November 18th, 2014 1:34pm

We Could Finally Be Done

The New Pornographers @ Hammerstein Ballroom 11/17/2014
Brill Bruisers / Myriad Harbour / Moves / War on the East Coast / Sing Me Spanish Techno / Crash Years / All the Old Showstoppers / Jackie, Dressed In Cobras / Another Drug Deal of the Heart / The Laws Have Changed / You Tell Me Where / Testament to Youth in Verse / Wide Eyes / Marching Orders / Adventures in Solitude / Jackie / Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk / Backstairs / Silver Jenny Dollar / Champions of Red Wine / Born with a Sound / Mass Romantic // Challengers / Dancehall Domine / The Bleeding Heart Show /// Use It / Slow Descent Into Alcoholism

This was an excellent show but I don’t really have anything to say about it other than that I have seen The New Pornographers many times since 2001, and their always-strong harmony game has reached a new level. The pure vocal power in this show was impressive, enough to feel like a big punch in the set’s most bombastic songs. They are incredible, and you should go see them.

The New Pornographers “You Tell Me Where”

Carl Newman’s lyrics have always walked a thin line between crypticism and open emotion, so in most of his songs you can get a good sense of his sentiment even if some lines, however evocative, are mystifying in their specificity. You definitely get that in “You Tell Me Where,” the grand finale of Brill Bruisers, and one of the most impressive songs the New Pornographers have ever made. To a large extent the power of the song is due to its vocal arrangement, which alternates the lead between Newman, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder before ending with a full-on choral blast at the climax. The lyrics address some sort of falling out, and each of the singers convey a different sentiment – Newman’s parts are bitter and passive-aggressive, Neko is melancholy, and Calder is chilly but diplomatic. It’s Calder’s part that gets under my skin, and reminds me too much of bad emotional situations I’ve been in, where the idea of compromising yourself to please someone else seems like a more valid option than making an effort to have anything you actually want. But there’s a twist in here, where the acquiescent tone shifts to sarcasm, and the big climax – “I think I could change and become what you want me / to think, we could finally be done” – only reads as defiant. It’s a big “fuck you” of a song, and ends the record on this huge feeling of catharsis and relief.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 17th, 2014 1:20pm

Like I Never Met You

Caribou @ Webster Hall 11/14/2014
Our Love / Silver / Mars / Leave House / All I Ever Need / Bowls / Second Chance / Jamelia / Back Home / Odessa / Your Love Will Set You Free / Can’t Do Without You // Sun

Caribou “Your Love Will Set You Free”

I went into this show thinking that it’d be cool to see Caribou but not really knowing how the music would feel in live setting, and came away from it thinking that they’re one of the best live bands I’ve seen in some time. The songs sound more or less the same in concert, but the power of the live musicians – especially the drummer, who plays a mostly electronic kit – really pushes everything to the next level. The physicality of the music is multiplied several times over, and tracks that feel more chill on record feel urgent or ecstatic in the show. They leave you on the best possible feeling too, with “Sun” extending into a long multi-peak finale that was so exciting and satisfying that I don’t think anyone would’ve minded if it went on another five or ten minutes.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 13th, 2014 1:28pm

Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be

Sloan @ Bowery Ballroom 11/12/2014
Forty-Eight Portraits / Keep Swinging (Downtown) / Unkind / 13 (Under A Bad Sign) / You’ve Got A Lot On Your Mind / Three Sisters / I Hate My Generation / Carried Away / Suppose They Close the Door / You Don’t Need Excuses To Be Good // If It Feels Good, Do It / C’mon C’mon / Misty’s Beside Herself / Take It Easy / Who Taught You To Live Like That / Ready For You / The N.S. / Blackout / Love Is All Around / On the Horizon / Someone I Can Be True With / Ill Placed Trust / Cleopatra / The Other Man / Money City Maniacs /// We’ve Come This Far / The Marquee and the Moon / 500 Up

Sloan “The Marquee and the Moon”

Sloan’s current tour is very generous, with two full-length sets full of songs mainly taken from their new record Commonwealth, and cuts from the middle period of their career, from Navy Blues through Never Hear the End of It. It is not generous if you’ve come to see them play anything from One Chord to Another – it seems they’ve put set staples “The Lines You Amend,” “The Good In Everyone,” and “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” on hiatus for a while, maybe until they get around to doing a 20th anniversary tour for that record around 2016. As a person who has seen Sloan a bunch of times now I was kinda happy to get a break from those songs, and to get more from that middle era, which is definitely my personal favorite chunk of their catalog. I believe this was my first time seeing them play “The Marquee and the Moon,” and it was a major highlight of the show for me, as gorgeous and dramatic as I would’ve hoped.

Buy it from Amazon.

Sloan “You’ve Got A Lot On Your Mind”

The first set of the show was presented in the style of Commonwealth, with each of the members playing a three-song mini-set, except for Andrew, who did his side-long “Forty-Eight Portraits” in its entirety at the start. This was pretty much the only place in the set they could get away with that song – it’s sooooo long and meandering that it’d kill momentum entirely if put in the middle somewhere. Jay’s songs from the new album came off the best live, and pushed them into a space that’s a lot more elegant than the three other songwriters in their default positions. I was particularly impressed by the lead guitar parts in those songs – it’s so smooth and pretty on record, but jumps out at you more in person.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 12th, 2014 1:24pm

The Night Isn’t Dark Enough

New Build “The Sunlight”

Here we are with another project by a former member of LCD Soundsystem – this time it’s Al Doyle, who is also in Hot Chip. It’s interesting to me how all these records seem to run with one element of the overall LCD sound, so you can tell it’s all coming from a similar aesthetic space while all being distinct. In this case, Doyle and his Hot Chip bandmate Felix Martin are working with cold keyboard tones and very precise programming and sequencing to build atmospheric, subtly poignant synth pop. It’s not too far off from what these guys normally do in Hot Chip, but there’s something about the way a track like “The Sunlight” gradually unfolds and opens up that strikes me as far more emotional than that band, but very in line with the big-hearted music of James Murphy. (Who is notably the one core member of LCD we haven’t heard from this year.)

