way to come back to the land of the living. Is this crazy? Is this looking too deeply into things? Let’s find out. It can’t be any more improbable than Radiohead’s Kid A predicting 9/11.

The album starts with “Silver Moons.” A pretty, soft tune about accepting that past memories cannot be relived and that the time comes to give certain things up. We get lines like “I think maybe these days are over, over now/I believe in growing old with grace/I believe she only loved my face.” But in the context of the theory, imagine these lines being said from the perspective of a dying person. Yes, the album starts at the initial death of our hero. All of “Silver Moons” seems to point to this. The lines even point to some sort of overlying community or quest, with Krug singing “I’m passing the baton from the old mare to the fawn/It was out of line but it was fun/Didn’t you love the part right before the dawn?”

What was the quest? Let’s take a stab in the dark and say it was a quest to slay a dragon. The hero seems to have previous experience with such quests before his death, as he notes “There were parties here in my honor/til you sent me away.” The presence of a dragon itself is noted in later songs as well, but in “Silver Moons,” Krug says, “Gone are the days bonfires make me think of you/Looks like the prophecy came true.” Dragons breathe fire, people. And our hero was likely not alone in the slaughter, as he follows these lines by surveying his surroundings with, “You are a fallen tree, he is a fallen tree/How old are you, no, how old are you?”

Directly after “Silver Moons” is “Idiot Heart,” a more fanciful song that is also about reminiscing about one’s life and experiences, with the same sense of regret and apology that hung over “Silver Moons.” At a surface level, “Idiot Heart” reminisces about death, with the ending line repeated over and over again: “I hope that you die in a decent pair of shoes/You’ve got a lot more walking to do where you’re going to.” This would point to an afterlife and the protagonist noting that there is more after one dies. But going further, the song starts with repeated messages and directions. “No, I was never much of a dancer/But I know enough to know you’ve got to move/Your idiot body around” and “You can’t, can’t settle down/until the Icarus in your blood/in your blood drowns.” Both of these could be seen as the rules for existing after death. The first is a basic push to be conscious and the second is to be calm and accept one’s fate as a deadman and not be foolhearty.

The song flows in a slow direction that would seem to point to this. The directions come at the beginning and our hero also says that “If I found you in this city and called it Paradise/I say I love you but I hate this city and I’m no prize.” Krug’s character is resisting being death, clinging to the memories of someone else – likely the same person he apologized to in “Silver Moons.” Then, as the song speeds up significantly, we hear “look at you go!/Oh look at you go!” The protagonist has accepted death and enters into some sort of magnificent afterlife existence, which leads him to end the song with the lines about having a long way to go after dying.

Not so crazy now, is it? Yeah, yeah, let’s keep that suspension of disbelief going because up next is “Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!” Here is where the story of our hero gets considerable depth. For, as the album’s conclusion tells us, he escapes death, and the rest of the albums reminds up repeatedly of difficult and powerful memories in his past. He sings, “My God, I miss the way we used to be/So here’s a photograph for you to hold/It’s my picture right before I got old.” The protagonist’s relationship seems to be more than just fleeting love for the person in question, whom the song suggests is the Greek goddess Artemis.

Our hero’s emotions reach a high, mythical level, as he asks “Will we ever find out way into Cassandra’s gaze again?” and “Where have you been, Erato?” Cassandra was a mythical Greek prophecy-maker and Erato is the Greek muse of romantic poetry, so Krug’s song suggests that the relationship between the two crumbled apart as the hero cries out for these imposing figures to try and put it back together again.

The album follows a mixed timeline from this point on, as some songs, like “Apollo,” show our protagonist’s memories flooding back, while others show him continuing his journey through the dead, now angling for a way back to the world of the living. This is where Black Swan comes in on the album. “Black Swan” is a much darker and feverish song and is further from any pop sensibilities than anything on Dragonslayer. This could represent a deeper level of the afterlife for our hero as the song repeatedly talks about a palace and a kingdom, as well as a king and queen.

Is the hero consulting the leaders of the Paradise city of the dead for a way to escape? Does the fact that I’ve listened to this album eight times in a row with no REM sleep contribute anything to this theory? Whoooo let’s keep going!

