Archive for June, 2008


She Dates For A While

Beta Satan “666” – Beta Satan is the new incarnation of the Danish pop band Tiger Tunes, who have been featured here at least three times before. There are a few differences in terms of personnel, but the most significant change is that they’ve married their quirky pop sensibility to hard-driving, super-dynamic rock, resulting in catchy tunes that often match the gut-punching intensity of the late, great McLusky.  “666,” the band’s most brilliant track to date, pairs lyrics expressing severe yet trivial anxiety about a girl to a ruthless mechanical stomp that is simultaneously violent, visceral, exhilarating, and hilarious. I can’t help but imagine that there’s at least a couple million people out there who would absolutely LOVE this song — seriously, just trying listening to that depth-charge beat without picturing a mob of maniacs moshing in a muddy field — so if you like this one, I strongly encourage you to pass it around.  (Click here for the official Beta Satan site.)


The Cool Dawn Of A Soul

Seelenluft “La Concierge” – This arrangement starts off grounded with a firm dance beat that carries through much of the track, but as the song progresses, it eventually drops out, and the music begins to float away like a helium balloon. The airy lightness is with the song from the start, but that untethered feeling at the end is lovely, especially in the way Seelenluft simulates a slow, graceful ascension into the clouds. (Click here to buy it from Juno.)

High Places “Sandy Feat (7″ version)” – It can be hard to hear the songs on Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes without thinking “wow, if only they had made a really nice version of this in a studio, it’d be amazing!” Of course, those records have a deliberate aura and charm, and it’s not some accident of laziness. They are the result of a fully-formed postmodern aesthetic, and even though they may have often sounded better in concert, they always feel more special and magical in their unfinished form. This isn’t really the case for High Places. They write some very nice songs, but as far as I can discern, their records sound like extremely thin demos, and that’s that. If there is any postmodern intentionality, it’s not apparent. Like too many young bands from this era, nods to lo-fi, drone, electronic music, shoegaze, ambient, and “world music” seem like default decisions rather than considered aesthetic positions. The duo have a knack for simple, ingratiating melodies, skipping beats, and audio texture, but they don’t yet seem fully formed as a band. Which is fine enough, don’t get me wrong — they’re just starting out, and this is normal and healthy. They’ve got promise; I’d love to see them follow through on it with their next record, even if I’m worried that they will continue to follow their worst Animal Collective-esque impulses. (Click here to buy it from Insound.)


Hit The City Lights

The Dead Science “Monster Island Czars” – This is very unusual. The Dead Science are part prog, part modern classical, part no wave/noise rock. The singer not only sounds quite a bit like Craig Wedren from Shudder To Think, but Wedren actually has a guest appearance on the album. (Katrina Ford of Celebration also turns up, and there’s certainly some similarities to her band as well.) A majority of the lyrics are either about comic books or the Wu-Tang Clan. (The album is dedicated to the Wu-Tang Clan, and when you open the gatefold of the packaging, it reads “It’s Yourz.”) The music is jagged, violent, dramatic, cinematic, and perversely romantic. It draws on all these things that are familiar to me, and yet it still sounds somewhat alien. “Monster Island Czars” is particularly compelling in the way it slashes, collapses, rises, and burns through so much ground in less than four minutes without sounding the least bit disjointed. (Click here to buy it from Constellation Records, and here for the Dead Science’s official site.)


Things Were Different Then, All Is Different Now

Pearl Jam @ Madison Square Garden 6/24/2008
Hard To Imagine / Save You / Why Go? / All Night / Corduroy / Faithfull / Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town / Down / Unemployable / Given To Fly / Who You Are / Whipping / 1/2 Full / Even Flow / Present Tense / Daughter / Do The Evolution // Love Reign O’er Me / W.M.A. / Leash / Spin The Black Circle / Wasted Reprise / Porch /// No More / Crazy Mary / Comatose / I Believe In Miracles (with CJ Ramone) / Alive //// All Along The Watchtower / Indifference

I’ll have a different, more show-focused review of this concert over at Stereogum later in the day, but for now, I’m going to be indulgent. (It’s up now, with lots of great photos by Maria Tessa Sciarrino.)

This was my first Pearl Jam concert in a little over ten years. That last show was a brief festival appearance, and so it’s really my second full Pearl Jam gig, the first being a stop in Connecticut on the No Code tour back in 1996. Looking over this setlist, three things come to mind:

1. Wow, I got really lucky. They played my favorite rarity right at the start, and then threw in “Faithfull,” “Corduroy,” “Whipping,” and “Unemployable,” all of which would be near the top of my personal wish list. (“Wishlist,” however, was not, but that’s not really a comment on the quality of that song.) Aside from “Even Flow,” which you’re definitely going to see no matter what, Pearl Jam setlists are very random, and really, any song from a pool of about 200 could pop up in any given show. Sure, they didn’t do “I Got Shit,” “Grievance,” “Not For You,” or “Breath,” but I think I made out pretty well. Bonus: They did not play any songs that I actively dislike, like, say, “God’s Dice.”

