Pink Hawks - Shima

One of my fondest college experiences was taking a course covering the history of jazz and its impact on American and World music. Other than my courses in writing and film, that one course, filled with history and music made the greatest impression on my young life. It turned me on to Miles Davis, Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus and opened up a window to a world of sound that says more without lyrics than many songs with vocals ever could. So, excuse the brief nostalgia as I try to seamlessly segue into noting who may be the best, new, local (for the Denverites) jazz fusion group in years. Pink Hawks, who will release their album Shima officially on May 13th with a release party at The Mercury Cafe, bring charged political awareness and energetic, spirited sounds to an oft forgotten genre. With Shima, the combination of expert musicianship and potent, if occasionally "on the nose" lyrics, Pink Hawks create an undeniable sound. To call this new jazz is a compliment, but also an understatement. Shima, with its four tracks spanning 41+ minutes, lives on a powerful mix of growing horns, wailing vocals, dancing keys and rapturous guitar riffs. And though their site tags them as afrobeat and world music, they are so much more than that.

The opening track on Shima, "Everything Is Poetry," is nothing short of perfection. It opens quietly with tapping percussion that precedes a sturdy bass line. Horns hop in offering bits of the melody that add up with each measure until we finally hear the full picture. And once we do, it's a song loaded with all the energy and spirit of anything written by the greats of the Big Band or Combo eras. If you've ever heard Mingus' "Original Faubus Fables" you will feel the connections here, even as the electric guitar and contemporary production elevates the sound, the overall tone and design is the same. Pink Hawks are blatantly political and philosophical, using elegant jazz to tear down societal notions with incredible momentum. There are points, where the lyrics are too blatant, as I noted earlier, but those moments of aggressive protest are so perfectly matched by the energy and experimentation of the music that any minor trespasses are ignorable, and in many cases welcome. "Separate the Corporation and State" is a perfect example. The vocals are a mantra, chanting that idea. It's heavily political, pounding the message repeatedly, while offering pristine sonic backing. Again, I think of Mingus here, as call-and-response rule the track.

The sultry tango-esque "Misery In Threes" may be the crowning achievement of the album, though. It takes slow steps, horns and woodwinds warbling over marching drums. It's a sad, meandering song as implied by its title but a beautiful key solo at the 3/4 really adds fragility to the track, accentuating the tenuousness of any sexuality that comes from the horns and drums. Life is often beautiful and sad, and that's something this song demonstrates exceptionally. The fourth and final track on the album "Addicted to Pain" starts with tapping drums and a phenomenal bass line, guitar pops in, dancing around in the open spaces perfectly and then comes the sax. This is another politically charged track with a batch of more stream-of-consciousness lyrics, rollicking and passionate. It's a perfect closer to an excellent album.

So, as the question may come up, perhaps, where one might find great new jazz that isn't "smooth" (which is almost always a radio code-word for sleepy and boring) I fully recommend pointing any who ask to Pink Hawks. Shima is brilliantly produced, intricately orchestrated and charming in every way. It will get your feet moving as much as your heart. And it's a great complement to coffee, smoky bar spaces (though they no longer exist) and political-noir mentality. You can find Pink Hawks and download the album on their site here and if nothing else, take the time to stream it. You'll be glad you did.
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The Antlers - Burst Apart

Nothing could hope to repeat or even replicate Hospice, the Antlers' 2009 sweeping, emotionally-resonant and heart-wrenching opus. That album was an easy Top 10 vote for its year and an overall top-something-numeric because of how artistically and hauntingly it dealt with epic, sad tragedy. Now, the Antlers, a three-piece of Peter Silberman, Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci, return with a new disc titled Burst Apart that re-directs the groups musical and narrative course, fully aware that Hospice was a one-time deal. That doesn't mean that Burst Apart lacks something, or that it is in anyway a total departure. This isn't a theme album, an opera, in the way its most recent predecessor was, but it still bears the dreamy cooing and crooning we've come to expect from the Antlers. And more so, Burst Apart has choral and noir elements that expand the brand, so to speak. What we get is an album that is so carefully crafted and arranged and so thoughtfully written that it's undeniable. Does it unseat Hospice? No. But it does take a seat at its side on the pantheon. The album streams below, so, check it out and follow "the bouncing ball."

The amazing opener "I Don't Want Love" sets the tone with a tight drum beat and a quick dreamy guitar riff. It's a beautiful, intricate, perfect little pop song. It will stick to you, with you and around you. There are few opening tracks from 2011 that as instantly evoke the "Oh, hmm. Yes. I already love this album" response like this one does. Silberman's voice is clear, wailing and pristine, carrying through from cooed tone to breathless lyric. "French Exit" continues this new, poppier, more energetic vibe for the Antlers by building on wistful key work and drums that rattle away like a modified march. Immediately, Burst Apart feels less urgent than Hospice, but it also feels intelligent and plagued with its own emotional concerns. This is not a pop album, but it is a catchy one, and there is a vast distinction there. Especially because after the first two tracks, the Antlers change gears, finding a kind of wondrous and frightening tone with "Parentheses" and "No Windows," two songs that grab onto an '80s sensibility about new wave and synthpop... in short they engage a sort of "depeche mode," swinging from dream to nightmare in tiny steps, but remaining untouchably perfect.

Where the first two songs called to bands like Beach House and M83, and the second two call to Depeche Mode and (perhaps) the more thoughtful and dreary Duran Duran, "Rolled Together" makes a new way. A rolling repeat of lyrics and beautiful build touch somewhere around late-period Blur with a hint of stadium rock excellence. And then, my god, oh yes "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out" is a crooning, energetic indie pop-rock track. I'll just award it with the "Track that most kids will download and not understand anything else about the band" award for chameleon-ic excellence. So good. And strangely a little Sting-y, like Mercury Falling Sting-y. Though, to reassure their usual fans, "Tiptoe" comes along to set a misty, empty city streets tone where you could be wearing a trench coat and a fedora, smoking a cigarette and wishing that this dame hadn't convinced you to take such a dangerous case. It's a perfect intermission track, a 2:30 instrumental that just reminds you to pay attention to the dreams. And it's good advice because "Hounds" is all dreams, setting up a sweet cry in "Corsicana" and an incredibly waltzy blues closer about death, loss and endings in "Putting The Dog To Sleep."

