Wednesday, February 29, 2012

review- dirty three- 'toward the low sun'

Over the last three and a half years the announcement of every new Nick Cave/Warren Ellis project (i.e. Grinderman albums, film soundtracks, etc.) always hit me as good news tempered with a tiny shred of disappointment- this meant more time that Ellis would be away from his Melbourne-based minimalist trio with drummer Jim White and guitarist Mick Turner, the Dirty Three. When the announcement that Grinderman would be no more came late last year it, conversely, gave a glimmer of hope that there might be another Dirty Three album on the horizon, as well as (hopefully, it remains to be seen) a tour. Sure enough, the announcement came in December that a new Dirty Three album would see release in February and now here 'Toward the Low Sun,' the band's first release in six years, is.

The next question is whether the album would be good enough to live up to the long shadow that's cast by the band's sizable back catalogue, which includes a handful of albums that achieve a level of graceful, loose beauty that most bands dare not dream of. 2003's 'She Has No Strings Apollo' has a few moments where they achieve this, as does 2005's 'Cinder' (the band's first attempt at incorporating vocal tracks and condensed song lengths), but neither lives up to the mastery of 1998's 'Ocean Songs,' 2000's 'Whatever You Love, You Are,' 1995's self-titled debut or 1996's raucous 'Horse Stories.' My own hopes were that the time between this release and their last would make for a refreshed sound, which turns out to be the case. They've taken the more compact song lengths of 'Cinder' and injected them with a fresh approach- many of the tracks eschew the band's standard template with some breathtaking results.

The lead-off track 'Furnace Skies' is gritty and chaotic, filled with scuzzy guitar and violin skronk with White laying the foundation with his trademark driving, arrhythmic and manic drum rolls. There is even evidence of several overdubs, which is something the band has always used very sparingly- they usually just stick to the sound of the three of them in a room. At first the track is incredibly jarring, but begins to act as a bit of a cleansing of the palate- it seems to force you to leave all of your expectations at the door because a lot of the rules have changed. The second track is built on a tender piano figure hovering over a stormy sea of drums and guitar. This beginning couplet almost serves as a warm-up for the band and the listener which gives the third track, the western-sounding 'Moon on the Land,' the feel of a graceful and calm lift-off. Built on nylon stringed acoustic chords speaking with a few plucked electric guitar notes as well as Ellis' dueling violins, it's the type of unique loveliness that one has come to expect of the Dirty Three. It's also cohesive and compact, getting its message across in under five minutes without feeling rushed. 'Rain Song' builds upon this in similar suit, giving way to a more controlled semblance of the opening track on 'That Was Was' leading into the excellent 'Rising Below.' In place of longer song lengths the band seems to have arranged the songs into couples which proves to be incredibly effective. 'The Pier' signals the beginning of a three track album wind-down that contains the jewel of the album which is completely unlike anything else the band has ever attempted- the penultimate track 'Ashen Snow.' Guitar and violin are traded in for a piano and mellotron combination that ebbs and flows through its dynamic overlapped patterns building towards an abrupt ending. It's nothing short of breathtaking and gorgeous. The raw production and the loose, unforced approach is what causes the song to bloom with a raw emotion that one doesn't hear in too many recordings these days. This is why Neil Young records the way he does and why the Dirty Three have always done well by his example. The feel is bravely off-the-cuff and genuine. Rather than close with this track they opt to send you on your way with the lullabye-esque 'You Greet Her Ghost,' which returns to their standard arrangement- just the three of them wringing soft beauty from their respective instruments in call-and-response movements.

In terms of their back catalogue I'd place 'Toward the Low Sun' up with 'Whatever You Love, You Are,' which is my second favourite of theirs behind 'Ocean Songs.' It has a compactness coupled with a diversity of voice and mood that makes it a very rewarding listen. 'Ocean Songs' is an extended exercise in complete immersion which will never be bested in their career- it's their 'Disintegration' or 'Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space'- a gem from the CD-era where few artists were capable of meeting the challenge of sustaining a cohesive and engaging listening experience across a 60+ minute stretch. 'Ashen Snow' is already set aside for my year-end favourite tracks of the year list. Oh, by the way, you can go listen to the whole thing here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

review- sharon van etten at lincoln hall 2.17.12

Tempting fate for the first time since 2009 I bought a ticket for Sharon Van Etten's second night at Lincoln Hall knowing that what awaited me on the heels of a two night stint of late shows was a heaping helping of sleep deprivation at work in the morning, which I am increasingly unable to cope with as I get older. Veronica Falls at the Empty Bottle worked out fairly well despite a few set-backs, but when I arrived at Lincoln Hall last night the knowledge that the show was sold out was weighing a bit heavily on me. To me 'sold out' means a night spent packed into an overstuffed room with a bunch of strangers rubbing up against me all night and it takes a lot to get me past my crankiness when this occurs. I've found that most shows at Lincoln Hall are able to accomplish this obstacle fairly easily to the point that I often wish that every show I saw took place there.

