Monday, 31 May 2010

#MusicMonday - Songs in 140 Characters (Or Less)

Well, song today in fact, having barely just returned home from the elongated weekend before it ends. Ain't bridge & tunnel traffic a joy to behold? No, actually. 

The jam down time did however allow me to tune in, via satellite radio, to BBC Radio 1's Huw Stephens as he presented Masters In France; a ballsy group of rockers from North Wales.

The new single Greyhounds [Europe pre-order] doesn't piss about, racing from the traps (appropriate to its title) and brazenly threatening all around it (less appropriate to its title) with the sharp riffs and swaggering vocal.

There will certainly be more on these boys in the coming weeks but the more adventurous amongst you may wish to check out their Myspace for more information. And all this without having to pay the Beeb's licence fee any longer. Bonus.

Happy Memorial Day and bank hols to all!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Strains of Summer: Avi Buffalo Ease Us Into Brighter Days

With the (unofficial) passing into summer this late May holiday weekend - Memorial Day in the US; the last in the line of a good run of public holidays for the UK - it's natural to start seeking the lackadaisical tunes that will mark the coming months in our memory, for better or for worse. 

Thanks to a combination of Last.FM's relentless recommendation march and the hard work of Sub Pop's free music folks, Avi Buffalo have popped up just in time to meet this requirement and keep me company in the traffic out of NYC this weekend (please be gone already....?). 

Rife with youthful exuberance (the oldest band member is 21) and breezy indie-pop tunes that recall a more ramshackle Shins, perhaps with the  same loose feel of a Los Campesinos! jam, the band offer that desired mix of chilled sunny bliss and songs, like the endearing What's In It?, with identity but little pretension. 

MP3: Avi Buffalo - What's In It? (at Sub Pop Records)
Taken from the self-titled debut album, out now 

Buy it at Insound!

Coming from Long Beach, CA, they also have the credentials to lay claim to being kings of the summer surf. If the new album settles well as a whole and the upcoming tour with the wonderful Modest Mouse finds them the wider recognition they're due, there's little reason for Avi Buffalo not to be the band topping your 2010 summer soundtrack playlist. 

Safe travels everyone!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Phantastic Influences: Phantogram Channel Their Inner Bristolian

Having grown up in Bristol, the spritual home of British trip-hop, when a band is compared to Portishead or Massive Attack my ears naturally prick up like a Red Bull-addled Meerkat. Thus, upstate NY duo Phantogram  this week happened across my stereo after reviewer comparisons to Beth Gibbons' evergreen crew. 

Largely justified, the band's debut Eyelid Movies is packed with loping, gloriously laconic beats and the similarly toned vocals of Sarah Barthel. Though they come close to the Portishead aesthetic, Phantogram can inject a more melodic electronic bent into their material, something that sees them veer away from the darker introspection of their forebears. 

On occasion the music blends into the background all too easily, soothing the senses a little too much perhaps, but tracks like the glitchy When I'm Small and groove-heavy Bloody Palms spark the synapses and show why this effort is worthy of the attention it has been receiving. 

MP3: Phantogram - When I'm Small (via Insound
Taken from debut album Eyelid Movies, out now 

Buy it at Insound!

The band plays the Sasquatch Festival over the coming Memorial Day weekend, then remains out West for a few dates with perma-hyped London crew The xx. If you happen to have love for the latter - not something that I've been able to evoke in my own ears - and have snagged tickets already, then definitely arrive early for something to accompany your first drink or two. Chances are you'll find your new go-to music for the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

It's Tight: The Black Keys Return

The Black Keys returned in full force this week, opening for Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden and supporting the release of their new album, 'Brothers'. The first video from their latest blues-tinged rock effort is for Tighten Up and features some odd shenanigans in a playground, all of which is somewhat superfluous to the laid back groove of the song itself.

Also on offer is a free download of the rather more upbeat and enjoyable Ohio, which is yours for the exchange of an e-mail address (personal or otherwise) here. Neither of the songs quite hit the highs of early career tracks from Rubber Factory, but they certainly have the kick back, effortless groove and soul of a band that has had their style down pat for a few records now. 

Taken from their notable album Rubber Factory

Buy it at Insound!

