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.

July 16th, 2014 12:35pm

Maybe I Don’t Need To Understand

Bleachers “You’re Still A Mystery”

I interviewed Jack Antonoff from Bleachers a few months ago, and I was impressed by his candor and ambition. We talked a lot about disappointing the indie world has become, and how it’s awful when artists consistently hedge their bets, especially when it comes to projecting real emotion in their work. At that time, I’d only heard a couple songs from the Bleachers record, but it was clear enough that he wasn’t holding anything back, and was trying to make actual pop music.

A lot of the songs on Bleachers’ debut are more low key than I expected from how he was talking. For the most part, these lower-energy songs are ballads that give the album a bit of dynamic range, but in the case of “You’re Still A Mystery,” it’s more about balancing a big, passionate song with a more measured, sober delivery. It strikes me as being like late ’80s Depeche Mode trying to pull off something that feels more like Bruce Springsteen or something from a John Hughes soundtrack. This approach works for me, and definitely suits the lyrics, in which he’s trying to be rational and analytical about a wonderful, irrational emotion.

Buy it from Amazon.

July 15th, 2014 1:23pm

Coming Up For Air

The Acid “Basic Instinct”

The Acid are a great example of something that in only a few years will sound very specific to this period of time, this pocket of years in the first half of this decade. This particular song sounds a lot like the more famous Alt-J, but I think this is a bit better than anything they’ve done – they have the same desolate folk + moody electronic vibe, but the vocals are far less affected and The Acid are more willing to push the ambient elements of their music from an eerie, evocative hum to an ugly, overwhelming buzz.

Buy it from Amazon.

July 14th, 2014 12:32pm

This Procession Of Unchanging Days

Phish @ Randall’s Island 7/12/2014
AC/DC Bag / 46 Days / Yarmouth Road / Devotion to a Dream / Free / My Sweet One / Back on the Train / Halfway to the Moon / Sparkle / A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing / The Line / Run Like An Antelope // Punch You In the Eye / Carini / Ghost / Wingsuit / Rock & Roll / Harry Hood /// Tube / Joy / New Tube

Phish “Wingsuit” (7/12/2014)

I’ve known about Phish for most of my life, but had avoided their music up until just recently because I bought into the received wisdom that they weren’t very good, and the whole “jam band” thing was inherently lame. In recent years, I had at least a dim realization that what Phish does isn’t that far off from some bands I really love – Wilco, Malkmus, later Sonic Youth, Neil Young, etc – but still kept a distance, thinking “this isn’t for me.”

Two things happened that made me decide to give Phish a real chance: My friend Bryan became a big fan and got deep into their lore, and their current PR company invited me to watch them tape a special show at David Letterman’s Ed Sullivan Theater. I will go see most any famous artist play for free, so I went for it. It was only going to be an hour – a third of the time they would normally play – so it was as low-risk as it could possibly be. I ended up enjoying that set, and having a nice time. I remember thinking two things: “No one ever tells you that Phish write some good melodies,” and “Why do Phish fans get such a bad rap when they’re such a nice balance of relaxed and enthusiastic?”

A few days later, the same PR company invited me to see one of the band’s three shows at Randall’s Island, and I took them up on it. I enjoyed the studio taping, and was curious what a real show would be like. As it turns out, it was like the taping but on a much, much larger scale. I really can’t emphasize enough how pleasant their audience is – the last time I went to Randall’s Island was for the Governors Ball festival in June, and there were so many asshole bros and miscellaneous tools in that audience that it wrecked the experience for me so much that I’m reticent to go to another festival ever again. The Phish audience, on the other hand, is as mellow and unpretentious as it gets.

The nature of a show like this is such that you don’t feel compelled to pay close attention to every moment of the set, and can really just enjoy the environment as much as the music itself. My friends and I mostly hung out at a picnic table halfway through the park, but we could’ve hung out on a hill, or gone closer, or found a spot with a lot of space further back in the park. One of the best parts of my experience was taking a walk around the back end of the park during “Harry Hood,” and just feeling far more relaxed and physically comfortable than I ever do in day to day life. (I was not high, by the way.)

I really enjoyed just existing in this space, and tapping into the music when it got especially interesting, and just kinda going with the flow once they settled into an instrumental jam. I went into both of these shows only knowing a bit of their catalog, so I could be surprised by a particularly good melody or sound – the Led Zep riffing on “Carini,” the great classic rock-ish hook on “The Line,” the Stevie Wonder-ish funk on “Tube.” The part that really got me in the moment was the first half of “Wingsuit,” which turns out to be a cut from their newest album. It’s a moody ballad anchored by a gorgeous piano part that reminds me specifically of something, but I can’t exactly place it. My instinct is that it’s a krautrock thing maybe, but I still don’t know. It’s a really lovely song, though.

I’m not deep into Phish now and doubt I will be, but I do like them and I’m glad I’ve given them a chance and that I’ve come to know a bunch of their songs. I feel dumb for buying into this conventional wisdom about them, especially since it clearly is rooted in a punk disdain for hippies that I know is total bullshit. Phish is a lot more imaginative, inclusive and open-minded than most bands, and the same is true for their audience. That is almost never true of punk rock, though.

Buy the full show from Phish’s site. Buy the studio version from Amazon.

July 10th, 2014 11:53am

The Wave Is Rushing Through You

Got A Girl “There’s A Revolution”

Dan the Automator and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Got A Girl calls back to a lot of music from the mid-20th century, but specifically sounds like a record from the very late ’90s that we’re only just hearing now. To a large extent this is just the Automator being the Automator – his aesthetic is always going to be tied to his glory days, and it really does feel refreshing to hear something that’s very him since it seems like he’s been away a long time. This is the funny thing that happens with a lot of artists that work with pastiche and kitsch – at the time it’s new, you clearly hear the reference points and interpret the work that way, but years on, the aesthetic and mutations are what you hear more clearly because that gloss is now just as nostalgic as the sounds it was framing the first time around. So yes, “There’s A Revolution” calls back to French and Brazilian pop from the ’60s, maybe some more things too, but I mainly just hear a catchy tune that probably would’ve gone over great on KCRW back in the day.

Buy it from Amazon.

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