Archive for August, 2009

Last Williamsburg Waterfront show of the summer

Another summer of amazing free concerts and outdoor events is sadly coming to a close. After the city decided to turn the old, depression-era pool pit in McCarren Park back into a functional public pool at the end of last summer, hipsters everywhere were glum at the loss of their cultural mecca. After all, last summer had a pretty good lineup including shows by: MIA, the Black Keys, MGMT, Deerhunter, Panther, Matt and Kim, Yo La Tengo, Blonde Redhead, and many more.  But things worked out pretty well, I’d say. The new space this summer at the waterfront is spacious, comfy, and breezy… and there’s nice plush, green grass. (1)

As per usual, 9/10 people were fairly attractive.

As per usual, 9/10 people were fairly attractive.

These shows are typically good not only for the music, but also for people watching. For five hours, it was like watching a parade go by.  So many attractive, well-dressed people. Some of the fashion choices were quite interesting, and the attempts to dance were even better. (They had a couple of  DJs spinning records in between sets, so there was at least some dance-able music.) One guy even imitated the blue blow-up dancing man seen in the above photo. It was pretty great.

The View from the grass

The View from the grass

Today’s acts? Vega, Beach House, and Grizzly Bear. Beach House was kind of mediocre live as usual. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Devotion, and ‘Gila‘ is still stuck in my head now, but they really lack the energy and charisma to pull of a decent live show.  Grizzly Bear, on the other hand, is fantastic. Sure, there music may be on the slower or more chill end of the spectrum, but you can feel the energy in their performance, and you can hear all the nuances of their multi-layered music. They are also spot-on as far as vocals go. Plus they’re Brooklyn boys, so extra points for that. Overall, it was a good time had by all.  (2) I’m eager to see what the lineup for the waterfront shows for next summer will look like…

(1) Typically, I work on Sundays, but at the prospect of seeing Beach House and Grizzly Bear play for free, I switched my schedule around and made a day of it.

(2) Looks like I wasn’t the only one who had a good time.  Jay-Z, Beyonce, and NY Senator Chuck Schumer were also in attendance. Go here for evidence. I saw Schumer walking around, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see Beyonce.


Speaking of 60s pop music…

We lost a great voice in 60s pop this past week. Ellie Greenwich passed away on August 26th after suffering a heart attack in a New York hospital.

(Courtesy of

(Courtesy of

Though her death is unfortunate, listening to the music she left behind is anything but depressing. Of course, when I hear the word ‘pop’ thrown around today, I immediately conjure up images of Britney Spears or the Backstreet Boys or some other over-produced music put together by a talentless pretty face, but pop music wasn’t always this way. Ellie’s music is fun, fresh, spunky, spirited, and danceable. Take a listen to her song “I Want You To Be My Baby”:

Her music also inspired many artists. The Parenthetical Girls, a band I have intrigued with for a little over a year,  even named a song for her:

You can download “A Song for Ellie Greenwich” here for free.

I am still waiting for the day when I can see The Parenthetical Girls play a show. I think they’d be quite theatrical.

The Antlers: A Ghost Story for the Hopelessly Infirm

Remember the days when instead of having just a few stand-out tracks, albums were decent as a whole or told some sort of continuous story? Ok. I was only born in 1986, so maybe I don’t actually remember those days, but I hear it was nice. With the advent of MP3 players and massive computer-based libraries, it’s easy to get music ADD. You’re not sure what you’re in the mood for, so you throw your music on shuffle… and then promptly change songs midway through because you’re desperate to hear what comes next in your 29 GB library. (1)

The fact is, many albums today just aren’t good enough to listen to all the way through in one sitting. But then there are albums like Hospice by The Antlers. This is the kind of album that begs to be listened to as a whole. The songs effortlessly flow together to create a single rich body that  naturally crescendos and decrescendos as if it were inhaling and exhaling.

Another thing that sets Hospice apart is the story that subtly runs through it. Unlike albums like The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love or Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House, Hospice avoids being a straight-up story album or a rock opera. It is a delicate concept album that hinges on themes of sickness, mania, nightmares, suicide, and hospital machinery that somehow manages to avoid coming off as whiny or emo. The bleak story line slowly unfolds as the album progresses: a young nurse of sorts falls in love with an unresponsive out-patient and is haunted by imagined conversations and exchanges that never quite come to pass. The songs alternate in point of view between the care-giver and the patient. At times, the care-giver likens the condition of the patient to that of Sylvia Plath on the verge of suicide, begging her desperately to take her head out of the oven. Later in “Thirteen,” the tempo slows, and ‘Sylvia’ responds:

“Pull me out… pull me out… can’t you stop this all from happening? Close the doors and keep them out.

