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Album Review: St. Vincent – St. Vincent

February 25, 2014 in Album Reviews

St_Vincent_artworkSt. Vincent 

St. Vincent

Loma Vista/Republic

Release Date: February 25, 2014

Grade: 9.0

By Zachary Kaczmarek

 

 

The past few years for Annie Clark have been interesting to say the least, collaborating with David Byrne on a duet album, Love This Giant, touring for said album, and causing many to second guess what her next album would sound like. Would it lean more towards the jazzy art rock that Byrne brought to the table on their collaboration, or venture off into a bizarro new direction that could start where her last record, Strange Mercy, left off? The correct answer, which her self-titled fourth album provides, is both. Clark’s latest collection of sounds serve as a musical coronation on which she weaves back and forth between the funky brass that characterized Love This Giant, the dulcet melodies that made her first two albums so irresistible, and the electrified essence on Strange Mercy that bridged the gap between prog rock and pop.

St. Vincent perfects the seemingly impossible balancing act that Clark has been working towards since her debut, which is to craft something alluring and equally gutsy. “Birth in Reverse” is the epitome of this balance, taking the grim theme of death, and oddly characterizing it as a mundane happening with an infectious chorus, just another day in the life. Accompanied by Clark’s signature crunchy and freakish guitar tones, the second track on the album sets a course for an LP that thrives on embracing unorthodox moments and morphing them into compelling perspectives worth understanding.

“Bring Me Your Loves” embodies this off the wall mentality, broadening boundaries and throwing away any preconceived notions of what a St. Vincent song should sound like. The various interstellar sounding synthesizers overlap and bend in pitch, creating an eerie sci-fi vibe, backed by Clark’s spooky harmonized vocals. “I thought you were like a dog, but you made a pet out of me”, she sings, making a very disheartening realization about love.

In between the twisted romance and uncomfortable themes lies the critical David Byrne influenced anthem, “Digital Witness”, in all its brass tinged glory finds Clark ironically pointing out “people turn the TV on it looks just like a window”. But the message is really hammered home in a chorus that begs the sarcastic question “If I can’t show it you can’t see me/What’s the point of doing anything?” The quip is swift and witty enough to get the point across about living life vicariously through social media, but not so preachy and overbearing that one could imagine Clark as an out of touch adult wagging her finger and handing out dull life lessons.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, steady atmospheric songs like “Prince Johnny” and “I Prefer Your Love” succeed just as well without the waves of fuzz-drenched guitars and drum beats, providing spacious arrangements for Clark’s voice to ascend. “I Prefer Your Love” cuts through the perplexing abstract lyrics that are the cornerstone of songs like “Regret”, and reveals the songwriter at her most raw, showing her endless affection for her mother who was ill at the time she wrote the lyrics. It’s the most vulnerable three and half minutes that Clark has recorded to date, allowing a place of worry and tenderness to become very public and exposed. The weight of troubling thoughts is conveyed masterfully in one of the more poignant lines – “Sure as mother licking her finger to wipe the blush and smudge from my cheek, and wonder what will become of your little one”- as Clark contemplates what life would hold if her mother were to pass.

Attempting to categorize the prog pop masterpiece that is St. Vincent proves to be a frustrating exercise in futility. For the sake of convenience, it’s much simpler to analyze each element and notable influence of Clark’s sound as opposed to inventing a verbose genre title that describes what it sounds like. Musical trends often times prove to be cyclical, whether on a popular level or even in music that’s slightly off the beaten path or avant-garde. But for the time being, Annie Clark’s music seems to exist within a vacuum, taking no part in reemerging trends like disco and R&B, and possessing unique qualities that render comparisons with any current artist rather pointless. Clark has risen to new heights as an elite songwriter and musical adventurer, claiming the universe of guitar-driven art pop for herself.

Essential Tracks: “Birth in Reverse”, “Digital Witness”, “I Prefer Your Love”, “Bring Me Your Loves”

Concert Recap: Pixies w/ Best Coast @ Comerica Theatre (Photo Gallery)

February 25, 2014 in Concert Recap

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Photos taken by Zachary Kaczmarek

Album Review: Phantogram – Voices

February 18, 2014 in Album Reviews

c333b420b1a9ad99ab6229a84d42910d Phantogram

 Voices

 Universal/Republic

 Score: 7.5

 By Zachary Kaczmarek

 

When Phantogram initially started out, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel were embracing the label of “street beat” and “psych pop”, which as their debut Eyelid Movies proved, couldn’t be a more apt description of their sonic freshness. Sure, there were a multitude of interweaving melodies, loops and riffs, but at heart of every great song on Eyelid Movies there was always an ear-catching trip-hop rhythm and the hauntingly catchy vocals of Barthel. Voices continues to stress the essential building blocks that made Phantogram stand out in the first place, and even makes a few bold attempts to create emotionally transparent moments that their debut was lacking.

In wild and hectic fashion, Voices hits the ground running with the tightly wound “Nothing But Trouble”. Starting out with a forceful drum beat and churning synthesizers, the song follows a typical Phantogram formula, but unexpectedly Carter ends the song with a haywire guitar outro, sending the track into funky noise pop territory. The second track and peak of the entire album, perhaps Phantogram’s greatest composition of their career thus far, “Black Out Days”, takes the duos greatest strengths and finesses them into an addictive 4 minute anthem. The buzzy synthesizers, durable beat, echoing guitar riffs, and Barthel’s siren-like vocals spliced and stacked on top of each other showcase Phantogram’s successful marriage of mesmerizing “psych pop” and hip-hop.

