Archive for April, 2011

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light (Review)

April 29th, 2011 No comments

TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

(4 Stars out of 5)

Admittedly, this is a difficult review to write. As has been reported in other venues, bassist Gerard Smith passed away from his battle with lung cancer.  Often is the case with musicians who die at an early age is that their deaths are much more tragic (from drugs, alcohol, suicide or accident). Here is a case of someone doing everything right in a band revolutionizing the sound of rock, soul and funk. In an era when bands have striated off in different directions, TV on the Radio is trying to bring these elements back where they belong.

TV on the Radio’s ‘Nine Types of Light’ is their most accessible album to date. A much ‘cleaner’ sounding album missing much of the fuzz from previous albums and in some ways their career seems to be going in the direction of David Byrne, going from a energetic art-punk career to a more vanilla but still acceptable pop sound.

Which is where preconceived notions can be fallible. When does TV on the Radio begin to sound like U2 and would I be saying this if this was a killer debut album by some no-name band?

With the circumstances of Gerard Smith fresh on my brain while strolling the city streets of Chicago, I began to reminisce by pulling out ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’, an album filled with energy.

I consider a song like ‘I Was A Lover’ beginning to write the next chapter after Prince. As I made my way through the tracks I forgot in this day of age how powerful this album was and I began to wonder why I have not returned to Cookie Mountain more often. It’s slightly crisp outer edges with the chewy chocolate chip center, both with dark and white chocolate in the middle.  Ok, I am getting ahead of myself.

Inevitably, as comparisons are made, the product in front of me is still solid from cover-to-cover.  ‘Second Song,’ sets the stage as one of those classic rock songs, mixing between an almost straight delivery and falsetto, the album is about love, the most overused, overwrought subject in the rock and roll encyclopedia and the band does not let anyone down with this album. If you took the lyrics and created a cloud, the word would be in 72 font.

Before you throw this in the garbage, TV on the Radio offers two compelling reasons to hold onto this: Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. Soul, soul and some more soul. We take away the fuzz, we make the sound cleaner and Adebimpe shines as one of the true crooners of the 21st Century. What separates them from many other lead singers these days is that they bring character to the songs, providing an essential warmth that can be enjoyed with a nice Pinot and the lights turned down. Maybe not first date material but perfect for that essential reminder when the kids are at the grandparents and need a little couples time.

While African or R&B might be common elements it reminds me more of some of those Peter Gabriel works of the late 80s and early 90s especially on ‘You’, it seems to get that perfect method of modern rock and soul.

Possibly one of the first ballads that I have enjoyed in years, ‘Killer Crane’ works with this beautiful organ reminiscent of John Paul Jones and banjo.

There are some more subtle moments such as ‘Forgotten’, the forgotten track on the album. The sleepy beginning builds into an opus, as Adebimpe purrs before mixing the falsetto shouts and horns explode into your eardrums.

What makes ‘TV on the Radio’ is their crossover appeal. While the album is solid, it lacks the shock of ‘Cookie Mountain’ and ‘Dear Science’ and while I do like the soulful albums about ‘Love’ the lyric can be overused here. Some might say that you cannot overuse the term but trust me, if every third sentence spewed out by your lover included ‘I Love You’ I would start to question what else love is about. It’s a word so powerful that said too early in a relationship can be a deal-breaker and never said enough can be a heart-breaker and said too much in a relationship can be a sanity breaker.

I look at “Light” in terms of “Love” in feeling illuminated. The forces that drive this feeling of love are often in the multiples and I question whether they are all present here. Even with it’s limits, the album still has enough substance to make it a worthy purchase.

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tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l – (Review)

April 28th, 2011 No comments

4 1/2 Stars out of 5

Often times the label Feminist can be a major impediment for a musician’s career. This is not to say that there have been great female performers over the years such as Joni Mitchell or Patti Smith but rather the lack of females getting headline performances or the fact their message gets labeled as being strictly for females.  I am not sure what the opposite would be for men, possibly “Cock Rock?!?!?” Point being is that a preachy Ani Difranco-type might woo a female listener, but often times this alienates the men from giving it a chance. It’s often the dangers of women’s empowerment movements that I see where men feel marginalized. Having a powerful female voice can often be less about being on the pulpit and more about providing a vision or image, illuminating the listener to what they feel or see.

Being a Chicagoan, let’s take a look at two of the major festivals over the summer, Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. For Lollapalooza, you have to scroll down to the fifth line to find a Female act – Crystal Castles, led by the truly invigorating Alice Glass, who had more stamina than most male performers. Even after breaking her leg, she still performed several live shows, performing against doctors orders.

Pitchfork might be slightly better but far from preferable. It does have Neko Case performing in what would appear to be the pre-headlining for Animal Collective’s show but that is about hit for the top-billing artists.

