August 6th, 2014 12:03pm

The Strat With The Lightning Strap

Weezer “Back to the Shack”

A lot of the best recent Weezer songs – and there’s really not that many, so we’re talking about a small sample size here – are basically just Rivers Cuomo singing about his job. And that’s a strange thing for a guy whose most famous work connected with audiences because they saw themselves in his lyrics, even when he was being creepily specific. (Especially when, in the case of Pinkerton fanboys.)

“Back to the Shack,” the first single from the band’s forthcoming ninth album, is a self-consciously “back to basics” song with lyrics that sound like a musical press release announcing the band’s intention to reconnect with their lapsed fans. The entire first verse is an apology, with Rivers saying that he regrets taking his core audience for granted and making some ill-advised moves in the hope of chasing new fans. At face value, this is a terrible idea, but somehow he makes this work because he delivers these lines with his characteristic blend of earnestness and goofball wit. He’s just being himself, and unlike a good chunk of the band’s more recent catalog, it doesn’t seem like he’s dumbing himself down or acting like someone trying to emulate the feelings of a normal person. The song comes across as emotional and sincere, and maybe we can’t all relate to this directly in terms of being an aging rock star, but it’s not hard to connect if you think about it as an expression of regret about losing touch with what you see as your most authentic self.

The thing about this song is that it can easily set up a disappointment. The chorus is fantastic, but it’s also a promise that the band might not be able to keep. Will this new Weezer record fully reconnect with the spirit of their early years? Or is that just something they have to say in order to get anyone interested these days? This is a good song, but it’s really just a jingle advertising the next record, and while I don’t personally have a lot invested in this, it’d be nice if they followed through on this promise.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 4th, 2014 3:12pm

They Do Not Make Me Complete

Spoon @ McKittrick Hotel 8/3/2014
Knock Knock Knock / Inside Out / Small Stakes / The Beast and Dragon, Adored / Do You / Don’t Make Me A Target / Outlier / Who Makes Your Money / Rent I Pay / Got Nuffin // I Turn My Camera On / You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb / Black Like Me

There were a lot of moments in this special Spoon show where I was just thinking about how they are almost definitely the best existing rock and roll band. Yes, there’s a few rock bands who are still together who are in the same league as artists, but they aren’t quite “rock and roll,” and I think that matters a lot. Most of the best rock bands of the past two decades are in some way embarrassed to be rock at all, and either do whatever they can to distance themselves from cliches, or introduce some element of irony to it all. Spoon don’t do either of those things. They hold on to a lot of the best elements of rock that have fallen away – raw sexuality and swagger, direct passionate emotion, pure physicality – and filter it through a distinct and modern approach to arrangement, performance, and production, so it all feels fresh. Their magic is being able to simultaneously convey wild spontaneity and total formal mastery. It’s a rare and special gift, and they pull this off just as easily in the more abstracted space of a studio recording just as well as they can on stage.

Spoon “Inside Out”

“Inside Out” is a song about gravity, both metaphorically – Britt sings about being locked into a woman’s romantic orbit – and musically, as the elements in the arrangement all respond to the implied gravity of the bass line. Spoon do this a lot, but the negative space in this track feels especially vast. But still, despite that, it feels remarkably intimate. Maybe it’s because Britt sings so much of it like a soulful whisper. Or perhaps it’s the way the bass pulses in a way that feels like hearing someone’s heartbeat through their chest. Sort of distant, but also so close.

Buy it from Amazon.

July 31st, 2014 1:08pm

A Moth To Your Flame

Redinho “Playing with Fire”

I know lyrics are besides the point in a song like this – it’s really all about the tonality of the keyboard parts and the way the melodies seem to gently lean against the beat – but wow, this guy really isn’t messing around with the easy rhymes and clichés. I don’t think it hurts the song even a bit, and really, pop songs are pretty much the only place in life where you should be able to get away with fire/desire rhymes. Also, if you’re gonna make a song this chill, why should you stress about trying to say anything “original”? It’d just get lost under those gorgeous neon synth textures.

Visit the Redinho page on Soundcloud.

