Archive for July 2007

WINE OF THE MONTH-JULY

July 31, 2007

VINA MONTES SYRAH COLCHAGUA VALLEY ALPHA APALTA VINEYARD 2005, $20, 90 POINTS

The Wine Spectator just gave this one a 92 point score, which is definitely worth noting. It has concentrated aromas of black cherry, blackberry and hints of vanilla and mineral. The fleshy, deep body boasts very ripe black fruit, including black cherry with hints of blackberry leading into a long finish of vanilla, toast and a light minerally pepper spice. Well-concentrated fruit dominates and separates this from past vintages, which have also been stellar. Widely available and very impressive for the price.

Music Reviews- July and August 2007

July 29, 2007

Spoon/ Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, 9.3

It is truly amazing to me how easily Spoon continues to pump out such great music. I was equally amazed to realize that after this impressive album, Spoon is currently the only band that boasts four albums ranking in my top 100 of the decade. Considering powerhouse bands like Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Doves and The Decemberists only have three a piece, this is certainly something worth noting. On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon combines elements from all of its terrific previous work into short, intense, diverse pop-rock songs that pack serious punch, and the result is the band’s best album to date aside from 2002’s influential, stunning opus Kill The Moonlight.

The album opens with that characteristic bluesy Spoon guitar grind on “Don’t Make Me a Target” as leadman Britt Daniel sings about “nuclear dicks with their dialect drawls.” As piano chords creep into the forefront about halfway through, the tune becomes all so familiar yet still incredibly refreshing. I heard them play this song at last year’s Pitchfork Festival, and was able to easily identify it here after only having heard it one time many months ago. The devastating “The Ghost of You Lingers” follows and serves as this album’s “Paper Tiger”, using softly syncopated keyboard lines and eerie, echoing vocals to perfectly capture the mood of sadness that the song is intended to create. This song actually makes me want to cry.

The short, poppy “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” switches the mood quickly with its upbeat percussion and the addition of triumphant horns and tambourines. The dancy “Don’t You Evah” draws comparison to past classics like “Turn My Camera On”, “Was It You” and “Stay Don’t Go”, using a rolling bassline and catchy percussion beneath upbeat guitars. The intense acoustic guitar on “Rhthm & Soul” bears resemblance to Gimme Fiction’s “I Summon You”, although I actually prefer this track to that one, while tracks like “Eddie’s Ragga” and “My Japanese Cigarette Case” tend to get lost in the shuffle of superior songs despite their own qualities.

Spoon really serves it up in the album’s second half, beginning with the album’s first single “The Underdog.” We see the band at its most triumphant here, as jangly guitar riffs and horns combine wonderfully to form one of the album’s strongest tracks. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga ends powerfully as well. Penultimate track “Finer Feelings” keeps things moving with its tambourine percussion, jabbing bassline, hand-clap chorus and the bittersweetly hopeful lyric, “Sometimes I think that I’ll find a love/ One that’s gonna change my heart/ I’ll find it in Commercial Appeal/ And then this heartache’ll get chased away.” “Black Like Me” closes the album with its beautiful melody and the unforgettably honest lyric “I’m in need of someone/ To take care of me tonight.” As the coda turns the regretful melancholy of the tune into a full-blown emotional break down, the album ends on a perfect note.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga flies by, as its ten tracks last only 36 minutes, but the songs are so concise and well done that it doesn’t need to be any longer. This is one of those albums where every song is great, which makes it seem to move along even more quickly. Spoon has certainly found its own unique sense of musical perfection here, balancing bluesy piano, jabbing guitar lines, eerie syncopation and flat out enjoyable rock music all into one piece of work.

The New Pornographers/ Challengers, 8.1

Something about the general sound of The New Pornographers suggests that one should never fear having to listen to bad music created by them. The band, a collection of solo artists from the Montreal area, has been making music together for nearly a decade now, and while nothing they’ve ever done stands out as stunning, they’ve remained one of the most consistently good bands on the planet over that time period. This time around on the softer, sweeter Challengers, the band’s maturity shows; although they don’t quite top 2005’s Twin Cinema, the best album they’ve ever written, they certainly are making progress beyond earlier efforts like Electric Version and Mass Romantic. Some will miss the power-poppiness of their earlier work, but Challengers offers a softer side of the band.

As was the case on their most recent album Twin Cinema, the Neko Case tracks steal the show here. These songs really set the tone for an album that almost sounds like a collective goodbye. Case’s unique vocals soar over the the light guitar and piano on the beautiful title track as she proclaims that “We are the challengers of/ The unknown.” Later, the optimistic ballad “Go Places” works wonderfully well as Case begs the simple lyric, “Like classics play aces/ Stay with me/ Go places.” The shorter, somewhat dubby “Failsafe” enters new territory for the band with Case’s vocals somewhat subdued underneath guitar feedback, producing an effect somewhat like what Cocteau Twins might have sounded like off of LSD.

Then, of course, is the main man, A. Carl Newman. His songs provide a strong backbone on Challengers, although not nearly as poppy as his previous work. Opener “My Rights Versus Yours” starts things off with a catchy, if slightly unhappy melody, and almost sounds like a “Bleeding Heart Show” part two that doesn’t have the energy or ambition to build into the breathtaking coda that made that song one of the best that the band has ever written. But what really shows the band’s progress is the strength of the songs in which each singer collaborates. Early on, “Myriad Harbor” is fun enough beyond intertwining vocals and a catchy acoustic guitar riff, but the real treats come later on during tracks like “Unguided” and “Mutiny I Promise You.” The former might be the most simply beautiful track the band has ever written, while the latter provides a return to the upbeat, disco-esque feel of “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”

The album finishes as softly as one would expect from its overall tone with the seemingly religious track “The Spirit of Giving,” which features Dan Bejar’s patented spoken word vocal style above Case. Challengers in the end is a very nice album that demonstrates what a great band can accomplish when they relax and don’t take themselves too seriously or try to do too much with too little. The members focus more on tune and melody than on rockiness this time around, and the finished product is quite refreshing.