Burst Apart deals with a lot of the same themes hit hardest in Hospice, but with far more eclectic arrangement and experimentation. The album journeys to so many new and interesting places, genres, feelings and ideas over the course of 41+ minutes that it really can't be pinned to a board, but that wiliness creates a lot of the beauty and grace too. This is direct, heartfelt music that plays with sound to almost total success. And even the tracks that feel a little rehashed in '80s designs, still feel original and dynamic. You will only be disappointed if you never hear this. Great record. Really great record. You can also stream it now, as part of NPR's First Listen here.

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He Went To Jared: Hum - Downward Is Heavenward

Here we are again, with another delightful and incredible He Went To Jared. This week, Jared has turned me on to Hum's 1998 album Downward Is Heavenward. This turned out to be their last studio album and a precursor to the band's breakup in 2000. Hum does very greatly hang heavy with the then popular late '90s rock rules. Creative musical design predicated on hooks and riffs. Driving, conservative drums and variously mixed and effected guitars adorn each and every track. But, as Jared will note below... in the "Jared" section, this is also music built upon beautiful lyrics. A lot of these lyrics fall into a more traditional love long category, yes, but they also take a perpetually ethereal quality and maximize them. My first thought upon listening to this album was that is sounded like a brilliant mix of R.E.M. and Foo Fighters (or perhaps more justly, Built To Spill or Guided By Voices). Hum was considered post-hardcore or space-rock, at least according to Wikipedia, and I can hear the reason for those assignments, yet there's something almost too pure to pigeonhole them that way. This band does abide by the washing fields of sound and the chunky guitars, but really, after the first two tracks "Isle of the Cheetah" and "Coming Home," neither of which grabbed me, there is a song called "If You Are In Bloom" that is as melodic and beautiful as it is crunchy.

For me, the album seems only to get better from there. Perhaps because I lust more toward the understated today. Perhaps because I'm in a semi-grumbly mood. For Downward Is Heavenward, I find myself gravitating toward songs like "Afternoon With The Axolotls" that builds slowly and lives by gravely, calm, almost devastatingly somber vocals. An axolotl is a type of aquatic salamander that looks otherworldly, and perhaps that plays perfectly into the space-rock label, but it also lends a sincere complexity to the song's narrative. And then there's a song like "Green To Me," that initially seems plainly '90s rock-grungy, which it is, fairly and truly, but it turns out to paint strange pictures of morning light from satellites and the kind of imminent technological merge between humans and machines, a sort of independence apocalypse. And vocally, and with the song structure, this song could easily be something in the realm of a Ben Gibbard/Death Cab For Cutie track, if the distortion were toned down ever so slightly. The next track, "Dreamboat" probably could  be too (very easily with the same caveat), but what I'm finding really interesting right now, as I ramble on about this, is that Hum did a lot of things that would be popular today, at least structurally. The album shows its age, but also that the basic tenets of pop song writing, or even "indie" song writing are the same no matter how many ways you produce them. Downward Is Heavenward has all the same pieces that the Killers assemble, or you know somebody a little stronger now, and it's largely in the way that the album is decorated that makes it unique.

The only place I could differ with Jared's love of Downward Is Heavenward is in the overall aesthetic, which doesn't appeal to me the same way it might've when it was released. The hooks and riffs on the album ARE pristine. It's designed to ingratiate itself with each pluck of the guitar, but for me, the sincerity of the lyrics betrays such, though vague and light, levels of pandering. Hum does best when they accept the emotional resonance of their words and use the hooks sparingly. "The Inuit Promise" is a perfect example, as it rides too many kinds of clattering attention demanding riffs and turns, which contrasts with the beautiful sadness of lyrics. Overall, though, this album is very enjoyable, very lively and very kind. And it does stand up for a lot of the excellent descriptions my dear friend has provided below. Give it a listen, there's a player. And see if you agree with me or give Jared the right to eat 1/4 of my soul... That's how these blogs work. It's high stakes shit.

JARED: Hum has a somewhat large but very loyal fanbase, and for good reason. They gained some airtime on MTV with their hit "Stars", and then true to the song title faded away. The reasons for this aren't what I'd call fair, however. In the music industry's fickle preference for "move a million units or you're out", Hum didn't get nearly the exposure that they deserved with their follow-up album Downward is Heavenward. Here's a small blurb from Ye Olde Wiki regarding a failed promotion:

"The biggest promotion for the album came with an appearance on Modern Rock Live on January 25, 1998, and the album was released in February. Singles "Green to Me" and "Comin' Home" were promotional-only, and the band only sold 30,000 copies by the end of the year. Due to disappointing sales, and large record label mergers, the band was dropped from their contract in 2000. While touring in Canada, the band's van got into a minor accident, signaling the last straw. They played their final shows in 2000 on December 29 in St. Louis, Missouri and December 31 in Chicago, Illinois."

Once the merge happened, the band just slipped off of the roster. But no one made rock quite like them. With a very strong ear for melody but an equal appreciation for fuzz pedals, Hum made rock songs that could have been stadium but stayed clubs (to my terrible credit, when I was 16 I went to a benefit show at the Ogden that had them headlining. I stayed for the opening two bands but left before Hum came on because I was tired and had a headache and a complaining girlfriend and was 16. I didn't know who Hum even was then, however, and because they were headlining when I was 16 they must have been riding the wave from their initial hit "Stars").

The lyrics are usually science or astronomy-themed, the lyrics are the words in the margins from a lovesick scientist scribbled in the margins of his notebook in-between lengthy formulas and equations. Let's get going!