The force present in this song seems to be quite powerful and have something to do with the dead, as it taunts the hero about his own fears about the supernatural, saying, “There was a rumor of a ghost in the bedroom/Hanging in and around the bed/But by the time the moon rose, you had taken off your clothes/And had the pillow under your head.” Later on, the force tells a brief story that can relate to the hero himself, saying, “There was the matador who said he would have you/If you could only give it up and walk away.” The force, or the king of the dead, whatever it is, says that the matador had his accomplishments, like the hero, who killed dragons and other beasts instead of bulls. But the force goes on to say, “And now it’s half destroyed/And you are half destroyed/I see you running down a washed out road/I see you running between the dream and the void.”

A warning: the ruin that faced that bull killer is now being faced by the dragon slayer and he is trying to tackle a “dream” of returning to life and possibly making up with those in his life and “the void.” And given that our hero is already dead, there is little mystery around “the void.” And like the directions our hero receives in “Idiot Heart,” in “Black Swan” he is advised that “My heart is a kingdom/Where the king is a heart/And my heart is king.”

Up next is another song mixing memories with the journey through death, “Paper Lace.” He hears that, “She will be tired/But she’ll be glad/When you go back/To your good home.” A positive sentiment, but as the song goes on, the reality of our hero’s relationship with Artemis or whoever he is seeking becomes more cloudy. Krug sings,” And when she’s done dancing with everyone/She will go back to your good home/She will be tired from loving everyone/But she’ll be glad that you’re back home.” While our hero was both out of her life and dead, whoever he was with has had her own life with her own relationships.

But the song goes even further, showing that much of the blame goes on the dragon slayer for his obsession with quests, as “There’s nothing left inside the room you’ve filled/With lion skins and laurels.” The problems might be more emotional and structural in nature as well, as Krug sings, “There was no way you could have known/About the things she didn’t know she couldn’t trust.”

At this point I question whether I’m in reality or in this strange land between worlds the hero is in. This is taking a lot out of me. I should go to sleep. Is this why Spencer Krug’s other albums are just about his friends that broke up with one another? I need to put on a nice, sturdy pair of shoes in case I don’t make it through the rest of this ramble.

Now the album’s journey takes a turn with “You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II).” Here, the hero seems to both accept that his time with those in his previous life are over and see that he has unrealistic expectations and goals – expectations and goals he still wants to come true. That goal is a return to life, which he pushes for in this song. He wants Artemis or whoever to “go on ahead” while also saying “I’d like to watch the white flash of your heels/As they take turns breaking the desert heat/To beckon me in languages I’ve never learned.” He has hopes that they can both go forward too, wishing that “On the way decide what mendings of your will/You’re willing to forgive.”

The second half of the songs kicks up considerably and our protagonist’s hopes soar and he targets his own personal hopes to come back to life, singing, “See the sirens and the lizards lick their tongues behind the stage/See the actor keep a ritual to keep them all at bay/He would like to come home naked without war paint on his face.” Dragons are lizards, people. Warpaint, quest, dragon, dragonslayer, album, sleep, NASA, holographic principle, okay! Back to the piece.

Now we have our hero’s actual return to the land of the living. Like how Idiot Heart documented his descent, so does “Nightingale/December Song” illustrate his ascension. The song’s overall melody is graceful and lifting and Krug sings about his relationship to another person, likely the protagonist’s special person who appears throughout the album, in an epiloguic sense. That’s not a real word, but Shakespeare made up plenty of words. Let’s talk about the eerie similarities between Richard III and the presidency of Gerald Ford.

Okay, focus and get through this. So in “Nightingale/December Song,” he tells her, “You are too hot for me/I am too slow for you/You are a fast explosion and I’m the embers/You need the one who slowly burns, and burns to stay alive.” While the hero was blinded by his constant quests, he now understands that he needed to be more grounded to the world and to reality. He also talks about fire the entire song, like in Silver Moons, and on the album’s last song “Dragon’s Lair,” he talks about the sun. I’m jumping ahead a bit, but stay with me. It’s also worthwhile to note that Apollo is associated with the sun and Artemis is associated with the moon.

Alright, let’s get right to the last song. “Dragon’s Lair” shows the hero now back and alive, while also giving some overviews of his life before being killed by the dragon. The very first lines of the song harken back to “Silver Moons,” where he gets killed. “I’m sorry that I’m late/I went blind/I got confetti in my eyes/I was held up at yesterday’s parties/I was needed in the congo line.” Silver Moons opens with “Confetti floats away like dead leaves in the wagon’s wake,” and later on he tells the woman in question “Over are the days where the congas make your hair.”