Prodigy of Mobb Deep/ Return of the Mac, 8.0

Mobb Deep’s The Infamous was released in 1995, and is without question one of the greatest rap records of all time. This begs the question- Where have these guys gone? After the decent follow-up Hell on Earth in 1997, rap duo Mobb Deep fell off the radar for a decade. With Return of the Mac, half of the equation returns in stellar fashion, as Prodigy combines razor-sharp lyrics with impressively produced musical elements laying beneath. The album feels a bit overlong at 17 tracks (four are interlude pieces), although all of them succeed.
The title track gets things off to a great start, pulling together tales of inner-city life in New York with intense beats, horns and xylophones. “Stuck On You” sounds incredibly modern, as Prodigy uses the popular tactic of layering computer-manipulated female vocals over the beat as a chorus, and it creates a track with an easy-going, carefree attitude. Somber guitar riffs on “The Rotten Apple” carry the slower track along as one of the album’s strongest. Probably the most surprising thing about Return of the Mac is how much it depends on musical elements as opposed to relying solely on beats. Horns and strings provide backbone for the show-stopping “Take It To The Top”, which uses a dramatic violin riff underneath lyrics that seem to mimic the confidence Prodigy demonstrates in making this unlikely comeback.

Other standout tracks include the autobiographical “Legends”, the slow groove of which is probably the most reminiscent of the Mobb Deep days as anything on this album, and the more accessible “My Priorities”, which sounds more fit for dancing to in the club. Overall, it’s great to see Prodigy back in the game. Return to the Mac may not deliver quite the tightly-wound punch that Prodigy did 13 years ago with his partner Havoc, but it is certainly titled aptly.

The Clientele/ God Save the Clientele, 7.8

The Clientele’s laid-back, somewhat atmopsheric music has always felt soft and relaxing, and on God Save The Clientele, this style is demonstrated to its fullest extent. At times, the album may seem to lull you to sleep; The Clientele often suffers from the common problem of not creating music with enough personality to separate itself from its own songs. This album sounds great, but doesn’t make any steps forward from The Clientele’s previous work. At 15 tracks, many of which blend together, it becomes difficult to separate the album’s individual parts.

Opener “Here Comes the Phantom” sets the tone for the album, moving along softly behind simple guitar chords and a beautiful melody. Second track “I Hope You Know” rolls along nonchalantly and provides a simple, yet pretty tone of bittersweetness. However, there are times when the softness of the music takes “pretty” to the level of over-sentimentalization and becomes a bit too much to bear. Such is the case on tracks like “Isn’t Life Strange”, “No Dreams Last Night” and “These Days Nothing But Sunshine”, the titles alone of which seem to be trying a bit too hard. “Queen of Seville” works much better, as the ballad doesn’t take itself too seriously, although The Clientele should be careful not to lull its listeners to sleep too quickly.

Some of the album’s best moments come on more upbeat songs like the piano-driven “The Dance of the Hours” and the swingingly harmonic “Winter On Victoria Street.” Strong track “From Brighton Beach to Santa Monica” bears resemblance to The Clientele’s earlier work, while innovation can be seen on tracks like the upbeat but heartfelt “Somebody Changed” and the funky, guitar-driven “Bookshop Casanova”, which adds some violin for good measure. On the whole, it’s a collection of pretty good music, but it suffers most from softer tracks in the middle that seem to weight the better songs down.

The White Stripes/ Icky Thump, 7.7

On Icky Thump, The White Stripes return to their roots, delivering an album based on the bluesy rock that brought visions of Led Zeppelin on earlier classics like White Blood Cells. A lot of it sounds similar to previous material, while the band also expands on its garage rock sound by partaking in some moderate experimentation. There are a handful of great tracks here, and although this album doesn’t really come close to topping the aforementioned work or even Elephant, I’d consider it a step up from 2005’s relatively weak Get Behind Me Satan.

Actually, Icky Thump succeeds most on bluesier, slower tracks like “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues”, where the band seems at its most Zeppelin-esque. The title track has some unique character as well, as it “thumps” along as guitar solos and riff bursts alternate beneath Jack White’s chanting vocals. And the Irish folk interpretation on “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” works well in the middle of the album, showing some innovation and experimentation from the band on their sixth full length. More innovation is present on the strange spoken-word grinds “Conquest” and “Rag & Bone”, which while not my personal favorites, certainly enter new territory for the band.

At times, some of the weaker tracks can wear towards becoming annoying, as it seems White may be trying too hard to recreate some of the band’s earlier greatness. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see him back with Meg after spending last summer with pals The Raconteurs, and to see them both getting back to the basics of what made them great to begin with, and throwing in some new tricks along the way.

Interpol/ Our Love to Admire, 7.4

Interpol made one of the decade’s greatest albums back in 2002 with Turn on the Bright Lights and followed that one up impressively two years later with Antics. What made those albums great was the heart-wrenching vocals, the catchy guitar riffs, perfectly timed bass-lines and complex rhythm arrangements. This time around, the band settles for a collection of soft, repetitive and often overdone tunes that don’t hold a candle to any of their predecessors. It is beyond shocking to realize that there isn’t a single song on this album better than the worst song on either of the previous two albums (take your pick).

That said, it’s still Interpol, and the album isn’t “bad” by comparison to the rest of the music world, it is just massively disappointing because of what we’ve come to expect from these guys. The album opens with probably its strongest song, “Pioneer to the Falls.” An eerie guitar opens the track before Paul Banks’ cryptic vocals echo into the sky and drums pick up and carry the song along nicely. But then something happens- the song shifts massively into drawn-out string and horn sections and accapella breaks. What seems at first as merely a change of pace musically becomes evidently a huge detriment to the band’s signature sound as the album progresses. Second track “No I In Threesome” moves along well enough and provides a chuckle, but never achieves greatness. Sadly, it’s all downhill from here.