1. Isle of the Cheetah: Even starting with an "Isle" in the title is fitting for this record: a nice, sunny piece of land. The song starts with pleasantly strummed guitar with some ambient effects from another guitar in the background. Nuances are already within this song - a small, sped-up and reversed guitar segment skitters past like a mosquito would. Then, the distortion comes in, keeping the melody and not afraid to move away from a basic three-chord dirge. Matt Talbot starts singing in a voice that doesn't need to be better than it already is. He's not going to reach operatic heights or bring to mind Jeff Buckley, but his voice is perfect for this music and not hard to believe coming out of a man in a lab coat. The theme is sun and romance, but there's a faint sense of loss in this record. Nothing crushing, but distant. It's not a man sobbing over the grave of his dead wife, but it IS a young fellow sifting through old love letters from an ex and smiling. And then doing math homework.

2. Comin' Home: This is actually my least favorite song on the album, which is to say it's still a great song (it's also the shortest, not even clocking in at 3 minutes). Much the same as the first song, you have undistorted guitar that establishes the melody, and then hark: guitars incoming. The only uncharacteristic thing about this song is that he starts yelling at the end, which he does no where else on the album (more present on their first album). 

3. If You Are To Bloom: This style is all Hum's. A great melody with a juxtaposition of acoustic guitar following by towering guitars that never smother the song, but just seem to FIT. For some reason, the bass does stick out in this song for me - great choices are made. Another song signaling love, not with love letters but with an equals sign, the melodies and hooks are all over this song with the terrific dual guitar work that twists and turns. One of the strongest songs on this album that, to me, represents a form that is most identifiable with Downward is Heavenward.

4. Mr. Lazaras: On what is almost a jaunty start, this is one of my favorite melodies on the album that gets the Hum treatment. Clean strummed guitar for a bit (lots of tracks, from the sound of it - I love myself some guitars and Hum never dislikes piling them on). Specifically, at around 1:25 Hum flexes their muscles a bit. A finger-plucked and strummed acoustic segment that swerves out of the song structure for a bit, and then the lurch of a guitar in the background before turning around and rocking out the main riff again, in a crunchy but pleasant (like Triscuits!) way. This whole song is another great track definitive of why I love Hum and this album. Poppy but really using varied sonic avenues (I just typed that sentence, kill me).

5. Afternoon With The Axolotls: Hum stretches out a bit here and doesn't just march right into the tune. In the background you'll hear the minor touches of ambiance that they like to scatter through their songs. Guitars roll in eventually, but it's slowed down now. You'll hear the presence of the bass eventually (I do admire how they sometimes bring the bass to the front a little bit - as you know, it's not often done). When the songs come in, I feel as though this song is some impossibly dense, slow, pretty fog. It's like being sleepy on an airplane and looking out the window as the sun sets.

6. Green To Me: Good god, there's a reason this was a single. A fantastic riff opens it right up and never stops. This song is tight, right to the point, and terrific all the way through. It's an anthem for sure: "The morning image from the satellites is all blue and green / We've all got wounds to clean, here's a rag, here's some gasoline". Can't say enough about this song - it's definitely one of my favorite songs of all time.

7. Dreamboat: A chugging riff off the bat that shows Hum at what might be their most purposeful "rocking", and it slides back to a more pleasant but still driving melody. I feel that if I use "melody" one more time in this damn review that the English Police will beat my door down, but fuck 'em. They all live in England anyway. Once again, Hum switches up the dynamics besides leaving the distortion pedal stomped the whole song - clean and shimmering guitars keep the verses company before the fuzz comes back in for the choruses. Matt never has to yell to be heard over the guitars, though - it's loud but tasteful, and I'm trying to think of a person who fits that description but frankly, I can't.

8. The Inuit Promise: The lyrics are still keeping pace with the scientific aspect, which is just another unique reason that brings Hum forward from a lot of crunchy, same-y bands from this era. They're also just that slight mournful but happy sense: "So I'll be like you and do what's right, and win a love I don't deserve out on the ice tonight". Who knows.

9. Apollo: Simple and beautiful. It's the ballad of the album and keeps it simple. In a 10-track album packed with anthemic songs, this is a break and fits right in. I remember being at a party when I was in high school at my friend's house and we started talking about relationships (his was struggling a bit at the time). I said "dude, you HAVE to hear this song". We left our friend's house at about 2:00am, weaving a little in the summer night, and got into my car, where I played this and he stared at my dashboard, blinking from time to time but listening intently. When it was over, we were quiet for a bit. "Wow", he said. He bought the album the next day.

10. The Scientists: Hey, last song! More traditional Hum here. Big guitars, big melodies, and what I do like is that it sounds like it's tromping along in a predictable pattern but at 40 seconds the vocals come in and the song shifts to something a lot more pleasing and dynamic. It's not that they add some chimes or a PLEASANT GLOCKENSPIEL, but they just use melody so well. It's a great closer to a great album.

Because people are fanatic about this album, it's #1 on my holy grail list and it's a bitch to find because people just snap it up, every time, and usually for about 100 bucks. Because of a following that has kept alive even in their disbandment, they've headlined two shows (I believe usually New Year's) twice in Chicago recently. I doubt they'll get back together and even then I'm not sure it would carry quite the zeitgeist that rests in this album. There's heartache, love, possibility, vast space, planets, islands, the ocean, tumbling equations and inventions, and overall appreciation for blankets of noise with melody as your bedmate. It's a fantastic album, one of my favorites of all time (top 10, for sure).

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The Dodos - No Color

Editors Note: Today's review of the Dodos' No Color comes to Gas Lantern Media from special guest columnist Kellen O'Brien. Album is streaming via grooveshark at the bottom. Enjoy! - Nate

Some bands evolve in the wrong direction. I don’t necessarily mean that they devolve, although this happens too. I am talking about bands that grow, but in a way that dampens the original spirit of their work. When I listen to the Dodos, I mainly hear the Dodos signature sound: fast acoustic guitar, intricate percussion, yearning vocals, and a whole lot of rhythm. After three albums, and a measure of success, the band’s peaks and valleys have been smoothed out on No Color. This is a natural process, and even though their tricks have become a bit more predictable, Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have added a new set of potent songs to their repertoire.

“Going Under,” the album’s second song, is undoubtedly its highlight. Opener “Black Night” is dressed as a signature track, but after churning for four minutes, it filters out and segues so fluidly that casual listeners won’t even notice that a new song has begun. “Going Under” pushes forward relentlessly. With dynamic tempo changes, a mixture of percussive flourishes, and guitar grooves it will be an absolute burner in concert. It also epitomizes the band’s sound.

