30 April 2009

Catching up with Empire of the Sun and Grand Duchy

A friend’s parent once joked around with me during college and asked me if I was getting a degree in concert going, to which I replied that would be grand if possible. We got into a conversation about concerts then, and from then till now, over a decade and a half later, I always go back twenty years to one of the best shows I have ever been to: 20 August 1989, Giant Stadium, the Cure’s Prayers Tour. Among the artists was the opening band, Shelleyan Orphan, which really made me appreciate my musical exploration. They were one of those bands that really made me expand my horizons and explore music that I thought I might not like otherwise (hey, I was a teen who was ignorant of all the music out there then). And then there was the second act, the Pixies, the first time I witnessed Frank Black! Brilliant, should be considered proto-grunge band, they just scorched the stage and etched an impression on me. So the journey of exploration continues, but now with Empire of the Sun, and Frank Black continues to prove he is brilliant, now with Grand Duchy.

Empire of the Sun: “Walking on a Dream”

Hailing from Australia, the electropop band Empire of the Sun (which is named after the J.G. Ballard novel) is continuing to add momentum to the ever-growing number of Australian electronic oriented bands. Though released digitally on 30 August 2008 and on hard copy on 4 October 2008 in Australia, it did not the see the UK till 16 February 2009 and finally made its way to the United States on 21 April 2009. What is most impressive about this album is though it is grounded in many new, fresh production styles and contemporary beats, there is a classic feel to the album without attempting rehash.

Empire of the Sun is a duo composed of Luke Steele (of The Sleepy Jackson fame) and Nick Littlemore (of Pnau fame). Together, they bring their respective elements of psychedelic pop sensibility and consciously crafted dance beats. Though you are inundated with a multitude of styles, from the Spandau Ballet style ballad “Without You” to the dance pop of the titular track “Walking on a Dream,” cohesion is achieved by a carefully selected arrangement of the tracks, allowing for an easy drift from one song to another.

There are two tracks that will keep playing forever in your head. The first is the opening track, “Standing on the Shore.” Basic beat and bass, ambient keys, and simple guitars layered against an intricate vocal arrangement: “A star explodes a storm, a billion seasons born, a shock to the waves I know, breaking far from shore…” It is the simplicity of the music, the ambiguity of the lyrics, and the trying to figure out what is going on that keeps the song in your head. Then there is “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” – come on, just the title gains bonus points. This song sports out some of the strangest tricks in the book from the 80s, including funk vocals, ostianto (the constant, repetitive sound in the background), stream of consciousness lyrics, and some sound effect reminiscent of my old 16-bit Atari; however, this is done with the sophistication of a contemporary artist (that is, sans the cheese of 80s acts like Cameo, though they look like Adam Ant). But it is not just these two songs that will impress you; the album is full of gems, like “Half Mast” and “Tiger By My Side.” This album is definitely a journey worth taking, worth discovering.

Track Listing:
1. Standing on the Shore
2. Walking on a Dream
3. Half Mast
4. We Are the People
5. Delta Boy
6. Country
7. The World
8. Swordfish Hotkiss Night
9. Tiger by My Side
10. Without You
11. Breakdown – iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Empire of the Sun at their homepage and MySpace. Here is the video for “Walking on a Dream” on their YouTube Channel: EmpireoftheSunSound.

Grand Duchy: “Petite Fours”

Frank Black, or is it Black Francis (but never Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV), joins forces with his wife, Violet Clark, for this album. Catchy, infectious, and as urgent as ever, “Petite Fours” (16 February 2009 in the UK, 14 April 2009 in the USA) brings Black closer to a darker, post-punk sound, but there is a greater mixture of styles present than ever before. Named after the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, it is the most apropos name for them. Think of it like this – what is Luxembourg? A country sandwiched between the Flemish, the Francophiles, and the Germans, which brings to bear a cross pollination and cross-cultural influences. That is the perfect metaphor for Grand Duchy: the head on collision between two styles.

Straight forward, devoid of cheap grandstanding or production gimmicks, “Petite Fours” blasts into a soundscape of driving bass lines, ambient keys, and edgy, hooky guitars. Opening with ambient fuzz sound, before breaking into ambient rock, “Come On Over To My House” is not at all typical of what is to follow. My favorite track with Clark on leads is the closing track, “Volcano!” Again, with a post-punk feel in the bass followed by an ambient keyboard, this song follows all the hooks of post-punk, including what seems to be choppy, stream of consciousness lyrics (“He’s courageous, it’s so contagious… that big volcano is about to blow”).

Okay, a friend of mine told me, “I like it, but it’s not the Pixies.” And I retorted, “Your head is so far up your ass, you have lost four out of five of your basic senses. If you like it, who gives a shit who is doing it?” This is not the Pixies, and for those people longing for a Pixies album, go listen to “Doolittle” again – which I do at least once a month. This is a great album that is going to get you hooked, and show Black developing as an artist, while demonstrating that Clark can bring equal creativity and passion to the table along side one of the greatest song writers of all times. If you want more “Debaser” (which I was screaming in my car earlier), hit the repeat option on iTunes and have fun. If you want something new, fresh, and relevant, pick up this album, now.

Track Listing:
1. Come On Over To My House
2. Lovesick
3. Fort Wayne
4. Seeing Stars
5. Black Suit
6. The Long Song
7. Break the Angels
8. Ermesinde
9. Volcano!

Keep up with Grand Duchy at their homepage and MySpace.

Upcoming Tour Dates (check MySpace for more info):
F 5/1 Bellingham, Washington
Sa 5/2 Tacoma, Washington
Su 5/3 Eugene, Oregon
T 5/5 Santa Cruz, California
W 5/6 Oakland, California
F 5/8 Costa Mesa, California
Sa 5/9 San Diego, California
Su 5/10 Visalia, California
M 5/11 Sacramento, California

Sa 7/18 Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York – Siren Festival
F 7/24 Chicago, Illinois
Sa 7/25 Chicago, Illinois – Wicker Park Fest
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29 April 2009

Disturbed Live (Music as a Weapon Tour IV)

What can I say about Voodoo Dolly? He is my academic colleague, sometime drinking partner, fellow prankster, and quirky individual. We have always shared music (literature, personal writing, war stories, etc…), and he has always been someone I could bounce the most profound and inane ideas off of. Supportive of the blog from the beginning, he finally agreed to do some writing. Enjoy.

This is Voodoo Dolly… the new guy… and this review should have been done last week but I am not going to bore anyone with my sob story… let’s get to the point:

What? “Music as a Weapon Tour IV.” Where? The IZOD Center in Rutherford, NJ (to the older metal-heads: The Continental-Brendan-Byrne-Meadowlands Arena). Who? Chimaira, Lacuna Coil, Killswitch Engage, and Disturbed (in order of performance). Show started a little after 7:00p.m.

Chimaira (homepage, MySpace) had a very nice, heavy on the bass sound… Kick-drum and bass guitar punched me in the face. I showed up late from a tailgate party and only caught the last two songs. From what I heard, it’s apparent they had a good set. I’m not too much into the screaming growling side of metal, but musically they were tight. On a side note: there was a mom with her 14-year-old son and his friend. The son turned to his buddy and said: “Dude, they sound a lot better than I was told.” The friend replied, “Definitely; I really like them now.” The mom: “What? You liked them?!” Gotta love moms…

Lacuna Coil (homepage, MySpace) played the second act. Oh my fucking god… Cristina Scabbia’s lungs are as hot as her body. She didn’t miss a note; nor did Andrea Ferro. I was really impressed that the vocals sounded clearer and crisper live than on the studio recordings. Their sound was balanced heavy and when the bassist slapped it, you heard it. I was pretty disappointed that their set was short. I like them more than Killswitch... but that’s my opinion… and as the new guy: who cares?!

Lacuna Coil clips

Act 3 introduced Killswitch (homepage). I never got too partial to them on CD. But I will admit: they are great live. They had a great sound and a lot of movement on stage. Howard Jones, Mike D’Antonio, and Joel Stroetzel rocked out not just on the stage proper and side posts, but they made sure to get up on a walkway running left to right above and behind the drummer. Beneath the walkway were LED screens to flash the band name and other eye-catching visual effects. At one point there was a reverse “Matrix” thing going with the green pixels going up instead of down. At least, that’s what it reminded me of.

Killswitch Engage pictures and clip

The climax for this band had to be their closer: Dio’s “Holy Diver.” Now, I’m old school…. Screw it… I’m old… but not that old… and Dio is a touchy area for veteran metal-heads. I was very impressed with the upgrading Killswitch did: adding some double kick and a definitely heavier edge. The vocals weren’t Ronnie’s but for the heavy edge, it all worked out. The only surprising, or jarring, point was the breakdown: Killswitch made it into a downbeat crunchy stomp. I didn’t expect such a change up, but the crowd loved it. MOSH PIT!! MOSH PIT!! Those who were there will remember this quip: “This is the IZOD, not the I’M A PUSSY Arena.”