Women have a much more difficult time getting into the racket and are often much more heavily scrutinized for their lyrics and/or image.  While this probably deserves a full on essay at some point, the truth is, when a female artist arrives on the scene with a powerful voice, many times it is given some notice.

In this case that voice is Merrill Gerbus, who created the band tUnE-yArDs, is as exciting as they come and another in the line of smart and intelligent female voices musicians that deserves to be heard. She is not your prototypical female musician. Looping her voice and drums onstage, she’s not just nailing down the craft as a musician but her cracking soulful voice is as powerful as Janis Joplin.

Her album “w h o k i l l” reminds you of the Dirty Projectors gone R&B. Her voice smokes through this album leaving an indelible impression on you as she bangs her drums.

Consider the opening track, “My Country”…

“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, how come I cannot see my future within your arms?”

Garbus is not preaching, she is interpreting the world as she sees it, striving to find an understanding for whatever inequities we are faced with. Coming from the female perspective offers a semblance of power that is often missing in today’s music.

As much as I love my navel-gazing psychaedelic trance electronica, there are also times when we need to start a new country up, underneath the riverbed, dot, dot, dot.

And like a similar album that was released last year by Janelle Monae, these artists are often overshadowed with this intent that a woman does or should not have an opinion.

If these were just lyrics on a piece of paper, they are one thing, but her music is full out powerful.  Her sound is expanded on this second release giving herself more room to grow. She understands the basis to getting people off their asses and that is having a good beat.

The music is as much lo-fi as it is R&B. Listen to the storyline of ‘Riotriot’, she shutters, “There is a freedom in violence that I don’t understand and like I’ve never felt before”, before there is all out assault musically.  This is not proselytizing, but rather asking questions.

Or consider the infectious build-up to the song “Bizness” that cries to us how we face with self-loathing and what better than screaming that self-loathing right out of you.

While the album deals with issues like violence, it treats them in a playful manner allowing the listener not only to open their ears but their eyes. Garbus is the real deal and the album succeeds as being one of the few truly essential albums of the year.

As a personal note, my excitement grew at the prospects that she is going to be playing Pitchfork this year. While she is playing an early slot, chances are in future years,  they will be increasing the font-size for tUnE-yArDs on those festival posters.

Categories: Music, Tune-yards Tags:

Raveonettes – Raven in a Grave (Review)

April 23rd, 2011 No comments

Raveonettes – Raven in a Grave (2.5 Stars out of 5)

I have often had a weird relationship with the Raveonettes. They have played the role of the all-too-sweet candy that tastes good going down but eventually gives you a stomachache. Their brand of 80’s new wave sounds on the surface have a way of seeping into my psyche only to escape without notice. The music is like a quick hitter with no lasting satisfaction.

Their latest “Raven in a Grave” on the whole tastes like a bad batch of candy. I had felt the need to review the Raveonette’s following my review of the Dirty Beaches because I felt that when borrowing from a genre there is a difference between something that is genuine and something that feels like a copy.

Recharge and Revolt started the album out strongly, playing itself as a tune from the Radio Dept.  They set the feeling perfectly, as if the song belongs in regular rotation at Club Neo.

The problem starts on songs such as ‘Forget that You’re Young ‘ and ‘Apparitions’ that are trying to take to the bank the 80’s revivalism to a new level. With the amount of bands like Dan Behar’s ‘Destroyer’ and ‘Cut Copy’ attempting to cash in on the 80’s era Goth bands begins to sound contrived and boring. Whereas bands like Ariel Pink were able to successfully bring some of their own into the mix, it sounds like 80s MTV gone bad.

There is no character and I am left feeling pretty empty. By the time you get to ‘Summer Moon’ you want to kill yourself.  Note to the Raveonettes: take a listen to an album like The XX’s debut album that creates an atmosphere with some attitude.

Listen to Jamie Smith and Romy Madley Croft sing on that.  It captures the soul that is necessary for a song like this to be successful.

The second half of the album is slightly stronger. Songs like ‘Ignite’ bring some insurgence after being lulled to sleep and maybe they realized that in the title. It’s not able to save the album although it will fit perfectly on that mix that you are creating of 80’s revivalist bands.

I think the major problem that I have with a release like this is that there is no enigmatic lead singer. Danish partners Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo feel very bland here.  The mid-tempo songs die without the power of an invigorating voice and the rest of the album feels as if it’s just rehashed ideas. You would be better served by just pulling out your Jesus & Mary Chain collection and humming along.

On a similar note: as genres are rediscovered, so are television shows. If you have not received the memo yet, MTV is going to have 120 Minutes back on the air.

