Archive for September, 2009

Pleasant melody or scary scene?

Typically,  swarms of crows  aren’t exactly smiled upon – especially since Hitchcock’s classic film The Birds.

A still from The Birds

A still from The Birds

But one man, Jarbas Agnelli, found inspiration in a group of crows sitting on telephone wires from a picture he saw in the local paper by photographer Paulo Pinto and decided to make a melody based on the strange configuration of birds.

Birds on Wire (original photo by Paulo Pinto with music notes added for effect)

Birds on Wire (original photo by Paulo Pinto - music notes added for effect)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to embed the video, but be sure to go here to check it out and here the music for yourself.


Hype Machines and Taste Makers

A mere 15 years ago,  discovering new music was a much more labor-intensive process. You’d have to turn on the radio or the tv (back when they still played music videos on MTV) or actually go to a record store to see what was new on the music scene. Sure, the popularity of certain bands or artists came in waves and they could certainly swell up, but back then, it was a different beast.

With the advent of the internet and MP3’s, the dynamics have certainly changed… especially in the ‘indie’ rock world, which I gravitate towards. Long gone are the days of turning on the radio and discovering new music. (1) Today, the avid music consumer has at his or her fingertips a wide body of opinions and whims thanks to the Internet. Anyone can start a blog and start proselytizing. (2) Still though, there are taste makers. We may have graduated from the days of listening to local radio stations, but sites like Pitchfork have become a new force to reckon with. Whether you read it religiously or the very name causes your skin to crawl, you can’t deny the power that it wields. Little-known bands can suddenly gain widespread exposure when they make the cut for ‘best new music.’ Pitchfork has been credited as launching the careers of such bands as Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, and more.

pitchfork photo

In an interview on the (great) site Tiny Mix Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah member Lee Sargent discussed the impact of Pitchfork’s influence on their album Funeral, saying:

Well, first of all we didn’t think Pitchfork would ever review our record because we’re not on a label. I don’t read Pitchfork much these days because I don’t have any money. So if there’s, like, a record I want to buy I’ll have to buy it and then I’ll be in debt again. Um, so I don’t really read it much. But I’m fully aware of how influential it is and I’m fully aware of what they do for a lot of bands […]

We always knew that this band was going to be successful eventually. We didn’t know how long it would take. You hear about really awesome bands like, “paying their dues” for three years and not getting noticed. So that was always a possibility. But, the thing about a publication like Pitchfork is that they can decide when that happens. You know what I mean? They can say, “We’re going to speed up the process and this is going to happen…now!” And it was a kick in the pants for us, because we lost control of everything.

But… all that said, how much credit should we really give Pitchfork? Are their articles peer edited? Do they get paid or bribed by promoters or labels? Are the whims of the music industry really dictated by one individual’s opinion? How do you become a Pitchfork God anyway? How thoroughly do the reviewers imbibe the albums before they write the review?

Though many of these questions have been floating around in my consciousness for a while now, it was my friend Jeff who really called into question the advent of the music blog and the arbitrariness of the taste makers. Jeff and his roommate Paul are starting a music blog of their own. In it, various people (myself included) will contribute reviews of albums, with the stipulation that we must listen to the entire album ten times before we write the review. There will be no casual listening there. Will this dedication and attention clear away the preconceived notions and expectations thrust upon the music by these hype machines? We’ll see…

Until then, I thought I’d start a little thing of my own. Periodically, I will take the track or album highlighted in the ‘best new music’ section and review it, myself – right here in this blog. So stay tuned for my thoughts on the likes of The Drums, Wild Beasts, The xx, and more.

(1) Unless you count NPR music-related content as radio… but I for one typically stream that online or download the podcast.
(2) Though I will say that it is getting harder and harder to come up with a catchy original name for a blog since they’re all getting snatched up.

*See also:
– “Could This Be the World’s Most Hated Website?” An article that depicts the pro’s and con’s of Pitchfork.
– “David Cross: Albums to Listen to While Reading Overwrought Pitchfork Reviews” A humorous article/spoof by comedian David Cross.
– The message boards on about “Pitchfork Oversights”
– “Music Critics: Irreplaceable or Irrelevant?” a segment from WNYC’s show Soundcheck that features Douglas Wolk, a blogger and contributor to Pitchfork.

New video from Grizzly Bear

(Easily one of my favorite songs on one of my favorite albums of the year, Veckatimest.)

Old hat

So you know that band you listened to on repeat freshman year of college? Yeah. That one. Even though it’s been four or five years since you’ve really spent any time with their music, you still feel an undeniable affinity towards them. (1) So when I found out a few weeks ago that Kings of Convenience was coming to town, I immediately resolved to go.  They are from Norway, after all – not exactly easy to catch. Not to mention how incredibly cute Erlend Øye is. Evidence:

Though the show was advertised as ‘sold out’ before I had even heard about it, I showed up at the Bowery Ballroom with my trust “Do you have a ticket?” sign (2), but it turns out that I didn’t even have to use it. They had tickets at the door still.

But it’s weird – going to see a band you used to practically idolize. It was like an automatic Of course I’ll be going to see Kings of Convenience before I had even stopped to consider the ticket price… or the fact that I haven’t even listened to their music in years. If nothing else, I reasoned later, it would be a nice nostalgia-inducing event.