I have to make a quick reference to the crowd and attendees. It was mentioned that ticket for the concert sold out, but only sold out the “allotted” seats provided for the show. The floor and first levels where sold out, but there was no behind the stage or second / upper deck seating. But, that’s probably irrelevant…

The headliner and host of this tour finally took stage (Disturbed homepage). The rumble of the crowd (for its size) was pretty damn deafening. They opened with “Believe,” and the audience, which was loud before, grew even more so. And yes, there were mosh pits in the general standing area. Every few seconds, there were crowd surfers riding the rockin’ waves. It sounded excellent, better than the studio album. Then they jumped into “Enemy” and “Voices” and they ripped up the stage. “Liberate” followed, and “Prayer” was a hell-bent heaven-send that led to “Psycho.” As an added touch the backdrop curtain would change to display the cover art for the corresponding album.

At one point, David Draiman spoke to the crowd and called us all brothers (I’ll assume sisters too, for the female rockers in attendance). He even spoke about how we are all united by music and it doesn’t matter who we are or where we come from. He even made a brief joke about being an Israeli Jew and how he’s probably going to hell. That brief monologue led into their cover of Genesis’ “Land of Confusion.” That’s a great song…and hearing Disturbed cover it live was sweet. They followed up with “Remember” and then “Stupify.” After that, they played a medley of songs including their redubbed cover, “Shout 2000,” and their original “Deify.” It was nicely executed with the change up after choruses.

Other songs included were “The Night,” “The Game,” “Heaven,” “Indestructible,” and “10,000 Fists”—the title track. During “Fists,” about two dozen fans came on stage on the walkway mentioned earlier and stood with their hands in the air behind the drummer. Behind the fans the back curtain changed to the cover art from the title album. It had a really nice effect.

Then, the drum solo: from a drummer’s point-of-view, it was decent. Before anyone gets pissed at me, let me explain. I say decent because if you listen to the songs, Mike Wengren can play a lot. He’s not a Neil Peart or Mike Portnoy, but he kicks ass just the same. I felt he was holding back. The drum solo was more of filler while security cleared a walkway thru the general standing area for Draiman to access a platform lift. This led to the encore of “Down with the Sickness.” Draiman got on the lift, not more than 20—25 feet from where I managed to move from my seat in section 3. A friend of a friend thing allowed me to get up closer.

Wow, man. I really appreciate it when the musicians remember they’re humans like us, their fans, and come down to jam with us. The audience lapped it up like starving devout followers seeing their icon of worship. And, even more impressively, us humans (the fans) weren’t assholes trying to storm the stage or make a raid on Draiman. Everyone enjoyed themselves. This concert was one of the best concerts I’ve been to in five years. I definitely plan to see them all again when they return and suggest you to do the same. That is, of course, if it’s your style of music. Rock on.

Set List:
1. Believe
2. Enemy
3. Voices
4. Liberate
5. Prayer
6. Psycho
7. Land of Confusion
8. Remember
9. Stupify
10. Shout
11. Deify
12. The Night
13. The Game
14. Heaven
15. Indestructible
16. 10,000 Fists
17. Drum Solo
18. Down with the Sickness

Disturbed pictures and clips

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28 April 2009

Depeche Mode: "Sounds of the Universe"

Went out to my yearly excursion to the Penn Relays in Philly (and came back to resolve Internet connectivity issues), I had the chance to listen to Depeche Mode’s latest album repeatedly. I realized something about myself as I listened to this album: I hold the veterans to a much higher standard than younger musicians. I guess my reasons are obvious: they have the experience to deliver solid music; they have the years of experience to know what works and what does not, and the hindsight to make the right kinds of decisions. I had the highest expectations for “Sounds of the Universe” from the moment I heard about its future release. And upon first listening, my reaction was, “This would be a great album, if it were not Depeche Mode.” After more listens, I hold fast to my opinion.

“Sounds of the Universe” (20 April 2009 in Europe, 21 April 2009 North America) falls short of what Depeche Mode is capable of. First off, I am not one of these people who are praying for the magical return of Alan Wilder (who brought with him an extensive ability to arrange music and was the only band member who was a talented pianist); I think that the three remaining members of Depeche Mode have the ability and ingenuity to compose and record amazing music, as the single “Wrong” proves (not to mention “Home,” “I Feel Loved,” and “Precious” – all written post-Alan Wilder). Secondly, I am not one of those who want my favorite bands to reproduce my favorite albums. Depeche Mode will never record another “Black Celebration” (17 March 1986) “Music for the Masses” (18 September 1987), “Violator” (19 March 1990) or “Songs of Faith and Devotion” (22 March 1993). I recognize that part of what I feel about those albums was where I was in life at that moment, where the band was on their journey creatively, and what was happening musically at the time. No, I had no preconceptions of what “Sounds of the Universe” was supposed to sound like – but I did expect the high caliber music I have come to expect of Depeche Mode.

My first critique of the album is the sound quality. There is no doubt that this album was not recorded in a multimillion dollar studio that Depeche Mode could afford; this album has all the markings of home studio. Not that that is a bad thing, but when your goal was to have the sounds of the universe, to make this album the biggest and best album ever, then the quality better be there. When veterans get too comfortable (and too loaded) that they decide to record at home, under long schedules, or in any which way or shape they want, what they destroy is the chemistry, the pressures, and the urgency that forced them to be creative in their earlier days. What they loose is the sense of spontaneity, the rawness, and that edgy music that has made them survive and remain relevant ten, twenty, nearly thirty years into their career. A band’s name is not enough to remain relevant and important to the music scene, artists must continue to strive to be creative and strong songwriters. My second critique is Depcehe Mode’s return to a solid 80s sound with so many of their songs. For instance, “Fragile Tension” has a synthpop feel that Depeche Mode has not sported out in years. I think it is amazing that their sound has been so influential that a dozen bands a month are releasing albums with the classic Depeche Mode sound, but when they themselves go back to reproduce their own classic sound it is a bit disingenuous. It is almost as if they are trying to ride the coattails of current artists (Metric, Royksopp, Cut Copy) who have modernized the DM sound, instead of pushing the envelope sonically, which is something they have done better than any other modern artist.

What does this album have going for it? David Gahan. Gahan is perhaps one of the best vocalists in music (and arguably one of the five best front persons in live performance in the industry at the moment). Gahan may not have the range of other male vocalists, like Morrissey or Matt Bellamy, but what he has is conviction and artistry. His ability to sing and make you believe what he is saying (when traditionally the lyrics are written by Martin Gore) is awe-inspiring. He can vary the texture of his voice for different sonic effects, switching back and forth with ease. From rock style to gospel-esque vocals, from sexy and sultry to angry, Gahan can deliver vocally as very few vocalists can. This is much more than just carrying a tune; it is the dramatic interpretation of words, the manipulation of emotions, and the ability to sell fiction as truth. And if that does not impress you on the album, imagine live when he must jump decades from “Just Can’t Get Enough” or “Photographic” to “Precious” or “Wrong.” He never skips a beat.

Gahan has released two solo albums (“Paper Monsters” (2003) and “Hourglass” (2007)), writing his first track for Depeche Mode on their last album. On this album, he brings three strong originals: the bare “Hole to Feed,” the insidious “Come Back,” and the anxious “Miles Away/The Truth Is.” But Gore still has it in him to compose some of the most interesting lyrics and music. Take the lead single, “Wrong,” as the perfect example: “There’s something wrong with me chemically, something wrong with me inherently, the wrong mix in the wrong genes, I reach the wrong ends by the wrong means.” Gore is a poet at heart: “On another world, by another star, at another place and time, in another state of consciousness, in another state of mind, everything was almost perfect, fell into place, the jury reached another verdict, before the judge dismissed the case” (“Perfect”). In “Peace,” Gore shows the ability once again to manage multiple layers of sounds, intricate noises, while in the closing track, “Corrupt,” hits the perfect balance between the sarcasm in the lyrics (“You’ll be calling out my name when you need someone to blame”) and the arrangements and layers of sounds.

Though I think there will be many who will hail this as the greatest of Depeche Mode albums, especially younger listeners who did not live through the twenty-four year journey I have been with them, I feel that “Sounds of the Universe” did not meet the expectations of a “DM” album, though, as I said before, it would be a great album released by anyone else. Do I think you should skip it and move on? Absolutely not! Depeche Mode can still put out music that makes most artists look amateurish and hackneyed. Do I think that they will make up for the lack-luster live? Absolutely. Do I think it may be time for them, like the Cure, to recreate the tension in a real studio? Absolutely.

Track Listing:
1. In Chains
2. Hole to Feed
3. Wrong
4. Fragile Tension
5. Little Soul
6. In Sympathy
7. Peace
8. Come Back
9. Spacewalker
10. Perfect
11. Miles Away/The Truth Is
12. Jezebel
13. Corrupt

Keep up with the band at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
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24 April 2009

Art Brut: "Art Brut Vs. Satan"

Art Brut is probably one of the more unique bands on the scene: awkward punk-style vocals, upbeat tempo that belies the subject matter, and awesome guitar riffs. It has become trite and cliché to call a band like Art Brut “indie,” lumped in with bands that have nothing in common sonically. So for their latest effort, “Art Brut Vs. Satan,” let’s refer to them as “upbeat with awkward vocals.” Originally signed to Fierce Panda, then Mute, and now Cooking Vinyl in the UK and Downtown Records in the US, “Art Brut vs. Satan” (20 April 2009 UK, 21 April 2009 US) was produced by Frank Black, former front man of the Pixies, now in Grand Duchy; he brings that edge his own music is known for to this recording.

