Friday, March 28, 2008

Album Review: Pete and the Pirates – Little Death

If you paid any attention whatsoever in English class you know exactly what “little death” refers to. I once had a particular professor who was very fond of talking about la petite morte whenever possible. If for some reason you’re not acquainted with the term, well, just think of “Drew” from the movie Office Space’s “O-face,” and that should do it. Given that a hefty chunk of Pete and the Pirates' debut album is seemingly bathed in sexual innuendo (and flat-out sexy talk), the title is nothing if not incredibly appropriate.

But let’s put sex aside for just a moment. In all seriousness, the Reading boys have quickly honed a sound that is a scrumptious blend of vintage 1990s Supergrass, touches of the saucy T. Rex-ian rock of the Fratellis, and a dash of the endearing deadpan and guitar riffs of the Young Knives. Led by taut, frantic guitars, Pete and the Pirates chart a course for romance in their baker’s dozen tracks. In short, Little Death is full of spring fever, the birds and the bees, and all sorts of naughty bits. And as Depeche Mode once declared, I just can’t get enough. From start to finish it’s a joyfully rollicking ride, all youthful exuberance and loved-upness.

Little Death is adorably cheeky, putting sex into the fore with unabashed abandon and gusto. The songs are so catchy and the lyrics so blatantly sexed up and yet somehow clever, I found myself in love pretty much as soon as the first song began. “Come on Feet,” “Knots,” and “Eyes Like Tar” are so good I have to remind myself that this is indeed a debut album. Listening to this record makes me want to run through the streets of Richmond and kiss every mop-topped, skinny-jeaned boy that crosses my path. There’ll be no walking the plank for these Pirates, though I foresee much booty in their future.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Live Review: Die! Die! Die! @ DC9, March 25

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know that Die! Die! Die! is one of my current pet bands. It is bearing this in mind that for my review of their gig at DC9, I’m going to refrain from saying too much and just post a bunch of pictures that I took from smack dab in front. As with every other D! D! D! show I’ve seen, there was much writhing around (courtesy Andrew), much jumping (courtesy Lachlan’s bunny-esque hops), and much deafening (courtesy all three boys), despite my use of earplugs. Also included in the fun was Lachlan’s invitation to invade the stage, which he was eventually taken up on. I’d like to go ahead and state that I consider this band’s shows not-to-be-missed affairs, and encourage you to go see them whenever possible. Even if it requires several hours of driving and multiple cans of Red Bull to get you there and back. And yes, I do in fact speak from personal experience.

A photo of the set list is below, but it served more as a recommendation than anything else. It was amended, shall we say, as the show went on, most notably with an actual encore (despite protestations from Andrew), featuring the excellent older song “Ashtray! Ashtray!”. And as an added bonus, three tracks are down below, an old version of "Blue Skies" and the aforementioned "Ashtray! Ashtray!", along with the excellent "Britomart Sunset" from new release Promises, Promises.

Album Review: Nicole Atkins & the Sea – Neptune City

I’ve gotta admit, the first several times I listened to Neptune City, I was less than impressed. Perhaps it was just a case of bad timing (several times over); I was just in unfortunate moods, and the little black cloud hovering over my soul didn’t go in for the grandiose, epic sweep and big, bold voice seeping into my eardrums. But one day, the clouds lifted, the skies turned a glorious shade of blue, and I finally got it: ladies and gents, I really dig this album.

Miss Nicole Atkins has definitely had her share of romantic problems, and it’s this relate-ability that is but the least of her appeal. She deftly transforms average lovelorn tales into operatic, theatrical songs, full of dramatic instrumentation (courtesy of the Sea) and lyrics belted out in a voice as fit for the stage as it is for records. Opening track “Maybe Tonight” sets the tone, Atkins showing wry witticisms such as “I have been informed/you could be the death of me” and of course, that powerful voice. And ladies (just maybe you fellas, too), who among us can’t empathize with those boys (or girls) who are nothing but trouble and thereby ridiculously appealing? My probable favorite, “Together We’re Both Alone”, is gentle and soothing at first, but builds with the help of various strings into something nearly majestic, not to mention more than a touch bittersweet. “The Way It Is” sees Atkins channeling her inner torch singer, as she throws caution (and perhaps common sense) to the wind with the latest object of her affection (“if I were smart I’d never call you ever again”).

By this point, I seriously question why I didn’t immediately fall in smit with this album, but I guess as with people, sometimes albums can just hit you over the head, even after you’ve listened to them several times before. Not in the sense of being a grower, though, as this was like being struck like lightning, as opposed to just growing into comfortable familiarity with an album. The fabulousness continues on from there, going from slow burners to barn stormers in the blink of an eye.

Basically, I’m here to inform you of the wonderfulness of this album, so you can avoid my mistake in not loving this album right off the bat. It’s what I’m here for, folks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Live Review: Foreign Islands @ the Canal Club, March 21

Sometimes it’s good to be dragged out by your friends. Hence my Friday evening spent at Richmond’s Canal Club in the company of friends and Brooklyn’s Foreign Islands. Sadly, the show was not well-populated (I guess the rest of Richmond didn't get the memo), which apart from boggling my mind was rather unfortunate, because Foreign Islands put on a hell of a show.

For me, Foreign Islands is one of those bands I’ve heard of, but I hadn’t yet really given them a listen. Now, having seen them, I am trying to correct the error of my ways. The evening began rather inauspiciously; the show was meant to start around 9:30, but I stopped looking at the clock on my phone once it told me it was after 10. Finally, despite a low turnout, Foreign Islands swaggered up to the stage and began to play. What followed were seven tracks heavy on taut guitar riffs, bratty vocals, and delectable danceability. For those of you requiring a gimmick genre, hows about “punk wave”?

