Well, here we go again. Another year, another never-ending line-up. I set out last night to make a short list of bands to check out, and here are just a few that stuck with me. There will be more to come!
a band that would have been in the Harold and Maude soundtrack had they only been around. Reminiscent of Vetiver… except you actually want to listen to them. I mean come on. There latest album is called On a Passing Cloud. The album art is terrible, but what it conceals is worth the listen.
“On a Passing Cloud”
Heavenly Beat – Brooklyn, NY
Photo courtesy of the artist Heavenly Beat
the part of Beach Fossils that didn’t become DIIV. John Peña creates “breezy, jazzy indiepop – complete with breathy vocals, sampled steel drums and pizzicato strings” (to commandeer the words of Bill Pearis, one of my favorite sources for all things pop). Yes, and yes. Captured Tracks did right to snatch this up. Stream the Talent EP.
Opossom – New Zealand
anthemic and lo-fi, a rare combo, but one that should be invoked more. And they consistently nail it. Sublimely scuzzy. This trio also gets major points for traveling from New Zealand.
Foreign Fields– Nashville, Tennessee by way of, you guessed it, Wisconsin
A departure from anything else in this list, and likely, from anything else you’ll see at CMJ. This is good stuff, folks. Not flavor of the week. Gem Club with a Bon Iver-like back story – the record was created in part in an abandoned building in Wisconsin in the dead of winter… that and in a sweltering Tennessee summer. Sad bastard music for the best of us. Apparently the song below was already featured on Parenthood like that show needs any help when it comes to coaxing tears out of its audience.
I encourage you to check out the official CMJ site, where you can create a username and make your own schedule. And of course, there’s also Oh My Rockness, which never ceases to be helpful–especially when there are so many unofficial shows going on. Heck, even if you’re not in New York this week, they are both still great sources for learning about new music if you’re willing to do a little research.
I ducked into The Rock Shop last week for just long enough to check out a compact, 30-minute set from Ski Lodge, a band that arrived at its name mostly based on “how it looked and sounded” and for its double-duty as a metaphor, says singer/lead guitarist Andrew Marr in an interview with The Deli. “It’s like an emotional place to escape to.”
Ski Lodge (photo Dominick Mastrangelo)
Primarily the project of Marr (previously of The Clementines) recorded, Ski Lodge expands to four on stage and boasts a fun, upbeat show full (what else?) of jangly guitars and retro swagger. Marr’s choice of what to bring with him to listen to on a desert island (“maybe The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead, Beach House – Teen Dream, The Walkmen – Lisbon“) reveals a lot about his sound.
Saturday Looks Good to Me + Wild Moccasins + Cola Jet Set – May 18th – The Knitting Factory
Last Friday I caught some super fun acts during the second night of Pop Fest. After listening to Orca Team all week, I was bummed to miss them. (They were apparently ahead of schedule at the Knitting Factory – what?) But I did see almost all of Cola Jet Set.
Cola Jet Set (photo courtesy of artist)
Hailing from Barcelona, Cola Jet Set predominantly make music in their home tongue, but I don’t have to dip into my high school Spanish much to know that their songs are infectious and upbeat. According to the group’s website: “their mix of surf, disco, punk, bubblegum and a lot of pop meld into an explosive cocktail that makes this disc more commonly prescribed than Aspirin” and though this is clearly the work of publicists, I have to say it’s a fantastic line and an apt descriptor of their sound.
Hear a couple of songs from Cola Jet Set:
But of course the big moment of the evening was the return of Saturday Looks Good to Me. I’ve listened to the band a lot over the years, but due to their retirement in 2008, I never had a chance to see them play until last week.
an old Saturday Looks Good to Me photo – they’re not that grumpy! (Doug Coombe)
Though they are clearly pros at crafting and performing distilled pop music, Saturday Looks Good to Me seemed genuinely excited to be on stage. Everywhere I looked there were big smiles, onstage and off. “How does it sound out there? Like 2004?” singer/guitarist Fred Thomas joked after a few songs. We had waited a long time for this.
