Wednesday, April 25, 2012

review: jon coyle- 'night cycles'

A few weeks ago my band, shalloboi, played a set at the Burlington with Names Divine and a band from Philadelphia called Son Step who were all over the map musically. One minute they’d be playing something gauzy and blissed-out with some spacy harmonies and the next they’d launch into a dual drummer shuffle that would call a jazz-tinged band like Tortoise to mind. While I was packing up our equipment the keyboardist/drummer/singer Jon gave me his solo CD ‘Night Cycles’ mentioning that he had read some of the writing on my blog and thought I might enjoy it. He mentioned Spectrum as a parallel and, naturally, I said I’d give it a listen.

‘Night Cycles’ starts off as a reverb-drenched and hazy set of songs built on some interestingly layered rhythmic loops. While Spectrum is a good jumping off point I’d also like to note that while listening to this CD repeatedly it got me started on a pretty intense Sun Araw kick. I’d be inclined to say that Coyle mixes jazz into his dreamy psychedelic ambience in a similar way to how Cameron Stallone mixes reggae into his psychedelic experimentalism. Perhaps it’s the creepy gurgles and whistles that start the extremely stark ‘Shot in the Dark’ that got me thinking about Sun Araw. The songs are arranged as more straightforward mood pieces than Son Step’s more schizophrenic indie pop. It wasn’t much of a stretch when I read on the band’s blog that they were taking a few of these songs and kicking them around in a full band setting. It made a great deal about them make more sense to me as while I was watching them I was finding it hard to keep up with all of the twists and turns. ‘I Got Mine’ has a lyrical figure that repeats and builds as the track continues building on some nice close harmonies and overlaps that increase the track’s hypnotic nature. The title track repeats a simple phrase over and over again throughout the course of the track turning the vocals, the evolving harmonies and the vocal phrasings into instruments of their own. Things stay on the more drifting, ambient side throughout the first half suddenly snapping to life with the incredibly driving ‘Hear Myself’ which is the track on here that I would say most resembles Son Step.

This record works best as headphones music (another similarity to Sun Araw). I really enjoy the production on this record in particular—I can’t tell if it was recorded digitally or what, but the reverbs are nice and organic and range from incredibly dense to light. The layers of gritty loops and samples are particularly effective in keeping the palette of sounds lush and diverse as are the effects-laden keyboards. Most people would’ve gone with a cleaner and clearer sound for fear of getting the dreadful ‘lo-fi’ tag, but this record embraces its grittiness and uses it to enhance the overall mood to great effect making the moments when the reverb is stripped back all the more effective.

During Son Step’s stop in town they recorded a session at WNUR in Evanston, and that can be listened to/downloaded here-

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

diary 4.22.12- saw you falling from heaven

song- artist- album

1. you can never hold back spring- tom waits- 'orphans: brawlers, bawlers and bastards'
2. l mansion- sic alps- 'l mansion' 7"
3. the wild ones- suede- 'dog man star'
4. wish i could- the jesus & mary chain- 'stoned and dethroned'
5. blues tune- bardo pond- 'dragonfly' 7"
6. all tore up- the cramps- 'all tore up'
7. for a handsome price- soft speaker- 'i'll tend your garden'
8. hybernation sickness- disappears- 'pre language'
9. how soon is now?- the smiths- 'meat is murder'
10. run home to your mama- evie sands- 'take me for a little while' 7"
11. eighteen is over the hill- veronica falls- 'covers ep'
12. other people- beach house- 'bloom'
13. flyin' low- mazzy star- coachella 2012 bootleg
14. don't do it- sharon van etten- 'epic'
15. the line- black rebel motorcycle club- 'howl'
16. come on home to me- lee hazlewood- 'the lhi years: singles, nudes and backsides (1968-71)'
17. so long you pretty things- spiritualized- 'sweet heart sweet light'

