Archive for December, 2010

End of the year best, round two: Songs

Before I actually set out to make this list, I thought it would be a piece of cake, but once I actually sat down with my i Tunes, I realized that many of my favorite tracks of the year technically came out last year. (1)

That said, there were a few tracks that stood out.

“Marathon” by Tennis
I was so tempted to pick “South Carolina” over “Marathon” since it is my home state, but I have to say, I think “Marathon” takes the cake – blame the carefree chorus. I love the contrast between the more understated verses and the exuberantly buoyant chorus. ↓

“Heart in Your Heartache” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
This single dropped a couple of weeks ago – just in time. After falling in love with this band in 2009, I craved more candy-coated distortion. ↓

“When I’m Small” by Phantogram
Phantogram’s two chief members may have recorded much of the album in a barn in rural New York, but don’t let that fool you. The music is anything but campy. Sarah Barthel’s vocals are positively intoxicating. I’m especially fond of the breakdown in the middle. ↓

*See also: this acoustic version.

– – –

Of course, there’s something to be said for an eye-catching music video to accompany a deserving song. Regretfully, the previous few songs never seemed to officially be turned into music videos, but then you’ve also got these gems:

“Dreamin'” by Allo Darlin’
If you know me, you probably know I have a bit of a weakness for a good male/female duet. I love the stripped down simplicity of this song. It just seems so honest. ↓

“Gnomes” by Sea of Bees
When I figure out what this song reminds me of, you’ll be the first to know. As far as I know, I heard it for the first time just this week (courtesy of Robin Hilton’s best of list on NPR Music). But I feel like I’ve known it for years. I could listen to this song on repeat for days. ↓

“Undertow” by Warpaint
What started out as a cover song of Nirvana’s “Polly,” eventually turned into “Undertow” at the hands of the LA 4-piece. Perhaps due to its origin, the song seemed simultaneously fresh and familiar . Ah, Warpaint, the all-girl band that is so much more than a fem heap of X chromosomes. How I enjoy this song. ↓

“I Want the World to Stop” by Belle & Sebastian
I think most people were disappointed by Write About Love. The stakes were high. It had been five years since the release of their last album, after all. But you know what? I’m defending this infectious little song, and I dare you to hear it and disagree. ↓

“Go Do” by Jónsi
How could I forget this song and it’s beautiful accompanying video? Much of the music I listen to is downtrodden, moody, and/or lo-fi. Enter Jónsi. Enter hope – brilliant, brilliant hope. ↓

“Heaven Can Wait” by Charlotte Gainsbourg
She may have been hugely disappointing live, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was addicted to this song when I first heard it early in the year – of course it doesn’t hurt that Beck produced and sang in it. It’s as catchy as any pop song can be, but it’s also wonderfully understated. Then there’s the beautiful oddball surrealist music video. I especially love the tennis shots with the timing of the bouncing.

One commenter on YouTube stated, “Kanye, I’m gonna let you finish, but Charlotte Gainsbourg had the best music video of 2010!” And I have to say I’m inclined to agree. ↓

*See also: the director’s cut.

Finally, how could I dare to present a list of the best songs of the year without including Sufjan’s expansive manifesto of a song… if you can even use that term for the whopping 25-minute piece. ↓

“Impossible Soul”
On Youtube, it’s split into two parts, but here it is in its entirety – perhaps even more amazing live than on the record.

And I was worried there wouldn’t be enough songs to choose from. Here we have 10, in no particular order. Do you think you know how my album list will turn out? Stay tuned! It’s coming soon.

(1) Namely, DM Stith’s “Pity Dance,” tUnE-yArDs’ “Sunlight,” Twin Sister’s “Nectarine,” and yes – Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to name a few.


End of the year best, round one: Shows

I’m starting with this list because it is perhaps the easiest to compile. More to come.

There are 19 here. Deal with it. They’re also in descending order, for dramatic effect.
(The asterisks link to the appropriate show review.)

19. Warpaint – Music Hall of Williamsburg, December 2nd *
This was another surprise. Though I had heard the name Warpaint thrown around for a few months, I knew little about them going into the show, but they had me bewitched with their alternating vocals and mesmerizing minimalism.