July 30th, 2014 2:06pm

The Space Between Us

GFOTY “Don’t Wanna/Let’s Do It”

Here’s another track from the PC Music crew, and it’s one of the most bizarre and confounding pop songs I’ve ever encountered. The structure is glitchy and warped, but in a way, that’s not too weird. A lot of music now is glitchy and warped. This is interesting in how the voice and lyrics are bent and clipped up too, so it’s really hard to get a sense of whether there’s any deliberate, linear connection between the sections and tangents, or if it’s all just a silly string of inane non sequiturs you might overhear on a city street at night. A lot of the appeal of this for me is in the tension between those two things, and the way it makes me feel like I’m just not cool enough to pick up on what these very young people are trying to say. I’m always a sucker for music that does this, and implies it’s all a code to be cracked.

Visit the PC Music page on Soundcloud.

July 29th, 2014 12:30pm

Give It To The Cutest Girl

Sophie “Lemonade”

I don’t really know much about Sophie other than that despite the name, it’s a male producer. Or something. Not knowing anything about Sophie makes his songs feel even more alien than they already do – like “Bipp” before it, “Lemonade” is a pure, direct R&B/rap-derived pop song that feels like it’s been warped in some indescribable way. Everything feels rubbery and unreal, particularly as it shifts into this bright, pitched-up chorus out of the rhythmic verses. At some points it sounds like Max Tundra if he could pull off a banger, but for the most part, it just feels fresh.

Buy it from iTunes. You definitely want to hear the b-side.

A.G. Cook featuring Hannah Diamond “Keri Baby”

Sophie doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As far as I can tell, there’s a small crop of producers in London on a similar wavelength – short, extremely catchy rap/R&B-centric pop with odd, hyperactive production and extremely youthful vocals. A.G. Cook, the apparent mastermind of PC Music, is extremely good at this, and this collaboration with Hannah Diamond is a perfect example of it’s very teen-ish aesthetic. The vocals shift between playground rapping, sing-song, and chopped up robotic phrasing. I’m particularly fond of the bit where Hannah Diamond sings “I don’t want to be / an MP3 / three two oh / kay bee pee ess / you know that I feel / kind of real / kind of ooooh,” partly because it’s just so clever, and mostly because it seems like there’s a mission statement buried in there.

Visit the PC Music page on Soundcloud.

July 28th, 2014 2:05am

Bet You Tell Her I’m Crazy

Jenny Lewis “She’s Not Me”

This is basically a song about seeing one of your exes go on to have a seemingly happy and stable adult relationship, and wondering if that relationship works entirely because their new partner is just a lot easier to deal with than yourself. The line that really stings is when Jenny Lewis says “I bet you tell her I’m crazy,” which is a safe bet, because people are always compelled to turn their ex into a villain. In this song, Lewis doesn’t seem to blame the guy – she does admit to cheating, after all. Lewis sings all of this with a touch of sadness and regret, but mostly seems pretty mellow about it. The tone of the song suggests an emotional state that’s moved on from being hung up about the past relationship, but certainly not from the sort of negative, self-doubting impulses that poison relationships, or keep them from ever happening.

Buy it from Amazon.

July 25th, 2014 12:15pm

Words Won’t Do It

Veruca Salt @ Bowery Ballroom 7/24/2014
Get Back / All Hail Me / It’s Holy / Straight / Forsythia / Spider-Man ’79 / With David Bowie / One Last Time / Don’t Make Me Prove It / Wolf / I’m Taking Europe with Me / Venus Man Trap / Celebrate You / Aurora / Museum of Broken Relationships / Hey Little Ghost – Seether / Shimmer Like A Girl / 25 // Shutterbug / Volcano Girls / Victrola / Earthcrosser

Veruca Salt “Don’t Make Me Prove It”

This was a show by the original reunited lineup of Veruca Salt, which had dissolved sometime around 1998. I never got a chance to see them play as a teenager, but in retrospect, I think that’s fine – I certainly appreciate them more now, and the band on stage seemed as though they’d walked through a time portal from the mid-’90s. They appear to have barely aged despite being in their mid to late 40s, and they rock really, really hard. One nice thing about seeing Veruca Salt now is that their very presence highlights the reality that nearly all rock bands led by people in their early to mid 20s today are substandard in songwriting and anemic in execution. There were so many excellent bands in the ’90s that it was possible for people to shrug off a band this good and fierce because we just had so many options that we could get really picky. In 1995, they were part of a glut. In 2014, they’re like a goddamn miracle. It’s not nostalgia, it’s just the thrill of seeing someone do this RIGHT.