As you listen to the Dodos, their rhythm is all the more apparent, because their best songs seem unstructured and chaotic. It is only at the end of the song that the listener notices the strands that tie the whole thing together. “Going Under” weaves in and out so many times that it could be three different songs. Near the end of Black Night this quality vanishes and the songs become a bit tepid. The first few times I listened, I viewed the album’s middle as a sonic plateau. The Dodos are beginning to favor subtlety instead of explosion, and although this may add depth to their sonic palette, I am worried that it might erode their core sound.

“Good” features nuanced vocal patterns and subdued distortion. Rather than charge to the gate, it disperses slowly, which allows the listener to appreciate the song’s many textures. “When Will You Go” hints at more atmospheric production. The song contains many of the band’s signature maneuvers, but its background overdubbing gives the song an airier quality. Due to its jazz picking, “Companions” begins hypnotically, but the spacier vocals will cause listeners to zone out. “Companions” and “Hunting Season” have lamentable qualities, but fans will able to listen to the album from first song to last. This is an impressive feat for any band in our age of 30-second samples.

Whereas Visiter was raw and unrefined but wholly unique, No Color is well executed and energetic but beginning to sound like other bands. Some of the original spark has been lost because the songs are more digestible, but the more I listen to No Color the more I like it. After The Dodos opened for the New Pornographers last fall, Neko Case signed up to sing backup on about half of their songs. Her masterful voice adds shades to several songs, particularly “Don’t Try and Hide It,” but if her presence had not been declared, it would have barely registered. Even though they are evolving toward the middle of the indie spectrum, the Dodos have retained their signature sound. More importantly,by making Neko Case a footnote, The Dodos have retained my faith that they are one of the best young bands out there. I will have my favorite spot picked out at the Bluebird when they play Denver this June.

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He Went To Jared: Asobi Seksu - Citrus

Today brings another edition of He Went To Jared, the epic, undeniable and transcendent column wherein my dear friend Jared recommends music I've never heard and we get something that's like a dialogue going about it. Since this conversation happens primarily via email and the occasional phone conversation, it's not entirely captured here. Still, this guy, Jared, one of my dearest friends, knows his shit, and so for this episode, he has recommended Asobi Seksu's Citrus. This album, which originally released in 2006 features a brilliant mixed of guitar rock, powerful drums and a droning lush walls of sound. From New York, they are the nearly quintessential dream pop band, though they have more pop-drive and energy than a band like Beach House. That is an element of their sound that functions well because all the calmness so strongly contrasts their faster stuff that it all feels more full and powerful.

Singer Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna create an immense amount of sound for a duo, and they layer each track masterfully. Songs like "New Years" and "Strings" even take on a dreamy aspect, but build elegantly and sometimes forcefully to a massive rocking crescendo and then die back into a calm scene. And there are tracks like the elegant and sprawling "Red Sea" and lift out from a hush and ride a rumbling drum through Chikudate's sweet, sugary vocals. The key with Asobi Seksu is that a good sound system will trump anything. Even with my decent-level system, I know I'm missing some of the intricacy in the composition, so this is not an ear-bud band. In such a small speaker, this would almost certainly come off as pure rock pop, rather than the sprawling sonic voyage that it really is. A song like "Goodbye" for instance, is very directly pop-driven, but there's some extra, tiny tones, that fall back and must be heard closely to be truly appreciated. It's a dreamers album. And you have to dream of listening closely. But, I've gone on and on. This was only supposed to be an introduction for Jared's piece. So, here he is. Oh, and there's a stream of the album at the bottom. Dig it.

JARED: I'm a big fan of guitar squall, feedback, noise, and above all a decent melody. I really enjoy when shoegaze bands aren't afraid to lean hard into pop songs while still not being afraid to really noise it up. Citrus is a great example of that. I've seen these guys twice - once was at the Hi-Dive for 7 bucks and it was great. The next time was at the Independent here in SF for maybe 25 bucks - they got big after that Pitchfork review (among others - Cirtus is a pretty acclaimed album and easily put them on the map). Their following albums never quite caught the magic of Citrus again, but you're not going to be LISTENING TO THOSE.

The lead singer has to be perhaps a bit over four feet tall. Tiny Japanese girl but man, they have a HUGE sound. You'll hear things like what could be a  60s pop song in songs like "Goodbye", huge swathes of guitar in songs like "Red Sea", what could be a radio hit in things like "Nefi + Girly", more frantic and perhaps 80s-ish songs like the closer "Mizu Asobi" - actually, at this rate, let's do a small track by track:

1. Everything Is On - A very appropriate opener - a small slice of ambient, burbling a bit before the album really starts.

2. Strawberries - the first single, remixed by a few folks including popular shoegaze/ambient artist Ulrich Schnauss. It sets the theme for the album, really - swirly pop songs. They balance some precise melodies on the album without being afraid to give them a bit of a noisier edge (I'm a fan of the dirty, distorted bass guitar in this one, for instance).

3. New Years - More upbeat and snazzy. I do enjoy the fact that they do a bit of a traditional buildup later in the song before lurching into a straight-up fuzzed out blast of noise before dropping right back into their more pop-leaning sound. When they did this live, they really tore it up.

4. Thursday - Really, this album comes front-loaded with some great songs (not that the rest isn't really good, too). I love how this song builds. Just an insistent kick-drum, bass, and a spacey guitar drone in the background mixed with more precise plucking. Very pretty, and in theme with the album, the songs seem to exist in a pretty large sonic spread.

5 Strings - There are no string sections in this song because the band members are a bunch of liars. I really like the woozy slide guitar. It's more of the album's formula on here - melodies, whistful and pretty and poppy, with a dose of distortion, which is how I like my women (I'm not sure what that means).

6. Pink Cloud Tracing Paper - I really love the sound they have at the start here - it's maybe the most My Bloody Valentine leaning stuff (plus that mean distorted bass guitar again, too). It then sort of veers into a traditional song. One of the guys sings on this one and he sounds like the frontman to Yo La Tengo in a way, which is to say that it's not like his voice goes to the rafters, but it gets it done. Also a fan of the guitar during the chorus. These songs are pretty, but make no mistake - they're really fucking loud live.