Interpol’s music isn’t supposed to be uplifting, but I can’t remember it ever being as boring and depressing as it is on Our Love To Admire. Songs like “Scale” grind along slowly in a lackadasical manner, while rockier attempts like “Heinrich Maneuver” just seem incredibly redundant musically. When the following track “Mammoth” begins, it’s difficult to realize that anything has changed. After that, “Rest My Chemistry” and album closer “Lighthouse” drag so mercilessly that one can’t help but be happy that the end is near. By the time that better slow tunes like “Pace is the Trick” and “Wrecking Ball” finally arrive, we’re too tired of listening to fully appreciate them, and they still don’t sound like the Interpol I know.

I know this review sounds like I should have given Our Love To Admire something like a 3.0/10. Again, the album isn’t “bad”, it’s just shockingly below expectations for a band that has accomplished what these guys have. On the whole, it suffers from over-thinking, as most of the songs drag due to repetitive arrangements and the addition of drawn-out solos and unnecessary string and horn additions. I’m all for innovation, but hopefully Interpol gets back to basics next time around.

Lollapalooza, it is a comin’!

July 26, 2007

Well, now that I’ve had over a week and a half to recover from the amazing Pitchfork Festival, it’s time to start preparing for next weekend’s ultimate summer music fest, Lollapalooza. I have to admit, I’m happy to have the two weeks in between this year; last year, the two festivals were on back to back weekends! In my opinion, this year’s Lollapalooza boasts and even stronger lineup than last year’s.

Being a bigger festival, there is certainly a different feel at Lollapalooza than there is at Pitchfork. The crowds are bigger, the grounds are larger and tougher to get around, and many more bands are playing at any given time. To me, one of the hardest things about this festival is dealing with the frustration that ensues when two can’t miss acts are playing at the same time. Luckily, that isn’t happening terribly often this year, although there are many occasions where bands are playing back to back on stages that are across the park from each other, forcing fans to decide whether to leave one band’s set ten minutes early or miss the first ten minutes of the other (The Bud Light stage is next to the Adidas stage, and the MySpace stage is next to the A&T stage, while about a ten minute walk separates the two areas). The schedule has been released for over a month now, so I’ve had plenty of time to determine my plan of action. Beginning with Friday around 2:30, which is about the earliest I can hope to get there, here’s who I will be seeing:

FRIDAY

2:30-3:30, Polyphonic Spree, Bud Light Stage: This is actually a tough call, and I may end up going over to the A&T Stage for Jack’s Mannequin early, but I’ll have to end up on this side of the park by 3:00 or so in order to get a good spot for the next band. Plus, it should be interesting seeing 20-plus people on the stage making music.

3:30-4:30, Sparklehorse, Adidas Stage: I’ve seen these guys live before when they were opening for R.E.M. Their generally soft, baroque pop style produces great music, and they even throw in the occasional rock jam. Their album It’s A Wonderful Life from 2001 still ranks in my top 100 of the decade, and their most recent release Dreamt For Years in the Belly of a Mountain isn’t half bad either.

4:30-4:45, M.I.A., Bud Light Stage: I’ll be staying on this side of the park still for the next act, so I’ll catch very little of this set, but she should be interesting to watch. M.I.A.’s music is a unique Indonesian rapping style.

5:00-6:00, The Rapture, Playstation Stage: This is one of the bands that I’m most excited to see, although I’m shocked that they are playing on one of the smaller side stages. The Rapture creates a complex hybrid mix of music informally dubbed “funk-rock” or “dance-rock.” 2003’s amazing Echoes ranks just outside of my top ten albums of the decade, and tunes from last year’s dancy Pieces of the People We Love should get the party started early Friday evening.

6:00-6:30, DINNER BREAK!

6:30-7:00, The Black Keys, Bud Light Stage: Why not stay on this side of the park to prepare for the next act? (Friday seems to be the easiest day position-wise, as all of the top bands are playing north of the fountain until the headliners). I’ll check these guys out briefly, although I don’t know much about them, but I can remember hearing good things a while back…

7:30-8:30, LCD Soundsystem, Adidas Stage: Get ready to dance! Another band of the “funk-rock” genre, LCD Soundsystem followed up its outstanding debut with Sound of Silver this year, which may end up being crowned the best album of 2007 by yours truly. I’m always excited to see how music that depends heavily on electronics fares in a live setting, and I have a feeling that this set isn’t going to let me down.

8:30-10:00, Daft Punk, AT&T Stage: Since I feel like I’ve already seen Ben Harper about a hundred times opening for bands like Dave Matthews back in my high school days, I figure I’ll make the trek across the fountain to check out this influential house band. I’m not incredibly familiar with their stuff, but the word on the street is that they put on quite a show.

SATURDAY

1:30-2:30, Tapes N Tapes, MySpace Stage: This presents a minor decision as Pete Yorn is scheduled at the same time, although this one isn’t a very tough pick if you ask me. I saw Tapes N Tapes play at last year’s Pitchfork Festival and they completely stole the show opening the day up on Sunday. Their tightly wound, intense indie rock is worth seeing again for me.

2:30-3:30, Silverchair, AT&T Stage: Wow, now this show will send me back about a decade! Who even knew that these guys were still around? If they’re smart, they’ll play a lot of stuff from the vastly underrated grunge album Frogstomp that made them famous and featured instant classics like “Tomorrow”, “Shade” and “Pure Massacre.” Sounds like fun!

3:30-4:30, Cold War Kids, Citi Stage/ FOOD BREAK: I’m mostly trying to just stay South of the fountain here, although I do have one of their albums so I’ll have a chance to at least get familiar with some of their songs. I don’t know enough about Motion City Soundtrack to merit walking all the way to other side of the park only to sprint back for the next act.

