Crystal Castles. Amnesty (I). Under the Radar Magazine
August 17, 2016
It's hard to figure out how to feel about music when you don't know how you feel about the people making it. When an artist's image is in disrepute and integrity in question, does this preclude true appreciation of the work he or she creates? Sometimes, knowing too much about the person behind the canvass taints the viewing of it. Then there are those whose controversial behavior breeds intrigue, making them, and so too their art, more critically fascinating.
Until recently, the duo that was Crystal Castles toed that line between mysteriously captivating and plain irreverent, with Ethan Kath looming in disturbing presence behind keyboards and Alice Glass' sharpened assault vocals daring you to come closer. The darkly hypnotic sound profile touched that area of morbid curiosity and pent up carnality, probably the same stimulus zone that makes us watch horror flicks, while at once making you want to pounce and sway with delirious abandon. Whatever their reputed deviances or outward affronts, their music's provocative power was undeniable.
Then came the rather bitter split of the two, followed by a period of publicized discord which cast a heavier shadow on Kath, making him a villain to many. It seems that in his case, the status has only heightened the intrigue in the latest Crystal Castles album, Amnesty (I), that reveals Kath picking up where the band had left off on 2012's (III) and moving forward with new frontwoman, Edith Frances.
Like him or hate him, Kath can compose stirring electro-maniacal rhythms like no one's business. And Frances captures and carries the tortured exclamation of the first three Crystal Castles albums with conviction. "Femen" lures you into the drama like a true intro track, setting you up with clenched fists for what's to come. By and large, Amnesty (I) stalks in the familiar Crystal Castles realm of the possessed children of God, lashing out. That place can feel uninviting during "Concrete," which tests the threshold of oppressive and induces the same anxious discomfort of similar past barrages. And yet "Char" and "Ornament" feel like siren calls to the swerve to '80s and '90s electro and neo-soul styles, which introduce groovier tempos that contrast nicely with the more frenetic and menacing attacks. This is where Frances distinguishes her vocal range from Glass', with cold and sexy whispers of warning. In "Kept," Kath strikes the perfect balance once nailed on hits "Untrust Us" and "Vanished" between entrancing and unsettling. It's a track that also lends a little credence to his claim that the most popular Crystal Castles tracks of the past didn't have Glass' imprint. Notwithstanding the stutter stepping, southern hip-hop leaners "Sadist" and "Chloroform"-which add somewhat banal dimension-the Crystal Castles archetype has been protected and advanced. It seems that in this case, quality comes through without much interference from questionable character. (www.crystalcastles.com)
Author Rating: 7/10
Brendan Canning. Home Wrecking Years. Under the Radar
August 11, 2016
When "Book It to Fresno" blasts off to open Brendan Canning's return to a full band affair you realize how dearly Broken Social Scene has been missed in recent years. There was always an exuberance in the playing of the pioneering mega group from Canada, a harmonious lift from a convergence of musical kinfolk that championed inclusiveness more than a showcasing of any one talent. As co-founder, Canning helped cultivate an organic development of songs that gleaned from life's eye-opening and formative experiences, translating that into themes to rock out to, and bring people together with. Home Wrecking Years is the return to that pure, unified pursuit of ensemble bliss.
The musicians assembled for Broken Social Scene, always a fluid circulation in a sprawling Metro-Canadian music community, all have an honest to goodness blast in generating rock waves. Past BSS members Sam Goldberg and Justin Peroff are in the fold here, along with The Stills' Liam O'Neil. Heights of outpour are achieved once more through collective harnessing of all energies and what is evident is Canning's proclivity to dive into thrusting movements of instrumentation that still remain in a melodic contour to the tune. This rushes forth in the climatic bursts of standouts "Vibration Walls" and "Nashville Late Pass." There's also the downward shift from that kind of intoxicating sweep, into vintage Santa Monica Beach breezers that recall past Broken Social sidetracks "Pacific Theme" and "Swimmers." The seductiveness of those daydreams drops off this time in "Keystone Dealers," while "Work Out in the Wash" is a R&B/soul influenced but uninspired number that points to nothing more than variety. It really would have been fine for Canning to have stayed in full band tilt the whole time, and the energy is recovered when "Money Mark" drives through with the irresistible gravity of its bassline. And still, you're pleasantly reminded of the softer reflections also once visited in how "Sleeping Birds Like Lasers" rekindles the wistful magic of "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl."
The beloved trademarks of Broken Social Scene surface throughout in the extended background horn lines that make your heart swell a little, the driving bass that give a bounce to your sway, the cymbals that have just the right amount of clash, and of course, the angelic supporting vocals that enchant a song in the way Leslie Feist, Amy Millan, and Emily Haines used to. This actually becomes quite a poignantly nostalgic listen because you remember more restless times of your more resilient ages when Broken Social Scene gave you anthems to embrace and vibes that gave anyone in listening range an overall boost. (
Author Rating: 7/10
Mitski - Music Hall of Williamsburg. July 27, 2016
In the unassuming manner that parallels the approach to her craft, Mitski Miyawaki took the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg with just her trusty guitar and drummer. From the sight of the packed audience floor of onlookers pressing tightly towards the front, you would think some enthralling spectacle was about to begin, yet the rapt attraction was for a lone voice that has quietly become a sensation in the indie music universe. The quaver of that voice, tenderly riding the smartly arranged songs she has written, has the aesthetic of nimbly skimming above the babbles and currents of her guitar, like a darting river bird just above the surface of the water. It also reveals the raw emotional investment in the conception of the lyrics it delivers, lyrics that carry things from parts of self that don’t come out in the daylight, in a voice that is speaking to people in a manner transparently identifiable and profound.