Buy it from Amazon.

November 11th, 2014 1:33pm

Your Summer Is Coming

Foo Fighters “Feast and the Famine”

I don’t think I’m actually invested in the Foo Fighters enough to be properly disappointed by a new Foo Fighters record, but I do think most of the songs on Sonic Highways are kinda dull, especially compared to the material on their previous album, which I’d say is one of the better records of their career. The second half of the album feels like a slog to me, and while I think it’s interesting for Grohl to let his songs sprawl out a bit, the melodies lack a spark. “The Feast and the Famine” is the one cut on Sonic Highways that seems like a classic Foo tune, but that’s in large part because it sounds just like several other classic Foo tunes. But this is the kind of song Grohl does best – urgent and aggressive, but also highly sentimental and very catchy in a sleek and dynamic way. It’s a song about growing up in D.C. and falling in love with hardcore, and while it integrates traces of D.C. punk, Grohl’s impulse to self-mythologize seems a bit at odds with the ethos of that culture.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 7th, 2014 12:37pm

Life And Death Is No Mystery

Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar “Never Catch Me”

I feel like you drop Kendrick Lamar into most anything and he’d figure out how to make it work, so I’m not surprised that he’d be good on a Flying Lotus track. It is cool, though, how much they complement each other. Kendrick brings out a warmth and humanity in Flying Lotus’ music that can get buried beneath a trebly clutter, and Flying Lotus pushes Kendrick toward a pensive, melancholy tone you hear on a lot of Good Kid, mAAd City, but has been missing from a lot of his features work in the time since.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 5th, 2014 2:29am

Translating Poorly

Wilco “Handshake Drugs”

I can’t remember how often I listened to “Handshake Drugs” three years ago when the lyrics were basically my life, or if I’m only noticing that now. The sentiment of the song is extremely passive, with pretty much every line being about something happening to Jeff Tweedy, or someone or something influenced his actions. It’s a feeling of disconnection from who you are, and just floating through life hoping for something that makes you feel like a person. It’s a very specific kind of depression, where every feeling just flattens out and the ego gets vague. You’re willing to be shaped by someone, because you just figure they know better than you. But that’s terrible, because anyone who wants to change you so much that you’re basically someone else doesn’t like you at all. It’s not a great feeling, and yet this song always feels so comfortable and pleasant. There can be a lot of pleasure in feeling neutralized sometimes.

Buy the forthcoming Wilco best-of from Amazon.

November 4th, 2014 1:50pm

Dancing Circles Around Me

Lana Del Rey “Cruel World”

There’s a lot for me to love in “Cruel World,” but the part that really gets me is the way Lana sings “You’re young, you’re wild, you’re free / you’re dancing circles around me / you’re fucking craaaaazyyyyy” with this genuine sense of anguish and dread. Part of what makes it work is in the vocal production – the particular tone of the reverb brings out a cold, metallic quality in Lana’s voice, which has an interesting contrast with one of the most emotive performances of her career. But it’s also in the words, and the way she sets up this structure in which the pensive verses take place in a present where she wants to get away from a poisonous man, and the chorus flashes back to scenes that are thrilling, terrifying, and confusing all at once. There’s so much alienation in that chorus, and it’s a feeling anyone with introverted tendencies will recognize – knowing that you’re in a situation that’s meant to be fun, but only fills you with crushing anxiety.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 3rd, 2014 1:06pm

We Have So Much To Answer For

Museum of Love “And All The Winners (Fuck You Buddy)”

It’s been a very good year for DFA Records, with a lot of the former members and miscellaneous associates of LCD Soundsystem putting out strong music that lives up to the high standard set by James Murphy. Museum of Love, a band featuring LCD drummer Pat Mahoney, is the most interesting and moving thing that’s come out on the label this year, in part because he’s the guy who is really running with the element of the LCD sound that made the band as big as they were: introspective balladry set to beautifully layered, rhythmic music. “And All the Winners” would’ve fit in pretty well on This Is Happening, really – it’s got a similar tonal palette, and Mahoney sings it with a feeling of resignation that matches up well with where Murphy was at on “I Can Change” and “Home.” This is a song about having a deep ambivalence about the ideas of “winners” and “losers,” and how being on either side of that depends on someone’s point of view. But despite that, there’s no mistaking that this is a ballad for all the underdogs out there.

Buy it from Amazon.

October 31st, 2014 12:22pm

Give Me One Small Sign

Camper Van Beethoven “Grasshopper”

This is such a simple, sweet, and empathetic song. It’s sung from the perspective of a broke Mexican immigrant who is just trying to make things work, and praying to god for any sort of blessing. The melody feels so warm and familiar; I’m sure I’ve heard it before somewhere before. The part that really kills me is how David Lowery sings stuff like “I’ll be a good boy for the rest of my life.” Something about that, maybe the way it’s something you’d literally think as a child, gets me in the gut.

Buy it from Amazon.

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