There’s a fair amount of symbolism here that fits in nicely to the story’s plot. The “lateness” is being a disembodied spirit in the land of the dead. “Confetti” was there when the hero died, so whether it’s actual celebrations or a misinterpretation of flailing innards, who’s to say? “Yesterday’s parties” could be either the gathering of the dead or the quest itself. And all the conga/congo stuff is just…they’re in both songs. Are you with me or against me?

Wow, “Dragon’s Lair” is rife with evidence for this theory. Maybe I’m not going insane after all. Or I’m so far gone that I’m believing my own lies. The song goes on to say, “I’d like to fight the good fight for another couple of years/’Cause to say the war is over is to say you are a widow/You’re not a widow yet.” He is saying that he’s not dead, folks.

Up next we’ve got more for the whole Artemis theory, with the protagonist noting that “This one’s for the critics and their disappointed mothers/For the cupid and the hunter/Shooting arrows at each other.” Artemis was a hunter herself and notably a bow user as well.

But as the song goes on, it seems that our hero wants to continue working to kill the dragon. And the song makes it pretty clear that he was trying to kill a dragon, especially given this whole stanza: “If you are sharpening your scissors,
I am sharpening my scissors/And I am sharpening my sword/So you can take me to the dragon’s lair/Or you can take me to Rapunzel’s windowsill/Either way it is time for a bigger kind of kill.”

Why? Well this guy seems to kill a lot of monsters anyway so he might just be a maniac. But he also mentions that his journeys, both in the world of the living and possibly in the world of the dead have given him an insight into the potential that the dragon can bring to the world, saying “I have seen into the wasteland/Oh, the future/Oh, the future of us all/Of dead, dead leaves last fall.” In Silver Moons, he compares the confetti to dead leaves, and if the confetti is actually viscous insides, then boy, that future sounds pretty bad.

So there we go. There’s a lot of common imagery between songs, the storyline works out pretty well, and we had fun learning. But don’t just take my word for it. Take my word for it and listen to the album yourselves.

Listen to WSOE’s interview with Carbon Leaf!

photo(2)

This past Saturday at Cat’s Cradle we had the pleasure of sitting down with Carbon Leaf before their show. They’re a great bunch of guys who play a mix of folk, celtic, and rock music. We talked with them about how they got their name, what’s been happening on tour, what’s on their iPods, their new album Constellation Prize, and much more. Take a listen below!

To learn more about Carbon Leaf, check out their website here! Be sure to listen to their new album Constellation Prize as well, it has WSOE’s approval!

 

 

 

Concert Review: Skating Polly at Cat’s Cradle

photo(1)By Mack White

Cat’s Cradle consistently proves itself as one of the best North Carolina music venues in my mind because no matter where you’re standing, you always feel so close to the artists on stage. Last night I saw Skating Polly at the Cradle, and the sheer intensity and energy of their performance ranks among my favorite shows I’ve ever seen at the venue. It was the duo’s first time performing in North Carolina, but they absolutely left their mark at the site and made a serious impression on me that they are welcome back anytime.

A bit of background information for those who don’t know about Skating Polly: they’re the stepsister combo of Kelli Mayo, 13, and Peyton Bighorse, 17. Exhibiting the same musicality of the essential riot grrrl acts of the ‘90s, the two also play songs that have a punk rock and pop element to them. We’ve been spinning them on our station ever since their album, Lost Wonderfuls, dropped in April. If you’re interested to know why we enjoyed it so much, check here, but if you want to know how they bring their energy to live shows, you’re on the right page.

The divisiveness of their songs shows that the duo has an eclectic taste, so I’m not really sure what they first song they played was, but I can one-hundred percent guarantee that I enjoyed it. It set a definite tone for the rest of the night, saying that they were going to play loud and they were going to play fast. The next song was “Carrots,” a standout from their album. Kelli’s vocals rivaled that of the studio track; it is comforting to know they bring the same passion to their live shows and in the recording studio. The chorus was extremely fun to bounce in the crowd to, plus I couldn’t resist singing along with their visual description of the vegetable.

I was unfamiliar with next song, but I became ecstatic when it segued into “Placer,” among my favorites from Lost Wonderfuls. The slow-fast-slow-fast structure of the song was Nirvana or Pixies-esque, but I also couldn’t keep up with the changes in pace because I was trying to dance to it and every time there was a change it proved how incapable I am of dancing in any scenario. Aside from my lack of confidence, the song was perfectly suited for Cat’s Cradle, with the riffs shooting straight out of the speaker and expanding into the minds of the listener.  It made me wish I had gotten to the show earlier because it was definitely a performance I would want to to be in the front row for.

