28 August 2009

The XX: "XX"

Have you ever had one of those lazy days that your feet barely touch the floor? You just lounge about all day, in a complete daydream, and even though the television may be blaring in front of you as you relax on the couch, you haven’t the foggiest notion of what is on the screen. You spend your day neither here nor there, just lost somewhere in the in between. Those are such great days; I often wish I had more of them. But if you know what I am talking about, you are going to have to listen to the XX eponymous debut album, because it will transport you right into that state of mind. Honestly, I really liked their second single, “Crystalised,” and I got to see them live a few days ago when they opened for Friendly Fires, but when I listened to the album, everything seemed to stop and I found myself faffing on the couch. With a minimalist cover (a white X on a black background), the music mirrors that same minimalist concept that is alluring and daydreaming inducing.

Out of London, these are four nineteen year olds; the band is composed of Romy Madley (co vocals, lead guitar), Baria Qureshi (keyboards, guitar), Oliver Sim (co vocals, bass) and Jamie Smith. Smith produces the beats and controls the MPC – Music Production Center. Basically a small pad with a few buttons, switches, and knobs, that he uses to control samples and produce beats in real time. Just as interesting is the fluidity in vocal duties between Madley and Sim. Their voices are not a perfect match for one another, yet they complement themselves perfectly (think Gahan/Gore or Orzabal/Smith). But the band’s ability to put forward a sole female or male vocalist, not to mention the duet, allows for diversity and a range of melodic styles.

The music is understated, never exploding into an orgiastic fury nor drooping into a hole of complete disparity. And though the music song to song is not genre shifting or bending, each song definitely has its own personality and characteristics. The opening, aptly titled “Intro,” is basically an instrumental, which uses “ahhs” in much the same way one would a violin in an orchestra. “Crystalised” lyrically gives into that post-punk stream of consciousness: “[Sim] You’ve applied the pressure to have me crystalised, and you’ve got the faith that I could bring paradise. [Madley] I’ll forgive and forget, before I’m paralysed; do I have to keep up the pace to keep you satisfied?” The musical arrangements are the most gothy-post-punk track on the album – but with a beat that borders on danceable. “Heart Skipped a Beat” relies heavily on “hand claps” to form the beat. “Shelter” (“Maybe I had said something that was wrong; can I make it better with the lights turned on?”) has the melancholic feel expected from the lyrics: somewhere between regret and remorse, somewhere between movement and stagnation. “Basic Space,” the lead single (“I can let it out, I still let you in…”), has that musical confusion that the ending of the closing vocals capture – the song wants to explode into something danceable, while continuing to hold steadfast to its composure.

Though all the beats are electronically generated, what makes this album work so well is the feeling of being organic. From the minimalist production value to the simplicity in the arrangements, the album flows as if conscious of its own existence. It is not often that an album gives me that feeling… but this one definitely did. I am going to be a bit snarky at this point and say that if this is not your cup of tea, you may need to listen to it again and again… and again. Or better yet, throw it on your iTunes, crank up those speakers as loud as they can go, sit back on the couch, and start daydreaming. And when the album is done, and you are back from wherever your mind was wandering, it may surprise you that this album is the soundtrack of our daydreams.

Track Listing:
1. Intro
2. VCR
3. Crystalised
4. Islands
5. Heart Skipped a Beat
6. Fantasy
7. Shelter
8. Basic Square
9. Infinity
10. Night Time
11. Stars
12 Hot Like Fire – iTunes bonus track

Keep up with the XX at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Basic Space” from the youngturksrecords YouTube Channel.

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Videos on a Hot Day

Some more videos to share today.

Animal Kingdom: “Signs & Wonders” from their YouTube Channel: AnimalKingdomChannel.

Delphic: “This Momentary” from their YouTube Channel: delphicmusic.

Jet: “She’s A Genius” from their YouTube Channel: FiveSevenMusic.

Little Boots: “Remedy” from their YouTube Channel: littlebootsvideos.

Placebo: “The Never-Ending Why” from their YouTube Channel: officialplacebo.

The Big Pink: “Dominos” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

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Live Music

What can I say? I am a sucker for live music. So I decided why not say a few words on it.

For the most part, I never fall in love with a band until I see them perform their music. Now I am not a snob when it comes to this – I don’t care if you want to have twenty dancers on a mega-stage or the most sophisticated light show in town or play in a dark room with no lights that reeks of stale beer and vomit, at the end of it all, it comes down to the music. You may put on the greatest spectacle in history, louder and more obnoxious than my childhood Thanksgiving family reunions, but if you cannot deliver that actual music, it will all fall flat. When I was impressionable, I went to see a lot of bands live, but it was in 1992 that I really came to understand the power of live music. It was the Jesus and Mary Chain (with Spirtualized and Curve) at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC, and though the music was not spot on (about two or three false starts), when they got into their head space and played, it was magic. You were no longer in the Roseland Ballroom; you were transported to a world of sound and emotional power for an hour and a quarter. I realized that it is that ability to connect with your audience through the music and not the few words in between songs that generates the power; I realized that the light show (or dancers) are only secondary to the music – if even for a moment they distract from the music, instead of adding to the experience of the music and performance, it is all for naught.

There is always a few bands on my list that I know will always dish out a near perfect show: The Cure, Depeche Mode, Manic Street Preachers, Muse, and Placebo to name a few. But there are two kinds of shows, and this is an important distinction: the theatric show with dancers and the straightforward performances. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any official video clips of recent (2009) theatric performances, but I still want to say a few words on them. The show can be completely, seriously thought out and sophisticated, like Madonna’s Confessions Tour (in my opinion her best), or the show can be a campy, hilariously ingenious experience, like Erasure’s Phantasmagorical Tour. But the music never suffers. On both of these examples, electronic equipment is used to produce much, if not all, of the music. But what you do not get is an exact replica of album versions – actually, the best electronic bands update the sounds, the beats, and even the arrangements (often extending the songs) for live performances. Never does the enactment on the stage or the prancing in creative costumes distract from the music; in fact, the goal is to augment the meaning or feel of the song, and/or to bring out a never imagined new dimension of the song. Unfortunately, most “theatric” shows fall short of this, using cheap, tawdry, wannabe Burlesque to titillate the audience. So it is very easy to always see who rises to the top in this field, without argument.

Then you have the flip side of live performances – the straightforward performances. Regardless if they are done at small spot like the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ or large venues like Wembley Stadium in London, the ultimate challenge to put together that perfect set, that perfect grouping of songs that will satisfy the audience, demonstrate your artistic integrity (hint: no greatest hits shows!), and generate a feeling of bonding individually with each member of that audience, regardless if it is 10 or 100,000. For many electronic bands this is a challenge – at once most people still expect to see a “band” on stage, not electronic gizmos, but on the other hand when done right, the power that flows through is amazing.

La Roux’s “I’m Not Your Toy” (iTunes Festival) from their YouTube page: larouxofficial.

La Roux delivers spotless pop music live, with no gimmick or tricks. She is captivating on the stage in much the same way as Annie Lennox was in the Tourist and early Eurythmics (this is one of the highest compliments I could ever give). Zoot Woman, on the other hand, use their electronic elements to generate a darker, moodier sound. Live, however, they bring an organic sound into their music that is not present in their studio recordings.

