Sunday, July 31, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nick Littlemore Week continues.

Empire of the Sun's "Walking on a Dream" is one of my favorite pop songs in recent memory. The video, the first of several odd, colorful entries by this band, is utterly captivating.

Also, it has Nick Littlemore hanging out almost wearing a shirt. But that's really only a small part of why I like this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chris' Guide to Recent Releases

Limited only to stuff I feel like writing about. Most of these are pretty current summer releases, though.

Man, we’re on a roll here these past couple days. Rock on, Shit-Blog!

  • Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See
    Rating: 6.2
    I have tried on each of the four go-arounds since 2006 to "get" these guys. I liked The Last Shadow Puppets and I do enjoy Alex Turner's solo work, but for some reason the main attraction just doesn't do it for me. These are decent songs played well, but I'm afraid I just don't care that much.

  • Army Navy, The Last Place
    Rating: 7.4
    Competent, likeable guitar-based indie-pop with more than a hint of melancholy. I really wish there was something more gripping to say about it, but that more or less sums it up. If you’re into that, you’ll probably like it. Don’t expect it to change your life or anything, but there are definitely a handful of rewarding tracks.

  • Battles, Gloss Drop
    Rating: 7.5
    So they lost Tyondai Braxton, the futuristic math-rockin' robot Munchkin voice guy who basically defined this band's sound on 2007's Mirrored (one of the few albums in recent years forward-thinking enough to legitimately be called progressive), but decided to forge ahead and craft a sophomore album. How did they fare? Pretty well, actually. While there are no tracks as immediate or as awesome as "Atlas," the remaining Battlers prove themselves very capable musicians and come across sounding kinda like the funky early-80s incarnation of King Crimson. Works for me.

  • James Blake, James Blake
    Rating: 5.1
    I do not know what the hipsters are raving about. This shit is BORING. And I usually like this kind of stuff. You know what I say: there is nothing worse than a well-made, slickly produced boring album. At least the bad ones are interesting.

  • Bok Bok, Southside EP
    Rating: 4.0
    I downloaded this on a whim, listened to it once, and immediately deleted it. Do yourself a favor and listen to this back-to-back with Burial's new EP (which we'll get to; the two are both from South London, see). It should be ample proof that, just like every other genre, dubstep can sound entirely like some dude farting into a shorting-out microphone unless there's a good deal of skill involved.

  • Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon Iver
    Rating: 8.7
    A singularly satisfying indie folk album. Straying far from the bearded-guy-in-the-woods template of his 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago, Justin Vernon has penned a diverse and melodic set of vignettes, each as equally enchanting and beautiful as the last. Even the divisive, much talked-about closer “Beth/Rest,” which embraces full-on some of the sappiest excesses of the 80s, is affecting and painstakingly arranged. It’s the sort of album where every song is so carefully crafted and well thought-out that a half-dozen people are likely to each have their own favorite, yet still agree that everyone else’s pick is really effing good. My highlight is the gorgeous minor-key lullaby “Michicant,” but let’s face it: the first half of this album is damn near perfect, and the second half – despite some minor stumbles (“Hinnom, TX,” for instance, while by no means bad, seems oddly out of place) – is still head and shoulders above most album halves. But of course the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the whole is one of the best albums of the year.

  • Burial, Street Halo EP
    Rating: 7.8
    Or you can call it a single. Whatever. Ever since Sufjan gave us the hour-plus All Delighted People and called it an EP, I really haven’t given a shit about labels. In the digital age, it hardly matters. What does matter is that this is Burial’s first solo release since 2007’s instant-classic, genre-defining Untrue, and – worry ye not – it’s pretty awesome. He’s definitely made some changes: the house-inspired title track is likely the most accessible thing he’s done, and while it lacks the jittery rawness of his earlier work, it retains his signature predilection for urban paranoia and pushes it in an intriguing new direction. The other two tracks are similarly engaging, taking cues from what the man was doing a few years ago but cannily updating the sound. Far from being overshadowed by the multitudes of artists who used his two pioneering full-lengths as a blueprint, Burial proves he’s just as relevant in 2011, and that alone is enough to give me goosebumps.

  • Burial, Four Tet & Thom Yorke, Ego / Mirror
    Rating: 6.1
    Not an entirely unheard-of collaboration. Burial and Four Tet, after all, produced 2009’s solid Moth / Wolf Cub single, and with the exception of the presence of Thom Yorke’s distinctive vocal stylings, this is more of the same. The biggest problem with this is as depressing as it is easy to identify: 10-15 years ago, the music world was Yorke’s oyster. He and his band were on the cutting edge, producing some of the finest music these ears have ever heard. In 2011, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that Yorke’s heyday has come and gone. He wants so desperately to be taken seriously as an electronic musician, but pitting him against the likes of Burial (the best dubstep artist in the world, bar none) all but highlights his shortcomings. To be blunt, and The King of Limbs only corroborates this, I just kind of don’t care anymore, especially if he’s not even going to try for the (admittedly ridiculously high) bar he’s set for himself. If this had been strictly instrumental (which is to say, if Burial and Four Tet hadn’t bothered with Yorke at all), it might actually be more enjoyable. As such, I can’t help but be disappointed.