The next one I knew was “Blue Obvious,” our most played song at this station by them. Featuring a catchy harmony by the two, I felt this one exhibited their musicianship the most since at the beginning of the show, Kelli was on lead vocals and guitar while Peyton was on drums providing backup vocals. For this one, they switched parts. Their voices mesh extremely well together and the change up in instrumentation was very different from the other shows I’ve seen at the venue since it happened so naturally. Plus I’ve always enjoyed the line “Maybe I don’t need a doctor after all,” hearing that made my night.

My friend who I attended the show with yelled out the song he wanted to hear next, “Mr. Proper Englishman.” Kelli asked Peyton if she’d be up for it, and to our amazement, they obliged. It felt even faster than the studio recording, and the shrieks canon to the album were brought back at such decibels that could ensure ear damage. It was awesome that they catered the show to fans, a genuine sign that they care about the people attending the show to see them. They ended with a song called “Alabama Movies,” I was unfamiliar with it but I’m hoping we get a studio recording of it soon because it ended with Kelli shredding on the guitar and knocking over the hi-hat. It was totally punk rock in every sense of the word.

The icing on the cake is that Skating Polly were the OPENER for the OPENER. That’s right, there were two other acts after them. We only stayed for Skating Polly, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to follow their act. With a great music skill at a young age, Skating Polly proved in the live sphere that they are here to stay. Hopefully they get the recognition from this tour and can come back around soon as headliners.

Listen to our exclusive interview with Viper the Rapper!

Youll+Cowards+Dont+Even+Smoke+Crack+Youll+Cowards+Dont+Even+Smoke

Today on WSOE we hosted Viper the Rapper. Following a huge online fanbase, Vipermania is catching on and we got to talk with Viper about his favorite music, how he got started in the music industry, how he’s dealing with this sudden success, and much more. Also check out the interview to hear two never before heard tracks, “All This Money” and “Shoestrangs”. If you’re looking for more information on Viper and his music, check out his Twitter and Reverbnation page. You can stream the interview below.

If you want to download the interview, right click here to save it!

 

Concert Review: Neutral Milk Hotel at the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit Festival

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 11.34.47 PMBy Mack White

Even though I was seeing them before my very eyes, I was still in disbelief that it was actually happening. After a fifteen-year hiatus, Neutral Milk Hotel are back together and touring. They headlined Friday night of the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit Festival in Asheville and the show was standing room only in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. There was a line of people waiting outside the venue to be admitted inside, appearing as if every attendee was waiting for their chance at a glimpse of the band. Alongside some of my friends who I knew love Neutral Milk Hotel as much as myself, we were only a few rows away from the band at their first festival appearance of the millennium and the greatest concert I have ever attended.

At the beginning of the show, the lights dimmed. A silhouetted Jeff Mangum walks out and waves to the crowd as the stage becomes illuminated. He picks up his guitar and strums the opening chords to “Two-Headed Boy.” I’ve heard this song easily over a hundred times, but all of a sudden it kicked in that I was seeing Neutral Milk Hotel, and a new intensity was brought to the song that I’ve never experienced. Since it is an acoustic song, it was only Jeff performing. As he belts out the last few lyrics, the remainder of the In the Aeroplane Over the Sea lineup of the band (with some help from a few members of fellow Elephant 6 band Nana Grizol) take the stage. Drummer Jeremy Barnes takes the lead, and after a few drum kicks and cymbal crashes, the band segues into “The Fool.” Scott Spillane directed the energy of the band by letting his horn section take center stage. Every member of the band participated in the instrumental, making it among the peak performances of the night.

Continuing the track listing of Aeroplane, “Holland, 1945” came up next. A punkier version of the song was played, but it came complete with Scott Spillane’s signature horn solo. Barnes was a machine on the drums, keeping the rest of the band in time while Julian Koster bounced around on stage. The song did not end with Jeff saying “okay,” but transitioning into the On Avery Island staple “A Baby for Pree” assured the crowd that everything was going be fine. Originally just Jeff on guitar, the whole band performing added a lo-fi element to the song. The studio version clocks in at under two minutes, but Jeff lead the band in an unexpected jam at the end that transformed the acoustic ballad into electric perfection.

Apparently the crowd hadn’t had enough of the On Avery Island tracks, so the band trashed into a hardcore version of “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone.” Faster than the studio recording, the boys brought an unrivaled energy to this one, Scott swinging his instruments back and forth repeatedly being a highlight. The transition was beautiful, Jeff taking a longer pause so the brass could have an extended solo.  After the song, Mangum told the audience to refrain from taking pictures or video and to enjoy the moment, adding to the mystery of his own mindset.