Zoot Woman’s “Nobody Knows” from the wantingforsomething YouTube Channel.

So you need a front- man/woman who can help bring that connection (check), you need to bring an element into your music that is not present in the studio recordings (check), but you also need presence on that stage. When you are on that stage, that audience needs to know who you are without doubt.

The Horrors’ “Three Decades” from their YouTube Channel: WatchTheHorrors.

Presence, check – but you need a perfect set list, from opening to close, and that can be tricky. Should you leave the big single for last? Should you play your hardest song? Should you play the least expected song? Or should you play the song that people are going to remember the most at the end? Check, White Lies already mastered this.

White Lies’ “Death” from their YouTube Channel: whiteliesofficial.

But you have to play those singles, and when you do, you have to make sure it feels like the first time the audience ever heard that song… make people fall in love with the song again. Trent Reznor has always had this effect on me; yes, I have been a NIN fan since the late 80s, but his ability to deliver a song in a consistently fresh way makes the performance all the more worth it. (Check)

Nine Inch Nails’ “Survivalism” from their YouTube Channel: ninofficial.

By the way, I have seen Trent do some very dramatic things live with his visuals. Once he was sandwiched between two screens (the back screen with images, the front screen with static hiding him from the audience) that would clear as he mimic wiping an area clear so you could see him and then he would sing a few lines and “toss” the clearing (it would glide across the screen as if tossed aside). It was a perfect moment of choreography that you would not expect at a NIN show. But what else do you need? The “cojones” to get on the stage, smash through a set that is longer than my sluttish neighbors black book, and playing every time like you have something to prove – that you are one of the best. No one does this better than Fat Boy Smith… umm Robert Smith, The Cure.

The Cure’s “It’s Over” from the NMETV YouTube Channel.

With truly legendary shows (between two and three-quarters to three full hours), the Cure has not lost their competitive edge live. Ultimately, whether a band will survive the test of time rests not only on their ability to write relevant music, but also on their ability to deliver live. Few bands are as competitive as the Cure, and fewer bands can say that their music on the stage can span from 1977 to present. The Cure has not become big because of radio or MTV; actually you can say they even became big in spite of Robert Smith not wanting the celebrity. But when you are that competitive live, when you can check that list of what makes good live music and check competitive as well – well then, you got a winning combination, no?
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Arctic Monkeys: “Humbug”

Arctic Monkeys are back with their third album, “Humbug” (24 August 2009 in the UK, 25 August 2009 in the USA). Comprised of Jamie Cook (guitar), Matt Helders (drums, backing vocals), Nick O’Malley (bass, backing vocals) and Alex Turner (vocals, guitar), the band whet the appetite of their fan base when they released the single “Crying Lightning” via iTunes (6 July 2009). Primarily an indie band with some post-punk revival influence, the band has always been a fresh breath of air in the music industry that has lately started to get repetitive and stale. Yet, the band has finally shown what they are capable of in their third album, experimenting with sounds and overall composition, not to mention the album was recorded in the USA (New York and California). Whether it was years in the industry or the location of where they recorded, the sound is fresh and new and an interesting development.

The album begins with the song “My Propeller,” which is a comfortable Arctic Monekys’ song that fans will love, but it is different enough to give others pause to take a listen again. The sound combines some of the band’s better qualities: a slow and catchy rhythm that beautifully mixes with the vocals of Alex Turner and well arranged backup vocals, that gives the song a vintage feel. The second track does not fail in comparison to the first, shifting the tempo enough for distinction with a smooth transition. By this point, you are sucked into listening to the album. Ultimately, the entire album not only has amazing songwriting and arrangements going for it, but also the fact that the band has brought out their potential on each of these songs is evident, giving each song its own personality and “soul.”

The biggest departure from their previous work is that this collection of songs is slower paced. What I really like about the vocals is that Alex Turner’s voice is haunting in a way that it never was… mesmerizing you into submission. This is a very different Arctic Monkeys, one that is displaying their ability to mature and develop their craftsmanship. Just take my favorite track on the album, “Cornerstone,” which has a mellowness to it that makes it all the more beautiful and seductive. It is the story of young love, a universal theme that we can all relate to. Arctic Monkeys understands more and more how to approach their themes, with a twist enough to be unique, but with a quality that endearing to all.

This is a new sound for the Arctic Monkeys, and they have mastered it. “Humbug” is a testament of a band refining themselves and growing as artists, instead of rehashing the same old cliché over and over again. One last side note, which is a thumbs up for the band: they are currently offering free download codes on the vinyl editions of the single “Crying Lightning” and the proceeds of the vinyl will go to charity. Not only a great band, but great social consciousness – something lacking in the music industry by and large.

Track Listing:
1. My Propeller
2. Crying Lightning
3. Dangerous Animals
4. Secret Door
5. Potion Approaching
6. Fire and the Thud
7. Cornerstone
8. Dance Little Liar
9. Pretty Visitors
10. The Jeweller’s Hands

Keep up with Arctic Monkeys at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
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25 August 2009

Zoot Woman: "Things Are What They Used to Be"

Releasing their first new album in six years, Zoot Woman’s “Things Are What They Used to Be” (21 August 2009) is one of this year’s biggest surprises. Comprised of brothers Adam and Johnny Blake and Stuart Price (aka Jacques Lu Cont, producing the likes of Goldfrapp and Madonna), the band is rounded off live with Jasmin O’Meara. Though the band’s line-up mirrors what would be expected of typical rock band, the use of electronic elements and production genius takes them in another direction. Sometimes standard electropop, sometimes sythnpop, what they never do is give into the current trend of 80s “rehash.” Though they cannot escape their influences, even on this album it is obvious they have heard all of the 80s, what you do get is music that is introspectively sensual.

With such an ironic name for an album, “Things Are What They Used to Be,” Zoot Woman proves that they are the band that they have always been. The long hiatus the band underwent, as they pursued side projects and the production of other artists, has only proved that all of the members came back to the table with more tricks up their sleeves. But not everything has changed. The vocals are exactly what you have come to expect: sexy and distinct. Whether in the overt “Lust Forever” or the soulful vocals of “We Won’t Break,” Johnny Blake delivers some of the most memorable vocals of the year. (Again, it is that innate ability to sell your lyrics, to make the listener feel the conviction behind the words.)

Other than the fact that music relies heavily on electronic elements there is no common thread in the sonic nature of the album. For instance, the album opens with a straight-out-and-out pop ditty, “Just a Friend of Mine,” immediately followed by “Lonely By Your Side,” which borders more on house music than pop. The third track is a definite standout on the album, “More Than Ever.” Closer to the 80s influence (especially Bowie) than any of the other songs, this track completely changes the texture and feel of the keys from verse to chorus more than any other song, while a simple guitar arrangement accents the rhythm of the song. The closing track, “Live in My Head,” is glossed from beginning to end with the classic ostianto of synthpop (that repetitive sound that never seems to end and always seems to fit in). And, as most of the songs on the album, it is dance ready as is, though Zoot Woman remixes are always interesting – like the Desire Mix of “Things Are What They Used to Be.”

Zoot Woman is one of those contemporary bands that you really should listen to. Talented and relevant, the production value of the album are unsurpassed and their collaborative ability to write music with solid hooks, but yet not rely on gimmicks to get you to listen, is a testament to strong craftsmanship. Not only have they avoided giving into today’s flavor in music, they have also avoided the hype machine. This is to their advantage; they enjoy a niche in the music scene that is theirs alone, to develop their music as artists, and not allow themselves to be reduced to generic entertainers. And if you think they are amazing as a studio band, go see them live and be really amazed.