One of things about the band I like is the cue they have taken from glam rock with stage names: Eddie Argos (lead vocals), Mikey Breyer (drums), Ian Cataskilkin (lead guitar), Jasper “Jeff” Future (guitar, backing vocals), and Freddy Feedback (bass). This sort of frolic is carried over to the themes of the songs. This is a fun album with songs reminiscent of growing up like “DC Comics and Milkshakes” (“DC comics and chocolate milkshakes, some things will always be great. DC Comics and chocolate milkshakes, even though I’m twenty-eight…. I never got over that amazing taste”) and songs about absurdities and black outs, like “Mysterious Bruises” (“I had one Zyrtec, two Advil, with the drink that made me feel invincible. I don’t know how I managed to do this, but I woke up this morning covered in bruises"). However, the songs never cross the line of stupidity, like those of many bands that try to be humorous.

It is a pretty darn clever album. The album’s first track and single is “Alcoholics Unanimous” (not anonymous), which pretty much sums up the song. It is a vivid description of a man dealing with alcoholism, in a realistic way but with an upbeat tempo. The irony is in the tempo but it is actually a very vivid scene. The guilt, emotions, and actions that the person goes through during the song sounds as though it came straight from a novel. And though there is even humor in how the song is put together, the seriousness of the addiction is never lost on the listener. The album ends off with “Mysterious Bruises,” which is a bit more mellow compared to the other tracks and revolves around, once again, a drink, several drinks actually. Something about this album makes it feel familiar, like an old friend; after a few listens, it becomes hypnotic. Though no one aspect of any song will blow you away (the awesome guitar riffs, the pounding drums, the driving bass, the awkward vocals), the combination of each is amazing – the careful attention to craftsmanship is obvious and should be commended. Get the album!

Track Listing
1. Alcoholics Unanimous
2. DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake
3. The Passenger
4. Am I Normal?
5. What a Rush
6. Demons Out!
7. Slap Dash for No Cash
8. The Replacements
9. Twist and Shout
10. Summer Job
11. Mysterious Bruises

Check them out on tour (visit their homepage for more details).
4/26 Poole, UK
4/27 Manchester, UK
4/28 Birmingham, UK
4/29 Newcastle, UK
4/30 York, UK
5/1 Leeds, UK
5/2 Glasgow, UK
5/4 Nottingham, UK
5/5 Bristol, UK
5/6 Brighton, UK
5/7 London, UK
5/8 Brussels, Belgium
5/9 Amsterdam, Netherlands
5/11 Hannover, Germany
5/12 Copenhagen, Denmark
5/13 Hamburg, Germany
5/14 Cologne, Germany
5/15 Berlin, Germany
5/17 Stuttgart, Germany
5/18 Munich, Germany
5/19 Vienna, Austria
5/21 Milan, Italy
5/22 Basel, Switzerland
5/23 Bern, Switzerland
5/25 Paris, France
5/29 Barcelona, Spain – Primavera Festival
5/31 Mainz, Germany – Open Ohr Festival
6/2 New York, USA
6/4 New York, USA
6/5 New York, USA
6/6 Philadelphia, USA
6/8 Chicago, USA
6/9 Chicago, USA
6/10 Chicago, USA
6/11 Chicago, USA
6/12 Chicago, USA
6/13 Chicago, USA
6/15 San Francisco, USA
6/16 Los Angeles, USA
6/17 Los Angeles, USA
6/18 Los Angeles, USA
6/19 Los Angeles, USA
6/25 Zagreb, Croatia – INMuisc Festival
7/3 Feldkirch, Austria
7/4 Sopron, Hungary – Volt Festival
7/24 Carinthia, Austria – Acoustic Lakeside
8/1 Osnabruck, Germany – Lokpop Spezial
8/7 Eschwege, Germany – Open Flair Festival

Keep up with the band at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is the link for their latest video, “Alcoholic Unanimous” from the DowntownRec YouTube Channel.
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21 April 2009

A Few More Recent Videos


Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden: "Bonkers" - from the YouTube Channel: Dirteestanktv

Fol Chen: "Cable TV" - from the YouTube Channel: AsthmaticKitty

Kids Love Lies: "Count in My Head" - from the Vimeo user Kids Love Lies

Kids Love Lies 'Count In My Head' video from Kids Love Lies on Vimeo.

Magistrates: "Heatbreak" - from YouTube Channel: XL Records

Passion Pit: "The Reeling" - from YouTube Channel: PassionPitOfficial

The Big Pink: "Velvet" - from YouTube Channel: 4ADRecords

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19 April 2009

What’s This Hullabaloo about Free Music?

I have currently been reading and viewing some video clips about the issue of musicians just giving away their music, and those that are opposed to the idea. This entire debate is really hitched on the idea of broadband and the capacity of people downloading music illegally without paying for it already versus the possible profits for (newly established) musicians. Many bands have given away promotional tracks, and others (including Nine Inch Nails) have given away complete albums. As a policy, I have decided not to post any links to downloading music for free – I am sure that if that is your shtick, you know how to do it without being assisted. And I am not going to sit here high and mighty and say I haven’t gotten something online, but I have chosen to support artists as much as I can. But this debate has been constantly cast from one side or the other by established artists (remember Metallica's crusades against Napster); on that note, I think that this is one of those phenomena of technology growing faster than culture is able to deal with, and it really beckons to be discussed. I may not be privy to the entire argument, but I would like to raise a few questions, polemics really, that I think rarely go discussed.

Radiohead, not long ago, released their seventh album, “In Rainbows,” digitally, with an option of paying as little or as much as one wanted (with a small processing fee, EMI has to make some profit!). The Charlatans made a single available for free, while Placebo released “Battle for the Sun” (the song, not the album) free via their website. Though on this side of the Great Pond, we may not realize just how big all three of these bands are, as they have been marginalized to the fringes for the most part in the US, these are three highly established bands, who have headlined major European festivals and have a larger following than most artists. But why all the free music? Perhaps what is happening is a shift in paradigm. In the past, live shows were seen as the promotional tool for selling albums; post-broadband, this is changing quickly. All one has to do is look at how much more extensively bands are touring today than just ten years ago, not to mention twenty or thirty years ago. Bands are on tour for eighteen months or more, and not that old tried and tested six months. Now, it is the album that has become the promotional tool for live performances, the cash cow of the music industry. With tickets getting more and more expensive, and the Ticketmasters of the world even cashing in with fees, live performances are becoming more and more the focus of the music industry. But not all musicians like or trust this shift in paradigm.

Robert Smith, on the Cure’s official site, stated that he disagreed with Radiohead’s idea of giving music away for free. This started a debate, and Smith wrote on the Cure’s official page:




The sorry thing is that when I read the comments that people left behind at Prefix, the comments had more to do with the fact that he was writing in caps (which Smith always does) and that it made his post look angry (caps supposedly equal yelling, blah blah blah). It was pathetic to see supposed music lovers enter into such trivialities about the comments, because it shows that they are not thinking about the bigger issues. Reread Smith’s comment, and realize that the boldfaced lettering were his doing (not mine). Smith is a crafty fellow, and he chose the word “obliged,” taking the decision out of the hands of artists to decide how they want their music distributed – isn’t that the core of the intellectual property debate? Should anyone or system have a right to dictate the terms in which an artist delivers what he/she has created? If this was a debate about how your labor capacity is being used, all you would have to do is check out of the factory/office and go work elsewhere (well perhaps not in this economy, but you get the point). Smith’s contention is that this should not be something that is obliged, but the decision of individual musicians. Shouldn’t individual artists have a say on how their music is distributed? But let’s look at this from another point of view – economically. Smith did bold a second word, “afford.” Crafty fellow he is. It is easy for any established band or artist – Depeche Mode, Madonna, Metallica, Kayne West – to give away music because they can afford to give their music away, if they chose to, but not all artists are living the highlife. These establish bands, like Radiohead, will make profit from touring and selling their moniker in the form of t-shirts, calendars, pins, concert programs, and coffee mugs (nothing says good morning like staring at a rock star, whatever).

Let’s pull the Virginia Woolf for a moment and imagine I am some schmuck (Joey), who has some talent in writing music with a half descent band that is getting to big for bars in New Jersey, except I pronounce it “Joizee.” Mr. Record Label approaches me with the offer of a contract, and I with all joy and naivety sign the contract. If I am lucky, I am going to get an advance, so that I can pay rent and eat while recording the album. Recording involves renting out studio time and paying a producer, engineers, mixers, and a plethora of other people, not to mention extra musicians if needed and the entire cost of postproduction. There is the cost of marketing, making the first video, pressing and packaging CDs, not to mention distribution and delivery, promotional materials for stores (including t-shirts and the like), purchasing touring equipment that is up to snuff, and all the legal and hidden fees that are rarely discussed. This list can go on and on; suffice to say the point is that once I, poor Joey, finished recording this album, I am in debt. Regardless if I am signed to an indie label that no one has ever heard of other than the owner and five of his/her friends, a midsize label, or a major conglomerate, I have more debt accumulated than Mastercard would allow me charge up on my own. This is when I learn the harsh reality that silly Joey is not making a single cent off of the CD sales until I have recouped the money that was invested by the label. (That was mentioned somewhere in the fine print of page 200 of the telephone guide thick contract I was so eager to sign.) So, if I am fortunate enough to own my own copyright, which I don’t being part of a large conglomerate (I dream big), I will not even get money from licensing my music (Joey is going to have to renegotiate this contract if he goes platinum, which statistically the odds are against him.) So what is left for me to do other than feel like Tom Walker? Tour, tour, and tour some more.

