Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Defense of Top 40

Hey all.

I started a weekly column over at BYT called "In Defense of Top 40," in which I defend (or attempt to defend) the musical merits of whatever song is currently #1 in the nation. Here's links to my first two. Enjoy and comment please!



Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wilco Live Photo

My camera is crap so I didn't get any good shots at the Wilco show last Sunday, but here's one I think turned out OK.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wilco Live Review- Rewrite

Hey all. I rewrote my Wilco review for the school paper. Here's the new version. Thoughts?

Baltimore's Lyric Opera House is a gorgeous building even better sound, and alt.country band Wilco took full advantage of that last Sunday with a tight set that was evenly culled from their six studio albums.

The group’s 24-song, two-encore show was stuffed with new favorites like the bluesy “Hate It Here” as well as older cuts reaching back to their 1995 debut “A.M.” (the rollicking “Box Full of Letters” was a highlight). Even though the line-up has changed considerably since their inception, the sextet played as if they've been together their whole lives. Loose songs got looser, loud songs got louder, and everything just sounded how music is supposed to sound.

After opening with the mellow, harmonica-tinged “Sunken Treasure,” Jeff Tweedy & Co. got the extremely receptive crowd even more enthusiastic by wedging scorching jams into many of their songs. The audience hit its peak when the band segued from “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” opener “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” to 11-minute jam “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” which showcased guitarist Nels Cline’s absurd ability to shred.

One of the most compelling things about Wilco’s live performance is how rather than jamming melodically, their songs morph into beautifully dissonant soundscapes. "Spiders" was the best example of that, but set closers "I Got You (At The End of the Century)" and "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" also built skyscrapers of wonderfully orchestrated noise, with Cline’s blistering solos and chord progressions at the vanguard.

Aside from the stellar music, Tweedy's stage banter was right on point. After noticing a man with a neck brace, he asked if he could wear it and the sported it throughout "Kingpin.” Tweedy elicited loud cheers when he forgot a line in "Jesus Etc." and later explained it was because he was thinking about Baltimore-set television show “The Wire,” and wondering if popular character Omar was at the concert.

Tweedy didn't babble too much, and let the music speak for itself. "California Stars" and "Heavy Metal Drummer" got the crowd to sing-along while older numbers like "Forget the Flowers" and the twangy "It's Just That Simple" were extremely well-received by the appreciative crowd.
The band has immense talent, not just in songwriting but in execution and sheer ability. Each member was on point, adding muscle to even the most lighthearted and jaunty song (the peppy "Walken" was especially strong on stage). Wilco is currently on tour opening for Neil Young, but they made a special stop to headline their own show and proved that one day Neil Young could be opening for them.

Picture stolen with love from Charles Harris. If you want me to take it down, just ask!

Hired @ BYT!

The other day I was hired as a writer for the DC blog Brightest Young Things. Here's my first post there!


Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Favorite Songs of 2008

This list is numbered, but I know that right after I post it I will want to shift stuff around, so don't take the order to seriously!

1. Your New Twin Sized Bed- Death Cab for Cutie
I read more than a few reviews that people were disappointed in Death Cab's latest album, but I loved every song. My favorite was "Your New Twin Sized Bed." The lyrics were solemn but balanced by Chris Walla's rich production. The refrain (2:10), with its swirling texture in the background and Ben Gibbard's pleading vocals, is my favorite moment of the song.

2. Hallelujah- The Helio Sequence
I'd never heard the Helio Sequence before this year, and this gorgeous song is the reason I bought their latest album. This punctuated lyrics, the skittish drums and the synth and guitar undertones meshed together to create one of the most relevatory songs of the year.

3. Strawberry Swing- Coldplay
Viva la Vida was no doubt a departure for Coldplay. I honestly love every song, but "Strawberry Swing" defined my summer. It's lo-fi yet slickly-produced sound is a hidden gem on an album filled with so many anthems.

4. Skinny Love- Bon Iver
Bon Iver put all those fresh-faced, angsty troubadours to shame with this heart-wrenching track. This song alone justifies the existence of any acoustic, singer-songwriter genre.

5. Red and Purple- The Dodos
The charming lyrics and rustic, booming sound that the Dodos produced on their latest album came through strongest on this ditty.

6. Acid Tongue- Jenny Lewis
Here's why: the harmony on the chorus. I live for moments like that in a song.

7. Walcott- Vampire Weekend
8. Furr- Blitzen Trapper
9. No One Does It Like You- Department of Eagles
10. Life in Technicolor- Coldplay
11. When the Day Met the Night- Panic at the Disco
12. Lights Out- Santogold
13. This is Not a Test- She & Him
14. Spaceman- The Killers
15. How to Hang a Warhol- Little Joy
16. Kids- MGMT
17. Use Somebody- Kings of Leon
18. In the New Year- The Walkmen
19. Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)- Beyonce
20. You Are the Best Thing- Ray LaMontagne

Panic at the Disco- Pretty. Odd., Indeed.

When Panic! at the Disco hit the scene in 2005 with their skin-crawlingly annoying debut A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, they were just another Fueled by Ramen disciple cashing in on Fall Out Boy's success, with the addition of more creative eye makeup and tackier costumes. On their latest album, released in March, the boys made a few changes. One: they listened to Sgt. Pepper. A lot. Two: they began dressing like OK Go. Three: They lost the punctuation in their moniker and added some to the album title.

Pretty. Odd. is pretty odd indeed. It marks a severe departure for the baby-faced quartet. Rather than the abrasive, near-unlistenable emo-pop that marred Fever, this album is packed with sweet grooves, appealing harmonies, and sophisticated pop songs.

Normally, I would never think twice about purchasing a Panic album. I was at a record store when I heard "Northern Downpour" and asked the clerk what the song was. I was shocked, and disgusted at my taste. But then, I listened to the album more, and realized that it was a really solid set of tunes. In fact, if a group on an indie label released it, I'd say they'd have fair success in that realm. Unfortunately, their reputation is quite the turn-off. It took me months to build the courage to buy the album.

I'm glad I did. Tackiness still remains with song titles ("Folkin' Around") but hearing the jangly pop redeems any trace of sleaziness. "When the Day Met the Night," probably the best track of the album, is gorgeously textured with acoustic strums, "Within You Without You"-esque noodling, horn jabs, pulsing strings, and classically-appealing Beach Boys harmonies. Songs like "Day" and the chugging "The Green Gentlemen" showcase Panic's songwriting chops and musical maturity.

By replacing cabaret with 60's-era pop sensibility, Panic at the Disco has found a new lease on life. If they continue to grow like this, they could be one of the few Fueled by Ramen groups to live through the trend.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Indie Boy Crushes

Inspired by Stereogum's Gummy Awards, here's a list of my Top 7 Indie Boy crushes of 2008! (What do you expect, I'm a teenage girl.)

Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend)
From magazine covers to MTV interviews, shots of Koenig's preppy charm and boyish face added to all of that hot-vampire hype 2008 brought (Twilight, anyone?)

Conor Oberst
Year after year, Oberst brings that underfed, angled haircut, haven't slept in days look to the scene. Finally recognizing his brooding good looks, the former-prodigy/current-songwriter appeared on the cover of one of his albums. I love you, let's eat food together so you can get some meat on those bones!

Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan didn't even release an album this year, but his innocent stare will always strike me right in the blood-pumper. Put some butterfly wings on and whisper to me, Sufjan.

A-Trak (Chromeo)
When your mom asks you to bring home a nice Jewish boy, perhaps she means A-Trak, hipster extraordinaire and self-proclaimed momma's boy. He's no doctor or lawyer, but he can rock a keyboard with women's legs.

Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)
This is why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62i9Sodwp5o

Andrew Vanwyngarden (MGMT)
Hilarious and inventive, Vanwyngarden has shaggy, don't-give-a-damn looks that are so pretentiously hipster...and yet I can't resist for the very same reasons.

Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes)
I saw Fleet Foxes at the Black Cat in July. Pecknold was sporting a flannel-and-wool ensemble and drinking hot tea. In July. Thus, he's hot. Ba-dum-chhhh!

Also, most of these men get honorable mentions for weirdest names in rock.

808s & Heartbreak- Kanye West

Kanye West is a drama queen. He has thrown tantrums at award shows, compared himself to Jesus, vandalized airports and declared that George Bush doesn't care about black people, to name a few exhibitions of this fact. That said, 2008 was quite a year for West. His mother passed away (eliciting an extremely moving rendition of "Hey Mama" at last year's Grammys) and his engagement to longtime girlfriend Alexis Phifer dissolved. It seems as though for the first time, any claims of dissatisfaction or despair from West can be taken seriously.

On 808s & Heartbreak, West channels his depression into a finely crafted canon of detached yet highly emotional tracks. Using the ubiquitous AutoTune, West develops a downcast narrator who waxes despondent on the "good life," upon which he waxed rhapsodic with last year's Graduation. The songs found on Heartbreak are full of disillusion and gloom, a mood accented by the use of the Roland TR-808. The drum machine's low, tribal booms create a rumbling undercurrent to the album, appropriately suggesting an incoming storm. The robotic AutoTune, the thunderous 808 and the fact that West opts not to rap, mold Heartbreak into an intriguing and oddly lovely album.

Heartbreak's eleven songs (not counting the unnecessary live bonus track, "Pinocchio") are perhaps the most cohesive of any of West's albums, if only in the respect that they are intended to be thematically and musically related. Songs such as the 80's throwback "Paranoid" (feat. Mr. Hudson) and "RoboCop" (which samples the score from the film "Great Expections) segway neatly into each other, forming a hip-hopera of sorts. In this opera, though, the protagonist is an antihero: irreversibly depressed and dejected, with hardly motivation to improve his conditions. West chooses to bask in his tears, luckily to the benefit of the listener. The gorgeous "Streetlights" is a showcase of why West was an innovative producer in the hip-hop world before he even began to record himself. The singles "Love Lockdown" and "Heartless" are interesting and creative cuts, the former for its sparse atmosphere, the latter for its juxtaposition of a jaunty beat with glum lyrics.

808s & Heartbreak is no doubt a departure for West. While innovative and stunning in its own rite, its shroud of ice prevents it from holding a candle to Yeezy's past efforts. Reviews of the album have been divisive, and while it impresses me greatly, I hope West will pull himself from heartbreak and (excuse the pun) be stronger on his future albums.

Download these: "Street Lights," "Paranoid," "See You In My Nightmares."

Lo siento

My posting has been very sporadic, and unfortunately I have not had a chance to post since Thanksgiving! Not to worry though, dear reader (singular), there will be posts galore in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview with Tom from Los Campesinos!

Last spring I sat down with Tom from Los Campesinos! for a chat about their tour, their debut album Hold On Now, Youngster, and punctuation. Tom was incredibly sweet and friendly. This interview and more appear in the latest issue of my zine, Championship. If you're interested in a copy, shoot me an email at nmsles@gmail.com!

So how’s your tour going?
It’s going really good! The first gig in Hoboken was the sort of size venue we’re used to playing. It was kind of like a bar, but a really good atmosphere. Georgia from Yo La Tengo came. I’m a massive fan of Yo La Tengo so that was pretty overwhelming. We’re just glad we got through the set without completely messing up. It was a really good show, and we had a really good one last night as well. We’re going to do a crap show tonight because that’s how things go [laughs]. Brooklyn was bigger, it was a really good venue and we had a really nice response there. It’s just a lot of fun. We’ve been shopping, buying musical gear, so I’m happy!

So tell me about your latest album, Hold on Now, Youngster…
Well it doesn’t feel very new to us anymore, we’ve had it for a while. I haven’t listened to it in ages. It came out in April here, so I guess it’s still relatively new. We were really pleased with it. I guess it was quite a self-indulgent album in a lot of ways. We tried to write it and record it in a way that we’d be happy with rather than trying to worry too much what people think of it, and just do our own thing. That was always the most important thing, and I think we achieved that. We were all pretty happy with it. It’s strange now- cause there’s been enough time since it, and because we’ve been writing new songs and we’re doing some recording in the next few weeks- it almost feels like and old album now. We’re looking forward to recording new songs and recording on them.

Between your band name and the rhyming of “parentheses” with “ellipses,” the band seems to have a bit of a fascination of punctuation.
Well, Gareth is the lyricist so that’s really his obsession. I think there’s a certain element of OCD. We’re quite into the details of everything, really. Punctuation kind of represents that quite well. We get pretty pissed off when apostrophes aren’t used correctly which is really lame and embarrassing, but those are the things that matter to us and I think they matter a lot to Gareth as well, which is why they enter his lyrics. He’s quite autobiographical in his lyrics. So if a lack or misuse of apostrophes in the world bothers him they’ll turn up in songs. Look forward to “Ode to the Semi-colon” or something on the next album [laughs]. That’s why I don’t write the lyrics!

What’s your favorite song of yours?
It changes all the time. I think when we finished the album, “…And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison.” I think we were all really pleased with that. It came together really well. It’s got two distinct halves and the second half is really fun to play. But I guess “We Are All Accelerated Readers” was the one that we were most happy with as well, because it’s been around for a while but it was in a completely different form when we first played it live, and we were aware that it wasn’t working quite right, but it sort of felt like it had potential to be a better song. We worked really hard and we changed the drum parts, we changed a lot of the positions of the vocals and the melodies. Through working on all of those details it suddenly came together really well and when we recorded it was far better than we ever expected. That’s one we still enjoy playing live as well. Harriet worked really hard on cool violin sounds and violin lines. It felt really fresh compared to some of the other songs, so that’s still one of my favorites. Of course then there are songs like “You! Me! Dancing!” which get really good responses live and so that’s always really fun to play because you feed off the crowd. That’s a complete cliché, but it really happens. If that song gets played well then it doesn’t really matter if we play other songs badly [laughs].

Why did the band decided to have a violin player?
The whole formation of the band was accidental in a lot of ways. We didn’t really know what we were doing. From my perspective, I met Neil, who had been jamming with Ellen and Ollie for two weeks and we started playing songs together. Gareth overheard what we were doing and he came along to do vocals. For some of the songs we were playing we decided they would sound kind of nice if they had strings. It was that casual, we never had any big picture of the sound we wanted to create. We just thought strings would sound good, and we invited Harriet along. It was really that simple. It was the same with Aleks. We thought a female vocalist would be good, so she came along. That was really the formation of the band. We never really expected to get to be in this position, so nothing was thought out particularly well. We get asked questions about the name, and those are questions without a significant answer, because it was a bit of a passing thing.

Are there bands that you try to emulate in your music?
Yeah, I mean I sort of presume this is the way any band works. When we started off we just tried to rip off the bands we liked, and I think to an extent we still do that. And then as you get better at it you get closer to a lawsuit [laughs]. But me and Gareth bonded especially over our love of Pavement, which is probably my favorite band ever. I think we’re sort of lucky because we didn’t rip off the bands that well, so we stumbled across something unique. Our instrumentation is different, and Gareth’s vocal style is different, his lyrics are really different, so I think we have come across something that isn’t like all the bands we rip off. We’ve almost got our own sound now. There are certain ways you try to emulate bands as well. It’s not so much you hear the song and you like the melody so you play the melody as well. It’s more the fact that there are so many good melodies in Pavement. Pavement write amazing pop songs, but they’re presented in a less-than-technically-accurate way. It’s more about the song rather than the way it’s played, and that’s something we’ve tried to take on board as well. The songs are the most important thing, and the energy. The songs are more important than hitting the right notes all the time so that was always an element of fun we tried to maintain. We do still want to improve as musicians and songwriters, and improve in a technical way, but the energy is always the most important thing.