Foreign Islands caught me hook, line, and sinker. For being a pretty new band, and with, from what I can gather, some new-ish members, they’ve got impressive stage presence, and handled the lack of a large audience with aplomb and a nice dash of indifference. In my mind, they saved the best for last, with the excellent “We Know You Know It.” Any song that has cooing choruses and makes me want to cut a rug is a winner for sure.

Here’s the set list, courtesy of FI’s Eric;

*Hold Onto Nothing
*No Holiday
*That’s How This Goes Down
*Low Light
*We Know You Know It

I heartily recommend that if you get the chance, you check Foreign Islands out. Gotta love a band that’s even better live than they are on recorded form. Catch ‘em now, before they blow up and play huge shows that sell out before you get your hands on tickets.

[Photo courtesy Foreign Islands' Myspace]

Monday, March 24, 2008

Album Review: Grandaddy - Just Like the Fambly Cat (demos!)

A friend of mine got me into Grandaddy a few years back and I was fortunate enough to see them a couple of times, as well as front man Jason Lytle's solo, "acoustic" farewell tour before the end of all things related to your daddy's daddy. Along with all the other indie kids, I was pretty bummed to think I wasn't going to hear anything more from the boys.

Much to my surprise, though, what should appear in my gmail inbox than a quick note from Mr. Lytle offering up the demos to Just Like the Fambly Cat. And wouldn't you know it, they're offering it as a free download, though donations, of course, are welcomed. As you can imagine, well, it sounds pretty much like Just Like the Fambly Cat, only stripped down. The intro is a bit peppier, as the little girl sounds like she's enjoying her time in front of the mic as opposed to sounding like she's going to lose it due to that damn, missing cat. From there, it's a Grandaddy fan boy/girl dream, with earlier takes on the album. The one new addition is a cover of Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes". Ever since Weeds came out on Showtime, this apparently has become everyone's favorite cover tune. Lytle's take on it is upbeat, not really adding much other than a quicker pacing.

As with most things Grandaddy, we've got an email hawking the demos allegedly from "a monkey wearing a sombrero riding a border collie bringing Jason a taco" (sic), your secret messages in the comment sections of the mp3s, the band name comes up as "Jack" for some reason, and we're asked to donate to the EMMETT O'LOUGHLIN Fund. Frankly, it's some of that kookiness that makes the band so endearing, as anyone who has seen a live show will attest.

Arguably more importantly, though, is the news that Lytle is hard at work on a new CD. No release date is given, but one hopes it will be sooner than later. And then how long until the next round of touring? Keep the faith, grandkids. Keep the faith.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

At The Cinema: Oasis – Morning Glory: A Classic Album Under Review

There was a period in my life (1995-1997) when Oasis was It for me. The sun rose and set with the Gallaghers, and I was certain that “Wonderwall” was the best song I’d ever heard. Sometimes I look back on that era fondly; the tracksuits, Cool Britannia, the nastiness with Blur, the Wibbling Rivalry.

Oasis – Morning Glory: A Classic Album Under Review, gives an in-depth look at the making, and myth, behind the most famous Oasis album. It’s narrated by a panel of experts, including a pair of musician peers (Clint Boon of the Inspiral Carpets and Nigel Clark of Dodgy) and a handful of music scribes from NME, Q, Mojo, etc;. I would have loved to see input from Creation Records guru (and He Who Signed Oasis) Alan McGee, or from A-list contemporaries of the Britpop oeuvre.

The structure of the DVD follows as you might expect. First, the scene is set, with the panel members and narrator guiding us through the aftermath of debut album Definitely Maybe and setting the scene in a historical sense. The album is then dissected, track-by-track. In addition to the panel interviews, the documentary includes some pretty good live footage of the band in various concerts, playing bits of the track being discussed.

I even learned something new while opening track “Hello” was discussed, in terms of production; Morning Glory used a production technique called “brickwalling” or “soundwalling,” wherein every instrument is turned up as high as possible. The panel opines that this type of production, perfected by producer Owen Morris, was quite helpful for the Oasis sound. And while the “Roll With It” versus Blur’s “Country House” singles battle was largely a hype machine production, it’s well known that the two leaders of the respective bands (Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn) genuinely don’t like each other.

During a discussion about “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” the talk turns to Noel’s well-known propensity towards borrowing from others, in this case John Lennon’s “Imagine.” It wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the last time. Some attention is given to the famous Oasis A-side B-side thing; Gallagher had a stockpile of songs that could very well have been A-sides, but he stuck them on singles as B-sides. The strongest examples of these are the beloved tracks “Acquiesce” and “The Masterplan.”

I was pleased to see the inspiration for the song “Cast No Shadow” wasn’t ignored. Noel famously dedicated that song to the Verve’s frontman Richard Ashcroft in the album’s liner notes, and had at one point dubbed Ashcroft “Captain Rock.” In my opinion, Gallagher might have had the greater success, but Ashcroft wrote the better songs. Title track “Morning Glory” evidently has a more American sound, and was thusly released as a single on these shores. There are some nifty extras on the DVD, including a segment called “Oasis Meet Blur – The Joint Interview,” and “The Hardest Interactive Oasis Quiz in the World Ever.” The interviewer is ridiculous, but overall it’s hilarious.

Sure, the documentary tends to feel a bit low-budget, especially when stock video footage of rolling studio tape or mixing boards are used, and with the lack of Big Name panel members. For the most part, however, the use of lots of period photos, snippets of radio interviews, and the live footage make up for scrimping elsewhere. It’ll take you back to the time when Oasis was top of the heap and the Gallaghers were the feudal lords or Britpop. If you were an Oasis completeist who insisted on buying those ridiculous, Benson & Hedges carton shaped singles boxes (which I'm guilty of), this one’s for you. Put on your tracksuit jacket, your slightly baggy jeans, and Lennon sunglasses, and enjoy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Album Review: Die! Die! Die! – Promises, Promises

New Zealand is a far-away land that has made vastly under-appreciated contributions to good music, both past and present. One of my favorite Kiwi bands, Die! Die! Die!, has been making inroads in the States over the past two years, and their fantastic sophomore album Promises, Promises should help them break on through to the other side.