Touring is a monster of its own. Will I be fortunate enough to have a major band or even a midsized-established band, pick me up to tour with them? (Even if they do, lately, most people are in the hallways of arenas and stadiums filling up on overpriced, watered down Budweiser waiting for the main act to come on.) Or will I have to tour the small venues with one or two other new artists, and split the $15 dollar ticket charge between all the bands, the venue, and tour management. Being part of a conglomerate, some money or promises might be traded in some backroom to get me some radio play, but if I am not touring with a major band, will the company really rely on this underhanded tradition in music? So all I can hope for, aided with my MySpace page, Joey Kicks Ass, is that I will create a growing fan base. But I will have to place music on the site, and inevitably I know that it is going to be “stolen” – such a harsh word, anyone placing music on MySpace has to know that it is going to be “obtained” by thousands of people.

So what does Joey learn? I learned that it doesn’t matter if I give the music away or charge people $9.99 on iTunes or $14.99 at the Virgin Mega Store (hoping that no one is going to steal my music – Joey is naïve), I am fucked! I am not going to make any money – perhaps that is the secret of why young musicians are thin: they can’t afford to eat! (Joey may shed a few pounds after all!) The real culprit that is going to suffer from all of this is Mr. Record Label if the music is not paid for.

All jokes aside – grim picture, no? In actually, the bands that have the most to lose from giving away music are midsized bands, who tour extensively in smaller venues (1,000 to 5,000 seaters), who derive some revenue from gold status records. The platinum and diamond sellers are playing arenas and stadiums and racking in the money. But the venom and anger that the general audience will have to contend with is the displeasure of record labels not generating profit. Perhaps that is why more and more record companies are becoming the main agent in managing the touring affairs of artists, like Live Nation. But does an artist want to have only one group of people make decisions about recording, production, promotion, and touring? Though technology has caused a paradigm shift in what the focus of the music industry is, will they follow suit and create a new model that is ready to conquer and flourish in the broadband world?

Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, has taken a stab at this; as I have said in the past, he has ventured into the realm of challenging the existing models of releasing music. In a great interview with Revision3, he answers to this right off the bat (watch the entire video though, it is very interesting, including the love of a disco song you will never believe he likes).

He describes the current situation as limbo: the old labels are dead and the new thing has not happened yet. Reznor acknowledges that it is no longer up to the artist to decide if music should be free or not, as anything is available on the Internet (so much for intellectual property). He has come to think of Nine Inch Nails as a brand, in that giving music away for free (to what may be a larger audience) may be monetized in the form of ticket sales or sales of the moniker (t-shirts, pins, etc…) The brand may also be licensed to commercials, television series, and movies for profit. The advantage of this model is that everything exists in one pot – all of the monetizing activities can support one another, as opposed to parts being the responsibility of the record company, while others being delegated to other agencies. In a telling experiment, Reznor quickly discovered that only 18% of people were willing to pay a nominal fee to artists for an album, while the rest downloaded for free. Any printings of CDs, such as “The Slip,” were limited editions, based on orders; as the numbers were exact, there was a fixed number of albums printed and packaged, and some profit was made. But you still had to get online to order the CD, and the musical model that labels are considering involves a monthly subscription that allows for unlimited downloads (good luck dividing profits between artists and the company). But what Reznor and the companies do not answer to is the telling reality that not everyone has access to broadband. Perhaps these models are great ideas for most of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, but what happens to areas within these nations and other nations altogether where broadband is not as common as in New York City or Berlin? For example, as more artists tour South America, the ultimate evidence that South America is an untapped market, how will artists get albums and singles circulated there? Broadband is nowhere as common and quite expensive if not in a major city like Mexico City, Buenos Aires, or Santiago. So do two models have to co-exist?

And if this is the model that we are heading towards, will bands need to supplement their websites with advertisements? Can you imagine the White Lies website with advertisement? That would destroy the look and feel of what I consider to be the best band website in years. But forget the triviality of the look of a website, and lets consider the one thing that is not typically mentioned (though Thursday in an interview right here pointed to this reality, and perhaps the only band that really hit the nail on the head in this debate): quality. Right now, we are use to high quality in our music. Have you heard “Wrong” by Depeche Mode? Are you going to actually say that you could not tell it was recorded in Martin Gore’s basement, forsaking the quality of a record labels studio? Are we willing to let go of record labels to the point that the quality of the music we listen to suffers? Lately, I have been purchasing anniversary and re-mastered editions of CDs of bands I love (yes, CDs, I am antediluvian and love the process of unwrapping the plastic and flipping through the booklet, and vinyl really gives me a high). I hear the difference in quality from the original to the newer released and I am stunned at how much better the quality is.

I, for one, am not willing to sacrifice quality in sound and product – I want my music to come through clearly, crisp, and exactly how the artists envisioned it. Unfortunately for the record labels, broadband is here to say, and perhaps Trent Reznor has the right idea of thinking of monetizing the brand of the band, but how will all of this look on the larger scale? What I am confident of that it will be the smaller and midsized labels (Astralwerks, Mute, Fiction, Morsecode, etc…) that will have the flexibility and desire to rise to the challenge. History has shown that smaller, more flexible, companies are the ones that wheather economic and industry crises. Perhaps it is time to look at Europe, with its plethora of festivals, and combine that industry with an industry that sells monikers, not music. Perhaps it is time for the labels to not try to fight the shift of paradigm towards live music, and see the actual music as the promotion of artists. So many “perhaps,” but what is a definite is that it is a time for music lovers to really access what is going on and what they are willing to do and sacrifice to make the music they love available for years to come. The music industry is going to change for better or worse, and as the capital investing consumer, we have the ability to ensure that what rises out of these ashes is profitable and acceptable to all parties involved. We might not like the broadband world in all of its manifestations, but as long as we are living in it, we should make it as painless as possible.
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15 April 2009

The Boy Least Likely To: "The Law of the Playground"

I am sucker for good pop music. I am not talking about the generic kind of pop that is producer generated, employing hapless singers who are not capable of writing their own music. Though this brand of pop artist is the most popular, as major record label producers have the financial backing to promote their product, the brand of pop music that really gets me going is the brand written by the artists themselves. There is usually more passion and experimentation in these efforts, and the Boy Least Likely To fits very comfortably into this group of pop artists. Though taking four years to release their sophomore follow-up due to complications with their record label, “Law of the Playground” is arguably a more solid album than their debut “The Best Party Ever.”

The Boy Least Likely To is a duo hailing from Wendover in the UK; composed of multi-instrumentalist Pete Hobbs and vocalist Jof Owen, they share song writings duty (composer and lyricist respectively). What really strikes me about the Boy Least Likely To is the fact that they are influenced by country music. Country music, as American as apple pie, is usurped by this duo to create a breed of British pop music that is unconventional. Though the songs may follow the format of standards (as most pop songs do), there is this sort of kitschiness that is more than welcomed.

Released 9 March 2009 in the UK, 14 April 2009 in the USA, “The Law of the Playground” opens with “Saddle Up,” an appropriate song to open with after a four year period between albums: “It’s time to get back on the road, saddle up, saddle up, get ready to go…” Strings, banjos, beautifully harmonized vocal arrangements; the listener is just dragged (ever so gently) into the world of the Boy Least Likely To. From the first track, the listener knows exactly what to expect from this album. The second track, “Ballon on a String,” contains one of my favorite, funniest lines of the year: “I’m not a boy, I’m a big, fat balloon…” Speak about absurdity? But it works, “Because I’m a balloon on a broken string; I’m not attached to anyone or anything anymore.” The metaphor is infantile, but effective, vivid, imaginable, and universal.

Throughout the entire album, there is this sense of childishness, this regression of infancy; that is the power of the album. It is difficult enough to write a single song that has a sense of innocence and unaffectedness, but Hobbs and Owen are able to do it through thirteen tracks. From the marching band feel of “The Boy with Two Hearts” to the acoustic guitar sing-along “The Worm Forgives the Plough,” there is a return to the simple things, both sonically and lyrically, that are familiar and heart-warming. The closing track, “A Fairytale Ending,” reminisces about the old stories we read or were read to as kids. “When I was young, I was valiant and bold, I fought off dragons and wrestled with trolls; I was stupid, but I was brave.” But then the ultimate admission, the admission that none of us like to make to ourselves, the ultimate universal slap in the face: “I guess that I’m just like everyone else, I find it difficult to be myself, so I pretend to be something I’m not.” Isn’t that the universal truth? We constantly are wearing veneers that are not who we are? Isn’t that what our childhood taught us to do with all our pretend? And isn’t it just amazing that an album so unaffected, so childlike in innocence, has the maturity to point that out?

