Archive for July, 2011

The Barr Brothers, in the boudoir, with the harp

The Barr Brothers – Rockwood Music Hall – 7/27/11

The Barr Brothers (so-named for brothers Brad and Andrew) may not have even released their debut album yet, but the Montreal quartet is already poised to win your heart… and maybe even break it.

The Barr Brothers (photo Andrew Guerette)

Soft and sweet one moment and delta-blues dirty the next, they exhibit such a wide sonic range and emotional breadth that I simply could not choose just one or two clips to feature, so I cheated and created the following medley to give you an idea of what’s at play:

Taking advantage of the small space and eager audience, Brad (guitar/vox) found a unique way to drum up audience participation. Forget a sing-a-long. Instead, Brad unraveled three lines of what appeared to be some kind of a fine string (fishing line? thread?) and handed them out to various members of the audience with instructions to pass them along. By simply running their fingernails up and down the lines (which were all attached to Brad’s guitar), the unwitting on-lookers contributed surprisingly lovely notes that served as the backbone for the final song, heard below.

The Barr Brothers’ self-titled debut, which was recorded in a boiler room and features guest musicians Elizabeth Powell (Land of Talk) and Jocie Adams (The Low Anthem) to mention just a couple, is due out 9/27 on Secret City.

Oh, and here’s a video of a previous Barr Brothers performance at Rockwood. (Did I mention there’s a harp??) Notice how the moody interior decor compliments the music nicely. “Beggar in the Morning,” the opening track from their upcoming album, may very well be my favorite song.

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Summatime mix

With record-breaking temperatures across the country, I thought I’d put together a little summer mix. These songs aren’t necessarily new, but they do seem appropriate given their names.

(photo Liz Kasameyer)

1. “Heat & Hot Water” – ARMS
2. “Dye” – Eternal Summers
3. “Meet Me By The Water” – Saturday Looks Good To Me
4. “Coma Summer” – Weekend
5. “103” – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
6. “Summer Holiday” – Wild Nothing
7. “Sunlight” – tUnE-yArDs
8. “Sun” – Caribou

Stay cool, kids. And remember: Hydrate or die.

Wait. Didn’t We Just See That? Why It Doesn’t Matter that Natalie Portman Already Made that Movie.

I interrupt the normally scheduled music posts to bring you some thoughts on another topic.

Before she had even taken home an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan, Natalie Portman played Ashton Kutcher’s friend and—you guessed it—love interest in the formulaic rom-com No Strings Attached. This Friday, Portman’s former on-screen rival, Mila Kunis, is starring in version 2.0.

Whether due to prevailing cultural trends, mysterious economic forces, or pure coincidence, Hollywood is of course notorious for churning out transparently similar movies in quick succession. But this time around, the similarities are even more pronounced than usual due to the Portman/Kunis connection. Before it came out, Portman’s version was even temporarily named Friends with Benefits (after the MPAA shot down the original title, Fuck Buddies).

During January release, No Strings Attached did fairly well despite lukewarm, and in many cases, downright negative reviews. For its opening weekend, it was the highest-grossing movie ($19.6 million). And if early buzz is to be trusted, Friends with Benefits has the potential to do even better than its predecessor. Let’s be honest. It would be hard for Kunis and Timberlake to have less chemistry than paper-thin Portman and Kutcher. And it doesn’t hurt that there are rolls—albeit small ones—for Patricia Clarkson, Emma Stone, and Woody Harrelson, and Richard Jenkins.

Even though FWB triggers some serious déjà vu, when it comes down to it, the shameless lack of originality won’t affect its overall success. People will still buy tickets, and they will do it in droves because against our better judgment, we can’t help but wonder how the ‘relationship’ will unfold, who will be the one to get hurt (my money is on Timberlake’s character), and who will make the initial push for reconciliation.

Faced with the other two options: the loneliness of the single life and the potential heartbreak of love, it’s natural to long for the sweet spot—that elusive third option that is repeatedly depicted in pop culture despite the fact that deep down, we know it’s not really a good idea. In a recent interview with GQ, even Kunis herself came out against the eponymous arrangement that her character Jamie seeks, saying:

I can give you my stance on it: It’s like communism—good in theory, in execution it fails. Friends of mine have done it, and it never ends well. Why do people put themselves through that torture?