Such have been the characteristics linked to the substance of her song since Mitski wrote her first two albums as music school projects. Now, with her new album Puberty 2, a personal tour de force that has everyone gushing, the reach of that songwriting has extended, digging its grab into listeners. There’s irony in the sense received that the meaning she derives from what she plays may be greater in isolation, in an empty room and as a means to cope. But Mitski’s first address of the crowd debunked this notion. “Thank you for letting my music be part of your lives...Thank you for giving my music meaning.”
Over steady feedback buzz running in the background, Mitski coursed through quick set of well chosen songs that got right to the point of her purpose. It was a reminder that amidst all of the common hoopla of live performance, the bells and whistles of display and texture and atmosphere building, all you may really need is singular emotion on a stage, communicated through a telepathic syncing of guitar and drum pattern. Mitski displayed that engaging mixture of vulnerability with bad ass posturing, at one point letting her hair down as the torment of her expression reached its peak. Though these were songs distinctly from a young woman’s perspective, all in attendance were equally transfixed, subdued by the power of songwriting that stands on its own. Mitski is Sharon Van Etten with bruised elbows, inspiring through resilient defiance in song.
Deakin. Sleep Cycle. Under the Radar
July 13, 2016
Within the moonlit sphere fashioned byAnimal Collective's Josh Gibb in this mini solo album as Deakin, his particular influence on that group's one of a kind sound becomes more understood. A midnight stroll through six vignettes rekindles effervescent orchestrations from the Animal Collective records he surfaced for, such as Feels, and makes his absence from their most recentPainting With more recognizable. Even an earlier Animal Collective vibe predating Deakin's input is strung in with the panoramas of field recordings and rolling currents of funneled out loops.
Deakin seems to tap into and summon the pulsations of nature, basing his assembly on them. Organically composed and hovering in the astral, Sleep Cycle is an escape with the illusory contours of a dream.
Sometimes it's nice to be kindly invited into listening. There's a forward pace that's not hurried, providing time to stop and smell the flowers. And because of delicate tonality and rhythmic subtlety, you acclimate to it as though wading through shin deep waters. These are nocturnal walks and the album title might suggest that it came together during insomniac hours. There's even a stop along the path for a Native American like chant towards the stars on "Shadow Mine."
This little record is like found money for old school Animal Collective fans and frolics in the visceral abandon and trance expressionism that characterized the band from the start. With less fanfare than his companions Panda Bear and Avey Tare, Deakin has put out a solo record of understated eloquence.
Author Rating: 7.5/10
Bat For Lashes. The Bride. Under the Radar
July 5, 2016
Puzzlement gives way to fascination when absorbing Natasha Khan's new album as Bat For Lashes. The unambiguous titles of the album, The Bride, and opening track, "I Do," lead you to think that maybe Khan devoted an entire project to the subject of her own marriage. Always having kept her romantic life private, this would have been an about face of transparency. The album is in fact an allegorical soundtrack to Khan's own story about the fatal car crash of a groom on his way to his wedding and the world of aftershock that besets the bride. Along with a short film that premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and the written text of the story are theatrical performances set in churches in select locations. The ambitiously creative leap is a culmination of sorts from a winding path of the heroines of Khan's songwriting, whose encounters have acquainted them with love's many transcendent attributes and trappings. The theme surrounds how tragedy upends an occasion with the sole purpose of honoring love and togetherness, abruptly forcing someone to process the devastation of sudden incomprehensible loss. In this respect it is intended to be absorbed as a whole—something of a vanishing experience in this on-the-go era of downloading and playlists.
Khan is like predecessors Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush, with a kind of voice that floats in on a breeze and dances up and down on its current in the manner of a seagull. When her voice appears there's often a feeling of surrender and immersion in the setting. As with past Bat For Lashes releases, wide orchestral watercolor brush strokes are her friend, providing ethereality to underpin her vocal presence. "Land's End," which along with its adjoining chapter, "If I Knew," stand on their own, independently from their place in the storyline, on the merits of their beauty alone. The peak of her artistry is her ability to bring home existential gravitas through impassioned lift in her register. Her ways of projecting emotion have always been a distinguishing characteristic.
The closer "I Will Love Again" flows to the steady rhythm of a heart still beating, an earnest declaration of coming to terms with the loss of something that can never truly be replaced, galvanized by an undaunted clarity of someone who's made the decision not to be taken under. At this conclusion, the essential theme of the project emerges as a contextualization of all of the stages and manifestations of romantic love. With this reading, The Bride can be understood as a narrative vehicle of the full spectrum of the human condition of amorous experience.
Author Rating: 7.5/10
Psychic Ills . Inner Journey Out . Other Music
June 13, 2016
From the first moments of album opener "Back to You," with its pastoral strings and accordion consonance, there is an inviting warmth that flows throughout Psychic Ills' newest release. On these suntanned explorations, the Ills continue to exhibit a careful handle on distilling the essence of rock's bluesy, soul-drenched origins.