4:30-5:30, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, AT&T Stage: I saw these guys play at the Vic Theatre last fall and they brought the house down with their upbeat psychedelic folk-rock. I’m guessing they’ll be even better outside; most bands usually are. Their self-titled debut album holds a special place in my heart, so hopefully they’ll play everything off of that one. This year’s Some Loud Thunder lacks a lot of the punch that made their debut so memorable but also has its fair share of good tunes.

5:30-6:30, The Hold Steady, MySpace Stage: Not that there was ever in chance in hell that I was going to miss this for Regina Spektor, but it certainly makes it easy that they go on right across from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and I won’t have to miss a note. I saw them two years ago at Pitchfork, but that was before their incredible sophomore effort Boys & Girls In America. This is pure American summer rock, with classic guitar riffs and a lead singer that talks (not sings) over it through lyrics that speak mostly about partying and having a good time. Sounds perfect!

6:30-7:30, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, AT&T Stage: Snow Patrol plays at the same time across the way, but this is really a no-brainer for several reasons. First and foremost, the music of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is generally deeper and more intense, which usually equals a better performance. Additionally, I’ll already be on this side after The Hold Steady plays, and the next band I want to see is playing on this side as well. It’s all about being smart about location when you have a toss-up situation, although I feel fortunate that Yeah Yeah Yeahs are on this stage because they’d be my pick regardless.

7:30-8:20, Spoon, MySpace Stage: SPOOOOON! Now here’s a band that is physically incapable of making a bad song, and they always rock live (I’ve seen them a couple of times). Their innovative mix of upbeat rock, dance beats and blues is a winner every time, and the fact that their latest album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a masterpiece doesn’t hurt either. Sadly, as you can see, I’m going to be forced to leave this one ten minutes early in order to walk over in time for the biggest act of the festival…

8:30-10:00, Interpol, Bud Light Stage: On the planet Earth, this is the #1 band on my list to see that I’ve never seen before, so I’m beyond pumped that they are headlining this thing Saturday night. Brit-rockers Muse play on the other side, and since I’m not familiar with much of their stuff, this is a no-brainer. I’m not even concerned about the fact that their latest album leaves a lot to be desired. Interpol made one of the best albums of all time back in 2002 with Turn on the Bright Lights, and I’m sure they are aware of that. If you aren’t familiar with their eerie post-punk sound that bears similarity to the short-lived brilliance of Joy Division, come, listen, and be amazed.

SUNDAY

2:15-3:15, Lupe Fiasco, AT&T Stage: This year’s Lollapalooza features a shockingly small amount of rap acts considering that Kanye West was a headliner last year. Since I’ll have to miss The Roots on Saturday for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, seeing Lupe Fiasco will be my only chance to see good rap out in the sun.

3:30-4:30, Annuals, Citi Stage: Sunday is easily the most frustrating day, as the next two hours pass pretty much without anyone that I care about seeing only to square off three bands that I want to see all of at the same time around the 5:30 hour (Yo La Tengo, Peter Bjorn and John, and !!!). What’s worse is that once the bands start to get good, all my picks are on opposite sides of the park, so I’ll be walking back and forth a lot. I’ll use the afternoon to relax before this chaos begins, and seeing these guys on the small stage sounds reasonable enough. I’ve got one of their albums as well, so I can try to prepare to enjoy myself for their innovative, melodic, circus-orchestra sound.

4:30-5:00, DINNER BREAK!

5:00-5:45, Peter Bjorn and John, Citi Stage: As mentioned before, this time frame features three bands that I would love to see, but since I’ve seen the other two before, I can’t resist devoting the majority of the time to seeing this brilliant band on the small stage. The music is so diverse that it seems impossible to explain, but the best I can attempt is to say it sounds like Simon and Garfunkel, Belle and Sebastian, My Bloody Valentine and LCD Soundsystem all rolled up into one glorious package. I’ll cut out with about ten or fifteen minutes to go unless they haven’t played “Amsterdam” yet.

5:55-6:15, Yo La Tengo, Adidas Stage: I hate to miss anything from these indie-rock pioneers, but since I saw them last year at Pitchfork I’ll choose to miss over half their set for what I think could be a show-stopping performance from Peter Bjorn and John. I’ll be able to force myself to catch at least the last twenty minutes or so since I need to be on this side for the next show. These guys have so many good songs that I’ll surely be satisfied, and they continued to show their musical evolution with last year’s spectacular I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.

6:15-7:10, Modest Mouse, Bud Light Stage: My Morning Jacket is slotted at the same time on the other side which is unfortunate because they put on a terrific show, but since I saw them last year I’ll opt for these emo crazies! I hear mixed reviews about their performances live, although I can’t imagine I’ll be disappointed with a catalog boasting the likes of the ground-breaking The Moon and Antarctica, not to mention this year’s stellar, upbeat We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Of course, “Float On”, the summer anthem of 2004, can’t be overlooked either. I’m not really willing to miss any of this set, but I’ll probably have to start sprinting across the park at about 7:10 in order to prevent missing any of the next act’s unfortunately shortened set…

7:15-8:00, TV on the Radio, MySpace Stage: The only good news about this performance being on this side of the park is that I’ll be over here already for Pearl Jam, which is likely to get crowded despite the fact that everyone and their mother has already seen them about a dozen times. Anyway, I can’t wait to see TV on the Radio, and I’ll probably be out of breath if I succeed in getting there on time to see their opening song. Last year’s Return to Cookie Mountain was my favorite album of 2006, and this band’s post-modern pop innovation is generally dazzling across the board.

8:00-10:00, Pearl Jam, AT&T Stage: I have to admit, I’m kind of over Pearl Jam. I’ve seen them three times in my life and they haven’t really released a great album this decade, although Binaural and Riot Act weren’t too shabby in their own right. But the fact of the matter is, Pearl Jam are pop icons with so many classic songs and with such great stage presence that I can’t help but get excited to see them yet again. It’s been awhile, after all!