I went into the concert expecting to hear songs from their two studio albums exclusively, but my favorite surprise of the night was hearing the opening riff to “Everything Is,” the title track of their 1994 EP. Hearing this live was a primal experience, so different from the original with Jeff hitting high notes as opposed to speaking in monotone. Barnes destroyed the drums and Scott abandoned his horns for a guitar and rocked out with the rest of the group. After the song, Koster wanted to thank the Moog company because his organ broke earlier and Moog helped him out instantly and said it was so nice of them.

Jeff picks up his acoustic guitar and strums the first few notes to “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One” and it’s as if he was a camp counselor and the audience are his campers, locked arms and singing around the campfire. The warmth and brilliance in Mangum’s voice flowed perfectly into parts two and three of the song, and of course, the crowd did not refrain from shrieking out in union, “I love you, Jesus Christ!” Part three especially sounded great with the band together, the track is not complete without Barnes starting out on accordion and then going back to his native drums.

“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” came next, and hearing it live with the singing saw was a spectacle of an event. You normally hear about guitarists shredding or massive drum solos at concerts, but I take comfort in saying that a singing saw solo is among the greatest concert sights I have ever seen. Koster compliments Jeff’s guitar and the light drum and horn sections. Plus the softer tone was continued with the subsequent “Naomi.” The thing that makes Naomi so great is how it keeps building, and the band did not hold anything back. Jeff brought his vocal intensity back for the last chorus and even one billion angels couldn’t hold him down, allowing him to shine.

The haunting “April 8th” came next. Jeff’s delivery of lines such as “Offer up your steps so I can climb” and “Let me hear the rain tap on your street” rivaled the studio version. Jeff even followed through with the partial humming improvisation at the end, resulting in him holding out a note that harmonized with the rest of the band and left the audience stunned. Unfortunately there wasn’t a transition into “Pree-Sisters,” instead the band left the stage except for Jeff. The audience knew what was coming next: “Oh Comely.” Jeff performed a spellbinding version of the fan favorite, with the band joining him back for the last minute of the song. The shrill horn notes, the cryptic lyrical imagery, the song had everything. The only thing missing was Robert Schneider yelling an expletive at the end from another room, which I’m pretty sure a person a couple rows behind me yelled anyway.

After performing a set of slower tunes, “Song Against Sex” came running in next with full force. The horns, the guitar, Jeff’s voice, it was just ecstasy. The crowd was fumbling with the lyrics, understandably, considering the only person who fully understands them was singing it right in front of us on stage. Adding to the list of surprises was a performance of “Ruby Bulbs.” Not even having an official release until a little over a year ago, the song was droned out with Jeff’s voice and it was amazing. But what could make it even more amazing? Having it flow into a chilling performance of “Snow Song Pt. One.” Jeff held notes that were previously muffled into a multi-track recorder where no high quality version existed, and hearing the clarity in his voice is something that leaves me pretty much at a loss for words, so all I’m going to say is that it was awesome. The band set down their equipment and left the stage, but were they done? Of course not.

Jeff picks up the guitar when he comes back and leads the band in “Ghost.” Every member of the band was performing at their peak during the song, even the non-members excelling at great heights. As soon as they finished the song, Neutral Milk Hotel did something that I thought could never happen again: they finished out the greatest album ever recorded, only this time they did it live. I heard the opening notes to “Untitled” and started jumping up and down with the rest of the crowd. The audience was singing the way they thought the song sounds, and the band meshed it with the most beautiful instrumentation of the night. And of course, if you’re going to finish out Aeroplane, it’s not over without “Two Headed-Boy Pt. Two.” Julian segued into the track with the singing saw and Jeff completed the job with maybe his greatest vocal performance of the night. Then once again, just like on the album, he set down his guitar, took a few steps, and it was over.

Except this time, they weren’t done.

Jeff and the band walked out to the audience’s surprise, where Jeff said they were going play some unreleased material. “Ferris Wheel on Fire” was performed with the full band, an arrangement of it that only exists on live bootlegs. Ultimately, the night ended with Jeff going into “Engine,” complete with singing saw and all of the admiration of the crowd. Jeff even said before it that they were going to play a lullaby for the crowd, but it did everything but put us to sleep. We had two false calls, but this time, they were actually finished. They bowed, and just like that, Neutral Milk Hotel had left the building.

