30 March 2010

Videos on a Hectic Tuesday

Life, life, life... sort of gets in the way sometimes. I was not able to sit down and write up a review (or two), but I did not want a Tuesday to go by without a posting... so here are some videos that I hope you enjoy.

Blacklist's "Flight of the Demoiselles" from their YouTube Channel: blacklistnyc.



She & Him's "In the Sun" from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.



Stornoway's "I Saw You Blink" from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.



Arctic Monkeys' "My Propeller" from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.



The Joy Formidable's "Popinjay" from their YouTube Channel: TheJoyFormidable.



O.Children's "Ruins" from their YouTube Channel: ochildrentv.

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29 March 2010

De/Vision: "Popgefahr"

For those who are fans of electropop, something that is sorely missing from the musical scene now is serious comeback of darkwave. Well that used to be the case – welcome to Pop Danger. Well… that would be the translation of De/Vision’s newest album’s title: “Popgefahr” (23 March 2010 in the USA). Hailing from Germany, and playing with the words “the vision” and “division” in the band’s name, De/Vision (slash is compulsory) offer up their eleventh full length completely unapologetically and basking (or is that wallowing) in a dark electronic pop. For those still stuck on Xymox’s “Twist of Shadows” and Depeche Mode’s “Black Celebration,” this is the album for you. But do not make the mistake of thinking that these are the molds that De/Vision works from. Though intrinsically in the same genre/range of music, “Popgefahr” has an urgency and relevancy that is all 2010. From the tight production to the luscious layers of music, avoiding being lumped in with the other electro acts of the moment, De/Vision puts forth what could easily be said the best album of their career, and perhaps the best darkwave album in years!

The sounds are the most memorable to date. De/Vision combines the use of traditional sounds of the 80s and the new sounds of the digital era. Combined together, the album has a distinct edge over other recent releases. The production is incredible. Every element of this album is mixed to perfection; track-to-track, the perfect balance is struck between all the sound elements and vocals, while avoiding the same formula for any two songs. And whatever you do, do no lump them into the current 80s revival movement; De/Vision has been producing music since 1993. Think of them not has revival, but vanguards of electropop music. (Grunge and Britpop may have supplanted electronic music for many years in the UK and the USA, but that was not the case in France or Germany.) And when you compare “Popgefahr” to the past albums, what becomes apparent is that the time off between albums (three years this time, the longest ever between albums for them) has paid off. The band has come back to produce an album that is devoid of filler material, with meticulous care to detail, and the most solid set of lyrics to date.

Opening with the sinister “mAndroids,” De/Vision chose the perfect opening track: it is inviting, as it gets your curiosity going. This is quickly followed by the lead single, “Rage”: “Last night I killed you in my dream, I was afraid it felt so real.” As dark as you can get, this track of rage taking over climaxes on the opening lines of the second verse that mirror the first: “Last night I killed you in my dream, today I am going to make it real.” And all the time, your body gives into the eeriness and beat, as you are drawn to dance to this emotional chaos. And the album continues to drag you through emotionally loaded songs that inspire dance. For instance, you might as well let the mirror ball crash to the floor with “Time To Be Alive” – ready for club play in its album format; the backmasking in the vocals add a level of sultriness to it. Midway through, they slow it down with “Be A Light To Yourself” – a sad, but reaffirming, song about breaking up. The closing track, most definitely the most haunting, “Until The End Of Time” is of epic proportion. “Until the dawn of eternity, we will be together,” is sung over an erratic arrangement that is dying to explode into a dance song, or implode into a repetitious dirge, but neither ever happens. It is the kind of the song that just hits you hard in the chest (the kind of song I love): a song that is dying to move away from its own arrangements, to explode into something else, but never does – and this creates the most powerful visceral effect for closing an album.

Electronic music, in the vein of pop music, has been making a steady comeback to the mainstream (and perhaps reclaim its once dominance), and now we may be seeing the rise of purely electronic darkwave music again. Though this duo (Thomas Adam and Steffen Keth) may breathe urgency and relevancy, they have done so by sticking to their guns and not jumping the bandwagon. Though their sound and compositions have matured throughout the years, their fundamental approach to music has been consistent, and this is one of the reasons I have come to respect this band. They could easily be writing pop ditties, filming glossy videos ready for MTV, and other gimmicky approaches, but they have been steadfast in their style of production of music, and seventeen years into their career, they have produced their strongest album yet: “Popgefahr.”



Track Listing:
1. mAndroids
2. Rage
3. What’s Love All About
4. Time To Be Alive
5. Plastic Heart
6. Be A Light To Yourself
7. Ready To Die
8. Flash of Life
9. Twisted Story
10. Until The End Of Time

Keep up with De/Vision at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Rage” from the popgefahrrecords YouTube Channel.

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26 March 2010

Catching up with Portugal. The Man and OK Go

We have all heard bands that when we heard them, we may have liked them, but never got round to really taken a closer listen to. It has nothing to do with talent – but it has everything to do with timing. Sort of like when you meet new people, depending where you are in life, either you hit it off, sort of hit it off, like the person but don’t hit it off, or simply do not hit it off. After listening to the new releases by Portugal. The Man and OK Go, I had to go back and listen to their past material again and smack myself for not really listening closer in the past. So I thought I would kick off a week of trying to catch up on some material already released in 2010 by finally giving the credit and respect to these two bands that really deserve it. Enjoy!

Portugal. The Man: “American Ghetto”

Sarah Palin is not the only noteworthy citizen from Wasilla, Alaska USA; Portugal. The Man, though based out of Portland, Oregon USA, hails from Wasilla – and is really a band, not just one man. And after doing my research, PTM in many way reminds me 80s musicians, in that the output of new material is prolific to say the least – how I remember the days of a new Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cure, Duran Duran, or Depeche Mode release every year or two! With a release every year since 2006 (two in 2009, as the second was the acoustic accompaniment to the first), “American Ghetto” (2 March 2010) is the band’s fifth studio album. Merging (experimental) rock with an indie pop sensibility, the album is a “ghetto” of musical hodgepodges that amazingly work together. Very few bands on the market have the ability to be so prolific, and yet sway away from using filler material and substandard songs.

Another way they appeal to that part of me that is stuck in the 80s is that they make it really hard to define their sound. Of course, this is one of the reasons the term “experimental” was invented, but I am starting to develop an allergic reaction to that term as much as I do towards “alternative.” At the heart of it all, this is a neo-psychedelic rock band, which infuses trip-hop, electronic, and current indie trends, mixed up with a pop sensibility that is subtle. Though they may not reinvent themselves album to album, PTM continues to push the envelope of what is expected of them and develop/mature their sounds. And with “American Ghetto,” they have definitely come of age.

This is a monster of an album. Though clocking in under forty-minutes, as a whole you will be drowned by music that is syrupy sweat or eerily cinematic, highly crafted ever shifting to broody and visceral. Forget about guessing what may come next – each track rolls right in as an unexpected surprise from the last track. Opening with “The Dead Dog,” you are arrested by the guitar rift, funky beat, and the pensiveness of the actual music. The hollow “60 Years” is bluesy and sultry, as it stumbles over its own beat. “1000 Years” (my favorite on the album) is one of those sonically deceptive songs, in that you are bobbing your head, tapping your feet, getting absorbed into the moment, and then you hear: “First I stand then I die, I became all mankind; as I drip from mine eyes, I washed away to a smaller size. We’ll wait 1000 years until the end of time…” Lyrically poetically bombastic, there is no way you are prepared for this profundity. The album closes with “When the War Ends.” Essentially a pop song, it is hard to figure out if the statement they are making is poetic or has real social consequence (which is what I hope their intention was): “When the war ends, yeah, we’ll wonder what it was about.”

