Saturday, November 26, 2011

review- thee oh sees at the empty bottle 11.23.11

Thee Oh Sees early set at the Empty Bottle was a show for which the term ‘bring the ruckus’ was created. I bopped like a mental patient the entire hour-long set (which refused to even begin to let up) along with the other three-hundred odd people in the crowd. I am not the type of person who moves much at shows either, but even I could not resist. Not bad for a night that was over before ten o’clock.

The band played most of the new (and excellent) ‘Carrion Crawler’/’The Dream’ full-length and the songs were gloriously noisy, incredibly dynamic and air-tight. The Siamese twin-effect dual drumming of Mike Shoun and Lars Finberg was a nice addition to the last time I’d seen them, which was at Lincoln Hall last year after the release of ‘Warm Slime.’ Brigid Dawson and John Dwyer’s harmonies were glistening and spot-on as always, Dwyer’s guitar playing flung back and forth from disciplined and precise to sheer noise with the greatest of ease (often while holding his guitar and aiming it like a machine gun) and suspenders-wearing cake-tattoo sporting bass player Petey Dammit bopped to his own locked-groove lines all night, only looking to Dwyer occasionally for dynamic cues. How they are able to maintain such a ferocious, unrelenting pace for so long and keep it so simultaneously anarchic and controlled is truly confounding. It’s a thing of great and rare beauty. They are able to transform any room into a party-zone.

I was a bit bummed that they didn’t play rocked-up versions of any of the ‘Castlemania’ songs (like they did with ‘AA Warm Breeze’ on their tour split with Total Control), but there couldn’t help but be canyon-like omissions from their back catalogue considering its size. ‘Carrion Crawler’/’The Dream’ is their 13th proper full-length release. What’s more they played my favourite track from the new record (‘Robber Barons’ in case you’re interested) and the elation I felt during that song and during the excellent extended version of ‘Block of Ice’ from ‘The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night in’ made any absences very minor gripes. They also played the ‘Help’ centerpiece ‘Destroyed Fortress Reappears’ with some modified lyrics (I couldn’t figure out if they were saying ‘be somebody’ or ‘eat somebody’ or both) before diving into a 10+ minute version of a rather unsuspecting song from ‘Dog Poison’ (essentially a Dwyer solo record) called ‘Dead Energy’ that weaved in an out of the song’s main structure over and over through meandering and psychedelically-fried extrapolations that rendered the song somehow simultaneously hypnotic and punishing. This would be where the beautiful part comes into play.

Well done Oh Sees. They played nearly a completely different set from the Lincoln Hall set last year. It’s a rather sizeable regret that I hold onto that I wasn’t able to make their show at the Bottle in July (it was on the only night everyone else in shalloboi could make to play the last strings show) as well as their free set at the Logan Square Monument. There are times I even get annoyed with myself that I didn’t get off of my ass and catch them at Schuba’s back in 2009. They are certainly not to be missed and who can even tell where they are headed next—the only certainty is that no one will see it coming.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

ruminations (well, sort of): 20th anniversary of 'loveless'

Oh, the irony. I missed the 20th anniversary of the release of My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless,' which has been one of my two favourite records since I first heard it when I was 16 years old (the other one is the Cure's 'Disintegration' in case you missed all the fuss when it was reissued last year). I'm a bit hesitant to wax too philosophical about it, namely because it's been done to death quite frankly. If ever there were a record that was hopelessly futile to write about then 'Loveless' would be it. Fitting, I think, that there is little to no fanfare. A remaster has existed since 2008 (contrary to popular belief Kevin Shields upheld his end of the bargain and actually finished the 'Isn't Anything' and 'Loveless' remasters, for whatever reason the record company refuses to release them. The last rumor I've heard is that the writing of liner notes is what's holding things up) but has remained shamefully unreleased. Truthfully I have them both (as does anyone who posts or lurks on the MBV forum) and I never found either to be that much better than they were on the first go-round- I'm one of those hopeless nerds who has the original vinyl for both records. The analogue remaster of 'Loveless' does sound a hair better than the original CD, but the difference is negligible. This always seemed quite the underscore to the futility of improving something like 'Loveless.' Jason Pierce was smart enough to recognize that his year spent mixing 'Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space' was worthwhile as the original album wasn't in any need of remastering when the time came for the 2009 reissue.