The fact that these guys haven’t played together in over fifteen years, yet they managed to put on the best show I’ve ever seen really says something about how skilled they are as musicians. A band as enigmatic as Neutral Milk Hotel transcends time, music, and the lore of the band themselves, but bringing so much energy, passion, and entertainment to a show means so much to the crowd. It’s comforting to see that they still enjoy performing and bring a raw, new intensity to each show. Is this the beginning of a new chapter in the mystery book that is Neutral Milk Hotel? We’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

Album Review: M.I.A. – Matangi

MIA-MATANGI

By Michael Papich

The new Arcade Fire album is a weird, patoisy disappointment! Let’s talk about a surprisingly great album instead!

 

Namely, M.I.A.’s new album, Matangi. It’s quality isn’t surprising because M.I.A. has a reputation as a bad artist. Her breakthrough album, Kala, and the globe-ensnaring song that came from it, “Paper Planes,” threw pop music into disarray. It had ambitious production, instrumentation that borrowed from styles few underground artists even used, and had political lyrics that brought up issues out of the periphery of many British listeners and definitely most Americans.

 

But then her next album, Maya, wasn’t…all that interesting and M.I.A. quickly got wrapped up in a lot of controversy that ended up eclipsing any music she was trying to promote.

 

Now, with Matangi, M.I.A. is throwing another fantastic album into a chaotic year marked by all kinds of surprising albums. From the first two tracks, “Karmageddon” and the title track, Matangi sets a consistent theme of more intense, house-influenced production with quicker, wittier rapping. M.I.A.’s lyricism is more sarcastic and shade-throwing than her previous, knife-to-the-gut style of spitting. Take “Y.A.L.A.,” which matches her clever, boasting lyrics with a sticky, mocking tone. Instead of trying to flat-out cut down listeners, on this album, she is slyly putting enemies in their place.

 

To summarize the production on Matangi, the best way may be to say it was what everyone wanted from the new Major Lazer album. It is a pumped up, at times dubstep influenced, house music hip-hop album. But, it also incorporates the South-East Asian instrumentation M.I.A. is famous for in serious ways that actually contribute to the songs. On Major Lazer’s Free the Universe, house music was sloppily mixed with reggae and dub to create a pandering mess. Of course, Major Lazer’s Switch and Diplo gave plenty of production help to M.I.A.’s Kala and Switch still gave production to almost half of Matangi, so the influence might still be lingering. But on Matangi, M.I.A. still completely blew Major Lazer out of the water.

 

M.I.A. even does reggae-house better than Major Lazer on Matangi, with “Double Bubble Trouble” bringing all of the rhythm and relaxation as a slow drive through an idealized vacation movie set.  Most of Matangi actually has fairly easy to trace musical influences. “aTENTion” (with production help from Julian Assange?) and “Y.A.L.A.” both use British dubstep and electro-rock respectively to a great degree. “Only 1 U” and “Warriors” sound like they’re influenced by the new forays into glitchy, electronic hip-hop used by American artists. And that’s not even touching on the massive house music sound permeating the entire album.

 

The main complaint with Matangi is, weirdly, the presence of “Bad Girls.” Somehow, the reemergence of this song that’s been out for almost two years disrupts the listening experience. And “Bad Girls” isn’t a bad song, but it feels out of place in the fresh Matangi. The production doesn’t fit with the rest of the album either.

 

Matangi serves as a cool, engaging listening experience with no true drop-off of bad area of the album…except for maybe “Know It Ain’t Right.” The production is powerful and textured and M.I.A.’s rapping is as unique as ever. After all the controversy and the disappointment of Maya, M.I.A.’s new album puts her back into the musical discussion strongly and proudly.

Album Review: Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On

Moonface - Julia With Blue Jeans On

By Michael Papich

Spencer Krug has hung up his warlock hat for over three years now, and with that, a surprising array of musical experiments have come forward. The incredibly lush instrumentation of Sunset Rubdown and the focused, rhythmic electro-rock of Wolf Parade brought out a totally new beast in Krug’s current solo effort, Moonface. Earlier Moonface releases saw a bizarre approach to minimalism, with strange electric organs humming on and on while Krug crooned with his signature esoteric lyricism. Then, Moonface’s next big release, With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery, took another side-step, with Krug partnering with a more traditional rock band and putting out an album that was, in many ways, more conventional than even a Wolf Parade release.

