Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oops - guess its time for an update

I initially tried to tweet this but somehow thought that 140 characters to sum up six months was just a bit overly concise. So as it turns out, I have a semi decent excuse for completely neglecting my blog. . . After nearly a year of hunting for greener pastures, I landed a dream job at a record label. . . in New York! To say that this is a dream come true would be an understatement. . .

So needless to say, the past six months have been spent in a whirlwind, arriving with two suitcases in the middle of winter, countless Ikea trip, getting familiar with an incredible catalogue, understanding combat living that is New York, and trying to find a way to digest the overwhelming amount of music in this town.

It would be neglectful of me to not mention some of the artists who have blown me away in these past few months though I would venture to say that I'm clearly neglecting hundreds of bands but here are a couple to chew on until I stop being a lazy blogger. . .

Holy Fuck
Trampled by Turtles
Steve Mason

Oh how I've missed you! More to come!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Little Dragon

Ok I have a confession to make - I've been keeping Little Dragon from you. Not intentionally of course - it's not like I wanted to keep them all to myself or anything of that selfish nature. I just couldn't seem to find the right time to talk about them - should I have mentioned them before their show, knowing it would be sold out if word got out about this fantastic Swedish ensemble? No, I decided, I would write about them after being on the guest list to see them at my favorite venue, the large but intimate El Rey. For weeks I imagined what they would be like - lights, chandeliers, and of course, their sexy, mellow vibes cresting over me in warm waves of deliciousness. But sadly, my fantasies were cut short when will call told me quite abruptly that I was not on the guest list. So I went to Father's Office instead, and drank a decent pint of cider, but despite its filling qualities, there was an emptiness inside me.

It was one that could only have been filled by Little Dragon, a band who emulates the sensual atmospherics of bands like Zero 7, but so chilled they have to be from Sweden, home of artists such as the uber mellow Jose Gonzalez, who has not so incidentally played with Zero 7 and collaborated with Litte Dragon vocalist Yukimi Nagano. In addition, she's also played with fellow Swedes Koop, a jazz electro outfit capable of ridiculously cool and sensual grooves. Machine Dreams, their beatifully, recently released, gorgeously colored sophomore album, is a solid follow up to their 2007 self-titled debut. Though they successfully escape the sophomore slump, the evolution from album to album is subtle. Little Dragon is much more R&B, with more bedroom jams and relaxed grooves, whereas Machine Dreams is crisper and synthier, adding an edginess.

For a decidedly chilled band, they have some surprisingly energetic numbers - I like the jagged, minimalist rhythms of "My Step," with its surprisingly low chorus, as well as the detached, '80s inspired groove of "Looking Glass" which has echoes of New Order and just the right amount of production on Nagano's voice to blur the lines between machine and human. And of course, their calmer numbers resonate well with me, much in the same way that Fink does. "A New," which has the same dramatic feel and haunting arpeggios that characterize Air, though Nagano's vocals are far more soulful than the quasi-ironic accented whisperings of the French duo. But ultimately, it is the mellower songs, that effortlessly capture post coital intimacy, that remain Little Dragon's forte. Songs like "Never Never," and "Blinking Pig," which may appear deceptively minimal, are on second listen, a bit more like the musical equivalent of phyllo dough - paper thin layers of sound that work best when combined together to create a beautifully textured, but still detailed effect.

Thanks for being awesome La La.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Deliciousness - Blind Pilot, The Middle East, Timber Timbre, and News

Over the past couple of years, I've developed some unusual writing habits. These include fueling any writing ventures with chocolate and/or gummi bears, and the annoying tendency to try and write a book in a month. While I am sadly not participating in NaNoWriMo this year (last year's novel remains still partially unwritten), I strongly encourage anyone with any writing inkling to take on the rewarding challenge of writing 50,000 words in November.

In the spirit, however, I have taken on a similarly insane undertaking of writing Quango, 15 Years, a coffee table esque book about a truly awesome label that I just so happened to once work at and one that has made a significant impact in LA's musical history, as well as on the chillout electronica genre. The book should be available by the new year, but you can read about the label responsible for artists such as Zero 7, Koop, and Kruder and Dorfmeister here.