My copy of 'Tramp' finally arrived in the mail from insound almost a week after the release date. I'm probably not doing another one of those pre-order deals again if that's how they work- better to just walk into one of my local record stores on the release date and buy it there without shipping costs. I could've had another week with this wonderful record, which has been playing pretty much non-stop since I got it. That it is Van Etten's most varied album seems beyond doubt and the fact that it's loaded with amazing songs isn't much of a surprise either. 'Serpents' (which was the first song most people heard from the record) was already clearly unlike anything else she'd done before and the rest of the record follows in similar suit. This serves as a nice jumping-off point for her live show, which showcased the growth of her songwriting as well as the growth of her live band as a more flexible bunch than most in the singer-songwriter world. During the course of the night everyone but the drummer juggled several different instruments throughout- the bassist also played some fantastic lead guitar (including some nice bowed guitar for the arresting set opener 'Joke or a Lie') and harmonium and harmony singer Heather Woods Broderick also played some guitar, bass and keyboards WHILE cranking out those amazing close harmonies. The end result made for some really sweeping slow burners as well as the panoramic bigness of 'Warsaw' and 'Serpents' (which both sounded fantastic live). Usually when I'm at a show alone I will text a play-by-play to my wife at home, but I got so swept up in the music that I never remembered to do it worried that I might miss something.

The majority of the material was drawn from 'Tramp'- the only omission from the new album that I was bummed about was 'In Line' which is probably my favourite track from it. There were a few impromptu moments as well- she played 'Have You Seen' off of the stark 'Because I Was In Love' LP based, we were told, on a posting on twitter requesting the song. It featured an off-the-cuff full band arrangement that was incredibly lovely and obviously not planned. During another lengthy tuning break someone yelled out for 'One Day' and Van Etten managed to talk herself into it right in front of us.

Since there was so much goofy stage banter there was also a lot of dialogue with the audience- Van Etten drew everyone's attention to a couple in the front row who were embracing during 'Serpents' thanking them for making her show their date night. She even went so far as saying 'Chicago is so cute!' which caused everyone in the room a bit of pause. Cute is one thing Chicagoans are not used to being called. It was a moment that was about as indicative of what makes Van Etten and her music so great- there's an unforced and unashamed vulnerability and lack of pretension at play. She wasn't afraid to say it in a room full of people just like she isn't afraid to sing her songs with their similarly vulnerable and unadorned lyrics. Truths are revealed that most would be uncomfortable sharing with much of anyone, much less people they don't know. Her particular way of sharing becomes something that one can't help but embrace because there's an underlying honesty and shared truth there that one can't deny exists in themselves. 'We all make mistakes. I do all I can,' she belted during the main set ending 'All I Can.' The fact that anyone could proclaim this does little to diminish the fact that no one has with such raw and clear emotion before. This was a night filled with moments of similar clarity. 'Don't Do It' was one of those rare moments where I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end during the entire song. I was wondering what she would actually end with once she came out for the encore. She stepped behind the harmonium for 'Love More' and then invited Shearwater onstage for a cover of Tom Petty's 'Stop Dragging My Heart Around' and it was quite a fun and unexpected end to the night. Ending your set with a Tom Petty cover with such joyful abandon is something the cool kids would be far too scared to do because it would take some serious guts and we all know that the cool kids have far too much riding on a stunt like that. Sharon Van Etten, however, apparently does this every night. This is why you willingly go to a packed room full of strangers and not get annoyed when they keep bumping into you while they're pushing past you towards the bar- the shared experience is so worth it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

review- veronica falls at the empty bottle 2.16.12

Last night seemed pretty fucked from the get-go—Stefanie and I set out for Bite at 7:30 in order to begin our official Valentine’s Day date night. During the drive we both managed to say something that offended the other, such is always the case with outings that carry the weight of special romantic significance. After dinner at Bite we went next door to drink a few beers before the show started only to find my name was not on the will call list. Apparently I’d forgotten to buy tickets for the show back in January while I was busy buying pretty much every piece of wax that I could find still in print by the band. After an hour-long sojourn we ended up back at the door of the Empty Bottle paying the $16 to get in. My main worry during this back-and-forth trip was that the show would sell out before we made it back—this was the type of night it had been shaping up to be, after all. We were able to get in, though, and things began to turn around slowly.