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Dirty Beaches – Badlands (Review)

April 20th, 2011 No comments

Dirty Beaches – Badlands (4 Stars out of 5)

The Dirty Beaches’ album Badlands, has a unique niche in that the brand of Rockabilly discovering the Cramps feels like the soundtrack to every B-Movie Surfer-Meets-Vampire movie that you will ever see.

As we know about most “Surfer-Meets-Vampire” movies is that they are not all that good.  In fact, I am not sure that I have ever seen one myself. These 50s and 60s flicks that would make it to the screen with vixens in bathing suits and/or blood often exhibited the extremes of our society. Their campyness was charming in a “I love to freeze a Twinkie and eat it” even if it’s not healthy for me.

Dirty Beaches is that music that you hear at the small dive bar your friend took you to and you realize that everyone is cooler than you are and you realize that you’re a Yuppie living in your Lakeview apartment and you might as well be living in the suburbs.  Yeah, you might want to put down that Heineken.

The Dirty Beaches is the soundtrack for every cool place that you have ever been while you are wasted and the music surrounded you while you drank PBRs and several shots of Jameson before puking outside in the alley.

The aspect carries a film noir like quality to it, as suggested elsewhere his music is inspired more by movies and directors like David Lynch providing a eerie backdrop of longing.

The brainchild behind Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Huntai, a Taiwanese born nomad currently living in Montreal. His music is better suited for soundtracks of movies of yore, and maybe just the fact that I can enjoy the 3 am movie on TMC could illustrate my enjoyment of the album.

The way that I see Huntai’s lo-fi music representing is sounding almost like a memory that he is trying to reproduce.  As his nomadic travels have taken him from Taiwan, Honolulu and Vancouver, we hear through Huntai’s ears the memories taken from these locations, never crystal clear but often blurred as memories often are. I recollect hearing about how various Asian cultures had grappled onto this old rockabilly surf music and would be curious how personal this might be for Huntai.

At first listen, the first standout track was ‘Horses’ straight out of an old surfer movie, playing it pretty simple with the drum loops and guitar but the arrangment is perfect for his singing delivery which is straight out of an Elvis Presley style.

What he is often able to do successfully is take a song like ‘Sweet 17’ with it’s sexual prowess and you can see Elvis’s sweat dripping from his forehead.  Huntai yelps into the microphone while a blurry Ventures-induced guitar beat is provided.

In checking out some of his live material, I am still up in the air regarding his live performance if he is trying to do too much at once. Acts that are derived out of your studio apartment can sound pretty good on record but once on tour they might fall a little flat. This performance shows promise but others not as much.  Merril  Gerbus, from tUnE-yArDs (who will be featured in a future review), shows that this jump can be made from playing the role of the McGyver musician and performing exponentially onstage. There is definitely potential there for something more substantial.

Huntai admits to using many drum loops borrowed from Youtube for this recording and while some might point out that they would prefer that a more authentic drum sound is created on his own, in an era where loops have been used for years there is still an art for picking out the correct sound on his recordings. So what? It works, it’s relevant and this recording is for real.

Only running at a paltry 26 minutes, some might consider this an “EP” material, but there is real talent here to be found. This album is a true delight in every possible manner.

Categories: Dirty Beaches, Music Tags:

Yuck – Yuck (Review)

April 16th, 2011 No comments

Yuck – Yuck (2.5 Stars out of 5)

Yuck is the latest of the fuzzy buzzy bands entering the atmosphere. They seem to have the perfect formula of the lo-fi fuzz but as is often the case with debut bands like Yuck is that they sound too perfect, too formulaic. In fact for much of the album it’s become very forgettable. One has to begin to question this boring “Alt-Radio Station” songs like ‘Shook Down’ that sound like they belong at Lollapalooza rather than Pitchfork.

{The comment above was a bit of a dig at Pitchfork since they will be performing at this years festival. I would imagine I will be checking out the competing act during this time}

‘Shook Down’ feels like a tired Wilco cover band that does a spendid job of opening for a true headliner by making sure that they don’t outperform said band. The fact that I spent money to see them at Lincoln Hall opening for Tame Impala says more about the psychaedelic Aussies than it does about Yuck.

This band reminds me slightly of ‘Real Estate’ another band that got a lot of accolades by the critics but who I felt that was a borefest live. At the same time, Real Estate offered more character on their release than what is being provided here.

However, the bands more inspired efforts remind me of bands that never got the credit they deserved. ‘Suicide Policeman’ plays off perfectly as a Beulah cover. And the first moment of true genius was the Yo La Tengo-infused ‘Georgia’ which if it is not written for Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo should officially get that nod.

‘Sunday’ for example, sounds like any generic alt-rock opening act that suburban dads play to seem cool. {I was planning on putting a Mumford and Sons joke here but I thought better of it and blame this for the amount of Facebook friends who seem to be talking about them as of late.}

The best thing that Yuck would have going for them is that they are trying to reproduce Yo La Tengo for the masses, but Yo La Tengo always felt much more intimate and created an atmosphere, whereas Yuck is about imitating a sound and not much else.