And now for other musical things. What with Halloween and Daylight Savings time kicking in and the fact that I am getting oldish and hermitish and just want to stay in and cook and write, I've started listening to things on the folkier side, though with some definitely creepy undertones.

First off is Blind Pilot, a band that's been on my radar for a while. It would be easy to write off their wistful Northwest folk pop along with the band's dutiful plaid shirts, but their story is interesting and their music is wonderful. The band formed in Portland, Oregon and doing their homestate proud, embarked on a bicycle tour from Vancouver down to the Mexican border, lugging their instruments behind them in homemade cases. Now a six piece touring act with instruments ranging from a cello to a really big xylophone to multiple stringed instruments, the band tours with a van, and I'm glad they do. Their live energy gives the weighted sadness of songs like "The Story I Heard" and "Go On and Say It" a jangly, hopeful edge that may surprisingly inspire foot tapping. While I'm a fan of their album 3 Rounds and a Sound, I had the unique pleasure of falling in love with them all over again after seeing them live. Watching lead singer Israel Nebeker getting up on his toes just straining to reach that note and emotion, the quiet intensity of drummer Ryan Dobrowski, as well as seeing the joy and concentration of the added cellist, as well as the ridiculous dexterity and fluidity of a female multi-instrumentalist, I was touched by the passion of everyone in the band and moved by the fantastic transition from recorded to live.

Read / hear more about their bike tour here.

Around the same time that I crossed paths with Blind Pilot, another band came on my radar from way the hell in Australia, confusingly called The Middle East. In keeping with the more Halloweeeny vein, this band is haunting and almost creepily intimate, with whispers and harmonies comfortably nestling into your ear as warm, acoustic guitars and shimmers of piano wend their way into your ear's inner recesses on songs like "Blood." With a sound that makes me think of simultaneously of Elliott Smith and what I would want to listen to when driving through a snowy expanse, I can't wait for their debut album, but for now, you can finally buy their EP.

And finally, because you're probably feeling deprived of all things dark and creepy with Halloween some 360+ days away, there's Timber Timbre. Hailing from the mystical land of Toronto, Canada, this band understands what it means to be chilled to the core. If ever there was gothic blues, these guys would be it. Singing Smiths like lyrics about all manner of delicious things like blood, death, and crucifixion, Taylor Kirk's voice has a similar guilded tremulousness as Morrissey, which cuts through murky, swampy bluesy guitars and harmonica. Hints of Madeleine Peyroux's unhurried bluesy sound and peculiar voice make their way into Kirk's vocals for music that sounds like the lovechild of Peyroux and Morrissey raised by werewolves. Aptly enough, their self titled sophomore release has some delightfully "True Blood" like moments, notably the Johnny Cash styled "Magic Arrow," and ghostly "I Get Low," ("If I could, I would turn back into dust/ and you look so good to me / I can almost taste it) complete with a lone resonating organ and just the right amount of reverb on Kirk's vocals.

Check out the album here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence

What's not to love about a band who coined the phrase "Quiet is the New Loud" with the release of their 2001 album of the same title? You can almost believe it too as Erlend Oye's voice that's just above a whisper snuggles into and warms every crevice of your ear. I've waxed poetic about Erlend before, enamored with someone who moves about folk pop (The Whitest Boy Alive and Kings of Convenience) as fluidly as he does through electronica (he was the voice on Royksopp's hauntingly sweet "Remind Me.")

His latest release, Kings of Convenience's Declaration of Dependence (due out stateside Oct 20th, Virgin) dares to be even more pared down than past records. Its acoustic sounding to be sure, and I'd almost be tempted to call it underproduced were it not for a perfect crispness that gives this album a chilling "right there in the room with you" feel. The quiet, initmate warmth, as well as its fall release have ensured that Declaration is my autumn soundtrack.