And when you are done with your listen of the album, you realize just what a ghetto of music this really is. And perhaps there is a metaphor in there about the new American ghettos, the suburbs, ultimately what the album has to offer is not a discourse on the dissatisfactions of suburban life, but rather an album which contains such diversity of elements that it is impossible not to be blown away. I am rarely this impressed with an album, but continuing that trend of 2010, Portugal. The Man has taken that bar and raised it up a bit more. “American Ghetto” is the perfect postmodern soundtrack: steeped in pastiche, fragmentation, and self-discontent, the album is flirty, ingenious, and perceptive.



Track Listing:
1. The Dead Dog
2. Break
3. 60 Years
4. All My People
5. 1000 Years
6. Fantastic Pace
7. The Pushers Party
8. Do What We Do
9. Just a Fool
10. Some Men
11. When the War Ends

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

OK Go: “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky”

Taking their influence from a book published in 1876 (“The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Colour of the Sky”), OK Go released their third album “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky” (on major label 12 January 2010, will be re-released on their own label, Paracadute, on 1 April 2010), this is the meeting of art rock with solid pop sensibility. And like many of the bands on the scene today, OK Go refers back to the 80s for their cues, but in no way give into the revival fever or fervor. I am reminded of what poet T.S. Eliot wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” OK Go steps to the front of the class, because they are not rehashing but rather learning from and expanding on prior ideas, usurping them and making it theirs. And the cues are not just electropop or new wave, but even Prince gets thrown in the mix.

The album opens with the lead single “WTF?” And with Prince-esque vocals, Damian Kulash sings, “It’s like a sky dive, you’re getting high. That kinda thrill that’ll maybe kill you. It’s like I’m eye-to-eye, wild eyed. Oh I don’t know what to tell you, there’s just this thing about ‘cha.” The second track, “This Too Shall Pass,” the second single off of the album, follows. But it is the third song, “All Is Not Lost” that I am stuck on – I like this song so much, I have set my iTunes to play it over and over and over again as I write about “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky.” Some aggressive strumming, syncopated beats, and keys for ambience, this is one of those songs that should definitely be a single. Carefree but not frivolous, hopeful but not sappy (“And when they say it is all lost, all is not lost, all is not lost… at all”), upbeat and poppy but not dancey or bubblegum, this is the kind of pop song that is difficult to pull off – and I tip my hat to OK Go.

The album is full of many more unforgettable songs. “Skyscrapers” borders between eerie and new wave, while “White Knuckles” has that big 80s, Prince feel to it: “And you can’t go back same way you came; round all the pieces up, but they just don’t fit the same.” And as for the lead guitar, they keep to that Prince feel – it is almost unbelievable that it is not Prince himself playing. Another great “Prince” moment is “End Love,” which leans more towards Prince’s sensual side. Leaving Prince behind, there is “Before the Earth Was Round.” Think of a less funkier, but rockier, version of Madonna’s song “Nobody’s Perfect”: “Before the earth was round, there was no end to things; no one tried to measure what they knew. Everything was warm and everyone would love, and every contradiction was true.” Now I am not sure that the pre-world-is-round days were completely lovey-dovey (Inquisitions and all), but there is something to say about the underlying idea of the song: as we progress scientifically/technologically, this world becomes colder and colder, all the while people become more and more detached.

From 80’s (especially Prince) influences to their own quirky take on pop sensibility, OK Go most definitely pulled of their best album to date. “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky” is an unexpected surprise, which not only pays homage to the past, but also demonstrates new relevant ways to use old cues and how to expand them in a field full of imitation. Yes, this is stealing as Eliot would conclude, but thievery rarely sounds this good. And to steal two lines from the closing track, “In the Glass,” after you listen to this album and the silence flows in, you will feel that “It was clear and bright like a mid-winter sunlight; my heart beat counting down a moment precise and quiet.”



Track Listing:
1. WTF?
2. This Too Shall Pass
3. All Is Not Lost
4. Needing/Getting
5. Skyscrappers
6. White Knuckles
7 I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe
8. End Love
9. Before the Earth Was Round
10. Last Leaf
11. Back From Kathmandu
12. While You Were Asleep
13. In the Glass
14. Louisiana Land, U.S.A iTunes
14. White Knuckles, Static Revenger club mix, U.K. iTunes

Keep up with OK Go at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “This Too Shall Pass” from their MySpace Video page.


This Too Shall Pass (RGM Version)

OK Go | MySpace Music Videos
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24 March 2010

Videos on a Beautiful Day

Spring is definitely in the air, and I thought I would share a few videos. These are a few bands that have definitely been flying in my radar the past few weeks that I wanted to share with everyone. Have not had the opportunity to listen to or review the albums yet. But I hope they pique your curiosity as much as they have mine. Enjoy!

Tindersticks’ “Black Smoke” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.



The Hot Rats’ “Damaged Goods” from their YouTube Channel: TheHotRats.



Shout Out Louds’ “Fall Hard” from the Thomas Saurén (director) Viemo Channel.

Shout Out Louds - Fall Hard from Thomas Saurén on Vimeo.



Wayne Jackson’s “I’m So Beautiful” from his MySpace Video page.


I'm So Beautiful

Wayne Jackson | MySpace Music Videos


Hollerado’s “Juliette” from their YouTube Channel: Hollerado.



Owen Pallet’s “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.



Velojet’s “Pass It Back” from the ShockAndAveVideos YouTube Channel.

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23 March 2010

Goldfrapp: "Head First"

Okay, I admit it: today was a day I was looking forward to for quite sometime! Goldfrapp released their fifth studio album, “Head First” (23 March 2010), and of course I was worried about whether or not it would live up to my expectations. I was worried about whether or not it would live up to what Goldfrapp are capable of. Reality, there is nothing worse than waiting for something, wanting something, and then being let down when you finally have it. And in recent years, most veterans have released sub par and lackluster albums. But, “Head First” delivers! Should there have been any doubt? This duo (Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory) time and again prove that they have the musical chops to remain relevant and urgent, paying homage to the past while exploring new production techniques and arrangement styles.

Okay, admittedly, there is a barrage of 80s influenced pop acts out there – from Little Boots to LaRoux – so why should anyone pay attention to Goldfrapp? Well, to dismiss “Head First” as a simple 80s influenced electropop album is to outright ignore some of the tracks on this album. Not to mention, that the sounds may be all 80s, the pop sensibility is all ABBA. Most of these songs are not arranged in the same vein as 80s tracks were (though occasionally you hear some “Xanadu” in it), nor do these songs rely on the traditional hooks that the duo used in the past four albums. Instead of using a singular catchy element in a song as the lure, these songs are infectious as a whole. Furthermore, you will be pressed to say that this album has one archetypal, one signature, sound. Instead, brilliantly, Goldfrapp wisps through different electronic terrains, never given into frivolous or gloomy extremes.