Inner Journey Out has all the best qualities of blissfully nostalgic retro-art, fashioned after the neo-psychedelia that emerged in the '80s and '90s. The vibe here reinforces the Ills as the sound spirit animal of the Brian Jonestown Massacre or even Spacemen 3, with muffled organs, blues electric guitar, fuzzy bass, and drums and cymbals that pop off dust. To round out the scenery, Tres Warren and Elizabeth Hart summon tenderly placed country slide guitar and softly spoken saxophone in judicious measure.
A thorough affair at 14 songs deep, this release sees the now veteran NYC tandem stepping out from the musty caves where campfires had burned on 2011's Hazed Dream, and pouring this offering out like a barrel mellowed expression of 2013's One Track Mind. For broadening horizon, cuts like "New Mantra," "Hazel Green" and "Rah Wah Wah" go on drives into the desert dusk air, taking a nice gander at their surroundings. Even further, seasoning of song structure is found on "Another Change," a gem of charm where soul-gospel back-up singers lend spirited accentuation. And during "I Don't Mind," Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval shows up to duet with Warren.
A lean-back-and-put-your-boots-up vibration carries throughout Inner Journey Out, and the record ambles and saunters when it's up on its feet. As it fills the room and your ears, there is the continuous pleasant presence of listening to a sleeper track off of a familiar record from your youth -- one your older brother had in his milkcrate. When a sub-genre of music has been cultivated through drugs, sweat and fears and winds up gathering a generation of daydreamers, you can only hope to find capable hands to pass it to in generations going forward. The Psychic Ills can carry the torch.
Car Seat Headrest . Teens of Denial . Under The Radar Magazine
May 06, 2016
Will Toledo, the young creator of Car Seat Headrest, used to prefer anonymity, releasing 11 self-recorded albums on Bandcamp without pretense or assignation of image. His identification with slacker youth trying to find something meaningful to grab onto has gradually made him one of their emissaries. So, with a confidence garnered from their endorsement, not to mention an ever-widening appeal, Toledo took his game up a few notches to announce himself. Teens of Denial is Headrest's first full-band studio album and the results are fantastic.
Managing an impressive balancing act of borrowing from '90s indie rock majesty without sounding derivative, Toledo issues forth convincingly, dropping tasteful odes to the figures of his inspiration. On one track he takes turns channeling Doug Martsch and Brandon Flowers, while on another he leads with his best Frank Black imitation before closing with a glee-inducing Benjamin Orr cover. Other welcome references are to Stephen Malkmus, Julian Casablancas, and Weezer, and each song grips you with the exuberance of something alive and fresh.
Supplanting the hazy radio qualities of his DIY endeavors, a bold palette of past-era pop melody splashes all overTeens of Denial, which is also mixed beautifully, utilizing just enough restraint on instrumental reverb for the parts to hug one another. It's evident that there was a savvy production hand on this one (Steve Fisk produced the album). Even with the edges sanded, all of the jangly spontaneity that colored last year's prequel, Teens of Style, rips through the surface. Toledo has also dropped the megaphone, introducing a surprisingly dulcet tenor.
Some albums transcend simply by giving you something to groove to, in whichever way the feeling strikes. They can be portals to an atmosphere of youthful ennui that we've all encountered somehow, somewhere. On this one, Toledo speaks for and to the disaffected ones shuffling along between adolescence and adulthood, kicking about the neighborhood to avoid home life and hiding out in their basements and garages when they can't. That tangibility is made even greater by the hooks and choruses of songs that hang around in your ears well after the needle slips. (www.carseatheadrest.bandcamp.com)
Author Rating: 8.5/10
Wolf Parade - Bowery Ballroom. May 20, 2016
There have been few indie rock groups as prolific as Wolf Parade. Beginning more than a decade ago with 2005’s bellowing and brilliant Apologies to the Queen Mary and streaming outward from the original members, who never altered, have been various groups and projects all making profound marks of their own. It’s fun to see eyebrows raise when you tell people that record they’re really digging comes from one of the original Wolf Parade members. Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, who share vocal and writing duties, counterbalance each other, completing a potent yin and yang. The former is a spell-casting, poetic songwriter, part Count Dracula, part maestro magician on the keys. The latter, a throwback rock and roller, who shreds guitar in the manner of timeless axe wielders—the type to rock a tank top and a tat of his girl’s name.
Band members feeling the pull of independent musical pursuits, Wolf Parade announced an indefinite hiatus in 2010, leaving a black hole in the alternative-rock universe. Now, perhaps fulfilled from their own endeavors and maybe feeling how much they’ve been missed—while also missing one another—they’ve come back together to a resounding five sold-out appearances at The Bowery Ballroom. The great thing about a reunion show is that the audience tends to be filled with devoted followers, many of whom are coiled like a spring, waiting to sing along and flail about to whatever specially picked fruits that make that evening’s set list. The collective electric buzz of anticipation was rewarded on Friday night with an array of crowd-rousing songs, including “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son,” “Language City,” “Grounds for Divorce,” “Oh You, Old Thing,” “Soldier’s Grin” and “I’ll Believe in Anything.”