It can never be said that Voices doesn’t aspire for something grand with all its precise interlocking parts and smooth transitions. The intro for “Fall In Love” begins with a brief loop of a violin which startlingly transforms into with Barthel crooning over warbling bass and sharp backing strings, while Carter’s reverb coated cords provide depth and create the feel of a massive landscape.  If there is one improvement on how Phantogram composed songs five years ago versus the Phantogram of today, it’s the confidence they have in establishing a consistent sound that more often than not, delivers as promised. But the drawback to their format as it currently exists is the inability to work outside of that comfort zone.

The glitchy M83 influenced tracks, “Never Going Home” and “I Don’t Blame You”, which feature Carter on lead vocals, strive to generate deeper sentiments but instead lead to uninspiring results that muster only a fraction of the urgency and charisma that Barthel uncannily delivers in her best moments. The counterproductive lull from these overly sentimental instances ultimately zap Voices of any kind of momentum or excitement and leave Barthel to pick up the pieces. In contrast to the many successes on Voices that operate within Phantogram’s boundaries, the downfalls can all be attributed to the moments that peel back all the layers in order to create something heartfelt, like Carter’s somber performances, as well as a few of the more tepid tracks on the back end of the album, a la “Bill Murray”. 

At its finest, Voices is able to match the intensity and vigor that had listeners speaking high praise of Eyelid Movies. Instead of trying to encompass a wide scope of sound, Phantogram tightens their grasp on a riveting sound that they can call their own. Even though there’s not a significant amount of growth or an indelible mark left behind, Barthel and Carter orchestrate a reassuring statement that cements the duo not as a fly by night product of fads or trendiness, but an act that will continue to produce engaging albums for years to come.

Essential Tracks: “Nothing But Trouble”, “Black Out Days”, “Fall In Love”, “Howling at the Moon”

30 Best Albums of 2013

December 23, 2013 in Album Reviews, Best of 2013

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By Zachary Kaczmarek

 

1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Not only is …Like Clockwork now the quintessential album in QOTSA’s catalog, but its perhaps the seminal rock album in 2013, drawing on a very personal space emotionally for frontman Josh Homme, coping with feelings of isolation and searching for a sense of pupose after he was declared clinically dead on the operating table. The styles that the band presents are aggressive and equally vulnerable , blending their coined style of desert rock with a thick 70s influence. …Like Clock shows just how diverse QOTSA can be, employing gloomy hazy synthesizers and eerie piano riffs that had no presence on any previous album, creating more balance than they have ever had, catapulting them into an unparalleled class of their own.

 

2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire-Weekend-Modern-Vampires-of-the-4.21.2013.jph_Modern Vampires of the City marks an unexpected turning point that strips away most of the influence from the previous works and attempts to start anew with a darker realist point of view. The band’s sound and lyrical content has always been perceived by some as pretentious and preppy, but Ezra Koenig shows that the transition to adulthood can still be paved with creative eloquent lyrics. Dealing with existential questions and crisis of the heart, Vampire Weekend solidify themselves as a band that is no longer a work of progress but instead a band that has reached the apex of indie rock.

 

3. Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle

laura-marling-once-i-was-an-eagle-1024x1024Laura Marling wasn’t always so brave and fearless, at least not on record. The songwriter who once relied on brighter twangy folk compositions reveals a progression that has made her braver through a treacherous journey of agonizing romance.  Marling, bluntly painting herself as a jaded soul bitter and torn, refuses to be a victim as she cleanses the venom left over from past battles, descending into dark cavernous depths only to come out unscathed and more radiant than before. Folk has never seen such an honest and voluminous introspective album.

 

4. Haim – Days Are Gone

haim-days-are-goneThe value of writing a good hook tends to get lost amidst the need to be cutting edge and artistically relevant, but Haim shows no shame in their admiration for 80s pop-rock hooks driven hooks and lyrics about being a hopeless romantic. Drawing upon a bevy of influences, the sister trio creates a genre spanning pop confection that somehow makes dejected emotions sound joyous. The passion and chemistry that they put on display can’t be taught or easily replicated, making their debut a pop marvel.

 

 

5. El-P & Killer Mike – Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels marks the beginning of the robber mentality that El-P and Killer Mike hope to instill in hip-hop. In their world wealth and narcissism have no merit, and no ones safe from ridicule. What makes this effort the best rap release in 2013 is how arrogant and confident they can be while maintaining a certain humbleness that isn’t common in rap. Their boundless style recalls a previous age in rap where competitiveness was the driving force of quality and rivalries were essential. Aside from the ridiculious and witty rhymes, Run the Jewels production value, thanks to El-P, proves to be the pinnacle within in  the genre and in most music in 2013. Its hard to find another album that can goof off for a few bars here and there while still being ferocious and cool.

 

6. Savages – Silence Yourself

 Savages feel like a band from years past, constructing a post-punk style based on jagged bass lines, crunchy distortion and pummeling drum fills. But they possess too much subtlety to be pigeonholed into the riot grrl label or any other stereotype for that matter. Gracefully fusing distorted empowerment with brooding  moments Savages redefine what it means to be in control and yet so unruly.