Track Listing:
1. Saddle Up
2. A Ballon on a Broken String
3. When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade
4. I Box Up All the Butterflies
5. The Boy with Two Hearts
6. Stringing Up Conkers
7. The Boy Least Likely To Is a Machine
8. Whiskers
9. Every Goliath Has Its David
10. The Nature of the Boy Least Likely To
11. I Keep Myself to Myself
12. The Worm Forgives the Plough
13. A Fairytale Ending.

Follow the Boy Least Likely to at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo.

Here is the video for “A Balloon on a Broken String.”

A Balloon On A Broken String from The Boy Least Likely To on Vimeo.
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14 April 2009

Metric: "Fantasies"

There is a difference between wearing your influences on your sleeves than outright imitation. In recent years, every genre of music has a hype-machine parade of rehashed sounds, that’s a shameful display of the hope of riding the coattails of past musicians for new hits. It is not imitation or stealing a great idea (as T.S. Eliot says mature poets do), I can play older songs that newer ones are based on and the similarities are uncanny! That said, there is nothing wrong with being influenced by the past, we all are. It is an inescapable reality. Metric knows all about this; they wear their influences on their sleeves, but you will be pressed to point a definitive band or song they are rehashing. Instead, they have taken all of the energy, the joie de vivre, of new wave, mixed it up with slick indie rock sound, and have created something new, something fresh, something that is definitively theirs. Their fourth album out, “Fantasies,” they flawlessly deliver again.

Originally hailing from Toronto, Canada, Metric has become sort of cosmopolitan; based out of New York, with an international fan base, “Fantasies” (14 April 2009) was recorded outside of Seattle. A four-year wait since their last album, the music contained here will make up for the wait. With a straightforward approach to composition and production, the album is not going to weigh you down with production gimmicks or cliché tricks to get an audience to listen. Instead, with the exception of one song, you will get an upbeat album, celebrating life, and rocking beyond what their new wave influences would have done themselves.

Opening with “Help, I’m Alive,” this is a song that will be a new mantra for many: “If you’re still alive my regrets are few. If my life is mine, what shouldn’t I do? I get wherever I’m going, I get whatever I need, while my blood’s still flowing and my heart still beating like a hammer…” This album is a world of possibilities, not a world stagnated by the stress and struggles of a crazy world of milk and honey; fantasies are the ultimate possibility. Just as the music avoids the clichés of new wave, so do the lyrics; the second track: “Watch out Cupid, stuck me with a sickness; pull your little arrows out and let me live my life” ("Sick Muse"). Love is a sickness? That is thinking outside of the box! Both opening tracks are more reminiscent of the rock-pop of post-punk veterans than new wave hipsters. Shifting to a different sonic texture in the third track, “I’m not suicidal, I just can’t get out of bed … I can feel you most when I’m alone” (“Satellite Mind”). The sonic textures of the song shift with the lyrics, when sending “vibration” from a “satellite mind” the music radically shifts. It may be a simple arrangement, but it’s pure genius.

“Twilight Galaxy” is the one song that maintains a slow-paced tempo. Lyrically (notice how I keep coming back to the amazing lyrics), Metric hits a universal chord that we can all sing along with: “I’m higher than high, lower than deep, I’m doing it wrong and singing along.” The slower tempo belies the song, a musical irony of sorts, because even in doing things wrong, they are going to keep singing, keep living. And this is when it really hits you that this album is about celebrating life and the endless possibilities that exist outside of how we normally see the world. Exploding thereafter into the guitar-oriented “Gold Guns Girl” and the popish “Gimme Sympathy,” Metric demonstrate the qualities of such greats as Blondie: the ability to shift tone lyrically and texture sonically, but still maintain the same singular vision for an album – in this case, celebrating life.

“Collect Call” (a title that may be lost on younger listeners) is a song that points to the irony that many of us have deluded ourselves to believe. Perhaps the most traditionally new wave song on the album, with a beat trying to escape into a disco dance floor torch song, the lyrics haunt you: “I know it’s a lie I want to be true, the rest of the ride is riding on you, over goodbyes we’ll buy some place.” It is the only song that they lose agency, autonomy (“… when you move I move with you.”) But the song is still about that desire for living life, but the reality that we all delude ourselves into the wrong kind of fantasy, one that will never come true. Then the album spirals towards the end of the fantasies with the rocking “Front Row” and “Blindness,” which starts on an ambient note but mixes in the rock beats later as the song builds up, is an appropriate way to lead up to the closing track: “Stadium Love.” Stadium love? What else is the ultimate fantasy for a musician? To be adored by a crowd of 50,000 plus in a stadium – isn’t that the ultimate joie de vivre of a rock star? Well, other than headlining Reading, Rock AM, or Coachella?

I rarely go through song-by-song on an album, and usually do not read reviews that do – so why do it? Because I was so impressed by this album, addicted to its infectiousness, that I had to share it all with you. I recommend this album hands down, and I definitely see myself considering it one of the best albums of the year. June 17th in New York City? I picture myself fighting the crowd to get to the front and check out this band live. Till then, I think you should log onto iTunes, or do the archaic and run and buy the actual hardcopy CD, and listen to this album.

Track Listing:
1. Help, I'm Alive
2. Sick Muse
3. Satellite Mind
4. Twilight Galaxy
5. Gold Guns Girls
6. Gimme Sympathy
7. Collect Call
8. Front Row
9. Blindness
10. Stadium Love

A bit late with some of the dates, here is the current tour schedule for Metric. If they are by you, definitely go out and see them:

Wednesday, April 1: Ottawa, Canada
Thursday, April 9: Toronto, Canada
Sunday, April 12: Ottawa, Canada
Tuesday, April 14: Toronto, Canada
Thursday, April 16: Montreal, Canada
Friday, April 24: Whistler, Canada – Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival
Monday, May 4: Paris, France
Tuesday, May 5: Cologne, Germany
Wednesday, May 6: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Friday, May 8: Brussels, Belgium
Saturday, May 9: Berlin, Germany
Monday, May 11: Manchester, UK
Tuesday, May 12: Glasgow, Scotland
Wednesday, May 13: Coventry, UK
Friday, May 15: Brighton, UK
Saturday, May 16: Bristol, UK
Sunday, May 17: Oxford, UK
Tuesday, May 19: London, UK
Thursday, June 4: Seattle, USA
Friday, June 5: Portland, USA
Saturday, June 6: San Francisco, USA
Sunday, June 7: San Diego, USA
Monday, June 8: Los Angeles, USA
Thursday, June 11: Denver, USA
Friday, June 12: Lawrence, USA
Saturday, June 13: Minneapolis, USA
Sunday, June 14: Chicago, USA
Monday, June 15: Detroit, USA
Wednesday, June 17: New York, USA
Thursday, June 18: Washington DC, USA
Friday, June 19, Philadelphia, USA
Saturday, June 20: Toronto, Canada – Edge Fest

Keep up with the band on the homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube Channel: MetricMusic.

Here is their video for “Gimme Sympathy.” (Directed by Frank Borin.)

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12 April 2009

Bat for Lashes: "Two Suns"

What a fascinating name for a band: Bat for Lashes. It reminds me of the great names of bands in music, the ones that make you sit back and wonder about for hours what it can possibly mean. To name a few, the Cure (to what?), Muse (to inspire or to contemplate over something?), Angelic Upstarts (oxymoron?), Sleeper (someone sleeping or a text or movie that gains fame after the fact), and Cut Copy (the computer functions or to stop copying). So, Bat for Lashes, could it mean a physical baseball bat to give a few lashes with? Or, could it mean eye lashes for the mammal a bat? Or, could it mean to wink repeatedly, batting your lashes? The only thing that fascinates me more than the name is the new album, “Two Suns.”

Released 6 April 2009, “Two Suns” is the effort of Natasha Khan, who assumes the moniker Bat for Lashes. Khan wrote this album while living in New York City, where she would spend many evenings out, trying to live a life outside of her own experiences and expectations. She named this persona of hers, Pearl. She wrote this album, as the title itself implies, from two different perspectives: that of the Anglo-Pakistani Khan and the nightlife loving Pearl. As is arguable, the greatest composers/lyricists have always had the ability to write from outside of their perspectives, creating the most sincere fiction that contains truth.

The album opens with “Glass,” very sedate and ethereal in the beginning, but shifting to a slightly faster, almost tribal rhythm. That sort of sound and textures is carried through the second song, “Sleep Alone,” incorporating a bit more electronic sounds, but it is the third song, “Moon and Moon,” where you see the depth of the craftsmanship; shifting to a piano, almost as a nod to Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan, the song has an acoustic foundation, with ethereal vocals and backgrounds. (Similarly done on the song “Siren Song.”) Shifting between personas, the fourth song, “Daniel,” incorporates a more pop-dance element, while retaining its sense of indie. I will avoid a song-by-song recap, but believe me that the album is captivating, shifting between persona, perspectives, and the constant battle between electronic and acoustic elements competing for the spotlight. All the way to the final song, “The Big Sleep,” (featuring Scott Walker), the album continues to shift between momentums, but at the end, the music fades away, almost as if into a dream. “How can it be the last show... No more spotlights coming down from heaven; it’s goodbye, it’s curtain.” Foreshadowing the dismal end, the album comes to a close, reminding me of “Macbeth” – “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” Except this is not sound and fury, it is introspection at its best (“But in a good-bye bed, with my arms around your neck, into our love the tears crept; just catch in the eye of the storm and as my heart ran round, my dreams pulled me from the ground, forever to search for the flame, for home again…” from “Daniel”). This is not a tale told by an idiot, but a crafty songwriter, who is able to deliver the obvious we never speak about, but we all think and feel.