10 days to go!

Pitchfork Festival Wrap-Up

July 18, 2007

Well, I never got around to writing my Sunday preview unfortunately. After hosting a rowdy festival pre-party Friday night, I got up early to enjoy all of Saturday’s music, and when I got home I wisely chose to hit the sack rather than write about what was ahead Sunday. Anyway, both days combined into possibly the best Pitchfork Festival I’ve ever attended. Here’s a brief recap of the highlights and lowlights:

General Observations:

THUMBS UP:

– The weather was basically perfect- a summery but not scalding 80 degrees with mostly sunny skies all weekend. This was much more enjoyable than the 95- plus temperatures that the past two years forced upon festival-goers. – The addition of big screen televisions in front of each stage made seeing each band’s set much less difficult. It was nice to be able to sit back away from the chaos and still be able to see and hear the show.
– Goose Island was back serving $4 draft beer, and this year they even added my summer favorite, the IPA, which was a huge highlight for me.

THUMBS DOWN:

– The tent stage was gone and was replaced by a larger outdoor stage which was often too crowded to get a good spot to hear the bands. This was especially the case during the Dan Deacon and Girl Talk sets. I also hated the scheduling on this stage, as favorites of mine like Beach House and The Field were scheduled at the same time as can’t miss shows like Grizzly Bear and Of Montreal on the main stage. – This year was the first time in my recollection that bands didn’t start and stop according precisely to schedule, especially on the extra stage. This made it difficult to time which bands you wanted to see. Saturday started on an especially rough note since the gates didn’t even open until ten minutes before The Twilight Sad was supposed to go on, and for some reason on Sunday the smaller stage was running nearly an hour behind by late afternoon.

Saturday’s top 5 moments:

#5: Grizzly Bear’s spot-on harmony on “Knife” mid-way through their impressive set, and realizing that I hadn’t missed my favorite track of theirs, “On a Neck, on a Spit”, which they jammed to conclude the performance.

#4: Iron and Wine’s relaxing acoustic tunes, which actually forced me into a nap after I layed down in the middle of the set. Luckily, I woke up to hear an amazing cover of Radiohead’s “No Surprises”, probably one of my favorite songs of all time.

#3: The Twilight Sad’s intense set got the festival off to a great start, especially the culmination of the set with show-stopper “And She Would Darken The Memory.” This was one of those moments for me when a band says “We have one last song” and I clinch my teeth and hope that they’re going to play the song I’ve been waiting to hear. Luckily, the boys from Glasgow didn’t let me down, and the most intense moments during this performance I was concerned that the lead singer’s head might explode.

#2: Battles creating their unique sound live and playing instruments galore across the board. At one point, one of the members was actually playing a guitar and a keyboard at the same time. Especially impressive was the vocal manipulator used to create the high-pitched baby-like noises on “Atlas”. I should also mention also that these guys really rocked on “Rainbow” as well to finish up the set to the awe of all that were present.

#1: The entire Clipse set delivered razor sharp rhymes above beats that got the whole place bouncing, and the techniques used for audience involvement really created a show-like atmosphere. Besides using loud, deliberate, intelligent rhyme schemes, these two brothers from Virginia spoke to the audience between every single song and often asked for help from the audience during choruses. More than that, it was quite a moment to see a crowd of 15,000 people, almost all of them white, going completely crazy for these guys.

Biggest letdown: Cat Power, who didn’t benefit from having to follow up Clipse, but Chan Marshall didn’t play any instruments while standing on stage and whining her way through a bunch of older material that most of the audience didn’t recognize. And the blue vein in her neck every time she strained on a note was hideous.

Sunday’s top five moments:

#5: The New Pornographers, who even without dan bejar and neko case still sounded capitvating throughout their upbeat performance of power-pop music. Closer “The Bleeding Heart Show” really brought the house down, and they came out for an encore of “My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism.”

#4: Menomena started sharply early in the day with their upbeat indie rock, although shined the brightest on the slower, prettier track “Rotten Hell” before closing with the eerier “Evil Bee.” They certainly got the crowd ready to party, focusing most of their set on dancier material from their most recent album.

#3: Junior Boys sounded incredibly on point with their dark, downtempo electro-dance music and created a nice mid-afternoon vibe on songs like “Like A Child” and really rocked on “In The Morning” and closer “Under The Sun.” I was impressed by how well their seemingly computer-oriented music fared in a live atmopshere.

#2: Deerhunter began the day on a shocking, borderline terrifying note as leadman Bradford Cox appeared wearing a full dress over his recognizably lanky, somewhat gaunt frame (he suffers from a rare disease that causes limb elongation and uncontrollable emaciation) and began howling eerily into the mic behind possessive, soaring shoegazer guitars. Highlights included album title track “Cryptograms”, autobiographical jam “Wash Out” and the vocal work on crescendo-ballad hybrid “Spring Hall Convert.” These guys got extra bonus points as I was lucky enough to run into them later in the day and talk to them briefly. Cox was incredibly friendly and thanked me for coming so early to check them out, which I of course assured him was not something I was willing to miss.

#1: Of Montreal’s costume choice was strange to say the least, complete with dominatrix suits, ninjas, pink angel wings, football helmets, darth vadar, lobster claws and painted bodies, but the music absolutely rocked the late evening crowd as the festival neared its end. Centerpiece “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” was a clear highlight for me as I screamed the devastating lyrics along with the band while adding in well-timed “woo-hoo-ooo” chants for good measure. Shorter, dancier tracks like “She’s a Rejector” and “Chrissie Kiss The Corpse” were huge hits as well. These guys stole the show for me.