I probably should not be so difficult on Yuck. I think that as a first album, they are obviously very competent musicians with satisfactory ability to use their instruments. If they are able to build on this album and create stellar music in the future, this installment will be their “Pablo Honey”.

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Mike Watt – Hyphenated Man

April 15th, 2011 No comments

Mike Watt – “hyphenated man” (4 Stars out of 5)

‘Double Nickels on the Dime” is the legendary album by the punk trio, The Minutemen. A blistering 45 tracks that span 2 LPs, most of the tracks are less than 2 minutes . . .(insert joke here).  It typically makes most best of lists rather you want to discuss albums from the 80’s, punk records, .etc., and the Minutemen might have been onto something amazing had it not been for their lead singer D. Boon to tragically die in a crash in 1985.

Mike Watt, the bassist for the Minutmen has reconstructed an album that has that same feel of the Minutemen’s work. Here he constructs a 30 song album with every song less than 2 minutes. The songs are not just a set of random tunes that Watt has collected but rather it’s Watts interpretation of some of the characters in the Dutch painter Hieronymous Bosch.

One of the first aspects of looking into this project is having an understanding of Hieronymus Bosch’s work. While not much is known about Bosch the painter, the works of art has told morality plays. I was lucky enough to view some of these close up and have to say that I wish I was listening to this album while viewing them. That would have been a tripped out sequence to be sure.

If you review the Garden of Earthly Delights, you can see that this one painting has several bylines and or events occurring at the same time.  The Tryptich of paintings presents itself from left to right, heaven to hell. Quite simply we see the peacefulness of the Garden of Eden to the passion-filled Earth sequences filled with carnal desires and forbidden fruits to the fire-breathing hell sequences to the right.

Bosch’s work here is not one painting with one unique idea but one painting with several ideas. By Watt’s own interpretation, it’s his character examination of several of these individuals seen in Bosch’s work dealing with morality.  What makes Bosch’s work intriguing is it’s early surrealistic nature and who better to comment on this but Mike Watt.

Sex, sin, heaven, hell that makes this trip an amusing joyride. Consider the song “blowing-it-out-both-ends-man” where Watt joyfully rants: “blow the flute become the flute there’s no sound in flutes! throat veins throbbin’ eyeballs crossin’”, as Watt and company play homage to the likes of Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

In shield-shouldered man, he fires off the words as if he is having a seizure in the corner as Tom Watson on guitar and Raul Morales drive it home.

The music on “hyphenated man” is quick and Minutemanesque at its finest. My understanding is that Watt went back and listened to the Minutemen for the first time in  a long while before writing this, and used D. Boon’s Telecaster so there is that element here.

What is very obvious from the works of Bosch as a moralizer is that Watt is doing the exact same thing, seeing their images and writing his own commentary. For me the key however would be standing beside Watt as he is making these observations.

Even though it was released last year in Japan and more recently in the states, its’ almost post-modern look at art criticism through an individual responsible for making music in the same vein is compelling. What seemed like a harmful first listen has inexplicably been on repeat as Mike Watt becomes an art history major and an enjoyable fun one at that.

Categories: Mike Watt, Music Tags:

The Baseball Project – High and Inside (Review)

April 14th, 2011 No comments

The Baseball Project – High and Inside (2 Stars out of 5)

The Baseball Project contains a lot of things that I like.

1)     Baseball

2)     Scott McCaughey – Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows

3)     Steve Wynn – Dream Syndicate

4)     Peter Buck – R.E.M.

5)     A previous album that I enjoyed

So why could I not get around this album?

I have made my thoughts known and will make them known again about great baseball songs. One of the greats, Steve Goodman wrote a couple songs about the Cubs, and yet many Cub fans have no idea who he is. He’s that guy that wrote “Go Cubs Go”, the Budweiser-gulping song written out of spite after Dallas Green, the then general manager called “A Dying Cub Fans Last Request” too depressing.

As a White Sox fan from the other side of the city, I have total respect for Steve Goodman. Goodman’s song sparks that innate aspect of what it means to be a true fan. And yes, it’s depressing sometimes. The “Go Cubs Go” fan isn’t allowed to boo the Cubs and have been successful in marketing the team as a non-baseball entity. “Go Cubs Go” is about as close to baseball as a rectal examination and wouldn’t be a song that I would want on an album.

Now the problem with the album of songs that are written by these boys is that they write a lot of depressing songs that seem to miss the heart of the matter.  They have almost been written in that “Go Cubs Go” mentality and when a couple baseball fans took romantic stories and somehow made them unromantic.