There's a lot of focus on both guitar and vocals, as opposed to the piano of the past, which creates more of a personal, portable vibe. The use of guitar and strings in "Peacetime Resitance" gives that sense of comfort and warmth that comes laying in bed early on a cold morning watching dust motes floating in a ray of sunshine. "Riot on an Empty Street" has Oye's near whispering voice bordering on weepy, with mournful guitar fitting the aptly lonely sounding title. The song that really does it for me, however, is "Boat Behind." Embracing the styles of French jazz guitar, "Boat Behind" is one of the album's janglier songs, and the fiddle adds a lightheartedness that makes you think everything will be alright. By far the most charming part is Oye's echoing when he sings "Winter and spring / Summer and fall/You're the wind surfer crossing the ocean I'm the boat behind." There is a mournfulness to it that is very like that of French cinema, which seems to have a touch of humor no matter how tragic the film, or a touch of sadness no matter how comic.

You can get "Boat Behind" here.

Note: I've waxed poetic about Erlend this entire posting, and haven't given much attention to Eirik Glambek Bøe, the other member of Kings of Convenience who perhaps doesn't possess nearly the same vocal qualities as Erlend but is markedly more attractive. You can watch their charming video, which made me smile, especially because their lighting is exactly as warm and mellow as it should be here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Art of the Cover Version - Nouvelle Vague and karaoke

As someone suckled on electronic music, I welcome most well done alternate versions of my favorite songs with open arms, be it remixes or covers. So with that in mind, it may come as quite a surprise that for the longest time, I staunchly refused to participate in karaoke. I believe the words "I hate karaoke," may have even escaped my lips a couple of times.

But then I fell in with a crowd of hardcore karaoke nerds (because those are the best ones to sing with). Every Sunday night, a group of ten to twenty devoted bedroom rockers bare their souls through the medium of karaoke at a divey Bostonian bar on Wilshire. And in that bar without a hard liquor license, something magic happens. These incredibly popular songs are given new life - either in parody or in surprising bouts of serious talent. Aside from the fact that there are elements of the magic and spontenaeity of a live performance (a guy last week brought two harmonicas to accompany Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and Tom Petty's "Last Dance with Mary Jane"), these songs become something completely different and new, both to the singer and to the individual.

So perhaps its fortuitous that the newest Nouvelle Vague album 3 comes out September 15th, just in time for prime karaoke season. The brainchild of French producers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux, Nouvelle Vague has more than a bit of a karaoke spirit to it. The producers employed French and Brazilian vocalists unfamiliar with the originals to sing bossa nova covers of new wave hits such as Buzzcocks "Ever Fallen in Love," and Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Though there is a large element of kitsch, the songs have staying power do to the use of ingenue like vocals that add a genuine, endearing and sensual quality to songs from a typically darker genre. 3 is a venture away from bossa nova and further into sounds of Americana that is, in my opinon, successful. What I like so much about this album is that many of the original artists do backup vocals for covers of their songs, which lends an air of authenticity to the coquettish female vocals and gives a pretty damn official stamp of approval for all the purists out there.

Possibly my favorite track on this album is the opener "Master & Servant," originally sung by Depeche Mode. The lyrics are sexual in nature, but when paired with the digital production and detached vocals of Depeche Mode, they take on an almost religious connotation. Nouvelle Vague's version is downright intimate, with delicate female vocals curling suggestively around twanging guitars for a version that probably wouldn't make a bad song for a lap dance. The addition of Martin Gore's backing vocals add a bit of the creepiness from the more choral original for a song that smacks with "True Blood" naughtiness and just the right amount of hillbilly appeal. Other supported highlights include Echo and the Bunnymen's Ian McCullough sings backup on the dreamy and echoey "All My Colors."

Not to discredit the songs that are purely Nouvelle Vague, however, which are equally awesome. There is a whiskey gravity in the vocals on "The American" (originally by Simple Minds), and a hilarious childlike simplicity and dawdling pace to the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." On this end of the spectrum, the other standout track is their version of Plastic Bertrand's "Ca Plane Por Moi," which has left me wondering all week if an American bar will have a French song available for karaoke, if I will ever be able to sing as fast as Plastic Bertrand, and if Nouvelle Vague versions of songs will ever make it into the karaoke mix. The integrity of this frantic, French, Ramones sounding original manages to remain intact; the trademark "ooh oohs" and butchered French make the song cute, while the wise interpretation of the song to ska, which still pays homage to punk, helps retain the original's boisterous, free wheeling spirit.