Dig me out… Oh, dig me out… Couldn’t you have kept this all from happening? Dig me out from under our house.” (2)

By the ‘Epilogue,’ the patient has died and the care-giver, unemployed, but the two are still united… at least through dreams:

“But you return to me at night, just when I think I may have fallen asleep. Your face is up against mine, and I’m too terrified to speak.”

antlers - hospice

Hospice came out Tuesday, August 18th. Their album release show took place Friday night in a sweltering and packed Mercury Lounge. You can download the show and listen to it in it’s entirety here.

(1) I’m not claiming that listening to music on shuffle doesn’t have its merits. Not at all.

(2) Before Sylvia Plath succeeded in killing herself by sticking her head in the oven, she took a number of pills and crawled under her parents’ house where she stayed, barely alive, for three days before they found her and pulled her out.

Are we in a post-indie age?

Freak-folk, anti-folk, drone, twee, space rock, dream pop—gone are the days of all-encompassing genre categories like rock, country, jazz, or rap. Classifying music today has become almost like a game… or a very precise science. Sure, part of this micro-categorization is probably a result of DIY things like myspace pages and band blogs that make it much easier for artists to carefully cultivate a very specific image and sound, but there is something more at play here.

For music connoisseurs (or ‘music snobs’), yielding an extensive indie vocabulary and carefully classifying artists seem to have become a source of pride. In some circles, it’s as if classifying a band bolsters indie street cred and even self-worth. Standing outside of the Cake Shop, I once heard someone say, “What?! You dont know what shoegaze is?!!(1)

Oddly enough, though I write about music nearly every day, I find that the more I immerse myself in the scene, the harder it becomes to answer the simple question, “So what kind of music do you listen to?”  Each time I am faced with that deceptively straightforward question, I find myself going through a number of quick mental exercises. It’s kind of like when someone asks you how you are, and you grapple with saying “Oh, fine” or actually disclosing minute details about your day in twitter-feed-esque full disclosure. Should I give them the short answer: “I tend to stick to indie-rock” or delve into the nitty gritty and hope my response is neither overly pretentious nor dry and uninformed?

Through writing the blurbs about the artists featured on NPR Music series  Second Stage, I consider myself to be fairly on top of the musical adjective and genre game—at least when it comes to my personal favorite musical niche, but when I stumbled across the tag “post-indie transcendentalist punk” on the myspace page of the band Hungry, Hungry Ghost, (2)  I admit even I was a bit baffled. I mean I got the punk part, and I studied Emerson and Thoreau in college. but post-indie?!  Post-rock or post-punk, ok. I’m familiar with these terms, but this new one sent me reeling.

Sensing an interesting and potentially satirical explanation, I contacted Alex Haager of Hungry, Hungry Ghost to ask him about the unfolding of this mysterious new genre, and I was intrigued by his response.

Haager writes:

“I coined the genre term ‘post-indie transcendentalist punk’ more or less as a statement about the uselessness of genre-labeling in general. I mean, I’ve deemed myself an ‘indie kid’ since the 7th grade or whatever, but it wasn’t until moving to New York that I saw how out of hand it was getting.  H&M and major label buyouts ruined the world for proper indie kids.  It was only later on that I realised the whole thing was silly. I am who I should be and that’s all I can be.  That’s what post-indie means to me.”

The interesting thing about this post-indie movement, is that it seems to be more about a state of mind that a particular sound. Urban Dictionary, the online, unofficial authority on emerging terms and trends, cites someone who is post-indie as openly admitting to listening to Coldplay even though the band is “too mainstream” for the typical indie kid’s taste (and reputation). In the most basic terms UD defines post indie as “liking bands, regardless of how popular they are.”

Though Haager contends he devised the extended genre, “post-indie transcendentalist punk,” “mostly just for kicks,” his tongue in cheek tag raises some good questions: has the need to classify and tag artists gotten out of hand? Is the mere act of creating a new genre necessary or is it as ridiculous and pretentious as the indie movement mindset it is trying to transcend? Will people start donning the Coldplay or John Mayer t-shirts they once hid in the bottom of the closet for fear of being considered too mainstream? Discuss.