Track Listing:
1. Just a Friend of Mine
2. Lonely By Your Side
3. More Than Ever
4. Saturation
5. Take You Higher
6. Witness
7. Lust Forever
8. Memory
9. We Won’t Break
10. Things Are What They Used to Be
11. Blue Sea
12. Live in My Head

Keep up with Zoot Woman at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Catch them live – for more information on tour dates and future dates, go to their homepage.

29 August – Frankfurt, Germany (Nokia Loft Beat)
19 September – Mainz, Germany (Grenzenlos Kultur Festival)
20 September – Brussels, Belgium (Botanique)
21 September – Cologne, Germany (Gloria)
23 September – Erlangen, Germany (E-Werk)
24 September – Zurich, Switzerland (Escher Wyss)
26 September – Vienna, Austria (WUK)
27 September – Hamburg, Germany (Uebel and Gefahrilch)
29 September – Berlin, Germany (Maria)
2 October – Amsterdam, Netherlands (Melkweg)
3 October – Rotterdam, Netherlands (Rotown)
5 October – London, United Kingdom (Dingwalls)
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Calvin Harris: "Ready for the Weekend"

Links updated

He’s back with his following up to debut “I Created Disco.” “Ready for the Weekend” (14 August 2009 in Australia, 17 August 2009 the UK, 18 August 2009 USA) really follows the trend of great music by Scottish musicians this year (Franz Ferdinand, The View, Wake the President). From his in your face title of his debut album (who other than Harris wants the title of “inventing” disco) to his sophomore effort, it is comfortable to acknowledge that for as much as things change, they are still the same. You can imagine the same reactions to this album as the first – partying, dancing, more partying, passing the spliff, and even more partying. But things are different in a sense – the album is definitely more mature in sound, tighter production, and more tricks up his sleeves than the first time around.

The album has been a long process to completion (that included a lie meant to buy him more time about losing the sole copy of his work when his baggage was mishandled at Heathrow). With two singles out (“I’m Not Alone” and “Ready for the Weekend”) and a third song licensed to Coca-Cola (“Yeah Yeah Yeah La La La”), there was definitely a growing anticipation for the album. (This is not to mention that included is “Dance Wiv Me” – a song done with Dizzee Rascal and Chrome that reached the top of the British charts.) What you definitely get on the album is a collection of songs that are more radio-friendly than the debut album. There are definitely less lulls this time around, the album consistently keeps you on your toes. “Burning Nights” and “5iliconeator” are the only two songs that move slowly (and drearily) on the album. “5iliconeator” is the closing track of the album, and definitely one that will take you by surprise. You’ve been bobbing along for fifty-minutes, and all of the sudden this track will stop you in your tracks. It would be easy to layout some incredible beats for this track (maybe a remix will surface soon), but in it’s album format it is the one track that will give you time to sit back and reflect.

Tracks to pay close attention to: “You Use to Hold Me” (80s meet 90s house), “Worst Day” (simple pop ditty with acoustic guitar featuring Izza Kissa), and “Relax” – easily my favorite track on the album – will remind you of early Harris, while showing how crisp and detail oriented his production style has become. That is the one thing about the album that you will either love or hate: the attention to details. For instance, I have always loved tight musicians, but tight musicians recording an album in an open room really does something to me that other albums/tracks do not. But that is not the case here at all. This is meticulous, heavily thought out, with every second and transition well thought out. And though I typically expect a more “raw” sound, this punctilious album does not suffer from the careful eye on details – just the opposite. Harris has learned how to hook his listener with production that works, while not allowing his tricks to become gimmicks and gaunt.

Track Listing:
1. The Rain
2. Ready for the Weekend
3. Stars Come Out
4. You Used to Hold Me
5. Stars Come Out
6. I’m Not Alone
7. Flashback
8. Worst Day
9. Relax
10. Limits
11. Burns Night
12. Yeah Yeah Yeah La La La
13. Dance Wiv Me
14. 5iliconeator
15. Greatest Fear – iTunes bonus track
16. I’m Not Alone, Deadmau5 Mix – iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Calvin Harris at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Dance Wiv Me” (with Dizzee Rascal), “I’m Not Alone,” and “Ready for the Weekend” from his YouTube Channel: icreateddisco.

Embeds were disabled, so here are the links to view the videos for "I'm Not Alone" and "Ready for the Weekend."

"I'm Not Alone" (link)

"Ready for the Weekend" (link)
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The Exploding Boy: “Afterglow”

Written by both SlowdiveMusic and Juju

A little behind the ball, summer holiday and all, we finally sat down to take a listen to “Afterglow” (28 July 2009, available as import in the USA). The Exploding Boy obviously takes much influences from the 1980’s post-punk / gothic scene. And the name of the band should instantly bring up images of the Cure, as the band took their name after the b-side of 1985’s “In Between Days.” Much like the Cure of the early 80s, along side bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and Joy Division, not to mention some of the proto- and early shoegazers, like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, the music is a melodic exploration of darker emotions... a constant feeling of an undertow trying to drown you in your own emotions. Unlike these bands, though, there is more in way in incorporating acoustic guitars and a very Swedish pop sensibility.

This of course is not the 80s, but we have seen a constant surge of music influence by the post-punk era of the 80s. The Exploding Boy's claim to fame is that even though they can generate a massive undertow of emotional power, their pop sensibility saves the music from death and gloom. Instead, just like many of the great post-punk gothic songs (“A Forest,” “Israel,” “Love Will Tear Us Apart”), the music will have you on your feet doing whatever it is you do: mosh, dance, jump, skip … And even though they are using every old trick in the book, why are they relevant? Let’s give a few reasons. This is one of the few bands that can take elements of gothic rock and new wave, mix it up all together, and not have it sound awkward or trite. This is one of those international bands that have accepted the fact that to rise to global recognition, they must sing in English; however, they have not sold out their craftsmanship to be carbon copies of what is happening in the UK, USA, or Australia – they have definitely not lumped themselves in with other post-punk revivalists. (Reality, the best bands that have had that label thrust upon them do not allow themselves to get slammed into a pigeonhole.) Lastly, they are not out there with gimmicks or trying to capitalize on the coattails of current scenes; instead they are out there working on their own, diligently. They rather allow their craftsmanship to speak for itself – and speak it does.

The album opens with “The Right Spot,” which will instantly hit a chord of fans of “Pornography.” Beautifully layered keys, the expected melodic repetitions, vocals that seem to float free of the music, the song explodes in a controlled orgy of frustration, that invites the rest of the album to just flow in naturally. “40 Days,” one of the singles, follows, keeping the tempo at a fast pace, right into “London,” another single off the album, which is one of those songs that demonstrates that the band is willing to take risks. This is not the most radio-friendly song on the album, shifting from minimalist, hollowness to eerie, guitar driven gothic rock, it demonstrates that the band is more interested in getting recognition for their song writing abilities and not joining some hit parade, hype machine with radio-friendly, prepackaged music.