  • Burning Hearts, Into the Wilderness EP
    Rating: 6.5
    A pleasant four-song EP, to be sure, but we’ve heard it all before (and better) on the band’s enjoyable, low-key debut Aboa Sleeping. The title track is a keeper, but its counterparts fail to make much of an impression.

  • Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys
    Rating: 6.0
    Ben Gibbard on autopilot. Death Cab’s 28th studio album (or whatever) is certainly not a bad record, but it is a glaringly mediocre one. Whatever faculty for heartstring-tugging the man may have had back in the band’s prime of Transatlanticism is long gone, and replaced with a saccharine artificiality that will no doubt appeal to a massive amount of people, but comes across feeling flat and insincere. The first two tracks are decent: “Home Is a Fire” incorporates some of the skittering beats that helped make The Postal Service a household name before even Death Cab achieved the same, and the title track is slick balladry that hints at Gibbard’s ability to still get at something deeper. The rest, though, is strictly formula. Once upon a time, I might have found that formula captivating. This time out, though, it just seems to be wearing very, very thin.

  • Digitalism, I Love You Dude
    Rating: 6.2
    Average, almost completely forgettable synth-pop. It makes you appreciate just how good Cut Copy is at doing pretty much the same thing. There are a few moments when it feels like the music is about to take flight (lead single "2 Hearts," for instance), but in the end it's not enough to save what is, overall, a pretty unexceptional effort.

  • Foster the People, Torches
    Rating: 8.5
    You'll find perhaps no greater champions of Los Angeles-based electro-poppers Foster the People than we here at Marimba and Shit-Blog, and the reason is actually surprisingly innocent: though it certainly doesn't hurt that 2/3 of this band is devastatingly attractive, they've also managed to produce what will likely be the single best pure pop album of 2011. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard "Pumped Up Kicks" by now (I even heard the song on an Albuquerque FM station, for fuck's sake), and the good news is that the rest of Torches is as good, or better. For my money, gorgeous opener "Helena Beat" remains the best song that anybody has put out so far this year, while "Houdini" and "Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)" keep the hooks coming and the energy level high. If you can, also seek out "Broken Jaw," a great, high-adrenaline dance number that didn't quite make it onto the album proper. So really, just go do it. You can only avoid this band for so long. Back in March I predicted that these guys, then still relative unknowns, would break the scene wide open by year-end. It's happening even faster than I thought. For once, it's a band that actually deserves it.

  • Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact
    Rating: 7.2
    Pretty cool Middle Eastern-tinged psychedelic synth grooves. I enjoyed their 2008 breakthrough Saint Dymphna, and, just as the hype would have you believe, Eye Contact is indeed the superior album. My only real problem with it is that, even though it's very solid and well executed, I'm just not sure how often (if at all) I'm going to feel compelled to return to it. Even so, the 11+-minute slow-burn opener "Glass Jar" is the best thing this band has done, and the remainder of the album rewards throughout.

  • Junior Boys, It's All True
    Rating: 5.3
    If by "true" you mean "rather dull," then sure. 2006's So This Is Goodbye was sleepy and mellow in a way that rewarded listeners with sudden bursts of energy and inspiration (remember "In the Morning"? That's a great song). This new material is just sleepy and mellow. If there's any inspiration to be found, it was lost on me. A shame.

  • Moonface, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped
    Rating: 8.3
    I hate to break it to you, but the truth is the truth: if you’re not already onboard with Spencer Krug (via either Sunset Rubdown or, more likely, Wolf Parade), I’m sorry, but this album is going to frustrate and mystify you. I suppose there’s a minuscule chance that this could be the epiphany you’ve been waiting for, but for the most part, this is a Krug album for Krug devotees. If you’re down with that (you know we are: we named our blog after his awesome 2010 EP), you pretty much know what to expect. This is a tight, focused album whose central concept is defined by, as the title suggests, Krug’s reverent use of cool-sounding 80s organs (and not vibraphone, which was evidently his original intention). If you’ve ever seen the man in concert, you know firsthand how well this dude knows his way around a keyboard, and that skill comes through loud and clear in each of these five lengthy songs (each of which clocks in at over six and a half minutes). The rest is gravy: his penchant for awesomely bewildering lyrical turns-of-phrase is in full swing, and if anything, his technical prowess and delivery has only improved over the years. And if, like us, you think Spencer is unquestionably the greatest songwriter/lyricist in the world, then this’ll be just what you need to tide you over to the next Sunset Rubdown record. Which better be in the pipeline, or I may have to have some words.

  • The Rosebuds, Loud Planes Fly Low
    Rating: 8.3
    The Rosebuds’ second best album to date (after 2007’s marvelous Night of the Furies, which has a strong case for being the single most underrated album of the past decade) is not only a fine showcase for Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp’s melodic songwriting and passionate delivery, but also an intriguing anomaly in rock music. The short of it is that the two, who spent several years as man and wife recording a handful of really good albums, recently got divorced, but decided to keep making music together. This, logically, is their break-up album. But, see, this isn’t like most break-up albums. This is moody, thoughtful, introspective music that never points fingers and, honestly, comes across as quite hopeful. The two acknowledge that their romantic ties have dissolved, but there’s a strong, uplifting sense that they will be able to successfully turn that page in their lives and continue churning out satisfying pop music. Where most bands would be content to sulk, the Rosebuds have taken their rocky emotions and challenged themselves to make something both inspiring and mature. It’s a hell of a feat, and they pull it off. And did I mention the songs are damn good?

