Pomplamoose EP

The internet is a powerful entity when it comes to garnering a following for an artistic endeavor. There's a MySpace page, and a Facebook page, and a Twitter whatsit, and on and on, all with the express hope in creating something BIG from something that 20 years ago (Hell, even 10!) would be very small. All this social media stuff allow for endless opportunities for individual, commodity and concept marketing. That's a good thing. We are lucky to expose our talents to others, where a big business would have been necessary before, our basements and a laptop are we need to show people what we can do. Great bands are out there too. For today, specifically, Pomplamoose.

Pomplamoose, comprised of Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte, both YouTube musicians, is an unsigned indie band well worth the time. That's an understatement. Pomplamoose is one of the best unsigned bands currently online. You can listen to all of their original work via their MySpace page, but I'd strongly recommend dropping the $9 on the EP download. (I mean, come on, don't be so fucking cheap!) This duo has a fun, catchy, if not completely unique indie/folk/rock/electro sound. Dawn's voice is somewhere around Feist and The Fiery Furnace's Eleanor Friedberger mixed with St. Vincent. It's these earthy, full, but still precious vocals (but not so precious as Jenny Lewis or Zooey Deschanel) that make each song instantly endearing. The music, whether limited to simple acoustic guitar or bolstered with electro-pop echoes and distant "ring tone" beeps and buzzes, alternately amazes and galvanizes the record. Pomplamoose has cultivated a style here, meeting the Postal Service-based genre expectations and expanding to include faster pacing and more pop-hit-gasm qualities. And while "pop" can sometimes be a degrading descriptor, it is a badge of victory here.

Their original work, beyond the digital music format, is also available as VideoSongs on YouTube. The videos are fun, brilliantly "directed" and very illustrative of the complete artistic package that Pomplamoose offers the audience. "Beat the Horse" is a personal favorite, but really Dawn and Conte are as visually gifted as they are musically. It's refreshing to find such competence and ambition in an unsigned band. There's a clear love for the music here, that doesn't involve big paychecks, just big dreams and big imaginations. Aside from the original EP tracks, you can download, for FREE, an assortment of covers that pit the pair against great tracks like "Mrs. Robinson" and Feist's "Gatekeeper".

Great tracks (original now): "Beat the Horse," "Little Things," and "Le Commun Des Mortels"

Go, to the internet, and seek Pomplamoose - Website, MySpace
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Flashback: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. I & II

The original title for 2003's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film may as well have been How to Completely Botch and thereby Destroy a Viable Franchise. The movie is nothing short of a total failure in all respects. Even Sean Connery's appearance as Allan Quatermain cannot redeem the convoluted plot and ugly cinematography. Sadly, this atrocious film was my first introduction to the series. I had heard of the principle cast of 19th Century characters through my experiences with literature, majoring in English (which translates to majoring in "I don't really want a job later"). The premise really is amazing, combining classic British literary concepts and stories into a single tour de force. Yet, the movie version didn't stand up at all. Numerous alterations to the nature of the characters were made, likely to garner a more straightforward, black and white, American view of the traditional good versus evil "superhero" story. So turned off was I by the film, via the injection of twenty-something-hunk-of-the-month Shane West as Tom Sawyer (Not, I'll note a 19th Century British fiction character!) and a slow story wrought with tired action dialogue, that I nearly missed out on how great a creation The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the graphic novel, truly is.

Allan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's collaborative first two volumes are incredibly written and brilliantly illustrated. As opposed to a British official finding and recruiting Allan Quatermain, defected and living in Africa, in the film; the graphic novel depicts Mina Murray finding a worn, aged and gaunt Quatermain barely living in an opium-addled stupor among other filthy derelicts in an opium den. The Invisible Man is a gentleman thief in a secret government program in the film, but in the original text he is found by Murray and Quatermain raping and impregnating girls in a boarding house under the guise of the spirit of God. These are just two major differences between the original books and the film, but they make an incredible difference in how we perceive the characters and their world. The film, as with most American superhero cinema, wants to present the 19th Century as an old, but moral place. This is far from the vision intended by Moore and O'Neill. For them the world is dark, grimy and mysterious, and that tone is what makes the first two volumes so exciting to read.

One of Alan Moore's greatest assets is his ability to accentuate the moral ambiguity and the complexity of his characters. In stories like Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and From Hell he populates his worlds with anti-heroes and complex antagonists. The stories themselves don't have to be heavily loaded with mystery/suspense cliches because the characters are themselves mysterious and allow for any number of outcomes to occur. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen illustrates this beautifully, as we find that after the first half of the first volume, we have protagonists that include an aging opium addict, an amoral, invisible rapist, a violent self-interested monster (Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), a British-hating, anti-colonialist scientist (Captain Nemo) and a gentlewoman with an unclear past she intends to keep hidden (Mina Murray). There is not one character in that bunch that any right-minded person immediately promotes and hopes to emulate. They are all great in their own way, but each also substantially flawed.