Every generation has a musician, a diva, who speaks volumes beyond the song; Khan is arguably this generation’s Tori Amos or Kate Bush, carrying on a legacy of amazing craftsmanship that is uncompromising and unsettling to many listeners. Though the music itself is not aggressive, and quite accessible to radio play, Khan does not change her style on her sophomore effort: if you dare to scratch the surface, which you should, you will be whisked away into a world of soundscape that you will not want to leave.

Track Listings:
1. Glass
2. Sleep Alone
3. Moon and Moon
4. Daniel
5. Peace Of Mind
6. Siren Song
7. Pearl's Dream
8. Good Love
9. Two Planets
10. Travelling Woman
11. The Big Sleep - featuring Scott Walker

Keep up with Bat for Lashes at their homepage, MySpace, and YouTubeChannel: batforlashes.

Here is the video for "Daniel."

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Catching up with Doves and Condo Fucks

Two new albums from two indie bands: Doves and Yo La Tengo ... well they changed their name to Condo Fucks. These two newly released albums hold a lot of promise for the music industry of 2009. Although these two bands are labeled as indie, what the hell does indie mean these days? These two bands could not be more different from one another, so I would discard the labels and just enjoy.

Doves: “Kingdom of Rust”

Another indie band (signed to Heavenly in the UK and Astralwerks in the US) hailing from England, Doves is one of the better-known bands of today indie rock / festival circuit. Doves have been active for almost eleven years and what better way to mark the eleventh year than releasing an album? “Kingdom of Rust” was released on April 6, 2009 marking the fourth album they have released. With their own talent as songwriters, and John Leckie as the album’s producer, this album was not going to disappoint. “Kingdom of Rust” is truly an album that is so diverse that it almost seems experimental; it is one of the more appaudable albums of 2009.

The band has also offered a free download of ‘”Jetstream,” a personal favorite, on their website like many bands have started to do. The album is supposed to be “schizophrenic…but strangely cohesive,” which is an odd yet interesting description coming from Jez Williams (guitarist/songwriter of Doves). The band has already released their first single of the album, the titular “Kingdom of Rust,” which has one of the most difficult lyrics to decipher. The strongest song, lyrically, seems to be “Jetstream,” which depicts a scene of hope but also despair. The actual vocals are not 100% audible, which makes deciphering the lyrics all the more fun.

Track Listing
1. Jetstream
2. Kingdom of Rust
3. The Outsiders
4. Winter Hill
5. 10:03
6. The Greatest Denier
7. Birds Flew Backwards
8. Spellbound
9. Compulsion
10. House of Mirrors
11. Lifelines

iTunes-only bonus tracks
12. Ship of Fools
13. The Last Son

Japan bonus track
12. Push Me On

Keep up with Doves at their homepage, MySpace, and Youtube Channel: Dovesoffical.

Condo Fucks: “Fuckbook”

Definitely not a mainstream band, Condo Fucks’ (formerly Yo La Tengo) new album name, “Fuckbook,” exemplifies indie, non-radio friendly music, while their sound amplifies individuality. It is hard to sum up this band and the listening experience in a few words, other than to say there is something enticing about their noise. These are not new kids on the blocks; Yo La Tengo is an experienced band dating back to 1984 and has a strong fan base; to their credit, they have rejected the non-artistic decisions that would have heralded them into the mainstream. Their craft is more important than pop popularity.

The album “Fuckbook,” has a personal vibe. It sounds like a casual concert playing at the touch of a button more than a rehearsed and refined sound, which is not a bad thing in this case. I can vividly imagine myself reaching out and rocking out at a live performance when I listened to this album, which is quite different than anything I’ve ever listened to recently. It's definitely not life-changing music, but it’s an awesome album to blast as loud as you can and see your neighbors cringe. This album is the epitome of an unpretentious band hoping to reach out to an audience looking for individuality.

Track Listing:
1. What'cha Gonna Do About It
2. Accident
3. This Is Where I Belong
4. Shut Down
5. Shut Down Part 2
6. With A Girl Like You
7. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
8. Dog Meat
9. So Easy Baby
10. Come On Up
11. Gudbuy T’Jane

Keep up with Condo Fucks on the homepage for Yo La Tengo.
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08 April 2009

Three Directors to Know

Ever since “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles was played on MTV in 1981, the birth of a new generation of musicians was born. No longer was it enough to produce amazingly recorded music and kick ass live performances, there had to be a visual component to the promotion of music. This would affect almost all aspects of the music industry. For instance, choices of singles would be revolutionized, because not all songs are accessible for filming. The image of musicians became even more important: the days of the guy or gal next door was over – everyone had to have an identifiable look. Remember the singer from Flock of Seagulls? And as image became more important, so did the marketability of that image. Post 1990, how many musicians have graced MTV or Much Music whose image run contrary to the mainstream? Though videos opened up a new world for musicians, of course there would be obstacles for many. Many bands could not and still cannot afford to make the "right" video, or perhaps their look is not something that is marketable (holding true to punk and post punk values), or even perhaps they do not produce the kind of music that would make good on the three-and-a-half-minute-format of MTV. Regardless, videos are here to stay, and the most obvious indication of this is that YouTube won the Best Website category at the NME Shockwave Awards this year. But before we create this brouhaha over these musicians with great videos and faff about looking at YouTube for hours, we should take a moment and take a hard look at three directors in the music industry. It is their vision, their singular signatures, which have helped turn videos from little, low quality snippets to true works of art.

Though I am sure there are thousands of people out there who can run circles around me in terms of discussing video/film directing, that is not really what I want to discuss. There is an entire technical aspect from story boarding, pre-production, filming, and post-production that I have no desire to unravel. What I am trying to do, however, is point out that what has become a mainstay in our world is not just the product of musicians, but heavily indebted to directors. Think about all the bands that only had one major hit, simply because of a great video (A-ha’s “Take On Me” comes right to mind). Directors have a direct effect on how we listen, view, and think about music. If anything, I want to increase that dialogue, and look at the style and contribution of three amazing video directors that have made me laugh, cry, and dumb-founded me over and over again: Anton Corbijn, Sophie Muller, and Tim Pope.

Anton Corbijn

Born in the Netherlands (20 May 1955), Corbijn is a renowned photographer and director. His two most known videos are Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” – speak about working with bands across a wide spectrum. (He would return to the themes of “Enjoy the Silence” with Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.”) With twelve books published immortalizing his photography, Corbijn recently ventured into motion pictures (“Control” 2007) with a film on Joy Division, gaining rave reviews at Cannes. But I think it is the fact that he understands photography, the concept of capturing meaning in one still, that makes him an incredible music director. Just take a look at “Heart-Shaped Box” (link from the Universal Music Group YouTube Channel). There are continual moments that seem to capture the idea of photography in the video, almost as if the camera was panning on a photographable moment. Each symbolic image is captured in a still like moment, while the band is constantly filmed as if in a gallery of pictures.

This is a technique he has used right from the beginning: check out the Art of Noise video for “Beat Box” (actually his second video, from ZTTE Records YouTube Channel).

The entire video seems to be wrapped about photographical moments, though there is nothing else to bond this video together. Yet, it is the ability to move from a photographic moment to another that creates the illusion that this is a complete, fluidic video. But what I have always found most impressive about his work is how he creates the image of the musicians he works with – this is especially true of Depeche Mode (unfortunately no official links or embeds are available). But from “Walking in My Shoes” to “Suffer Well,” Corbijn’s eye has created an image that DM cannot escape – somewhere between pop-goth, with a tinge of fetish, and a somewhat disturbing aura at times. Their image has been solidified to the point that the director for their most recent single/video “Wrong” (Patrick Daughters) had no choice but to work with elements of the disturbing in the video.

Even while working with Metallica for “Mama Said,” the opening visual theme is a photographer coming in and out of focus to take a picture. Much like his other work, fluidity is achieved by photographical moments linked together in sequence. The point I am trying to make is that Corbijn is not some clueless schlub with a camera recording underground or internationally renowned artists; he approaches everything from the point of photography. His videos give life to the concept of stills in video, while being able to capitalize on key moments for visual effects. There is not a moment in the video, not a split second, that isn’t intentional. Things do not just come together; they are meshed by his singular vision.

Sophie Muller

Born in Los Angeles, CA (31 January 1962), Muller really sticks out in the world of directors. Though women have made many strides in film and music, their traditional roles are still seen as actresses and performers/musicians. The world has not completely validated the plethora of women who work as directors and producers of music, though that is starting to change; Sophie Muller is one of the few who have risen to the top and has gotten the recognition she deserves. A Grammy Award winner for her full-length “Diva” video album (Annie Lennox) and an MTV Video Award for “Why” from the collection, Muller has the ability to enter the world of the song and draw out the perfect video for it. Whether producing an aesthetic video of performances or a short narrative, she allows the music to speak for itself, while amplifying its meaning with visuals. Perhaps her most known video is No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” (link from Universal Music Group YouTube Channel); she captures both aesthetic performance and narrative, wrapped around a continuing motif of the Garden of Eden – innocence corrupted by biting the fruit, the symbol for fame.