We caught a bit of the first band while we were in the pool room chatting with friends and drinking beers and then headed into the main room to catch Brilliant Colors, who seemed promising. The first song wasn’t bad, but after that we started to notice how little there actually was to discern one song from the next—Dandy Warhols-styled ‘ooooohs’ and ‘lalalas’ in lieu of actual lyrics for choruses and the frontwoman with the Dorothy Hammill haircut didn’t have much of a vocal range to speak of. Their live sound suffered from a laziness that a lot of supposed lo-fi bands fall victim to these days—just buy a cheap guitar and a distortion pedal and there’s your guitar sound—crappy. Plus we were being bumped into by strangers constantly and it was starting to feel like a weekend night show—for some reason my tolerance for being elbowed by strangers took a nosedive during my late twenties and I have a lot of trouble putting up with that aspect of going to shows and accounts for the reasons I usually just stay home (besides the stupid early hours I keep due to my coffee slinging slave job).

Once Veronica Falls were finally onstage stumbling through a seemingly never-ending soundcheck/setup we retreated to one of our favourite spots—the wall next to the ‘no service’ area of the bar. After forty minutes the band overcame a temperamental Fender Twin (it was one of those sketchy reissues) and got things rolling at last. It sounds like the Bottle’s sound system might be on its last legs as the vocals and guitars sounded nice and clean, but the bass drum and bass suffered from a ton of crackling and clipping. Despite this the music was still enjoyable and managed to right itself after a while. The band seemed to really be enjoying themselves, singer Roxanne Clifford in particular, which was contrary to the way I had initially perceived them.

Speaking of perceptions, for a band that is lumped in with the ‘twee’ crowd they have an incredibly muscular sound—it’s amazing what they are able to do with the instruments that they’ve chosen. Two hollow-bodied guitars through Fender Twin Reverb amps with the reverb cranked and the rest was just a question of alternating between fluid melodic runs and chunky chords. They also wrestle brutal tones that are achieved with nothing but pure attack—a method that Sonic Youth used to rely on during their 80’s salad days in lieu of distortion pedals. Clifford and guitarist/vocalist James Hoare can whip up a ruckus together. It’s particularly glorious when they get into a sort of Velvets-y blues murk trance as they did during the extended intro to main set closer ‘Come On Over.’ I also adore their resident Scot Patrick Doyle’s minimal drum setup—beautiful and perfect—a floor tom, snare, tambourine, bass drum and only ONE cymbal that is used incredibly sparingly. Bassist Marion Herbain was the major casualty of sound problems last night, but favors similarly understated lines that match up with the drumming quite nicely.

They played no less than four new songs—‘Bury Me Alive’ (see above) from their Insound Studio Session, ‘My Heart Beats’ which can be heard on the Slumberland Souncloud page and two others. The final of the four was particularly interesting in that it showed the band moving in a different direction from their self-titled debut. It was thick and raucous and hyper-melodic a la Sonic Youth’s shinier moments. In other words, it was really fantastic and shows them mining some material that they haven’t fully explored yet, which is incredibly promising. The band closed the night with a single-song encore (sometimes these can be the best kind) consisting of their beautiful cover of Roky Erickson’s ‘Starry Eyes.’ It was an unexpected treat and left me more satisfied than I could’ve possibly imagined. Their harmonies after the first couple of songs locked into dead-on mode and didn’t let up. They achieved a kind of heavenly harmonic perfection with this encore. A bunch of people left after Brilliant Colors played and more left after ‘Come On Over.’ Suckers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

happy valentimes!!!!

behold! thee shalloboi valentine's day single!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

diary 2.2.12- wake me up

diary playlist for february. some hold-overs from the best of 2011 mix, a ton of backed up stuff and then some new discoveries/obsessions. amazing how well it fits the current mood. also amazing how much still didn't make the cut. enjoy!

song- artist- album

1. i need seed- thee oh sees- 'castlemania'
2. time baby ii- medicine- 'time baby ii' 7"
3. replicate- disappears- 'pre language'
4. i can't feel it- ty segall- 'goodbye bread'
5. bury me alive- veronica falls- 'insound studio session'
6. theresa's sound-world- sonic youth- 'dirty'
7. adam roberts- cave- 'neverendless'
8. sickener- moon duo- 'horror tour' 12"
9. horse steppin'- sun araw- 'beach head'
10. sheila- atlas sound- 'logos'
11. separator- radiohead- 'the king of limbs: live from the basement'
12. too late- spiritualized- royal albert hall 2011 bootleg
13. that's all i ask- jeff buckley- 'mystery white boy'
14. one day- sharon van etten- 'epic'
15. summer time- ringo deathstarr- 'sparkler' 12"
16. elephant walk- donald jenkins & the delighters- 'elephant walk' 7"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ruminations: most anticipated releases of 2012

Whoa, fell off the map there for more than a month. This list is expiring quicker than I expected, so I figured I should delay no further. Here they are- my most anticipated releases of 2012.