Unlike other bands that rely heavily on electronic equipment, there is never a feeling of, “Yeah, that’s a drum machine.” Instead, the band has used electronic equipment to fill up the lusciousness of the soundscape, while avoiding clichéd, unnatural sounding electronic rhythms. Even in tracks like “What You Want To,” where it is obvious that a drummer is not present in parts of the arrangements (no snares), it does not detract or distract from the music. The standout track of the album would have to be “Intervention.” The song is driving and itchy, getting right under your skin from first listen, as the lyrics “I’ll never let you down…” are sung over and over again towards the end. “Desperado,” with its electropop bassline, is the albums biggest surprise – more new wave than gothic, you are definitely going to want to move about like a good goth kid.

The band has most definitely refined themselves from their debut; actually, they have refined themselves to sounding like veterans. The music flows naturally on this album, which is amazing for a sophomore effort – no slump here. No tongue in cheek play between music and lyrical content, both work for the singular effect of making you feel. And though they stay true to a new wave style of playing guitars, it is actually refreshing and ingenious in a field of musicians that are trying to consciously add to the sound of post-punk. Actually, while shaking your bum to this album, it is going to hit you just how refined, infectious, and ingenious this album really is.

Track Listing:
1. The Right Spot
2. 40 Days
3. London
4. Heart of Glass
5. See You
6. What You Want To
7. Intervention
8. Desperados
9. Let the Right One In
10. Explodera Mig

Keep up with The Exploding Boy on MySpace.

Check out the videos for “London” and “40 Days” on the Ultra Chrome Viemo Channel.

The Exploding Boy - London from Ultra Chrome on Vimeo.

The Exploding Boy - 40 Days from Ultra Chrome on Vimeo.

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21 August 2009

Friendly Fires Live

Last week I headed out to Williamsburg, Brooklyn (one of my favorite neighborhoods in the world) to go see Friendly Fires. It was a night of technical horrors. My camera would not work, my cell phone was acting wacky, and I just decided it was a sign to just sit back and enjoy the show instead of reviewing it. But one of my friends, let’s call her Little Sister, who was there with me, decided that I needed a review up here… so she wrote it.

Enjoy this review by Little Sister.

The other night (13 August 2009), SDM, a few friends, and I walked the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, of course spending time walking around looking at some eye-candy, having some of the best pizza in NYC (Bedford and 6th, check it out), and did some shopping while we were at it. We may have been chatting about everything and anything, but nothing kept me from thinking about the excitement of seeing Friendly Fires live. Their self-titled debut album is one of those few albums I can listen to from beginning to end. As we reached the Williamsburg Music Hall, you could hear the soundcheck going on and Friendly Fires playing “Lovesick.” Instantly, though they are Brits, I knew this was going to be a New York style show, ending with a bang. My only regret of the evening was that we all seemed to have some technical issues with our cameras.

The opening act was the XX, which early on played their single “Crystalised.” An interesting band that does not have drummer, but a “percussionist” playing beats off a drum machine pad. As they sang and shyly looked at the floor, they immediately reminded me of shoegazing. Though their album was not out yet and people were not completely familiar with them, it sort of struck me as a bit rude that people at the front of the stage were holding a conversation while they were playing. I have to admit, though, I was a bit distracted at a point, as Edd Gibson (guitarist, vocals) passed right next to me, while another one of my friends was excited about being up-close to Jack Savidge (drums). By the time the XX were done playing, the venue was packed – a testament that Friendly Fires is starting to get some recognition and air play, even if it is via licensing.

Clip of the XX performing "Crystalised"

When Friendly Fires hit the stage, everyone came running and rushing like a heard of cattle, and the atmosphere changed from heavy with anticipation to excitement – from dull to fluorescent. They kicked off with “Lovesick,” and any bad events of the day were instantly forgotten when they jumped into “Jump in the Pool,” as everyone sung along: “I push out, I breathe in, a stillness turning away; don’t look back, don’t pretend we’ll never take control again. And before that we own the horizon; am I the only one that remains? The fear is failing away.” And when the cowbell and drums kicked in for “Paris,” I fell in love with this band again.

Friendly Fires

The crowd really lost it when Friendly Fires played “Skeleton Boy”: people were jumping, dancing, and screaming out the lyrics. “Intense” is the only word that comes to mind. But the crowd was pretty intense throughout the entire show, just very overwhelming in a good way at some parts. Everyone was enjoying themselves and dancing about, and if you needed to steal any moves from anyone, Ed Macfarlane (vocalist) was the man to look at – switching from Brazilian Samba dancer to lost indie rocker stumbling about, you couldn’t help but get into his groove. Ed was not the only one rocking and jumping, Edd Gibson is not a passive musician standing on the stage – it is obvious he was feeling every moment of the show and he strummed and picked away at his guitars. And then there is Jack Savidge, who typically was behind the drums (other than for the beginning of “On Board”); he is easily the drummer of the year.

Other highlights were the performance of “Kiss of Life” (a perfect description of what it feels like to see them live) from their upcoming sophomore album. Of course the crowd went crazy for “Skeleton Boy,” but one fan during “Paris” jumped on stage. She was in the safe zone until she pushed into Edd Gibson; Ed Macfarlane must have felt that she could ruin the performance at that point and tried to push her off the stage to no avail. Security had to remove her, and then the set came to an end. When they emerged again for the encore, Macfarlane admitted to the crowd that he felt bad for having to push her off the stage, and to show his sincere remorse he invited the crowd to dance on the stage during the encore song – “Ex Lover.” Though security at first did not allow people on the stage, by the end of the song it was jam-packed! And you realized something about this band by the end of the show: these are real guys, having fun, who happen to be talented musicians, not bullshit created by a producer for your entertainment. Viva Friendly Fires!

Set List:
1. Lovesick
2. Jump in the Pool
3. Skeleton Boy
4. In the Hospital
5. White Diamonds
6. Strobe
7. Kiss of Life
8. Photobooth
9. On Board
10. Paris

11. Ex Lover
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19 August 2009

Frankmusik: "Complete Me"

Ex-fashion school student, originally beatboxer (human beatbox) to electropop artist, Frankmusik has been on a singular journey to produce relevant and urgent, but yet fun pop music. With his release of “Complete Me” (3 August 2009 in the UK, available as an import in the USA), Frankmusik has done just that. Born Vincent Turner, but taking the surname “Frank” in honor of his grandfather, it would not be long before he penned the pseudonym Frankmusik to perform under. Breaking the top 20 of the UK album charts (#13) and two singles on the UK top 40, he is already one of the most successful electropop artists of the year.

The journey to release has been a long, sacrificial one. Frankmusik is one of the true new millennium musicians, having used MySpace to maximize his exposure, tour a twenty-date tour of England on twenty-quids, and even exchanged a performance for food, not cash. With the release of “Complete Me,” he enters the realm of recognition as Little Boots and La Roux – two other artists that rely heavily on mixing elements of the 80s with modern concepts. Unlike them, the music here is more driving, and there is more “warmth” in the vocals, in much the same way as synthpop legend Andy Bell of Erasure fame.