7. Red Sea - Great buildup, one of my favorites on here. Honestly, though, part of the reason this album is so good is because it's just solid, top to bottom. I admire this song because it sort of swerves into a huge, spacey section (PERHAPS IT'S LIKE BEING IN A "SEA" OF FEEDBACK!!! GREAT JOB NAMING YOUR SONG, LOLLLOL)

8. Goodbye - I already commented on it so LAY OFF.

9. Lions and Tigers - This is my favorite intro to any song on here, I think. To the point - pretty, brief build-up, knockout distorted riff after before the girl starts singing.

10. Nefi + Girly - I already said A Thing about it.

11. Exotic Animal Paradise - Slower, probably the closest thing to a ballad on here. This is indicative of the way the band would lean towards later albums.

12. Mizu Asobi - A good closer. Upbeat, also heavy on the synths that makes me think of the 80's.

That's it! Pairs well with sunshine, a bit of a coffee buzz, and overall good moods.

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Panda Bear - Tomboy

As Animal Collective ventured into joyful accessibility with Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2009, there were hints and doses that called back to Noah Benjamin Lennox's most recent solo project as Panda Bear, a little album called Person Pitch. Both albums found ways to incorporate the electronic and the choral. Reaching for strange and exciting beats while cementing them with Beach Boys style soothing vocals. A song like "My Girls" from Merriweather is typical of this venture, where pop and harmony is embraced as much as experimentation and overt weirdness. And so that design continues to be Lennox's mission on this newest of Panda Bear releases. Tomboy is as smooth, honey-like and calming as anything Animal Collective and/or Panda Bear has put out thus far. It has the complex and distinct tones of growth and confusion, riding minor chords and wailing drones to emphasize the emotional resonance that lives with a batch of poetic lyrics. And for every moment that feels like a religious experience, the kind of feeling one would imagine sonically imbued at the crossing of a cathedral threshold, there is another moment of crunchy electropop/rock that fuses the group together and makes the album nearly as dance-able as it is peaceful.

The aptly titled "Drone" is a great example of the former, a song that feels thick and long and heavy. It commands emotion and interest and is that type of track that would, with the proper sound system, force the listener to feel it with his entire body, ribs rumbling, skin tingling, ears echoing. And yet it is followed by "Alsatian Darn" and a driving guitar, a complex desirous beat and bounding vocals that seem to elegantly break free of the track when they can. Even among the buzzing and clatter, this is a song that could well find a home on a folk station, if only the production were dropped back the slightest bit. The title track "Tomboy" also falls into a realm of ideal catchiness, sweetly repetitive and rolling with a progression that is as hooky as it is original. This is a snowball track, picking up little, subtle additions as it goes, getting bigger with time, and then rumbling off into a bridge of droning sound walls. But "Last Night At The Jetty" is perhaps the most lovingly revivalist of Pet Sounds era Beach Boys. It's a kind, straightforward track that embraces cleaner vocals and still holds onto a bit of a canticle-style jangle, dancing along the line of electronics and purity. Regardless it remains imminently recognizable and lovable.

But perhaps the top honors on Tomboy go to a pair of tracks: "Slow Motion" and "Afterburner." On "Slow Motion" there is a vibrant, desirous crunch that drives a song that thrives on buried melodic beauty. And "Afterburner" features a rumbling bass riff that stomps along the back wall of the song, far behind the echos and scratchy additions, holding up a track of spacey sound and pleasant choral singing. And drives the object as if it were an animal running wildly through a murky forest. And "Surfer's Hymn," in opening with a sample of waves crashing and vibraphone-like tones, weeps naturally despite it's heavy production. There are ways that this is a natural Panda Bear album, but they are subtle enough that Tomboy feels neither like an abandonment of the standing ethos, nor a total marriage to it. For an album with such great expectations, and such a potential to disappoint, in being too similar to Animal Collective, or too great a departure, Panda Bear's newest thrills by toeing the necessary line and by suffusing an aural experience with equal parts organic and man-made. In that way, it lives up to its name, as a tomboy is so often a cutesy moment of youthful gender line-blurring, this album blurs the lines of electronic and natural to become more well-rounded and ultimately stronger.

Panda Bear - Tomboy by In House Press
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Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'

You'd probably know Raphael Saadiq from his time in Tony! Toni! Toné! and if not from there then you just wouldn't know him. I certainly didn't. But fortunately, my good friend Carrie sent a cadre of crustaceans all the way from India and their little shells, arranged the right way spelled the words, "Check out Raphael Saadiq's Stone Rollin'." She may have also sent me a facebook message or something, but that's not important. Sometimes it's better to enjoy the made up wonderful over the true mundane. And so, crustaceans. With letter-offering shells. And so, with that I tracked down this great new album that blends R&B, rock, funk, pop and some cacophonous brilliance. Saadiq has a sort of pure, wailing, high-register voice that doesn't lend itself to perfectly to every song, but it's not at all broken. He ventures into blue-eyed soul at times, in the vein of Hall and Oates, hits some Michael Jacksonian notes here and there and even touches on the blues. And in each foray his voice rides at the forefront. That is good and bad as in some songs the elaborate backing production seems so mixed in that it barely resonates. But mostly it's good, carrying us through songs that feel timeless.

In a lot of ways, Saadiq plays a poor man's Jamie Lidell. His songs are peppered, lightly seasoned to taste, with electronic elements. Stone Rollin' doesn't overflow with memorable tracks, but there are at least 8 of the 10 here that stick with you and instantly pique interest. Maybe that's more a factor of the amount of music I listen to than one of his success, and I'd be (and am) the first to admit that possibility. Saadiq is very openly indebted to his influences and any parroting or retreading he does is strong and sonically interesting. A song like "Daydreams" that shows up mid-album rides that chugging-train vibe '20s and '30s blues. Or "Heart Attack" and "Movin' Down The Line," both of which are gorgeous and pristine in their simplicity, dressed with backing vocals, as they bring back the feeling and texture of early Al Green. Specifically with "Movin' Down The Line" there's a brilliant spoken section backed by a wall of strings and horns. This is Motown redux, presented in even greater earnest.