The opening track, and lead single, “Rocket,” will definitely remind you of very early 80s in its visceral feel, but the sounds are all 2010. Followed by “Believer,” we move from early to mid 80s, and the song (especially in terms of bass line) is the one song that really stays true to the 80s. The introduction of a piano and a 70s disco feel accompanies the third track, “Alive,” and from this point on, you never know what to expect; appropriately Alison Goldfrapp sings, “Step out in a crazy world, but then the sun resets your mind. Feel the weight of it all just drift off on a cloud to another time. Oh hello, hello! I’m feeling alive again…” And these lines become the lens through which to listen to the entire album. This album resets Goldfrapp back away from the gloomier direction they were heading, while breathing new life into their sound.

My two favorite tracks on the album would be “Dreaming” and “Hunt.” “Dreaming” almost has that “Supernature” feel to the ostinato in the background, with ambient synth chords in the foreground. Maybe it is just me, but it would seem to be that their past collaborations with Manhattan Clique really rubbed off on this track. As for “Hunt,” it is just one of those songs that really got to me the first time I listened to it. Arguably the gloomiest song on the album (“Tell us nothing, tell us lies with elations, no surprise, tonight the hunt for you…”) From the breathing effects in the background to the synth weaving in and out, this is possibly the most sensual song that Goldfrapp has ever written – and of course gloomy and sensual together is a very difficult task to pull off, but when it is done well, it is incredible, and “Hunt” is incredible.

So, back to our question: Why should anyone pay attention to Goldfrapp? When the early 90s supplanted electro-music, and only “techno” bands made any headway, it was Goldfrapp among a handful of bands that brought electropop back onto the map. And from 2000 to 2010, a decade long of releasing (five) albums, Goldfrapp has been anything but complacent or repetitive. If anyone makes the mistake to assume that they are following the current trend, they blatantly have forgotten that Goldfrapp helped to set it. “Head First” is a shining example of the power of electropop, an amazing study of how 70s and 80s sensibility can be interwoven into something new and relevant in 2010, and a great exemplar of how a veteran band can continue to grow, improve, and deliver time and again. Do not skip this album!



Track Listing:
1. Rocket
2. Believer
3. Alive
4. Dreaming
5. Head First
6. Hunt
7. Shiny and Warm
8. I Wanna Life
9. Voicething

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

Here is their video for “Rocket” from their MySpace Videos page.


Rocket

GOLDFRAPP | MySpace Music Videos
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20 March 2010

Retrospective on Curve’s “Come Clean”

The 1990s were a time of grunge and Brit pop, and Starbucks making its way out into the scene. Though the music industry would arguably change into a number counting, profit-obsessed mechanism in the broad band world, where talent was less important than figures, some of the best music was written in this decade. Under the radar of the hype-machine and the mainstream world, Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday would meet through David Steward, of Eurythmics’ fame. And the duo known as Curve was born in 1990. Now on permanent hiatus (they have been known to split and reform), the band released five studio albums from 1992 to 2002 and numerous compilations between, culminating in 2004’s “The Way of Curve” – a double CD release of greatest hits and b-sides. Though immediately associated with dream pop and shoegaze (because of their ethereal, breathy vocals and compressed guitars), they infused everything from electronica, rock, industrial, synthrock, and everything else in between. And the one album of theirs that has had me constantly stuck for years would have to be “Come Clean” (16 February 1998).

After three years and two studio albums, Curve took a five-year hiatus; they came back for this, their third album. And even in 2010, I cannot believe the sound that they have created, because the music is still fresh and relevant; it has really stood up to the test of time. (I was playing the album really loud the other day, and the passenger in my car actually asked, “Who is this?” fully expecting it to be a new artist.. Surprise!) Unlike the majority of bands that are trying to recapture older sounds and traditions, tweaking it a bit, Curve would have none of that. Curve, though influenced by many bands (The Cure to My Bloody Valentine) had their own distinct sound.

One thing I must say that I really admire about Curve was that they didn’t only reach out to shoegaze lovers, but were also able to reach out to lovers of industrial, the new electronica trend (led by bands like The Prodigy), and of course the old school Goths running around like vampires. Highly ambient and hypnotic at times, at others blood rushing and gut wrenching, what makes “Come Clean” an incredible album is the fact that it is really hard to define by mood or effect. With the cleaver use of drum machines, bewitching bass lines, and some crafty work by Dean Garcia, songs such as “Chinee Burn” were born. The songs could instantly be remixed for club success (an avenue they did not pursue to my knowledge); the song is an angry electronica meets trip hop meets shoegaze. By far one of the best opening tracks ever; this is my favorite song on the album. “Chinese Burn” is that song where you’re going at a constant 55MPH on the highway, and soon as the song comes on, you just have the need to bury the pedal into the floor and the next thing you know you’re hitting that rev limiter hoping for the car to go faster. It has that push and that shove that make you do what is out of the norm for a person.

Other amazing highlights on this album: the trippy “Coming Up Roses,” the post-punk “Something Familiar,” and seductive “Sweetback.” And though all of the music is recorded and produced to sound with a “range” of sonic motif, what is most impressive about the album is, as mentioned before, all the different strands of music come together in an orgiastic listening experience. Of course I could have written about their more successful first and second albums, but the reality is that “Come Clean” is their magnum opus. One listen to this album, and like countless fans, you too will be wishing for a reunion of Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday – in their own words, what we want to experience again: “I’m holding the fiddle now, playing hard. I’ve learnt my lesson in self-composure. I shout and I bellow baby… shout and I bellow… can you hear me out back?” (“Coming Up Roses”)



Track Listing:
1. Chinese Burn
2. Coming Up Roses
3. Something Familiar
4. Dog Bone
5. Alligators Getting Up
6. Dirty High
7. Killer Baby
8. Sweetback
9. Forgotten Sanity
10. Cotton Candy
11. Beyond Reach
12. Come Clean
13. Recovery.

Keep up with Curve at their homepage (occasionally updated).

Here is Curve’s video for “Chinese Burn” from Artist Direct.

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17 March 2010

When Music Makes a Stance

I would like to dedicate this posting to a friend and colleague of mine (you know who you are!). Our daily conversations not only keep me focused professionally, but also personally. I am not sure that this post would be what it is without your “stance” and insights, and for that I’m grateful. Thank you for the show of the support and listening to my lunatic ranting and howling. (But feel free to tell me to shut the hell up!)

I remember the first time I heard “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears; though I really did not pick up on or understood the Big Brother references (“Welcome to your life, there’s no turning back. Even while we sleep, we will find you acting on your best behavior….”), the song made me a fan of theirs at an early age. A few later years they would release “Sowing the Seeds of Love.” Roland Orzabal sings the opening line: “High time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man…” Later he sings, “I spy tears in their eyes, they look to the skies for some kind of divine intervention. Food goes to waste, so nice to eat, so nice to taste. Politician grannie with your high ideals, have you no idea how the majority feels?” And for the first time music politicized me in a way that it had never done so before. Of course I was aware of punk rock before this, but in many ways punk rock had just become a “fad” in the 80s, an adulterated scene of mediocre repetitiveness instead of achieving the political bombast that it could have. But it was “Sowing the Seeds of Love” that really made me think about Politics, with a capital “P.” Why don’t people have food to eat? Why do we look for divine intervention and not political action? Why are those in power so out of touch with what the common man needs? And the proverbial ball started to roll…

The history of modern music, for the most part, is about escapism. Even the vast majority of the musicians that I have come to respect are escapists for the most part. And what else could be expected: whether in a market sponsored by corporate commercialism or a license paying population, to take a stance on any political or social issue runs the risk of alienating listeners, especially in a country like the USA which is so politically polarized – right or left, black or white. No matter what the issue (child abuse, immigration, gay rights, global warming, health care reform, public education, racial equality, war, women’s rights, world famine, etc…), there will always be two or three or four sides to the debate; there will never be complete consensus. But that is not enough for some artists. Though risking their appeal to a broader audience, there are those that will take a stance and reject escapism (occasionally or all the time), whether they do it blatantly or subtly. Either as an attempt to stir social consciousness or start a movement, musicians have historically risen to the moment and followed their conscience.