What drew me to Die! Die! Die! initially was the band’s brash, recklessly brazen post post-punk sound, so loud that even listening to the debut album at a respectable volume probably goes against healthy decibel levels. The combination of singer Andrew Wilson’s howl and the thrashing guitar, bass, and drums came together to form the perfect storm of jarring resplendence. I loved the debut album to pieces, and when I discovered that album #2 was out and about, I tracked it down for immediate consumption.

There is much of the familiar Die! Die! Die! noise on Promises, Promises. But it bears mentioning that the production is much glossier, smoothing away many of the rough edges I grew fond of while getting to know the band’s music. Despite the more obvious production, though, the band is just about as abrasive and razor-sharp as ever.

Opener “Blinding” is typical Die! Die! Die!; Wilson in full brat vocal mode, ripping the hell out of his guitar in the process, and Michael Prain beating the life out of his drums. You’ll find this to be a recurring theme throughout the album. The songs on Promises, Promises run longer than on the debut, which allows for more time to notice how awesome everything sounds. Say, for example, that one particularly scathing riff at the near halfway point and near end of “Britomart Sunset,” and Lachlan Anderson’s wicked bassline that acts as a nice foil to the cutting guitar. “Sideways Here We Come” makes me smile for its’ Smiths-ian title, but it’s also fairly unlike previous Die! Die! Die! songs. Its’ slower tempo and sense of control signal maturation, but the presence of Wilson’s shouts reminds you who exactly who you’re listening to. “Whitehorses” is one of my favorites, planets aligning for a bittersweet, almost pretty sound, which you won’t often hear about a Die! Die! Die! song. Like much of their material, it deals with the shitty side of relationships. Anderson’s bass is the star of the show here, steady and taut. The title track is another standout, given a solid backbone by the slightly sinister bass, and Wilson’s almost plaintive refrain “I just want what I was promised/just what I was promised.” The end of the album, “Blue Skies,” is a familiar song to folks who have seen the band live over the past couple years. It’s been chopped down to just under four minutes, and given a good scrubbing, but it’s still as strident as ever.

After listening to Promises, Promises many times now, I can heartily endorse it as a worthy purchase. Though really, it'll only take one listen to get hooked. If you, like me, sometimes find yourself craving bands that are unabashedly noisy and fucking rock, you can’t go wrong with Die! Die! Die!.

Singles Club: Dirty on Purpose

Let me tell you something. When Dirty on Purpose says “jump,” I say “how high?” When they say “download our new song,” I say, “absolutely.” I won’t linger too much on introductory gushing, but I’ll just say that I am in serious smit with DOP. Their tendency to create glorious, new gaze walls of sound makes me swoon. They’re just kinda all sorts of ridiculously, deliriously wonderful.

“Hard To Tell You” sees the Brooklyners widening their collective net, and reaching back to the sunny 60s for inspiration (as opposed to the Sheilds-ian overtones you’ll find on a lot of their other songs). Don’t get my wrong, the fuzz and effects pedals are by no means abandoned, but there is some slight letting up on the pedals. And as with many songs of the 60s (and, well, any other decade), the content is a lot less sunny than the bounce of the instrumentation.

I highly recommend you head over to RCRD LBL for your free (yes, free) download. And while you’re surfing the web, you might also want to stop and pick up previous Dirty on Purpose stuff. Thank me later.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Meet The Wood Brothers

I just heard that the Wood Brothers are getting ready to drop a new CD and thought to myself, what a perfect time for me to write another rambling post about a band you fair readers should get to know better.

I come from a family of music addicts, though we each tend to have pretty distinct and often differing tastes. My youngest brother, Andy, recommended the Wood Brothers to me sometime last year. Since Andy tends to listen to a lot of current rap and other things that don't do much for me, I told him I'd check them out eventually. He kept hassling me about it, though, and eventually I checked out their website. To my great surprise, one of the Wood brothers in question was none other than Chris Wood of Medeski, Martin & Wood fame. Chris and Oliver, the other brother of King Johnson, have since formed a guitar/upright bass duo and their sound is a mixture of blues, roots, folk and rock. Personally, I find it damn tasty, so props to Andy for the heads up.

Their latest, Loaded, has a planned release date of April 1 on the Blue Note Records label.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Good Ship Rediscovery: The Verve EP

We all forget about the older stuff from time to time, in our quest to stay up to speed with the latest and greatest. But one should always respect their elders. So don’t forget about them! Here’s one of my Desert Island, Top-5 records of all time.

Imagine for a moment that it’s 1992. You’re young, bored, and disaffected, desperate to penetrate this abject grayness of the world surrounding you with something beautiful. Now imagine that what you end up creating is not only beautiful, but staggeringly, mind-blowingly so. What you’ve made is an EP, one you give the same name as your fledgling band: you’ve made the Verve EP.

As much as I love the Verve, and bear in mind that they were and quite possibly still are my favorite band, I often think that this self-titled EP is the closest to perfection they ever came. It is but five songs, but that old adage about quality versus quantity rings ever so true in this case. A certain someone I know refers to the Verve EP as “mood music.” Arguably, this is true. All five tracks have an underlying seduction in their pulsating, psychedelic swirl that gives them a drunken, heady vibe. Just switch off the lights and there you are: it’s flat-out intoxicating. It’s as if the EP has a life of its own.