The album opens with “In Step,” a song which may sound trendy, but lyrically is a reality check for those who think they are in the “now”: “Never took a scene check, never were a reject, honey lookin’ perfect, now you aren’t so in step…” Then the single, “Better Off As Two” chimes it way in – dance ready in its album form, the carefree music is again belied by the lyrical depth: “I’m sorry, but did I never mention I’m better off with you? ‘Coz now I think it’s time that you understood, we’re better off as two.” Two other highlights from the album include the single “Confusion Girl”: “Confusion girl never gives or takes, tries to cover up all of her mistakes waiting to be someone else, anything but herself.” And the closing track, “Run Away from Trouble,” which is best described by a line from a Cure song, “…burning eyes and hearts on fire…” (“End”). Though the song clocks in under four and a half minutes, there is a feeling of epic grandeur to the song. Frankmusik sings, “… as I walk away from trouble, I saw us all decline…” Soon after the line, the beat drops out, and there is a sonic moment left for introspection. Playing with the layers of sound, and aided by the production genius of Stuart Price, the song employs every trick, 80s and new, to pull at your emotional strings. The mixture of purely digital, synthetic sounds is tempered with the intermix of organic sounds (piano, strings) to achieve emotional depth.

Though many people have labeled Frankmusik’s as just another sythnpop artist, which is a misnomer (as he does not follow the conventions of synthpop), there is much more here. Competing in a British market that is currently dominated by female singers (as usually the pop world is post mid-80s), he has created a niche for himself in this world. Though I rarely care about chart positions (some of my favorite albums never saw the top 100 anywhere), I pointed it out here as a point of reference. Even in an environment that is stacked up against him, he is able to make ripples in the water – but he does so on his own terms. His music, quirky and fun on the outside, darker and introspective on the inside, is a definite standout in the fun, escapist reality of electropop. It reminds me of the height of new wave in the early and mid-80s, with all these bands with strange hair (remember Flock of Seagulls?) performing all this catchy music with double entendres (remember “Safety Dance”?).

Track List:
1. In Step
2. Better Off As Two
3. Gotta Boyfriend?
4. Confusion Girl
5. Your Boy
6. When You’re Around
7. Three Little Words
8. Wonder Woman
9. Complete Me
10. Vacant Heart
11. Time Will Tell
12. Done Done
13. Run Away from Trouble
14. Olivia – hidden track

Deluxe Edition Bonus Disc – “ReComplete Me” – remixes by Frankmusik.
1. Three Little Words
2. In Step
3. Confusion Girl
4. Better Off As Two
5. Wonder Woman
6. Complete Me
7. Gotta Boyfriend?
8. Time Will Tell
9. Your Boy
10. Done Done
11. Run Away from Trouble

Keep up with Frankmusik at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is his video for “Better Off as Two” from his YouTube Channel: FRANKMUSIKUK.

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Catching up with Manicure and One Hundred Hurricanes

A friend of my nephew came to visit from Germany and brought along two gifts for me. Knowing my eclectic taste in music and my constant search for something new, he brought along two CD’s that I instantly found in heavy rotation on my iPod. One of the bands hail from Russia (with no USA release date in sight for their debut), Manicure charges forward with English language post-punk revival. The other band caught me by surprise and hails from West Virginia, One Hundred Hurricanes. I instantly wanted to smack myself for missing this release earlier in the year. Both releases have been out for a while, but I think they merit a few words here.

Manicure: “Manicure”

So the Manicure’s eponymous album (1 March 2009) confirms that Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Cure have influenced as far east as Moscow. Even if the influence is indirect, by later bands (which I doubt), any fan of the post-punk era will find this album irresistible. Like My Bloody Valentine, there is gender equality in the band: Ania Butuzova (drums), Polina Butuzova (guitars, bass, vocals), Zhora Kushnarenko (bass), and Zhenia Novikov (vocals, guitar, synthesizers). Truer to form than White Lies or the Editors, there is an eerie feeling in being able to convert an antiquated sound into something that is fresh and relevant – eerier still because Brits are not doing it.

Opening with “I Don’t,” a song that is more punk in nature than anything else, the band sports out some crafty guitar playing and minimal production. As you think the album is going to be this trashy, punky album, with a bit of surfer rock, “While Parents Sleep (Children Come Home)” creeps in, like a Bauhaus song sneaking into a DJ set. Sexy, bordering on new wave, the band starts a venture into a darker sound at this point. If my ears do not deceive me, “I Wanna Be Free” uses that six-string bass as a guitar, in much the same way The Cure and New Order have become notorious for using. The punk edge is not lost on the album after the first song, as “Magic Is Shit” is the perfect hybrid of punk and new wave. “The One” is a beautiful epic, with compressed guitars, repetitious music for emotional effect, and a long, slow exodus. The closing song, “About the Something,” has that Blondie’s “Atomic” quality in the guitar playing and drums, with the vocals arranged much like “Rock Lobster.” You can imagine the power of this song leading to a mosh pit live.

Russia, not really thought of as a musical powerhouse in Western Europe or North America, is quite often ignored in the music world. Other than Sergey Lazarev, with a cover of “Shattered Dreams,” which I am not ashamed to say that I liked, many Russian musicians do not seem to shine in the Anglo-American world of music. But this is a band you need to support and not allow to fall into obscurity. Go to their MySpace and support the band, cause some stir, try to get the label to formerly release in North America, even if only in digital form. This is a band that deserves some recognition, and hopefully in the post-punk revival, obsessive world, they will start to float towards the top.

Track Listing:
1. I Don’t
2. While Parents Sleep (Children Come Home)
3. Another Girl
4. Atomic Summer
5. I Wanna Be Free
6. The Sun
7. Magic Is Shit
8. Hate, Love, Shame
9. I’ve Been Waiting
10. Can’t Say Yes, Can’t Say No
11. The One
12. About the Something

Keep up with the band on their homepage (Russian and English options) and MySpace.

Here are their videos for “Atomic Summer” and “I Wanna Be Free” from their Vimeo Channel.

MANICURE-ATOMIC SUMMER from Manicure on Vimeo.

MANICURE-I WANNA BE FREE from Manicure on Vimeo.

One Hundred Hurricanes: “60 Years Under the Stars”

Releasing their debut “60 Years Under the Stars” (20 January 2009), One Hundred Hurricanes produces a sophisticated, energetic indie rock sound that may remind you of the Stokes; but to give credit where it is due, this is more entrancing. The album is one of the most fluidic of the year, but for all the fluidity the soundscape is never predictable. Furthermore, as one of my friends (my favorite Aussie, Belladona) and I have spoken about over and over, there are just some singers who seem to have more conviction and can sell those lyrics better than others. Michael Withrow (vocals, guitars, piano) is one of those vocalists. He may not have the range that other vocalists have, but what he has is the ability to compel and entrance you to listen on.

The album opens with “Duke Hat,” a very Brit sounding indie-rock-pop number that is contrasted immediately by “Be That Way” – darker, more urgent. The titular track, about half way through the album, is one of the faster paced songs, with some of the most amazing drum playing out there this year (courtesy of Nick Kirk). Leaving the compulsory ballet-esque song for the close, “When the Pictures Fade” features Withrow singing while playing the piano. During the first minute of the song it is the only accompaniment to the vocals, but slowly the other instruments lurch in, gaining more and more dominance in the soundscape. On an emotional level, they definitely leave the most powerful for last.