Biggest letdown: The small stage, which couldn’t seem to get on track at any point during the day. I hung around for about 20 minutes waiting for Brightblack Morning Light to go on but had to leave for Menomena before they ever did. Later in the day, I waited until 5:45 for to see the Cool Kids, who were supposed to go on at 5:15, before giving up and going back to the main stage to check out Steven Malkmus. I didn’t get to see Cadence Weapon either, as his scheduled 6:15 show time had to be pushed back to accomodate the delays and therefore conflicted with Of Montreal. I did get to check out some of The Field, but had to sacrifice and equal amount of The New Pornographers. Overall, it was just unorganized and frustrating throughout the day.

Nevertheless, aside from a few hiccups, the Festival was a great way to spend my weekend, and I’m happy to have been able to see so many great young bands as well as some classics. Only three weeks until Lollapalooza, which promises to be a similarly enjoyable experience with a much different feel. More on that later!

Pitchfork Festival Tomorrow!

July 13, 2007

If you’re into music and smart about thinking ahead, then that means that you’ll be out there tomorrow in Union Park in Chicago for the Pitchfork Festival tomorrow. Tickets are sold out, but if you forgot to order ahead of time, I’m sure you can find some out there for a decent price since face value is such a ridiculous steal to begin with. Here’s what I’m looking forward to this weekend. I’m having a giant pre-Pitchfork Festival party tonight to prepare so I’ll be missing the Slint, GZA, and Sonic Youth sets unfortunately, but you can bet I’ll be out there bright and early tomorrow to get a prime spot for the Twlight Sad. Speaking of which….

SATURDAY:

1:00 PM: The Twilight Sad

I love it when the show starts with a bang! Last year I remember watching Tapes N’ Tapes in this slot on Sunday and there wasn’t a better set performed all day. Besides, the place doesn’t get crowded this early, so these sets are great opportunities to get really close to the stage. In this case, I’m predicting that The Twilight Sad puts on the best show all day tomorrow. It’s only a 30-minute set, but I can’t wait to hear the angst-driven shoegazer-esque rock with those devastating switches in vocal intensity by these boys from Glasgow.

1:30 PM: Califone

I haven’t quite gotten into these guys completely because the music seems a little soft. However, I’m looking forward to seeing them live; perhaps I’ll hear something I didn’t hear before.

3:00 PM: Grizzly Bear/ Beach House

Curses! How could they put both of these bands on at the same time? What to do? Stay outside on the lawn and jam to the groovy, post-rocky sounds of Grizzly Bear or head to the tent to be mesmerized by the smooth, atmospheric  lullabies of Beach House? I’ll have to wear running shoes, cause I’m betting I’ll be sprinting back and forth.

4:00 PM: Battles

Battles live? Oh this is going to be interesting. I can’t imagine how some of the sounds this band makes will be re-created on stage, but I can’t wait to hear those metallic, mechanical, robotic noises in the late afternoon tomorrow.

5:00 PM: Iron and Wine

This will certainly be a nice change of pace, and I’ve never seen him perform live before so I’m looking forward to this probably as much as anything tomorrow besides The Twilight Sad. He has so many songs and they are all so softly sweet and beautiful. It might steal the show actually.

6:15 PM: Food break/ Oxford Collapse

I’m not really a huge metal fan so I’ll probably be skipping Mastodon and hitting up the vendors for some dinner. Then I’ll either check out the tent where art-pop group Oxford Collapse will be playing music of some sort, or I’ll head over to get a good seat for Clipse.

7:00 PM: Clipse

Rap you say? Sounds good to me? This duo delivers razor sharp tales of life in the drug trade behind innovative beats. It will certainly switch gears once again but I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys are like live.

8:00 PM: Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues

I’m not sure I know who Dirty Delty Blues are, but I do know who Chan Marshall is, and she is Cat Power. Her music is emotionally-driven piano rock that should add even more diversity tomorrow. I can’t quite tell, but there is a chance she’s kind of hot too. We’ll see.

8:30 PM: Girl Talk

This one’s in the tent again, so whether or not I venture over there to check it out will depend on how I feel about Cat Power’s set. Usually DJ sets don’t interest me that much since I can hit a local club anytime I want and hear virtually the same stuff, but I can’t rule it out.

9:00 PM: Yoko Ono

I have to admit that I’m not familiar with any of her music, but apparently it has been hugely influential to many artists. Where was I? I’ll probably stick around for about half of it and then get a head start on the crowd so I can prepare for Sunday, which appears to have a slightly better lineup.
Sunday’s preview coming shortly….

Music Reviews- 2007 Second Quarter Wrapup

July 3, 2007

What a spring and summer it was for music. I can already say with certainty that the first half of this year has been better than all of last year from a musical standpoint. Here’s a (brief?) rundown on some of the albums that I consider essential for your 2007 collection.

The Twilight Sad/ Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, 8.7/10

The award for the best debut album of 2007 will almost certainly go to this borderline masterpiece from an innovative quartet from Glasgow, Scotland whose name seems to perfectly capture the essence of its music. I believed it enough to suggest playing the album at twilight after a day of drinking camping out at the Indy 500, although the two good friends of mine who were with me couldn’t even handle the intensity of the music and demanded “something more upbeat so we can stay awake.” Using a unique style by intertwining shoegazer guitar with a story-telling Scottish folk style, The Twilight Sad delivers a record with compelling lyrics and a sound all its own.

The album begins on a soft note with “Cold Days From the Birdhouse”, which starts sweetly and sadly before it picks up steam and builds into a startling crescendo. Lead singer James Graham is at his best on tracks like the amazing “That Summer, at Home I Had Become ” where his ability to oscillate between soft, deep vocals and angst-filled screams add powerful emotion to the songs. From the opening lyric, “Fourteen/ And you know/ I’m looking the wrong way” the song is immediately captivating, and it becomes even more so as it progresses to the nonchalantly delivered chorus lines of “The kids are on fire/ In the bedroom.” I can admit spending entire days unable to get this song out of my head.