‘1976’ starts off as a name dropping song backed by a pretty average song. True, 1976 had it’s share of characters like Mark Fidrych, but the Baseball Project already legitimized themselves as baseball fans so there is no shock value.

But more often it would be songs like ‘Fair Weather Fans’ that make them reminiscent of the bands that I would catch outside US Cellular Field. Most of the time it would be a second rate Elvis Cover bands, in this case the song with its cheesy saxophone makes me rather get rickrolled.

‘Don’t Call Them Twinkies’? Of course I am going to call them the Twinkies. Craig Finn, from the Hold Steady guests on this track and somehow is able to fit the entire Twins history in four and a half minutes.  Maybe if I was a Twinkies fan I would appreciate it,  but it sounds more like something created by the Twinkies PR department rather than a rockstar.

‘Buckner’s Bolero’ is one of the few and far between tracks that describes the failures of the Red Sox rather than the blame that Bill Buckner received for his error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

‘Look Out Mom?’ – Is this a song that we are supposed to sing to? Here we have a song written about mom’s getting hit by foul balls: “Look out Mom! Look out Mom!” is very schlocky and you wonder if this song was written by the MLB Insurance Underwriters.

The album finally finds it’s way nearing the end of the album. It began to feel less like an album written by a band of baseball fans but rather Cub fans.  This was a huge disappointment for me as the follow-up was something that I was looking forward to.

Luckily Steve Goodman was not tarnished in the making of this album but I would consider that the makers consider his work if they plan on making a 3 album unless they are planning on calling it “Whiffed”.

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The Feelies – Here Before (Review)

April 13th, 2011 No comments

The Feelies – Here Before (4 Stars out of 5)

Well it’s only been 20 years or so since the last Feelies album and they have not missed a beat.

This band defines the term “Freaks and Geeks”.  They would appear to have been hanging out in Uncle Fred’s basement too long watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 marathons. They play the role of Napoleon Dynamite to a T once they get up onstage and jam. The laughs would turn to aws as Million and Mercer lull the fans to a frenzy with their dueling guitars. Demeski is behind the drumkit and Weckerman to his side playing weird percussive instruments and Brenda Sauter keeps these for musketeers in line with her bass.

The Feelies first album “Crazy Rhythms” was the album that I felt R.E.M.’s first two releases (Chronic Town, Murmur) were most inspired by. (As a sidenote, it was obvious that the band was inspired by their sound, as Peter Buck ended up producing their second release ‘The Good Earth’, but my statement is not a factual grab at what the band had been inspired by at that point but the aspects of ‘Crazy Rhythms’s that always stood out were the drums and guitars and I believe that to be the case on R.E.M.’s first two albums.)

They have never received the true accolades that they deserve but at the same time you wonder if they really want it. And as the 21st Century has approached there has been a welcome need to explore the back catalog of the Feelies to remind younger listeners their influence on the rock scene today.

As my second “Fanboy” review in a row, “The Feelies” feel just about as out of place as they did when they were on the scene.  Their interviews are scarce. Getting a response over a few words from Glenn Mercer is a miracle. Their demise in the 90’s was never from any personal strife from within the band but Bill Million being offered a job in Florida. And so it went as the rest of the members went their separate ways with their separate projects. Glenn Mercer began to bring it all back with the release of his solo album ‘Wheels in Motion’ that was aided in no small part to all the other members of the Feelies minus Bill Million.

‘Here Before’ feels like a retrospective; a reflective look back not just at rock and roll but at themselves. That might be the case for the band that opened up their ‘Crazy Rhythms’ about crazy youth with “The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness”. On ‘When You Know’ Mercer asks that question directly looking back at himself in their heyday. Were the antics of our youth silly or was their something greater and more important going on?

Glenn Mercer’s enunciation comes through clearer than ever on this release as if the lyrics also has a point. This might also be due to the fact that he understands that older fans don’t have the time to go through and figure them out for themselves.  But I also hear a confidence, a wise old sage that is willing to part with some advice as he returns as the band leader.

The most heartfelt song is the title track ‘Here Before’ where he makes his confessions.  There is a level of melancholy where he reminisces about being back in a band and you hear him question their lack of success back in the day commenting on how everything flown by them and it was never for a lack of effort. Mercer is not screaming the lyrics here, almost barely audible and definitely at his most sensitive moment.

Unlike some other bands that talk about getting older, the difference is that not only the perspectives of the band have changed but fans as well.  We realize that our ideological youth is often blinded to alternatives. This both feeds the process but hinders it as well.

This album is not retreading on their brilliant debut but feels more in line with Americana-like “The Good Earth”. What the Feelies do with their music is add enough Velvet touches to make it immune from sounding like any American rock band that sounds like they have been on the road too long.