Saturday, April 21, 2012

ruminations: record store day 2012

For the first time in the four years since the advent of Record Store Day today is the first time I’ve had the day off and therefore been able to partake in the festivities. Since I have always had to work during the previous years my course of action was usually to travel vast distances around Chicago in the hopes that in the leftovers of a handful of local record shops I’d be able to get the releases I really wanted. I’m not an ebay flipper, just a hopeless vinyl addict. There are usually five or six releases I bother to shell out for on the day. This year I was very excited to wake up and head straight to the Wicker Park Reckless Records as they’ve never let me down in the last few years. Sadly, during the home stretch of my hour-and-a-half wait in line, when I was a mere 10 people from the front of the line they ran out of Beach House 7”es, which was really the only release I was hoping I’d walk away with as finding it after the fact for a reasonable price would be incredibly difficult. The scene was relatively amusing—people had multiple-page stapled lists that they handed to the clerks. A woman perusing the CD racks tried to get in line in front of the couple ahead of me and got yelled at by one of them and then stepped behind them in line in front of me. Kind of unnecessary as it was clear she wasn’t there for any of the special releases—she had just decided to go shop for CDs on the worst possible day of the year to do it. Kind of like going to Ben & Jerry’s to buy a pint of ice cream on free ice cream cone day. I walked away from that first shop with only two items from my list (which was made up of only five items)—the Lee Hazlewood singles collection from the folks at Light in the Attic and a 7” by the Chocolate Watch Band reissued by Sundazed. Leaving there I felt like a straggler who had just come from a massive feeding frenzy. The eBay flippers are always the first ones in line.

My plan had been to walk to the Empty Bottle from there for the Numero Group Pop-Up store, which has proven to be a bit of a controversial topic amongst the area record stores. While riding the train in the morning I read over the blurb in the Reader about it and apparently local record stores are upset at losing business on Record Store Day to a store that only exists for that day when they are open all year, every year. Seems a bit ridiculous considering the wait time that most people go through to shop at the local shops due to the fact that the Numero Group store doesn’t stock any of the special releases. If they did then there would REALLY be something to be upset about, but they don’t. Instead it almost seems to be more about what Record Store Day should be about—which is buying and enjoying music, particularly on vinyl. What happens is the Numero Group sets up a table with all of their releases on pretty much every format and they find a handful of independent vinyl collectors who sell their stacks and stacks of used vinyl. What it amounts to is a digger’s paradise—when I walked in I wasn’t even sure where to start. I spent two hours there flipping through the racks and didn’t even feel like I’d made a dent. I walked away with a handful of 45s and two LPs. The price? $12. I had money left over from the 20 that I broke to sit at the bar and drink a beer (which was awfully nice after having spent so much time on my feet). What's more the Bottle had changed all of their drafts to various Lagunitas brews.

By the time I was ready to leave I had spent much longer than I’d intended to there—my intention had been to stop by the Numero Group shop and then head back to Reckless in order to catch Radar Eyes at 2. While I was walking down the street I was trying to figure out whether I should bother dropping by Permanent Records (which was a 15-20 minute walk away) or if I should walk back to the train station and head for the downtown Reckless Records (which is often a good place to pick up the stragglers from your list). This is when I remembered the mild feeling of panic I associate with Record Store Day. As you’re traveling from shop to shop the passage of time becomes quite the source of stress—will they run out of what you’re after before you get there? Will it even matter? Did you choose the wrong place to go first? Since Permanent Records does their midnight Record Store Day sale every year they are often a good choice for a final stop as they rarely have anything left over after their midnight sale. I opted to go to the downtown Reckless instead and ended up leafing through the complete list and found two unexpected gems—The Cure- ‘Entreat Plus’ (which I’ve been on a wild goose chase seeking out over the past two years) and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- ‘Howl.’ I’d been pondering ordering ‘Howl’ on vinyl through BRMC’s official site as it comes on coloured vinyl with a high-quality vinyl rip and a few other bells and whistles, but found that paying $45 for a record by a band I was never that into didn’t really sit so well when the time came. I always wanted to hear ‘Howl’ as I recently rediscovered their self-titled debut (which I bought on vinyl on a trip to London in 2005 for £5) and found it incredibly enjoyable. I’d always heard good things about it, but didn’t want to buy it on CD and the vinyl version had long since gone out of print, so when I was able to snag it minus the costly shipping charges I jumped at the chance. $30 is a bit steep for a double LP, but it is 180gm and a double LP, so it just becomes a question of practicality at that point. Sitting here listening to it and converting it to mp3 as I write I’m very pleased with it—the cut is nice and deep and loud and the record is very impressive. I can see how it’s gotten such a great reputation over the years.