The first volume pits the League against a villain who remains secret throughout the bulk of the tale, but proves to be a solid and surprising twist. The story is a steam-punk mystery centered around recovering a secret element that can allow for the technology of flight. Violence, destruction and literary references abound. The second volume takes a cue of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds and spins it into the existing world. Again, what the reader doesn't know or understand is used against them, and Moore pulls no punches with the visceral and carnal actions taken by members of the League. He reminds us that characters need not be crystal clear, good or evil, to hold an audience. So often any one of us will straddle a line on which one side is the right choice and the other is the wrong choice. Nothing is so simple as "I'm good so I do good." Moore excels in evoking these philosophical concerns and then forcing his reader to question their own position on an event. Volume II especially poses these questions as a gruesome murder is at once something horrific and something that seems very nearly heroic in its context.

While a major studio may not appreciate these moral ambiguities in its interest for a cash-grabbing action series, a smaller studio, with an auteur at the helm, making this into a smaller art-house film may have been capable of making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a success. Still, the graphic novels are the true source material. Just as reading Emma or any of Shakespeare's work is better than watching the film, the same will always be the case with Alan Moore's work. For that, I respect his semi-maniacal hatred and disowning of adaptations, but it would still be incredible to see one done right.
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Mumiy Troll/ Future of the Left / ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

Something strange happened last night. And it wasn't the drunk girl from Albuquerque who asked if she knew me, fondled my jacket lapel and called me a "jerk" for not staying to watch the headlining Trail of Dead. Concerts generally don't fill up for the opening act. Especially on a three band bill. Especially when the headliner is a widely known and loved group (despite recent craft shortcomings... argued recently by many, trust me). Especially, when the opening band is an 80s rock-indie band reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult... and Russian.

But last night, the Bluebird filled nearly half way for the openers Mumiy Troll, a 4-piece formed in 1983 in Vladiovstock, Russia. A sizable Russian community exists in Denver that myself and my friends did not anticipate, and they came out in force to support one of the largest rock bands from their home country. Between frenetic, loud, grinding guitar rock anthems (sung entirely in Russian) audience members spoke directly with the band, joking and requesting songs (entirely in Russian). This unique experience was capped by the pure energy from the crowd. Dancing abounded, and the excitement was infectious. Luckily, lead singer Ilia Lagutenko possesses a stage presence capable of driving an entire audience to his cause. His dancing, bugging eyes and un-ironic hard rock vocals all added up to feeling like loving the band. And to his credit, I bought their most recent release Comrade Ambassador.

As a brief digression, the album is fun, rocking, and loaded with well-constructed pop-rock tunes that feel like the work of the late '70s-early '80s Journey/Kansas/Toto/Boston ilk. All vocals are in Russian, including a bonus cover of the Mamas and the Papas classic "California Dreaming" (recorded pre-Mackenzie Phillips rape-lationship announcement to be sure). It is not a great album, but it is pretty fucking impressive and fun to listen to front to back. The memory of seeing this band live, so excited that there was a "hometown audience" out in the auditorium, certainly effects my impression of the album, but sometimes it is fun to love music for what it reminds you of, even if you don't love it otherwise. Specifically it reminds me of a man, Russian (ofc) in his mid-forties, who was tearing up the dance floor, slam dance thrashing with his wife. It was a beautiful scene.

After the surprisingly awesome opener, came our goal for the evening Future of the Left. They have produced arguably the best album of the year. This part the show was incredible. It is always impressive to find out that those voices and instruments played on great albums come from real people, often people who suddenly seem normal-size instead of larger-than-life when you see them on stage. This was the experience when Andy "Falco" Falkous and band mates Kelson Mathias and Jack Egglestone brought the second set to the Bluebird. Falco is an intense, but polite man, who checked his own levels on his guitar, mic, and piano, politely using "please" and "thank you" with the sound staff. But, once they tore into the first lines of "Arming Eritrea" all the gentle talk subsided and the band exuded hard-living, hard-rocking excellence. This was a deafening show, both figuratively and literally. I could barely hear this morning... But it was a pummeling, satisfying rock show. And there was quality banter from guys that clearly love performing live and truly appreciate the audience.