A full review of the new album will appear here once it all settles comfortably in my musical digestive system. In the meantime, let's have your thoughts on the path these two fellas from Akron have taken; do they need to change it up or simply keep rocking away in their characteristic style?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

When In Leeds: Bear Driver Continue a Trend

Purely by coincidence, in Leeds of England we remain today - having checked in on regional brethren The Wind-Up Birds yesterday - to introduce the effervescent, mildly trippy tones of Bear Driver.

The band have already risen to some prominence, having graced the Reading/Leeds festivals last year and caught the ears of various BBC Radio taste makers. A quick listen to the eccentric punch of Mind Attack or the infinitely more tranquil delights of A Thousand Samurais gives some indication as to why they're registering on so many radars. With new single Wolves due out in July, this should be set to continue.

MP3: Bear Driver - A Thousand Samurais
Free download offered via SoundCloud

With a sound that takes cues from Broken Social Scene and, yes, other 'Bear' bands (Grizzly, Panda, or otherwise), Bear Driver retain plenty of their own identity with glorious pop melodies rising from more minimal passages of the songs and a vaguely psychedelic tip when they find need of it. Look no further than the somewhat bizarre video and lyrics of Mind Attack below for the latter.

Along with Liverpool's Bagheera, it's great to hear a British slant being added to the numerous North American (actually, predominantly North Brooklyn) taking on this layered, attractive style of indie rock. So much so that the continued inclusion of large, furry mammals in band monickers can once again be overlooked. One day, however, I will list them all and prove to you all that they're plotting world domination. 

At least when this occurs, we'll have some lush melodies to soundtrack our servitude though. Worse things have happened, non?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Twisted Firestarter: The Wind-Up Birds Showcase New Video

The Wind Up Birds - Tyre Fire from Paul Morricone on Vimeo.

This smart new vid from Leeds-based quartet The Wind-Up Birds takes a journey into the mind of a chap contemplating setting his life ablaze and moving on. Tyre Fire, pegged as the opposing number to I Will Survive, is a stark exploration of the frame of mind such a person might wander through.

As with There Won't Always Be An England, previously covered in these pages, the band's sound is formed around the striking vocal of Paul Ackroyd, who has a part spoken-word style that brings to mind a less rhyme-obsessed Mike Skinner. Initially it can seem awkward, at odds with the melodic backing vocals and surging instrumentation. Given time to sink in, however, it grows and settles naturally around the more staccato guitar parts. The combination of both songs as the current single holds a mirror up to British society and finds plenty of dark corners to explore. One can only marvel at the potential grievances the band has soaked in following the recent election.

For now we'll have to make do with these two prime cuts, which can be purchased in various formats from Sturdy Records. The Wind-Up Birds have no current tour dates lined up but you can keep an eye on their activities via their website or Myspace

Your opinions on the video and music are welcomed in the comments or on the H-T-A Facebook page.

Monday, 17 May 2010

#MusicMonday [Metal Memoriam] - Songs in 140 Characters (Or Less)

"Music, Rock & Roll music especially, is such a generational thing. Each generation must have their own music."
- Ronnie James Dio


Metal - and more widely rock & roll - lost one its true legends this weekend. Ronnie James Dio passed away, leaving behind a legacy of music spanning the many generations he believed have their own music. Despite the truth in this, Dio  (pictured left, courtesy RJForster) restricted to a specific period and influenced from the time he supported Deep Purple in the 60's, through work with huge names like Rainbow and Black Sabbath, all the way to the present day with his eponymous band and Sabbath reincarnation Heaven & Hell

Download Dio's Holy Diver free from Amazon here (track 4)

By way of a small tribute, this version of #MusicMonday focuses on metal and artists that would have been very different - or perhaps not be here at all - were it not for that characteristic high register vocal and the riffs his imaginative lyrics inspired. If you have any interest in the genre at all but haven't yet taken the time to dig into Dio, do yourself a favour and pick up Rainbow's Rising. A more complete example of classic heavy metal you will be hard pressed to find. 

Rest In Peace Ronnie.

Stream: Deftones - Caress (Drive Like Jehu cover)
Sacramento's finest add a metal streak to this jagged post-hardcore gem from the 90's. Fury at its finest.