18. Seabear – Mercury Lounge, March 25th *
I really can’t get enough of these quaint Icelandic bands, homespun sweaters and all. The harmonies and the impressive range of instruments in this large band leave me with an extra spring in my step. I want to get inducted into their family. You don’t think they’d notice if I joined in, do you? Maybe I could play the tambourine… or just pretend to sing.

Seabear (Photo Thomas Helbig)

17. Land of Talk – Bowery Ballroom, November 6th *
I really loved this album – the lyrics especially, so seeing Land of Talk this past November was a real treat.

16. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Cairo Gang, The Babblers – Town Hall, December 8th *
Surprisingly, this was my first time seeing B’P’B. It was a long time coming. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, however, was The Babblers – yet another of Will Oldham’s special projects, featuring the irresistible Angel Olsen on vox.

15. tUnE-yArDs – The Bell House, February 5th *
With her wild gaze and tribal-influenced songs, Merril Garbus is a force to behold. From what I heard, she stole the show from the Dirty Projectors when she opened for them. Somehow, that doesn’t at all surprise me.

tUnE-yArDs (Photo Jessica Amaya)

14. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Mercury Lounge, October 14th * (an interview with Owen)
I’ve seen Owen more times than nearly everyone else (3 or 4 times this year alone), and every time is a treat. This show was an extra treat because it was one of his last performances as CFTPA… ever! (I also attended his last NY show the next night, but the Brooklyn Masonic Temple was not the right environment, and too many people were there to see the other bands on the bill – ahem, Dan Deacon and Lightning Bolt). What a sweet man. I look forward to hearing his next musical project.

13. Scout Niblett and Holy Sons – The Mercury Lounge, October 6th *
After the disastrous Cat Power-esque performance in 2007, I’m certainly glad I gave you another chance, Scout (aka Emma). I love how raw her voice is and how she effortlessly shifts in tone from the sweet, innocent girl to the big bad wolf. Though I had never heard of them prior to the show, Holy Sons wowed me so much that I left with two albums.

Scout Niblett (Ian Crowther)

12. Lost in the Trees – The Mercury Lounge, August 23rd *
These guys from North Carolina are every bit as mesmerizing now as when I first saw them in 2008. Their moody orchestral arrangements and haunting lyrics make me shiver every time.

11. The Blow – Glasslands Gallery,  May 13th *
Oh, Khaela. Your banter about the lost album with the unnamed starlet (Lindsey Lohan) may not be true, but it makes for quite an entertaining schtick. I love her beautiful, awkward stage presence and the candidness of her songs.

The Blow (Photo Devyn Manibo)

10. Beirut – Music Hall of Williamsburg, July 5th *
The man has French horn tattoos. Enough said.

9. Belle & Sebastian – The Williamsburg Waterfront, September 20th *
This was perhaps my most anticipated show of the year. I’ve spent countless hours listening to Belle & Sebastian. They were just one of those formative bands for me. Too bad it took me like 6 years to actually see them. The show was good, and the band was charming. Sadly, it just never could have lived up to my expectations.

Belle & Sebastian (Photo Amanda Hatfield)

8. CocoRosie – Music Hall of Williamsburg, September 15th *
This was kind of the wild card of the year. I wasn’t sure if I’d want to storm out of the room or take the sisters home with me. The latter was more accurate. I was pretty much speechless by the end of the night.

7. Andrew Bird – The Guggenheim, August 5th *
Andrew Bird… at the Guggenheim. The set-up alone is drool-worthy. Then there was the ‘forest floor of horns’ and the multi-level rotunda, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Andrew Bird (Photo Macey Foronda)

6. The National – Radio City Music Hall – June 16th *
I’d say I preferred their show at the Bell House or BAM earlier in the year (whoa, I saw them 4 times)… except for the fact that this was the show when Matt Berninger left the stage, climbed over the seats in my aisle, and landed in mine. The feeling of his hand on my shoulder as he steadied himself and the knowledge that I could have easily reached across the three-inch divide and caressed his cheek, are almost too much to handle.