Before that last number, Krug admitted that at one time the song was dead to him. “Then we played it the other night … it’s alive again.” That it certainly was, and its life was injected into the packed room, some revelers returning to the mosh mode of years past, one of whom had seen Wolf Parade nineteen times and was covered in tattoos of their lyrics— another had run into Boeckner outside of the venue on the street just before the show, and in exchange for a well wishes had been made the guitarist’s guest. Everyone seemed to have a story, and all of them had come to see one of their favorite bands return to play paint-peeling rock with gusto. And for five nights, their universe was made whole again. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly
Mark Pritchard . Under the Sun . Other Music NYC
May 13, 2013
On a week where two of the most anticipated releases came from Great Britain, native Englishman Mark Pritchard pulls you out of the parade hailing the masterpieces of Radiohead and James Blake (both only available as downloads at this moment) and down a side street leading to an alternate world of fantastic design. After a series of EPs that flaunted his chops in the gridiron of drum 'n' bass and grime, Pritchard took a detour over the past couple of years and found an introspective cove of creation to fabricate the cerebral mediums of Under the Sun. The compositions both call for imagery to accompany them (a summons satisfied in his current video installation for Red Bull Studios in New York) and creates its own. The word "cinematic" has almost become a default term used to describe boundary-stretching electronic arrangements, but it truly applies to Pritchard’s sound tapestries.
Meditations like "Where Do They Go, The Butterflies" and "Ems" find Pritchard as a snake tamer of different frequencies, unspooling them into his pastures and letting them graze and circulate. Thom Yorke plays the charmer in step with the spellbinding flutes on "Beautiful People," a guest appearance that couldn't have been timed any better. Right on the heels of his group's gorgeous work of art, Yorke's transfixing falsetto forms an impeccable synergy with Pritchard's buoyant production. Under the Sun is a refreshing pivot for the producer upon which a case can be made that his most evocative work is only just getting going. Simultaneously subduing and stimulating, this is electro-ambience of high order and prime listening for those in need of a little sonic liberation.
James Blake . The Colour in Anything . Under The Radar Magazine
May 13, 2016
When I first heard James Blake's voice through his "Wilhelm Scream," I pictured someone altogether different from a shy young lad with a blushing smile. I'm pretty sure everyone did. His computerized cries sounded of weathered experience and the quiet torment of someone who's seen more than he's wanted to. He sang as if possessed by ghosts of souls long forgotten, seeming to carry forward their yearning calls to be heard again. But Blake was simply a young man barely removed from adolescence, alone at his console, conceiving an electromagnetic vacuum for his burgeoning romanticism to dwell. He let you in on thoughts that echoed in a world of shadow and shade, allowing for the musical space for his expressions to hover and linger, inviting listeners to explore it as he had done.
There have been many followers into those spaces found in Blake's creative shelter and on his third album he has become an assured and confident tour guide. He has discovered them anew from the shift in perspective that comes with age and found fresh shades and ranges of the color within its lines. The Colour in Anything doesn't show a dramatic shift in his surroundings, but more an expansion of its boundaries.
Evidence of maturation is the instinctive angle to take on any closely following work from an artist introduced as a precocious talent. The evidence here doesn't jump out at you, mainly because it doesn't constitute a bold leap. The growth is more suggestive than pronounced, and is found in the details. Tunnels of minimalism have opened up into canyons of dimension, as on "Always," and Blake's astonishing vocal range takes on a variety of forms throughout, thrown in a field of distances between foreground and background. The bring-you-to-your-knees piano ballad "Love Me in Whatever Way" demonstrates the full vocal and lyrical bloom, with his refrain of "Tell me when I have to go and then love me there" indicating an emotional maturity along with his broadening production reach. It seems Blake has emerged from his shelter to take a few strolls around the block.
In an era of 9-12 track albums, The Colour in Anything comes in at 17 songs and the amount invites you to explore and absorb at random, offering moods and tempos beyond just the ruminative and forlorn. "I Hope My Life" displays something you've always admired from Blake in his willingness to stick with the momentum of a house groove once he's gotten it rolling and "Two Men Down" bounces to an acoustic guitar strum new to his repertoire, striding onto a plateau with the feel of something off of OutKast's The Love Below.
The pulse of The Colour in Anything continues to beat for the soulful searchers but announces an emergence for Blake, turning an inward gaze outwards and upwards. Over its lengthy course there are moments where you wish he would pick things up a bit and lean in more fully to his ambition (like on the Bon Iver duet "I Need a Forest Fire"), but the ambition is unmistakable nonetheless. There is no doubt further ground to cover with Blake, but for now, take in the new scenery. (www.jamesblakemusic.com)
Author rating: 8/10
M83 . Junk . Under The Radar Magazine
April 8, 2016
It's courageous to eschew an artistic style that brought professional notoriety and the stamp of being a trendsetter. This was the deliberate choice of Anthony Gonzalez on Junk, M83's first studio album since the widely acclaimed, electro-pop monument Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. The commercial success of that album afforded Gonzalez the luxury of time to explore passion projects and contemplate a direction that felt personally fulfilling, if not opportunistic. With an assortment of tracks that may confound his followers, Gonzalez has returned from hiatus, applying his proclivity for sonic grandeur to his own iterations of the synthesized kitsch so pervasive throughout the '70s and '80s.
Not simply a calculated departure for the sake of eluding formula, Junk is a thematic odyssey for Gonzalez, a nostalgic revisiting of a more innocent stage of personal interaction with pop cultural trends. During a time when a tidal shift occurred toward the electronic simulation and amplification of musical instruments, new sub-genres of smooth jazz, soft rock, space disco, and New Wave inundated the programming of easy listening radio, and also supplied the gaudy harmonic soundtracks to low-brow, low budget entertainment in film and television. An overzealousness about the newly accessible ultra clear sound realms made possible by nascent technologies gave premature birth to an entire era of music that nowadays is derided for its hyper sentimental tackiness, yet also viewed with endearment and amusement for its unabashed flamboyance.