I hope to find some photos from the show, but until then this will have to suffice.

For some great photos from the show, go here.

In reality, they actually played a number of new songs from their upcoming album, Declaration of Dependence.  (It only took them two and a half years in the recording studio to make it – largely due to Erik’s tendency to accidentally break the crucial fingernail on his index finger). The new songs weren’t too shocking and were mostly just an extension of their previous music, but towards the end of their set, I admit I was secretly thankful that someone yelled out: “Play some old stuff!” To the delight of the audience, they played “Homesick” and “Little Kids” (3) among a few others.

Another highlight of the evening was definitely hearing Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party.” The overly adolescent song was just too great coming from two attractive male Norwegians well beyond their teenage years.

But the true delight of the evening came in their encore. As they played the opening notes of “Build-up,” I couldn’t help but think: man it’s going to sound so different without Feist. (Feist had appeared on a couple of their tracks). And I was trying to think if I remembered all the words and could maybe softly sing her part. But then, when it came time, a woman started singing from the balcony, and I looked up and saw none other than Leslie Feist. Fantastic surprise. The few times I’ve seen Feist over the years, I’ve always secretly wished Erlend and Erik would magically appear on stage. But I suppose it’s easier to get a Canadian to come to a NY show than it is to get a couple of Norwegians to a show in North Carolina. Feist then made her way down to the stage to lend her vocal talent to “Know-How.”

You can hear some of the new tracks form Kings of Convenience here. And uh, well, if you missed them tonight, maybe they’ll be back to NY in four years… if you’re lucky.

(1) Unless perhaps that band for you is Dashboard Confessional or something. Luckily, I got the emo phase out of my system in middle and high school.

(2) That baby has gotten me into Lykke Li, Beach House, and more.

(3) It is worth noting that Erlend wrote “Little Kids” while visiting NY in 1999 and bumming around the Lower East Side.

Scintillating sensory sensation or aural nightmare?

Solid song writing and musicianship may still be sure fire ways to get your band noticed (or so I’d like to think), but more and more it seems as if another approach is coming to a head. It’s a strange aesthetic really. In the past, only the most skilled bands tended to garner wide exposure, but now that we are in the midst of the golden age of things like YouTube and Myspace, it’s easier than ever to put your music out there–for better… or for worse, and unfortunately the latter is often the case.

Terrible videos often become the most-watched clips on YouTube, and irony has saturated the culture. It’s actually becoming cool to appreciate things that either the general public despises or doesn’t appreciate. It’s a badge of honor to listen to music that your parents or neighbors would find grating or just plain weird.

Of course, some of the bands that I would classify as falling into this strange, hipster aesthetic I actually find myself enjoying at least on some level. MGMT comes to mind. The first time I saw them play (they opened for an Of Montreal show I attended sometime in the fall of 2005), I thought they were absolutely terrible. Entertaining? Sure I’ll give them that. It was kind of like a car wreck – you just couldn’t look away. Here were two white guys, not even playing instruments, but instead singing over shoddily produced, pre-recorded music. Occasionally, they would pull down an instrument suspended from the ceiling and pretend to play it, but that seemed to be as close as they came to actually playing. Fast forward to the release of Oracular Spectacular, and I admit I was hooked, but all the while, a little voice in my head kept saying are you sure you want to be listening to this? Are you sure this isn’t actually terrible?

Last night at the Cake Shop, was a perfect example of this strange phenomenon. The two bands in question are The Lovely Eggs and Schwervon!. When I first hear Schwervon! toward the beginning of the year, I was taken in particular by the track “Low Blow,” but I knew instantaneously, that this band would not be for everyone – not at all. Schwervon! is Nan and Matt:  a couple based out of NYC who just sort of accidentally fell into playing music together and have been jamming now for about a decade. Their music is technically basic, straight-forward, and simple… but there’s something endearing about it… something that tips it over to enjoyable instead of grating. (1)

See? Endearing. (photo courtesy of Lippe)

Schwervon: See? Endearing. (photo courtesy of Lippe)

Though I came specifically to see Schwervon!, the band that proceeded them also illustrated this conflict. British band The Lovely Eggs is like Schwervon! in many ways. They also are made up of a guy and a gal (David and Holly) and fall squarely into the DIY music scene. At times, Holly sings sweetly and demurely, but like Nan, she has been known to switch to a more aggressive style without any warning. (2)

The Lovely Eggs (photo courtesy of Darren Andrews)

The Lovely Eggs (photo courtesy of Darren Andrews)

But can we really take someone wearing a cowboy hat who sings about intentionally falling off a bike or eating cheese seriously? And what about the impromptu breakdancing? The shrieking? It’s hard to say, really. Yes, ok they have their charm. I found myself smiling when they played “Have You Ever Heard a Digital Accordion?” But the whole time I stood in the audience, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were a tightrope walker, teetering dangerously on the line. If I fell to my right, I’d declare their ‘music’ an ear sore, but if I fell to my left, well then they weren’t so bad after all.

Take a listen for yourself and let me know what you think.

(1) I found it interesting and fitting that Jeffrey Lewis, the king of the anti-folk movement, was wearing a Schwervon! t-shirt when I last saw him play at the beginning of the summer. Of course, the anti-folk movement is another source of this terrible/wonderful tension.

(2) Holly reminds me of a less mesmerizing version of Scout Niblett.

"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