I digress. Yes, the album is unbelievably influential. Then there's the storied tale of its troubled creation. There's an entire book filled with useless writing and fantastic quotes from the entire band (check out the 'Loveless' book in the 33 1/3 series- Kevin Shields' quotes alone make it worth a read even though the style it's written in is incredibly obnoxious), so go read it if you feel like reliving all of that drama. The truth of the matter is that it all matters so little when listening to the album. True, it remains unmatched as a fully-conceived sonic achievement, but there are other records with similar credentials in the history of pop music. I'd like to talk about the songwriting on the album as that is what very few people mention when talking about Shields and My Bloody Valentine, which is a shame as he is an undeniably talented songwriter. If the songs weren't able to hold up to the test of time it wouldn't matter how labored over they had been in the studio. No one would care. The 16 year old me that was listening to that copy of 'Loveless' with my friend were completely silent as 'To Here Knows When' played and it was a mixture of the beauty of the song itself in addition to the overwhelming uniqueness of what we were hearing that is what bowled us over. 'To Here Knows When' remains possibly my favourite song ever mainly because I find the melodic content and the way the chords melt into each other in incredibly subtle ways so captivating. It's almost like hearing music for the first time- it doesn't seem like it came from reality. How someone was able to wrestle their vision into reality as clearly as they have here is simply astonishing- not just in terms of production, but guitar playing and in bringing a song like this to fruition. I've gotten my hands on a guitar tab of the song that actually sounds accurate (this is always a tenuous thing with My Bloody Valentine songs) and to me the beauty of the song becomes all the clearer when played on an acoustic guitar. It's clear that the song was conceived every bit as carefully as the production itself. What I find so continuously disappointing about all of the writing about MBV and Kevin Shields is how often this fact is overlooked. The strange siren-like whines that open 'Only Shallow' not only grab you with their formless weirdness, but also serve as a melodic hook as do the vocal melodies in the song. There is a subtlety at work that so often goes unnoticed. Considering how indecipherable the actual lyrics were, the melodies were impossible to deny even when they were simple moaning 'ooh's and 'aah's (which is quite a bit in the MBV catalogue).

What's more, each song on the album seems to have been just as carefully conceived. When stripped of its similar production elements the songs are all quite different in their melodic structure and a lot of the time the arrangements are revealed to be rather standard. Another tab I have for 'Sometimes' reveals it to be something that wouldn't sound out of place in a strictly folk context- it has a folk-styled open tuning. 'Loomer' has some truly mind-boggling dissonant guitar madness going on in it that somehow manages to enhance its beauty rather than destroy it. The songs that most resemble each other on the album are 'When You Sleep,' 'Come in Alone,' 'I Only Said' and 'What You Want' mainly due to the fact that they are fairly standard (well, in their own way) electric guitar-based rock songs. I've always found those four to be the weakest on the album mainly because they are the most similar and they don't quite measure up as songs when you compare them to similar songs from 'Isn't Anything' or something like 'Honey Power' off of the 'Tremelo' EP. In context this is not as negative of a statement as it seems. They're the type of songs that I'd often hear on records that I wouldn't be able to fully appreciate until hearing them played live. A lot of them even have clearly detectable source material- namely Hüsker Dü and the loud/quiet dynamic of the Pixies and yet their execution is anything but formulaic. 'When You Sleep' has that weird, surfy flute-sounding melodic loop and that very strong verse vocal harmony/chord change overlap that's incredibly striking, 'I Only Said' is built on relentless repetition interrupted by that glittering bridge change that comes out of nowhere and leaves just as quickly and 'Come in Alone' is built almost entirely on lumbering, loud guitars that are bent into hooks despite themselves. Again, all just as reliant on songwriting and dynamics as on production. One of the main elements that makes the music on 'Loveless' so distinctive is the way that Shields builds the chord structures of his songs around alternate tunings that allow him to achieve the types of melodic dissonance and texture to achieve what he is after musically and emotionally. I've always found My Bloody Valentine songs to be a pretty good source of emotional content and mood even if I can't understand the lyrics. One doesn't always need to understand the lyrics of a song to connect with its emotional pull. Listen to a full Cocteau Twins album and it's difficult not to connect with on an emotional scale despite the fact that the lyrics are most likely a bunch of baby talk. It's the way that the melodies are structured that are getting the emotion across. Production only serves as enhancement.