I know the risk even I take writing about political or social stances, but what I do not want to do is degrade this posting into a political conversation. Though I love politics, especially from a theoretical point of view, as I get older I find myself becoming more and more pragmatic. And I am learning to stop looking at issues as right versus left, because “conservative versus liberal” is very relative. Conservative politicians in Nederland are progressive compared to those in the USA. And rarely do I meet people who are one or the other; most people have a spectrum of views that cut through many different ideological institutions, because we are all the sums of our experiences – and no two people ever have identical experiences. Ultimately, I believe to each their own; I personally feel that there should be a free inter exchange of political, social, and philosophical thoughts for everyone to engage, critique, assimilate, and grow from. No one “institution” has all the answers.

And I want to dismiss the idea that political songs in the music industry come from bleeding heart liberals; actually both sides of the fence have written their share of songs – and often throughout history have shared many social movements together. Regardless of what issue is being written about, if you are like me, music comes down to, well, the music. Just because you are singing about an issue that I may care about does not mean that I am going to like the song. With that in mind, I thought I would share some great songs that take a stance on some issue. But these are not just the ranting of individuals; they are highly crafted songs. These songs demonstrate the power of when social consciousness and artistry meet. And regardless if it is music or film, paintings or novels, it is when those two things meet (social consciousness and artistry) that we really see the value of art of any kind. Though I know there are many substantive issues musicians can take on (Depeche Mode is obsessed with the idea of power and dominance in relationships, while Placebo loves to address the issue of loss and personal failure), the issues I am going to center on are political and social issues.

A little disclaimer: I decided to write and include songs that had official embeds available. I avoided the temptation of using songs that have been posted on the blog before, such as Muse’s “Uprising” (about the mistrust people/protesters have of politicians and bankers). Then there were a slew of songs that I could not include, because they were not available for embedding or just flatly not available at all. But here are some artists (from a really long list) I wish I could have included, but was not able: Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, NWA, Public Enemy, Queensryche, Rage Against the Machine, and Tears for Fears.

“God Save the Queen,” sang Johnny Rotten, “the fascist regime; they made you a moron, a potential H-bomb.” If that was not blatantly honest enough, he later sings, “God Save the Queen, cause tourists are money and our figurehead is not what she seems.” Though the song would chart extremely well (#2 in the UK in 1977), it was banned in certain quarters – so much for free speech. That would just make The Sex Pistols more of a force to be reckoned with. And that was the thing with the original wave of punk rock; not only did they reject the common notions of music, they rejected much of the common political ideas. Attacking the tradition of royalty, which politically serves no function, The Sex Pistols were aiming for a politics that incorporated the common man and not just exulted the traditions of an older generation. And when you consider from 1977 to now, it is no surprise that the closing words of this song became the mantra of punk rock kids everywhere: “No Future.” (“God Save the Queen” from The Sex Pistols’ MySpace Videos Page.)


Sex Pistols: God Save The Queen

Sex Pistols | MySpace Music Videos


The great David Bowie has made his share of stances on issues. The subtlest, and yet most powerful, would be “Heroes” in 1977. He sings, “I can remember standing, by the wall, and the guns shot above our heads, and we kissed as though nothing could fall, and the shame was on the other side. Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever, then we could be heroes for just one day.” And though many people have come to know this song through the 1998 cover by The Wallflowers, it is in its original context that the song is really powerful. This song is about the Berlin Wall, and the story of two lovers, one from each side. In his nice subtle way, Bowie shows how that wall, imposed upon Europe, created a division that not only wrecked the lives of individuals, but all future possibilities. And in the eyes of many, you were a hero, not a traitor, to beat that wall. A decade later, the wall would come down. Not just because of Americans, but also because of Europeans, on both side, that kept questioning the need and reality of that wall. (“Heroes” from David Bowie’s MySpace Videos Page.)


''Heroes''

David Bowie | MySpace Music Videos


Pointing out the apocalyptic potential of the future, The Clash’s “London Calling” (1979) is one of the most bone chilling songs recorded in the original wave of punk rock. From the fear of nuclear catastrophe to drowning in overflowing rivers, The Clash points out all the possible ways the end could be met: “The ice age is coming, the sun’s of an end, engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin…” Though there are natural causes in there, the majority is manmade: “the war is declared,” “Phony Beatlemania,” and a “nuclear error” to name a few. What made The Clash relevant and urgent in the mainstream, unlike many other punk bands, was that their music was much more digestible by the mass media. And from “London Calling” to “Rock the Casbar,” this was a band that was able to make you think while enjoying music. (“London Calling” from theclashVEVO YouTube Channel.)



Though the great Bob Marley would not be with us when “Buffalo Soldier” would be released in 1983, this song would be a rally for black resistance and civil rights. Though many critique the inaccuracies in timeline of the song (though I am sure these same people would never do the same to writers like Shakespeare), the song depicts more of an outline of events: taken from Africa by force, forced into slavery, made to fight in separate regiments (ironic, really, fit to fight for the country, but not to be quartered with whites), and now fight for survival in an unjust, racially charged nation. Pointing out a reality that mainstream America rarely wants to hear, Marley sings, “fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.” From the first moment, struggling for freedom and to survive slavery, to fighting for civil rights, to fighting for respect (just think about it, even the American president is often confronted with bigoted language and ideas), Marley’s song, named after those original regiments in the Civil War (not to mention, the minority regiments are have traditionally been the first infantry sent in), is a reminder to continue to fight and survive. (“Buffalo Soldier” from the BobMarleyWailersVEVO YouTube Channel.)



Frankie Goes to Hollywood is most known for their song “Relax,” a blatant ode to masturbation. Already, Frankie Goes to Hollywood demonstrated they had the courage to take on subject matters that could stir controversy. “Two Tribes” takes its title from “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” and is a direct critique of the Cold War: the USA versus the USSR. The song is about the nuclear threat that the entire world was living under. “We got two tribes, we got the bomb… Are we living in a land where sex and horror are the new Gods?” With one of the best dance beats of 1984, I wonder how many people may have been dancing to this track without realizing what the song was really about. By the way, the introductory samples, from news clips, pop culture, and presidential speeches, are really chilling. (“Two Tribes” from the zttrecords YouTube Channel.)



And what do you do if you are a musician whose image and music is being used to promote a political campaign that you do not endorse? If you are Bruce Springsteen, you respond to President Ronald Reagan in kind. “Born in the USA” is about the working class, inspired by friends of Springsteen’s who went to Vietnam, some who did not return and others that returned to face more hardships. What the song is not is patriotic rant for the status quo; actually, quite the opposite, it is a criticism of how many are lost and forgotten in America – “I’m ten years burning down the road, nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.” The song is not about that nebulous middle class that Reagan wanted to politically court; it is about the working class, the forgotten, and the disempowered. And even in our current global political climate, we continue to talk about the middle class and have completely forgotten the working class. And if there is a song that will go down in history as the greatest socio-political statement of its time, it is this song. (“Born in the USA” from the Bruce Springsteen MySpace Video Page.)