"Just Don't" is perhaps the best song on the album, filled with tinny guitars and a bounding assemblage of vocals in which Saadiq does call-and-response with himself. But the layering is so brilliant that the song carries a weightier emotional resonance. And when a grinding riff comes in to fill the back-end, it's just about as smooth and cool as music can get. A long breakdown with spacey tones completes the journey. Hopping back to track two, "Go To Hell" another contender for best track on the disc, there's more powerful strings, horns, rattling drums and brilliant backing vox. It's so full and epic that it is undeniable. "Good Man" goes the other way, hitting something similar to the best stuff by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. And really, jeez, I should just amend the note from before and say that the whole album is stellar. This is the kind of under-the-radar music that even Pitchfork hasn't gotten around to just yet. Perhaps it's because the album has done better across the pond than here, but that's really no good reason.

I am reluctant to keep giving albums such heavy nods. Reviewers, even the amateur like myself are supposed to be harsh and analytical, but here's the thing: Stone Rollin' does exactly what its album art, in both forms you see above, purport to do. It's a soulful, retro-rock-soul-stravaganza. And yet it still pushes the envelope in places like "The Answer" with his mournful Marvin Gaye-style march anthem and the closer "The Perfect Storm." Sure, these ideas, lyrically and musically are not new. They're not entirely innovative or unexpected, but they are so precisely and beautifully done that the music is enjoyable. Saadiq has assembled a nearly perfect album and were we all able to own everything that ever exists I'd stand by much of Stone Rollin' being up high in the rotation. Plain, fucking beautiful music. Check it out. There's a stream up now and if you click on this sentence you'll be tossed to it. Or, hell, go to Record Store day tomorrow, support local business and get some great tunes. Now I have to dispatch a team of dyed albatross with to my friend Carrie. Arranged correctly, they will spell out "Thank you."
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TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light

Nine Types of Light is synth-heavy and poppier than previous TV On The Radio albums like 2008's Dear Science. Rather than wholly embracing horns the bulk of tracks as they have in the past, this new foray takes hold of wailing background keys and holds tighter to the concept of indie rock. This is no longer shoegaze music. TV On The Radio is a rock band, attacking your senses with guitars and at points with '80s style beats. This is an epic record if ever there was one, but the band is still careful to toss in thoughtful, lamenting tunes too. Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone still split the vocals as evenly as ever, but they have definitely turned toward more full singing and away from vocal bombastic acrobatics. This is never more evident than on "Killer Crane," a track that builds so sweetly and honestly on piano and string percussion. In a lot of ways, Nine Types of Light feels like the "organic" TV On The Radio album, despite the presence of expected and valuable production.

For this boy, TV On The Radio was something of a revelation. Music never felt quite this way before I heard them. In that way they share common holds with Radiohead, another band who truly altered the musical landscape permanently and irrevocably. When TV On The Radio chooses to get funky they do it better than just about anybody. When they want to throw together a thoughtful and complex bout of math rock, they create an equation so elaborate that Einstein would've shit his phonograph. And now, as they venture toward something more direct, pure and sweet, they generate emotion as if they started the whole idea of love and fear and discontent from scratch. On "Will Do" we hear an echoing, cavernous '80s track that parrots so many love songs, but does so with enough electronic adornment that it would never sound like something we have already heard. The lyric "Anytime will do/ What choice of words will bring me back to you?" is simple and haunting. The kind of thought we've all had, summed perfected and sung sadly.

With the grungier "New Cannonball Blues" we are treated to a phenomenal combination of harmonized vocals that is both guttural and natural, protesting distemper as easily as the song embraces it. There are vague notes of John Lennon's protest songs like "Working Class Hero" here, summing all the frustrations into a ball and spewing them in a great purge. And finally, the horns appear in full-form too, calling back to previous albums. The aptly named "Repetition" utilizes a rolling electronic track to back another track of gain, loss, excess and trying and trying and trying again. This is a hook-laden track on an album that lives by hooks and quality song writing. The experimentation is lighter than previous art rock iterations of TV On The Radio, but they still know how to keep a listener guessing, offering several songs, like "Repetition" that seem to build to one thing or another and then quickly change direction. "Forgotten" is sweet and sad. "Caffeinated Consciousness" is percussive and funky, barking at you in a sort of Clash-like punk/funk way that tapers back into sweeter philosophical crooning. But, for me, some of the greatest sincerity comes from the opening track "Second Song" where chunky guitars come in to back a poetic group of lyrics about life, drudgery, music, light and seeing the world in a new way.

TV On The Radio never left, so this isn't a comeback. This is a band that continues to grow from album to album, altering the landscape and their legacy for the better each time. If we were all 12 and there was an awesome roller coaster that your friends told you that you must ride to fully experience life, this is the sonic equivalent for 2011. Get your hands on this album. Find a way. And until then you can preview it, maybe listening to it twice view Rhapsody on their free stream...
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Non-Review - April 9: Arcade Fire

Since neither I nor my dear friend Kellen O'Brien were able to attend last week's Arcade Fire show, Kellen has written an essay to mitigate that concert-misser's sadness. Here it is. Enjoy.

The Thing About Missing a Concert
by Kellen O'Brien

Sometimes a drive is too daunting. Most Colorado natives have neglected a January
drive on I-70 to avoid the possibility of a three-hour traffic jam. That doesn’t mean
that a lot of other people decided it was worth it and were rewarded for their

At Friday night kickball, there was some talk about the Arcade Fire/Local Natives
show at FirstBank Center: a party bus, reservations, excitement, and nostalgia.

By the time the game had ended, with my team Slow Kick in the Grass posting
another decisive victory, I had decided without reservation not to attend the show.
My decision came down to three factors, bill, necessity, and logistics.