 

 

7. Darkside – Psychic

Psychic lends itself as a seedy bluesy electronic dream, one that pushes the limits of electronic music. Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington develop a spacey atmosphere that hinges upon palm muted disco guitar riffs, fuzzy synthesizers, and steady processed beats. Its fascinating to listen to a few static noises build up over several minutes and form layers of sound that tells a story. Jaar and Harrington never stick to one particular genre or theme, and the freedom and space that it provides gives Psychic a unique feel.

 

 

8. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire’s modern day version of a Greek epic combines the tale of Orpheus with their own tribulations and worries. Musically, nearly every track feels like a bold risk, dabbling in moody disco vibes here, incorporating a punk intro there. On paper a double album based on Greek myth with a Haitian soulfulness wouldn’t be the type of venture you’d invest in or get a loan approved for. But as long as Arcade Fire finds themselves outraged and telling stories that warn against indoctrination, hypocrisy or fear mongering, and the man at the helm is Win Butler, the far-fetched and bizarre always sounds palatable.

 

9. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

 Random Access Memories could be best described as 2001 A Space Odyssey fused with the best cuts that the disco era had to offer. Album collaborator Panda Bear described it best, “Instead of sampling an old piece of music it was like recording things in an old way to make something that sounds like it was sampling something old which, in turn, makes it sound new.” Daft Punk didn’t exactly deliver the dance album everyone craved, but it’s the album that we never knew we wanted. Channeling 70s and 80s AM rock, the robot duo reinvigorate their appeal by going backwards in time and making disco palpable and universal yet again.

 

10. Lorde – Pure Heroine

Minimalism was all the rage in 2013 and no one succeeded at writing songs that featured nothing but bare bones more than Lorde. Being an outsider of pop culture and a privileged standard of living the 17 year old simply critique what she observes, particularly those from her own generation. The stripped down production gives her an abundance of space to take command and fill the hollowed out arrangements with her low register vocals. In terms of significance Pure Heroine is much more than a simple stripped down pop record, with Lorde waging a war against the vapid stars in the mainstream like Salena Gomez and being very critical of her fellow millennials. Years from now Ella Yellich-O’Connor’s debut could be seen as a turning point that revitalized mainstream pop.

 

11. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile has and always will represent the most lackadaisical form of folk rock, being a man who values his time and feels no need to rush anything. Wakin on a Pretty Daze still paints Vile as somewhat of a lethargic person, but instead of sitting at home all day, he wishes to be somewhere far away from people and everything that disturbs him. Vile’s song structure prior to Pretty Daze was simple and brief, but on his latest effort there’s more than enough musical experimentation where he expands on a riff or lengthens his melodies, reaching their full capacity. Wakin on a Pretty Daze is without a doubt Vile’s most complete and soothing effort, realizing how frightened he is by society and simply wanting nothing more than to find a calming place to escape from all the pandemonium.

12. My Bloody Valentine – m b v

The post-hiatus release rarely meets expectations, but after 20 year break the Scottish shoegaze rockers pick up right where they left off, creating a more abstract follow-up to the timeless LP that was Loveless. My Bloody Valentine still exudes nostalgia but is still very much adapted to the 21st century with its open- endedness and mesmerizing vocals courtesy of Kevin Shields. M b v acts as a record that sums up the legacy of a band who laid the groundwork for an generation of music, but one that can move forward and progress if they so choose.

 

 

13. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The first impression many first time listeners get is that the National are “bland”, “disengaging” and every other word that sounds more intelligent than simply saying “meh”. But their simple hooks and well blended chamber pop sound are structured to endure the long run and given a spotlight to Matt Berninger’s hyper personal lyrical depictions of mundane loveless relationships and recovering from love lost. Its hard to say that the National made a tremendous leap from High Violet, but their continuation of an established niche on Trouble Will Find Me leads to an equally heartfelt followup.

 

14. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

JANELLE-MONAE-ELECTRIC-LADY-e1376434058729Bridging the gap between funk, pop and R&B, Janelle Monae makes irresistible grooves without sacrificing any of her artistic vision. The Electric Lady is like a revolution in album form, complete with skits in between tracks that have listeners calling into a radio station and voicing their opinions about “the Electric Lady”, or rebel leader played by Monae. Through the 19 tracks on the album, Monae shows that not only is she an incredibly diverse songwriter, but shes also a talented storyteller, something that isn’t usually intertwined with modern day pop music.

 

15. Torres – Torres

Mackenzie Scott, more commonly referred to as Torres, embodies the spirit and hubris that every young songwriter strives to establish. Her debut album showcases this ability through a solemn lens that gives the world a clear glimpse into her raw point of view. The style varies between melancholy indie rock, restrained folk, and gloomy grungy synthesizers. There is rarely a moment where Scott does not appear to be candid and forthright when conveying these unfiltered thoughts. The production and concept is fresh, leaving in every blip and creak, showing just valuable and genuine a one take recording can be.

 

16. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

Chvrches isn’t the sort of group that has long winded verses about broken hearts and unrelenting darkness, or obsesses over composing 6 minute arrangements that vent every last thought. Every thought is compact and succinct, delivering more than enough sentiment with each infectious chorus. Upon first listen it can be difficult to understand the hype behind Chvrches and why they’re receiving praise from all ends of the earth. That is until the hypnotic vocals of Lauren Mayberry kick in and tug on every last heart string. Mayberry’s addictive voice takes the light 80s atmosphere and creates an otherworldly ambiance that is so unexpected, much like the majority of Chvrches debut, which sneakily throws out deep ingrained hooks that are fun and lovable at first, and then gloomy and heartbreaking later.

