Wednesday, March 30, 2011

LCD Soundsystem @ Terminal 5 March 28th

Terminal 5 had the word “toodles” across one side of the marquee for LCD Soundsystem’s week of farewells. The other side read “LOVE YA” with the disco ball signature of LCD to welcome fans waiting outside in the unseasonably cold March weather on the first night at the venue. The shows were put together after their April 2nd date at Madison Square Garden sold out in the matter of minutes to the chagrin of both fans and the band. Conspiracy theories abound but it makes for a good reason to extend the party.

Liquid Liquid was given the supporting slot as a thank you gesture for their influences. After three mishaps with bassist Richard McGuire’s plug the night got going. Their trancelike rhythmic nature with multi-layered percussion sounded similar to LCD’s funky dance grooves. The group’s claim to fame is providing the backing track on Grandmaster + Melle Mel’s 80s hit “White Lines (Don’t Do It).”

Members of LCD appeared individually to applause to begin “Dance Yrself Clean” off last year’s release, This is Happening. As everything went dark, Murphy arrived in a spotlight to a huge cheer in the audience. It’s clear he’s the mastermind behind the music but he also takes his frontman role seriously. Murphy crooned confidently, letting his seasoned musicians play without any intervention of cues. The stage was a sea of instruments, with keyboards hidden behind sleek white consoles to match the flashing strobe lights. There was also a male choir in the wings adding to the vocals. By mid-song the party began with hearty sing-a-longs at the chorus and wild dancing in the audience. Afterwards, Murphy thanked the crowd for being “amazing” and for simply coming to see them. He then described how the evening would be split into three sections so the band could rest in between sets and still make it through the night.

The band then kicked into “Drunk Girls” and the moshing continued. After “I Can Change” the group went back in time to “Time to Get Away” off Sound of Silver from 2007. Murphy explained how they were planning to do songs they hadn’t done in a while, saying “hope we remember them!” He also declared how it seemed fitting to be finishing up at Terminal 5 where their final tour began last year. Their hit off the band’s self-titled first release in 2005, “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” kicked into hyper-speed and the ending call of “All My Friends” made the opening set enough to make an evening complete.

But as Murphy said, there were two more hours to go. Throughout the evening Murphy was the generous host, introducing band members and special guests over and over. For the second set, a horn section and female background singers joined on stage, expanding the sound into instrumental jams. “Sounds of Silver” provided a highlight with the added choir and an elongated break in the middle.

The huge disco ball on the ceiling was finally called into action for the third set. LCD lit into “Us V Them” with the choir in full force, bending over the railing to rally the music. “You Wanted a Hit,” “Tribulations” and “Someone Great” were strong offerings with “Losing My Edge” closing things out. It was past midnight when the encore “New York I Love You” was presented as an elegant torch song, with Murphy’s voice echoing throughout the space. Three long sets and over three hours later, the show ended as a very fulfilled crowd filed out into the early morning chill.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring 2011 New Music Playlist

This playlist sat empty before hearing the buzz bands of SXSW and a few key releases of fave groups (Moby, The Strokes, Radiohead). It began filling up so fast, I've already started another. This is a good omen for another great year of new music. The list includes many band members who have grown up together, either in the same family or as childhood friends, which can only reinforce the notion that it's a good thing not to burn any bridges in your teens or otherwise. After the miserable winter in many parts of the country and heavy snows still pounding some areas, it's time to celebrate spring with a bevy of new bands and new tunes of some veterans. Link here to listen, enjoy!

1. Smith Westerns/Weekend
I heard plenty about this young trio from Chicago before this song got stuck in my head. The band was formed by brothers Cullen Omori and Cameron Omori with Max Kakacek when they were still in high school. Now just a few years later, this single off their second release provides incredibly catchy psychedelic pop to the indie rock scene.

2. Lykke Li/Get Some
3. Lykke Li/I Follow Rivers
This Swedish indie artist was born to punk rocker parents who moved the family around Europe many times. That international upbringing has created a mix of styles to accompany Lykke Li's powerhouse vocals. "Get Some" has received more airplay with its full throttle come on lyrics, but "I Follow Rivers" creates a more interesting soundscape for the listener.

4. Cage the Elephant/Aberdeen
This is another band that had hype to spare before a particular song warranted a serious consideration for my playlist. Kentucky's Cage the Elephant was also created by two brothers and a friend playing in a high school band which grew into a quintet with a big, busy sound. "Aberdeen" is off their second release from earlier this year called Thank You, Happy Birthday. The raw musical style is not over produced and can seem a bit messy at times. This song leaves all that for the ending which creates a nice payoff instead.

5. Chasing Kings/Empathy
This indie pop band has playing together for years but in 2009 they released an EP as Chasing Kings that is now receiving airplay. Three of the four members were in Boston attending Berkeley while their bass player was finishing up high school on the west coast, so they used iChat to complete the collection of songs. "Empathy" shows a strong sense of musical composition -- the introduction teases with a chord then sets in motion bouncy synths before the band kicks in and the melody churns until the singalong chorus.

