Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Acts of Men: A Midlake Review


Midlake came through town last night, and I was fortunate enough to be present at Turner Hall Ballroom to witness the show. I arrived just before Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy fame) took the stage and positioned myself about 20 feet away from the stage, sitting on the floor cross-legged with the other folks not early enough to snag a cocktail table. I found it ironic that Lytle was opening for Midlake, since Midlake's debut album, Bamnan & Silvercork, was obviously inspired by Grandaddy (to really, really good results - it remains my favorite Midlake album, hands down). 

Jason played some of his solo material and some new songs to polite applause. It was great to see him in his signature mesh trucker's cap (which he started wearing before they were cool, by the way) and to hear his instantly recognizable voice fill the room. He closed with the Grandaddy classic Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground), and while I was hoping for some more songs from that era - he played Levitz when I saw him open for Neko Case in Seattle last year - I had to settle for that and that alone.

Not having seen Midlake since 2007, I was a little shocked to see 7 guys walk out on stage and all pick up instruments, nary a synth to be found. When I first saw them at SXSW in 2006, each of the 4 members (besides the drummer) had either a synth, an organ, or a piano in front of them. To deflect attention from their lack of stage presence, they used to project video clips on to a screen behind them, which I really enjoyed. Over the years, however, they've grown into a full-fledged rock band, and their line-up was now drums / bass / flute(!) / acoustic guitar / electric guitar / electric guitar / electric guitar. 

The set list was pretty evenly split between songs from The Courage of Others and The Trials of Van Occupanther. Hearing songs from tCoO in a live setting really solidified the album's greatness for me. Tracks like The Horn and Rulers, Ruling All Things that sound a bit flat on the album benefited greatly from the triple guitar attack on stage. Acts of Man (perhaps my favorite song of the year) and Fortune were both gorgeous changes of pace.  Even Bring Down was surprising well-presented, considering the lack of a female duet partner. 

As for the Occupanther songs, they played everything you'd expect to hear -  Roscoe, Young Bride, Bandits, etc. They closed with an absolutely insane version of Head Home, which is probably still my favorite track on the album. For a moment during the 4-minute-plus jam-extended outro of the song, I felt like it was 1974 as I stared at a bunch of mustachioed and bearded men on stage, hammering away at their axes, trying to sneak some notes between what was basically a glorified showcase for the drummer's ability to hit a lot of drums in rapid succession. It was a powerful way to end the evening, and I decided to take them up on their suggestion and head home before any attempt for an encore could be made. It's not like they were gonna play anything from Bamnan & Silvercork anyways.   

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wait Until It's June

Ahoy. Just posted a new mix on 8tracks. A bunch of oldies, really. Digging into the archives. For the summer.

1. The Magnetic Fields - The Saddest Story Ever Told - I've got this CD (The Wayward Bus) in my car right now, and I've listened to this song about 20 times in the past week. Stephin Merritt didn't sing on his records back then - that's Susan Anway's sweet voice you hear.
2. The Ladybug Transistor - Oceans In The Hall - why aren't there more trumpets in pop music?
3. Wilco - Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again) - hey - do you guys remember when Wilco used to write good songs? you know, like before they were a jam band? RIP Jay Bennett.
4. The Fiery Furnaces - Here Comes The Summer - this song perfectly captures the best part of summer break as a kid: the anticipation. Better than summer itself.
5. Apples In Stereo - Benefits of Lying (With Your Friend) - see comment above. Replace "Wilco" with "Apples in Stereo", and replace "jam" with "ELO cover". And still RIP Jay Bennett.
6. Little Wings - Filled With Wonder - in my mind, Little Wings goes camping every night and plays this song with his friends as they pass a jug around the fire pit.
7. Belle & Sebastian - A Summer Wasting - The Boy With the Arab Strap is my favorite Belle & Sebastian album, and this track sounds especially inviting on the doorstep of summer. If only I could spend it the same way, instead of being stuck in an office all day.
8. The Delgados - Clarinet - one of the most underrated bands of all time.

if you want any of the mp3's, send me a message...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's Only Love (And You Know That Loves Kills)

Ahoy. The first Sonny Smith song I heard (Too Young To Burn - the opening track on his newest album Tomorrow Is Alright) didn't do much for me. It wasn't until I heard Death Cream (coincidentally the second track on the same album) a couple months later that I fell for the nonchalant vocal delivery, laid back instrumentation, and Sonny's hilarious/perverted/utterly strange tunes that he often disguised as 1950's throwbacks. 

On the strength of that song alone, I ordered the LP (now out of print) but didn't listen to it much over winter - after all, it's apparent upon first listen that this is strictly a spring record. Lately, however, it's been putting up a good fight for rotation at my apartment (the white vinyl does help it's cause), especially the second half of the album. While technically released in 2009, I'm not sure I can resist putting Love Among Social Animals on my 2010 year-end comp. 

Love Among Social Animals

The production is admittedly pretty terrible, but it only enhances the charm of the song for me. The chorus is perfectly realized and executed. Each verse pops out of its preceding chorus with more focus than the last. The pre-chorus sets up the chorus expertly. I love every part of this song - but especially the verse that emerges from the chaotic bridge. Really? No Way!