Known for bringing the music of women to the forefront, her work on Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” (link from SonyBMG YouTube Channel) is astounding. The song was inspired by letters from a stalker, and the song is being sung from his point of view – an obsessed, crazed individual who is out at any cost to make love (rape) her. Though the video is a performance by McLachlan and her back-up band, it is wise to remember that within the video she is also being filmed, as portrayed by showing the camera, rolling tapes, and different textures in film. The same way the song is about being stalked and the voyeurism associated with it, what you are witnessing is the stalking and voyeurism through the eyes of a camera, the crazed man.

But Muller is as comfortable with the big boys as she is with the women. She directed Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong” (link from the EMI American Records YouTube Channel). This alternate version of the video has members of Radiohead panning in and out of focus, with that “Matrix” effect of changing speeds, while performing in dimly lit parking garage. Though the song is the most guitar-oriented from the “Amnesiac” album, Muller captures the esoteric nature of the electronic album visually. Not a narrative by any stretch of the imagination, the video gains fluidity by exercising the same kinds of experimentation that Radiohead was trying to achieve sonically. Then there is the video for “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon (from the Kings of Leon Youtube Channel). The lyrics start “Lay where you’re laying…” and we find the lead singer singing from his bed, translated not just as the narrator but the subject of his own narration. This theme reoccurs over and over throughout the video, as the band is performing. “This sex is on fire,” are the lyrics heard in the background over and over towards the end of the song, as Caleb Folowill (lead singer) is lying in bed breathing out black smoke from his mouth. The video is as straightforward and clean as the music of the Kings of Leon. Though highly aesthetic, what captures the viewer is not the imagery, but again the music. Muller succeeds again in putting music first, the vision of the band’s music and image, and amplifying it for an audience. And let’s not forget the Cure’s “The 13th,” a narrative of two drag queens fighting over Robert Smith.

Tim Pope

Born in London, UK (12 February 1956), Pope has a videography that includes everyone from David Bowie to Queen, from Bow Wow Wow to Everything but the Girl. Tim Pope has also directed film, most notably “The Crow: City of Angels” (1996), though it did not garnish rave reviews. But like the movie, what has always stuck me about his videos is the use of colors, and his distorted sense of humor. Take the Cure’s “Never Enough” (link from Universal Music Group YouTube Channel), Robert’s anguish of becoming an international success and the criticisms of mainstream media are all interwoven into a freak show – what else has the Cure been considered? They are not in a small room in this video; it is all about perspective: they are giants in a normal room. They have grown uncomfortable, to the point of trying to escape (the ball and chain, that is the contract, keeps Robert in check), with the size of the band. Captured in a hilarious freak show (with images from past songs like “Exploding Boys” and “Siamese Twins”), the video is a complete allegory for the Cure. From being signed to small label, Fiction Records (represented by the midget played by Chris Perry, CEO of Fiction at the time), to the play on color in Robert’s clothes (the colorful flower pattern of the cheery Robert, to the dark dressed and black make-up of the stereotypical, media Gothic image of Robert), Pope uses seemingly comical imagery, like the fat lady (does the song “A Man Inside My Mouth” about Robert’s dentist come to mind), to showcase the Cure’s career, feelings about the music industry, and frustrations at fame.

But on to color! From Queen’s “It’s a Hard Life” (no official link or embed available), in Victorian-masquerade splendor (this is Queen), to the interposing of dark, muted colors with some bright colors, Kaiser Chiefs “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” (link from Universal Music Group Youtube Channel), Pope uses color to convey mood. And even with the dancing skeletons (Pope is all about humor), he alternates between straight black and white to glow in the dark. Any Pope video will strike you with the juxtaposition of colors.

Recently emerging (2005) from a self-imposed hiatus of several years from video directing, he was awarded the CADS Lifetime Achievement Award. More so in the UK than in the USA, Pope has become as renowned as the musicians he works with. Even venturing into making some of his own music in the mid-80s (“I Want to Be a Tree”), Pope’s vision of music videos has less to do with narration than it does with mood. If there is one thing that he conveys in his videos is the emotions of the lyrics and soundsacpes, while depicting the absurdities of entertaining such ideas. There is nothing like poking fun at yourself. And rumor has it he may be working with Fat Bob again, over sixteen years since their last collaboration
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Transbeauce Answers 5

This is an amazing band that you need to check out. From first listen to their music (albums: "Die Mitte" (2001), "Holyhead" (2006), and "Stories on the Radio" (2009)), I have been hooked. Personally, I cannot stop listening to "The Stars Are Black" - easily one of my favorites, if not my favorite, track of the year thus far. From our first contact, the process of learning about the band and their music has been an incredible journey, that has led to this, Transbeauce Answers 5. They not only answered 5, they did it in English and French. After taking a few days off, it is great to come back to post this interview.

Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Christophe: Mainly a mix of Brit pop/cold wave/new wave/punk that I used to listen to as a teenager, as well as French pop with which I was raised. Not to mention Jazz and classical music...to put it n a nutshell, I’d say that I’ve been influenced by quite a lot of different music. As for my non-musical influences, a little bit of everything: readings (Stephan Zweig, Kundera, Sartre, Bukowski as well as Stephen King and Christophe Mager), movies etc. But above all by moods and feelings.

Bruno: I also used to listen to English and American Pop music as a teenager, and then came classical music and French songwriters as well as Jazz and TV series music. My tastes are rather eclectic, even if you’ll find in our music obvious influences that are hard to deny. Writers such as Salinger, Saint-Exupéry, Raymond Radiguet, Jacques Prévert , Michel Audiard, and I’d add Patrick Mc Goohan to that list, have certainly had an influence on me, in the same way that some paintings, sculptures or architectures have...it’s all about humanness.

Olivier: I’ve been listening to a lot of American punk / indie rock since the 90’s (Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, Pixies, Slint, Sonic Youth etc…) but also to a lot of British stuff like the Jesus and Mary Chain, Lush, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, PJ Harvey and so on… I just love simple and effective melodies; virtuosos (especially bass players) usually bore me to death. As a bass player, I’d say that The Cure (my all time fave) have been my biggest source of inspiration. Non-musical influences...I’d rather give you a list of the people who, at the time of writing, I admire the most, so here goes: Jaime Hernandez (pure genius), Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, David Lodge, Takeshi Kitano, James Gandolfini, Nick Hornby and so many others.... I could go on forever....

Palma : Influences... I fucking hate them sometimes... I’d say stuff that moves you for no apparent reasons, from Depeche Mode to Curtis Mayfield, when words shoot up from the mic’ straight to the core of your soul to hit the spot. French hip hop because its rage fuelled our teenage angst (Lunatic, Oxmopuccino, anything released by the Timebomb label, early NTM LP’s, you’ve gotta have them).  When I began deejaying, I immersed myself in American Rap music (Notorius Big, Cam'ron, Nas, Big Punisher, Busta Rhymes... for the most famous). Then later, I got back to where it all began: Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzerald, and Curtis Mayfield (my favourite). Somewhere along the way, electronic music turned up on my loudspeakers (Fisherspooner, Kruder and Dorfmeister…)and so did the Brits with their intoxicatingly beautiful and sad trip hop (Portishead, Massive Attack...). As regards non-musical influences: I’d say SpongeBob.

Christophe: Principalement mes influences musicales sont un mix de brit pop/cold wave/new wave/punk écoutés à mon adolescence et de musique française qui a bercé mon enfance. A cela il faut ajouter le jazz et la musique classique... bref j'écoute un maximum de choses et cela m'influence plus ou moins. Pour ce qui est de l'influence non musicale, un peu tout, mes lectures (Stephan Zweig, Kundera, Sartre, Bukowski mais aussi Stephen King ou Christophe Mager) le cinéma mais avant tout les états d'âme et les sentiments.

Bruno: Musicalement, j’ai été bercé dans mon adolescence par la pop/rock, aussi bien anglaise qu’américaine. Ensuite est venue la musique classique et la chanson française (les paroliers essentiellement), parsemée de jazz et de musique de séries TV. Mes goûts seraient plus éclectiques que ciblés, même si je dois avouer certaines influences auxquelles on ne peut échapper. Certains auteurs (Salinger, Saint-Exupéry, Raymond Radiguet, Jacques Prévert et Michel Audiard et je rajouterais Patrick Mc Goohan) m’ont certainement influencé au même titre que certains tableaux, certaines sculptures ou architectures… mais il s’agirait plus d’une influence humaine.