5. DM Stith + Silje Nes + Inlets – Littlefield, June 13th *
Again, a fantastic line-up and a small, intimate show (with seats!). This was my first encounter with the Norwegian beauty Silje Nes, and I hope to see her many more times. And David Michael, might we go on a picnic sometime?

4. Laura Marling – Le Poisson Rouge, February 12th *
I love this girl… even if her songs strongly suggest that she doesn’t believe in the emotion. She is miles in front of her British contemporaries (Noah and the Whale, Fanfarlo, Mumford and Sons). Laura, I foolishly invite you to ditch Marcus and trample on my heart instead.

Laura Marling (Photo kDamo)

3. Efterklang + Sam Amidon + Daniel Bjarnason – Le Poisson Rouge, March 3rd *
I loved each of these acts individually. Together, they made for one of the most memorable shows of the year. What a talented array of musicians. Even though shows at LPR can be a bummer due to the pesky 2-item minimum at tables, I’d gladly hulk in the corner for you any day, Sam.

2. Atlas Sound – The Bell House, February 3rd *
Remember when the Bell House consistently hosted great musicians? I really hope these winter shows become an annual tradition as Bradford hinted a couple of weeks ago. I love Deerhunter, but I feel like Bradford would be dead without Atlas Sound to channel his surfeit of creative energy. Wonderful, heartfelt show – a nice contrast to the cold, dark February night.

1. Sufjan Stevens + DM Stith – Beacon Theatre, November 14th *
How could this not be the best show of the year? One minute I was dancing and laughing with glee and a few songs later, I was silently sobbing. Simply amazing.

Sufjan and his ladies (Photo Tammy Lo)

Sunday night at the convent

Every now and then, I get unsolicited emails from eager musicians, inviting me to their shows. Due to various scheduling conflicts or sheer laziness, I typically don’t make it out, but something about HOOL intrigued me.  The show was to take place in the former convent of St. Cecilia in Brooklyn, and let’s be honest… how often do you have the chance to hang out in an creepy, abandoned convent?

I saw the massive building from afar, but it took me a while to figure out where exactly I was going. There was the church and the school, but they certainly seemed to still be in regular use. I continued around the block, and finally I heard a faint trace of music. I wandered into the building, hung my coat on the rack with the others, pushed aside the curtain, and walked into a small sanctuary that was illuminated entirely by candles and Christmas tree lights. With its crumbling ceiling, stained glass windows, and short row of pews, the setting was magnificent.

After catching just a few songs from the opening musician, we were allowed a ten-minute break between sets to help ourselves to refreshments and to explore the building. Armed with a small cup of beer, I tentatively made my way up the first set of stairs. The small bedrooms that had once housed the faithful now stood empty and deserted. I wandered slowly down the narrow hallway, half expecting to find a dead body, an old religious relic, or maybe even a bum. I continued to the third floor (the one the email had billed as probably haunted). There had been other people roaming around on the lower floors, but the top floor seemed to be empty. I walked down the hallway, past the old sink half-filled with dirty water. After the first set of bedroom doors, I paused to listen.

the abandoned convent of St. Cecilia (photo Melina Paez)

Suddenly, I heard something – the chilling combination of a low whisper and a gust of wind. It was indecipherable and gentle, but also undeniably eerie. I waited a few moments to see if some other brave explorers would emerge from one of the rooms, but upon seeing no one, I turned around and hastily made my way back down the stairs and into the sanctuary – right in time for HOOL.

HOOL at the convent (photo Michele Palazzo)

The band was just two people – Brett on guitar and John on the upright bass. Just a few minutes before, my heart rate was up, and I was feeling uneasy. But suddenly, I was met by warmth and a overwhelmed by a sense of calm. The duo’s careful, quiet instrumental interludes were certainly well-suited for the intimate, candle-lit room, and the acoustics were enviable. Usually at shows, my mind races, but for once, I was content with just being still, and it was a beautiful thing.

HOOL performing on a farm in Holland (because that’s what they do):

A week in review, a wintery mix for you

After reflecting on the artists I saw over the past week, I realized that they might make for a nice mix, so I put together a little something to accompany the dark days of winter. Cheers.