This is the conceptual territory of Junk, a title referring to the disposability of music made more with surface rather than substance in mind. With retro-expressionistic assistance from the likes of Steve Vai and Beck along with vocals by Mai Lan and Susanne Sundfør that fit the contextual vibe, the album fully embraces the aesthetics of '70s and '80s era pop excess. The follow-through in exploring all its manifestations is what makes listening toJunk so utterly enjoyable. Through examples of sappy balladry, daytime TV and B-movie theme music, and bubblegum pop disco recreations, Gonzalez indulges in an oft-disavowed musical zeitgeist, imbuing it with the substance it always seemed to be missing.
With Junk, Anthony Gonzalez challenges the expectations of the devotees of past M83 projects, guiding them to embellished fabrications of the follies of pop's past. After some period of acclimation, they might find the surfaces and textures of satin, glitter, and pink bubbles to be quite accommodating. (www.ilovem83.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
Oneohtrix Point Never . Garden of Delete . Other Music NYC
November 12, 2015
Daniel Lopatin's musical title, Oneohtrix Point Never, is an obscurity of language and identity. It's one that seems appropriate for an artist whose history of electronic works have confronted conventional and universal musical languages with alternate interpretation, deconstructing familiar paradigms of arrangement and then reforming the elements into what becomes his own lexicon of sound. Like his predecessors of experimental realms -- Klaus Schulze and John Cage come to mind -- Lopatin has always been interested in reinvestigating norms and treating composition as instinctive creation within auditory space. With the technically advanced tools of sound production and manipulation, Lopatine's Oneohtrix Point Never discography has channeled the radical spirit of experimental originators to offer modern abstract pastiches that have pushed the boundaries of ambient terrain, each track serving as a glimpse into imagined, cerebrally inhabited worlds.
OPN's new album, Garden of Delete, is an evolution in this chain -- an expansion of the genetic capacity of the substance that forms his music, rather than a mutation of it. The adventurousness of reaching for intriguing textures and dropping them into a space to form natural patterns that mingle together is still at the core of his production. What stands out on Garden of Delete is an articulation of a musical language with which he has developed fluency. Earlier work heard on releases such as 2011's Replica and 2012's Rifts explored the boundaries of auditory receptiveness with a "let's see how this unfolds" curiosity, some pieces starting out as rolls of sonic fabric, unraveled on track and left to fall however the current flowed in the moment. While this refreshing spontaneity is delightfully still present in Garden, Lopatin's hand has become more assured, revealing a sense of belonging in a habitat he has become more familiar with. Where once he poked his head into the doorway, he is now charging through it. Tracks like "Sticky Drama" are an announcement of this progression, bounding out at you with style and structure that nods towards pop R&B, before abruptly shifting into a patch of rapid-pulse machine drums, affirming Lopatin's aversion to generic song structure. Moments like "Mutant Standard" and "I Bite Through it" also display the ever-present reluctance to commit to a continuous progression in his music, choosing instead to hop off trail at any given moment, into the thicket, introducing unexpected yet complementary elements that reconfigure the whole. With Garden, however, there's more decisiveness than in the past, confidence amidst the chaos.
Essentially, the stylistic themes and ambitious inventiveness that distinguishes Oneohtrix Point Never are alive and well in Garden of Delete, and will be familiar to those that have taken notice of Lopatin's individuality. The music is still formed with an observation of the movement and motion of sound in space more than with its purpose and destination. Even with recognizable expansion of Lopatin's scope into the soulful territory traversed by contemporaries like Burial and Flying Lotus, with splashes and shadings of R&B and jazz fusion, the unpredictability and whimsy are manifest. Lopatin forages, collects and patches in, never allowing you to get too familiar with any one work before he switches channels. He taps into sonic pipelines, filling buckets and pouring them out to watch how the streams form, touching the waters and creating ripples of his own conformity. (November 12, 2015)
Tobias Jesso Jr. - Music Hall of Williamsburg. October 14, 2015
If you’d only ever heard Tobias Jesso Jr.’s debut album, Goon, without knowing anything more about him, you might walk into his show expecting to find a young sentimentalist alone at his piano, eyes closed and submersed in the well of emotions that feed his personal songwriting and soul-searching. Last night, Jesso’s first of two sold-out appearances at Music Hall of Williamsburg, proved to be an altogether more lively and interactive affair. With unexpected showmanship bolstered by the backing of Duk’s jazz hall stylings, Jesso’s performance felt like a coming-out party, quickly dispelling the notion that anyone was there to quietly observe a recital from a fellow working out the perplexities of being a romantic through his sincere ballads.
To begin things in this tone, Duk launched into a swinging ragtime introduction from the balcony to the crowd’s delighted surprise. When they made their way down to the stage to play the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song as Jesso’s entrance, the communal sense of gleeful anticipation was established, a climate of design no doubt for a performer intent on showing that—antithetical to his songwriting themes of pained rumination and heartache—fun could be had in its sharing. Jovial from the outset, the singer-songwriter led off with his most upbeat song, “Crocodile Tears.”, wittily adding that those who had shown up looking for a party would have to be satisfied with that. The good mood carried through the entire evening, with Jesso adding affable banter between each song, keeping everyone loose and laughing. And while his goofball demeanor kept things from becoming too wistful, fans of his gentle confessions on love and life were not misled. Jesso is clearly charmed by the idea that people connect his songwriting to something profound in their own lives, so he delivered tunes like “Without You” and “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” like manifestos of sincerity, and that mixture of the happiness of being present with the identification of his pleas of emotional recognition was evidenced by a crowd of swaying individuals, arms draped over the shoulders of one another.