The most impressive thing about this debut is the fifteen-song, one-hour length. It is obvious, though, that this is a band that pays closer attention to their live performance than the recording. I say this because the songs are not heavily produced, very straightforward, giving you a clear picture of what you will get live. And though I am not going to make a big deal of the fade-outs (what can I say, I like my songs to end, not to fade into nothing), what is really most refreshing about the band is that they are just a band. There is no grand posturing, no attempting to be more indie or trendier than another band. There is no attempt to make a great musical statement or invent lyrics that are outside of their experiences (they do state on MySpace that one of their influences in “life”). When you think about it, some of the greatest albums ever recorded were just naturally thrown together by the artists – it gives the album an organic feeling that so many albums lack. “60 Years Under the Stars” is one such album, and if you happened to miss it as I did, go back and listen… quickly.

Track Listing:
1. Duke Hat
2. Be That Way
3. Lookout
4. Ruined
5. Space for Myself
6. Back on Your Own
7. May (Or April)
8. 60 Years Under the Stars
9. Pass the Torch
10. One More Try
11. Walking Away
12. Snake
13. Live
14. Talk to Me
15. When the Pictures Fade

Keep up with One Hundred Hurricanes at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
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17 August 2009

A Vampire, a Werewolf, a Ghost - Oh My, Videos!

I am a big fan of “Being Human.” There I admitted it. But of course, this is about music.

I remember the days of watching television and being shocked at hearing one of my favorite bands being played in the background of a show or commercial. It was an instant moment of, “What the hell is going on here? Did they sell out?” But in the past decade, this is becoming more and more common, but there is more to this art of using music in television than is given credit. Any show’s producer can come up with a play list of interesting music; some underground, some classics, some emerging artists, mix it all up together, and voila great music. However, this does not constitute good use.

There was a time when MTV actually played music and the radio was more willing to give indie artists more radio play without the backing of a great ole record company behind them. But times have changed, and the music industry is being caught scratching its head oblivious what to do next. But artists have decided to market themselves via licensing. It is not only great movies with great soundtracks (“Pretty in Pink,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “The Saint”) anymore; television shows are sporting out amazing soundtracks. Artists, if they are lucky enough to own their own copyright and publishing rights, are licensing their music to shows in the hope for exposure. As they cannot rely on conventional radio or MTV, and the fact that using the Internet to find music is an overwhelming process, especially new music (I know from experience, with hours wasted on fruitless searching for something that really moves me). Add the lack of traditional exposure with the broadband reality that musicians are not selling as many units, as illegal downloading is everywhere (and some bands have just decided to give away their music), licensing music for television and commercials has not only become a means of exposure, but also income. For newer bands, who are not making a killing on royalties or on live performances at small clubs, licensing can give an instant profit, ranging from $1,000 to $150,000 per song – then the deal for the DVD and soundtrack release, so that there is more profit than just airplay. So though it took me a long time to accept hearing the likes of Muse on television, I have come to understand and respect the decisions of musicians to use this venue for exposure and raising revenues.

But not all series use music well. For many producers, the use of music is just to garnish more attention and sound trendier than their trite storylines really are. But once in a while, you come across a show, like “Being Human,” that the use of music is phenomenal. Thumbs up to the producers! Each song they use in the series has a real reason for being their; they can truly mirrors the emotional state of a specific character (like when Muse’s “Showbiz” is played as Mitchell, the vampire, is trying to fight the urges to feed – “Controlling my feeling for too long, and forcing our darkest souls to unfold…”), to foreshadow the plot (like when the Smith’s “Girlfriend in a Coma” is played as Annie, the ghost, does not know what really happened when she died, but will soon learn that Owen, her fiancé, killed her – “There were times when I could have murdered her… Do you really think she’ll pull through?”), or to bring the seriousness of the moment to light, even with a touch of irony (like when the Futureheads’ “Hounds of Love” is played as George is sitting in a café with fellow werewolf, Tully, learning to be courageous and confident in matters of love – “The hounds of love are calling, I’ve been a coward and I don’t know what’s good for me…”). I can go through every song that was ever used in this series and demonstrate how perfect each song is, how every song adds to “Being Human,” and never distracts the viewer/listener. I am not saying that this is the only series that has been successful using music, but I am saying that it has been a minute since I have seen a series that is always on the spot about the music it uses. Again, thumbs up to the producers!

Below are some of the videos for songs that have appeared on the show – and one thing to note is the range in eras, genre, mood, and style in all of the music. Unfortunately I was not able to include all of the videos – some are not available as embeds from official providers (my policy), while others have never been placed on the Internet by their official providers – the fate of many great songs prior to the broadband revolution, hopefully labels and artists will go back and place their older catalogues online… someday.


Maximo Park: “Books from Boxes” from their YouTube Channel: maximorparkofficial.

The Specials: “Ghost Town” from their YouTube Channel: OfficialSpecials.

Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (BBC Version) from the stellarnightdotcom YouTube Channel.

Aaliyah: “More than a Woman” from the YouTube Channel AaliyahMusicVideo.

The Coral: “Secret Kiss” and “Something Inside of Me” from the deltasonicrecords YouTube Channel.

Supergrass: “St. Petersburg” from their YouTube Channel: supergrassofficial.

Arctic Monkeys: “When the Sun Goes Down” from the WarpRecords YouTube Channel.

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13 August 2009

The Twang: “Jewellery Quarter”

Indie rock – that term again. A generic, throwaway term to lump a bunch of bands (from Arctic Monkeys to Imogen Heap) into one label, or better yet a description of the vast majority of newer bands on the festival circuit. Remember the days when it exclusively meant from an independent label, and not a band on Universal or EMI? Well, when it comes to the Twang, it is appropriate. Signed to B-Unique Records, they have just released their second album, “Jewellery Quarter,” on 3 August 2009, which is available in the USA as an import. The album is name “Jewellery Quarter,” which is an actual area in Birmingham, England, famous for manufacturing coins, being the birthplace of many innovations and most importantly is the location where the Twang’s recording studio is.

From first listen, there is something familiar about this music, almost as if it were an old pair of jeans you can slip right into. With their own take on this “indie rock-pop” fad, they bring their own almost bubbly take to the music. And even when getting into the nitty-gritty of real life, they never give into the emo-type ranting or prepackaged anxiety. Instead they proceed with subtly. When you think they are going to be angry or sad in “Answer My Call,” you get one of the poppier songs on the album. Then it shifts to “Live the Life,” which goes away from the pop mentality for a more sinister sound (with a cello effect), but yet it the song can drive you to a dance floor. This shift in mood and approach, while constantly paying close attention to production details, is constantly occurring on the album.

The opening track, “Took the Fun,” is an intelligent way to open the album. It is ridiculously fun to listen to, especially when lead vocalist, Phil Etheridge, starts humming towards the ending. Nothing easier to remember than humming some darara-o’s. What follows are upbeat songs (though lyrically they can be a bit real life smacking-you-in-the-face). But there are definite moments that are uplifting, like in “Twit Twoo,” when Philip Etheridge sings “Rain falls, I ain’t complaining, helps to wash my blues away.” Or in “Williamsburg” – “So naïve to what the future holds still, they push on…” – ignorance is bliss, no? But even at the roughest moments, there is a sort of matter-of-fact that makes reality easy to digest: “She said I’m leaving and that’s the way it is…” (“Barney Rubble”) But it is sheer irony, just like the Smith and the Cure of the mid-80s, that as the lyrical realities are mind and soul’ numbing, you can still dance.