MP3: Alchemist - First Contact (via Relapse Records)
A ripping proto-metal cut from the progressive Australian band's finest effort,  the celestial Embryonic
More info

Video: The Dillinger Escape Plan - Farewell, Mona Lisa
From a band that innovates on every release, this brutal track signals the face shredding intensity of excellent newie Option Paralysis.
More info

MP3: Mastodon - Hail to Fire  (via Relapse Records)
From a band whose most recent psychedelic concept album conjures imagery right in line with Dio's fantastic lyrics, an early cut of forward-thinking metal.
More info

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

LIVE REVIEW: Caribou & Toro y Moi at Music Hall of Williamsburg

For a man whose chosen musical monicker evokes imagery of calm tranquility in the Canadian mountains, Dan Snaith of Caribou certainly is packing a lot of sonic weaponry. Lining up dual drum kits front and centre, flanked by keyboards, the usual amp stacks, and any number of supporting musical accouterments, no-one can accuse this eclectic gentleman of lacking aural adventure. 

Before we get to see how these items will be applied, however, there's the intriguing prospect of (g)lo-fi/chillwave/pick-your-sub-genre purveyor Chaz Bundick to explore, supporting under the guise of current project Toro y Moi

Where on record Toro y Moi probe the subtleties of the lilting bliss kicked up by whatever this genre prefers to be labelled, the live show here adds a full band and kicks a heavy bass mix to the fore. As a result, although a weightier momentum is added to some of the songs, many of the carefully crafted nuances are sucked up and lost in the black hole of the thumping beats. Bundick does his level best to wrestle melodies from the mix with some earnest singing and heartfelt work on the keys, yet you can't help but feel a smaller room and less extreme levels would bring out the true textures of the music beneath.

All of which could bode ill for Caribou, given some of the intricate indie-pop melodies present on previous album Andorra, or the layered, semi-psychedelic leanings of its predecessor The Milk of Human Kindness. Turn the page to current release Swim, however, and any concerns begin to recede. Ever the musical chameleon, Snaith has taken a much more electronic direction this time around, with an emphasis firmly on pulsing beats. Faced with a Friday night crowd to entertain and a sound system that can clearly handle a dance party, the stage is set for the newer material to shine. 

Of course this preamble means that an Andorra tune, Sundialing, actually kicks things off. A pleasant, shining build up of a song, it merely sets the foundation for the triumphs to come. The pulsating rhythms of newie Leave House are punctuated by one of the many extraneous instruments, this one a scratchy effect with a name that escapes me. The songs are made distinct from their recorded brethren as such embellishments are added, built, and destroyed within as many minutes, creating an extra air of excitement around the direction Snaith will push them at any given moment.

Not until the anthemic Melody Day do the effects really become crystal clear, though, as the previously smooth tones from the Polaris Prize winning album version are souped up with meaty guitar lines, a greater tempo, and bass that can't fail to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Firmly established on stage, the next trick is a supreme version of Bowls - easily the most dance oriented cut from Swim - extended, warped, and forged into the kind of progressive club indietronica that it would be hard to imagine another artist crafting. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Snaith discussed liquid sound, building and destroying the songs he creates. Of the entire set, this exemplifies his vision, as the twin drums feed off one another and synths interlace to hold the entire thing together.

MP3: Caribou - Melody Day (via Insound)
Taken from new album Swim, out now

Buy it at Insound!

Not content to simply bend minds, the more accessible Odessa follows to ease the audience back into familiar territory, only to be bookmarked by more staccato beats from Andorra thereafter. Kalli and Sun are further highlights, as is the jam-heavy encore that rounds out a powerful set. In truth, though, it's the skillful weaving together of all these ostensibly disparate songs that provides the overall high point of the night. Certainly, at times the performers could be accused of lingering in a particular loop or dragging out a psych-heavy jam, but given that this approach is what provides most of the set highs it would be churlish to linger on such minor quibbles.

Anyone in attendance that expected such an energetic, adventurous exploration of genres was prepared enough to understand just what a great Friday night out they were in for before Caribou took the stage. For the rest of us, it's arguable that much of the fun was wrapped up in hearing such a diverse master class unfold. Whichever group you fall into, this one undoubtedly goes down as a tick in the 'Triumph' column.

Brooklyn Vegan took some fine snaps from this show, featured in this post.

Check out this NPR stream of Caribou's D.C. show for some idea of how powerful the live performance has become. The Toro y Moi set from the night is also available.