Would you consider Los Campesinos! a pop band?
Yeah. Genres are so…murky. Especially in the U.K., the word “indie” doesn’t really mean what it used to mean. That forced us a bit into using the term “pop.” I’ll describe Pavement as a pop band because of they have fairly structured songs and they’re melodic. I think we like the term “pop” because it’s such a fluid term, and it’s probably the most vague of all the genres. Any sort of music can come under that term, so it feels liberating and empowering in that sense. I don’t think we want to limit ourselves to a specific genre because we don’t really know what we’re doing. The word “pop” doesn’t really mean “popular” or “populist” anymore. It’s more like the energy and the sound…I’m trying not to sound pretentious.

You guys are a pretty young band.
I think we’re younger at heart than we are in physical. We’re still young, but when there are bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Smoosh, you feel pretty old. When you’re younger, the thing you always want to do is either be a footballer or a pop star, but then you reach an age where you start seeing other people that are successful footballers and they’re younger than you and pop stars that are younger than you, and you just think, “Yeah well, I’m past it now” [laughs].

Looking ahead ten years into the future, where will Los Campesinos! be?
I haven’t got a clue! We’re aware that it isn’t going to last forever, and we’re not trying to make it last forever so we’re just trying to make it be as fun as it can be while it is lasting. With pop music, especially at the moment, everything is over so quickly. We are just trying to have as much fun as possible and not worry too much about the future. I guess in ten years when I’m 33, there will probably be smack habits, and illegitimate children [laughs].

Photo courtesy Barry Yanowitz.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joe's Record Paradise

When my parents used to travel a lot, they would buy a record from each country/city they visited. Over their years of travel they amassed a fair amount of Indian and South American vinyl. It got to take up too much space though, so today my mom had me go through and pick out what I wanted to keep so that she could sell the rest. After I scoured for cool cover art and interesting music, we took the box of records to a store I'd never been to called Joe's Record Paradise.

When I used to play indoor soccer, I would pass this shop, but because of its small and poster-covered exterior and strip-mall location, I never thought anything of it. Turns out I was missing out. Inside the sticker-littered doors is a vinyl mecca. Rows of LPs, ranging from soul to blues to reggae to punk to rock line the floors and walls. There's also a fine CD collection. The vinyl is all pretty inexpensive. While my mom chatted with the man who was flipping though her albums for what he wanted to buy, I thumbed through the store's supply.

I ended up with a Johnny Cash album for $1.50, Talking Heads's Remain In Light for $8.00, and Joni Mitchell's Clouds for $4.50.

The man who had been helping us, Johnson, recommended we take the records he didn't buy a few doors down to a thirft store called the Wagging Tail (it supports the Humane Society), which we did. At this store, there was a nice vinyl selection with each record $1 a piece. I didn't pick anything out, but in the CD section I found Son Volt's Trace and The Replacements's Don't Tell a Soul.

I also got two hours of highway driving in! Overall a very productive day. Unfortunately, I now have to finish writing a research paper...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From Australia With Love & Sugar- Lenka

I remember briefly brushing past a blurb on Australian native Lenka in a magazine a few weeks back and not paying it much thought. I believe the write-up mentioned her in relation to Bjork, who, sorry, I'm afraid I have never had much of a taste for.

While I was watching Grey's Anatomy last week, I heard the sweetest little ditty in the closing scene. A few keystrokes later, I learned the song was "Trouble Is A Friend," and the singer was none other than that singer I passed over as a Bjork-Feist knock-off.

However, after purchasing her delightfully poppy self-titled album, I discovered that, aside from gender, Lenka is in fact not at all like either of these femme fatales. Where Bjork revels in obscurities and off-beat rhythms, Lenka's sound is rooted in accessible and hook-filled pop songs. Where Feist like to add a jazzy or understated element to her music, Lenka's tunes are straight-forward and often embellished with charming bells and whistles.

On album opener "The Show," Lenka sings about her life as if it is a carnival- a theme highlighted by the twee, carousel-esque glockenspiels and the pleasingly childish rhythm. On "Don't Let Me Fall," plucky strings complement Lenka's soft voice and smooth chorus. Occasionally, Lenka does venture into cloying and too-sweet territory, such as on the schmaltzy "Live Like Your Dying."

Overall, Lenka is a perfectly lovely album, and just that. Because sometimes a perfectly lovely album is just what the doctor ordered.

Album Highlights: "Trouble is a Friend," "We Will Not Grow Old," "Don't Let Me Fall," "Knock Knock"
Also: Check out Lenka's stellar cover of Modest Mouse's "Gravity Rides Everything," available on her MySpace.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pandora's Box, Actually Not Full of Sin

I know Pandora's been around for ages, but I never really got into it. However, the other day when I couldn't quite place the song I wanted to hear, I decided to give Pandora a chance. I plugged in "Elliott Smith," and the station that came up was truly great. I already knew most of the songs, but I got a few good Iron & Wine tunes I hadn't heard, and all in all Pandora put together a lovely little mix. I don't know how frequently I'll use it in the future, but using it this weekend I at least found some faith in its scientifically calculated playlist.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Interview with Brandon Summers of The Helio Sequence

Here's an interview I did earlier this year with Brandon Summers of the Helio Sequence for the first issue of my zine. Keep Your Eyes Ahead (Sub Pop), is one of my favorite albums of 2008, and I highly advise all of you to check it out. He was a really interesting guy, and I'm pulling this out of the archives so it can find a new life with a broader audience on the Internet. Enjoy!

On Wikipedia it identifies the Helio Sequence as an indie-electronica band but I definitely noticed a lot of other genres in your music. How would you describe it?
Brandon Summers: Well I wouldn’t describe it as indie-electronica; I think that’s a really funny tag. I don’t even know, I think of what we do more as songwriting, really, and that’s why there are so many elements and different sounds that make it into the songs that we write. When we’re writing songs we’re always just searching for the right sounds and arrangements and mood to communicate what needs to be communicated.

There seems to be a big Bob Dylan influence on this album. Was that conscious or did it just happen?
BS: I mean I’ve always listened to Bob Dylan just in passing, you know like I’ve always listened to the Beatles or Velvet Underground since I was a teenager, but there was a really distinct point where I just went out one day and I saw the record “The Times They Are A’Changin’” on vinyl and I just decided I would buy it, and I hadn’t really listened much to his early stuff. It was a poignant time in my life and some of the songs hit me really, really deeply and I think kind of made sense to me. Even just listening to the songs that he wrote gave me a different idea. I went in to write songs and I was really inspired to pick up my acoustic guitar and write songs on it, which I hadn’t done much in the past. Before, everything had been pieced together from jams and bands and keyboards and that sort of stuff. So this was just a different way of writing songs. And I also started to learn a bunch of his songs and see if I was singing them and putting them under my fingers and putting my voice in those settings if I would get a better understanding of how he gets his songs to be so amazing.

Your vocal chords were shredded prior to making this album. How did that change the course of the production and songwriting?
BS: Well it’s interesting, that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the whole Bob Dylan thing because when I was building my voice back up again I would start taking not only Bob Dylan songs, but songs in general, if I heard something I really liked I would try to teach myself and learn that; a lot of old folk tunes, old singer-songwriters from the seventies; new stuff, even. I would just learn it, play it under my fingers, figure out what was going on vocally. I used a lot of that just to build my voice back up again. Also it shows in a lot of the arrangements we used and the world of the songs we were choosing for this record, because there’s a lot more acoustic guitar. The singing going on in that setting, rather than rock, sitting down and jamming and then putting vocals over the tops, everything became more integrated in the songwriting process.