Born in the USA

Bruce Springsteen | MySpace Music Videos


In 1987, Suzanne Vega would become a household name with her single, “Luka.” While the few artists that were making a stance were doing so for national and global issues, Vega took a different kind of stance: one against child abuse and domestic violence. She sings from the point of view of little Luka: “If you hear something late at night, some kind of trouble, some kind of fight, just don’t ask me what it was.” Later she sings, “And they only hit until you cry, after that you don’t ask why, you just don’t argue anymore.” In many ways Vega takes on a harder issue than the Cold War and nuclear annihilation, because ultimately we believe in the premise of privacy and what goes on in the house stays in the house. And though a decade later there would be more social services to address these issues, in the 80s it was a difficult fight to have. But that did not deter Suzanne Vega. (“Luka” from the SuzanneVegaVEVO YouTube Channel.)



Erasure, from the start, is one of the few major label artists that has had a statement to make: from drag in their first video or ruby-red slipper “Wizard of Oz” inspired space odyssey second video, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke (who is straight) have had no fear of making waves. It would be easy to write about “Chains of Love” or “A Little Respect,” but these are not their greatest political/social stance. When they released the titular track of their sophomore album, “The Circus” (1987), who would have thought that such a song would go straight to the top ten in the UK during the Thatcher years, and of course no surprise that even though the prior three singles had mixes that did extremely well on the US dance charts, this track didn’t. A song aptly titled for this accordion ditty, Erasure had the courage to make a stance for the workingman. As politicians over the past three decades keep talking about the middle class, forgetting that the working class built and maintains every single modern nation, Erasure takes a political and social swipe at the current political “blindness” towards the work class. Bell sings, “Father worked in industry, now the work has moved on and the factories gone. See them sell your history, where once you were strong and you used to belong. There was once a future for a working man, there was once a lifetime for a skillful hand yesterday.” As the final words you hear are “a broken dream,” you are left to wonder what is left for the working class in this current environment. (“The Circus” from Erasure’s MySpace Video Page.)


The Circus (Video)

Erasure | MySpace Music Videos


Most known for ripping the picture of Pope John Paul II on “Saturday Night Live,” less known for her impetus for doing so, Sinead O’Connor was trying to draw attention to the sexual abuses of children within the Roman Catholic Church, a real life issue that did not make any real news for close to a decade afterwards. Regardless, O’Connor continued to be a champion for the fight against the sexual abuse of children (not to mention Irish nationalism, women’s rights, and questioning traditional theology). In 1994, O’Connor would make a bold move by recording and releasing “Fire on Babylon.” The song is an insight to the effect of the child abuse she had to endure, and again an attempt to bring attention the issue: “She took my father from my life, took my sister and brothers; I watched her torturing my child, feeble I was then but now I’m grown.” And though I admit that her original way of getting attention for the issue was a bit unorthodox, what is most admirable about O’Connor is that the controversy never stole her thunder, never made her stop, never made her apologize. She continued, and still continues, to live by her convictions and instill them into her music. (“Fire on Babylon” from the mypartofthething YouTube Channel.)



I recently got one of those online surveys, and one of the questions was if you could invite anyone to dinner, who would it be? Among my list were the members of The Manic Street Preachers. One of the bands I respect the most, from their personal narratives of tragedy and hope to their unrelenting craftsmanship and courage to make a stance, Manic Street Preachers is one of the few veteran bands that never give into frivolous, meaningless babble. There is never filler, only substance, and 1998’s “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next” is a brilliant example of what the band has to offer. Inspired and set in the Spanish Revolution, the song is a reminder, a lesson we should have all learnt from history: do not sit idly as the world is collapsing around you. Remember when the Nazi’s went for the Jews? Remember when any said dictator went for the free press? Remember when any political group silence another group that disagreed with them? Who is next? Hands down, “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next” is my favorite political song, because its central message, not to stand by as the world is changing into something that is an abhorrer, is a message that anyone, anywhere, can take to heart. (“If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next” from the ManicStPreachersVEVO YouTube Channel.)

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16 March 2010

The Delta Mirror: "Machines That Listen"

This is a band that is self-described as being conceived through the fragments – remnants – of the past, from hip-hop to shoegaze. The Delta Mirror, an American trio hailing from Los Angeles, CA (composed of David Bolt, Craig Gordon, and Karrie K.) make good on this self-description on their debut “Machines That Listen” (16 March 2010). What more, when writing this album, they did not just conceive of a sonic motif, keeping themselves in a predetermined range of sound, or a thematic motif, like love, hate, or despair, they took the album to anther level: this is interwoven narratives of different rooms in one hospital. Concept albums are rare, good concept albums even rarer, but “Machines That Listen” not only meets the mark, this is an album that is strong as a “concept album” or individual tracks – or any combination of the two.

Not holding strong to any genre, the music has this constant tension of being neither dance nor lounge, neither ethereal nor concrete; it is in this sonic struggle for this or that, that the music gains so much visceral power. Keeping to their theme, it is like being at a hospital; hope and despair and acceptance collapse into one another, creating a niche of its own. As with the album, all these strands of music conspire together, from the ethereal dream pop to the danceable IDM, from the loungey downtempo to the anxious shoegaze; this is an experience of catharsis, and building of a powerful undertow that only fades after the experience is over.

Opening with an instrumental, “It Was Dark And I Welcomed The Calm,” you get the first clue that this is an album meant to be listened to at high volumes, as you will lose all of the small nuances and sounds at standard volumes. The second track, “And The Radio Played On,” is the first introduction to vocals: “She knew that they didn’t have a lot of time left. The doctors say, ‘Might not be able to make it through the week.’ But it sure was enough knowing that she was with him; sure was enough knowing that he wasn’t alone.” The narrative of what seems to be wife with her husband in the hospital, experiencing his ultimate decline, the entire narrative hinges on the fact that she would not play the radio, as she does not want to miss his last words. At their best when not following any formula or cues that most bands do, the third track, “Going To Town,” is the prime example of thinking outside of normal formulas. With no obvious verse-chorus breakdowns, the song lunges forward in much the same way that The Cure’s “Fascination Street” does – with an awkward beat and minimalist melody that in part is composed and accompanied by just noise, and lyrics that are not always logical, what makes the song stand out is that it challenges your expectation as you listen: when will the beat drop? Where is the chorus? And it is that kind of unexpected experience that just hooks you.

I could easily go through each track, like describing “He Was Worse Than The Needle He Gave You” as being the sonic equivalent of a long sigh, or “Hold Me Down Just Don’t Let Me Go” as a the sonic equivalent of a horrific scene in slow motion. And that is another great aspect of this album, the cinematic quality of the music. It is almost as if the music is an accompaniment to a silent film.

Through and through, this is an album devoid of filler, devoid of clichés, and devoid to complacency. There are few things that make for great albums; they usually possess a universal depth that is not refutable or ignorable, they usually do not adhere to the rules of what is expected completely or at all, and of course, timing. Can we all relate to that hospital experiences of “Machines That Listen”? Check. Does The Delta Mirror hold steady to the rules? No, so another check. Timing? Well, in a scene aching for something other than post-punk/new wave/electropop revival and indie rock angst, Delta Mirror may just have something on offer that many of us have been waiting for.