Traditional two band pairings do not come much richer than Arcade Fire and Local
Natives. As indie’s torchbearer, Arcade Fire can pull from three unique and two
deep albums. “Wake Up” is a fantastic climax to any celebration. Although there may
exist an undercurrent of credibility pushback, Arcade Fire is certainly a dependable
pillar. Local Natives, meanwhile, put out one of last year’s finest first releases.
Guerilla Manor can be played in its duration without the slightest risk of dead spot
lag. The album certainly seems like the first of many, and the band finds itself in
good company also. For me, they bring to mind Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, and My
Morning Jacket. But instead of being from Portland, Seattle, or Louisville, they are
from Silverlake.

Ultimately, this might be one of the strongest pairings currently on tour or
announced for summer glory. Although Arcade Fire may be more consistent in a
live setting, Local Natives will at some point develop their live sound in a way that
eclipses their vinyl worthiness.


I’ve seen both bands in the last calendar year, and this certainly played a big part in
my non-interest. I remember, during last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, my step-
sister and I made a desperate, dramatic push from the suburbs to Union Park to
catch the beginning of Local Natives. They were, unfairly for us, playing an early
afternoon set. The set did not lack goodness, but the early time slot deprived the
crowd of momentum necessary to engage fully in the undertaking.

Not to mention, I feel certain that I will have many more chances to see Local

Arcade Fire is in the same boat. I saw them on this tour’s first United States date
back in Boston. I’m sure their live show has become a finely tuned machine, but they
weren’t shabby on that late summer day.

Not to mention, I will see them with Mumford and Sons in London in June. Mumford
is one of the few new bands I would wish to open for Arcade Fire over Local Natives,
and their live chops are already humming. Ultimately, I had to decide if seeing
Arcade Fire three times in a year is too much.

I’m sure there are fanatics out there that would say there is no number too high, but
Arcade Fire isn’t in my top five even though Suburbs is stellar.


Am I the only one that thinks the Red Rocks season could start much earlier? Maybe,
they have tried this out before, but what is wrong with a mid-April show? Everyone
buying tickets would know of, and account for, the obvious risks. The shows would
have to be carefully vetted, but I think this show would have carried Red Rocks. Who
doesn’t like wearing a hoodie. I mean, seriously?

I like the concept of the FirstBank Center. The discussion went something like
this: “Let’s put a fairly large venue in between Denver and Boulder. It will be
awesome. Promoters won’t have to deceive themselves that Katy Perry can fill the
Pepsi Center. And like, cops will be able to make many many DUI arrests. Great!?”

The way I figure it, if you are going to a show like this, you are going in a sizable
group. This means that there will likely be a sizable amount of partying. So, who
stays sober? Not me.

Obviously, the party bus idea works, but that can become quite expensive, and
doesn’t exactly ease up on the logistics issue. I had friends with a party bus at MGMT
last summer, and not only did people never find the party bus after the show, but
several members of the group ended up with hypothermia. Not exactly failsafe. If
I drive my car, it will mean someone I am with volunteers to drive back, because I
have no interest in making that drive even if I’m street legal. That would entail, both
major self-control and an aversion to excess. Not my strong suits.

Ultimately, if a show becomes too much work, it makes me not want to go. I have
yet to see a show at FirstBank, maybe I will someday, but if Arcade Fire and Local
Natives didn’t entice me, I’m not quite sure what will.
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The Popovers - Make It So!

The Popovers, like Pomplamoose and my dear, talented friend Harper Phillips, are evidence that the internet can be used for good, namely as a swift distribution method for exceptional music and artistic achievement. I first heard of the Popovers through Dan Savage's Savage Lovecast, where the band wrote his catchy-as-hell theme song and lead-out music. From that tidbit, and it is an extremely minor one that demonstrates the band's pop sensibilities and vocal strength, I felt beyond compelled to see what else they had done. And there, in the wilds of the internet I discovered their newly released, for free but requesting donation, album Make It So! And through now three listens this very afternoon, I have come to the conclusion that the Popovers are one of the most talented and dynamic unsigned bands currently populating the internet. Make It So! features such exciting and inventive song writing, all still nested in the ideals of pop creation, that each track feels fresh, alive and party ready. What's more, Tim LaFollette and Catie Braly, offer frank, witty and smart lyrics that poke fun at relationships, pop music and life, all while maintaining a sense of style and dignity that prevents them from becoming a "parody band."

The Popovers possess the ability to turn simple concepts into opuses of emotion. "Yoga In The Morning" is playful and energetic, a plea to stay the night on one hand, but also a well done, not-too-cute barb at yoga as the en vogue exercise. A mix of guitars and sweet harmonies keep the song rushing along beautifully. And then on "Desk Chairs," the progression and vocals paint a sad, but spirited look at life, as we do simple things in the midst of a chaotic world. "The Worst In You" is a brilliant piece of call-and-response that concisely sums up the feeling we get from some failed relationships. Even as we love the other person, we acknowledge that our mixed lives create a sort of emotional miasma. And on the electronic, throbbing "I Desire" we are treated to visions of romantic devotion mingled with a desire for control. Love is this dangerous, complex thing and on this track particularly the Popovers show the insight to juxtapose a robotic musical style with the truth that our desires and hearts cannot be contained or ruled by laws.

The band's influences seem to range from Ben Folds to Badly Drawn Boy to Built To Spill to a handful of other pop guitar outfits whose names start with any of the other 25 letters of the alphabet. And really the influences don't matter quite as much as the execution and the Popovers continuously present excellent songs that have compelling and interesting hooks. The album is comprised of tracks recorded over 5 years, from 2004 - 2009, and if these songs are the cream of the crop, then the B-sides must be pretty fucking insanely great too. If you want to listen to something heartfelt, uplifting, thoughtful and intelligent, check the Popovers out. And if you're not sure you want to download the whole album, consider streaming it from their site too. Or their MySpace page. You'll be glad you did. It's feel good music, sometimes about things that don't feel good, but then, that's the way the world works sometimes.