Would you say it was worth it to lose your voice just to gain the different perspective on your songwriting?
BS: Yeah, absolutely. During the time that I lost my voice there was a huge time of self-doubt, and what if I was never going to sing again? I took a good look at things I had taken for granted. I took time to sit down and think about what matters to me and refocus everything. Looking back, difficult as it was to build things back up again, and as scared as I was, and as much self-doubt as I had, I think it was really important.

For a band with two-members, you have a very full sound. Has that always been a goal of yours?
BS: Definitely. Both Benjamin and I have always been fascinated by big sound and things that are really sonic, and textures and depth and recording in general. It’s interesting that there are only two of us, but we knew that we could do it. And the further we go on we have a deeper understanding of things like sonics and textures and start to look more at the skeleton, you know, which is the song itself, and more and more I think that is a fascination for us.

Do you have a favorite song off the new album?
BS: I like all of them for different reasons. I really love the song “Shed Your Love” because it was one of the songs where I didn’t consciously write it, where I sat down and the song sort of came out at one time, and there’s something that’s really close to my heart about a song that happens in that way. And there are other songs that came about like that too, like “Hallelujah,” where it all just came together really quickly. I’m really happy about how that one turned out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Interview with Alexandra Lawn of Ra Ra Riot

Here's an interview with Alexandra Lawn, the cellist of one of my current favorite bands, Ra Ra Riot. This interview, along with interviews with Los Campesinos!, Girl Talk and a bunch of album reviews, artist profiles and kick-ass artwork (by my pal Carson) will be in the upcoming issue of my zine, Championship. If you are interested in a FREE copy, email me your address and I'll ship it to ya when we're done (probably within the next two weeks).

What is a “rhumb line,” and why did you choose that for the album title?
It’s a navigational term for one point that passes through all the meridians on a globe. It’s a very good metaphor for a journey and we thought it would be a very appropriate title for the album. It’s also the lyrics in “St. Peter’s Day Festival,” which is the last song we worked on with John and we thought it fit very well.

Would you say that the theme of a journey, tying in with the rhumb line, guided the album?
I guess if there is a theme that would fit, but I don’t think we went into the album necessarily with a theme in mind.

What’s your favorite song on the album?
“Oh La.”

How’s your tour going?
We’ve been on tour for four or five weeks now, and it’s been going really well. We’ve been having a really fun tour and every city has really proven to be a great crowd. It’s really cool to be supporting this album that we’re very proud of.

What was it like being a band in college? Did you play most of your gigs on campus?
Yeah, we played a lot of house parties, which was really fun and exciting. We tried to practice every day and we were fairly diligent. It was a great way to spend the last semester.

I read a review that called Ra Ra Riot a more light-hearted Arcade Fire. What do you think of that comparison?
I mean, maybe the orchestral arrangements Arcade Fire has remind people of our cello and violin but I don’t think any of us find our sounds similar whatsoever. But we are by no means ashamed to be compared to them [laughs].

What have you been listening to lately?
Fleetwood Mac, The Virgins, Billy Bragg, Paul Simon, Midlake

Taylor Swift- Teen Icon

As a teenage girl, I understand what it's like to be a teenage girl. I understand stress of high school, feeling insecure at high school, and wanting to impress, kiss, and/or punch boys...at high school.

While my music taste falls into the indie rock category, there are many deviations. These deviations range from my immense appreciation of 80's and 90's hip-hop to my inability to resist catchy Top 40 tunes. One deviation, country music, used to be a much larger portion of my palate. While I still have a soft spot for the Dixie Chicks, I no longer scout country tracks and find most of it, sorry, nauseating.

There is, however, one country singer that my teenaged estrogen and I can't resist: Taylor Swift. Yeah, her songs are pretty generic and not in the least as innovative as the music bands like Grizzly Bear or Vampire Weekend are cranking out. But here's the thing: everything she croons about shoots directly to the lovestruck ventricles of girls my age. In interviews she chats casually and candidly like that girl from biology class who was always so friendly to everyone and you felt like you could be best friends with.

As I said, her songs are simple. They follow the same verse-chorus-bridge-verse-BIG CHORUS! structure and 90% are about boys. The way I see it, there's nothing wrong with that. She's nailed what appeals to her demographic and hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Fearless, released yesterday, is only Swift's second album, but the teen beauty is already primed to be an icon. For the past few weeks, I couldn't leave a class without hearing a girl hum a chorus from "Love Story" or "You're Not Sorry," two of her new singles. Today there was a abundance of shared iPod earbuds as doe-eyed damsels in adolescent distress bonded with Swift's ballads. I can't think of a comparable teen heroine from decades past, but for this millennium, Swift fits the position of female paragon just fine.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Home sick, posting out of boredom!

Hey all! I'm home sick with a sinus infection, so this post is just going to be lists and videos and blurbs...

I'm redecorating/organizing my room! I'm adding bulletin boards above my desk so I can post up pictures and magazine cut-outs and other inspiring garbage, and I got a Wilco poster (see above) to go above my bed. I also got frames that fit LP covers, so I'm going to pick out a few records with cool covers to put up. Suggestions?

I got an extremely friendly and flattering email from Marissa over at The Anti DC, as well as a shout-out in her Dan Deacon post. It's feels great to get some feedback on my writing as I'm trying to practice for a future career! Also, I don't know if many people read this at all so it's nice to know that these posts aren't lost in cyberspace.

I Leave You With This:

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dan Deacon- Live Show Review

Dan Deacon finally assumed his post beneath his signature “trippy green skull” at an equipment-littered table an hour after his 9:00 set was scheduled to begin. The crowd, while frustrated, couldn’t stay mad for long. After leading his fans in a stretching routine that involved kneeling on the floor and extending their index fingers to the sky as slowly as possible, Deacon began a New Year’s Eve-worthy countdown and pronounced it time to dance, launching into his hyper single, “Okie Dokie.” The then appeased audience forgot all qualms and began to jump and move with hyperactivity that rivaled that of the song.

Deacon, a Baltimore-based DJ who founded the city’s Wham City artist collective, is known more for his insane live shows than his albums. His most recent release, the stellar Spiderman of the Rings, showed up on many Best Of 2007 lists, but his raucous performance at the Hirshhorn Museum as part of its After Hours program completely overshadowed any of his records.

The show played out like the best Bar Mitzvah ever, with Dan Deacon playing the part of the DJ, party-starter and guest-of-honor. His pre-show stretch was only the beginning of the activities he would guide his fans through. Within the first forty minutes, Deacon started a dance contest (encouraging participants to “dance with sass”), set up a race around the perimeter of the outdoor Hirshhorn atrium (a venture that brought the wrath of an unhappy police officer, who threatened to shut the show down, eliciting jeers from the crowd), and devised a man-made tunnel that the audience was instructed to run through and then re-form at the end, resulting in a human burrow that snaked around the entire atrium.

Deacon’s frenzied show, complete with games and beats that made citizens of the notoriously reluctant-to-dance D.C. shake and hop with caffeinated intensity, fit the setting of the Hirshhorn, which often house curious modern art, perfectly. As proven by his distinct live show, Deacon is something of a curiosity himself. Living up to his citizenship of Charm City, Deacon won over a crowd that was initially irked by his tardiness with flying colors.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

By Request- Ryan Adams

When reading anything about alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, you will see the word "prolific." In an age when it's rare to see musicians release an album even every two years, Adams has released ten over the past eight. There are solo albums such as the artist-defining Heartbreaker as well as albums recorded with his band, the Cardinals (such as Cardinology, released just yesterday). Adams & the Cardinals are going to be on tour starting next month with Oasis, should be quality.

By request, here's a rundown of some of my favorite Ryan Adams songs.

"New York, New York"- An Adams essential off his breakthrough album Gold. Released two weeks after 9/11, "New York, New York" became the soundtrack to many a TV montage due to the final line of the chorus: "I still you you, New York."
Best line: "Lived in an apartment out on Avenue A/ I had a tar-hut on the corner of 10th/ Had myself a lover who was finer than gold/ But I've been broken up and busted up since."