Leesten to zem on Last FM!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fink - Sort of Revolution (Cinematic Orchestra Remix)

I have to say, as far as remixes go, this is probably one of the lightest hands I've ever seen from the producer's side. My guess is that Cinematic Orchestra loved the song but were hesitant to change much for fear of ruining it. That and the fact that what Cinematic Orchestra does best is quiet, awe inspiring music that chills you to the core with hushed, minimalist electronic production that subtly enhances hushed, beautifully eerie male vocals.
Not that Fink didn't have that sound going for him to begin with. Fink (Finian Greenhall) was born in Bristol (home to a tiny little trip hop band you may have heard of called Portishead); naturally, he was drawn to ambient electronica and was signed to one of my favorite labels Ninja Tune as a trip hop artist. In 2000 however, restlessness and perhaps the realization that he was a prodigy inspired Fink to make the complete changeover to singer-songwriter. He remained signed to the traditionally electronic label (a testament to his talent) despite the distinct organic nature of his new sound. While the genre changeover was extreme, Fink managed to preserve the integrity of his sound. His trip hop work has the same calm and tonal range, and the resonance of the bass from hip hop beats is still present in his full-bodied voice.
"Sort of Revolution" is the title track off of Fink's most recent album and its a fairly accurate representation of the album's rich, mellow autumnal vibe, with the same warmth and depth as Fat Freddy's Drop but distilled down to a solo artist with less jam band and reggae and more acoustic guitar and strings.
While the original "Sort of Revolution" has hints of dub, Cinematic Orchestra remove any traces of it making their remix more somber and focusing on the restrained beauty of violins and piano. This song is frighteningly intimate - every plucking of the guitar resonates as crisply as if it were in the same room as you, and Fink's voice is luxurious and low. The effect is that of being drawn into an incredibly comfortable bed on a cold day, sinking into a down comforter until you're completely enveloped. Not unpleasant in the least, but you better be ready to stay there for awhile.


I like the lyrics for this song as well. . .

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Weepy Williamsburg

One of the downfalls about being a professional music reviewer is that sometimes, music becomes work. One of the sad things about being a recreational music reviewer is that to escape / procrastinate writing about work music, I find myself blogging about fun music. But if it wasn't for procrastination, I likely wouldn't have created a blog to begin with; and so I find myself guiltily blogging about some great new indie rock when I'm meant to be writing about a New Age album that shall remain nameless.
Perhaps it's my recent trip to New York and the fact that a significant portion of my time there was spent melting with all the hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but all this indie rock is really ahem, striking a chord with me.
I always thought indie rock was more of a fall winter thing but when I hear the weird falsetto, grand sweeping chorus, and U2 like guitar riff of the Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition," I can't think of anything else I'd want to listen to while I cut my jeans into shorts and roll up the sleeves to my plaid shirt. The fact that it's in the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack probably doesn't hurt either. This burgeoning Australian band is no one trick pony either - while they still employ the falsetto vocals on some of their songs, the imminently catchy "Fader," has the bounce of classic Jimmy Eat World with a bit more of the delicacy you'd expect from a group of guys this skinny.
Then there is The XX. Hailing from London, this band's music is the stuff mixtapes are made of. If you ignore the fact that they're all 19, their music is perfect soundtrack for a seduction already lubricated with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Notably is "Islands", which boasts a sentimental duet with trembling female vocals and rich male vocals. The cool, understated guitar resonates with the same vibe as the king of cool and understated (as well as King of Convenience member) Erlend Oye, complete with, god yes, New Wave synth accents.
Lastly comes a discovery made at an honest to God Williamsburg barbecue - the Dodos. The band is signed to New York's own Frenchkiss Records and have positively delighted me with their dependably indie rock. Songs like the homespun "Undeclared" create a sense of familiarity and comfort, not unlike the music of Juno, while "Fools" resonates with echoey harmonies that perfectly offset urgent acoustic guitar bashing.
So make a little iPod playlist, rethink your seasonal music choices, and enjoy slapping mosquitoes and sweating out the end of summer to these cool indie sounds - I know I sure will.