On the song ‘On and On’ it’s the subtle percussion that drives the track, as Glenn Mercer reinvents Lou Reed and you are reminded why you love this band.

Understanding that the future of the Feelies is not one that will contain many albums, so we are given this brief moment in time where we can relive past glories with a band that is still at the top of their game.  When a band takes a 20 year hiatus and comes back with an album like this, it’s a reminder they have accomplished something that rarely occurs, a solid album that can still outperform bands half their age.

When I had started gathering up for this grade, I thought that a 4 star grade was being too generous but I question now whether it might be too low.

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Panda Bear – Tomboy (Review)

April 12th, 2011 No comments

Panda Bear – Tomboy (4.5 Stars out of 5)

I stare outside at the grayness and the shadows indoors being swept up in the reverberation of Lennox. As if it were my own person religious service, wandering through a finished Sagrada Familia or maybe it’s The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, there is a redefined approach to making classic music.

Maybe I will play the part of Lester Bangs and orgasm at the text written on the screen when talking about Panda Bear’s latest effort, ‘Tomboy’. Yes, I write this as a fan boy and yet us fanboys still need attention.

‘Tomboy’ is a euphoric experience that is, inspired more by Nirvana and the White Stripes rather than the loops of ‘Person Pitch’.  But what it tries to accomplish is wrap the sounds and tones from all musical spheres into one bundle. This album is as much a modern Gregorian Chant as it is Brian Wilson Pet Soundsgasm.

In reading some of the initial thoughts of the album, I came across several who felt the album was almost religious. It’s an album that might only be able to be reproduced in a live environment in a Gothic Cathedral, which is a predominant reason for his issues at Pitchfork and other festivals.

It’s also an album that needs the full attention of your navel. By the time that you finish gazing nonchalantly hearing the expansive effort that Noah Lennox has created you should want to hit the repeat button.

I would add that if you are listening to this album for the first time and are involved in cleaning your abode or are involved in any task outside of putting on headphones and staring out into the abyss then don’t listen to it. It would just be a complete and total waste of your time.   Check out a sunset by yourself, watch the ceiling fan move in it’s circular motions, stare at a caterpillar form a cocoon.

We can revel all we want in the sounds that Jimi Hendrix could make on the guitar.  A drummer like Keith Moon can be lauded for his speed and ferocity but at the end of the day these sounds are not as unique as the human voice.  Whether you are Bono, Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, the sounds are unique and adds something authentic to the recordings. And as I listen to Panda Bear’s latest effort “Tomboy”, I cannot help but get around the vocals. I do not find a certain amiable quality in his solo voice but the effects, reverberations and multiple tracks that make the music much warmer than

I think reviewers, even myself, using the Beach Boys as an influence on these recordings fails to realize a closer correlation to the crooners of the 60’s, as Lennox suggests in interviews.  But before you think you will hear ‘Luck by a Lady Tonight’, Lennox takes these influences and makes it his own.

Unlike bands like Destroyer, Dan Behar’s project that chooses to reproduce the sounds of the 80’s on his latest effort, Lennox doesn’t try to reproduce the sounds of the 60’s but rather make them influential in his effort.

Consider the opening track to “Tomboy”, ‘You Can Count On Me’. There is nothing very complex about this song in the lyrics, but backing this with an “Underwater Wall of Sound”, as the groups and layers of sounds emanate from within. The lyrics at the beginning of the song almost sound contradictory (“No you can’t count on me”) to what he is actually singing (“Know you can count on me”).

The title tracks efforts are aided by Spaceman 3 guru Sonic Boom (aka Peter Kember). My initial read of the track sounded out like a fucked up Syd Barrett solo album.  The starkness of the initial single released last year has been given plenty of bells and whistles to add some meat to it.

In NPR’s ‘All Songs Considered’ the discussion about the ‘Religious’ sound was discussed, as if Lennox had designed the album to be performed in a Church.  On some level his music is often reminiscent of listening to Gregorian Chant on songs like ‘Drone’.

The “Dance Track” off the album would have to be “Alsatian Darn”, which opens in the second half of the song into a free for all dance moment. Even Pandas need to dance along the stage.

The eventual comparisons will be made about this record compared to ‘Person Pitch’. ‘Person Pitch’ was an album that comes around once every 10 years.  ‘Tomboy’ might not match Person Pitch but succeeds in not trying to reproduce part 2. This is a more subtle and thoughtful piece that weaves it’s own vivid dream.

Imagine how music was thought years ago. These churches creating an immense soundscape as the sounds are reverberating throughout the stone structures going up to the heavens.  Music was a spiritual experience, something, with our MP3 players and ability to consume music at an overwhelming pace never get a moment to sit down and allow the music flow over your body.