So please, for the love of god, just stop going on and on about all of the sensationalist nonsense surrounding this album and just enjoy it for what it is- a fully-conceived album of beautiful and rewarding songs.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

the brian jonestown massacre- maxwell's, hoboken, nj 2002.02.17

If you look over to the right in the links area you'll see one link entitled 'Johnny Love Fuzztone' which, if you click on it, is sadly dead. That blog was by an individual who shared some really great stuff through his blog- mostly bootleg live shows and rarities. He posted regularly on the Keep Music Evil forum, which is a gathering place for fans of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. He was a nice guy who fell upon a lot of hardship and took a lot of shit and I always admired him for sharing so much great stuff. Since all of the links are now gone I thought I'd revive a few over a time. The first is the best find that I got off of his site- this is a BJM show from 2002 from Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. It's quite the intense little gem- 'Johnny Marr is Dead,' 'Straight Up and Down' and 'Sue' for a start, plus the rarely played 'Open Heart Surgery.' Here it is for you to enjoy-


1. Johnny Marr is Dead
2. Nevertheless
3. Servo/Swallowtail
4. Jennifer/Nailing Honey to the Bee
5. Whoever you Are
6. Vacuum Boots
7. Who
8. Sue
9. Wisdom
10. (joke)
11. This is Why you Love me
12. Open Heart Surgery
13. Telegram
14. Fucker
15. That Girl Suicide
16. Satellite
17. Straight Up and Down

Monday, November 7, 2011

review- atlas sound- 'parallax'

Upon the release of Deerhunter's 'Halcyon Digest' the first thing I noticed when I put it on was how much 'Earthquake' sounded like it could've been an Atlas Sound song. During most of the record I found several other examples- 'Sailing,' 'Helicopter,' even something like 'Basement Scene.' While putting 'Parallax' on for the first time I had a similar feeling about a few tracks- several of them wouldn't be the slightest bit out of place on a Deerhunter record. 'Angel is Broken' moves forward with a driving, immediate urgency similar to much of what can be heard on 'Microcastle.' 'Parallax' is Bradford Cox's most wide-eyed and lucid work as Atlas Sound to date. A few of the songs sound radio-ready (this is not meant as an insult just to be clear). It fulfills the promise of many of the acoustic-based tracks in the four-volume 'Bedroom Databank' series that Cox released through his blog last year. 'Mona Lisa' from volume three makes an appearance here in a nicely fleshed-out form. On 2009's 'Logos' it seemed like Cox had taken his undeniable gift for hazy, spaced-out, atmospheric songs to the limit. Here, much of the sleepy-eyed feel has been shaken off in favor of some very crisp and clear production. This is Atlas Sound's 'Microcastle'- an appropriate parallel as both records were made at Brooklyn's Rare Book Room.

Dedicated to Trish Keenan (the singer of the Broadcast who passed away tragically and very suddenly within the first two weeks of this year, their last American tour having been opening for Atlas Sound in 2009) and with a cover that immediately struck me as an homage to Jeff Buckley's 'Grace' cover, a great deal of the music has a very classic feel to it- deliberately staking its own place in a vast continuum of music. The title track has sonic nods to 60's music similar to 'Weird Era Continued's 'Vox Humana' and 'Terra Incognita' has some acoustic plucking that reminds me of mid-70's Neil Young as well as an uplifting, anthemic chorus. The aforementioned 'Mona Lisa' is clean, shiny and driving and sounds radio ready. Then there is the woozy and beautiful 'Doldrums' where Cox takes his gauzy piano playing and feeds it through a maze of looping delay pedals over a backdrop of leaden, watery drums. Even on the trippier tracks there isn't much in the way of reverb and a great deal of the ambience on the record is the result of room sounds lending it a dry, hospital-room feel similar to Spiritualized's 'Songs in A&E.' The second side is dominated by the more ambient and dreamier songs with a few exceptions- namely 'Angel is Broken' and the upbeat, sunny closing track 'Lightworks.'

It's surprising to me how long it's taken for me to start paying attention to Atlas Sound considering how much I've always loved Deerhunter as it seems to me the two have such a yin/yang relationship. It's similar to the interplay between Nick Cave's work with the Bad Seeds and Grinderman over the past six years only on a more frequent scale. 'Let the Blind Lead those Who Can See but Cannot Feel' has a heavily electronic feel where 'Cryptograms' has more of a guitar-based take on ambient rock, 'Logos' favors hazy dreaminess where 'Microcastle' favors clean production and sharp, clear song structures. Such is the case between 'Parallax' and 'Halcyon Digest.' I only had to listen to 'Parallax' once to get a good feel for it, whereas 'Halcyon Digest' took me three listens to warm up to. This Atlas Sound/Deerhunter call and response can go on forever and bleed together as often as possible- especially if the results prove to be this consistently stunning.