There are quite a few releases that I’m eager to get my grubby little mitts on this year. So far the forecast for the year in music 2012 looks very promising—in a lot of ways it should be the follow up year to a majority of the artists who released records in 2010—which, to me, was the best year in music in quite some time. I’ll probably start subliminally with the records I’m looking forward to the most and working my way backwards from there.

Spiritualized—‘Sweet Heart, Sweet Light’ (Originally March 20th, now delayed to late March/early April)

One of the most bittersweet prospects involved with the release of any new Spiritualized album is the fact that it might be the last one for quite some time (only two of their records have arrived within the standard two-year wait that most bands adhere to). While it’s been a fascinating ride between 2008’s ‘Songs in A&E’ I’ve been looking forward to the release of ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ since I heard it was in the works. Based on the bootleg I have from the band’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London in October ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ looks to deliver the follow-up to ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space’ that ‘Let it Come Down’ failed to deliver. The arrangements appear to return to the grandiose—gospel choirs, orchestras and white noise aplenty. As if that weren’t enough there are echoes of ambience that haven’t been heard since 1995’s ‘Pure Phase.’ The opener ‘Hey Jane’ cooks and somehow maintains a visceral feel throughout a 10+ minute long running time. The only question that remains is will these songs sound like this on the actual record? Evidently the delay was caused after promo copies were sent out and Jason Pierce decided the mix needed further tweaking. Anyone who has any knowledge of Spiritualized’s past knows that once any of Pierce’s records reach the mixing stage it is usually at least a year before they emerge to his satisfaction. I have faith that it will emerge better than before as the exorbitant amount of time that he spends mixing always appears to make for the best results. What’s more I can’t help but look forward to the prospect of seeing the band live again as they played a version of ‘Sway’ from ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ at the Albert Hall that completely smoldered—a longtime favourite of mine I’ve always wanted to hear it live and hopefully it will endure the trip all the way to the Metro this May. Godspeed, Mr. Spaceman.

Beach House

All signs point to Beach House having been in isolation mode since their last tour of the coasts in September. One can only imagine that this time has been spent recording new material. There are new songs that show the type of promise one would expect from them (see above), so hopefully a solid announcement will be made soon. ‘Teen Dream’ remains the most played album on my ipod, so my hopes are high for the quality of whatever they’ve got cooked up. I also am hoping that they aren’t so massively popular that I won’t be able to afford wherever they end up playing when they stop through. I knew I should’ve just tried to catch them at the Metro back in April of 2010. Why?! WHY?!

Mazzy Star

I’m beginning to think that it might be safe to finally get excited for the release of new Mazzy Star material. Hope Sandoval set the rumor-mill buzzing after the release of her 2009 album ‘Through the Devil Softly’ when she announced that she had been working with Dave Roback again on a new Mazzy Star album. Her prediction of it being released in 2010 did seem a bit overly optimistic, but out of the blue the ‘Common Burn’ digital single landed in late fall last year. The fact that the physical manifestation of the single has finally materialized (I have two copies) coupled with a growing list of confirmed shows (including Coachella in April) makes for a ‘holy shit, this might actually HAPPEN’ kind of feeling. Granted their last tour in 2000 was supposed to preface the release of the fourth Mazzy Star album, which never materialized. This seems significantly more likely as SOME material has obviously been recorded. I’ve seen Hope twice in her solo band incarnation and would love the chance to finally catch Mazzy Star live as they have endured as one of my favourite bands from the 90s.

Disappears—‘Pre Language’ (March 1st)

Even though this is soundly confirmed I am still on pins and needles waiting for this one. While I loved ‘Guider’ I never found it to be a proper match for ‘Lux.’ I’m hoping that ‘Pre Language’ makes up for this a bit. The material from the ‘Live at Echo Canyon’ EP is incredibly promising and hopefully indicative of what the record will sound like. Definitely looking forward to catching the band at Lincoln Hall in April and finding it too difficult to be terribly disappointed in the end of Sonic Youth if it means that Steve Shelley will become Disappears’ full-time drummer, especially if the results continue to prove as pleasing as they have so far.