Then, we left, as did what seemed like half of the original near-capacity crowd, before Trail of Dead came out to play their headlining set. Maybe I was a "jerk" to leave early, but we got all the rock we needed from two great opening bands, and as my friend Sean said, "It would be shitty to stay and be disappointed when we can leave now and be so blown away."
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Antlers - Hospice

An album that captures a feeling, more even a place and a time is a rare thing. Concepts albums are a dime a dozen, and many come out of a quirky desire to make something genre/literature based or a rock opera. In the last few years we have been graced with the deeply effecting Songs In A & E by Spiritualized and then The Decemberists sad, but raucous The Hazards of Love. Both presented emotion and sadness through deep instrumentation and solid lyrics, yet both also had a vested interest in a bright side. For Spiritualized, an album written while song writer Jason Pierce was recovering from a near death experience in the hospital finds a sense of gratitude for life. For The Decemberists love is dangerous, but ultimately worth dying for as the two lovers drown in each others arms at the end, happy that they have each other for eternity. The Antlers sophomore album Hospice operates on the other end of the spectrum. The album holds death and destruction close and doesn't try to reconcile any lesson from it, other than that death happens and the tragedy resonates.

Hospice opens with the droning echo of empty hallways, and the feeling that the listener is being led somewhere they do not, or will not, like. I have been fortunate in my life not to spend a lot of time in hospitals, surrounded by mortality and the sterile maintenance of illness and death, but I have dear friends who have and what is described feels like the opening. It's a nightmare. And this album is about a nightmare: a man losing a loved one, Sylvia to cancer. After the opening track, the droning walls of sound continue, sometimes sounding like cicadas roaring in summertime in their unsettling, alien way. While some tracks take a more poppy course than others the whole of it is clattering and disheveling. The album makes you feel death and doubt and fear and regret. It's rattling. And even more rattling are Peter Silberman's vocals that feel hollow, tired and pleading. His strained words and notes capture and reflect a man who doesn't sleep, who is at the end of his proverbial rope. This is a man losing his love, and feeling powerless. There is no containing or skirting death in Hospice, no matter how many times sleep and dreams try to tell us otherwise. Cancer, and death, and watching the end of a person, slowly wasting away is a combination of dreams and nightmares. The silence of being in the real world is more frightening than anything the subconscious could create.

There are up points in the album, reminiscent of Arcade Fire in instrumentation and vocalization, but never so wistful and hopeful. Hospice reminds me of a story from a book I reviewed for this blog previously. In Richard Yates' Eleven Kinds of Loneliness there is a story called "No Pain Whatsoever" about a wife visiting her husband in the tuberculosis ward. The silences between the husband and wife are more powerful than their pleasantries and consolations to one another that the situation will be okay. They both know that he won't be healthy soon, if ever, and yet they must pretend that the life they knew with each other still exists and will continue as originally planned eventually. It's only a matter of time. But, it's not. The wife knows as she leaves the ward that her husband, the man she loved and married is essentially dead. And the husband knows that he'll never be the man she fell in love with again. They dance the dance anyway, and talk the talk, because the pain of confronting the real end of things is far more intimidating than the horror of maintaining airs. Hospice accepts that nothing can be done, and yet it does exist in a way to keep a moment, the moment before Sylvia has died, in limbo, thus bestowing her with an immortality. Every time the album is played she is alive again, if in perpetual suffering, but she is not completely gone.

I will have to credit my friend Jared for these next thoughts because he encouraged me to write a review on this album, and I'll admit that it is a hard album to listen to and a hard album to write about without falling into cliche. We had a long phone conversation about how amazing a piece of artwork is to capture a moment and force every one who consumes it to feel it in the same way that the composer must have. Hospice doesn't leave much to interpretation, and in tandem with the liner notes, it's an album that reads the same way for anyone willing to explore it fully. This is a great badge of success for The Antlers, that an experience this personal and tragic feels not only real, but resonates so greatly. Every chord and lyric in the album feels like a dagger. From the climactic track "Shiva" comes perhaps the most haunting opening lyrics in all of music:

Suddenly every machine stopped at once, and the monitors beeped the last time.
Hundreds of thousands of hospital beds, and all of them empty but mine.

The song progresses, from the perspective of the now dead Sylvia, as the man comes back and leaves his ring in her hand and tears the visitor's band off of his wrist. It's a horrible, and tragic and real death, and there is no way to interpret it otherwise. Moments like these are not easy to pass from person to person. Explaining why a song or book or poem makes you feel a way in your own personal context is often unclear to other people. We don't understand the precise feelings in each other during break ups, or loss of loved ones, or lost jobs or anything. But this album gives you the feelings of emptiness and loss that come with death. And illness. And the quiet sadness that comes from a hollow pit inside that laughter cannot replace and new love can't refill. Even in dreams, as illustrated by the lyrically tragic, haunting final track "Epilogue."