(1) The Cake Shop, of course is known for having their ‘Twee as F*ck’ showcases and dance parties once a month.
(2) Go here to learn more about Haager’s band–Hungry, Hungry Ghost. They happen to be playing a show this Friday (08/21/09) at Spike Hill in Williamsburg, so be sure to hit that up if you can.

Please note: the bulk of this post was lifted from a blog entry I wrote back in April, but I feel as if it is an increasingly relevant question in this – the end of the hipster golden age.  (More on the death of the hipster soon.)

Making the Transition

Typically, the actor-turned-musician route is a bust. Sure, some musicians make good actors, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any decent actors who successfully transitioned to the music world. Instead, the failed (and sometimes downright painful) attempts of Scarlett Johansson, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Joaquin Phoenix, David Hasselhoff, and most recently, Jessica Biel spring to mind.

But I suppose there’s an exception to every rule. And no, I’m not talking about Will Smith here. I recently stumbled across this video of Ryan Gosling playing with the Silverlake Children’s choir in what is essentially a two-man project with Zach Shields titled Dead Man’s Bones:

Gosling has proven his acting skills in films like Lars and the Real Girl and Half Nelson. I mean the man was nominated for an Oscar. And then he comes out with this. I love how simultaneously eerie and beautiful it is. How wonderfully Gothic. Of course, all the kids dressed up in costumes makes it that much better.  Their self-titled album (which features the ghoulish children’s choir) is slated to come out on October 6th.

In other news, after a two-year hiatus (presumably to work on his music), Gosling is in two upcoming films including one that matches him up with the lovely Michelle Williams.

Promising young talent from south west London

A few months ago,  I wrote up the track ‘Crystalised’ by the British four-piece The xx for NPR’s Second Stage, and the song still give me the chills when I hear it. It’s wonderfully sparse and restrained, but it still has an infectious bass line and an undeniable pulse. Check out the video:

Sure, they look young British wannabe punks, but energy radiates from this song, and the chemistry between the two two lead singers (Oliver and Romy) is palpable.  In an interview, Oliver (bass, vox) revealed that although their band is still young, he and Romy have known each other since they were three years old.

“Having known each other for so long it took a while for Romy and me to get the courage to sing in front of one another, no one would go first. To compromise we decided to sing at the same time and it just seemed to work nicely.

The 2-song EP that I got this past spring was promising, and it left me craving more. Luckily, their full-length, Basic Space, drops this week. I only hope it will be available stateside and not just as an import.

Will we still be able to stomach this kind of brazen whimsy?

It’s been over four years now since the ever-elusive and enigmatic Sufjan Stevens released Illinoise. Four years. Sure, news of this fellow has cropped up a few times in his long hiatus. There was the jumbo Christmas package in 2006. And then in 2007, the story with the song-writing contest in which one man – Alec Duffy – won the rights to a single Sufjan Stevens song and held private listening sessions to slowly and intimately unveil it instead of just releasing it on the Internet.  (1) Then, of course, Sufjan recently contributed to the Dark Was the Night compilation album. By and large, however, not much has come to pass.

Once an avid Sufjan fan myself (2), I worry how my weary ears would react to his shtick now. Will he still be endearing, heartbreaking, and oddly uplifting or will my  overexposure to all things quirky and twee in the last four years be his downfall? (3)

But… if you still have hope (and I hope you do), then fear not, intrepid Sufjan follower. The man is on the move once again. In October, his BQE project will be released, and just today, a mini tour was announced. Oh yeah, and he’s apparently also re-working the songs in Enjoy Your Rabbit for kicks and giggles.

Sufjan performing in Chapel Hill, NC circa fall 2006 (photo: Sanders Hall)

Sufjan performing in Chapel Hill, NC circa fall 2006 (photo: Sanders Hall)

I’m not sure what tricks this chameleon has up his sleeve this time. Heck, I’m not even sure what songs he will play at his shows, but one thing is for sure: I hope I can score a ticket to one of his two Music Hall of Williamsburg shows before they sell out. Tickets reportedly go on sale on Saturday. I think we’re in for a surprise.

(1) You can read about one of the listening sessions in this article in the Village Voice here.
(2) I fell in love with Seven Swans in college.
(3) I saw Paper Heart today, by the way. I know, I know. You would think (500) Days of Summer would have more than satisfied my twee need.

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being