 

Now, on Julia With Blue Jeans On, Krug is taking another out-of-left-field approach, this one possibly his most severe: Krug is foregoing everything in favor of just a piano and his voice. As largely unexplored territory (the piano Sunset Rubdown track “Us Ones In Between” still featured smatterings of keyboard, guitar, and drums), it was unclear how well Krug would be able to pull this experiment off.

 

Happily, Julia is an impressive musical adventure. Stylistically, it is a much different experience than other Krug-affiliated albums. Julia is probably his most passive album. The musical medium Krug is using lends itself to the imagery of a man hammering away at a piano and singing loudly to himself on the city streets. Which is not to say that Krug is a plain or blunt pianist. His pieces are all immaculately played and still eccentrically arraigned. “Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark” closes with a quick, expectation diverting flourish of ivory. Much like Krug’s own voice, which easily evokes a wide range of his emotions, the piano on Julia traverses the album’s tones near-effortlessly. The title track is a gradual and well-chiseled build to a grand head. “Barbarian II” begins with crude, avant-garde composition that slowly dissolves into glistening, gentle chords. Not all of the pieces are athletic shows of piano mastery. “Black is Back in Style” is a typical kind of barroom piano tune of loss and personal history.

 

Julia’s main fault, however, is in its lyrics. It’s not that the lyrics are bad, per say. The main issue is that the piano and lyrics sound like they are mixed together, making it difficult to always hear Krug over his playing. And perhaps more listens are needed, but classic, mysterious Krug lines are not jumping out as easily as “You should have been a writer/You should have played guitar/But your face looks like a statue in the dark” did on “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” from Moonface’s first full-length release, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped. Still, Julia has great spots when it is understandable, like “Everyone will end up talking to the sky/Or looking the elephant in the eye” on the metaphor-thick “Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark” and “Let me take you like a lamb/To the slaughterer with a knife” on “November 2011.”

 

Moonface has been one of Krug’s biggest musical laboratories and Julia With Blue Jeans On is another big step and big success on Krug’s part. The album is surprisingly intricate for such a limited medium and new facets come to light with each listen. Julia is also a much more accessible album for listeners who may not be able to palate Krug’s other, instrumentally eccentric releases. In whole, an intriguing listen, especially for Spencer Krug fans, but likely for music fans of many stripes.

 

 

 

 

 

Album Review: Courtney Barnett – The Double E: A Sea of Split Peas

cbarnettBy Dan Konzman

Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett is getting her introduction to the music scene with her first major release which came out October 15th.  Though is far from perfect, this release is a gripping set of songs that has me on the edge of my seat for whatever she puts out next.  The 25-year-old Barnett gives us The Double E: A Sea of Split Peas, which is – as you should expect – a collection of two earlier-released EPs with equally long-winded titles: I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose.  Barnett’s music is carried by her guitar and nonchalant delivery of her lyrics that gives the impression she’s in the midst of a conversation.  Her songwriting explores the mundane, the everyday, and those thoughts that tend to drift through your head on a lazy day.

The real standout from The Double EP is “Avant Gardener”.  Like most of her songs, the chord progression is nothing you haven’t hear before, but this song is the perfect introduction to her unique vocal style and storytelling.  The atmosphere of this song has a dreamy quality that is made down-to-earth by Barnett’s rhythmic delivery, giving an overall feeling of being half awake on a Sunday morning.  “Avant Gardener” tells the story of Barnett deciding to do a bit of summer gardening to make her house look a touch less like a meth lab.  It’s a hot day and her plans are thwarted by anaphylactic shock.  “I’m having trouble breathin’ in” is the sing-songy refrain, giving the impression Barnett doesn’t much mind this turn of events.

Avant Gardener is followed by two more top-notch songs: “History Eraser” and “David”.  The former is the closest Barnett gets to a love  song, though it is honestly more of a recollection of the events of a date than anything emotional – I guess that’s not her style.  “David” is another example of Barnett’s tendency to shy away form overly exciting topics: this one is about planting a tree.  These two songs, with “Anonymous Club” at the end, round out the first of the two six-song EP that comprise The Double EP.

I feel it may be inappropriate to criticize Barnett’s track order with her insistence that people not consider this double EP an album, but I feel I must.  The first two tracks are among the weakest on the release.  I almost didn’t make it any further into her music, but I sure am glad that I did.  The opening track starts off with piano, which is a bit deceptive considering that every other song focuses upon guitar.  Neither song is bad, in fact I quite like “Don’t Apply Pressure Gently”, but they are no way to set the stage for “Avant Gardener” and the rest of Barnett’s repertoire.