 

17. Sigur Ros – Kveikur

Kveikur presents an aggressive and less minimalist approach,where the focus is not on creating a delicate slow building or blossoming moment, but an angry and feverishly controlled mass of sound. For years now the majority of their listeners have had to Google translations of their Icelandic lyrics to fully decrypt the meaning of each song, but yet the passion can be felt in the music without understanding any of it. Sigur Ros yet again find a way to be brooding and dramatic despite the language barrier, which is something few acts can claim.

 

 

18. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law

The sophomore release for The Joy Formidable is every bit as overwhelming sonically as their debut, providing blistering distortion and mountainous choruses that are so easy to get lost in. But this time around the Welch outfit learns the important lesson of contrast, something they exceed at when they juxtapose serene landscapes with equally charged chaos. Wolf’s Law may not be as exciting as their debut, The Big Roar, but it definitely seems to have a better balance and ability to transition from unrestrained to tranquil.

 

 

19. Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Los Campesinos! might just be one of the cockiest and most honest rock bands to currently exist in the indie universe. On past albums they’ve never felt the inclination to pretend or mask their feelings, reeling out bold lyrics and wearing their heart on a sleeve. No Blues ups that level of confidence by ten fold, throwing out lines about wishing former lover to lives of celibacy and constant references to conquering death. But all these references sort of go unnoticed at first due to the bright synthesizers and lively tone of Gareth Campesinos! voice. To put it simply, whether they can or can’t, No Blues will always lead you to believe Los Campesinos! can.

 

20. Danny Brown – Old

On his third release, Danny Brown shows that his perception of life and having a fine ear for beats only grows with age. Rather than writing a sloppy followup comprised of nonsensical party anthems, Brown hunkers down and digs deeper with stories of emotional numbness growing up and tales of drug dealing. He documents such a wide array of feelings, from regret to grim recollections that he feels he needs to self medicate in order to forget, letting the world know that he is a man who has learned from tragic mistakes and been made all the more wiser. If his past two albums didn’t convince everyone that Brown has the skills of an elite rapper and producer, than Old surely will.

 

21. Arctic Monkeys – AM

The Arctic Monkeys have reinvented themselves many times over, from the ragged punk beginnings of Whatever People Say I Am, Thats What I’m Not, to 2011′s psychedelic Suck It and See. AM once again veers off in a new direction with bluesier funk inspired riffs and more soul than any of their previous efforts. And perhaps frontman Alex Turner described it best when he said AM was like “a Dr. Dre beat but we’ve given it an Ike Turner bowl-cut and sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster.”

 

 

22. Julia Holter – Loud City Song

Typically Julia Holter has not been one to embrace being loud or piling blankets of sounds on top of each other. But Loud City Song finds her doing just that, and creating a tightly packed space for all the trumpets, horns, and synthesizers to blur into one. The pattern that the album follows is a calm moment for thought in between the hectic jazziness that flavors the album. Holter said in an interview that the album is “about someone trying to find love and truth in a superficial society”, which makes sense considering the album is a series of peacefulness among the noise of the loud city that surrounds.

 

23. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

The brother sister duo of Karin and Olof Dreijer live in the moments that many consider to be unnerving and strange. Shaking the Habitual thrives in that atmosphere as the Dreijer siblings leave behind the dark synthpop of Silent Shout, introducing gritty industrial pop that sets so no rules for itself. The bare machine like drum machines and wobbly bass sounds make it sound like it was manufactured in a factory of some kind, but the distorted vocals of Karin Dreijer  add an off balance human aspect, as the Knife seeks to highlight all the misconceptions and bias in society. Its truly a haunting but educational album if there ever was one.

 

24. Kanye West – Yeezus

Lyrically, West is far from his finest hour on Yeezus, but his newly engineered spastic brand of industrial rap is engaging and spellbinding enough to make his most experimental album to date quite a gem. Implementing gothic Reggae hooks, Queen styled guitar solos, seismic bass, and screeching synthesizers, West pushes the genre into another realm that hasn’t been tested to such a degree. There is hardly a trace of any traditional hip hop elements, instead shooting for something that could be considered abstract rap. Its hard to say whether this will influence future artists to adopt such an abrasive and captivating style, but for now it stands as one of a kind.

 

25. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty

Pain is Beauty is the epitome of bittersweet gothic pop in 2013, with the ominous piano and keyboard tones that are spread around Chelsea Wolfe’s evocative singing. The album title indeed does sum up the general feeling of each song, advertising right up front the gloomy disposition that is viewed through an aesthetic lens. Wolfe excels in this new found 80s inew wave, 90s industrial manner of writing and composing, which is reminiscent of the emotions and musical tones that Nine Inch Nails displayed on their debut Pretty Hate Machine.

 

 

26. Iceage – You’re Nothing

Punk isn’t exactly an easy genre to thrive in like it once was, thanks to the watered down punk pop and one trick ponies. But Iceage proved on their debut that they’re the closest thing to the hardcore punk of the 80s. However, on their sophomore LP the Danish group show that they aren’t just another band driven by noise or chaos, and some of the ambient and softer arrangements exhibit the sheer talent that they possess. You’re Nothing strives for more than just punk or hardcore, displaying a complete palate while still holding onto the apathy from their debut.