Now, given all things considered in this review, the album is so amazing that it is worth the pain of hearing it and letting it well up the feelings it will. Hospice is a beautifully orchestrated, forcefully written piece of modern musical genius.
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Underappreciated Music File: The Left Banke

In the mid to late 1960s you couldn't spit without slathering a new, promising Baroque pop band with your sticky saliva. As a result of the Simon & Garfunkel-Moody Blues-Beatles effect every mop-topped group of kids tried assembling an airy, chamber-element ornamented, pop music consortium. The Left Banke, who formed in '65 in New York City, fit perfectly into the mold: not overly handsome, musically talented, and precisely psychedelic enough to click with the burgeoning and popular drug scene. And they capably composed those Michael Pinder/Lennon cross-over rock pieces that remind us of a movement without becoming unlistenably stale. But, sadly, the propagation of baroque-mop-topped-Brit-influenced bands at that time was so great that some amazing, catchy and clearly influential work went overlooked by the annals of rock history. So, I present The Left Banke with their biggest album Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina as the next entrant of the Underappreciated Music File.

Released in 1967, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina creatively takes its title from the names of the two chart-climbing singles that brought The Left Banke its initial fame. Both songs are pop masterpieces, short time-wise (roughly 2:40 each), with full sound, thoughtful lyrics and perfectly arranged baroque notes by flute, pan pipe and harpsichord. The songs are just as solid as any Moody Blues track, with vocals that sound quite similar, but with less of the heavy-handed sentimentality about love that marks other baroque music. The Left Banke, in two singles capture more desperation and frustration in their pop than the more popular bands of their time. The style is essentially reminiscent, but the music holds a darkness that feels altogether progressive and real (in the "actual human expression of emotion" sense). For never gaining immense popularity, The Left Banke effectively redesigned baroque pop.

Mixed into the album, beyond those two "hits" are "Barterers and Their Wives" and "Shadows Breaking over my Head" both of which should be more popularly known because of the elegant instrumentation and current-indie styling. The sound in these two songs, and really the entire album, feels directly influential to current greats like Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, and Grizzly Bear (on some tracks). Rousing harmonies, dark lyrics about doubt and fear, and complex compositions. The opening to "I've Got Something on My Mind" (track 4) was sampled and used by Jens Lekman for his 2003 song "Black Cab". Even when a band this great is swept under the rug, they maintain an influence beyond their short run. And listening to The Left Banke reminds me most directly of my first experiences with Big Star (the current reissue band of the moment). Some of the greatest songwriting accomplished in the late 60s and early 70s came to us by way of unsung creators, and didn't have the marketed sex-appeal of The Rolling Stones, or the next-door looks of The Beach Boys, or the by-design creation of The (early specifically) Beatles. Like Big Star, The Left Banke only released two albums in its prime, but two albums loaded with genius is better than 25 where the second half casually slides into mediocrity. (I'm looking at you Jagger!) Check out The Left Banke and thank me later.
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Avett Brothers/ Monsters Of Folk

The Avett Brothers' latest release I and Love and You maintains their precious, affect-heavy lyrical style and divinely constructed classic-style instrumentation. It is an album laden with individual hits, some that fit together more or less because it's a major label debut. Tracks like "Kick Drum Heart" and "Ill With Want" are solid but also demonstrate the single-quota/filler requirements of a major label record. There's really not a bad song on the album, just some that could be given or taken, that feel less like Seth's and Scott's babies and more like leftovers. The tone is bright, lighter for the most part, but does taper down to calm and somber by the final tracks. Rick Rubin produces a great album. The sound is lush, and picks up every nuance of The Avett Brothers obvious and remarkable musical talent. A fan of Emotionalism will not find disappointment in I and Love and You, but it's a different kind of record: Sunnier, higher-fidelity and more a pop-functionality ambitious. "Ten Thousand Words," "I and Love and You," and "Tin Man" are other tracks, than those mentioned above that really drive/design the album.

Monsters Of Folk's Wikipedia page labels them as an American supergroup, and while by definition that may be true, I take issue with the fact that they are essentially unproven as a "group". It's one thing to put a handful of talented musicians together, but we've seen failure in the past in the form of Audioslave. A "supergroup" is not always valued as the simple sum of its parts, there has to be something deeper that amalgamates the individual styles into something greater and often more memorable. Look at Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, or Derek and the Dominoes, both bands that threw together talented musicians and then produces arguably timeless rock/folk songs. There is no "Layla," or "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," or even "Our House" on Monsters of Folk's album Monsters of Folk. It is more or less a nice sampling of the individual styles of music of Conor Oberst, Jim James (credited as Yim Yames, again), Mike Mogis and M. Ward. The album is fun, folksy, at times raucous, and showcasing all the talents of the players, but each track just sounds like Conor Oberst feat. James, Mogis, Ward, or Jim James feat. Oberst, Mogis and Ward, and so on. They clearly have fun playing together, but the album functions better as a Time/Life collection of these "monsters of folk" than as a supergroup. "The Right Place," "Ahead of the Curve," "Whole Lotta Losin,'" and "Map of the World" are excellent. And really, despite my beef with the perhaps magically veiled full-collaboration, it is a fun, poppy, guitar and drum, driving little 4/4 album.
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