Track Listing:
1. It Was Dark And I Welcome The Calm
2. And The Radio Played On
3. Going To Town
4. He Was Worse Than The Needle He Gave You
5. A Room For Waiting
6. Hold Me Down, But Don’t Let Me Go
7. Malpractice
8. We Got It All
9. A Song About The End

Keep up with The Delta Mirror at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is a live performance of “It Was Dark And I Welcome The Calm” from their YouTube Channel: TheDeltaMirror.

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13 March 2010

Broken Bells: "Broken Bells"

Someone who I have known for close to four years (we shall call him Scarecrow, which come to think about it would be a great Halloween costume for him – hint!) volunteered to write up a review – actually has volunteered to give up some of his time to write for SlowdiveMusic Blog. So, with that said, I would like to thank him and welcome him aboard and give you his first review.

Broken Bells is an indie rock band, which is the brainchild of Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and The Shins’ vocalist James Mercer. I came across the band when clicking through the pages of the Toro Magazine website, where the album is streaming in its entirety (link). Throughout the past few years, I have been introducing myself to indie rock, though I grew up on a steady diet of pop, rap, and mainstream radio. But it is albums like Broken Bells’ self-titled debut (9 March 2010) that really is opening the door to a new world of music for me and opening my ears more to different sounds, and I hope it does it for you as well.

“Broken Bells” opens with “High Road,” which itself has a flow that feels mostly cool and serene. Upon hearing the song from the start to the finish it vaguely reminded me of an old song from Hall and Oates called “Out of Touch,” just from the sound of the guitar and the background sounds added to the feeling of the song. Then there is the track “Your Head is On Fire”; it shows how they concentrate on the feeling of the beat and the sound rather than concentrating on the lyrics themselves. They keep the same cool feeling to draw you in and listen and keep some type of suspense when the song suddenly stops, and then starts again to fade out into the next song. Even while it’s mellow and cool in feeling, it stays upbeat and calm at the same time, which has the effect of relaxing you but at the same time uplift and bring you up.

Many instruments are used in the back and foreground, mixing intricately with the beat, mixing well within the songs to show the bands diversity and strength in different forms of arrangements. In the song “Sailing to Nowhere” you can hear a harbor and a piano playing along with a guitar at the same time. With that they use a sudden sense of environment in their songs to visualize the scenery and let the listener into a cooler more relaxed calm from the upbeat side of the album.

For starters, follow that link above and listen to the album, then head over to Amazon or iTunes and support the band if the album hooked you as much as it did me. “Broken Bells” may not be that guitar ripping, indie rock brand that most people expect from indie bands, but what Broken Bells the band produced here is a relaxing, engaging album that may just open up more doors to a new word of music as it has done for me.



Track Listing:
1. The High Road
2. Vaporize
3. Your Head Is on Fire
4. The Ghost Inside
5. Sailing to Nowhere
6. Trap Doors
7. Citizen
8. October
9. Mongrel Heart
10. The Mall and Misery

Keep up with Broken Bells at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “The High Road” from the brokenbellsVEVO YouTube Channel.

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12 March 2010

Videos

Thought I would post a few new videos I have been into lately. Hope you enjoy!

Villagers’ “Becoming a Jackal” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.



Chew Lips’ “Karen” from their YouTube Channel: chewlipstheband.



Yes Giantess’ “The Ruins” from their YouTube Channel: yesgiantess.



Foals’ “Spanish Sahara” from their YouTube Channel: wearefoals.



Surfer Blood’s “Swim” from the kaninerecords YouTube Channel.



Eels’ “Unhinged” from their YouTube Channel: OfficialEels.

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10 March 2010

Catching up with Toro y Moi and Electric President

For this “catching up,” we are keeping it American, specifically southern. Both albums originally flew right under my radar when they initially were released, but thanks to cranky friends, who love to give me their two cents on what I should be writing about (keep the advice coming!), I discovered two albums that have really gotten under my skin in a good way. Let me say upfront that what I really like about both albums is that they are not “stereotypes” of what can be done electronically. From abrasive sounds to subtle introspection, both albums are provocative and demonstrate excellent craftsmanship. I hope you enjoy them both as much as I am.

Toro y Moi: “Causers of This”

Electropop/sythnpop has slowly been making a comeback over the past few years; both with mainstream and underground/indie artists, there has definitely been an attraction to returning to electronic convention, while rejecting the 90s mentality of “if it’s real music, you can play it acoustically” – which is bullshit, of course. Nevertheless, it would seem that this 80s revival of sorts, which is bringing back electropop/synthpop, has almost outlasted the 80s itself, with no sign of ending anytime soon. There are two kinds of artists in this revival, the first of which are those that are reproducing the 80s sound completely. It is almost as if I am in a time warp at times, reliving my middle and high school days, and I have to admit that I am enjoying the ride. Then there is the second group of artists that are employing synths, taken cues from the 80s, but doing something different. And that is where Toro y Moi falls. The name of the band is the moniker employed by Chazwick Bundick, who hails from South Carolina, USA and just recently released his debut album, “Causers of This” (4 January 2010). This is not just generic synthpop, as there is a heavy dose of downtempo here. This album is chill, relaxing, and mesmerizing, as it fluidly flows from one track to the next, taking you on a listening journey of ever shifting moods and textures.

After discovering this album after release I made the mistake of reading up a little on it! I got all tangled up on all these new genres: it is glo-fi? Is it chillwave? Is it hypnagogic pop? I am thinking I may start to invent a few “labels” to see if they catch on, but I am going to play this game. Glo-fi, usually referred to as chillwave, has its roots in the USA’s west coast last summer. Other than an allusion of bringing cocaine back, the best way to really define this movement within synthpop is that the inevitable has happened: synthpop has finally merged with shoegaze, mixed up with a few other things like downtempo and world music for its variant beats. In this context, Bundick is not just a musician, but also one of the pioneers of a new genre. Though not part of the original explosion of music associated with last summer, “Causers of This” definitely carries on this new tradition, while adding to it.

The album opens with “Blessa,” which made me immediately think: “Is this what My Bloody Valentine would sound like if they were an electronic band?” And this is one of the highest compliments I can pay any band! The song arrests your ears, forces you to listen to noise, and though it is not exactly what you expect in a song, it is alluring. And what you get immediately is what to expect from the album. This is not about tightly written chords, overlaid in complex arrangements – that would be too easy. This album is about manipulating sound (noise) into melody, complementing it with the occasional chord. Obviously, to enhance this effect, the album was recorded in lo-fi. Other great tracks to pay close attention to are “Imprint Forever” (sexy with a bit lounge), “Lissoms” (sensually clubby, with a lot of noise), and “Low Shoulder” (the worlds of R&B and synthpop collide).

If like me, you were not swept away with last summers “glo-fi,” “Causers of This” is going to peak your curiosity and might just start that sweeping away. Toro y Moi has created a sound-drenched, often (controlled) muddled experience that will make you sit back, take notice, and lounge. Foregoing subtly for abrasiveness, this in-your-face album is exceptional gem, no matter what you want to label it. And, like those bands in the late 80s who wanted to do nothing but make noise, this album will dismiss the trite clichés that dance music has fallen into and open up a new world of possibilities.



Track Listing:
1. Blessa
2. Minors
3. Imprint After
4. Lissoms
5. Fax Shadow
6. Thanks Vision
7. Freak Love
8. Talamak
9. You Hid
10. Low Shoulder
11. Causers of This
12. Eden – bonus track

Keep up with Toro y Moi at MySpace or Blogspot.