"When the Stars Go Blue"- Often thought to be written by either a star of the CW's "One Tree Hill" or by country mega-star Tim McGraw, Adams is actually the genius behind this sleepy, gorgeous song. In my opinion, the aforementioned singers butchered the pleading original.
Best line: "Where do you go when you're lonely? I'll follow you."

"Dear Chicago"- One part love letter, one part lullaby, and ten parts gorgeous; "Dear Chicago" is perhaps one of Adams's most achingly beautiful songs, both melodically and lyrically. The strummed acoustics complement the forlorn lyrics perfectly. As is embodying the lyrics "Happy and sad and back again," when the lyrics turn hopeful ("I think that I've fallen out of love with you") toward the end, the guitars do the same with escalating chords and a singing violin.
Best line: "I've been thinking some of suicide, but there's bars out here for miles."

"Come Pick Me Up"- In this sardonic and sarcastic break-up song, Adams invites his ex-lover to screw him over in multiple ways (stealing records, screwing his friends). Even with his sneer, Adams sounds painfully sincere, as if despite these sins he still does want her back.
Best line: "Come pick me up/ Take me out/ Fuck me up/ Steal all my records/ Screw all my friends behind my back/ With a smile on your face/ And then do it again."

"Damn Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains)"- A standout track from Adams's debut. Lyrically it's difficult to decipher, but one thing is for sure: it's a love song, probably asserting that constant happiness (even in a woman) is dull.
Best line: "I'm as calm as a fruit stand in New York and maybe as strange."

"Let It Ride"- One of Adams's more country-leaning tunes. Sounds like something written by a roaming cowboy fueled by tobacco and alcohol.
Best line: "I wanna see you tonight, dancing in the endless moonlight/ In the parking lot, in the headlights of cars/ Someplace over the moon where they moved the drive-in theater/ Where I left the car that I can't find that I still got the keys to."

"Wonderwall"- A cover of tourmate Oasis's hit 90's single. Adams turns the britpop ballad into a haunting acoustic echo of a song.
Best line: Duh. "I said maybe, you're gonna be the one who saves me/ And after all, you're my Wonderwall."
"Burning Photographs"- An upbeat song about a dying relationship off of Adams's pop-leaning record, Rock N Roll. If any song had mainstream radio potential, this would probably be the one. Naturally, it has too much sould to be embraced by the FM waves.
Best line: "Pretty pictures in a magazine/ Everybody is so make believe, it's true/ I used to be sad now I'm just bored with you."

Ryan Adams tunes

As said before, Ryan Adams is a prolific songwriter, so picking a few songs to share was a daunting task, but I think I chose eight that span the corners of his career. Hope these songs spark a love of the artist!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Haven't posted in a bit, but I promise I'll be back in a few days! This week and the next few days has been/are jam-packed, so I haven't had time to sit and crank out worthwhile posts.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jim James- "Steam Engine"

My love for alt.country is no secret. My favorite band is Wilco, and I adore Uncle Tupelo, Ryan Adams, Son Volt, Whiskeytown, Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, etc. One of my favorite releases this year was My Morning Jacket's stellar Evil Urges. One of the factors that makes me love MMJ so much is Jim James's haunting voice. It's an unforced falsetto with such a pure and balanced tone, and a titanic range. Here's a video of him performing a solo acoustic version of "Steam Engine," from MMJ's 2003 release It Still Moves.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tiny Masters of Today- La La Land

I posted a while back about Bang Bang Boom Cake, the debut album from Brooklyn kids Tiny Masters of Today. BBBC was a really solid and inspiring album, if not because of their age (the siblings in TMOT are 12 and 14) then because of their throwback, lo-fi punk sound.

Now, TMOT have released a single with a politically-charged message. On their site, the sibs said this about the song:

This election is really important. John McCain and Sarah Palin represent more of the same ignorance that has made the last 8 years really bad. Words are important, and this song is made up of other people's words. They are twisted around but we don't feel bad because politicians do that all the time. Grab it before someone sues us or something!

On the new, free single "La-La Land," the tiny masters piece together clips from McCain and Palin speeches a la Wax Audio's "Imagine This." The result is a crunchy protest anthem with punk attitude. Download "La-La Land" here.

Of course, at the end of their message, the duo signed off with a decidedly punk-rock message: "Make music not war."


Pigeons & Planes

As evidenced by my previous posts on music sites like Pitchfork.tv and Daytrotter, I check a lot of music websites and blogs. If I find one that is habit-forming, chances are, I'll let you all know about it.

One blog I've been digging lately is the recently started Pigeons & Planes. It's got a simple format, but it's full of good MP3's, videos and news bits. Confusion, who runs the blog, scours about ten music blogs a day and weeds out the best picks from each site for P&P. P&P is updated constantly, which is a nice change from once-a-day MP3 blogs. Proof: The blog began Sept. 28 and there are already over 100 posts.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

When Juno came out last year, it was embraced for it's quirkiness, smart and hip screenplay and indie-approved soundtrack, which was graced by Cat Power, Sonic Youth and, most prominently, the Moldy Peaches's Kimya Dawson. Dawson grew from an underground obscurity to a center-of-the-radar obscurity. The soundtrack shot up the charts, and Dawson set out for a sold-out tour- including one particularly curious stop on the View. While many were pleased that Dawson was receiving so much praise for old and underrated work, just as many, if not more, hipsters raised their noses in disgust at Dawson, now a "sell-out."

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, based on a book of the same name, is a thoroughly enjoyable cute ditty of a film. It leaves you smiling, pleased and little more. However, I think that it's fated to reach the same fate as Juno, because of its indie'd soundtrack. On the plus side, Nick & Norah is clearly a major studio film with recognizable stars, so it's not as if its success is unexpected as it was with Juno. But the fact that it is centered around two hipster teens who slave over mixtapes, know what Electric Lady Studios are and spend an entire night sailing through the five Burroughs in search of a secret show by a cult indie band means that the film is geared toward the same demographic as indies like Juno.

The soundtrack counts songs from Vampire Weekend, Devendra Banhart (who also has a cameo in the film), Takka Takka and We Are Scientists, among others, in its infinite playlist. By all means a solid soundtrack, but also one that will surly piss off the hipsters who will no doubt see mall rats sporting Vampire Weekend t-shirts in the coming weeks.

I'm personally neutral to the situation. I really enjoyed the movie and bought the soundtrack because it had songs I like from bands I like on it. Plus, I couldn't think of another way to get the Vampire Weekend song. A friend of mine, and die hard Devendra fan, on the other hand, refuses to see the movie. She thinks that it exploits indie bands by marketing them to the masses who won't appreciate their sound, and will listen to the music only for its shallow, materialistic value.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


While I'm sometimes truly miffed by Pitchfork Media and their overtly obnoxious need to be the "indie" and "obscure" in all of their reviews, I must admit that I am a fan of the online TV channel they launched earlier this year, Pitchfork.tv.

Between interviews with Jay Reatard and Feist, live sessions on the top of buildings ("Don't Look Down") with Department of Eagles and Jose Gonzalez and multi-player bands like the Walkmen and Broken Social Scene crammed into a basement ("Juan's Basement"), Pitchfork.tv not only offers videos of the latest, brightest indie artists, but offers them in creative locales, such as the aforementioned building and basement, or the "random Brooklyn street" on which Jay Reatard was interviewed. These settings promote candid conversation and performance.

Pitchfork.tv also frequently updates their music video library, hosting a broad spectrum of videos, from the atmospheric Animal Collective to lo-fi punkers No Age.

Department of Eagles, "No One Does It Like You," from Don't Look Down

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ra Ra Riot Interview

I'm interviewing Allie of Ra Ra Riot tomorrow for my zine.