  • She Wants Revenge, Valleyheart
    Rating: 5.9
    Eh. A couple tracks are okay (“Take the World” has a pretty cool synth line), but this is pretty lifeless. Interpol and their entourage of similar-sounding bands really haven’t fared well in recent years, have they?

  • Skrillex, More Monsters and Sprites EP
    Rating: 5.5
    I get what he's doing here, and in this here 21st century it's actually pretty shrewd. The music scene changes every day and, once you’ve achieved stardom within your niche, you’re never 100% sure about your longevity. This release exists to keep Skrillex’s name out there, pure and simple. Whereas last October’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites was a full-fleshed EP with six original tracks, this one only gives us two (plus a slew of “Scary Monsters” remixes), and they’re not all that great. “First of the Year (Equinox)” is a tuneful re-hash of the exemplary “Rock N’ Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)” that, while listenable, never quite hits the mark. Meanwhile, the two versions of “Ruffneck” are the sort of throbbing dubsteppery I still have difficulty warming up to. It’s commendable that Sonny Moore wants to satisfy his fans so much that he regularly pushes new music their way, but one can’t help but feel we’d all be that much more satisfied if he’d wait until he has another full EP’s worth of material under his belt.

    Aaaand that's it for now! Have a great week!
  • Sunday, July 10, 2011

    streetlight manifesto @ sunshine theater (7/9/11)

    "Did someone just say 'Freebird'? Punch yourself in the face." -- Thomas Kalnoky

    In short: mayhem. Utter mayhem.

    In not-short: Ska isn't my scene, but for some reason I really enjoy Streetlight Manifesto. Even so, I don't think I was quite on the right wavelength last night to fully appreciate the show. Fellow big-namers Reel Big Fish co-headlined (RBF played first, and actually had a longer set than Streetlight), but just didn't do much for me. So it goes. Streetlight themselves were enjoyable and all sorts of energetic, but I emerged much less satisfied than at their (awesome) Launchpad show back in early '09. Maybe that has something to do with them not playing my two favorite songs ("The Receiving End of It All" and "A Moment of Silence"), which they did two and a half years ago (that setlist is here -- yeah, I've been doing this geek thing for a while now). Or maybe not. Who knows?

    In my review of Interpol's show in April, I noted that that concert was the fullest I had ever seen the Sunshine (still Albuquerque's worst indoor concert venue). This show put that to shame. The place was packed to the point of hardly being able to breathe. Most of these people wanted to annihilate one another in skanking circles. I successfully managed to push myself up against the back wall and just enjoy the band whilst surveying the mayhem. Good place to be. Still crowded, though.

    But seriously, it was a fun show. I don't want to cast too bad of a light on it (it's just that, compared to the last time I saw them, this show/venue was a wee bit disappointing). It'll be, in all likelihood, my last Albuquerque show, and it does seem like a pretty good way to go out.

    Here's what they played.

    Streetlight Manifesto:
    Watch It Crash
    Down, Down, Down to Mephisto's Cafe
    We Will Fall Together
    We Are the Few
    That'll Be the Day
    Failing, Flailing
    Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
    Forty Days
    Such Great Heights
    Would You Be Impressed?
    If and When We Rise Again
    Here's to Life
    The Big Sleep

    Somewhere in the Between

    And if you're wondering, Paul Simon and The Postal Service, the answer is yes.

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    the rosebuds (with other lives) @ the satellite (7/1/11)

    Other Lives:

    As I Lay My Head Down
    Dark Horse
    For 12
    Tamer Animals
    Dust Bowl III
    Old Statues
    Black Tables

    I first heard this band two years ago when they toured with the Decemberists, and I've only become more and more infatuated. Their sophomore album is a gem and not nearly enough people are going to hear it this year, but I was comforted by the crowd's high level of enthusiasm during this set -- you would've thought they were the headliners. And I totally would've gone to that show.

    The Rosebuds:

    Blue Bird
    Go Ahead
    Limitless Arms
    Second Bird of Paradise
    Cemetery Lawn
    Leaves Do Fall
    Come Visit Me
    Waiting for You
    Life Like

    Cover Ears
    Nice Fox

    ...well, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't three songs from Birds Make Good Neighbors and only one from Night of the Furies (their best album, in my little universe). So it says a lot about this band's talent that I still enjoyed this show immensely. They sounded great at all volumes, and highlights ranged from the pure rock-outs of "Cemetery Lawn" and "Leaves Do Fall" to the sing-along finale of "Nice Fox." Also, it is worth noting that Ivan Howard's voice is downright heavenly, so the fact that I accidentally ended up standing right at his feet was hardly a detriment to my experience.

    All in all, it was a pretty great way to spend a Friday night. I think I'll try it again next week.