Wild Nothing

There is new material that has been released from Wild Nothing—a single released on February 21st. I’m a bit nervous about what shape it’ll take as one of my favourite things about 2010’s ‘Gemini’ is the feel that it had as a result of Jack Tatum having performed and recorded the entire thing by himself. This second Wild Nothing album would be the first recorded in a proper studio and with the live band that he toured with in support of ‘Gemini.’ ‘Nowhere’ is a shimmering, bright slice of pop as expected. I just worry that some of the more out-there experiments on ‘Gemini’ such as ‘Pessimist’ might be lost in the shuffle. That said, I’m sure that my fears are unfounded and I will enjoy whatever the band is cooking up in the studio right now.

Sharon Van Etten—‘Tramp’ (February 7th)

Another late-to-the-party case, I’ve only recently started to get into Sharon Van Etten. I was introduced to her music through a live set that I downloaded through nyctaper. Not the best way to get into much of anything, she fell by the wayside until I happened upon a clip of her playing ‘One Day’ on an acoustic guitar by herself and then getting ahold of 2009’s excellent mini-album ‘Epic.’ I’ve resisted downloading leaks of this album as I’m going to try and do a little less of that kind of thing this year. 2012 is all about the delayed gratification. I hope. Van Etten strikes me as a bit of a more rock-oriented Nina Nastasia—both have similarly impressive voices and song-writing skills and confessional lyrics.

Dirty Three—‘Toward the Low Sun’ (February 28th)

While I wasn’t that impressed with 2006’s ‘Cinder’ as a whole it did have a few standout tracks that were as stunning as anything the band has ever been capable of and it managed to condense their greatness without sacrificing the loose-knit structure that they favor. My hope is that since it’s been six years (!!!) since ‘Cinder’ the band is sure to return in fine form. Even if that isn’t true they’ll probably tour and when I saw them at the Metro in 2006 I was shocked at how engaging they were live and even more shocked at how quickly the time melted away while I was under their spell. I think when I was thinking ‘this is going on a bit long’ I looked at my watch and it had been two hours—usually when that happens it’s only been 30 minutes. As much as I’ve enjoyed all of the projects that Warren Ellis has launched with Nick Cave with the announcement of each one I couldn’t help but feel that bittersweet twinge of, ‘well, I guess that means there’s not going to be another Dirty Three album for a while.’ I might finally plunk down the money for a vinyl copy of ‘Ocean Songs’ in celebration. About fucking time.

Brian Jonestown Massacre

A new album (with tracklist) has been announced officially by Anton Newcombe to be released in 2012. Supposedly it is one of three that he plans to release… well, we’ll see. Judging by the tracklisting this latest BJM albums looks to build upon 2010’s ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’ which was a welcome step forward from 2008’s mold-breaking ‘My Bloody Underground.’ While it’d be nice to see Anton return to making records with the amazing live band that he’s been touring with for almost three years now (not to mention the core of that band that he’s been with steadily for over six years now) this tangent he’s on at the moment is endlessly fascinating. ‘Prefabulatory Ambulation Device’ and ‘Get Some’ (from the 2006 tour) continue to elude release despite being amazing songs that hint at exciting extrapolations from 2003’s masterful ‘…And This is Our Music’ and possibly hint at the possibilities of ‘We Are the Radio’ had it been extended into a full album, but ‘Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Other Hand’ are the most encouraging new songs that Anton has released since either aforementioned BJM album. Perhaps there’s more to the big picture than we’re seeing. Regardless, the ride is proving to be a very interesting one and I look forward to the next piece of the puzzle. I also need to remember the psychological term for one who puns compulsively. The last time I heard it was in my Shakespeare class during my sophomore year of college. Anton obviously falls into this category.

The Warlocks

If Bobby Hecksher manages to get some new Warlocks material out this year it will have been three years since ‘The Mirror Explodes.’ There has been a deafening silence since he released the ‘Enter at Your Own Skull’ rarities collection in order to raise money to pay for the recording of a new album. I wait with baited breath. It would be wonderful to hear something new from them and have them tour again this year. It’s been a long time since their two-night stand at the Empty Bottle.

Grizzly Bear

Again, nothing official has been announced, but their lengthy absence and silence (including absence and silence from their members’ side projects) would suggest that they’ve been recording. They have emerged occasionally recently to post tweets and facebook posts implying that something is coming, so hopefully 2012 will see the release of another Grizzly Bear album. My hopes are that they are able to combine the more experimental weirdness of 2006’s ‘Yellow House’ with 2009’s ‘Veckatimest.’