The best part about discovering a new artist that you connect with is exploring the back catalog for uncut gems. I immediately (and easily, thanks to Rhapsody) acquired Fruitvale, Sonny's 2007 album, and was instantly taken hostage by this track:
Good Folks Bad Folks

Maybe it's because of the simple, yet incessant guitar-based propulsion that builds and builds. Maybe it's because of the backing-but-actually-kind-of-lead vocals. Or maybe it's because you can dance to it the same way you can dance to Sleep The Clock Around. All I know is that this song is stuck in my head on a regular basis (usually the "Good folks who live here" part).

Sonny currently has an awesome art installation in San Francisco, so if anyone happens to be in the neighborhood (ahem...Whalen), I urge you to check it out.

Download 3 tracks here.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Make the Wind Blow

Ahoy. Just posted a new mix on 8tracks.

1. Sleigh Bells - Kids - they didn't have music like this when I was growing up. Good thing too, because if I heard this song on a sunny Tuesday morning in May on my way to school, I would not be attending classes that day.
2. Broken Social Scene - Texico Bitches - while I miss David Newfield's production on their new album, this song's got great bounce and pep - and a sentimental similarity to The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth, which practically defined my spring of 2005.
3. Ganglians - My House - this is the first Ganglians song I've heard - not sure how they've eluded me for so long. Another great Woodsist band - I should have seen it coming. This record doesn't come out until fall, but I'm ready for it now.
4. Lissvik - 23 - heard this on a GvsB radio show mix - not much to it, but it works well as an end to Side A.
5. Beach Fossils - Youth - this one reminds me of the summer of '09 - remember way back then? Curious to see if the beach/summer/fun/surfing thing will carry over to '10. I don't think I will complain if it does... 
6. Dum Dum Girls - Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout - this song didn't really grab me until the second chorus - you'll know it when you hear it. I keep forgetting to pick this record up because I confuse them with Vivian Girls...blah.
7. Sleigh Bells - Rill Rill - pure sugar. I like it.
8. Jamie Long - Aquarium - I dislike the first 15 seconds of this song, but the rest is great and reminds me of early Radio Dept.

Download all (yes, all!) 8 tracks here

Bonus thought: after three solid listens, The New Pornographers' Together isn't really doing much for me, especially Bejar's songs. Kind of a let down, and I wonder if they'll ever reach the heights of Mass Romantic and Electric Version again. I am betting against them. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Listening Too Long To One Song...

...or trying not to, rather.

OK guys, couldn't we have spread this out a little bit? Why do so many of my favorite bands feel the need to release an epic new album all within two weeks of each other? Between The National, Woods, The New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene, and The Hold Steady, I feel overwhelmed. I want to give each album the attention it deserves, but this is difficult to do when the next album (that you haven't listened to yet) could potentially be the perfect soundtrack to the perfect spring day. And you can't really afford to miss that, can you?

None of this crossed my mind this morning, however, when I automatically reached for Harlem's Hippies to accompany me on my drive to work. Ever since I saw them play at Mad Planet on Monday night, I have been obsessed. They absolutely blew me away. I felt bad for the opening act, Jaill, who are very good with the potential of becoming great. But they just don't have the songs yet. And Harlem does. In spades. They opened with Friendly Ghost (such a great song) and tore through about 6 more songs at a frenzied pace. At one point, during Faces, my friend Erik audibly gasped when they launched back into the song after we both thought it had finished. 

About midway through the set, the drummer and guitarist/singer switched instruments, which usually spells certain doom, but to our delight the songs got even better. These three kids have all kinds of talent - especially when it comes to writing melodies and hooks. After explaining how they hate encores, they came back out and played four more songs, including South of France (one of my favs from last year) and Gay Human Bones, which is on my shortlist for track of the year. The crowd (if you can call 20-25 people a crowd) totally lost their shit during Gay Human Bones, which was so fun to be a part of. I don't even know the words to the chorus (something about a basketball team and gang signs, I think), but I couldn't resist screaming along.

While the recorded version sounds great, the song is exponentially better live. If you get the chance to see Harlem play, don't pass it up.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Take It Shorter, Now

Ahoy. Just posted a new mix on 8tracks.

1. Papas Fritas - We've Got All Night - this song was shuffled to me during my drive to the office on Friday morning, and it put me in a great mood. This is one of the most underrated bands of the 90's.
2. Twin Sister - All Around and Away We Go - ...and this song came on immediately after We've Got All Night - sometimes these mixes just make themselves...
3. Smoking Popes - Before I'm Gone - this song popped in my head on Friday morning as well. This is the definition of power pop.
4. Harlem - Faces - I am going to see these guys (and Jaill) play at Mad Planet tomorrow night. Their newest album, Hippies, has been on heavy rotation this spring.
5. T. Rex - Ride a White Swan - and my T. Rex obsession continues. I can't believe how much Devendra Banhart "borrowed" from Marc Bolan's vocal delivery...
6. The Bangles - September Gurls - Big Star's (original) version of this song was on the playlist last night, and my friend Colleen asked me if it was a Bangles song, which I laughed at. Less than a minute later, we were listening to the Bangles' version (thanks Rhapsody!), and you know what? - it's pretty darned great!
7. Dum Dum Girls - Pay For Me - I found this song yesterday - such an awesome drum part.
8. Tripping Daisy - One Through Four - this is from their self-titled swan song that they released after Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb (which is in my top ten albums of all time). I haven't been able to get into the whole album yet, but I think this is the month.