When I first listened to this album, a friend of mine told me that the album was just rehashed, gibberish garbage, pointing out some press on the matter. Well, with all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more. Okay, as I said, from first listen, there is something familiar about the music. That is the main reason I did not concentrate on the music here, because it is familiar. If you are looking for the next band to write ground-shaking, mind blowing, out-of-the-box music, move on and do not hold your breath. It is a rare, once in a generation thing to find a band/musician who can radically change music forever – a David Bowie is not born every day, and usually longevity will prove your influence on music. But what you get here is something that is horribly missing from music: sincerity. And though you can argue that the album is not commercially successful as the first album was, give it a break, it may be a sleeper hit, or it just may end up being one of the most endearing albums that will solidify a fan base, which is more important than a chart position. Two thumbs up, and make a trip to a music store or online where you can order the deluxe edition with the bonus CD with six tracks on it.

Track Listing:
1. Took The Fun
2. Barney Rubble
3. Twit Twoo
4. Put It On The Dancefloor
5. May I Suggest
6. Encouraging Sign
7. Got No Interest
8. Back Where We Started
9. Answer My Call
10. Live The Life
11. Williamsburg
12. Another Bus
13. Rainy Morning – Bonus Track
14. Elusive Soul – Bonus Track
15. Anglesey – Bonus Track
16. Changing Me – Bonus Track
17. Twit To Waltz – Bonus Track
18. Barney Rubble (Acoustic) – Bonus Track

Keep up with The Twang at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Barney Rubble” from their YouTube Channel: TheTwangTV.

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Catching up with Reverend and the Makers and Peter Bjorn and John

The other day I went to see Depeche Mode (link) and realized that one of those albums that I never got to writing about was Peter, Bjorn, and John’s “Living Thing.” As they took the stage as the opening band, I realized I was sort of guilty of not giving them the credit they deserve and wanted to make up for that. Hyena, on the other hand, finally decided he wanted to get the word out on Reverend and the Makers’ sophomore effort, “French Kiss in the Chaos.” As we sat down and spoke, he described the album as something that is incredibly accessible to listen to, but that writing about it would never really capture it. He took a stab at it anyway.

On a personal note, I wanted to say thank you to all the people who added on as followers on Facebook and Myspace – means a lot to me. Now that the summer is winding down, I am finding I have more time to plan and write. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment – remember the comment space is a bullshit free zone!

Enjoy the reviews.

Reverend and the Makers: “French Kiss in the Chaos”

With an album that reached #5 on the UK album charts under their belt (“The State of Things,” 17 September 2007), Reverend and the Makers come swinging hard with their second album, “French Kiss in the Chaos” (released 27 July 2009 in the UK, available as an import in the USA), and they do not disappoint. Straight out of Sheffield, England, signed with Wall of Sound, Jon McClure, nicknamed “The Reverend,” is the frontman of a band that seems to have a revolving door. Currently the band is made up of Ed Cosens (bass), Stuart Doughtry (drums), Laura Manuel (vocals), Joe Moskow (keyboards), and Tom Rowley (guitar). Like many current indie bands, Reverend and the Makers takes joy in genre bending, with influences from 90s Brit pop and shoegazing, funk, and electropop.

As the band takes influence and inspiration from a variety of sounds and genre, there is no repetition of sound or style, but there is definitely pop sensibility. From an aggressive Brit pop opening, with a bassline worth of the Jesus and Mary Chain, “Silence Is Talking,” to the second song, “Hidden Persuaders,” a 60s-ish psychedelic number, the sound shifts song to song. Then there is the song “Long Long Time.” The sound abandons all electric and electronic sounds, for a smooth acoustic sound – an out of leftfield surprise. As the Reverend sings, the strumming of the guitar mirrors his emotions. My favorite track is “The End.” An energetic sing-along, the song on its own offers up so much in terms of a sonic adventure, it is easy to lose yourself in the arrangements and the simple solo. And lyrically, the album is not bankrupt. Going back to the second song, “Hidden Persuaders,” the chorus irks the listener with “”Cause you’re free to do as well tell you, and you’re free to do as we say.”

“French Kiss in the Chaos” may not be the hellion album that the name implies, but it is a demonstration of strong pop sensibilities and an interesting combination of funk with indie elements. What really caught my attention about the album is that there are no fillers here. Song to song, Reverend and the Makers offer up music that is strong, in a listening experience that is familiar, but not predictable, warm, but confrontational.

Track Listing:
1. Silence Is Talking
2. Hidden Pleasures
3. No Wood Just Trees
4. Professor Just Pickles
5. Long Long Time
6. No Soap (In A Dirty War)
7. Manifesto / The People Shapers
8. Mermaids
9. The End
10. Hard Time for Dreamers

Keep up with the Reverend and the Makers at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Also you can follow Jon McClure at his Twitter site.

Here is their video for “Silence is Talking” from the WallofSoundsRecording YouTube Channel.

Peter Bjorn and John: “Living Thing”

Out of Stockholm, Sweden, Peter Bjorn and John from an early start were immersed in a music scene that is multinational, multigenre, and not afraid to experiment. In the tradition of other great Swedish bands (the Cardigans, the Sounds, and Moonbabies), they are not scared of mixing up a range of influences (new wave, synthpop, noise pop, and the latest fads in indie rock to name a few), and offer up a sound that is distinct. Their newest album, their fourth, “Living Thing” (30 March 2009 in the UK, 31 March 2009 in the USA), is no different.

The band first gained notoriety, especially in the USA, after their single “Young Folk” gained exposure on television, on such shows as “Gossip Girl,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Any other, less confident band would have spent time trying to recreate that exact sound and ride that coattail. First off, this is not a recipe for success and rarely succeeds. Second, Peter Bjorn and John are not a one-trick pony; as their fourth album demonstrate, they have some ingenious melodic and production tricks up their sleeves. The album is quite minimalist in its approach: beat driven, awkward vocal arrangements, and a hollow soundscape created by sparse synths and odd guitar playing. It allows them to work with elements in music that normally one would not consider mixing together. For example, “4 Out of 5” moves addictively with a steady, slow beat and simple bass, as in the background a plethora of airy sounds (the opposite of what is to be expected) float about, while the vocal harmonies (pushing the barrier of being out of tune) are complimented with the simple rhythm guitar playing in the chorus – the guitar in the song comes as a surprise.

“Hey, shut the fuck up boy, you are starting to piss me off,” they sing in “Lay It Down,” “Take your hands off that girl, you have already had enough.” It is the closest song to a throwaway pop-ditty on the album, but the harsh, in your face chorus instantly transforms the song into something primal. Even the subject matter, protecting someone else, is out of the ordinary. The new wave “It Don’t Move Me,” using all those 80s hooks to get you to tap your feet, really is what distinguishes them from many other bands rehashing sounds. Peter Bjorn and John have learned from the past, not emulating it. This brand of new wave is a bit darker and minimalist, and the use of a piano sound makes it seem more organic than most new wave.

One cliché does exist on the album. Like fellow Swedes Lacrosse (review, interview links), they infuse some elements of the infantile in the album on the song “Nothing to Worry About” within the vocals of the chorus. But in the minimalist world of Peter Bjorn and John, where the primal power of the simplicity and gut reactions are prioritized over the complex, the voice of children is key in producing a powerful effect on the listener: you will be singing along. And that is the hook of the entire album; you simply will want to sing along. Regardless of the near experimental arrangements, the out of left field change ups (like the way the chorus sneaks up on you on “I’m Losing My Mind”), or the hollowness of the soundscape, it is an addicting, no infectious, album. Perhaps not an album for mainstream radio play, this is an album for lovers of music.