 

27. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

Sky Ferreira has had a rough go in the music biz, trying to generate appeal with the teens of the world using a popstar image and ultimately having her full length LP shelved by Capitol Records. But since shedding that teen sensation image, doing things on her own terms has brought her an uproarious pop style to latch onto, one which draws upon some lighter 80s influences as well as a heavier 90s style similar to Garbage. Ferreira isn’t looking for sympathy or tears, she simply tells it like it is and you end up empathizing with her pain in the process.

 

28. Deap Vally – Sistrionix

Deap Vally’s debut, stands out among a sea of electronic and Avant-garde music, with a primal garage rock sound that consistently hits with a mean and sassy attitude. Each track, so invigorating like a rush of blood to the head, making no apologies for choosing to be rambunctious rather than aesthetically pleasing. Thanks to Lindsey Troy’s Rober Plant meets Jack White vocal style and Julie Edwards breakneck drum intensity, Sistrionix embodies the kind of old fashion rock n roll that makes it the most blunt and straightforward rock album in 2013. What you hear is you what you get.

 

29. Phoenix – Bankrupt!

The vintage sound that Phoenix uses as a vehicle for recurring themes involving monetary, moral and emotional bankruptcy,  provides a great experience that could be mistaken for a top of the line pop record made three decades ago. It all feels like its taking place in 80s California, with the VIP lists at nightclubs, phony personalities, fast lifestyles, and rich adolescence. Phoenix brings the synthesizers to the forefront, making the jittery guitar heavy pop a thing of the past. Bankrupt connects  the retro with the present, musically and thematically.

 

 

30. M.I.A. – Matangi

 M.I.A.’s approach since her career began has been fluid and resistant to any one particular sound or outside influence. Whether it was ridiculed or praised each decision that she made was on her own terms, and Matangi continues that progression of breaking genre constrictions. The glitchy beats, sub woofer bass, and varied rhyme scheme break up any type of consistency, allowing the mood to shift from modest hip hop to ear-splitting bangers without notice. M.I.A. strikes so many different moods and tones from being socially critical to free spirited and without a care that its hard to find an album that’s comparable  in terms of predictability.

 

Honorable Mentions: 

David Bowie – The Next Day

Charli XCX – True Romance

Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

Mikal Cronin – MCII

Thundercat – Apocalypse

Charles Bradley – Victim of Love

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine

Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

Best 30 Songs of 2013

December 13, 2013 in Best of 2013

Image and list by Zachary Kaczmarek

1. Chvrches – Recover

 

2. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

 

3. Janelle Monae – Q.U.E.E.N.

 

4. Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey

 

5. Lorde – White Teeth Teens

 

6. Queens of the Stone Age – If I Had a Tail

 

7. Daft Punk – Doin’ It Right

 

8. Haim – Don’t Save Me

 

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Sacrilege

 

10. Savages – Shut Up

 

11. Lorde – Royals

 

12. Torres – Honey

 

13. MØ – XXX 88 ft. Diplo

 

14. The Knife – Full of Fire

 

15. El-P & Killer Mike – Sea Legs

 

16. Haim – The Wire

 

17. Laura Marling – Master Hunter

 

18. The National – Pink Rabbits

 

19. Daft Punk – Get Lucky

 

20. Mikal Cronin – Weight

 

21. Vampire Weekend – Step

 

22. Earl Sweatshirt – Hive ft. Vince Staples

 

23. Savages – I Am Here

 

24. Queens of the Stone Age – My God is the Sun

 

25. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Day

 

26. Cage the Elephant – Come a Little Closer

 

27. M.I.A. – Bring the Noize

 

28. Atoms for Peace – Default

 

29. Rhye – Open

 

30. Phoenix – Trying to Be Cool

Concert Recap: They Might Be Giants at the Marquee

November 22, 2013 in Concert Recap

They Might Be Giants: Nanobots at The Marquee Theatre

By Devon Adams

There are those seminal bands that represent a snapshot of time past. Bands that define a summer, an age of youthful innocence we long for again. In the summer of 1990 I traveled with a friend’s family to Ocean City, Maryland where we traversed the boardwalk, slipping in and out of small shops. In one surf shop, the opening notes of a song started. The cashier quickly moved towards the cassette deck and cranked up the volume and one by one the dozen or so people in the store perked up. By the time the drums hit, every other person started singing loudly to an anthem of that summer – an innocent, exciting jingle riff that I have never been able to shake, and why would I? They Might Be Giants’ (TMBG) biggest hit “Birdhouse in Your Soul”  burned into my psyche that June afternoon.

Started by Nebraskan friends John Linnell and John Flansburgh in 1982, They Might Be Giants have had a long career in the adult and children music industries. On tour for their 16th studio album, Nanobots, Linnell and Flansburgh stepped onto the Marquee stage Friday night with a simple accordion and guitar before slowly starting a stripped down version of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Flansburgh reminded me of an older Jewish doctor with his cardigan, checkered dress shirt, jeans and glasses. John Linnell, his partner in crime, was much more unassuming until he began to sing; the audience clearly recognized his voice from thirty years of hits.

The screaming crowd who were eager to hear the most popular songs from a three decade career quickly joined in singing “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” before the full band walked out on stage. Having reviewed former set lists from this tour prior to the performance, I expected this number later so I quickly realized the performance would be more impromptu. The video screen behind the band included footage of the crowd screaming, which made us feel like we were all part of the show, that we were in on the joke and enjoyed every minute of it.