“The last show we played in the United States before we stopped doing this was actually at the Knitting Factory downtown, or where the fuck Financial District, and it was weird. It was a little bit different than tonight.” singer/guitarist Fred Thomas revealed at one point to cheers.
Of course SLGTM played a number of old favorites (“Meet Me by the Water,” “The Girl is Distracted,” and “Alcohol”), but they also played a number of new ones from their upcoming album, to be released this fall.
Here’s a new one for you to hear. It’s called “Invisible Friend”
And of course, here’s “Alcohol”
A delightful show, full of crowd surfing on the part of many band members. Welcome back, guys.
Because at 2:00 p.m. on any given day you might receive invites from three different people inviting you to see a private show featuring The Shins.
Stepping into Le Poisson Rouge last Wednesday was a bit like stepping back into time. As I stood in the crowd, waiting for the show to start, I found myself looking around, half expecting to spot Natalie Portman lurking somewhere in the shadows.
Though The Shins had released two albums (and decent ones, at that) well before Zach Braff’s heralded Garden State soundtrack hit the ears of the mainstream-indie masses, much of the band’s rise can arguably be linked to this infamous scene:
“You gotta hear this one song. It will change your life, I swear.” (2)
And yet, it hasn’t necessarily been a smooth ride for the band. Shortly after they left Sub Pop in 2007, The Shins underwent a swift series of major structural changes, leaving only one principal member, singer/guitarist James Mercer, left standing.
The (new) Shins (photo courtesy of the artist)
But despite the change in line-up, as soon as I heard Mercer’s distinctive voice break into “Kissing the Lipless,” it was as if nothing had changed. It was surreal. The sound was tight, the energy, there.
“Simple Song” (the first single from their upcoming album)
With or without Portman’s approval, The Shins are poised to be one of the better indie bands of the last decade… at least as long as Mercer is in the band.
The Shins’ new album, Port of Morrow, drops on March 20th on Columbia. Until then, you can stream a video – or just the audio – of Wednesday night’s show courtesy of NPR Music. (Clearly, the audio quality is much better over there.)
Kissing The Lipless
Caring Is Creepy
Bait And Switch
It’s Only Life
The Rifle’s Spiral
No Way Down
One By One All Day
Port Of Morrow
— (1)Apparently, former keyboardist/bassist Marty Crandall agrees. “I would definitely attribute a lot of [our rise in recognition] to Garden State. That had a pretty huge impact. We saw double and triple sizes of crowds and sales of the first record. It multiplied our fan base immensely.”
(2)The Shins nearly did change my life, quite literally. On the way to see them play my freshman year of college, an aggressive 16-wheeler was inches away from careening into our navy blue Volvo station wagon on an overpass. (My only thought during my near-death experience was, “Oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding me! At least we could die after The Shins!”)
Eight screens with swirling white lights crowned the stage at Roseland Ballroom. Over in the shadows, the keys of an organ danced up and down as if each one were a sentient creature, sending muted melodies through the excited crowd. There was no opener – just a prerecorded introduction that resembled the kind of explanatory speech you might expect to hear at the entrance to a museum exhibit, delivered in a crisp British accent:
Welcome to Biophilia, the love for nature in all her manifestations from the tiniest organism to the greatest red giant floating in the farthest realm of the universe. With Biophilia comes a restless curiosity […] In Biophilia you will experience how the three come together: nature, music, and technology. Listen, learn, and create. […] We are on the brink of a revolution […] until we get there, prepare, explore Biophilia.
And with that, Björk, along with no fewer than 20 back-up singers and dancers, made her entrance to ecstatic cheers.
Björk (photo Julieta Cervantes)
Her opening song, “Thunderbolt,” was electric to say the least… and not just because of the 6-foot long Tesla coil that generated miniature bolts of lightening in time to the bass line of the music. (Yeah, that happened.)
I confess I haven’t spent too much time with her latest release, but the live production was expertly executed, down to every twinkling note. More than simply an album, Biophilia is a wildly ambitious project that is at once organic and wildly innovative. Who else but Björk would think to release individual interactive apps for each of the songs on her album? And who else but Björk can make you care about transmuting proteins? Watching Björk excitedly circle the stage in her blue bubble outfit and fiery wig is not something I’ll soon forget.