2. I kinda wish I could send 13 year old me a letter telling him “Hey, be patient. You’re going to see Pearl Jam play “Hard To Imagine” in 15 years, and it’s gonna rule. Also, believe it or not, they’re actually going to do “W.M.A.” too, but with a slightly different arrangement.”

3. The teenage version of me would’ve known a little over half of the songs played in this show, i.e. all the songs written and in the group’s known repertoire before 1997.

I wasn’t sure what to expect to feel at this show, but I’m glad that what I did feel wasn’t just a lot of distanced nostalgia. I may have significantly toned down my Pearl Jam fandom over the past 15 years, but it never really went away. I may not listen to the band with any sort of regularity now, but I never stopped loving any of those old songs, and I never lost interest in their newer material. I felt very present at the show, and part of that comes down to the intense, unanimous enthusiasm of the audience, and most of it comes out of the fact that the band are effortlessly compelling. Eddie Vedder has got his showman tricks, but he doesn’t lean too hard on them, instead just sinking himself deep into the songs, and letting his natural charisma do the rest. Their show is totally no-frills — standard lighting, no real backdrop. It’s just the band on stage, playing songs for nearly three hours. It sounds so simple, but how many bands can pull that off in a room of that size, pretty much anywhere on the planet, and have pretty much every single person in the room totally pumped and singing along the entire time? It’s extraordinary.

Pearl Jam “Hard To Imagine” (Live @ Van Andel Arena Grand Rapids, MI, 2006) – This is wrote about “Hard To Imagine” three years ago…

When I was a teen, I was very obsessed with Pearl Jam, a condition that was exacerbated by the intense fandom of many of my friends at school, some of whom had been buying cd bootlegs featuring unreleased songs that the band had been playing live. At that point, half of the fun of being a Pearl Jam fan was being amazed by how much excellent material the band was willing to relegate to b-sides and soundtracks, or just not release at all. I had a live version of “Hard To Imagine” dubbed to a cassette from my friend Steve’s cd, and I would listen to it over and over again, totally baffled as to why the band would just abandon what was clearly one of their very best songs. I’d dub copies for friends, and talk it up with any Pearl Jam fan who would listen, totally confident that the band would put it out on their next record. Vitalogy came and went, and I rationalized – it just wasn’t right for that record, it would obviously pop up later on. When the tracklisting for No Code was announced in Ice, I convinced myself and others that the song “Present Tense” HAD to be a retitled version of the song. I mean, isn’t it obvious? The chorus is “things were different then, all is different now” – like, it’s the present tense!!! But no. Though I liked No Code and still do, my interest in Pearl Jam fell off sharply around 1997, and has only dimmed with time.

A studio version of the song was finally released in 1998, tossed off to the soundtrack of an obscure movie called Chicago Cab. At that point, it was hard for me to muster much enthusiasm. I never bought the soundtrack, and eventually just downloaded it from Audiogalaxy. It’s a lovely version of the song, though not quite everything it could have been. It still sounds lonely, nostalgic, and majestic, and the guitar at the beginning still evokes wet snow on the ground and the scent of smoke from wood burning stoves mixing with crisp air (probably just my sense memory from when I first heard the song, but whatever). I maintain after all of this time that it is certainly one of the best songs the band has ever written, and when I was looking at the band’s recent setlists a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but to feel extremely jealous of the audiences who’ve seen them play it, as it has become a semi-regular song in their rotation following the release of their b-sides collection, Lost Dogs. I’m pretty sure that there was one show in Canada where they played this, “Breath,” “I Got Shit,” “Not For You,” and “Release” all in the same set, something that would’ve totally blown my mind when I was sixteen. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Oh, by the way, maybe someday I’ll tell you all about the Vitalogy book I wanted to write for the 33 1/3 series. Not today.


I’m Trying To Be Normal But There’s Evil In My Head

Architecture In Helsinki “Hold Music (Max Tundra Remix)” – Given the explosion in remixing over the past decade, I reckon we’re at the point where something like 98% of all remixes are totally unlistenable and awful. The bad remixes are usually either glitchy, self-indulgent garbage that amounts to some idiot making some terrible new composition out of fragments of the source material, or someone taking the source material and finding a way to dumb it down or otherwise strip it of its original appeal. Max Tundra’s Architecture In Helsinki remix is one of the 2% that get it right. His somewhat cartoonish style is immediately apparent, but it doesn’t eclipse the personality of Architecture In Helsinki or their song: The two aesthetics blend harmoniously, as if they had collaborated on writing and arranging the tune from the start. Tundra did nothing to change the basic structure of “Hold Music” — pretty much everything that worked well in the song is intact — but he adds more color and bolder dynamic shifts to the arrangement. The result is bouncy and restless, and filled with a nearly overwhelming variety of textures. Better yet, Tundra makes some sense of the title by setting the chorus sections to bits that actually sound like hold music. (Click here to buy it from Polyvinyl Records.)