In true TMBG humor, they began bantering about the pronunciation of “Tempe” by calling the city “tem-pay” or “tem-pe” while clearly enjoying themselves on stage prior to moving into “Letterbox”. Flansburgh joked that they felt “ossified” and hoped they could remember the song that they originally wrote in 1985. They played through several classics like this complex number, as well as newer songs like “Call Your Mom” from Nanobots (2013), the album clearly demonstrating a return to adult music. Flansburgh moved back and forth across the stage sometimes playing guitar stage left from Linnell’s keys or other times mock jumping from the front of Beller’s drum kit. While Linnell’s demeanor seemed to focus clearly on the music, Flansburgh is the showman of the two.

When introducing “Meet the Elements”, Flansburgh said they slept through high school so the audience didn’t have to before going into the most enjoyable chemistry lesson I’ve ever had. Later in the set, during “Doctor Worm” the band demonstrates their love for learning withlyrics like “My name is Dr. Worm. / Good morning. How are you? I’m Dr. Worm. / I’m interested in things.” Even when it was pointed out their song “Why Does the Sun Shine?” inadvertently teaches children that the sun is made up of gasses, the band wrote a “sequel” called “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?” with catchy tongue-twisting lyrics like “miasma of incandescent plasma” that clarifies that the sun is made up of plasma.

Following “Meet the Elements”, TMBG announced they were playing their song, “Tesla” about Nikola Tesla, the father of the x-ray. They explained without Google people may not know he also experimented with alternate electrical currents and tried to invent a “death-ray”.

They Might Be Giants jammed through a few other songs including “32 Footsteps” that led to an audience sing along and “Damn Good Times” with a Beller/Flansburgh high tempo jam session before the lights went down and the stage cleared. After guitarist Dan Miller played through a few raucous riffs from “Free Ride” and “Crazy Train”, the large screen upstage lit up with the Avatars of They – two sock puppets added to the show in 2009 during the Here Comes Science album. The “puppets” play through an exciting version of “He’s Loco”, as those of us near the front tried to see over the keyboard. The action was shot using handheld cameras that projected behind the band.

Continuing the onstage banter, Linnell began talking to mecha-Flansburgh who spoke in a synthesized robot voice before launching into the title track from Nanobots. Following “Nanobots”, Flansburgh grabbed a flashlight and separated the crowd in half. Stage left were the “apes” and stage right were the “people”. We all chanted and shoved our fists in the air singing through the frenetic “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”. The apes eventually lost after an avant garde, high metal rendition of the song inspired by the rebooted film series of the same name.

Following this Linnell took up the bass clarinet that had been perched near the front of the stage and announced they were going to become a Moon Hooch tribute band (referring to their opening act who played only brass and percussion instruments). They performed a new version of “Black Ops” on the bass clarinet while Flansburgh jokingly named the instrument the “ebony goose”. Next up was “Icky” that included a long musical break dead center during which the audience was told to scream as if they were thrown into the fiery pit of hell. Flansburgh played backward facing away from the stage while red lights flashed through the middle of the song.

After an hour into the show, Linnell stepped back up to the keys as the red lights dropped down. He began to introduce a song that we “may know”, as the opening notes for “Birdhouse in Your Soul” shook through the mid-sized theatre. Every single person in that venue suddenly joined in when Beller hit his drumkit. The lights flashed across the stage and flashed across us, as we slipped back to the largest hit of They Might Be Giants’ career. As the song slowly faded out, they thanked us and slipped off stage.

As with any good show, we all knew there’d be an encore (looking at the former set lists, I knew there’d be two of them.) After a few moments the Johns reemerged with Flansburgh on a different guitar (he had tuning problems during “Birdhouse”), and Linnell strapped his accordion across his chest before playing “I Hope I Get Old Before I Die” – an old electronica polka number off their first album. The band then joined them for several solos and band intros before finishing the first encore with 2011’s “When Will You Die”. While this felt full circle, TMBG still wasn’t finished with us and stepped back onto stage for a second encore after several minutes.

They jammed through “Number Three” and “Everything Right Is Wrong Again” including Flansburgh and Linnell both playing their instruments with drumsticks while Beller’s extended drum solo included audience members clapping in time until the on stage thrashing drowned us all out. As “Everything Right Is Wrong Again” came to a crashing halt, the quirky quintet thanked us for being loyal fans over the decades and reiterated that they only play music “to ruin you [the audience] for all other bands”. We laughed together in the pit knowing we were in on the joke and that this performance this night at The Marquee Theatre was the place to be.

 

SET LIST

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

You’re on Fire

Clap Your Hands

The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)

Letterbox

Boat of Car

Call You Mom

Youth Culture Killed My Dog

Meet the Elements

Tesla

32 Footsteps

Damn Good Times

Paranoid

He’s Loco

Doctor Worm

Alienation’s for the Rich

Nanobots

New York City

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Black Ops

Cloisonné

Icky

Hide Away Folk Family

Birdhouse in Your Soul

 Encore:

I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die

1-2-3 Band Intros

When Will You Die

 Encore 2:

Number Three

Everything Right Is Wrong Again

Album Review: Arcade Fire, Reflektor

November 1, 2013 in Album Reviews

Arcade Fire: Reflektor

Grade: B+

Merge

Release Date: October 28, 2013

By Zachary Kaczmarek

 

It must have been quite an interesting crossroads for Win Butler and his ragtag band of Canadian art rockers, deciding what direction to take on their fourth and much anticipated studio release, and having the option to crank out an identical record to widely popular The Suburbs or risk everything on a massive experimental double album that could challenge how their increased fan base would perceive them. Prior to 2011 when their third studio album The Suburbs, took the music world by storm snagging Album of the Year at the Grammys, Arcade Fire had written Funeral and Neon Bible, what many consider to be two of the most complete albums of the 2000s under their belt, and for many indie acts that would have been the pinnacle or ceiling of a career. The Suburbs broke through that ceiling, shattering any preconceived notion of their limitations with tales of societal vultures and nostalgia, laid on top of such vast and universally appealing musical diversity which was enough to stun the Gagas and Katy Perrys of the world setting off Twitter with thousands asking “Who the fuck is Arcade Fire?”, something the band ironically embraced by emblazoning the phrase on t shirts. It was a moment that rendered the view of Arcade Fire being indie and a semi-well-kept as a thing of the past, increasing their impact to a global scale. 