Any question suggestions are welcome!

As always, if you're interested in a copy of the zine, just email me with your address and I'll mail you a copy free of charge!

Dr. Dog- Fate

For a band to play D.C.'s Iota Club & Cafe (it gets it's name from it's minute size) on one tour, and then months later play D.C.'s legendary 9:30 Club (with a 1,200 capacity) is a pretty good indication that they're onto something good, and Dr. Dog, who have been touring in support of their latest release, Fate, are indeed.

From it's packaging to it's sound, the common theme on Fate would be nostalgia. The album's lyric booklet, which resembles a Civil War-era newspaper, also includes a picture of the band in period garb. The band's use of three-part harmonies, lightly distorted guitar and twinkling piano along with singer Scott McMicken's well-controlled warble create an album reminiscent of those by 60's pop groups like the Band and the Beach Boys.

On the swinging "Army of Ancients," McMicken’s croons escalate to a frantic yelp as he sings “I don’t want to wake up/ I don’t want to move/ I’ll skip the sermon and stick to the booze/ I’m sorry.” Strings and punchy, muted horns add to the vintage sound.

Along with “Army of Ancients,” many of the songs on Fate have minor-chord mentalities, and wouldn’t sound out of place in a dingy nightclub. “The Ark” is a slinky, slow-building track filled with lyrics about eagerness to please and self-doubt.

More positive songs, such as “From,” a love song, showcase the groups ability to harmonize and knack for instrumental arrangements, including one memorable guitar solo. The organ is used on many of Dr. Dog’s song, and shines on the hymnal “100 Years.”

Album-opener “The Breeze” is a sweet ditty that encourages the listener to “put that needle to the groove, and sing” is they ever feel “stuck in time.” At its climax, the drum mimics a beating heart while band members “Ahhh” in tandem. As the band sings of the breeze blowing them all away, winding flutes play cycling chords, almost interpreting the song literally.

Stand out track “Hang On” follows “The Breeze.” Drawing as much from 60’s pop and alt.country as old soul records, McMicken pleads, “I don’t need a doctor to tear me all apart/ I just needs you to mend my heart.”

On the horn-jabbed “Uncovering the Old,” McMicken sings, “Nothing means nothing to me.” However, Dr. Dog truly care about the art of music and their love of the craft is on full display on Fate through their emotive vocals, contemplative lyrics and the inventive arrangements.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Killers on SNL, Or, How The Killers Stole My Heart

Last night on SNL, The Killers performed their new single "Human" as well as "Spaceman," another new tune to be debuted on their upcoming album, Day & Age.

I was in 7th grade when Hot Fuss came out, and I'll never forget the first time I heard it. My friend Carson had heard them perform "Somebody Told Me" on some television show an so I bought the album for her for her birthday. We listened to it in her den and I was enraptured by their new wave, synth-heavy arena rock. While none of the elements were entirely unique, to me, they seemed to be doing something totally different and their sound was like nothing I had ever heard.

Hot Fuss became my favorite album and I developed an unhealthy crush on Brandon Flowers. He was my desktop background and a sinister black and white shot of the band was on the front of my school binder.

As with any album, as time went on, the frequency I would listen to the album waned. However, I was very excited when I heard not only that they were working on a new album, but that they listed Bruce Spingsteen as one of their top influences.

Unfortunately, Sam's Town was underwhelming. It definitely had potential, but somewhere along the road Brandon Flowers & Co. lost sight of their own sound and became engulfed in their influences and dodging the sophomore slump.

I didn't hate Sam's Town- by any means. I listened the heck out of it, I just never felt that rush that I did whenever the opening bars of "Mr. Brightside" would play.

With the new single "Human," I see new hope for the Killers. "Human" is a fantastic return to form. The intro is optimistic and ethereal; "Are we human, or are we dancer?" Flowers muses. then the beat pulsates in and the synth begins to drive the song to the forgotten territory the Killers first inhabited in the days of Hot Fuss.

On SNL, the Killers performed "Human" as well as "Spaceman," a paranoid number that showcases Flowers's yelp and frontman bravado.

Based on these two songs alone, Day & Age should, well, kill.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

More Andrew Bird

That last post inspired me to post this video of Andrew Bird performing "Spare-Ohs" while strolling the streets of Montmartre. Both the song and the setting are gorgeous.

New Andrew Bird Single- "Oh No"

I adored Andrew Bird's last album, Armchair Apocrypha. His whistling and violining makes me swoon, and he crafts some of the most gorgeous soundscapes. "Heretics" and "Plasticities" were fixtures on many of the mixtapes I made last year. His latest single, "Oh No" keeps with the trend, with some added sociopathy. You can stream it now here.

His next album, Noble Beast, is due out in January.

Girl Talk Tour Dates

I interviewed Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) for my zine yesterday afternoon and it went really well. He's a really nice guy, and I had a lot of fun not only asking him questions but hearing his answers.

If you're not already a mash-up/Girl Talk fan, I recommend that you get his latest album, Feed the Animals, NOW!! It's got to be the one of the best pump-up, get happy, dance mixes ever. You can get a copy of that here.

Also, Girl Talk is embarking on tour next weekend. He's known for his insane live shows (people dancing on the stage, etc. He said in the interview yesterday that "all different forms of nudity and expression" have happened on stage) and I think you'll be sorry if you miss one.

Tour Dates
October 9 - Philadelphia PA @ Starlight Ballroom
October 10 - Washington DC @ 9:30 Club
October 11 - Baltimore MD @ Sonar
October 13 - Carrboro NC @ Cats Cradle
October 14 - Asheville NC @ Orange Peel
October 15 - Knoxville TN @ Valarium
October 16 - Atlanta GA @ Variety Playhouse
October 17 - New Orleans LA @ House of Blue
October 18 - Houston TX @ Warehouse Live
October 20 - Austin TX @ Emos
October 21 - Dallas TX @ Palladium Ballroom
October 23 - Tucson AZ @ Rialto Theater
October 24 - Los Angeles CA @ Henry Fonda Theater
October 25 - Los Angeles CA @ Henry Fonda Theater
October 27 - San Francisco CA @ The Fillmore Auditorium
October 28 - San Francisco CA @ The Fillmore Auditorium
October 30 - Salt Lake City UT @ In The Venue
October 31 - Denver CO @ Ogden Theater
November 1 - Lawrence KS @ The Granada Theatre
November 3 - Minneapolis MN @ First Avenue
November 4 - Milwaukee WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom
November 5 - Urbana IL @ Canopy Club
November 6 - Nashville TN @ Cannery Ballroom
November 7 - Louisville KY @ Headliners Music Hall
November 9 - Cincinnati OH @ Bogarts
November 10 - Cleveland OH @ Beachland Ballroom
November 11 - Pontiac MI @ Eagle Theatre
November 12 - Toronto ON @ Koolhaus
November 13 - Montreal PQ @ Club Soda
November 14 - Foxborough MA @ Showcase Live

Photo Credit: Photo Rod | Le-HibOO.com

Thursday, October 02, 2008

blink-182 2.0

I don't care what you say, blink-182 was a great band. Their music was unpretentious, non-emo punk-pop with honest, funny lyrics and melodies embedded with earworms the size of highways. Now that blink-182 has disbanded and the members have gone on to form arena-rockers Angels & Airwaves and pop-punkers (+44), there is a void in the pop-punk universe.

However, I think Motion City Soundtrack is the band to fill that hollow spot. While often lumped in with the Fall Out Boys and Panic at the Discos of the music world, MCS belong in their own league. They have a knack for musicality, and their melodies are catchy without being kitschy or stale. But mostly, their lyrics pass over the emo pitfall and opt instead to be sincere while tongue-in-cheek- just as those of their predecessor, blink-182.