Once again, you can download and contribute for the album at the Popovers' website here.
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Bill Callahan - Apocalypse

Nearly two years ago Bill Callahan emerged fully accepting of his non-Smog identity and provided a beautiful, pastoral album called Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. Callahan's undeniable voice will not be forgotten, but with this year's Apocalypse, he has more fun with sonic additions and song structure and takes a break from simple poetic beauty. This is an album of dire, sometimes sparse epics that demand listening attention. Often, the full scope of the song's narrative and it's musical structure seems continuously mysterious. These are songs that can't be pinned down largely in the way that we have really no control over the mythical end of the world, except how, as I recall discussing with my dear friend Jon, the apocalypse will ultimately be people-driven. Still, Apocalypse rides that context, and the subtext. The Apocalypse is unclear. It's a fright and a devastation, but it remains difficult to understand, comprehend or even prepare for. This isn't going to be your canned corn and stock-piled toilet paper kind of rodeo. What we think we can predict won't be of any use to us. The point being that Bill Callahan connects Apocalypse with lots of references to plans gone awry, to the break down of wild, open freedom. And with some boundary breaking song structures that border on chaos... even as they remain beautifully pleasing to the ear.

This unpredictability is not necessarily a sudden transformation for Callahan, whose catalog of baritone-sung folk/country/rock story-songs often resemble Johnny Cash's late-period American Recordings series. And Callahan has always been successful at putting beauty in stark contrast with coarse ideas, somewhat strange song designs, but Apocalypse has the unique feel of a world falling apart. Even as Callahan's voice remains sturdy, we hear his guitar occasionally wander, sometimes crashing into minor breakdowns that so beautifully and intentionally illustrate the tenuous grasp we hold on order, whether in music or in our world. This theme reaches a poignant, on-the-nose-but-still-amazing apex on the marching, jazz-fusion-vibed, almost spoken word satire "America!" Callahan speaks over the bounding drums and quick screeching guitars about watching David Letterman, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other serious social and political topics, even admitting, after reading off the names of soldiers, "I've never served my country." The song is incredible, impacting and epic, but in a way that feels like the frank reworking of '60s era protests.

Elsewhere on the album, the opener "Drover" is simply fantastic. It's a dark story of mistakes that wanders from format to format, keeping you ever on your ear's toes. And there are several points, at least for this regular Callahan fan, where the song seemed to logically end, only to pick up quickly after. "Baby's Breath" provides a more direct Callahan song for those expecting/wishing for the sound of 2009. "Universal Applicant" dances over a faint flute and tapping keys that are reminiscent of classic motown. And he adds some little accents, laughing briefly in the song, playing with words in such a way that the song is more performance piece than mere music. Think Serge Gainsbourg and how genre/style are backing to a sort of individually expressive narrative. "Riding For The Feeling" takes the role of a more traditional song of lamentation as it cries sonically over a goodbye and the line "All this leaving is never ending," which lands directly atop beauty and genius at once. Callahan has a tendency to just flow lyrically and all that pseudo-rambling serves to make this song more sad, until it's nearly impossible want it to stop, in the way that some break ups can last so long that you almost wish they'd go forever because you could still hold onto that person. "Free's" runs back into a distinctly jazzy territory and carries with it another great line: "Is this what it means to be free, or is this what it means to belong to the free," hence the track's title. It is a jangly lament that leads perfectly to the slow-burning, cool and calm "One Fine Morning." The song takes on powerful religious imagery as Callahan speaks to his apocalypse, garnished with strong piano, until the drums and cymbals come in and the song takes a truly overflowing shape.

Sometimes we know great music when we hear it. This is one of those albums. Bill Callahan was never going to be a universal go to artist, but with Apocalypse, he expands his expression both musically and lyrically to tap into a reservoir of shared human dread, love, sadness, fear, and dignity. I suggest you purchase this album posthaste. Until you do, a little taste is offered below.

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That Final LCD Soundsystem Show

The life of a scrambling, scrapping freelance writer did not afford me the opportunity to attend LCD Soundsystem's final show at MSG, but through the growing, infinite and singularity-grasping power of the internet I've been able to watch the entire show, as broadcast by Pitchfork.tv, over YouTube (though after watching the whole show I discovered that the video has now been removed). Since I wasn't there I can't offer a specific critique of the audience, the environment or the sound, but what I can say is that this is one of the most enjoyable 3+ hours of my life spent viewing live music. The concert in this form is more a film than a live show with James Murphy in near constant view on a packed super-ensemble stage. The production, with all these great musicians and artists and the State Street Singers, feels album perfect. And there's just enough variation in Murphy's voice to make it a valid, demanding and lovable live show.

They open with "Dance Yrself Clean" following a long lead-in of 10cc's classic "I'm Not In Love" twinkling through the speakers. And the show builds carefully, hitting energetic, vivid and boisterous points before tapering back down. Of course, "All My Friends" comes across perfectly with all the sadness it carries in its lyrics built upon wonderful live instrument energy. It's truly incredible just to see so many players coexisting with electronic and synthesized elements to create something so beautiful. From live steel drums to guitars to horns. And at about the 2 hour mark, the band takes recess, coming back out for a phase 2 encore level, super-power set. After one song, Arcade Fire shows up to sing on "North American Scum." The live version of my favorite, and I'm sure many others' favorite LCD song obliterates the crowd and stops the show in that traditional showstopping way. Arcade Fire spiritedly sings "North America" in call and response and the whole thing just fucking rocks.

The beauty of the internet is that this can happen. Imagine how many more girls would've screamed, swooned and fainted given the opportunity to see the Beatles live at Shea through the internet. It's not a perfect experience. Live music is meant to be felt and unless you have insanely powerful speakers this video will not give you the proper vibe, the rib-rattling madness that comes from heavy bass and the ear-piercing screech of horns and guitar strings will be tempered. Still, the option to see it, for all those people who could not get there, myself included, is exactly what the egalitarian, free-info internet is predicated upon. A new golden age of communication. Without it I'd never have been able to experience and discuss this show. And when the show closes with balloons dropping and the powerful guitar/drum combo through the end of "New York, I Love You But Your Bringing Me Down" after the song plays so solemnly, a true perfect close to the LCD Soundsystem's career, if it is truly ending, I teared up a little.

Here's are some tidbits, since the whole video is no longer available. Enjoy. And let's all pray that James Murphy hasn't quit the biz, just chosen to find a new moniker. Great music is a legacy, but to halt its production is a tragedy.

"North American Scum"

"All My Friends"

"New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down"
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