There are times when people just want to latch onto expression not dressed up in irony and metaphor—something that’s just plain heart-on-sleeve sentiment that any human can identify with, regardless of depth of insight. And what they respond to in Jesso is what they find in an endearing gesture, self-effacing and disarming. So his gentle, pleading voice and classic song structure exist in a way that you come across by pleasant happenstance, and soak in for a spell. Because at his core, Tobias Jesso Jr. is just a (very tall) guy with a piano and a mop of curls, like the kid in school who sat alone drawing in the corner. And performances like last night’s, with its infusion of levity and charisma, add dimension to the character behind the simple songs of heartfelt humanity.
The War On Drugs - Radio City Music Hall. October 8, 2015
Youth Lagoon - Rough Trade. September 21, 2015
The new Youth Lagoon album unfolds like an installment of a memoir series, a coming of age story told in parts with Trevor Powers as the protagonist. Earlier on in the story - introduced with the boyish, charming innocence of “The Year of Hibernation” in 2011, followed by the restless dreaminess of “Wondrous Bughouse” - we find our young character peeking his head out into the world from a safe hiding place, testing out his imagination and coloring it with his magical keys. The latest installment about to be released, “Savage Hills Ballroom” was unveiled last night at Rough Trade, NYC, given an early recital in its entirety, by Trevor, and his gang of supporting players. We now see the youth forming into maturity, the timid young lad turning into a bold hero.
With pleading confessions of existence, each song of the new album was played, each beginning as a new chapter, with its own dramatic arc. The narrative progressed with twists and turns, climactic bursts punctuating long carefully played, thoughtful passages, all emboldened by fluid and momentous performance. Powers has had the benefit, and the scarring, of experiences that now reveal an earnest acceptance of some of the loss of his innocence. Even an austerity has begun to emerge. “The Knower” and “Rotten Human” share some of this loss of bliss and greeting of unfortunate reality. And still, hope trumps discouragement in the triumphant “Highway Patrol Stun Gun” - while "Free Me" bursts outward as an announcement of identity. Through it all, there was still room to drift into quiet introspection with the pastoral “Doll’s Estate”, played in piano key with arresting virtuosity. It was a tale told as a daring adventure, with Powers providing the plot mixed with vehemence and vulnerability.
We have followed the growth of Trevor Powers from Youth Lagoon’s genesis and the musical composition and arrangement have developed right along with his own mental and emotional progression. “Savage Hills Ballroom” has an ambition of theme and structure not yet seen in Youth Lagoon, resembling the full spectrum, compositional expanse of Sufjan Stevens during his state tribute albums, and it was delivered with brash confidence. To be sure, everyone there will be anxious to see what lies in store for Youth Lagoon down the road, as the journey continues.
Mac Demarco - Bowery Ballroom. August 17, 2015
The Mac Demarco phenomenon is peaking. Perhaps the strongest indication of this is the string of consecutive sold-out New York City dates this week to start his new tour, kicking off last night at Bowery Ballroom. Demarco’s continuously widening appeal is thanks to the combination of the accessible substance of his music along with the quirky affability of the personality behind it. In harmonious proportion, there is his feel good songwriting - which recalls and revitalizes the groovy sound and soulful balladry of 70’s era bands like Steely Dan, Paul Simon and Modern Lovers - and the oddly beguiling character whose earnest eccentricity makes him curiously relatable. Add to this the gentle, playful voice you love to sing along with and what seems to be an innately effortless musicianship, and you have an artist currently setting his own trend, inviting happy followers to join in.
Although Demarco was a little subdued by an unfortunately timed cold, the disarming charm that has ignited his popularity was on display and it was overwhelmingly clear that everyone in the room was very happy to be there. This seems to be a common response to Mac, shared by adoring fans and musical contemporaries alike. Smiles on faces and shimmying of bodies infectiously spread through one of New York’s most intimate venues and after a little vocal/guitar warm-up to engage the crowd, the show got going with the clutch-popping opening tune, “The way you'd love her.” off his just released album, Another One. The room was kept bubbling with the irresistibly catchy “Salad Days” and “Ode to Viceroy” before he deftly shifted into breezier gems like "Another one", which poured out in slow motion. All were delivered with his endearing, stoney grinned approaches towards the mic a la Jonathan Richman. “I pretty much only write love songs”, confessed Demarco, and many of his new ones have already found their way into the heads of fans, who sang along as if they were classic favorites. Demarco has a knack for touching on what makes you listen to music in the first place: to feel giddy and open. His verses hook you with steady, easy rhythm and delightful instrumentation and then give way to choruses that are like sun baths, walking outside for the first time on a glorious day.
“I’ve been waiting for her” swung around like Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing”, showing yet another nod to an era of sound that Demarco seems to tap into at will. Distinctly good vibes permeated the evening, and the set list, drawing from from all of his albums, was interspersed with surprising and exhilarating covers, which included an interlude of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and a raucous encore of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, setting off the room into a moshing frenzy - a counterintuitive ritual at Demarco shows. It was like one big musical hangout, brought to a climax when Demarco leapt out into the crowd of supportive arms, which escorted him over to the balcony, then boosted him up to it, so he could climb up to kiss his longtime girlfriend. It was all like something out of a dorky school play version of Romeo & Juliet.