Following a sold-out world tour and a well-deserved break, the cryptic campaign to promote Reflektor began this past August, with unannounced chalk drawings and banners on the sides of buildings in major cities across the US, the surprising news that James Murphy the founder of the now defunct LCD Soundsystem would produce the album, and the release of the self-titled gloomy disco influenced single “Reflektor” featuring backing vocals from none other than David Bowie. But other than a few major details so little was known about what exactly Arcade Fire was aiming for, with the band releasing only the occasional video clip of a jam session with no audio, or posting small teasers of album tracks. Looking back on how secretive they went about controlling the release of details, it seems it was for good reason, because the vast majority would have doubted the unheralded mixture of art rock, moody disco, Haitian influences, and Talking Heads styled new wave.

Arcade Fire’s modern day version of a Greek epic combines the tale of Orpheus with their own tribulations begins with the highly infectious dark disco groove “Reflektor”, laying the groundwork for what is a 75 plus minute journey through a dimly lit world isolated from all surroundings and yet just close enough to yearn for some kind of intimacy. Murphy coats the album with a hazy modern disco sheen, erasing much of the Springsteen influence that characterized The Suburbs. The title track embodies this the style the most with the thick humming synthesizers, hand drums, signature 70s drum beats, topped off with David Bowie adding vocals during the bridge.

The core idea that Butler means to convey on the album and especially on the title track is that the 21st century generates isolation and a very casual disconnection in this online based society that supposedly gives people deeper insight into each other’s lives, voicing a deep concern for growing apart from bandmate and wife Regine Chassagne, mirroring how Orpheus loses his love Eurydice, with the lines “We’re so connected but are we even friends? We fell in love when I was 19 and now we’re staring at a screen.” Being no stranger to delivering emphatic album-sized statements they do succeed in connecting themes that at times seem disjointed and messy, evoking emotions that are conflicted and yet so removed and distant.

But where Reflektor lacks the dramatic sentiment of its predecessors it makes up for with daring musical inventiveness. Sudden time changes and mood shifts have been synonymous with the bands finest moments on older tracks like “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” and “Suburban War”, taking moments that are already the epitome of gloomy and simply hurling them into a much heavier and darker realm without any warning. Similar moments occur here on “Here Comes the Night Time” with an intro featuring rapidly firing guitars and drums before stopping on a dime and simmering down with a danceable Haitian drum beat, warbled synth and a melodic refrain. The same odd Frankenstein-like process is repeated on the final track of the first album “Joan of Arc”, taking a rather abrasive punk beginning, something not exactly retrofitted for a band more concerned with aesthetics than blistering rage, and blending it with a rhythmic glam rock body.

Their finest moment on the album comes in the form of the high wattage rock n roll track “Normal Person” with ten tons of distortion and a whiny lead guitar in the chorus and the message that “normal” is a term to suppress individuals, as Butler depicts a reality that sounds like a plot from the Twilight Zone, asking the question “Is anything as strange as a normal person? Is anyone as a cruel as a normal person”, before delivering a perilous warning in the chorus “They will break you down till everything is normal now”. Then theres the outlandish blend of psych rock and reggae on “Flashbulb Eyes”, which doesn’t sound half as bad as one might think. Perhaps in the past Arcade Fire could have been somewhat vulnerable to being described merely as discontent indie rock, but the unexplored expansive sounds that they include on this record make it nearly impossible to make accurate comparisons to most other bands, or to box them in to a particular sound or label.

As to be expected, Regine Chassagne, the unspoken MVP in the background, provides a light to Butler’s cynicism and harsh realities with her angelic vocals that possess siren-like qualities. Despite the fact that she doesn’t have a track singing lead vocals like she did with “Sprawl II” or “Empty Room” on The Suburbs, some of the albums best choruses and bridges are due to her ability to channel such unfiltered emotion and beauty into condensed moments like the chorus on “Its Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, or the bridge on “Afterlife” singing “When love is gone where it does it go? Where do we go?” The lyrics could be simplistic, complicated, or even in French as a lot of her verses in the past have been, but as she sings on “Joan of Arc”, “If you shoot you better hit your mark”, something she does very well when given the opportunity.