The Loud Proud Volume Freaks

Sloan @ Bowery Ballroom 6/20/2008
Believe In Me / All I Am Is All You’re Not / Don’t You Believe A Word / Everything You’ve Done Wrong / I’m Not A Kid Anymore / The Dogs / Sensory Deprivation / Burn For It / Ready For You / Witch’s Wand / I Am The Cancer / Ill-Placed Trust / Emergency 911 / Down In The Basement / Something Wrong / I’ve Gotta Try / Living The Dream / Take Good Care Of The Poor Boy / Friendship / The Other Man / Money City Maniacs // Flying High Again / Who Taught You To Live Like That? / Deeper Than Beauty / She Says What She Means / The Good In Everyone

It’s kind of strange to say that the weirdest and most original thing about a show was its merchandise booth, but in the case, it’s true. Basically, the premise of the show is that a radio station called MRCH is on site, doing a live broadcast of the Sloan concert in a booth to the left of the stage. In the time leading up to their set, he’d play songs and station IDs by members of the band, and after they hit the stage, he’d talk during their instrument-swapping breaks. It’s an amusing concept with great utility, and it complemented the band’s mildly ironic nostalgia for classic rock very well without getting in the way of the music.  As for the show itself, it’s rather simple: Sloan writes great songs, they rock out and have fun on stage, and the audience has a good time. It’s not profound, but it’s exactly as it should be.

Sloan “Burn For It” – Patrick Pentland pulls off a neat trick here, and unless you’re paying close attention, you don’t really notice it: “Burn For It” moves laterally from hook to hook, and the song never doubles back on itself to repeat a section. It’s just this bold march from one high to the next, moving on to a new peak every time it seems to hit a crest. It’s quite a thrill, especially as each turn in the song emphasizes the eureka moment of each minor epiphany in the lyrics. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Elsewhere: I was on NPR’s The Bryant Park Project to talk about Girl Talk’s new album.


The Weblogs That Get Tangled As You Willie And You Wangle

R.E.M. @ Madison Square Garden 6/19/2008
Living Well Is The Best Revenge / These Days / What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? / Bad Day / Drive / Hollow Man / Ignoreland / Man-Sized Wreath / Leaving New York / Disturbance At The Heron House / Houston / Electrolite / (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville / Driver 8 / Harborcoat / The One I Love / Until The Day Is Done / Let Me In / Horse To Water / Pretty Persuasion / Orange Crush / I’m Gonna DJ // Supernatural Superserious / Losing My Religion / Begin The Begin / Fall On Me / Man On The Moon

* OMG “Disturbance At The Heron House” and “Harborcoat”! I actually don’t even have anything to add to that, it was just a really lovely fanboy experience to get those two songs in the set.

* I suppose the trade-off for that thrill was that, in relative terms, we got a pretty lackluster setlist. The relative terms: The majority of the oldies were played at their previous two MSG shows, but you know, fine, it’s not like I don’t love “Driver 8″ or “Begin The Begin,” I’d just much rather see them do “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” or “I Believe.” The other thing is that on this tour, they have made a point of adding a song that had not yet been played on every night, and it’s usually something really cool and special. Recent additions have been “Turn You Inside-Out,” “Maps and Legends,” “7 Chinese Bros.,” “Pilgrimage,” “Shaking Through,” “Star 69,” “Auctioneer (Another Engine),” and “Circus Envy.” You know, totally awesome deep cuts and minor singles for the most part. At this show, we got….”Leaving New York,” a droopy ballad from Around The Sun, the lowest point of the group’s career. So, yeah.

* I am starting to think that I am never, ever going to see R.E.M. perform a single song from Murmur in my life.

* I must sound like a total bitch. This was a terrific show — maybe not quite as spirited as the abbreviated Jones Beach set from last weekend, but it was certainly keeping with the band’s very high standard as a live act. 

* It’s pretty amazing to me that they put off playing “Ignoreland” live for all these years. As I would have guessed back when I was 14, it totally kills in concert.