And if that is not novelty enough for you, hey they named the band after their first names – now you got to love that!

Track Listing:
1. The Feeling
2. It Don’t Move Me
3. Just the Past
4. Nothing to Worry About
5. I’m Losing My Mind
6. Living Thing
7. I Want You
8. Lay It Down
9. Stay This Way
10. Blue Period Picasso
11. 4 out of 5
12. Last Night

Keep up with Peter Bjorn and John at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “It Don’t Move Me” from their MySpace page.

Peter, Bjorn and John - It Don't Move Me
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09 August 2009

Catching up with Videos

Here a few videos that I wanted to share with everyone. Enjoy!

Starsailor: "All the Plans" from their YouTube Channel: starsailorofficial.

Lemonade: "Big Weekend" on truepathersounds YouTube Channel.

Arctic Monkeys: "Crying Lightning" from their YouTube Channel: ArcticMonkeys.

Just Jack: "The Day I Died" from his YouTube Channel: JustJackOfficial.

Black Lips: "Drugs" from their YouTube Channel: blacklipstv.

Cursive: "I Couldn't Love You" from the SaddleCreekRecords YouTube Channel.

Friendly Fires: "Kiss of Life" from the XLRecordings YouTube Channel.

Fever Ray: "Triangle Walks" from the MuteUSA YouTube Channel.

Doves: "Winter Hill" from their YouTube Channel: dovesofficial.

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07 August 2009

Tour of the Universe - Depeche Mode Live

Longevity is something that is difficult to achieve in the music industry, especially under just one moniker. It is rare that bands survive the seven-year-hitch, let alone continue to produce relevant music after twenty-eight years, but Depeche Mode has done just that. Though I have been critical of their recent music, the reality is that they continue to run circles around most of the industry, and in the live realm there is no exception to this rule. What did I expect before the show? Extended songs, an amazing front man, and a visual show that would wow me away. So I made my way to Madison Square Garden, for the Tour of the Universe, and up the escalators to the nose bleed section (never will I allow a certain someone to get my tickets again), and braced myself for the show.

Peter, Bjorn and John opened the show. Out of Stockholm, I was pleasantly surprised that they were the opening act; five albums into their career, the reality is that they have not broken into the American market in any serious way – which is a pity! As their moniker was projected on the side screens, they comfortably came on the stage; they delivered their own brand of indie rock, with a set highlighted by their 2006 single “Young Folks.” And though they had some audio problem with feedback, they never lost their composure and continued to perform as the techs handled the problem. Overall a solid set and a smart move by the band to tour with Depeche Mode and get the exposure they deserve.

Peter Bjorn and John performing "Young Folks"

Then Depeche Mode hit the stage to the roar of the crowd, going right into three new songs, including the lead single of “Sounds of the Universe,” “Wrong.” As to be expected, the first half of the set would be heavy with new music (five songs from “Sounds of the Universe”), leaving the classics and the unexpected (yes the unexpected for DM) for the end of the set and encores. David Gahan (vocalist) was in full form. He easily dismissed any rumor that he was not in full form after emergency surgery. Not only was he in full form, Gahan proves he is by far the best front man out there at the moment – dare I say the heir apparent of Freddie Mercury.

Along side of David Gahan was by Martin L. Gore (guitar, vocals, keyboards), as Andy Fletcher (keyboards) straddled his keyboards on right side of the stage. Also on the stage were Christian Eigner (drums) and Peter Gordeno (keyboards), while Kerry Hopwood (computers and programming) sat to the side of the stage. I remember the days of Depeche Mode being on a stage with keyboards and the occasional guitar – no drums and pure sequencing. Post “Songs of Faith and Devotion” (when Alan Wilder played some drums live), DM has favored a more “authentic” presence on the stage. “Authentic” in quotation marks because the show is still heavily sequenced – DM is an electronic band! (Here is the million-dollar question: if the show is sequenced, and computers cannot “hear” the drummer, who is really keeping time, Eigner or the computer?)

As many other major bands in this economic downturn, Depeche Mode’s stage was downsized much as it was during the Exciter Tour, but the level of quality was incredible. The stage’s backside was a LED Screen, which had an LED sphere on the top center, peering out like an eye. From typing to distorted images of the band performing, to beautiful scenes to disturbing narratives, the images flashed from beginning to end. (Anton Corbijn filmed some of the images that were projected.) Combine incredible sound quality with breath taking visual elements, while Gahan keeps drawing you into the performance, DM always delivers a show that is memorable.

Some great highlights include “Walking in My Shoes” and “It’s No Good” back to back. The standards “A Question of Time” and “Never Let Me Down Again” made the set list again. Predictably the show was heavy on the “Violator” album, while “Songs of Faith and Devotion” offered up a few songs to the set.

Of course I have my set of criticisms, namely that there was not one song from the first three albums. But what made up for this were three big surprises in the two encores. The first encore included “Master and Servant,” a song that I never thought that Depeche Mode would perform again (and they kept the mid-section of “It’s a lot, it’s a lot” in the falsetto and baritone) and “Strangelove.” It may not have been as big as a surprise as “Master and Servant,” but it was definitely one of those moments when you thought it’s about time you played this jewel again. DM, though, has always concentrated on singles live, so when the final song rolled around, “Waiting for the Night,” the floor fell out from under me. Like their last tour, which ended with “Goodnight Lovers,” DM opted to end with a slow song. It was a disarming moment. You might have expected, even demanded, a ripping, fast-paced, in your face ending to a show, but what you got was a moment that felt personal, as both David Gahan and Martin L. Gore went up the catwalk together, and sung as if directly to the you.

I would not have minded a few more songs, even if it sacrificed some of the extended versions, but if that were to happen, it would not be Depeche Mode on the stage. As always, they delivered a top quality show – I cannot remember ever being disappointed by a DM show, and I have seen them quite a few times. If the tour is about to roll into your town and you have not decided on going or not, try to get tickets immediately. And if they are about to go on sale, log onto your ticket vendor and get those tickets. Of all the “large” bands touring at the moment, DM is the only one that has done things their way all of the time. DM is the only one that has had the integrity not to try to write the “greatest” album of all time – they have never sold out musicianship to commercialism. Instead they continue to concern themselves with craftsmanship and artistry. And after twenty-eight years, Depeche Mode proved to me once again why they are one of the world’s largest bands, why they have survived the test of time, and why you will find it difficult to find another band that can deliver as consistently as they do.

Set List:
1. In Chains
2. Wrong
3. Hole to Feed
4. Walking in My Shoes
5. It’s No Good
6. A Question of Time
7. Precious
8. Fly on the Windscreen
9. Little Soul
10. Home
11. Come Back
12. Policy of Truth
13. In Your Room
14. I Feel You
15. Enjoy the Silence
16. Never Let Me Down Again

17. Stripped
18. Master and Servant
19. Strangelove

20. Personal Jesus
21. Waiting for the Night

Here are some video clips from the show: “Wrong,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “Precious,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” “Personal Jesus,” and “Waiting for the Night.”

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