Olivier: J’ai écouté pas mal de rock indé / punk americain dans les années 90 (Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi en passant par les Pixies, Slint, Sonic Youth etc…), mais également beaucoup de trucs anglais (J&Mchains, Lush, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, PJ Harvey etc…). J’aime par dessus tout les mélodies simples et efficaces ; les virtuoses (surtout de la basse) m’ennuient profondément... Mon influence majeure en la matière est The Cure dont je reste après toutes ces années un fan indeffectible. Je dirai qu’en ce moment, les gens que j’admire le plus (en dehors de la musique donc) sont:Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, David Lynch, Nick Hornby, Wes Anderson, David Lodge et bien d’autres dont les noms ne me viennent pas à l’esprit...

Palma: Alors influences... putain j'aime pas les influences d'abord...je dirais plus des trucs qui parfois te touchent tu sais pas pourquoi. donc de depeche mode à curtis mayfield y a des mots qui visent juste, droit du micro à l'interieur de ton ame. la rap français parce que sa musique hypnotique a bercé nos coleres de pre- adultes (Lunatic, Oxmopuccino, le label Timebomb, les premiers albums d' NTM tu peux pas passer à coté) ensuite, j'ai ete dj, donc j'ai plongé dans le rap américain (Notorius Big, Cam'ron, Nas, Big Punisher, Busta Rhymes...et d'autres que tu doit pas connaitre) un peu plus tard je suis remontée a la source : Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzerald et mon preferé Curtis Mayfield. au passage la musique electronique a debarqué dans mes enceintes (Fisherspooner, Kruder et Dorfmeister…)les anglais et leur trip-hop triste et enivrant (Massive Attack, Portishead...) pour ce qui est de mes influences non musicales : Bob l'eponge.

"Holyhead" has a very organic sound. You have commented that this makes it easier to perform live. But when you were composing the album, was this something you consciously thought of or was it just part of the process?

Christophe: "Holyhead" is not easier to play live actually, and we weren’t really concerned by that when we were composing it, we just wanted less actual synthetic sounds. The songs often have several guitar layers that have been modulated so as to sound synthetic without really being so.  We don’t really think about the album when we’re composing; Bruno and I are lucky enough to always agree on what we’re doing, to share the same inspirations, feelings and states of mind, and that’s where the cohesion of the result comes from. Plus we‘ve also had the opportunity to work with a sound engineer who totally understood what we were trying to achieve when we were mastering the album (Yann de Keroullas), he also contributed to the cohesion and consistency of it all.

Bruno: Whether a song is playable on stage or not isn’t really the issue when Christophe and I compose music. We know we’ve achieved something when the music reflects the state of mind we were in at the moment of writing. Both of us being musicians, we wanted the album to reflect what we’re capable of doing, that’s why “Holyhead” is harder to play live now than when we composed it. It has made us consider playing live in a different light... when we wish to play some particular song live now, it is adapted and rearranged to fit the stage. We try to avoid the “copy-then-paste-live” attitude as much as we can.

Christophe: En fait holyhead n'est pas vraiment plus facile à jouer sur scène et nous n'avons pas vraiment pensé à cela pendant la composition. nous voulions juste moins de sons synthétiques, les morceaux comportent souvent plusieurs guitares superposées et parfois trafiquées de façon à avoir un son synthétique sans pour autant l'être "réellement". Je ne pense pas que nous pensons vraiment à l’album fini au moment de la composition, nous avons juste la chance d’être en phase Bruno et moi quand nous composons et d’avoir les mêmes envies, les mêmes sentiments, le même état d’esprit… Ce qui a donné une unité à l’album. Au passage, nous avons aussi la chance de travailler avec un ingénieur du son (Yann de Keroullas) au moment du mastering qui comprend ce que nous faisons et qui apporte aussi à l’unité du son et à la cohérence de l’album.

Bruno: Lorsque nous composons Christophe et moi, nous ne pensons pas si les morceaux peuvent être joués sur scène au préalable, nous recherchons juste un aboutissement, une fin en soi qui représente notre état d’esprit du moment. Comme nous sommes tous les deux musiciens, nous voulions avoir une approche plus représentative de ce que nous pouvions donner. L’album « holyhead » est certainement plus difficile à jouer sur scène qu’au moment où nous l’avons composé. Ce qui nous fait penser différemment lorsque nous désirons jouer un morceau « live », on le réarrange, on modifie certaines parties, on l’adapte, tout en gardant l’essence même de ce morceau… Nous évitons tout simplement le copie/collé.

What sort of equipment do you prefer to use to compose and record music? (Digital or analogue?)

Christophe: Digital is much more convenient. Moreover, we often record “at home,” so I’d definitely go with digital.

Bruno: Yes, digital is undeniably more convenient. However, we’re feeling some sort of evolution is going on within the new line-up (with Palma on vocals and Olivier on Bass guitar) and it would be interesting to see how the band could evolve with analogue. The sound of analogue would be more relevant for some of our songs, closer to the sound we sometimes look for.

Christophe: Le digital est beaucoup plus pratique et comme nous n’enregistrons pas en studio mais « à la maison » définitivement le digital.

Bruno : Le digital est incontestablement plus pratique, nous enregistrons en “home studio”, mais avec la nouvelle formation (basse + chant), nous ressentons également une évolution au sein même du groupe. A l’avenir, il serait intéressant de voir comment ‘transbeauce’ pourrait évoluer avec l’analogique, sachant que le grain du son analogique se rapprocherait plus, pour certains morceaux, de ce que nous recherchons quelque fois.

Because of the electronic elements, in terms of equipment, what are the major differences of what is used to perform live and record in the studio?

Christophe: When I’m in the studio, nothing prevents me from recording fifteen overlaid guitars..  But obviously when we’re performing live, I can only play one (two with the loops), so the other ones are recorded on “back-up” samples. As for my guitar sounds, I use effects pedals rather than a multi effects device that would give each song a different sound. That being said, since Palma and Olivier joined, we’ve been working on new acoustic versions of some of our songs.

Bruno: The main difference between our recordings and what we actually perform live lies in the adaptation of the electronic elements. It’s always a bit of a challenge; it makes us question what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Adapting a song and replacing its elements while preserving its identity is tricky but at the end of the day, that’s what makes us move forward... If the original recording were our “salad,” then the live performance would be our “dressing.”

Christophe : En studio je suis libre de mettre 15 guitares les unes sur les autres… en live je ne peux en faire qu’une (deux avec les loops) les autres sont souvent sur les « back up », sur scène je n’ai que des pédales et pas de multi effet programmable qui aurait un son différent par morceau. Cela dit, depuis que le groupe à un nouveau bassiste (Olivier) et une chanteuse (Palma), nous travaillons sur des versions acoustiques de certains morceaux.

Bruno: La différence majeure est l’adaptation “live” émanant d’éléments électroniques. C’est pour ainsi dire à chaque fois une petite remise en question, une adaptation qui nous fait avancer un peu plus… tout en essayant de conserver l’identité même du morceau. L’enregistrement serait donc notre « aliment », le live notre « assaisonnement ».

The new album, "Stories on the Radio," is a sonic journey that is captivating and mesmerizing. Looking back at your catalogue, what would you say makes this album different than what you have produced before?

Christophe: This album isn’t really one... Its basis has been built over a period of six years. Most of its songs have been composed and used as background music to a radio show; they had to be stripped-down and even longer than our usual stuff. But it makes a fine follow-up to “Holyhead,” and I can only hope that our next album will also be one [close] to “Stories on the Radio,” although it‘s going to sound quite unusual since almost every song will be featuring Palma on vocals.

Bruno : As implied in its title, our new album has a story of its own... Basically, it was a commission from a pop/rock radio show on the French National radio - France Inter - hosted by the notorious Bernard Lenoir (often referred to as the French John Peel). Part of “stories” was recorded while we were still working on "Holyhead." As it was a special commission, we knew from the start that we wouldn’t be able to do whatever we wanted with the songs, so when we started to compile them for the new album, we rearranged and remixed the whole thing because we wanted it to be a kind of sequel to “Holyhead.” The fact that it was born as background music for radio only makes it sound a bit more ethereal than its predecessor.

Christophe: Cet album n’en est pas vraiment un… Toutes les bases de l’album ont été composées sur une période de 6 ans et dans un esprit d’illustration sonore à savoir des morceaux longs (enfin encore plus long que ce que nous avons déjà fait) et « dépouillés »
De plus nous avons commencé à mettre du « talk over »
Mais je trouve que c’est une suite à Holyhead et j’espère que le prochain sera également celle de stories on the radio même s’il sera assez différent puisque quasiment entièrement chanté…

Bruno: “stories on the radio”, comme son nom l’indique a une histoire… celle de morceaux commandés pour une émission pop/rock sur une grande station de radio française (France-Inter), animé par le célèbre Bernard Lenoir (le « John Peel » français). Nous avons composé une partie de « stories on the radio » au même moment que « holyhead », tout en sachant que nous ne pouvions exactement faire ce que nous voulions puisqu’il s’agissait d’une commande… Depuis, tous ces morceaux ont été réarrangés et remixés, mais l’esprit est là et cet album est un peu une suite logique de « holyhead », d’un point de vue composition, mais surtout d’aboutissement. Comme il s’agissait d’illustration sonores à la base, on voyage peut-être un peu plus en écoutant « stories on the radio » que « holyhead », mais le voyage reste très aérien.

Keep up with Transbeauce on their homepage and MySpace.

Also, order your copy of "Stories on the Radio" at Noko.
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