Sadly, in some regards NSA and FWB will fall short. While they have the potential to offer a truly groundbreaking and provocative analysis of a widespread cultural trend, the beauty of movies like these is that we already know how they’re going to end. And although unoriginality is a major complaint lodged against mainstream Hollywood, the irony is that Friends with Benefits will succeed not in spite of its predictability but because of it.

Because if we’re honest with ourselves, we won’t be watching the movie with Kunis or Timberlake in mind. Instead of the two Hollywood leads, we’ll see versions of ourselves and our own desires on that screen… and this time, we can at least bank on a happy ending.

With the typical chick flick/rom-com, the audience naturally roots for the two main characters (who are no doubt gorgeous, intelligent, and of course witty) to end up walking down the aisle as the credits roll. But in this case, we’re rooting for an idea—and one that we’re led to believe is infinitely safer and sexier than its potentially devastating counterpart, love.  Constant late-night hook-ups, a familiar face, and none of those pesky emotions? Sounds good, right? Of course, unlike Jamie (Kunis) and Dylan (Timberlake), we know that these things are rarely as easy to pull off in real life as they are in the movies. According to a recent study involving college students (arguably the largest demographic to opt for the FWB scenario), only about 10 percent of relationships blossom into long-term romances. Another quarter of people formerly in a FWB relationship lose both the sex component, and more tragically, the friendship.

The trick, at least with Jamie and Dylan, is that their relationship is unfolding in a controlled environment. So no matter how risqué the sex montages are or how raunchy the dialogue gets, it’s painfully obvious that the movie will ultimately champion good old-fashioned monogamy, which—although arguably a missed opportunity to really explore a complex social issue—is the best thing that director Will Gluck can do to ensure a commercial success.

As I watch the trailer for Friends with Benefits, I can’t help but shake my head when—fresh from a recent break-up with her boyfriend (played by Andy Samberg)—Jamie lashes out at a Katherine Heigl movie poster for the unrealistic expectations for romance that traditional chick flicks like hers create. But for as much as the producers want you to think the film is edgy and unique, the major story arc seems to be anything but mysterious.

Poor Jamie and Dylan. They try so hard to avoid the Hollywood clichés. Too bad they will inevitably become one.

Wild Beasts bring their game

Though there was a variety of things going on last Thursday night (the free Austra/tUnE-yArDs show and Superchunk to name just a couple), I decided to check out the UK group Wild Beasts. (OK, to be fair, I stayed at Pier 54 long enough to see about six songs from Austra before dashing over to Le Poisson Rouge.) Having only heard a handful of songs, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s always nice to see a new band.

Wild Beasts (via the artist Myspace page)

Wild Beasts began their set with a dark, moody intro that complimented the dimly lit stage. But instead of relying primarily on one sound, they deftly mixed together different moods, tempos, and genres. After playing a few of their more sombre songs, they opted for brighter melodies, supported by electronic underpinnings and engaging percussion. To add to the variation, Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming also traded off lead vocal responsibilities.

After powering through a short set (50 minutes or so), they returned for a trio of songs, including the dancier, poppier number “All The Kings Men,” which you can hear by clicking the play button below:

Given the reception of their recent LP, Smother, and the dedication of their fans (excessive cheering replaced the usual idle chatter), I wouldn’t be surprised if Wild Beasts turns in the intimate vibe at LPR for a much larger space next time around.

Contribute to science… and hear new music!

I stumbled across a fun little music game today. And by participating, you’re actually helping to further technology’s understanding of music.

Here’s the info, straight from Last.fm:

For several years scientists have been trying to extract meaningful information about music directly from the audio data in a track. […] For a while researchers hoped that it would be fairly easy for a computer to analyze an audio track and transcribe it directly to sheet music notation, recognising instruments, voices, and all the notes they were playing.

This was quickly found to be a much harder problem than expected, and a new field of research grew out of the failure to conquer this challenge.

So basically, there have been some technological innovations geared to help automatically transcribe the audio into sheet music. The problem is, it’s hard to know if the new software is doing a decent job at the task. That’s where we come in.

Lend them your ears!

They’ll give you a short clip of a song, and you determine the tempo and tap out the beat.

It looks something like this:

The best part? You get to hear stuff you would normally never listen to… like this:

Nice, right?

So get to it. And let me know if you discover anything good.