From the first time I heard the opening bassline of “Gravity Grave,” I knew the EP was going to be one hell of a ride. Right away Ashcroft gives you an idea of his porcelain-fragile yet deadly lyrical ability, with lines like, “To me you’re like the setting sun/you rise then you’re gone.” The instrumentation builds and builds until it can’t go any further, and all comes crashing down near the fade-out at the end of the track. Track two is not as frenzied, but “A Man Called Sun” is no less worthy of attention. The song even inspired a band name (Mansun, from Chester, who were originally called Man Called Sun). It’s spacey and hazy and utterly splendid. “She’s a Superstar” was at one time my favorite song ever written, and shows off the unparalleled skill of guitarist Nick McCabe to devastating effect, which combined with the vocals of Ashcroft spouting “she bought the world/I paid the bills” proves spine-tingling. It’s as epic as an EP can hope to be, sweeping and climactic and majestic. Magic. Until recently, I never fully appreciated “Endless Life,” with its’ languid build and slow burn that leads to a fiery end. But now, the song holds equal footing in my estimation. The final track, “Feel,” is nearly eleven minutes long. But I think you’ll find that it goes by in a flash. More guitar tricks and treats from McCabe leads the way, along with more gems from Ashcroft (“I pulled the guilt right over my eyes/as I rose to meet/to greet the sky”). What we have here is Richard Ashcroft’s labor of frustrated love, his realization of transcendence that has just a hint of youthful innocence, making it all the more captivating.

When I first began to listen to the Verve, I was 18 and in my first year of college, far from home. I identified more with the more aggressive, yet still gorgeous, songs found on the Verve’s second album, A Northern Soul. Now, ten years later, I find myself more and more enthralled with the early Verve sound. Perhaps I can finally appreciate the subtle nuances, or perhaps I just feel more in tune with the overwhelming sense of escapism that seems to find me in older Verve material. Either way, if you’ve never really given the Verve a chance, there’s no better time than right this minute, and no better introduction than the Verve EP.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Singles Club: Saints & Lovers

I’m Myspace friends with New Yorkers Saints & Lovers, and recently I’d begun to notice the repeated posting of a bulletin about getting a free download of their cover of “Atmosphere.” You know, the breathtakingly gloomy Joy Division song (and yes, I realize that is kind of an umbrella term for a bunch of their songs). Now, I like covers a lot. However, there are certain songs (and certain bands) that I feel should never, ever be touched as far as covering songs go, because there is no feasible way that the greatness of the original could ever be matched (as in, you better be damned good if you’re gonna touch the Rolling Stones’ back catalogue, though the Concretes did a hauntingly lovely version of “Miss You” a few years back). Occasionally, I think bands will better the original. I feel this way about the Smashing Pumpkins version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” for example, though I know that’s definitely not a popular opinion.

But I have digressed. Back to the Saints & Lovers/Joy Division matter at hand. I must admit, I was hesitant to give the song a chance. Because I don’t care who you are, you’re never going to do it like Joy Division. You will never have the wounded, raw quality that Ian Curtis brought to the song, nor will you be able to replicate those drums pounded so hard they would have cried out in pain, if drums could feel. That being said, I have to say Saints & Lovers did a pretty good job. The trio manage to stay true to the feel of the original without aping the Joy Division sound, instead relying on their nouveau shoegaze vibe to see them through. They extended the song quite a bit, it clocks in at just under eight minutes. The intro reminds me a bit of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song “Salvation,” but then it kicks into gear and becomes more recognizable. And all in all, it’s not too shabby. It doesn’t give me chills the way the original has been known to, but it’s got a certain something about it. Definitely worth a listen or several.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Singles Club: Breeders

Well, the Sisters Deal are at it again. Your indie radar probably already has picked up on the fact that the Breeders new album, Mountain Battles, is slated to drop Stateside on April 8. To keep the fans excited, Kim, Kelley, et al have posted a new mp3 on their website.

"Bang On” is listed as the second track from the forthcoming project. To my ears, it has more in common with the Title TK tracks than earlier works. It's somewhat stripped down, apparently incorporating Kim's "all wave" mentality. The lyrics are minimal, the drum line is puffy and the guitars stick to just a few chords. And you know what? I fucking love it.

I got onto the Breeders bandwagon a bit late. I was never a huge Pixies fan and kind of glossed over the whole “Last Splash” phase, eschewing all things Top 40 at the time. When I heard Title TK, though, I feel in love with the pure sound, honeyed vocals and kick ass goodness of the twins. I caught the last Breeders tour (back about 04?) and was amazed that they didn't even sell out Nation, a small venue to start with. Now I'm going to be mondo pissed if I can't get tickets to catch them when they go on-sale for the 9:30 Club on June 11 (ed. note to self: If they do sell out before I can snag them, NEVER post tour dates on LET again).

If “Bang On” is any indication of what's to come, Mountain Battles promises to be one damn fine, rawking release.

Bang On

Monday, March 10, 2008

Live Review: Sia @ 9:30 Club, March 7

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Sia is the most goddamn adorable performer touring today. Her March 7 show at the 9:30 Club did nothing to detract from that reality.

I showed up around 10:30 (sorry, Har Mar Superstar) and Sia was out front, apparently gabbing with fans. As I passed her, she gave me a huge smile and a great big, "Hello!" That's the kind of kick-off I love as a fan. She took the stage around 11, opening with "Buttons" with the band in full fluorescent costume. Underneath the black lights, it's a great way to start a concert. She performed predominantly from her latest, Some People Have Real Problems, hitting "Little Black Sandals," "Girl You Lost to Cocaine," "Playground," "Day Too Soon," and "Soon We'll Be Found." Of course, she also did her big hit, "Breathe Me," and a couple of Zero 7 tracks, "Destiny" and "Somersault."