Almost every song on this album uses a similar technique, starting slowly before building into a gut-wrenching climax that is usually accompanied by soaring shoegazer guitar work that mimics My Bloody Valentine. The rockier “Walking For Two Hours” begins immediately with atmospheric riffs before transforming into what might be the album’s most accessible track, while “Talking With Fireworks/ Here, It Never Snowed” rotates between a soft acoustic melody and distorted guitar lines that bring visions of Godspeed You Black Emperor.

Towards the end of the album, songs like “Mapped By What Surrounded Them” show the band at its darkest and most hopeless, as pounding drumbeats create the backdrop for Graham’s wailing vocals before the track surrenders into the abyss. A real highlight here is “And She Would Darken The Memory” which seems upbeat compared to its company, beginning with a bonga-drum beat and evolving into a pure masterpiece behind perhaps the prettiest music and vocal work on the album. After repeating the opening line several times softly early in the song, there is a moment where Graham absolutely shrieks the same line at a later point, and I can only imagine the hue of his face.

Make no mistake, this album is chalk-full of teen-angst. However, it’s conveyed so skillfully and tastefully that it is not only listenable, it’s almost addictive. Graham is truly a powerful vocalist, and my favorite parts of this album are the moments that seem to be the most emotional, which almost always occur when he is switching the tone of his vocals like the blink of an eye and often at surprising points. This isn’t music for the easy listener, but for those that enjoy music that conveys a lot of feeling and sounds incredibly good while doing so, I wouldn’t miss out on this one.

The Field/ From Here We Go Sublime, 8.6/10

I am not quite sure how to characterize the music of Axel Willner, the one man solo-artist responsible for The Field. At times, it seems like IDM. At others, simply settling for electronica or house could do. The term “trance” might even work better than either of those. In any event, all can agree that the music is based electronically and is entirely devoid of lyrics. And while I can’t completely come to grips with what exactly it is, the main point that can be taken away from it after even one listen is that it is surely one of the most dark, intense, ambient and sharply focused electronic records in recent memory.

Opener “Over the Ice” captures attention right off the bat with repetitive, syncopated techno percussion lines and subtle, computer-generated vowel chants of “E” and “I.” Indeed, this wouldn’t sound bad in a dance club, but it elevates well above that genre because of the somber, serious mood it creates. Later on the record, “Good Things End” further accentuates this tone, using even darker melodies above more repetitive rolling drum lines almost as if to say, “You’re going to stop doing whatever it is you are doing and pay attention to me right now.” Songs like these lead me, by definition, to lean towards “trance” as a descriptor.

Standout track “A Paw In My Face” builds slowly and evolves into one of the most melodic songs on the album, creating a downtempo, bittersweet tone perfect for background music at a gathering. Towards the end of the album, “Sun and Ice” creates a similar mood, and might have been more aptly placed as the closer. Faster songs like “The Little Heart Beats So Fast” and “Everday” work better as dance party tunes, although they aren’t without their own tones of seriousness. This is music that can be used to have fun, but that isn’t why it was created. From the atmospheric electronic melodies on epic “The Deal” to the eerie syncopations of “Mobilla”, From Here We Go Sublime stands true to its title, never wavering and never becoming the least bit disengaging.

Like all music of this style, the album has moments where its musical elements seem incredibly repetitive. What makes it ultimately succeed is the fact that we don’t really care and are sucked in to it by its uniquely addictive ambience. This is a credit to the tightly-wound arrangements of the songs, and if there was ever an electronic album to prove to naysayers that beats and melodies created by computers can be intensely musical, this could be the one. Meanwhile, turn off the lights, burn some candles, and be amazed.

Modest Mouse/ We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, 8.5/10

After 2004’s commercially successful Good News For People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse gets back to its roots and produces its best album since The Moon and Antarctica. The latest release from this long time indie-rock staple balances and combines intense emotion with the same fun, upbeat rockiness that made “Float On” instantly adored three summers ago. This time around, Modest Mouse takes it a step up, and what results is a consistent, if not incredibly complex album that works well as theme music for the summer of 2007.

Opener “March Into the Sea” starts with a bang as leadman Isaac Brock howls in his patented unintelligible dischord, and the song switches between this intensity and its softer, sweeter verses before building into an impressive crescendo. More fun but no less effective is the upbeat second track “Dashboard”, which speeds along above strings, quick guitar plucks and more Brock yelping and ultimately enters some innovative territory for the band. Only a couple of songs miss the mark for me, as the slower tracks “Parting of the Sensory” and “Little Motel” seem to drag on a bit with their gloom and kill the momentum that the rest of the album builds.

Overall, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank boats a number of great songs that simply can’t be dismissed. Some of my more passive favorites include the optimistic, folky guitar lines on “Missed the Boat”, the brilliant, upbeat simplicity of “We’ve Got Everything” and the driving, stomping guitars and percussion on the mischevious “Steam Engenious.”

However, what really separates this effort from their last album in my opinion is the concise delivery of the final three tracks, all of which are incredibly intense and among their best work to date. The eight-minute epic “Spitting Venom” begins with a simple acoustic guitar strum as Brock chants “Let it all drop” before building into heavier guitars and more of the yelping/ rapping vocal style that fans have come to adore and expect from Modest Mouse. Instead of stopping here though, the band launches into a beautifully subdued four-minute coda complete with horns, guitars and gentle percussion. These elements build and eventually combine perfectly to form what might be the most impressive musical arrangement on the album. Closer “Invisible” ends the album on a less certain but no less intense note behind catchy guitar riffs, heavy bass lines and Brock screaming helplessly. But as great as those two tracks are, if I’m forced to pick a favorite from this impressive collection of music, I’d have to go with the song in between the aforementioned two, which is the penultimate track “People As Places As People.” At its center is a rolling, grinding drum line which carries the track throughout along with catchy guitar riffs, but beneath are the insightfully circular lyrics “And the people you love/ But you didn’t quite know/ They’re the places that you wanted to go/ But we were the people that we wanted to know/ And we’re the places that we wanted to go.” I find this track in particular to be masterful.