Categories: Music, Panda Bear Tags:

Podcasts, Rips and Shreds of Words

April 1st, 2011 No comments

The first quarter of the new year is coming to a close and I thought I would give everyone a glimpse into some of the music that I have been listening to. I have put 2 podcasts together (scroll down below) , the first featuring music from 2011 and the second, music from prior years.

The first three months have been relatively tame in retrospect. There have been some notable releases, namely Radiohead’s ‘King of Limbs’ which is not featured in the podcasts below because I figured that my target audience has probably already read the Universal Sigh and coming up with conspiracy theories as to if and where there will be a second disc to the album.

The next three months however has some very appealing releases including the new album by Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), maker of quite possibly the best album of the 21st Century in ‘Person Pitch’.  He has emerged from the shadows of Animal Collective’s Avey Tare (Dave Portner) as quite possibly the best two visionaries in a band since the Beatles. 7 songs in various forms have already been released as parts of singles for his upcoming album “Tomboy” a much more intimate release than ‘Person Pitch”. The songs on “Tomboy” have been reportedly remastered by former Spacemen 3 member Sonic Boom (Peter Kember).

For ‘Person Pitch’ the music didn’t copy elements from the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds but reinvented it. While tape loops and mixers had been prominent in Pop Music, Lennox took the idea to an entirely new level as if the album had been created in front of his computer screen.  With the expectations being so high for this album, and the eventual delay in it’s release, there will be a hefty amount of fans that will see this release as a letdown. There is no 12 minute “Bros.” or “Comfy in Nautica”, which became instant classics the moment they made their way to the eardrums of fans.

My own favorite track so far has been ‘Alsatian Darn’, which opens up this albums a bit and gives fans a moment to groove on a hot summer evening.  I have included ‘Surfers Hymn’ from his most recent single release.

I think the real reason that the Animal Collective/Panda Bear/Avey Tare catalog has been so appealing is it’s insistence of avoiding the rather unappealing aspects of society.  Being plugged into the events surrounding us often wants us to also tune out.

For me, 2011 has been an odd year. It’s the first time that I have not purchased an R.E.M. album within at least a week of it’s release since Green came out in 1989. Featuring probably some of the worst vocals in memory and weakest lyrics, “Collapse Into Now” felt like a true “R.E.M. by Numbers” album, taking some of the sounds that made them popular years ago but as Greg Kot had mentioned, these sounds made me want to pick up the old albums and not the new ones.

I had finished reading Greg Kot’s ‘Ripped’ which just so happened to occur before SXSW started.

The corporate music industry for years had a much more powerful hold on what people listened to.  Realize that in the old days for someone to get heard, there needed to be a mechanism for that music to reach the fans.  They could read about it in print (Magazines, Newspapers, zines, .etc), they could listen/view it on radio and television and then could make that purchasing decision with (CD, LP, Cassette, .etc).

Greg Kot describes this scructure as well as the influence, albeit at times very dark, to show the relationship that Corporate Music could push music out to the masses.

In very simple terms I always amounted this to getting your single on the radio, your video on MTV and your face on Rolling Stone magazine before a major music release.  Kot goes into much more detail that this relationship was being controlled by promoters that had deep pockets, pushing out many of the independent music producers. It was not worth it for a small indie label to try to get their music on the radio, for the reason that it they were pretty much priced out.

However, looking at record companies and their challenges in the 90’s, we also have to look more closely at the maturation of the band.  A band that I have followed very closely for many years, R.E.M. is a prime example.

When R.E.M. released ‘Murmur’ in 1983 they became a darling of the critics. Their pop sound fueled by both punk and folksy Byrdsian-chords with equal amounts of Athens dance sound, were pushed by their label to go on tour with the ‘Go-Go’s’, also on the IRS label and declined that offer. They looked at their short summer jaunt with The Police in a negative light.

While the band had been very successful as a live band and used this mechanism to hone their sound, there lacked a certain maturity that they knew they were not ready for. It’s one thing playing in small clubs and pizza parlors and then all of a sudden opening for the Police in Shea Stadium.

R.E.M.’s time on IRS allowed them to slowly build into an act that by 1987 they were ready to make the jump to a bigger label, that would give them the distribution and resources necessary to make that jump.

If we make the jump to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, there became that rush to discover the next big scene and or gobble up and band that was in a current scene (See Seattle). Some said that Chicago would be that next big locale and what you saw was many labels taking risks on up-and-coming bands hoping for the big rewards later on.

If you end up buying low on the next big band to hit the planet and it ends up selling millions then talent scout that discovered that next big band is in for a hefty raise.   The problem, however, is that many of these bands like Veruca Salt (which I seem to remember Greg Kot discussing years ago in an article about an unsigned band from Chicago that was discovered at SXSW that never got a chance to mature) end up getting signed to large contracts and never lived up to expectations.