It's not Sia's incredible voice (Good Lord and Butter, that woman can belt 'em out with the best in the business) that makes her shows so thoroughly enjoyable, though. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen anyone who appears to be having a better time on-stage than she does. She's all smiles and giggles and has some of the best audience banter I've ever heard. Last night, she gave stuffed animals to the crowd, allowed one fan to make out with her Rock 'n Roll Elmo doll and made happy birthday wishes to a couple of lucky fans. Add to that, she took requests from her website bulletin board and credited them to the fans that made them.

The only complaint of the night had nothing to do with Sia, but goes toward the crowd. Folks were a bit too vocal during some of her quieter numbers and there were a few ass hats in the back that simply wouldn't shut up. Not an uncommon occurrence at concerts, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable.

Here's another crappy photo from my cell phone of the band in full regalia doing "Buttons" and a couple of tracks from Sia's KCRW performance of a few years back.

Album Review: MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

I’m going to ask for a big favor. I need a little willing suspension of disbelief for this one. I want you to pretend that MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular isn’t one of the most hyped releases of 2008, ok? Pretend that you haven’t already read about it on everyone else’s blog, and that they haven’t all said it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread (before they, naturally, say how over-hyped it was at the end of the year). I promise to (at the very least try to) make it worth your while. Ready?

Charles Dickens once wrote that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I believe that comes from A Tale of Two Cities. I never really fell for Dickens, but the convoluted point I’m going for here is that Oracular Spectacular is, for me anyway, a tale of two halves. The first five songs on the album are rather splendiferous, almost magical creations, whereas the second half is a moderate letdown after the glimmering shimmering wonder of the first half. Does that mean the second half sucks, thereby rendering the album not worth the effort? Of course not, silly. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.

So why do I so enjoy Oracular Spectacular, other than because the name is fun to say (and write)? It begins with “Time to Pretend,” which in a strange way is the musical equivalent of the way I used to feel when taking a train up to New York City, and the train would barrel along out of the wilds of New Jersey and into the somewhat intimidating massiveness of NYC’s lights glittering in the black of the evening. It feels breathlessly pins-and-needles exciting, but with an underlying sense of something looming just beneath the surface. Also, as happens on many songs on the album, I sink my teeth into one particularly goofy line, which makes me fall deeper in smit with the album as a whole. “I’ll move to Paris/shoot some heroin/and fuck with the stars” is the line of choice here. As a proponent of all things ridiculous, for some reason the more off the wall the lyrics are here, the more I love them. The beat-tastic background is also a nice touch. “Weekend Wars” used to perplex me, given the abruptness of its beginning, not to mention the slightly off-key vocals. But the more I listened to it, the better it got. And I love the line, “Now I can shoot a gun to kill my lunch,” which for some reason makes me laugh. I find “The Youth” to be a calming, almost soporific song, fuzzily swirling along on placid seas.

My two favorite songs are back-to-back, “Electric Feel” and “Kids.” “Electric Feel” makes me wonder if the MGMT boys ransacked their Uncle Guido’s 70s sleazy lounge record collection and sampled the hell out of it, and also features my favorite line on the whole album: “shock me like an electric eel,” which may or may not be the actual line, but damned if I’m gonna think otherwise. “Kids” is light on the sleaze but equal in the rad department. Against the throbbing bass, the line “take only what you need” is repeated again and again, and makes me wonder what MGMT were talking about. I like to think of it as being cautionary advice for life in general, but only they know for sure.
And that, friends, was the best of times.

The second half is still good, but I find myself increasingly repeating the first five tracks on a fairly constant basis. “Pieces of What” is most excellent, a refreshing blast of acousticicism, with a slight twang creeping in. I’m a Virginian, I like a little twang every now and then. It’s most definitely the best song out of the second half.

All told, Oracular Spectacular is a lot better than most of the stuff you’ll hear this year. MGMT are not to be taken lightly. The first half alone justifies owning the album, and I definitely endorse six of the ten tracks as being gold-standard. It makes you wonder if the hype machine might just be getting things right every now and then.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Live Review: These United States @ Gallery 5, March 4

Let the Great Experiment begin. But what is the Great Experiment, you might wonder? In the world of These United States, the Great Experiment is simple. 33 cities. 33 shows. Why not try to make each show as special and unique as possible? Advance copies of These United States’ debut album A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden were sent to bands on each of the bills in each of the 33 cities to be visited, so that the bands could learn some of the songs. The plan was to have just a few songs done by the members of These United States on their own, before sharing the stage with some local talent for a truly personalized experience. Oh, and the local bands were given free reign as to which songs from the album they wanted to perform. Nifty, no?

And so, night 2 of the tour saw the Great Experiment roll into Richmond. Marionette was the local band chosen to partake in the experimentation, which made me happy because, having seen them before, I knew and liked them and felt they’d make sweet music with These United States. The traveling These United States foursome took the stage second, which was a complete switcheroo from what was supposed to happen (tUS were advertised as headlining), but there was method to the madness. Jesse Elliott, ringleader of the Great Experiment, explained that it made sense for them to go second so as Marionette could help out, and then Marionette would go on, with These United States reciprocally guesting on a couple songs.

As expected, These United States were as fantastic as I knew they would be, really expanding upon the foundation laid by the album. After doing their thing for a few numbers, the members of Marionette joined the lads, cozying up the stage. The addition of Marionette made it clear what’s so great about the Great Experiment: it’s all about the interpretation. Sure, I already loved the fantastical folky poppy rockness of the album on its own, but throwing new musicians into the mix added a richness and fullness, and new angles to songs that made for a special treat. My favorite moment of the night was “Burn This Bridge,” which with the members of Marionette partaking, filled every inch of Gallery 5 with its warm, steadily building noise. It was an especially beautiful song in a set full of them. This is a band that obviously loves what they do, and is just happy making music and sharing it with the world. If you’re in the path of the Great Experiment, I can’t recommend enough that you go experience it for yourself.