This is the thing with Mac Demarco. He makes you feel at ease by doing things that you would want to do, giggling along the way. Perhaps the essence of his appeal has to do with the reassuring vibe he puts out to the average dude, who sees that someone is living a life of his own and making simple, good music without pretension or artifice. Demarco is identifiable to all sorts, and that’s why people adore him. (Reedit)
The Pixies - Beacon Theatre. May 26, 2015
The settings in which we experience music can enhance and shape its impact. Listening then becomes a whole-body, visceral involvement, calling on all the senses. The places where we listen—cars, bedrooms, chambers of performance—affect the atmosphere and provide the scenic backdrop for our dances. Putting on the Pixies can provoke the kind of primal physical abandon normally associated with basements, backyard keggers and beach partying, so when this legendary band took the stage of the hallowed and glorious Beacon Theatre on Tuesday night, the reverence of the landmark space temporarily contained the energy that felt at some point would have to spill out into the aisles. Lunging in with the anguished surf ’n’ turf punk rock that is exclusively theirs, Pixies abruptly ignited the collective mood of anticipation, transforming the famed venue into a ceremonial grounds for their historic catalog. The assembly of avid “lifer” fans mixed with the new generation, sharing in common the appreciation of rock mastery and the gravitation to a kind of music that has served to channel the band’s vital restlessness.
Taking full advantage of impassioned company and the savory acoustics of the space, Pixies played a comprehensive set of a vast scope of work, weaving in and out of timeless classics and lesser known B-sides and current releases. Not content to rest on their laurels, they leaned into new and unusual material with the giddiness of a high school band at their first talent show, then pivoted into oldie-goodies, turning spectator intrigue into frenzied sing-alongs. All of it was presented with the dramatic arc of a rock opera. “Wave of Mutilation” ascended deliberately and hovered, with Frank Black’s voice crawling through Paz Lenchantin’s deep, muddy basslines. Then seizing on the hypnotic mood, Pixies grabbed the crowd by the necktie with the raucous anthems “Break My Body” and “The Holiday Song.” Lenchantin drove numbers like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Velouria,” spookily mimicking former bassist Kim Deal with her playing and support vocals, while David Lovering’s flawless percussive churning intertwined with Joey Santiago’s standout guitar fluency on heavyweights like “Debaser”and “Bone Machine.” All throughout, Black’s unmistakable voice, which has remained as vibrant and true as it was on their earliest recordings, poured over the music like molasses. Pulling it all together like the firebrand lead he’s always been, Black added color and peaks at all the right moments with his quirky hoots and zany chirping.
By the time “Gouge Away” crept in with an extended-bassline intro and escalated into its deviously enabling chorus, Pixies were in full bash-out mode, playing with a purpose and zeal, proving that they’re anything but a band of yesteryear, reliving former glory. And ultimately, those in the Beacon audience had left their seats and spilled into the aisles, lending to the atmosphere that transcended the ornate walls, making it feel like the whole room had been whisked from its Upper West Side locale to a moonlit rager on the beach. It sure is magnificent when music can do that.
Future Islands- Terminal 5. January 8, 2015
Future Islands are constantly jousting with expectations. Their own are a motivator, fueling their decade long quest to connect with people through music. Their passion has pushed them through gutting recording sessions and along endless stretches of performances where thoughts of how they could bring it with a little more in the next town, filled their minds during coffee stops and over quiet, head-lit roads. They are the Pete Rose of the music world. From their listeners’ standpoint, expectations are confronted, then suspended, upon taking in a Future Islands album or live show. Preconceptions of musical genres and their imagined entities are turned on their head. In essence, this duality of expectations is what’s made this Baltimore band the attraction they now are. That phenomenon was on full display last night at a sold-out Terminal 5, the group’s biggest headlining appearance to date. “Let’s bring a little sunshine to this room,” said frontman Sam Herring. “It’s fucking cold outside.”
The experience of a Future Islands show is curiously provocative. One may halt momentarily while absorbing the pulsing synth arrangements, animated by Herring's lionheart flair and multifaceted vocal inflection. This is not because it is inaccessible, on the contrary. It's rather that as the steady bass buzz under hovering key chords start to build, and Herring's authentic presence emerges, some shifting of gaze may be called upon to concede such musical gravitas from such an unassuming lot. Then you give in, and get swept up by the swirl of kinetic energy that engulfs the room. Thoughts of comparing and characterizing give way to visceral sensation, and smiling response. In this experience is found Future Islands' irresistible appeal. The energy is present throughout the show, generating and circulating in the background, then unleashing, with Herring riding the blast pulse of synth and bass drop into his choruses. There is also a dark beauty to their sound that has a paradoxical aching forward motion to it, like a wounded bear not stopping to rest. If a compelling song is proportion between making you react like a reflex test and, to quote a John Cusack character, hinting at a deep river of emotion just beneath the surface, Future Islands finds this accord. Their material hits on every level of what makes human beings respond to great music, and when all zones are stimulated, it's a rare high - the animal wants to pounce and flail while the sentimentalist that wants to ponder.