6. Warpaint/Undertow
Warpaint is a female quartet out of L.A. that calls their music experimental art rock. The group includes childhood friends Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal with a revised line up to complete last fall's full release The Fool. "Undertow" is a lush song of confessional lyrics and the wash of chill wave approached from a girl group sensibility.

7. Moby/Be the One
8. Moby/Sevastopol
Moby recently offered three new songs from his next release on his website for free. No longer the struggling artist for years now, he can indulge in the argument that art should exist for art's sake. During my PopMatters interview with him, he explained that the songs were "melodic atmospheric electronic music written in empty cities at 2 o'clock in the morning." The two songs here are instantly recognizable as classic Moby: heartfelt melodies over various dance beats that puts his insomnia to good use.

9. Jessica Lea Mayfield/Our Hearts Are Wrong
This 21-year-old from Ohio has already been writing songs for a decade. Her moody songs pull from both country and folk rock, with a minimalist approach to production that allows her warm alto voice and personal P.O.V. to shine.

10. Polock/Nice to Meet You
Polock has been called the Spanish Phoenix but it could just allude to a category that has plenty of room for more European indie pop bands singing in English. Led by singer/songwriter Papu Sebastián, the quartet deliver tight arrangements that only come from tons of practice. Simple keyboard chords meander along until the group jumps in and allows an instrumental jam to continue until the vocals are ready to introduce the melody. A rollicking drum solo proceeds each chorus, happily expanding the notions of songwriting conventions.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr./Simple Girl
This band from Detroit has its gimmick just like the burlesque gals of Gypsy -- named after the race car driver, they even wear NASCAR jumpsuits to gigs and industry parties. But beyond the attention getting antics, there's a new approach to pop songs with sunny harmonies over layers of sampled vocals and a variety of hand percussion. "Simple Girl" sounds like a simple, fun song at first however there's a lot more going on in production.

12. The Strokes/Machu Picchu
13. The Strokes/Under Cover of Darkness
These two songs from Angles, the first album in five years, were also years in the making. After solo projects and a self-described "much needed hibernation period" the band reconvened with a more democratic approach to songwriting. "Machu Picchu" leads off the release and promises of an expansion of sound is thwarted by the next track, "Under Cover of Darkness." Here the group returns to their roots: a driving beat, buried vocals and wall of sound production -- not necessarily a bad thing.

14. Radiohead/Lotus Flower
The new release from Radiohead, King of Limbs, was announced on a Monday and released a day early before the weekend even started. It all sounds a little premature, a bit unfinished at times but diehard fans seem content with any offering. As the single off the album, "Lotus Flower" is the strongest track with Thom Yorke's vision fully realized from handclaps to echoing, etheral vocals.

15. The Dodos/Black Night
"Black Night" leads off the No Color, the fourth album just released from San Francisco's indie rock band, The Dodos. The drumbeat introduction is fitting for this percussion centric group that even uses fingerpick style acoustic guitars to achieve its mission. Meric Long's warm vocals float above the mayhem, keeping things human and in control.

16. PJ Harvey/On Battleship Hill
PJ Harvey's poetic eighth studio album, Let England Shake, deals with the history of war. She prides herself in expeimenting in styles and this time around much of the album was recorded live in an English church. The expansive sound was more of a collaboration with John Parish and Mick Harvey, who filled in sketches of songs written by Harvey.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Polock @ Pianos, NYC March 22nd

It's fun to see a band when you know only one of their songs, in order to see what else they've got going on. Such was the case for Polock, who just wrapped up their first tour to the U.S. with dates in New York City, Los Angeles and at SXSW. Papu Sebasti├ín, lead singer and primary songwriter, named the group after the American Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock in honor of his own father who was an artist. However, the decision to drop an ‘l’ has music industry as well as new fans wondering about pronunciation and worrying about using an ethnic slur. While the band has been called a Spanish Phoenix, they also recall the band Ambulance LTD with their use of instrumentals to elongate pop song conventions, whether for introductions or breaks in the chorus. This deviation away from songwriting formats makes a nice payoff for listening live or otherwise.

The band took the stage during the hum of synths to begin “Nightshot” off their August 2010 release Getting Down From the Trees. By the third song in, they launched confidently into “Nice to Meet You,” which has been getting airplay in the States. The groove follows a guitar solo into a pure pop melody, only to crash into a instrumental break before the chorus. The shiny romanticism of “Defenceless” followed and the mood shifted into jazz riffs. Between songs, Papu thanked the crowd for coming many times and sheepishly acknowledged it was their first time in New York. The catchy tune “Fireworks” ended the set, fresh off this year’s itunes compilation for Rising Stars: Latin, but Polock has a widespread appeal for all.

NMMatterscorp YouTube Videos (not the best lighting in the place, dark!)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Dodos Interview March 2011

It was past noon on the west coast when I called the number provided for the interview with Meric Long of The Dodos. He sounded sleepy indeed and I wasn't sure how things would go from there, but once he was on topic of discovering a musical path the conversation flowed nicely. With a name that could serve a novel well, I figured he had lots to say. What I didn't expect is that he's a "super shy" singer and they didn't have a third touring member lined up for gigs the following week! Meric was relaxed even while talking about the distinctive percussive sound of his band -- whether strumming guitars or bowing a vibraphone. I heard about them from my son who was very jealous I was able to go see them warm up for The New Pornographers last June, although I did bring home a T-shirt. I also recognized/enjoyed their song "Fools" on a Miller Chill ad two years ago.