(photo by Laura O’Neill)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV

Well, I've finally been able to give NIN's latest the once over. It took me a lot longer than expected simply to procure the music, as apparently I was one of about seven gagillion (and that's a lot of people right there) that tried to download the albums these past few days. My first try resulted in a disconnection from the site. When I tried again, there was a message up with words to the effect of, "Even though we did no advance press on this release and planned on more traffic than usual, we've received three times the downloads we expected, so we're going to have to shut down for a while." Day two was much the same thing. I tried twice more on Tuesday, both times experiencing glacier-like download speeds, both times resulting in my computer timing out before the process was complete. Then, miraculously, just before midnight on Tuesday, it was like the heavens parted and I was able to download the zip file of the four discs I ordered in about 15 minutes.

What to say about Ghosts I-IV? As you've probably heard, it's an entirely instrumental affair, so it's kind of hard to judge outside of those parameters. It reminds me of soundtrack music, but what that movie might be is beyond me. Trent offers touches of industrial, somber piano interludes and I'll be damned if that's not some banjo I hear now and again. I'd like to say it's excellent background music, but some of the compositions are fairly jarring, so that's not completely right, either. Without a doubt, though, these were not some hastily compiled, throw away tracks that should have made the cutting room floor. They're well thought out and executed. It's just a bit much to digest in one sitting, what with the lack of vocals and all.

Each digital track comes complete with its own cover art and the pictures are stunning. The $10 package I purchased also comes with wall papers and a variety of other photo extras. If I read the fine print correctly, I also will be receiving two physical CDs in the near future.

While I'm not entirely sure what to "do" with this music, I'm glad I purchased it. Fortunately, it's enjoyable enough in its own right. The fact that it's helping to usher in a new movement in music distribution and fan interaction just makes it that much more appealing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Untitled Interview #2: Starring Andrew Wilson (Die! Die! Die!)

It's no secret that I like my music loud, on occasion obnoxiously so. As far as I'm concerned, there are few better bands to blast at ridiculous and potentially harmful decibel levels than my dear Die! Die! Die!. I've been smitten with them ever since I saw the brash and brazen New Zealanders warming up crowds with their vitriolic post post punk for Wolfmother a few years ago. They won me over with their ability to grab you by the throat and not let go until they were good and ready. Aurally speaking, of course. The shatteringly shouty trio will be making yet another trek to the States to tour their sophomore album Promises, Promises later this month (album review forthcoming). For local readers, the tour stops in DC on March 25th. I hope to see you there. To tide you over, I corralled the voice of Die! Die! Die!, Mister Andrew Wilson, into answering some questions. Bon appetit.

Les Enfants Terribles: How the hell are you?
Andrew Wilson: I am very good. I am excited to leave NZ again and go back to the USA!!!!

LET: What was the last song you listened to?
AW: "What Kind of Monster Are You," by Slant 6.

LET: For your money, who is/was the best New Zealand band ever?
AW: Probably the Clean or the Skeptics or the Gordons or the Coolies.

LET: Playing music is _________.
AW: Annoying.

LET: What album most made you realize that you wanted to make music?
AW: Nirvana – Nevermind.

LET: Beatles or Stones?

LET: What're your top 5 albums?
AW: I can’t answer this.

LET: Favorite music-related movie?
AW: True stories.

LET: What city or venue would you like to play, but haven't yet been to?
AW: Moscow.

LET: Half full or half empty?
AW: Half full.

LET: Apart from your band, which of your peers do you think is making the best music these days?
AW: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm HDU, the Coolies, Sets of 57, Tapeman.

LET: The greatest record store in the world is:
AW: Records Records in Dunedin.

LET: How many people have you injured with your mic stand? Or, how often do you injure yourself onstage?
AW: I have never injured anyone. I never injure myself.

LET: Please explain scarfies (either the 1999 movie Scarfies or the phenomenon itself):
AW: The movie is better than scarfies in real life. Dunedin students are horrible pieces of work on a whole. Real rugbyhead munters. I was back for 2 days yesterday and got called all manners of names.

LET: What's the longest flight you've ever been on?
AW: 49 hours to space.

LET: Shaken or stirred?
AW: Shaken.

LET: Best song ever written?
AW: Most songs by the Beatles.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Newsflash: Injury Causes Pela Tour Stoppage

I received word this morning of some sad news. Billy McCarthy, fantastic singer from the fantastic band Pela and friend of LET, injured himself during a performance in Chicago. The Pela tour, which was scheduled to roll through the DC area on March 14th, has been canceled. Here's the official word:

"Sliced Tendons and a Canceled Tour

We are writing to you as our van heads back to New York. Billy has already returned to New York via plane, and is preparing for surgery.

During last night’s show at Schuba’s in Chicago Billy fell off the stage, landing on a broken pint glass. This happened during the triumphant finale of the set; the stage was crowded with people dancing and singing to ‘Cavalry’, while a strobe light turned their vision into a cut screen movie. His left hand has a gash on the palm, and a deep slice in his pinky finger which also cut tendons.

We regrettably must announce that Schuba’s was the last night of the tour.
We promise to make up each and every show as soon as possible and apologize to everyone who purchased tickets. Arrangements are being made with all of the clubs on how best to handle the situation. We will have more information soon."

Send Billy your wishes for a speedy recovery to:

(photo by Megan Petty)

Live Review: The Spinto Band @ Satellite Ballroom, February 28, 2008

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for the Spinto Band. The members of the band might look sweet and innocent, but don’t let their unassumingly fresh-faced exteriors fool you. For deep within each of them lies ferocious talent, and when they join forces onstage the effects can be devastating. You know what they say, it’s always the quiet ones, the ones you don't expect…

It was my first visit to Charlottesville’s Satellite Ballroom, an oddly-shaped, smallish space. The clientele was a mix of teenagers with bold black X’s emblazoned on their hands, chino-clad, beer-swilling UVA boys, tight jeans-wearing, beer-swilling UVA girls, and a handful of none of the above (such as yours truly). American Bang were on first, and their physical appearance reminded me of what Kings of Leon kind of used to be, and as soon as they began playing they also sounded like Kings of Leon today, had they not abandoned the Southernness of their sound. The Whigs, on last, were good but nothing terribly exciting.