diary 11.5.11- wasted in time

road tested. this one kind of cooks, i have to admit.
next month i'll be doubling up with another diary playlist (possibly holiday themed) and my best of 2011. the amount of writing that will be posted around that occasion will be nothing short of astounding. i've been carefully compiling data all year and it's been quite a bit of work just keeping with the overwhelming amount of great new music that's come out this year.

song- artist- album
1. dear rose- nina nastasia- 'dogs'
2. breadhead- sic alps- 'breadhead' 7"
3. apathy- mikal cronin- s/t
4. sleep forever- crocodiles- 'sleep forever'
5. green aisles- real estate- 'insound studio session'
6. it rained- atlast sound- 'let the blind lead those who can see but cannot feel'
7. in/out blues- kurt vile- 'woods/kurt vile tour split'
8. skull- woods- 'woods/kurt vile tour split'
9. u- mirror mirror- s/t
10. polly- nirvana- 'live at the paramount'
11. all this remains- bert jansch- 'edge of a dream'
12. beams- sun araw- 'beach head'
13. comet- astrobrite- 'crush'
14. hair shoes- pale saints- 'in ribbons'
15. mary- spiritualized- albert hall 2011 bootleg
16. if i love you- the brian jonestown massacre- grog shop 2001 bootleg
17. kotton krown- sonic youth- 'sister'

Thursday, November 3, 2011

ruminations: mazzy star- 'common burn' single etc.

On the occasion of Mazzy Star's long overdue return with their new single from their forthcoming album I began this entry without having heard the whole thing. On my commute home on Monday night I threw on the band's 1996 album 'Among My Swan' which is the last proper album of new music from the band for reference/reverence. I'll probably listen to the album's worth of as-of-yet largely unreleased songs from an audience recording of the band's last tour in 2000 in copenhagen, denmark at the legendary club löppen. On this tour the band played a set comprised mostly of new stripped-down, probably unfinished but also ridiculously beautiful new material. Of those seven songs only one has seen release on Hope Sandoval's beautiful second solo record with her band The Warm Inventions, 2009's 'Through the Devil Softly.' That would be 'For the Rest of Your Life' and in a very different form from what is heard on the Löppen bootleg. Since hearing these recordings back in 2005 or 2006 I've always been curious as to whether they would ever see release, however, since the new single is two songs that aren't present on this Löppen recording it almost makes me wonder if I want these mostly acoustic live tracks to ever see a proper release as they are so gorgeous as they are and, from what I've heard on the new single, it sounds like they've moved on from them anyway.

'Among My Swan' is an album that I've owned since its release and I remember being largely alone amongst my friends in even knowing it had been released. Despite the fanfare surrounding 'Fade Into You' the follow-up album somehow managed to fall through the cracks despite what a dramatically huge step forward it was from 'So Tonight That I Might See.' One can only imagine the fight they had to put up to get it released. Without a 'suitable follow-up single' the songs run a huge gamut from acoustic softness a la 'Flowers in December,' the starkness of the haunting reverb-drenched 'All Your Sisters,' the heavily-vibed 'Roseblood' to the unparalleled tone poem 'Umbilical' all leading up to the crushingly desolate closer 'Look On Down From the Bridge' (which remains one of my favourite songs ever). I remember using 'Look On Down From the Bridge' as the closing song for a play I wrote in high school called 'Soon'- one day I had to sub for the actor doing the final monologue before it played and becoming so overwhelmed that I had to go for a long walk through the empty halls of my high school in its after-hours darkness. It's a poignant memory that could only be one from when I was 17. It was a time when I was in over my head emotionally to the point where even I was unaware of how much trouble I was in- it was a premonition of a depression that spiraled out of control once I left home for Columbia College here in Chicago. I would not bathe or was my clothes for weeks at a time, spent most of my time along wallowing in endless regret and guilt. I wasn't able to pull myself out of it until I was 19 and found, to my horror, that I'd retreated back to Kansas City from where I really wanted to be and was now stuck there. Not to mention how many new friends I'd met who tried to help me see ways to pull myself out and how they'd given up when I'd stubbornly refused to listen to them. There was even a possible relationship in there that I ruined. Goodbyes that were never said. Feelings that were never expressed, or reciprocated. It's a lot for a five minute song to dredge up, but that is what 'Look On Down From the Bridge' does.

