Archive for November, 2010

CMJ 2010 re-cap

Well CMJ is now a month behind us, but I admit my head is still reeling a bit from the whirlwind week of music, booze, schmooze, and serious sleep deprivation.  You can read all about my exploits in the archives of Brooklyn Vegan, but if you want just a snapshot of my week, I’ve compiled a helpful word cloud that pulls text from my myriad reviews.

It looks something like this…

(click the image to make it larger)

Oh yeah… and I actually recorded a bit of each show I saw – 44 total. (It should have been 45, but for some reason, I couldn’t locate any footage from the Extra Lens show. Sad. So that’s absent.)

So without further ado, here’s my crazy CMJ mash-up. It’s about 30 seconds from each band. (Don’t worry – I’ve gone back and added helpful tags for each bit, so you know what you’re listening to.) It’s a bit hectic with all the background noise and the varying levels of sound quality, but if anything, the reel is more true-to-life as a result. As with any big music festival, at CMJ, you get it all – good, bad, and everything in between.

That’s Alcoholic Faith Mission, Oh Land, Screaming Females, DOM, Yo La Tengo, Tape Deck Mountain, Cloud Nothing, Blair, Braids, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Wild Nothing, The Drums, Hedgehog, Sleepies, Allo Darlin’, The Blow, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Dent May, The Phantom Band, The Luyas, Lower Dens, S. Carey, Diamond Rings, Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers, Cotton Jones, Sarah Jaffe, Dinowalrus, Dream Diary, La Sera, Pepper Rabbit, The Crayon Fields, The Crocodiles, Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500, Jaill, Robbers on High Street, Tanlines, Dominant Legs, Braids (take two), Fake Problems, Lord Huron, Lia Ices, Big Troubles, Eternal Summers, Buke & Gass.


The age of Sufjan

After an extended period of silence, Sufjan fans have had numerous reasons to celebrate this year (what with the EP, full-length, and subsequent tour), and 2011 is looking good, too.

I love The Age of Adz, don’t get me wrong, but I think my favorite album still has to be Seven Swans in all its erratic splendor, and this March the blog On Joyful Wings is slated to release a tribute album. And, well… with 15 different artists contributing a song each, the redux may just get even more colorful and unpredictable.

Seven Swans (tint added for effect)

Seven Swans Reimagined Track List:
1. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “All The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands”
2. The Gregory Brothers – “The Dress Looks Nice on You”
3. Derek Webb – “In the Devil’s Territory”
4 Joshua James – “To Be Alone With You”
5. Damion Suomi – “Abraham”
6. Unwed Sailor – “Sister”
7. Wakey!Wakey! – “Size Too Small”
8. Elin Smith – “We Won’t Need Legs to Stand”
9. DM Stith – “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
10. Half-Handed Cloud – “He Woke Me Up Again”
11. Carl Hauck – “Seven Swans”
12. David Crowder Band – “The Transfiguration”
13. Jason Harrod – “I Went Dancing With My Sister” (B-side)
14. Shannon Stephens – “Waste of What Your Kids Won’t Have” (B-side)
15. Inlets- “Borderline” (B-side)

Ok, ok. So technically this little project isn’t exactly coming from the heart and mind of Sufjan himself, but it should still be worth a listen. Oh yeah, and did I mention it’s for a good cause? All the proceeds will benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. March 22nd. Mark your calendars.

The Danes have done it again

During CMJ, I happened upon the Danish-born artist Oh Land. In a sea of indistinguishable bands, Oh Land’s Nanna Øland Fabricius certainly stood out. I was so intrigued by her short set during CMJ that I decided to check her out again.  Though I wrote this review with the intent of posting it on Brooklyn Vegan, it has not surfaced yet, so I’ll make a home for it here in the meantime.

Oh Land, The Canon Logic, Arms – Brooklyn Bowl – November 8th

By the time I arrived at Brooklyn Bowl, I had missed Fatty Acid and The Courtesy Tier. With five bands on the bill, I (perhaps unfairly) decided that 3 out of 5 wasn’t too bad.

Based on the enthusiasm and size of the crowd, it may have made more sense to save Oh Land for last, but the recent Brooklyn transplant was third on the bill. Luckily, I made it in time to check out the Danish vixen’s set.

The gorgeous Nanna Øland Fabricius of Oh Land (Photo Joseph D'Arco)

Oh Land’s performance unfolds like a music video. At the beginning of each song, Nanna Øland Fabricius taps out a few notes on the keyboard or on her electronic drum kit just to show us that she can. But then she walks away, and the music magically continues (despite the fact that no pedals seem to factor into the equation). For an artist whose act seems to rely heavily on eye candy like light-up drum sticks, talking balloons, and whimsical outfits, Oh Land’s slower songs drag a bit, but she shines during her dancier numbers. Oh Land’s drummer, Hans Hvidberg-Hansen, may play an integral role in the music, but with Fabricius parading around the stage, his presence hardly registers.

Oh Land’s electro-pop stylings may not exactly be groundbreaking, but her music and accompanying presentation are definitely worth a listen (and a look). After being pleasantly surprised by Oh Land’s performance during CMJ, her equally short set time on Monday night (just 24 minutes) was a bit of a let down, but she still managed to wow the crowd in the short time she had. (An exchange between two girls nearby: A: “She’s going to be so famous.” B: “I know. She’s so cute.” A: “Should we start hyping her up?”) And so it begins.

In the bubblegum afterglow of Oh Land, I confess my recall of the other two The Canon Logic’s short set is limited aside from their sonorous group vocals. I do, however, remember being charmed by a cute couple near the front of the stage who seemed to know every word of their songs.