The album seems long, but at only thirteen tracks we’ve certainly seen longer efforts from these guys. This time around, the tracks keep coming but for the most part, we welcome them with open ears. By continuing on the same path they’ve been following for over a decade now and by not trying too hard to change their uniquely identifiable sound, Modest Mouse has delivered another enjoyable collection of songs.

Panda Bear/ Person Pitch, 8.5/10

Noah Lennox, the man disguised as Panda Bear in the innovative post-rock duo Animal Collective, brings his own vision to his latest solo album, complete with harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys, but extending further than that. The beauty of this album is its ability to combine elements of those influences with Lennox’s unique tastes in dance music, pop and post-rock, eventually forming a record that is immensely layered and demonstrates amazing musical depth. For some, the inherent oddness of Lennox’s bedroom-mix feel musical vibe will make the record a difficult listen the first time through, but as the arrangements of the spot-on harmonies become evident, it is tough to deny that this is a huge musical accomplishment for a man who goes by the name of Panda Bear. In fact, I prefer this album to any of the Animal Collective’s work.

Opener “Comfy in Nautica” sounds like a campfire chant at first, but Lennox’s skillfully redundant melodies and Brian Wilson-esque vocals create a hypnotic element that sets a great tone right out of the gates. Second track “Take Pills” begins slowly with tambourine beats and feels almost as if was recorded underwater. The subdued beats and vocals take a quick turn halfway through the song, and gain an almost tropical vibe as the Panda Bear playfully pleads, “I don’t want for us to/ Take pills/Anymore/ Not that it’s bad/ Because we’re stronger and/ We don’t need them.” These first two tracks go quickly and demonstrate poppy elements that we aren’t used to from Animal Collective’s work.

This is not to say that the Person Pitch is not without its own share of drawn out songs that build for what seems like an eternity, but these are actually its greatest achievements. The devastating “Bros” combines incredibly refined melodies above synthesized drum loops initially, but builds into much more. The twelve-minute track evolves slowly but marvelously, intertwining elements from all across the musical spectrum, and concludes triumphantly with piano and horns crashing together with all of these to form a crescendo-based, melodic tune for the ages that certainly ranks among the best tracks of the year. “Bros” serves as a perfect centerpiece and is virtually untoppable, although the less accessible “Good Girl/ Carrots” certainly gives it a try. This track begins with dubby electronic notes beneath barely intelligible lyrics, but progresses into new territory with almost trip-hoppy beats before switching direction a third time into more melodic genius into its conclusion.

The album also gains complexity from softer, simpler tunes such as “I’m Not” and closer “Ponytail.” The latter lets the listener off easy in an almost lullaby-like fashion, while the former comes off with a more atmospheric, almost dream-like tone. An entire album of songs like these would be difficult to stay awake through, but placed between twelve-minute epics and beachy, campfire drum loops, they sound just right. On the whole, the album succeeds. The music isn’t intented to register on the surface level, which won’t make it an easy sale to the common ear. However, Person Pitch is a huge harmonic and electronic accomplishment and will be among the best albums of this year.

Battles/ Mirrored, 8.3/10

Mirrored probably won’t be my favorite debut album of the year, but it will certainly be in the running for the most original album I’ve heard in awhile, created by a band who may or may not possess one of the greatest names ever conceived. The music relies heavily on the increasing technological advances of lap-top software to amp-up its mechanical, almost robotic guitar rock, while still drawing noticable influence from the post-rock movement. For those expecting to hear anything else, Mirrored will come off sounding like only one thing: strange. For those ready to embrace a rapidly changing musical environment, there is a better word that might come to mind: fascinating.

Opener “Race: In” probably comes the closest to sounding like classic post-rock, drawing immediate similarities to Tortoise’s early work, while moving along in a repetitive manner above a whistling electronic melody before gradually breaking down into a series of chants. This leads into the epic second track “Atlas”, as tribal percussion initially draws us in beneath chants that sound like they could be coming from a machine of some sort before evolving into more chanting in an unintelligible baby-talk chorus. The music keeps rolling throughout the foot-stomping, somewhat eerie seven minute track.

If that wasn’t strange enough, “Ddiamond” waits next- but wow, have you ever heard music that sounds anything like this? Syncopated beats and feedback-heavy guitar lines provide cushioning for jumbled, nonsense vocals that come together with impressive tune, accompanied by some more whistling. After that, “Tonto” opens with a short, high-pitched guitar line that reminds me of the opening to Blur’s “Coffee and TV” before shifting to more post-rocky guitar over some of the best rolling bass on the album. This is one chill, groovy jam to be sure.

The diversity of the music is certainly a credit to the album, as the shorter track “Leyendecker” provides harder drumming, subtle piano keys and a more “in your face” sound, a complete contradiction to the previous track “Tonto”, but is no less brilliant. “Rainbow” follows as maybe the album’s most complex tune, albeit probably not the most musically satisfying. It starts slowly and curiously before abandoning reason and delving into a shocking cartoon-like quasi-breakdown, which actually sounds amazingly cool, for lack of a better word.

If the first six tracks are unshakable, which is a formidable argument, the album’s only downfall lies in its latter half, which fails to provide the same punch. It could be that our ears and brain are worn out trying to comprehend what we’ve already heard. “Bad Trails” moves along tediously, and this is amazingly one of the only tracks with lyrics that can be understood. “Race: Out” ends the album leaving a bit to be desired, but in between, the robotic “Snare Hanger” and the demented piano man guitar work on “Tij” pick up the slack. Battle your way through this album; you shall be rewarded!