Here is the video for “Blessa” from the CarparkRecords YouTube Channel.



Electric President: “The Violent Blue”

Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida USA, Electric President is an electronic indie-pop duo composed of Ben Cooper and Alex Kane. Releasing their third album, “The Violent Blue” (23 February 2010), the title immediately makes you think of an abrasive sadness, melancholia with chaos, but this is not what you get on the album. The title, at best, is ironic, as the album falls far from “violent” music or being “blue” to the point of doom and despair. Instead, this is a contemplative album that guides you through heartfelt narratives about life and love, with tongue-in-cheek and seriousness intermixed. And right from the beginning with the opening track, “The Ocean Floor,” the mood is established and, as the album continues, it unravels in a pleasantly introspective way.

Now I want to state for the record that when I say that this album is not truly blue, I am not saying that it is happy-go-lucky and cheerful. Far from it, but instead of the emotional power of this album dragging you down, it uplifts you, like the moments after long contemplation when the proverbial light bulb flickers on. Granted, some of the lyrics will leave you scratching your heard, like in the second track, “Mr. Gone,” an ode to mathematics and love. The metaphor may be a bit obscure but it totally makes sense; math like love is hard to understand, but the nugget of wisdom comes when Cooper sings, “Learn to be optimistic, avoid adverse opinions.” But if there is a song that you are going to get stuck on, it is “Feathers.” A steady, mid-tempo beat, with some beautiful strumming, sort of has that feeling of making you “float” as you listen. Think of all the post-punk bands who wrote acoustic, pop songs in the late 80s; this is that kind of song that exhibits incredible pop sensibility without the frivolity or selling out its integrity. And the song hits on that universal reality of how we sometimes become obsessed and consumed by our feelings for someone, to point of losing yourself: “Well no matter how this ends,” Cooper sings, “they’ll never be a crutch the way I am. I’d follow you down any rabbit hole. Come find me when I sleep, and tie anchors ‘round my feet.”

And though this album is not about 80s revival, the titular track, “The Violent Blue,” has that darkwave feel of great 80s electropop. Wispy, with breathy vocals, it is not till you are over halfway through the song that the beat drops and morphing the song from electropop to shoegaze. And then you get the most powerful lyrics on the album: “This blue ain’t blue, it’s velvet black. A crooked mirror sky, and we hum like stars and flicker off into the blank and void…” Chilling metaphor: eventually all is for naught, as we will cease. Closing with “All the Distant Ships,” the album ends with the same kind of introspective melancholic feel that it began with, but again giving into the indie/shoegaze influences of the band. Flirting with your ears by interplaying between electric and acoustic guitars, this is a song of epic proportion. And just like any great epic song, though the song spans close to nine minutes, it flows nicely, never dragging, holding your complete attention from beginning to end. (And of course, there is the song “Eat Shit and Die,” which used to be a phrase I could not stop saying years ago.)

It took one listen to “The Violent Blue” to make me a fan of the album. Though I am not sure it is fair to label this band electropop, or indie for that matter; Electric President is one of those few bands that are comfortable writing any kind of music they want to. They are not about being another “electronic band”; that would be too bandwagon for these guys. They are just a band that happens to employ some electronics to produce their music. It is in that ability to write anything they want, to shift textures in their music, and to flirt between the digital and the analogue, that the band derives such visceral power; it is amazing how sometimes an album can make you sit back and become introspective – full of emotions and runaway thoughts. And that is the exact reason to give into this soundscape; not to escape yourself, but to, perhaps, find yourself.



Track Listing:
1. The Ocean Floor
2. Mr. Gone
3. Safe and Sound
4. Feathers
5. Nightmare No. 5 or 6
6. The Violent Blue
7. Circles
8. Elegant Disasters
9. Eat Shit and Die
10. All the Distant Ships

Keep up with Electric President at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “The Violent Blue” from the fakefourinc YouTube Channel.

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06 March 2010

Muse Live

With a pack of friends, including Mirage and Belladonna, I headed to Madison Square Garden to see Muse live (Friday, 5 March 2010). Now I have seen Muse (Matthew Bellamy, Dominic Howard, and Christopher Wolstenholme) live on various occasions and in different venues/formats, from the CMJ Music Marathon to the Cure’s Curiosa Festival, from the Hammerstein Ballroom to this venue, Madison Square Garden, in the past. I have seen them as a three-man piece without backing tracks, a three-man piece with backing tracks, and now with a fourth touring member (Morgan Nicholls) on keys, and still some backing tracks. And, I have heard the entire buzz about this tour, admittedly seen the YouTube clips, and had friends give me their two cents. The fact of the matter is this: nothing can prepare you for what you experience at this show.



Silversun Pickup was the opening band, and more than once thanked Muse for the opportunity. Moreover, they had more access to the full range of the light show than most opening bands are given. Overall, a good performance, great really, considering the pressure that any artist has to be under knowing they are sharing the stage with Muse.

Then Muse hit the stage, as the three towers (hidden LCD screens) took the form of skyscrapers of sort. The opening imagery during “We Are the World” was a bit disturbing to me. Eventually, within these towers were little figures of people walking up stairs, like if they were being herded, and then they seemed to be jumping and/or falling out of the tower. I am not sure what Muse was thinking, but considering the history of New York City, this was a bit disturbing. This is not to say that I believe that Muse was alluding to the World Trade Center – far from it, considering the band’s politics and history that is something they would never condone – but if anyone else was a bit disturbed, I completely understand. Then they went right into “Uprising,” standing midway through the towers, both extremes of the towers still projected images. And what you realized immediately is that Muse upped the ante from now on! This was not your conventional rock concert: this was a show. Audiences were inundated with imagery and a light show that made any other past visuals I have experienced seem trite and minute. This was a technical masterpiece, but for all the imagery and lighting, the music was always center stage. It is sometimes hard for musicians to put on a “spectacle” and not get lost within it. Muse, however, was never lost; far from it, the visual only enhanced the music.



A+ for Muse not being chatty! They pushed right through “Uprising” and “Resistance,” and when the opening notes of “New Born” started to play, the diehard fans were heard clearly. By this time, the lower half of the “towers” hand sunken, bringing the band to the stage level. The stage was backless, with multiple mic stands scattered around, allowing Bellamy and Wolstenholme to perform while being able to choose what part of the audience they wanted to perform/sing to; Howard’s drum platform revolved as well. The point is even the people behind the stage got more than LCD screens, Muse performed directly to them as well.

Some highlights: “United States of Eurasia” performed with Bellamy at the piano. “Exogenesis: Symphony Part I (The Overture)” ushering in the first encore. The amazing light show for “New Born” and “Undisclosed Desires.” Let me repeat that, the amazing light show for “New Born” and “Undisclosed Desires.” And the crowd being in tune with the band was simply amazing as well. As for the crowd, it was the most diverse audience I have ever had the pleasure to be part of. Racially, age, gender… you name it, it was all there, and this speaks to Muse’s incredible talent to write music that is universal and about shared human experiences. And this cannot be said about all artists.



Now, with all that said, I am going to risk the possibility of having some diehard Muse fans track me down! America is getting shafted! European, Australian, and Asian dates have seen a more varied selection of songs. The set list below pretty much sums up all the songs that Muse has played in the USA thus far, and on this date (like the previous few) not a single song from “Showbiz” made the set list; though maybe Muse may have tired of the songs, we fans have not. Just to see “Cave” performed on a piano would have been worth the entire ticket price! Other than “Cave,” other concerts have seen songs like “Sunburn,” “Bliss,” “Citizen Erased,” and “Butterflies and Hurricanes” – and there seems to be no attempt to rotate these songs – classics! – into the set. Perhaps this occurs because the show is very technical, or maybe because they are playing their first American arena tour very safe, but I would like to have had known that the show I was at was at least partially different than most of the other shows in the USA by the selection of songs.