The mood of this show was very warm and celebratory, and focused on these four people enjoying being on stage together after years of being apart. Louise Post, the only member who stuck with the Veruca Salt name over all that time, was clearly the most excited, and took a bit of time in “Celebrate You” to talk about how they – and especially she – managed to get over their shit. I’m sure she does this at every show lately, but she’s very genuine, and it’s kinda inspiring to see people actually get over petty grievances and long term grudges. I think particular to a band like this, it can be hard for talented people to really appreciate the value of chemistry until they have to do without it. Nina Gordon and Louise Post just click, and one of the things you really get from seeing them live as opposed to hearing them on record is the extent to which their vocal and guitar parts are constantly intertwined. On paper, there’s Nina songs and Louise songs, but on stage, there’s just Veruca Salt songs.

Buy it from Amazon.

July 23rd, 2014 1:35pm

Born To Excite Her

Electric Six @ The Jewel (Rocks Off cruise) 7/22/2014
Nom de Plume / After Hours / Electric Demons In Love / Down at McDonnelzzz / The New Shampoo / Gay Bar / Gay Bar Part Two / She’s White / Hello! I See You / Pink Flamingos / Randy’s Hot Tonight! / Night Vision / Everywhere // Cheryl Vs. Darryl / Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother) / It Ain’t Punk Rock / Devil Nights / Formula 409 / Show Me What Your Lights Mean / Synthesizer / Boy or Girl? / Future Is In the Future / Danger! High Voltage / Adam Levine / Dance Epidemic / I Buy the Drugs / Dance Commander

Electric Six “She’s White” (Live)

It had been a few years since I saw one of Electric Six’s summer booze cruise shows on the Hudson, so I was happy to find out that the event had improved a bit since my last outing. This time it was on a better boat on a better route on the East River, the audience was more varied, and the band played two sets instead of booking an opening act. It got just as rowdy as the shows from a few years back, but not right away – the first set was relatively relaxed, but the second half of the second set got really intense with the moshing, attempts at crowd surfing, and general lunacy. (“Adam Levine” was the song that really made the audience go wild. People really want that guy to burn in hell.)

Electric Six are the ideal band to see in this situation. They’re popular enough to have a devoted cult, but not so much that they’re too big to play a boat gig. Their music is fun and ironic, but their audience is completely sincere. Their shows feel like a party, and you don’t want anything too emotionally heavy in this setting. You go on a boat to drink more than you would normally, and to dance, and to sing along. Electric Six’s most sincere moments are in embracing dumb, low-class fun, and finding uncomplicated good times in cultural constructs that are actually quite complicated and strange. Karaoke all night long, macarena til the break of dawn!

Also, this is only loosely connected to the band’s performance, but there was a moment halfway through the intermission I won’t forget: Dancing on the top deck of a boat circling the Statue of Liberty while a DJ blasts “Temptation” by New Order, while fireworks went off in the distance. If you can somehow make that exact combination of things happen for you, I strongly recommend it.

Buy it from Amazon.

July 22nd, 2014 11:52am

Mistaken For Slag

Bernhoft “One Way Track”

My first impression upon listening to the new albums by this Norwegian R&B singer is that it’s one of the best engineered and mixed pop records I’ve heard in a while – it’s just got this wonderful presence and clarity, and this perfectly warm and fully central bass sound. The producer is Paul Butler and the engineer is Dave Granshaw, and they pull off this thing that I always love, which is making you feel very aware of musicians playing in a room while taking advantage of the imaginary space that only exists in a studio recording. The best recordings tend to feel like idealized live performances, even if it’s unlikely a lot of the instruments were even being played simultaneously. Butler and Granshaw’s work really elevates Bernhoft’s songs and vocal performances – he’s very good at what he does, but a lesser producer could easily make this feel flat and bland, especially if they’re working too hard to get this on the radio. There’s a lot more air and space in these recordings, particularly this song, and it lets you really feel the melodies in a way you just wouldn’t in a lot of contemporary music production.

Buy it from Amazon.

July 21st, 2014 11:48am

The Line Is Disappearing

Absolutely Free “Beneath the Air”

It’s pretty rare that a song can become its own genre, but that’s definitely what happened with The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It’s impossible to hear anything with that particular type of rhythm and whooshing psychedelic ambience without thinking of The Beatles’ original, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a surprisingly open-ended and versatile aesthetic, and while a cut like this song by the Canadian group Absolutely Free is clearly built on the same blueprint, it has a very different feeling to it. Their melodies feel more naïve to me, and they fill their midrange with chiming tones and whooshing sounds, leaving a lot less ambiguity at the song’s core and giving the entire piece a more innocent and playful vibe.

Visit the Absolutely Free website.

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