This review is also featured over at our friends at GigMaven.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Combo Deal

Rarely do three headline-quality acts get together on one bill, excluding festivals of course, but later this year Alice In Chains, Deftones, and Mastodon will take to the same stage for the BlackDiamondSkye tour. 

Tickets go on pre-sale shortly and to celebrate whoever conceived this beauty, I wanted to shoot up some videos for each of these groups that have so influenced this blog's head banging side. 

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Why Wye Oak?

  • Because they somehow fuse together woozy indie & vocals, a la Beach House, with glorious passages of raucous shoegaze.
  • Because they were previously covered here a couple of months ago, so if you haven't checked them out yet what's going on, eh?
  • Because they have an utterly compelling song with heart aching lyrics called I Hope You Die, which completely justifies its worrying title.
  • Because last year's The Knot runs the gamut of swooning melodies and violent guitar breaks with skill and grace.
  • Because it only takes the two of them, Jenn Wasner on vox/guitar and Andy Stack on drums, to summon this impeccable, beautiful noise.
  • Because their live show is equally as engaging as the intimate experience of listening to their records on headphones. As may have been mentioned.
  • Because if you don't look into them, there may have to be more of these posts and the justifications will only become more tenuous...

Hopefully that has convinced/beaten you into submission, so you can find the aforementioned and quite remarkable tune I Hope You Die on the new Merge Records sampler - via Amazon - here.

MP3: Wye Oak - Take It In (via Insound)
Taken from the 2009 album The Knot, out now

Buy it at Insound!

As always, let's hear your thoughts in the comments or on Facebook

Saturday, 1 May 2010

LIVE REVIEW: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion @ Brooklyn Bowl

Certain bands embody the spirit of the music they play. As such, they have a lot to live up to when they hit the stage and bring that style to the masses. In both name and twenty years of experience, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX) undoubtedly qualify as one of these groups.

For this writer, first hearing Acme-era JSBX marks an opening of the mind to other musical forms, from the limited scope of alt-rock to such diverse genres as soul and trip-hop. It was, then, with great anticipation that I approached my first time seeing the band live, at the not quite year old NYC venue Brooklyn Bowl.

With only one support band, there was little to distract from the main event. Given the muted response to Brooklyn’s own Golden Triangle, however, it seems that this was one too many for plenty of those in attendance. Despite the obvious energy put into their particular brand of garage-infused indie rock, the band suffer from too little variety to their songs. Each tune is a short, raucous run through with similar sound, dual vocals, and overblown tambourines. The set blends into one long repetition, until the more shoegaze heavy closer shakes off some of the dust, impressing but essentially too little, too late.

Thankfully there is much more to come and the real reason folks are here waste little time in taking the stage. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the sound team appear to have been off having a brew during the first few numbers, as they come over the PA muddied and barely recognizable as JSBX jams, bar the bass of course. Happily, matters improve somewhat as classic tunes like Wail and Talk About the Blues are wheeled out, Judah Bauer fuelling the fire with seemingly effortless guitar licks and Spencer summoning his characteristic, baritone drawl to great effect. At this point, the crowd begins to realize the quality of what’s to come and the evening takes a turn for the better. The Blues Explosion simply required a little kindling this evening.

What follows is a prime example of why we value generations of charismatic rock frontmen. Jon Spencer exudes the attitude propelled by his music, enthusing the audience with assorted yelps of “Blues Explosion” and joyously hollering that “The blues is back in 2010” to anyone within earshot. Jamming out classics – particularly from the aforementioned Acme and its predecessor Now I Got Worry – standout moments include the groove-heavy Fuck Shit Up and a riotous rendition of Attack. Indeed, the trademark chorus of the latter is worth the price of admission alone.

In truth, however, the whole set (after the sound clears up) is one ongoing celebration of rock ‘n roll and the many genres that inform it. JSBX helped to set the stage for the blues-laden mega acts of today; The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and The Raconteurs to name but a few. Watching Spencer & co. swagger and strut for 90 minutes is the closest many of us will come to experiencing the classic rock bands. But on a dreary wet night in Brooklyn, that’s plenty good enough.


NB. Once again, the tireless work of Brooklyn Vegan provides some excellent photos of the gig here

This review is also featured in a guest post on the Gig Maven blog, courtesy of their good man Brendan. Cheers!