The new release No Color is available for preview on NPR's First Listen and it shows a progression to a fuller sound with background vocals by tour mate Neko Case. Well worth a listen and purchase...

My interview for PopMatters is found here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bombay Bicycle Club @ Mercury Lounge Mar 14th

It’s always a thrill to be able to see one of the bands picked for one of my playlists playing in the area. After hearing their polished recordings over and over, it’s always interesting to hear the comparison live and of course, checking out what they really look like in real life. The Bombay Bicycle Club is a quartet from North London riding a youthquake out of the U.K. along with the Tokyo Police Club and Two Door Cinema Club, all offering tightly composed songs of indie pop. They played two shows at the Mercury Lounge before heading to SXSW with Oxford’s Jonquil as an opener - -a quartet that seemed more intent to bring a Vampire Weekend sensibility of calypso guitar to the scene. While naming your band after a flower is never a good idea, using another language is even worse. The singer looked like Guy Garvey of Elbow with the same warm baritone, but it all came off as a redo.

After an intro of Frank Zappa, Bombay Bicycle Club began their set with the kick drum and guitar of “Magnet” from last year’s release, I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose. The vocals ride atop the music, letting instrumental breaks become the chorus as they stepped back away from the microphones, bending over their instruments with a grand intensity of focus. The band knew they sounded good and the warm response by the crowd was met by smiles on their faces. Other songs from the release rounded out the set: “Open House,” “Dust on the Ground,” “Cancel on Me,” “Lamplight,” “Autumn,” “The Hill,” and “Evening/Morning.” Their single “Always Like This,” provided the highlight with a rolling dance beat and frontman Jack Steadman’s stylized vibrato singing. He called out to the crowd a few times saying how excited they were to be there and asking a simple question of "How's everyone tonight?" There was also an apology for taking so long to cross the Atlantic in order to bring their music to the U.S. The acoustic guitar of “The Giantess” quieted things down a bit before the closer, “Emergency Contraception Blues.”
Mercury Lounge asked for $250 at the door for filming video – don’t quite have the budget for that! 

Here’s some YouTube videos found online instead:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 offers DYI music compositions

Darren Solomon spends his days writing music for commercials, TV and movies at Big Foote Music + Sound, working with many top session musicians in New York City. Another outlet is his cool electro pop band, Science for Girls, which incorporates a handful of singer/songwriters from the area. Lately he has created an online collaboration for anyone anywhere to join in composing a musical piece. In is a collection of twenty YouTube videos by professional musicians as well as everyday enthusiasts, using a wide array of instruments. Solomon set the parameters based on a 1960s minimalist composition called “In C” by Terry Riley. Here, each video is under two minutes long and in the brass-friendly key of B flat. The webpage features performance by musicians all over the globe playing traditional trumpet, clarinet and guitar along with non-traditional pairings such as harmonium and synthesizers, even a Nintendo DS. The human voice is also part of the plan, both the spoken word and sung vocals. By choosing a few or all twenty, a visitor can create their own piece of music as well as controlling the mix by adjusting the volume of each video.

In a recent interview with npr, Solomon explains that the idea came after learning how YouTube allows 20 videos to play simultaneously. To bring people together online who normally wouldn’t be in the same room had its appeal as well. He calls it his digital Web 2.0 tribute to Riley, yet this project is another example of how the internet has further expanded the simple notion of collaboration.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Out of the Basement -- A Beacon School

Don't get me started about the days of having a band practicing in my basement. How I loved hearing live music pulse through the house, shaking the old floorboards and rattling the glassware. The first song my son Jake wrote with his bandmate Patrick was a result of waiting for a pick up after school and they went from covers to original music as The Seascape in high school. Their myspace still has a few songs from their 20+ songs they recorded together. Now they've gone off to college and other bands, occasionally jamming together over vacations. Patrick's new band, A Beacon School, will be playing in New York City March 22nd as part of a showcase at Webster Hall (info here). You can give a listen to new songs on bandcamp, a great website for artists to get the word out and sell music directly to fans. Check them out at the link below!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Interpol Offers Free Tour EP & Changes Line Up

Interpol announced February 27th that bass player Dave Pajo would no longer be performing with the band, explaining that it was “out-of-the-hotel, into-the-home sort of thing.” With a short note explaining “there are no personal, artistic or healthy reasons,” Pajo thanks the band, crew and fans. He says he will continue to record and perform with bands as well as solo, just not touring. Brad Truax will “perform bass duties effective immediately” in order to be ready for the European, UK and rest of the American dates for the year (see below). He has played with Soldiers of Fortune, Gang Gang Dance, Animal Collective and other bands. Interpol recently offered a jukebox on their website with 2011 touring friends School of Seven Bells and Mathew Dear. The free Tour EP has a track from each as well as “Lights” off the latest self-titled release, Interpol.