MCS just released an acoustic EP on iTunes that craftily transforms their hyper tunes into mellow, more focused songs. Highlights on the EP include "It Had To Be You" and "Fell In Love Without You." The latter becomes an entirely new creature on the EP; it goes from being a frenzied, danceable album-starter to an earnest reflection on heartache.

Motion City Soundtrack is not, by any means, a new band. With this new EP though, they could finally reach the fan base that blink-182 left behind.

Girl Talk Interview

I'm interviewing Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) tomorrow for my zine (which, by the way, has switched names from Pop to Championship*). Got any ideas for questions?

If you want to read the interview, request a copy of Championship and I'll mail it to you for free! It will also have interviews with Los Campesinos! and Ted Leo, as well as records reviews and amazing artwork.

*Guess the reference!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

On the Road

For AP English we have to read a book outside of school every quarter. I think this is a fantastic assignment. I love to read, but I've found that during the school year it's difficult to read as much as I'd like. During winter/spring/summer breaks I usually plow through books- not so during the school year.

Anyway, we had a list of books to choose from, and I chose Jack Kerouac's On the Road. I'm still only in the first part, but I love it. It's very inspiring and makes me want to have my own road trip. It glamorizes America in a gritty, realistic but fantastic way.

There is a beautiful quote in the first chapter:
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well this was sure disappointing...

I expected more out of you, Jackie Boy.

New Music Tuesday 9/30

For me, T.I. resides in the pantheon of fantastic rappers. This elite group counts Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Talib Kweli and The Roots among its members, and with this latest effort from T.I., he will hopefully find permanent housing among their ranks. After an explosive performance of "Whatever You Like" and "Live Your Life" (the former with a nameless model at his side, the latter with Rihanna at the chorus) this album should be a knockout. The fact that T.I. will be going to jail any day now for gun possession only adds intrigue to how that factors into his rhymes.

On his third full length solo album, Ben Folds seems to no more on the way to normal than before. Kicking off with the Elton-inspired "Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)," Way To Normal is Folds letting loose and grinding out all the piano-funked weirdness he can- but of course in a lovable and oddly endearing way. The tunes seem to be more synthed out than those on his past two solo releases, but between his quirky attitude and lyrics, I'm sure he'll tie it all together.

I admit, I haven't read this book yet, but I am quite excited for the movie. It looks like one of those things where it'll be very cliche to love and be obsessed with the soundtrack, and it will spoil the joy of Devendra Banhart and Vampire Weekend for ol' indie folks the way Juno soured Kimya Dawson, but hey, I'm cool with that. With track from artists mentioned above as well as Bishop Allen, We Are Scientists, Rogue Wave and Shout Out Louds, this looks like, well, a pretty solid playlist.

Daytrotter Sessions

This may be extremely late blooming on my part, but I just discovered the site Daytrotter. It's a music blog that has not only reviews and artist profiles, but live sessions from basically every band they profile. I think that they basically record and write about 5 bands a week, and then all of the songs from the session are available for free download.

I went on a downloading spree once I found this. I recommend the Blitzen Trapper sessions and The National session.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why Country Music is dying.

Country music has a bad rap among many music buffs. It’s viewed as schlocky, sappy trash bought by misguided southern teens and conservatives. On Facebook, many people don’t even bother listing their favorite bands; they just go right ahead and exclude an entire genre: “anything but country.”

How did country music get such a bad reputation? It does have good, simple intentions. The songs fall neatly into five categories: love songs, cheating songs, murder songs, patriotic songs and drinking songs. The stars are accessible, next-door-neighbor types with usually strong voices and spunky personalities that come across well on CMT. The distaste for country music among indie-circles is, I believe, due to not only to country’s lack of imagination and originality but to country’s political affiliations.

While the original stars of country- the cowboys, outlaws and Cash’s of the world- wrote poetic verses about dusty roads and sang with experience and emotion, today’s Top-10ers are manufactured, and few even write their own songs. For every respectable star (songwriting teen Taylor Swift comes to mind) there seem to be fifteen phonies with an appealing image but no true talent aside from passable vocals.

Politically, indie is a liberal-leaning genre (see Obama endorsements by Wilco and Arcade Fire for proof), and country music finds most of its fans in the red states, rendering it utterly uncool to have Toby Keith on your iPod. It’s almost a political statement to oppose plasticized and synthetic country stars and embrace the homeless aesthetic of indie-cools like Fleet Foxes and Devendra Banhart.

Interestingly enough, many indie-rock fans adore alt.country groups such as Wilco, its predecessor Uncle Tupelo, and country-influenced songwriters like Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter. These alt.country artists name-check Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. when referencing their influences, but wouldn’t touch contemporaries like Tim McGraw or George Strait with a fifty-foot rod.

Those older “outlaw” country artists are considered more legitimate than those on the charts nowadays due to the emotion and sincerity in their music. Country music is no longer country; it’s become so dependent on crossover hits that many country chart-toppers are indistinguishable from pop ballads if it weren’t for that slight, affected Southern twang in the singer’s voice. The outlaws sang with purity and wrote poetry- the goal of many rock bands today.

Note the success of alt.country groups lately: My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Jenny Lewis and Blitzen Trapper have all found success via steel-pedals and vintage, outlaw-influenced jams. They take the old, beloved country singers and modernize their sound. In fact, these independent groups are more “country” than those on the charts. The country music business could take a cue from below the radar if they want to inflict a new spirit in their tired genre.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Go out and buy some CDs!

Today was a great day for new releases. In fact, I may well be broke from buying these.

Today's releases of note:
  • Acid Tongue- Jenny Lewis
  • Only By The Night- Kings of Leon
  • Dear Science- TV on the Radio
  • Loyalty to Loyalty- Cold War Kids
Coming weeks bring more good stuff (Ray LaMontagne, T.I.).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Well, it's finally happened. MTV now contains no music television.

TRL was officially cancelled. Let's be honest, we all saw it coming. The D-list, Nick Lachey-dating VJ's. The teenage audience screaming with slightly fewer decibels. The lack of stars guesting to pimp their latest album, movie or album-movie tie-in. But mostly: the total lack of viewership.

TRL started a bit before my time (I didn't even have cable until two years ago), but as a music buff I've always been aware of it's cultural significance when it began. It became a vehicle for showcasing the latest videos, and with teens having the ability to vote for their favorites it seemed like the perfect junction of music and democracy.

With the interweb however, TRL's services have become unnecessary and old-fashioned. Why wait to see if your Chris Brown's "Forever" video will be number one if you can just watch it five times on YouTube?

For a network that tauted itself as music television, it's ironic that it hosts fewer music-themed shows than even Fox. Even VH1 compiles 5-hour marathons of "The Best Songs of the 90's!" to take up unused time blocks. MTV just airs a stale season of America's Next Top Model in its entirety.

It's a damn shame that TRL has died. I admit, I was never an avid fan (I never found that it spoke to my music taste), but I always appreciated what it represented: music as a cultural focal- and talking-point.


P.S. Will MTV now just be referred to as...TV??

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Old Coldplay Review- Viva La Vida

I wrote this review in 2.5 seconds this summer after Coldplay's album Viva La Vida was released. I figure I'll post it now. It's pretty rough, but, you know.

Coldplay acquired a fifth member for their fourth album. His name is Brian Eno, he was just the push in the right direction that Chris Martin and Co. needed after 2005’s lackluster X&Y. Eno’s signature larger-than-life sound that has been present on so many U2 albums is more than apparent on Viva La Vida, and it suits Coldplay wonderfully. Enlisting Eno to helm Vida was a more logical move than you’d expect from a man who named his firstborn “Apple.” And not only was it logical move, it was one that saved Coldplay from forever being branded one of the most bland groups making music today.