Which means that the Spintos were definitely the top band of the evening on this night, despite being the sandwich filling on the bill. I’d seen them several times before, so I already knew how good their set was going to be, but as with most good bands, there was no hint of complacency in them. It’s almost like they have no idea how good they are, which seems impossible. They play with immense enthusiasm, and it’s a joy to watch a band that’s having a grand ole time. The band grins, giggles, and brims with happy intensity, all gazillion of them. Their sweetly cheeky pop is incredibly well-played, and never fails to bring a smile to my face. (For example, I’m listening to them right now, and guess what I’m doing? That’s right, I’m smiling).

The set was full of songs I didn’t recognize, which is great news because that usually means there’s new material coming out, and it’s been a few years since the sublimely adorable Nice and Nicely Done was released. The kazoo-driven “Brown Boxes,” “Mountains,” and fan favorite “Oh Mandy” were all included in the performance, and received warm welcomes. They seem to have cut down a bit on their Beatles-esque head-bobbing, though, which made me a little sad. Other than that, the set was fantastic, as to be expected. As my friend (and our photographer) pointed out, if they stay together for a while and keep up their work ethic, there’s no telling how good they could get. I couldn’t agree more.

(photo by Laura O'Neill)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Zut Alors!: Is Trent Reznor the Future of On-Line Entertainment?

Every now and again (OK, twice), an artist will make a move that I feel is as important, if not moreso, than the music s/he makes. Back in the day, I really got behind Pearl Jam bucking the whole Ticket Bastard system, essentially telling the established machine that they weren't buying into it. PJ stopped making big budget videos and reached out directly to the fans to keep their music alive. Seeing as they remain one of the largest selling concerts of the year whenever they tour, obviously it worked for them.

Trent Reznor has been doing something similar, though still distinctly different, enough to make me sit back and say, "wow." Apparently feeling less than enchanted with his relationship with the Interscope record label, TZ made the announcement back in October of 07 that he was dropping the label and that Nine Inch Nails would henceforth be "a totally free agent, free of any recording contract with any label." So it was with probably little surprise that on March 2, 2008, NIN made their first on-line offering with Ghosts I-IV, a 36-track series of CDs. With this one, fans can opt for anything from a completely free download of the first nine songs to shelling out $300 for the "ultra deluxe limited edition package," which includes such goodies as "an exclusive, four-LP 180 gram vinyl set in a fabric slipcase, and two exclusive limited edition Giclee prints in a luxurious package," amongst other things.

Sure, Radiohead already went this route (though they weren't the first, either), and if this was all Reznor was doing, I'd be less impressed. Remember "Year Zero" from last year? How many of you got into the alternate reality game (ARG) that went along with the project? Eerie websites, free songs on memory sticks left in bathrooms, a special concert--they guy really got into the entire idea of reaching out beyond the limitations of just a CD and its packaging and truly embraced what today's tech had to offer. I'm not a huge fan of the whole Web 2.0 theory, but if such a thing exists, Trent seems to have his finger squarely on its pulse. (Read more about the ARG side of things in this great Wired article. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't get too involved with this aspect, as the A.I. game that launched the genre confused the hell out of me, though I did follow the articles that were written about it.

For the record (CD?), I ordered the $10 package of Ghosts this morning and, while I haven't had a chance to download it yet, I'm looking forward to doing so tonight and then getting my two actual CDs in the mail in a little bit. Hopefully, Trent is on the forefront of two very important movements. First, being in the vanguard of using an all-inclusive media package to entertain us, musically, visually and mentally. I, for one, really dig that. And if it just so happens that he's helping to drive the stake through the heart of record labels that don't seem to give much of a shit about the fans, well, I'm A-OK with that, too.

To get your copy of the latest offering from NIN, go here. It's up to you how much, if anything, you want to spend.

I'll be back hopefully no later than next week with the LET take on the albums.

Mark Your Calendar

As the weather warms up, the good shows start to emerge from hibernation. Trying to fill your dance card can get a little overwhelming. When is my favorite band coming to town? Oh no, they're not coming to town, will they be somewhere nearby? Fret no more, dear reader. We at Les Enfants Terribles are all about helping you plan your social calendar. It is with great pleasure that we introduce a brand spanking new portion of the site, inventively titled "Calendar of Events." You'll find our picks for super fantabulous upcoming shows in the right sidebar, just underneath the list of your humble writers. You'll see shows listed in DC, Richmond, Charlottesville, and other dazzling locales. Feel free to let us know if we've missed something, and we'll be sure to correct the oversight.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Album Review: These United States – A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden

It’s been a long time in the making, but the day of reckoning is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. These United States, most certainly one of DC’s finest musical groups, has reached the dawning of a new era. The debut album era. And it pleases me to report that any waiting for said debut has been rewarded by a very nice little record indeed. You see, A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden isn’t just a mouthful, it’s a collection of a dozen rather enjoyable songs in the key of delightful. It is at once grandiose yet stripped bare, incredibly smart, haunting, enveloping, a whisper that screams in your ear.

On this album you will find varying components of rock, pop, folk, country, and perhaps even more than that. Like the good city of DC, A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden is full of a little of everything, to use that oft-uttered cliché, it’s a melting pot. The most common thread is an overall sense of fantastical spacecakery; nearly Suess-ian lyrical cleverness and beautiful, dreamy instrumentation. There are pieces of Hopewell, Andrew Bird, and dashes of Rogue Wave and Mercury Rev here, but those are just jumping off points. One day, I would reckon sooner than later, we writers will use These United States as a reference point for others.