Here’s “Hidden Place,” which features lovely backing vocals from the women’s choir.
As I watched Björk and the women dancing around wildly on stage, hair flying, fists raised to the explosive finale, “Declare Independence,” it hit me. I totally want to be Björk when I grow up. Fifty years ago, most of the artists we obsess over today will have long ago faded away. But Björk? People will still be talking.
"Raise your flag! Higher, Higher!" (photo Julieta Cervantes)
Where Is the Line?
You Won’t + Lady Lamb the Beekeeper + Lucius + Julia Read – Union Hall – Feb. 18th
The winter months are typically slow going as far as shows are concerned, but I’m slowing working my way back into the scene. Though none of the names on the bill for The Wild Honey Pie show at Union Hall on Saturday night were particularly big, the small, cozy underground space sold-out well before the first act of the night, Julia Read.
Saturday night marked my first time seeing Read play, but there was something about her that struck me as deeply familiar. Within the opening notes on her violin I quickly scrawled down three words in my notebook: female Sam Amidon.
Like Amidon, Read has chosen to pursue that organic, backwoods kind of folk music that’s more suited to porches in the Appalachians than to hipster bars in Brooklyn. Their music is not polished and poppy, but raw. Read has the beefed up voice of a 1940s Disney heroine – one who clearly doesn’t need rescuing.
But the similarities between the two young musicians extend further than the music itself. Both have this amazing earnest, little kid purity about them. Staring straight ahead in her over-sized t-shirt and loose-fitting Dickies, Read has the kind of crazed, wide-eyed look you can’t help but mimic a little, like a baby in a social psychology experiment.
I love the video above, but here’s a song that will give you an idea of Read’s range:
And because I’m such a sucker for duets, here’s a duet with Julia Read and her friend Melody Olsen.
Up next was Lucius, the project of Brooklynites Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. In the week or two leading up to the show, Lucius popped up a surprising number of times: Once as a recommendation by Sea of Bees’ Jules Baenziger, then by a stranger, and later in an email from a friend. Having heard just one song, the straight forward, pleasantly catchy “Don’t Just Sit There,” I was pretty excited.
I was not, however, prepared.
Five people – not two – crowded onto the small stage. And what was this? Wolfe and Laessig were dressed in what I can only describe as ironic hipster chic – short, tight black dresses, knee-high boots, huge dangling earrings, and ridiculous plastic shades.
Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius (photo courtesy of artist Myspace page)
Fun for a press photo, way too much for a show, their matching look seemed to clash with their music. (Let’s be real. You’re not Austra.) I wanted the two women in the above video. Simple, lovely, stripped down, and honest.
The other big surprise was that contrary to my initial impression, Lucius’s sound is actually quite varied. Far from focusing on a simple, pop aesthetic, Lucius also has a bluesy side. Evidence:
Can you hear the hesitation in the audience? Yeah, not what I was expecting. I struggled through the first few songs, the weakest part of their set in my opinion. But toward the end, something clicked… or maybe they just took off their glasses.
Much better, right? The audience agrees. Lose the annoying shtick and nail down your sound, Lucius. You have something good buried under there.
Then there’s Aly Spaltro, aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Don’t let the cutesy name fool you. Her music has teeth. You might get hurt. Seriously.
Aly Spaltro of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Accompanied by just a single guitar, Spaltro challenges the expectations of the the innocuous “singer/songwriter” tag. One minute she sings softly and sweetly, and the next she runs her voice raw. Add her amazingly evocative lyrics, and this girl is a beautiful whirlwind of talent and emotions.
By the time You Won’t had assembled, I was pretty worn out and only stayed for the first 4 or so songs of their set. By far the most conventional indie folk group of the evening (and no doubt the reason for much of the crowd), I expect these guys will get pretty big in the coming months.
Like what you hear? You can buy (or stream) their recently released album here.
"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