(Photo Marc Davidson)

1. “Terrarium” – Atlas Sound, Live at the Bell House 12/11 (3:10)
2. “Lonely Man” – The Babblers, Live at Town Hall 12/8 (4:54)
3. “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love” – Jens Lekman, Live at the Green Building 12/9 (4:13)
4. “Icarus” – White Hinterland, Live at Highline Ballroom 12/13 (3:41)
5. “Cursed Sleep” – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Live at Town Hall 12/8 (7:21)
6. “Broken” – S. Carey, Live at Highline Ballroom 12/13 (5:45)

In the Bedroom (with Bradford Cox)

I’m not sure why I’m only just getting wind of this (and this, this, and this). Apparently, Bradford Cox has had some time on his hands this fall.

At last night’s show at the Bell House, he said:

I got off tour with Deerhunter, I got home, and I didn’t have anything to do.  I started feeling wild – like Cabin Fever, you know? I watched two seasons of Law and Order: Criminal Intent… in like 52 hours. I wasn’t returning phone calls, and it was dark. So I get out my little recording machine and I made some recordings.

Except, well he was underselling himself a bit by his choice of words. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, he posted four – yes four – Atlas Sound albums on his site – available to download for free! That’s 49 songs, if you’re counting.

Cover art for Bedroom Databank, Vol. 4

Initially, the release of his Bedroom Databank was met with some controversy from Sony.

The day after he had finished posting all four volumes, Cox apparently received several copyright-infringement e-mails from Sony Music, ordering him to delete the download links to volumes 2, 3 and 4 due to:

Unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted sound recordings owned or exclusively distributed by Sony Music

This is of course odd given the fact that neither Deerhunter (4AD) nor Atlas Sound (Kranky) are signed to Sony. The only possible infringement was the small handful of cover songs (Bob Dylan/The Band, Kurt Vile, and Royal Trux).

Cox responded to the email by voicing his frustrations on his site:

Apparently Sony Music owns my bedroom. Feel free to call or email and let them know what you think. I can understand them requesting for me to remove a cover but the only one I can imagine that happening with is Dylan. Which was on Vol. 1. Which was not deleted.

Sony has since claimed that the whole thing was some kind of weird misunderstanding.

So get to it, kids. After hearing a number of the new songs previewed last night and sampling some of the recordings, I am eager to hear more. With its brief instrumental interludes, warm lo-fi recording quality, and intimately revealing lyrics, Cox’s Bedroom Databank collection has much in common with (dare I say it?) what is perhaps my favorite album – The Microphone’s The Glow, pt. 2. Good stuff indeed for the cold, dark, wet, and windy days to come.

[A full review of last night’s show will soon be available on Brooklyn Vegan. I just have to write it…]

Another alter-ego of Will Oldham, revealed

By this point, it’s no secret that Oldham likes to keep things interesting. The prolific singer/songwriter has collaborated with a myriad of talented musicians (Tortoise, Scout Niblett, Matt Sweeney), performed/recorded under a range of monikers, and has even tried his hand at acting (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy).

His musical act evolves so rapidly that the surprise of the evening at Town Hall came not during the main act when he played with the talented backing band The Cairo Gang, but during the mysterious opener’s set. Earlier in an interview when asked about the band he shared a bill with, Oldham responded nonchalantly that The Babblers were simply an “obscure” band from Shreveport. But within seconds of seeing the group (and hearing the two vocalists), it became apparent that they were actually just a wild permutation of the main act, led by Oldham himself.

With his arm outstretched above his head and his eyes cast heavenward, Oldham’s alias had more than a passing resemblance to a cult leader. But instead of matching Reeboks, he and his backing band wore sunglasses and one-piece pajama suits (complete with a zipper, hood, and footsies). The stage itself was decorated accordingly with a mismatched collection of bedroom lamps.

Here’s The Babblers performing in Chattanooga on 11/30/10:

To read the rest of the review and to find out more about the mysterious group – The Babblers, hop over to Brooklyn Vegan.

Here’s a mash-up of some audio from the show:

I don’t think the Town Hall staff knew what they were getting into when they booked Will Oldham, but I’m certainly glad they took a chance and surrendered to the crazy pajama’ed gang and its fearless leader.

"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