The second EP, however, starts off much more strongly.  This one opens with “Lance Jr.”, which is one of the most interesting songs Barnett shows us.  Trying to characterize the song, “brave” is a word that pops to mind.  The opening remarks on this track are the straightforward admission that “I masturbated to the songs you wrote”.

“Are You Looking After Yourself”, the longest song, comes next and shows us a Barnett that isn’t afraid to explore her voice a bit more.  This track has her coming closer to traditional singing than any of her other songs and highlights her aversion to traditional ideas of success: “I don’t need no nine to five telling me that I’m alive.”  There is also much wider use of electric guitar on this track that is continued for much of this EP.

“Scotty Says”  and “Canned Tomatoes (Whole)” come next and they build upon what “Are You Looking After Yourself” starts.  They each have their own mood, but both have great use of guitar and really pull the listener in.

Courtney Barnett has given quite the breakout performance with this release. Not expecting much when I gave it my first listen, I quickly fell in love with the songs she wrote (no, I didn’t masturbate to them).  Since my main complaint with this release is continuity and track order, I am excited to hear an album once she puts one out.  He writing and delivery are very unique and worth getting familiar with. I’m proud to say The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas is one of the best things I’ve listened to this year.

Album Review: of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar

james3

By Dan Konzman

of Montreal is back with another album and this time it is something to get excited about!  Lousy with Sylvianbriar is the twelfth album from this psychedelic pop group, making it the latest chapter in their 17-year history.  This album is a harkening to the band’s early days and is certainly their strongest since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, are You the Destroyer? The three albums between these two weren’t exactly bad, but they were a departure from what of Montreal does best, which is in-your-face psychedelic freak-out, with a good helping of raunchiness.

Syvianbriar is a return to a bit of the chaos and variability that makes of Montreal such a fun band to listen to.  The album’s first track, “Fugitive Air”, sets the stage well.  The opening chords of the song slide into frame like a movie star with only his socks on.  The song goes on to be a fun and catchy song standout for the album.

From here, lead singer Kevin Barnes shows off the diversity he’s bringing to the table with this record.  “Obsidian Currents” takes on a slower and darker tone that recurs throughout the album on tracks such as “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” and “Amphibian Days”.

At times, Sylvianbriar can be quite deceptive as to the direction it is bringing you in.  For example: “She Ain’t Speakin’ Now” starts off with a relaxing verse that makes you find a slightly more comfortable position in your chair.  Then, suddenly the façade breaks and you find yourself in the midst of the funky groove you should have been expecting from Barnes all along.  This song ends up being on of the album’s strongest and really shows off the dynamics and contrasts that of Montreal loves to incorporate into their music.

The record’s third song, “Belle Glade Missionaries” sets up a prevailing theme of the album: fun, happy-sounding songs with a dark message.  The funky beat of this tune is undercut by the cheerfully delivered refrain, “they’re letting kids get blown up in their schools today so they can get them back to their factories.”  A song later in the album, “Colossus”, furthers this.  The song opens introducing that someone’s mother committed suicide  while pregnant and asks them to consider the sister they never had.

“Triumph of Disintegration” is one of the Barnes’s most well-constructed  songs from this release.  Electric guitar riffs make this a good bit rockier than much of the album, but it is Barnes’s vocals that make this song soar.  The chorus highlights his voice and allows for him to present a gripping melody unlike anything else on the album.  Though far from the catchiest track – the album is full of them – this is certainly a song that demands attention.

Second to last comes “Raindrop in My Skull” which brings a somber, emotional tone to the end of Sylvianbriar.  With this song, the band’s newest addition, Rebecca Cash takes the lead and she delivers!  Cash’s tender voice brings you to a more beautiful place than you’ve been though this album.  Violin, tambourine, and melodic guitar come together to form the ideal atmosphere for her to really shine.  With slide guitar incorporated that reminds the listener of the album’s opening track, it is almost surprising that this isn’t the album’s finale.  It is certainly deserving of the spot.  Not to say the album’s true closer is a bad song, it just isn’t nearly as fitting as Cash’s lovely tune would have been.

Overall, I can’t overstate how pleased I was with this album.  With what I heard from the last three albums, I was apprehensive to say the least.  But I am glad to say that my fears about of Montreal’s future have been alleviated thanks to Lousy with Sylvianbriar.  Upon repeated listens, this has quickly become one of my favorites of Montreal has ever put out.  With a return to many of the elements from their early years tempered with the band’s maturity, Lousy with Sylvianbriar is not only a step in the right direction, but one of the best releases from of Montreal.