Nevertheless, though the visuals of the closing song, “Knights of Cydonia,” fell a bit flat compared to the songs of the first set, this was a great concert, an amazing show, and will definitely rank as one of the five best tours I have ever been to. If I have said this once, I have said this countless of times (and will continue to): Matthew Bellamy is the most talented individual in the music industry. And together with the other members of Muse, there yet seems to be no limit to what they can do musically. The best part of it is that they have gotten this far without kissing the arse of conventionality or compromising their craftsmanship or convictions for commercial success. Now I am thinking I have to plan a vacation later this year to catch what Muse is going to pull off at their stadiums shows later this summer in Europe.



Set List:
“We Are the Universe” (intro)
1. Uprising
2. Resistance
3. New Born
4. Map of the Problematique
5. Supermassive Black Hole
6. Guiding Light
7. Interlude / Hysteria
8. Nishe / United States of Eurasia
9. Feeling Good
10. Helsinki Jam / Undisclosed Desires
11. MK Ultra
12. Starlight
13. Plug in Baby
14. Time Is Running Out
15. Unnatural Selection

Encore:
16. Exogenesis: Symphony Part I (Overture)
17. Stockholm Syndrome
18. Man with a Harmonica / Knights of Cydonia

Keep up with Muse at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
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04 March 2010

The Silent League Answers 5

The Silent League’s “But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker” has been on heavy rotation on my iPod over the past few weeks (review link). Since this is one of those bands that have always challenged and excited me, it was only a matter of time before I would reach out to the band to get them to answer a few questions. So I have to admit that once I got the responses back from the band, I was excited to share them (anyone who mentions Scritti Politi and The Cure’s “Faith” gets thumbs up from me!). I would personally like to thank Justin Russo and Shannon Fields for taking the time and answering 5.


The Silent League / Photographer: Noah Kalina

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

JUSTIN:
Kermit the Frog (musically and non-musically)
Neil Young
Todd Rundgren
Electric Light Orchestra
Bowie
Jack Nietzsche
Jim O'Rourke
The Catholic Church (musically)

SHANNON: A handful of important ones for me include Morton Feldman, Brian Eno, OMD, Microstoria, Xenakis, Sacred Harp songbook shape-note hymns, speaking and singing in tongues, Robert Ashley, Todd Rundgren, The Smiths, Einsturzende Neubauten, Harmonia, Harry Partch, Scritti Politti, Psychedelic Furs, Tony Conrad, Hall & Oates, Pauline Oliveros, Gary Numan, Carlo Gesualdo, Dock Boggs, Skip James, Steve Reich, Gastr del Sol, Lambchop, Silver Apples, The Cure’s “Faith” and “Disintegration,” Bread, 10CC, magical realism, long lists…

2. The band definitely has one of those thought provoking names in music. How did you come up with and mean by the moniker of the band: "The Silent League"?

JUSTIN: The name "Silent League" actually jumped out of a reference book I was reading one afternoon in the local library branch here in Brooklyn. (It was a dictionary of uncommon phrases & strange phenomenon.) It was a post WWII group that came to power in the height of the Red Scare and who’s sole purpose was to intimate and manufacture anti-communist sentiment. I can’t say I chose it for any reason associated with those beginnings but there you have it. I liked the name.

SHANNON: I dislike the origins of the name. Fuck the Silent League.

3. From the first album to now, has the process of composing and recording the music changed?

JUSTIN: Yes, I no longer do it alone! ... thankfully. I used to write solely by myself and then bring those ideas to the band…I still do that now but we’ve also shifted to group approach when coming up with original material as well, which I much prefer. Actually, this album was produced by band member Shannon Fields.

SHANNON: Several of these songs began with Justin and I sitting side by side at the piano, like Jackson and McCartney, and I liked that. As a producer I left many things open to chance in the studio when we recorded basics, I like to take a band like this that has a strong group language, and allow it to chase tangents. I also like to ‘find the song’ during the arrangement, overdubbing and production process, and there was a lot of that. Sometimes the secret to a song might lie in a middle 8 that you have yet to find, but once found takes you to a different place, instructs you to discard half the song, and shows you a new way. It’s organic and un-forced working that way.


The Silent League / Photographer: Noah Kalina

4. Other than "The Shining" influencing the title of your latest album, are there any other specific influences on the album (pop culture or personal)?

JUSTIN: “The Shining” definitely hits it…though it would be fair to also add the film “Das Boot” (1981) which I think I watched at least three times during the time of the making of this record. That and upstate NY, which gets into everything.

SHANNON: Too bad this is an email interview because this question is way too broad to answer. But yes, it’s impossible to make work without influence. But there were no direct lines that lead to "Caretaker" if that’s what you’re after.

5. Though I used the term "band," the term collective comes up more often than not. So, out of curiosity, what do you consider yourselves?

JUSTIN: I’d say we’re a band. ‘Group of dudes’ works too. ;)

SHANNON: This band has had a lot of turnover over the years, so our friends may come and go. But it’s still, at any given time, a band with permanent full-time members and the assistance of our friends or sidemen. “Collective” comes about because we like to have all of our friends play on our records (and we play on theirs), we like big sounds, we like density and excess. They help us get there. I think the notion of “collective” also gets bandied about because journalists tend not to want to give themselves a headache by spending a few minutes reading liner notes and verifying who is in the band and who is a guest. But it’s true in the sense that we have a big circle of friends in Brooklyn and who have similar aesthetics, mutual trust and love, and play on each others’ records and projects. So in that sense it’s true. See? Clear as mud. Sorry.

Keep up The Silent League at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr Blog.

And here are some upcoming tour dates in the USA (check their homepage for updates).

March 6th: Sycamore, Brooklyn, NY - Acoustic show with winds/string ensemble flyer

March 10th: Littlefield, Brooklyn NY, w/ CALLmeKAT and Brasstronaut

March 12th: Boylan Heights, Charlottesville, VA

March 13th: Blind Tiger, Greensboro, NC, w/ Now You See Them and Pearl & the Beard

March 14th: Pearl Lounge, New Orleans, LA, w/ Missing Monuments and James Weber

March 15th: Rubber Gloves, Denton, TX, w/ JAGUAR LOVE, ORANGE PEEL SUNSHINE, and I AM THE DOT

March 17th-21st: SXSW Music Festival, Austin, TX
3/19 - Everloving party
3/20 - Friend Island (Hometapes/ForcefieldPR)
3/21 - Obscure Magpie TWO HEADED PARTY

March 23rd: Grimeys Records, Nashville, TN Instore

March 31st: Bowery Electric, New York, NY, w/ Only Son and Common Prayer

April 10th: 53 Richards St, Red Hook, Brooklyn FREE SHOW!!!Equal Parts Art Gallery/Dance Party/Rock Show, Gallery opening 6pm. Music 8pm. flyer

May 2nd - Full Moon resort, Big Indian, NY - TRUCK AMERICA FESTIVAL w/ Mercury Rev, White Rabbits, Common Prayer, Neil Halstead (Slowdive / Mojave 3) etc…
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