As the rhythm section dynamo of William Cashion, Gerrit Welmers and Michael Lowry create a lush landscape of dance-inducing current, Herring travels over and through it, providing the story as its narrator and its protagonist. He’s the chief of the campfire, gathering everyone closer. "I'm just trying to be y'alls friend man!", he beamed. Dancing with abandon, his gesticulations punctuate a voice that stretches and challenges capacity, producing timbre with contour and texture that feeds its startling conviction. He does everything he can to grab and keep you for that pocket of time that he has your attention. At points, the music kind of tapers back into a steady roll - with agile restraint in instrumentation - giving Herring space to operate. Prowling the edge of the stage, bowing his head with raised glare, he looks for faces to make eye contact with. He pleads his case with song, like someone trying to impress something deeper upon the listener than what seems to have gotten through. He is saying, “No, I want you to really feel what I’m talking about, beyond the nods of acknowledgement.” He’s looking for a hallelujah, and judging by the rapt exuberance of the wildly dancing crowd, his sermons are heard loud and clear. (Reedit)
INTERPOL - Terminal 5. November 25, 2014
Image always matters in popular music, perhaps more than it should. When Interpol emerged in 2002, pouncing like a fenced-in Doberman onto New York City’s then indeterminate alternative-rock scene, they evenly struck the balance between style and substance with impact. Theirs was a convincing symbiosis. The music was at once emphatic and intricately textured, catchy yet with cerebral and ambitious arrangements, and their image of midnight coolness mirrored it effortlessly, lending the mystique and credibility to a style of rock that was commanding and often imposing. Their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights, was the soundtrack to Friday nights in NYC, with all of its promised deviousness to be found in the shadows and around corners.
Twelve years—and four albums, including the freshly released El Pintor—later, and Interpol return for a homecoming with a sold-out three-night run at Terminal 5. With glinting bravado underlying the elegance of a veteran band, they played with the purpose of cementing their legacy. Armed with a classic like Turn On the Bright Lights makes it easier to throw your weight around, and an abrupt announcement of their stature was delivered with the opening statement, “Say Hello to the Angels,” a stalwart number off their first record. An assertive turn into new burners like “Anywhere” and “Everything Is Wrong,” carried the message that they needn't rely on their classics to keep the crowd at attention. These tunes were deftly interwoven with the sonorous majesty of“Take You on a Cruise” and the crowd-pleasing “Evil,” with its whimsical flavoring of ’50s-era Jerry Lee Lewis rock and roll over their trademark rhythmic surge. Quite suddenly, the divide between stage and audience disappeared like a bridge in the fog, as Paul Banks’s haunting, serpentine vocals took turns with Daniel Kessler’s shimmering guitar chords, elevating the icy, operative-like persistence of Sam Fogarino’s drumming.
Ruminative pieces “Lights” and the “The Lighthouse,” pulled along by Kessler’s sultry strumming, echoed just long enough amidst the black sea of currents projected behind them, before giving way to the climactic flourish that everyone knew was coming: The show culminated with “PDA” and its wondrous cascading finale. By night’s end, Interpol had left no doubt of their authority. Somehow, they represent how the smart, artistic post-graduates living in the city want to come across, and their tensely dramatic rock songs have always been in sync with their collectively pounding pulse. Listening to Interpol brings with it a rush, like stepping out into a biting, blustery winter wind from somewhere safe and warm.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Webster Hall. April 7, 2013
Belief in the idea that one’s art shouldn’t just tap you on the shoulder but elbow you in the ribs is what’s propelled the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ music for more than a decade. It’s puzzling at first to consider that this fantastic trio has been around that long, especially since their discography is so concise. The upcoming Mosquito, will be the band’s fourth album, but it warrants respect and admiration that each offering has seemed so well timed, as if there were this uncanny sense of when their music was needed most. The music has always been delivered with heedless conviction. When a Yeah Yeah Yeahs record has come out with live shows to follow, the bellowing message resonates for a while afterward.
New York City’s patience in waiting for their hometown favorites’ latest declaration was rewarded last night at Webster Hall. It’s fitting that Karen O’s famous stage attire could have been read as a sexy interpretation of a prize fighter’s outfit, with an oversize glittering robe, satin shorts and even a couple of knee pads. Like a trained fighter, Yeah Yeah Yeahs measure their moments to strike and let go with abandon when they find their opening. The set was a barrage, fluidly covering their entire discography with each song leaving its mark. Classics like “Gold Lion” and “Black Tongue” were belted out with a fresh new purpose while attention-grabbers like “Zero,” “Heads Will Roll” and their newest, “Sacrilege,” exhilarated to the point of spreading pulsing waves across the floor from the crowd’s collective hopping.
In their trademark approach, the band hurled themselves into the performance. Karen O demonstrated why she has become a rock icon, delivering shivering vocal punctuation amidst all the physical exhibition she is known for. Her flair and gusto were matched by Brian Chase’s controlled fury on the drums and Nick Zinner’s precise and penetrating structure on guitar. Chase in particular, smiling gleefully, arms swinging and pounding away, captured a palpable mood of celebration shared between the band and their passionate local following. There was no doubting the mutual love in the room, and you got the sense that no one there would’ve wanted to be anywhere else in the world. “Love is in the air tonight!” proclaimed O, and that energy remained through the show’s end when the beloved “Maps” was finally played in the encore, the entire crowd singing along.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always shown that they appreciate and embrace their regard as one of the all time great NYC bands. This recognition comes across in the enthusiasm with which they make and play their music and the ambition they maintain to keeping it substantial. The attitude has always been to put it out there, strut it hard and let the chips fall where they may, and this has continued to result in a glowing response, as it did again last night. Yeah Yeah Yeahs simply believe in their music, which makes everyone who’s listening believe in it, too.