If there is one complaint about Arcade Fire’s statement of grandeur, it’s how it goes out with somewhat of a whimper, not with exclamation or closure. After carrying a heavy concept successfully for 12 tracks Reflektor quietly trails off on “Supersymmetry”, a soft ambient conclusion which doesn’t seem to do the album justice. Aside from a few missteps, Reflektor is for the most part spot on in achieving everything it set out to do, employing the concept of tying together a modern day world that they refer to as “the reflective age” with ancient mythology and intertwining their reliable art rock approach with new territory sonically. Hearing the dramatic swelling strings traded in for synthesizers on the majority of these tracks does cause one double take and listen multiple times to realize that this is in fact the same band that released “No Cars Go” and “Wake Up”, but it would be foolish to assume that Butler would take the beaten path and retrace the past. On paper a double album based on Greek myth with a Haitian soulfulness wouldn’t be the type of musical gamble that most bands would take. But  Arcade Fire finds themselves at point in their career where Win Butler and company can express their displeasure with the ways of the world, all while channeling the bizarre and making something incredibly palatable.

Essential Tracks: “Reflektor”, “Joan of Arc”, Normal Person”, “Its Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”

Watch Arcade Fire play “Normal Person” on The Colbert Report below:

 

Concert Recap: Haim at Crescent Ballroom (Photo Gallery)

October 15, 2013 in Concert Recap

All photos taken by Zachary Kaczmarek

 

Album Review: Lorde, Pure Heroine

September 30, 2013 in Album Reviews

 

Lorde: Pure Heroine

Grade: B

By Zachary Kaczmarek

Age in the music world is often a signifier of wisdom due to tenure, or inexperience from being a fresh face. But in the case of Ella Yellich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde, it’s very well the opposite, being only 16 and already receiving the treatment of a prodigy, specifically for songwriting abilities that are beyond her years. On the other hand, there are the detractors who will denounce the subject matter of her songs, writing it off as nothing more than simplistic teen angst. Her youth is ultimately a double-edged sword that either draws critical acclaim or discredits her talent with cries of being “overhyped”. But that same youthfulness is what makes Pure Heroine a genuine and unapologetic breath of fresh air.

Lorde doesn’t exactly open her first official LP with anything astonishing or mystifying with the ever so tepid “Tennis Court”, the only glaring flaw on the album, sounding like a rehashed Lana Del Rey track, relying too much on feeble lyrics, hazy synthesizers and a generic drum loop that feels all too common. But just as the possibility of Lorde being a one hit wonder rears its ugly head, the following sequence of the next 5 tracks excels in near flawless fashion, one track after another that builds up steady momentum. “400 Lux” showcases Yellich-O’Connor’s lyrical gusto, reeling off nuggets of wisdom like “we’re hollow like the bottles we drain”, before interjecting a redeeming statement, “we might be hollow but we’re brave”. She may have less years of life experience than the average songwriter, but she is fearless in giving fair social commentary on her contemporaries. The seemingly ubiquitous chart-topper “Royals” offers up a solid catchy anthem, shunning the glamorous illusions of wealth and fame that include Maybachs, Cristal, common representations of having “made it”, and admitting to living an ordinary life in a rundown town that wouldn’t warrant “post code envy”. Yellich-O’Connor isn’t interested in embellishing her reality to attract fans, and seems to pride herself in humble beginnings, a strong theme in most of her lyrics. The motivation, or “different kind of buzz” that Yellich-O’Connor craves isn’t one of luxury or a lavish lifestyle, but merely being appreciative and satisfied with having such a platform.

Stylistically the majority of Lorde’s debut is stripped back and yet so textured and appealing. There’s no confusion or identity crisis from one song to the next, with consistently well-executed pop with an anti-pop message. The young New Zealand songwriter had a vision of how she wanted this record to sound and it accurately hits the mark. It strikes a smooth balance between streamlined pop and the understated aesthetics of the pop in the indie realm.  None of the tracks reach EDM levels of dance or bass like most radio pop, but it’s satisfying that the album is content with knowing its own boundaries instead of trying to become the next dance record played in the clubs. Most of the album doesn’t necessarily possess overly infectious hooks, but the spaciousness that is provided by the “less is more” approach allows Yellich-O’Connor to fill the gaps with her lower octave vocals. Sonically some of these songs are basic as a bare echoing drum machine and thinly layered synth chords, but they still generate a sound that’s fulfilling.

The quintessential track “White Teeth Teens”, features soft airy synth notes and methodical snare drums that shifts to hip hop influenced beats and bass during the bridge. All this culminates to pull off the grand ceremonious statement “I am not a white teeth teen/I tried to join but never did/The way they are, the way they seem is something else, it’s in the blood”. Her certainty that she stands apart from other lookalikes in the crowd and other shallow artists in the pop scene is demonstrated by her talent for walking the tightrope that is pop. She refuses to identify herself with the narcissistic and empty calories that clutter the airwaves, but she’ll be damned if anyone attempts to box her in as a pretentious act whose only aspiration is to remain underground and credible. There’s more than enough authenticity in Yellich-O’Connor’s admission that she might be young, but that age has no bearing on her ability to deliver sharp and effective wit.

The greatest strength in her debut may very well be the honesty and the lack of unrealistic melodrama that is often associated with today’s youth. The struggle to identify what it is that defines her generation takes place in many different forms, but there is a potential conclusion to her debate. It could be that the millennials live with a lack of purpose due to a social disconnect rooted in technology and endless temptation. Or perhaps what Yellich-O’Connor suggests on the finale “A World Alone” rings true, “maybe the internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks”.

 

Concert Recap: The Electric Fall Ball at the Sail Inn (Photo Gallery)

September 23, 2013 in Events

All photos by Zachary Kaczmarek

Fairy Bones 

Bears of Manitou

 

Factories

 

Zero Zero

 

 

Embry Alexander

 

Midnight Vitals

 

Bogan Via

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