So while the record company was making bad decisions in certain cases trying to maximize their profits, the game was changing. The industry had always ignored the artists they put on their labels. Elvis Costello could voice his frustration about “Biting the hand that feeds me” in ‘Radio, Radio’ and could turn a blind eye to fans that constantly complained about the lack of diversity or ownership in radio, that was about to change.

The internet and the mp3 allowed for freedom from the corporate music machine and their music choices and over the last 15 years as well as the refusal of these labels to understand how the music industry has changed.  The process became more democratic. It became much easier to push your music out to international audiences simply by posting a song on a website. Similarly, leaks of albums could be downloaded and early reviews among fans communicating in forums, pointed others to what music to look out for. Wilco, for example, might have been screwed if ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ was made 10 years prior, but once it got leaked to the internet and fans concurred that the record company made an unwise decision by refusing to release the record, thinking it was not the hit record they expected, it became a game-changing moment.

Kot’s book serves as a reference point, pointing out the influence of numerous moments when we see this shift happening.

Greg Kot mentions ‘Radiohead’ on several occasions, introducing them with their stellar ‘Kid A’, an album that leaked before it’s release and in the meantime created a buzz among the fans for being a game changer. The album lacked everything that shaped the music industry before it, the hit single, the mainstream video. It’s buzz was created from fans doing essentially an illegal act, finding it on Napster or similar service and talking about it with other fans.  That only grew when the internet-based critic site Pitchfork gave the album a perfect 10.0 score at it’s release. It showed that the influence had shifted from mainstream sources over to independent sources and in the process asked many more ethical questions about this process about how music fans were obtaining their music.

The argument over illegal downloading of music is that it takes money away from the record company and the band.  The argument for downloading is that it allows for the fan to filter through what is good and bad and make his or her own determination of the bands and artists that they follow. Realize that the music environment is much different now than it was then. For some fans, downloading music allows them to test the waters so to speak for what band’s music is viable.

The label has argued that the individual downloading hundreds of albums should be paying for them and that is lost profits. On the flipside, would that individual purchase those albums outright? Most likely due to limited monetary resources, people do not have the budgets to purchase every album they are downloading.

The fan that is discovering a new band is most likely passing that information onto other fans and so forth. For this creates the buzz.

The argument against the Kid A formula and of course later on with ‘In Rainbows’ –Pay as you wish scheme is that Radiohead was already one of the largest acts of the globe.  The good graces of the fans were on the backs of the corporate music world that supported them before this. At the same time, Radiohead claimed that they made more money on the In Rainbows release than on any other. By kicking out the middleman, their profits soared.

Kot does not bring forth a formula for the upstart band or for any band for that matter.  His succession of acts covered, (Bright Eyes, Wilco, Death Cab For Cutie and Prince) will become Turn Back the Clock moments.

The bigger question of course is “What’s Next?”. Kot theorizes that music is still a powerful enough mechanism that live music is still an integral part of the music industry.  It will be difficult for the indie upstart band to make a profit if their music is created in front of a computer screen and cannot perform live.

There is still something magical about the venue, the nuances of a lead singer or the extended solo or medley that captivates an audience.  There is a very disturbing situation when a band becomes either complacent or incompetent live. I would look currently at some of my favorite bands at the moment and relate the idea that it’s powerful live performances become instant Tweets or Facebook messages.

So ultimately, it becomes the fan that becomes your best marketing tool.

And on that note, I will get to the music below.

Podcast 1


  1. Braids – Lemonade
  2. Panda Bear – Surfer’s Hymn
  3. James Blake – Limit to Your Love
  4. PJ Harvey – The Glorious Land
  5. Wire – Two Minutes
  6. Yuck – Georgia
  7. Smith Westerns – Imagine Pt. 3
  8. Clint Eastwood – Sweet Sweet Matilda
  9. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

10. Mogwai – Mexican Grand Prix

11. Anna Calvi – First We Kiss

12. Cut Copy – Where I’m Going

13. Destroyer – Savage Night At the Opera

14. The Joy Formidable – The Everchanging Spectrum Of a Lie

Podcast #2

  1. Neutral Milk Hotel – Song Against Sex
  2. Neutral Milk Hotel – You’ve Passed
  3. Neutral Milk Hotel – Someone is Waiting
  4. Spacemen 3 – Walkin’ With Jesus
  5. The Kinks – Big Sky
  6. Unrest – Cherry Cream On
  7. Wire – I Am The Fly
  8. The Soft Moon – Breathe The Fire
  9. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Over and Over

10. Husker Du – Terms of Psychic Warfare

11. The Rolling Stones – Sway

12. Sic Alps – Cement Surfboard

13. The Specials – Do the Dog

14. Olivia Tremor Control – I Have Been Floated

15. LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge

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