Kicking off with the layered instrumental, “Life in Technicolor,” it’s clear that Coldplay has adopted a new sound. As with the title of that first track, it’s as though Coldplay has been in black-and-white Kansas, but on this album they are finally stepping into a full-color Oz, fully equipped with a heart, a brain, and an extra dose of courage. The ominously titled “Cemeteries of London,” with its dark, ghost-town referencing lyrics, thumping bass and syncopated handclaps could provide the soundtrack to a John Wayne western. On “Lost!” Coldplay reverts to their more traditional song-structure while employing surprising instrumentals, like an organ, tambourine and, yes, more hand claps. Pretentiously titled “42” spends its first minute-and-a-half as a creepy ballad before guitarist Jonny Buckland launches into Radiohead-esque guitar jabs. “42” ends up being the most surprising track on the album, climaxing in an almost optimistic chorus, where Martin sings, “You thought you might be a ghost/ You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close.”

Perhaps the best track on the album is “Lovers in Japan,” a driving tune with a jumpy piano-line and a lush soundscape provided by Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion. On “Yes,” on of the more radio-friendly tracks, Martin accesses his lower vocal register and the group makes good use of a string section, as signaled by the wailing opening chords. The ubiquitous hit “Viva La Vida” and second single “Violet Hill” are great examples that Eno has been stirring Coldplay’s pot. “Violet Hill” is accompanied by strong lyrics and hard-hitting percussion and guitar lines. “Viva La Vida” is epic and cinematic, once again utilizing the string section.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Pop! Goes the Zine

I produced a Zine last spring with friends of mine from school. If anyone is interested in a copy, or if you are in a musical group and would like to be interviewed/reviewed/profiled in our next issue, shoot me an email!

The zine is called Pop and it's produced entirely by teens. I've got to say, it's pretty impressive considering everyone who made it is a young'un. And my good friend Carson does the art for it, all of which is kick-ass becuase she's awesome.

Email me if you're interested! Nmsles@gmail.com

Conor Oberst

Last week I picked up the debut solo album from Conor Oberst (the prodigy behind Bright Eyes). Since his beginning, Oberst has been called "the next Dylan," a title that seems to be slapped on every 6-string player with a knack for lyrics, an imperfect voice and an affinity for the occasional buzz on a harmonica.

On albums under his Bright Eyes moniker (for most of those LPs, Oberst was the sole permanent member. However, on the most recent release, 2007's Cassadaga, Bright Eyes officially became a trio, to include multi-instrumentalists Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott), Oberst opted for emotionally-driven alt.folk tunes that appealed to indie purists and emo kids alike. Oberst has always been included in the list of the best alt.country artists, and on this release, he defends his placement furiously. Instead of tunes about lost love and found pain, songs on Conor Oberst are more often centered around towns ("NYC- Gone, Gone") and stories ("Danny Callahan"). Each song definitely maintains the poetic element that defines Oberst's work, but the centric force driving this solo album would probably be found more easily on a dusty road in Mexico than in an empty New York City bar.

There seems to be an added level of comfort on this album than any of Oberst's Bright Eyes releases. Perhaps he is more in his element when he is solitary; perhaps he just wanted to make a safe, non-experimental album- and really, where is the harm in that?

This self-titled album is a stirring solo debut for Conor Oberst. The songs are not daring or boundary-pushing as some of his Bright Eyes material has been, but there is no doubt that they are beautiful.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Don't You Hate It When...

You get in that pop/Top 40 hating mode and then suddenly a song comes that is just so catchy you can't deny it's power? It works it's way into your brain and it's stuck in your head and you know you should hate it but you can't because it's just SO. CATCHY.

Well, I am currently in that love-hate relationship with the latest Katy Perry (yeah, the "I Kissed a Girl" girl. Makes the shame that much greater.) single. It's called "Hot N' Cold" and oh my god is it ridiculous. It has this pumping disco beat, easy lyrics ("You don't really want to stay, no/But you don't really want to Go-o") and it's working it's way up the charts. Katy Perry, bless her soul, has a pretty weak voice, but on this track her shout-singing just works.

Next post I'll talk about Conor Oberst's latest album or somthing.. You know, to make up for this post. Oh, sweet joy of guilty pleasures.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back in Town

I've returned from my 2 weeks working at camp and without internet access! Posts to follow shortly...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Concert Plans...ruined!

2 of my most anticipated summer shows have been ruined in one week!! My plans for Rock the Bells fell through due to douchebag-iness of my friends who bailed at 12 the night before, and Bon Iver fell through due to my friend having to leave a day early for the beach. Blurgh. I had been hoping to go to a lot of shows this summer (including Coldplay, shut up.) but I've only gone to Fleet Foxes. This is the first summer since I think the 7th grade where I haven't gone to at least a show per month. Weird.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Countdown to Rock the Bells!

I am very, very excited for Rock the Bells this weekend. While my music taste lies mostly in alternative/indie/pop, there is some rap that I absolutely love, and most of the groups and rappers in RTB fall under that category. One such rapper is Nas, whose new album, which is untitled (originally he planned to call it Nigger, but for various reasons, he did not. When Nas was on the Colbert Report the other day, Colbert suggested he use the word Reggin instead. And then he said he would "pop some truth in your ass". It was a good episode.) is full of evidence that Nas is one of the best rappers alive right now. Now, I am a huge Kanye fan, but if the world were just, Nas would have as much fame as West. Here's one of my favorite songs from Nas's latest, it's called "Queens Get The Money".

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things I Am Excited For

Things I am excited for in the coming weeks...
1) There is a good chance I'll be going to Rock the Bells!
2) My summer school health class is over (Woohoo! Now I have more time for...oh yeah, SAT review and summer reading. Ugh.)
3) Going to work at the best camp in the world in two weeks. Yes yes yes yes yes!

More about TIAEFITCW #1...
I am by no means a huge rap fan, but my god, this line-up has every group and rapper I love, besides Kanye, Lupe, and Lil Wayne (but I have already seen the first two of those three). It's got De La Soul (3 Feet High and Rising is one of my favorite summer albums ever), A Tribe Called Quest (Um, hello. "Can I Kick It"! LIVE!), Nas, Ghostface.... This list goes on. The tour even has newer artists like Wale (if you haven't yet, you must download his Mixtape About Nothing. Too lazy to link...go Google it), Kid Sister (who did a sweet song with Kanye), Santogold (whose album is in very heavy rotation at the moment), The Cool Kids ("a new black version of the Beastie Boys"), and much much much more!! Goodness gracious I better go to this.

More about TIAEFITCW #2...
Ok, my health class is over which is awesome because now I don't have to get up early and sit in a classroom til 1 every day. Unfortunately, I have SAT review and summer reading. Summer reading is mostly fine, since the books don't suck, but I have to annotate them, which bites and makes the reading so much more grueling and tedious.

I am currently listening to my massive Summer Shuffle. Yesterday I went on a long bike ride. This weekend I was in NYC which was quite fun. I saw the Mamma Mia movie, which means that I now have every ABBA song simultaneously stuck in my head. It was charming at first, but now I'm just feeling suicidal. I watched Batman Begins last night to get in the mood to see the Dark Knight later this week. Can't wait!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Gap

I went shopping with my mom yesterday, and while I was in the Gap I noticed that their soundtrack in the store is basically a who's-who of blogged-out indie groups. Vampire Weekend's "M79" was sandwiched between Tokyo Police Club's "Tessellate" and Feist's "I Feel It All". Not to mention some peppy twee-pop songs that I'd never heard before. It made me wonder a few things- Is the soundtrack at each Gap the same? Who chooses the music? Do they have an intentional "sound" they aim for? If there is a specific job of "music-chooser" where may I apply?

I mean really, how sick of a job would that be? You just get to make fun, happy mixtapes. And get paid.

Also the past 3 or 4 times I've been at a Gap they've played the song "Come On" by Guster. Just a funny lil observation of mine.

Speaking of Guster, this is the first summer in a while where they aren't touring. It's weird. Seeing them has become a bit of a summer tradition. They're a fantastic summer band.