R.E.M. “I’m Gonna DJ” – When the band perform “I’m Gonna DJ,” a key lyric appears on screen, but just as in the album packaging, it’s ever so slightly wrong: “Music will provide the light you cannot resist.” In the song, the lyric is vastly superior with only a minor change: “Music COULD provide the light you cannot resist.” It’s not a promise. It’s very important that it’s no guarantee. In the context of the album, especially as the final line on the record, it’s significant: After all the disappointment, angst, and defiance, the record ends on a line that may as well be “Hey, you guys — I found a way out! Let’s go!” It seems like a corny song at first — I admit, it took a couple years to get over the “kickin’ playlist” line — but it’s also one of the most euphoric tracks in the R.E.M. catalog, and I get totally thrown into it every time I hear it, especially in concert. Oh, and you know what I love? I love love love how on th

e final “hey steady steady,” Michael Stipe’s voice goes up a bit so that it’s more like “hey steady stead-AY!” That kills me. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Also: The National and Modest Mouse opened for the band at this show, and at Jones Beach. What a contrast — the former can’t help but be a little leaden and/or sedate, but they really go for it and try to make the most of playing in a big space. The latter band just seems bored, and refuse to play their biggest hits, or really, aside from “Paper Thin Walls” last night, any of their best material. Between these two shows and the headlining gig I saw them play a year or so ago, I can’t help but feel that Modest Mouse are one of the most joyless live acts in the world today. They have a rote professionalism, but that’s about it. It’s a shame, because Isaac Brock has written a lot of good songs in his day, and he should be doing better than this.

Mixed Message Sending

Glam Chops “Tell Us, Are You Ready, Eddie? (Eddie, Are You Ready?)”Following the apparent dissolution of Art Brut, Eddie Argos has re-emerged as the frontman of Glam Chops, a band that sounds more or less exactly like Art Brut, but with a horn section and back-up singers. As you could’ve guessed by their name, there is a thin “glam” conceit to the new band, but obviously, it’s glam as applied to Eddie Argos’ shtick. Basically, this is a song about a guy who has been self-consciously toying with a glam aesthetic, but has come away from the experience feeling extremely neurotic about what other people think of him, and insecure about his masculinity. In other words, it’s all backfired on him, and in playing the part of a sexually liberated rocker, he feels even more pathetic and repressed than ever before. Of course, this being Eddie Argos, it’s rather low on angst, and high on silly, self-deprecating humor. (Click here for the Eddie Argos Resource.)


We Are So Many Tiny Pieces

Wild Beasts “The Devil’s Crayon” – Given that the main attraction of the Wild Beasts has been the distinct singing voice of their frontman Hayden Thorpe, their latest single “The Devil’s Crayon” is something of a curveball: It’s a duet between Thorpe and his bandmate Tom Fleming. Thankfully, Fleming’s voice only serves to enhance the band’s ragged yet enchanted aesthetic. In contrast to Thorpe’s femine affect — the last time I wrote about him, I described him as singing like a hobo who is convinced that he is Maria Callas, and I stand by that — Fleming presents a heroic, elegant masculinity. The song is yearning and romantic, and plays out on a grand scale that suggests that despite their inherent weirdness, the Wild Beasts may eventually be well-suited to large venues. (Click here to buy it via the Wild Beasts’ official album site.)


Always Going Back And Forth

Be Your Own Pet “Black Hole” – When it was announced that this song was cut from the American edition of Be Your Own Pet’s second album out of concern for the violence in its lyrics, it was more than a little bit confusing, mainly because it’s so hard to imagine that anyone could hear it and not immediately grasp that Jemina Pearl was not being very serious.  Make no mistake: “Black Hole” is 100% over-the-top adolescent hyperbole. It’s about being bored, and wanting to devour junk food, and cause some mischief. It’s specific to post-50s America, but I suspect that it’s tapping into a universal human impulse to goof around and fuck shit up. The band express this impulse with remarkable clarity and style — the guitars stab and slash, the beat hurtles forward, and Pearl’s lyrics hit this ideal balance of idiocy and brilliance: “Eating pizza is really great / so is destroying everything you hate!” Yes! Yes, that’s true! (Click here to buy it via Be Your Own Pet’s official site.)

Veruca Salt “I’m Taking Europe With Me” – I’m not sure if this is actually my favorite Veruca Salt song — “Number One Blind” and “Don’t Make Me Prove It” are very tough competition — but it is certainly the one that manages to squeeze in everything great about the original version of the band into four minutes. Huge, pummeling riffs designed to emasculate indie boys? You got it. Sugary hooks? Check. An unexpected shift into spacey balladry? Yup. A slighty deranged sense of humor? Of course. Totally unhinged screaming? Hell yeah! Oh Veruca Salt, will there ever be a time when you’re not totally underrated?  Unfortunately, no. (Veruca Salt’s Blow It Out Your Ass… EP is out of print, but you can find it used on Amazon for a fairly low price.)

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