Ironically these feelings of regret and longing for one of those 'one that got away' type of feelings is what 'Common Burn' is about. I definitely feel the common burn when I listen to 'Among My Swan.' Stylistically, 'Common Burn' sounds about how one would expect- it sounds like Dave Roback playing on one of the drumless acoustic tracks from 'Through the Devil Softly' (think 'Lady Jessica and Sam' meets the lead guitars from 'Disappear'). What is most interesting to me about it is how it sounds and feels like a 50/50 collaboration between Sandoval and Roback- the guitars were clearly playing by Roback and the recording bears his production stamp, but Sandoval obviously played the vibraphone, harmonica and tambourine in addition to her singing. Previously it seemed as though she would mostly sing and add a few percussive flourishes to a song that Roback had already built from the ground up (which even feels like the case with something like 'Give You my Lovin' off of 'She Hangs Brightly'- the two chord song had been written and conceived by Sandoval, but Roback fleshed the whole thing out in a way that only he could). 'Lay Myself Down' is the one of the two that sounds the most like older Mazzy Star. It has all of the hallmarks, but with an additional country vibe that Mazzy Star never fully explored. I suppose really what I mean here is that there is a very present and effective pedal steel. All told these are two very promising songs that are hopefully the precursors to even more new ground covered. The likelihood that I will listen to these songs fifteen years down the road and have them transport me right back to this incredibly trying time is very high. This is strangely comforting to me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

review- real estate at lincoln hall 10.31.11

I have a tremendous amount of difficulty understanding what exactly it is about Real Estate that makes me love them so much. When I think about their music I feel like it's conceptually very thin and rehashed, but when I throw either of their magnificent records on the turntable it always sounds unlike anything I've ever heard. It all seems obvious enough and yet no one has even come close to making the type of music that they make. I recently read a review of 'Days' comparing it to 'Oh, Inverted World' by the Shins and it occurred to me that that might be apt, but then the more I think about it the less true it seems. They couldn't possibly come off as any more unassuming than they do. Their sound is instantly identifiable, but conceptually seems so analogous and yet no two songs sound alike apart from a predilection for phaser and light delay. On record the songs seem so placid and laid back, which one would think would make for a dull and joyless live show. What I found while watching their excellent headlining set at Lincoln Hall was an incredibly impassioned, fun and driving set of songs. One of my favourite moments of the night was when the band launched into the gorgeous wistfulness of 'Green Aisles' after a stretch of five covers (more on that later) and feeling a rush of joy rise in everyone in the crowd. Such moments are increasingly rare.

The first time I heard Real Estate was when they opened for Woods last year at Lincoln Hall just before the release of the 'Reality' EP. I was stuck in the front of the bar in a booth with my wife and two friends and I remember being able to hear them playing in the next room very clearly. The entire time I alternated between thinking, 'Eh, this isn't that good' and 'This is fucking beautiful. I want to get my ass out of this booth and into that room to listen to this properly.' I didn't get ahold of the first self-titled record until the beginning of this summer, despite having heard a co-worker play it at work constantly over the last year or so, the rave reviews and the aforementioned enjoyment of their live set opening for Woods. I bought my ticket for this current Lincoln Hall show on a lark not even aware that they had a new record coming out. I was initially going to wait until the night of the show to buy 'Days' but after watching their Insound Session videos the suspense was unbearable and I found myself dropping by Reckless Records on the way home from work the day it was released specifically to buy it. 'Days' is currently in heavy rotation- it's the perfect foil to their self-titled record- somewhat more polished, staying true to their aesthetic yet effortlessly plunging into new, exciting territory. It's a very tight little record and, indeed, seems the perfect winter foil to the summery feeling of the self-titled record.

The band took to the stage dressed in fairly subtle costumes (mostly just funny hats). They opened with a few from the first record, played the bright first track off of 'Days' and then launched into a five-song cover set in honor of halloween- a very inspired and obviously fairly spontaneous stunt that I feel like they pulled off. It's something that a curmudgeon like me should loathe, but I found very unexpected and enjoyable. They played a Clean song, 'Coffee and TV' by Blur and 'Holiday' by Weezer, for example. After the covers set they removed their hats and started a beautiful, solid stretch of songs from 'Days' starting with 'Green Aisles' (which is probably my favourite song on the record). The setlist built upon itself keeping the energy and the vibe going. Not many bands can start a song like 'Suburban Dogs' and you can feel a lift in the crowds' collective spirits, but that's what happened when the drummer started the stark beat. It sounded absolutely breathtaking and perfect. They closed with the closing track off of 'Days' and they even came out for an encore. Try as I might to describe how they managed to play such laid-back sounding songs with so much energy and drive I can't even begin to start. All I know is that the 'downer indie' label that was lazily cast onto the band in their Time Out Chicago listing for this show proved to be the biggest crock I've ever heard. My one complaint- they didn't play 'Out of Tune.'