A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden has a lovely, welcoming lo-fi feel to it. Stealth production, kids, take note. My favorite sound is that of the deceptively lo-fi, but perfectly tuned and calculated. Shockingly, I as of yet have not been able to select just one favorite song from the delectable dozen. I do strongly recommend listening extra close to “First Sight,” “Remember Dear,” and “So High So Low So Wide So Long,” as I have formed particular attachments to that particular triumvirate.

My one complaint about the album is that it’s only an eyetooth over half an hour long. Mind you, it doesn’t feel all that short. Perhaps I’m only being greedy, but I could really use another song or two. Should you also feel that way after your first listen, I recommend just listening to the album again. It gets even better the second time (and the third, and the fourth…). It’s a record to give you the warm fuzzies, put a smile on your face, and make your day just that little bit better. Godspeed, These United States, godspeed.

And hey! Here’s something for DC and Richmond kids to rejoice over: These United States will be a) at Iota in Arlington on Monday, March 3, and b) at Gallery 5 in Richmond on Tuesday, March 4. Go and support excellent local music, have a drink, and let your ears get some sweet, sweet lovin’ in the process.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Untitled Interview #1: Starring Jason Russo (Hopewell)

I’m a big fan of interviews. Specifically, I enjoy asking questions that hopefully aren’t the same old nonsense that people ask all the time. I like to know minute details, random bits of information that are a pros pos of absolutely nothing. And it is with that in mind that I present to you the debut of the Untitled Interview series, featuring the lovely Mr. Jason Russo of the equally lovely Hopewell. Nice boy that he is, Jason has once again agreed to be my interview guinea pig. Bless his heart.

If you’re not already a fan of Hopewell, chances are good that you might want to seriously consider it. I did, and I’ve been a happier gal ever since I started listening to their glorious, outer space rock. It’s a good time to be in Hopewell, as the band is making another trip down to Texas for this years’ South by Southwest shindig. Happily, their trek includes a stop at DC9 on March 9th, and I know I’ll be there. I’d strongly suggest your attendance. And now, on with the show.

Les Enfants Terribles: How the hell are you?
Jason Russo: I am well, thank you. Busy. Which is good.

LET: What was the last song you listened to?
JR: Pissing In A River – Patti Smith.

LET: For your money, who is/was the best singer/guitarist ever?
JR: Wow, that’s quite a question. Do you mean songwriter? John Lennon. Do you mean guitar player? Eddie Van Halen.

LET: Playing music is _________.
JR: a metaphor.

LET: What album most made you realize that you wanted to make music?
JR: Sgt. Peppers. Or maybe The Wall.

LET: How does the songwriting process work for you, typically?
JR: It wells up in me; I am at its mercy. It doesn’t respond to my call, I have to be patient.

LET: What was in that cleansing drink you had ages ago when I saw you at North Six many moons ago?
JR: Fresh lemon juice, grade B maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. I hadn’t eaten in 6 days when I saw you.

LET: Beatles or Stones?
JR: No fucking way am I gonna touch that one. They are the same band to me.

LET: What're your top 5 albums?
JR: Jesus, now? Then? Atom Heart Mother, Meddle (P. Floyd), Roxy Music, All Things Must Pass, She’s So Unusual.

LET: Favorite music-related movie?
JR: Jesus Christ Superstar.

LET: What city or venue would you like to play, but haven't yet been to?
JR: South America. Mexico City.

LET: Half full or half empty?
JR: All full, all empty.

LET: Apart from your band, of course, which of your musical peers do you think is making the best music these days?
JR: Dirty Projectors, No Age, Devendra Banhart, Suckers, The Silent League, Gang Gang Dance.

LET: Your birthday says you are a Leo. Based on what you know of your sign, do you find it to be accurate? Supposing you buy into astrology…
JR: I don’t buy into anything. However, I would say my personality shows glimpses of what has been described to me as “Leo-like”. Mainly within the context of my band. I am a singer, I like being in front of people, I am the oldest of a large Italian family and I grew up poor. Use whatever template you want to figure that one out.

LET: "Bethlehem" is a song that makes me smile whenever I hear it. What are some songs that elicit grins from you on a regular basis?
JR: “Turtles Have Short Legs” by Can. Or “Nonalignment Pact” – Pere Ubu.

LET: Shaken or stirred?
JR: I have no idea.

LET: Best song ever written?
JR: “A Day In The Life”? “I Am The Walrus”? “Come Together”? NO! “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Happy Birthday”!

(photo by Scott Irvine)

Meet The Brendan Hines

I've always had mixed feelings about the whole Americana sub-genre of country. To be honest, like most folks of my generation, my deepest immersion into the music came from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Coming from a pretty deep blues background, I suppose I have a bit better feel than most, but by no means am I anywhere near an expert. The whole alt-movement, however, is a great way to get into nearly any form of music. Taking the basic tenants of whatever branch of musicology and giving it a taste of today's interpretation and typically subtracting the more hardcore elements often makes for a tasty combination. Case in point, alt-country often removes the overriding vocal twangs and you don't necessarily have to hear about your brother's baby's mother breaking your heart and stealing your hound dog. What's not to love?

With all that explanation out of the way, allow me to introduce you to The Brendan Hines (a guy AND a band. Go figure). While he touches on your standard topics of love gone wrong, evil women and hitting the bottle too hard, he adds intelligent, contemporary lyrics to take things into this century. Quite frankly, he takes what could be complete downer themes and makes them kind of fun.

The Brendan Hines has a new album on the way, Good for You Know Who, and what I've heard so far is pretty damn good. Here's a taste of the new one and a couple of tracks from his older stuff. Check out his website to hear some more.