Though I was tempted to leave after catching Oh Land’s set, I’m glad I stuck around long enough to see Arms, the final band of the evening. The crowd may have thinned out noticeably by the time Arms took the stage, but Todd Goldstein (you may remember him as the guitarist from Harlem Shakes) and his backing band didn’t let that sour their performance. There were smiles all around.

Check out Oh Land’s attractive video for the single “Sun of a Gun.”

Another big blow for eMusic (and its subscribers)

As reported previously, the mp3 downloading site eMusic is on the brink of undergoing some big changes. If the news in October didn’t make you cringe, the latest certainly will.

Late last night, a number of big hitting indie labels decided to pull their catalogs. Soon, you’ll be able to download artists from major labels like Sony and Universal, but in just a few hours, you won’t see anything from Domino, Merge, or Beggars Group (which includes Rough Trade, Matador, XL, and 4AD). In other words, if you want to download something by Animal Collective, Spoon, the New Pornographers, Dirty Projectors, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Panda Bear, Pavement, Elliott Smith, Deerhunter, Blonde Redhead, (the upcoming) Iron & Wine, Camera Obscura, Efterklang, The National, St. Vincent, Bon Iver, Beirut, Mountain Goats, Pixies, tUnE-yArDs, Cat Power, Belle & Sebastian, Shearwater, Yo La Tengo, Arcade Fire, Antony and the Johnsons, Jeffrey Lewis, Little Joy, Sufjan Stevens, Taken By Trees, The Decemberists, Vampire Weekend, Sigur Ros, Beck, Caribou, Teenage Fanclub, well… you may just be out of luck.

When it comes to a record store, what’s more important, a comprehensive selection or a carefully curated assortment of options?

That’s the question posed by NPR Music in regards to the news. I think you know where I stand on the issue.

With their huge ads in (now largely defunct) Paste magazine, eMusic has traditionally catered to an indie-music loving audience, but with such a painful hit to their catalog, will they be able to keep the very audience that got them going in the first place?

This is your two-hour warning. If you’re an eMusic subscriber, you may just want to download some of your favorite artists… before it’s too late.

How long before Sub Pop, Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguar, Polyvinyl, and Fat Possum follow suit?

The sounds and sensations of Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens + DM Stith – Beacon Theatre – November 14th

Question: What do you get when you combine “Avatar with Cats on Ice?”
Answer: the best show of the year.

Sufjan at the Beacon Theatre (Photo Tammy Lo)

Sufjan Stevens and company played for an amazing 2 hours and 13 minutes. (For those counting, that’s longer than it took Gebre Gebremariam to complete the New York Marathon last week, and it seemed every bit as epic and exhausting.  By the third song (and the third upper body costume change), Sufjan was already wiping the sweat from his brow. That shiny silver (looks like insulation) jacket couldn’t have helped matters. Sufjan could have easily relied on his three lovely female back-up singers (including the lovely Cat Martino who typically lends her talents to Sharon Van Etten) to the dancing, but he couldn’t help but participate in the over-the-top choreographed moves.

Sufjan and back-up singers/dancers (Photo Tammy Lo)

From the comfort of my fourth row seat, I may not have had the chance to dance along myself, but my lack of movement in no way hindered my appreciation of the show. My heart was beating more quickly than it would have had I just run five miles.

From his childhood fear of vertigo to his theories of physics and his impressions of one enthralling – perhaps crazy – artist (1), Sufjan’s banter took some odd turns, but his frenzied mid-set confessions and analyses fit in well with the chaotic nature of his new material. This is not music for the faint of heart. It’s worth noting that Sufjan didn’t play a single song from the beautifully subdued album Greetings from Lake Michigan. With as many as thirteen people surrounding him on stage (including the excellent opener DM Stith on piano), the show featured nearly all new songs, with just a couple of older songs thrown in at the beginning and end of his set and encore.

Easily the best example of Sufjan’s new music is the truly epic, 25-minute song “Impossible Soul,” which apparently the crew plays every night.  Sufjan joked that the song was therapeutic for the band (2), and it’s easy to see why. The peaceful, melodic introduction soon spirals into controlled chaos as the tension builds. And yes, you heard right. This is when the auto-tune comes in.

It was “Impossible Soul” that finally motivated the crowd to get to their feet and actually start dancing… cue the confetti cannons and later, the canopy of multi-colored balloons. With the balloons rising and falling throughout the orchestra section of the beautiful historic venue during “Chicago,” I felt as if we were living in a rainbow snow globe.  The magical scene had the audience actually laughing with pure, childlike glee.

Take a listen to a little mash-up of “Impossible Soul” (with Cat Martino on vox)… followed by “Chicago.”

Of course, being that this was a therapy session, Sufjan followed up this amazing high with a few weepies – “Casimir Pulaski Day” (which makes me cry every time), “To Be Alone With You,” and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” From ridiculous dance moves to songs about serial killers in just a few minutes. Now that’s what I call therapy. The range of emotions I felt over the course of the two+ hour show was simply amazing. Remember when music actually made you feel? Remember how nice that was? Yes.

Beacon Theatre, a kaleidoscope of colors, a ball pit of energy (photo Chris Robinson)

Sufjan setlist
Seven Swans
Too Much
Age of Adz
I Walked
Futile Devices
Now That I’m Older
Get Real Get Right
Enchanting Ghost
Impossible Soul

Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL
Casimir Pulaski Day
To Be Alone With You
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

(1) Sufjan explains the “attractive insanity” of the eccentric artist from Louisiana who inspired much of his new experimental music

(2) Sufjan introduces “Impossible Soul”

"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