Exhausted, I boarded the blue line again and stopped off at New Wave Coffee for a sandwich and a latte and a crash on one of their beat-up lazy boys. It was the perfect place to let the crushing agony of being a hopeless vinyl addict overwhelm me. They were even listening to Julee Cruise. This, to me, is the Record Store Day experience. Every year as the vinyl craze grows and grows my addiction becomes more and more of a burden. When I was 18, I got into the habit of buying my favourite records on vinyl because it was usually a bit more practical—records were plentiful and cheap because no one wanted them. New releases only cost $10 and the pressings were good because they weren’t being cranked out as quickly or as haphazardly. At least I got past the phase where I would buy something that was special edition on the off chance that I might regret it later. Vinyl is supposed to be a vehicle for music. It’s not a fetish property. The allure is in its enduring quality and its tangibility. It’s encouraging that it’s endured so much as a format in an age where so much of what people consume is insubstantial and exists only between a computer screen and their brains. It would be nice if this could be nothing more than a good thing, but, like most things, it becomes a money-making, capitalistic, consumerist feeding frenzy for some. On my way home my dad sent me a text about how he went to a beer festival and, despite the fact that he’s a stalwart wine-drinker, had a great time. There was a part of me that wished I’d spent my day there rather than how I did. Of course now that I’m home and firing up some nice, fresh vinyl on the turntable it all seems worthwhile now. The music is all so great. You ebay flippers can go ahead and leave your stuff sealed. You’re missing out on the best part.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

review: disappears, lotus plaza, implodes at lincoln hall 4.13.12

photos by Stefanie Goodwin

How many bands bother with an evening of fully curated music any more? Not many, it turns out. Last night at Lincoln Hall was another story, however. I normally don’t bother to show up early for a show no matter how excited I am, but last night was a good example of why I should do so more in the future. I got to Lincoln Hall at 8:30, ordered myself a beer and quickly found an open seat on the balcony—probably my most coveted space from which to watch a show there. Good sound, comfort and plenty of guaranteed personal space. ‘Black Earth,’ the Kranky records debut from locals Implodes (composed almost entirely of clerks from various Reckless Records locations around town) was one of my favourites of last year and I listened to it quite a bit. They took the stage right on time at 9 accompanied by a projection of various murder scenes from the original ‘Friday the 13th’ and delivered a tight set of entirely new material that managed somehow to be menacing, punishing, soothing, minimal, dense and beautiful all at the same time. Finally getting to see them live shed a great deal of light on who does what in the band for me as on record the music seems appropriately a whole rather than a sum of different parts played by different people. What interested me most was how much of the melody was provided by bassist Emily Elhaj and how guitarist Ken Camden functions as an almost virtuosic master of ambient lead guitar lines. I'm looking forward to whenever they release these songs. It was hypnotic to say the least and set the bar pretty high from the outset.

Lotus Plaza, side project of Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt (who is behind a few Deerhunter classics such as ‘Agoraphobia’ and ‘Desire Lines’) was another story, however. There was little sense of a band dynamic at play as they made their way through their rather stiff and restrained set. None of the songs ever managed to take off quite the way that they seemed to be building towards. It was difficult to figure out what the root cause of this constant stagnation was, but I did notice the incredibly wooden and repetitive patterns being knocked out by the drummer who looked like he was imagining what he was going to watch on TV once he was finished onstage. Even Pundt himself seemed similarly detached and disengaged in what he was doing. The mid-set highlight that seemed to be building towards SOMETHING merely went on despite itself only to end very abruptly having spent a long time going absolutely nowhere. Being sandwiched between two bands with such a focused sense of dynamic tension, atmospherics and release probably didn’t help.

Speaking of dynamic tension, Disappears hit the stage at midnight and tore out of the gate at full speed with 'Marigold' from 'Lux' (and also a personal favourite) and didn’t let up for the next hour. It was riveting. Somehow every time I’ve seen them they’ve managed to outdo themselves—the last time was the post snow-pacolypse set at the Empty Bottle and debut show with new drummer Steve Shelley in February of last year. Their newest, ‘Pre Language,’ has proven to be a grower for me. While it still doesn’t dethrone the majestic ‘Lux’ I admire the way that it pushes their sound into new territory jumping off from the excellent Plustapes ‘Live at Echo Canyon’ EP. It does a great deal to explore how the disciplined economy of their sound is so conducive to dynamic contrast. They played nearly the entire record live (except for two or three songs) and the songs did a great deal to keep the tone varied throughout the course of the night. The second half of the record in particular really came to life (which they played in its entirety) leading up to some amped-up versions of their Suicide cover ‘Radiation’ and encore of ‘Guider’s main setpiece ‘Revisiting.’ They also played a new song (which they often do) that focused in on the more hypnotic elements of their sound with the guitars droning in the higher range leaving the rhythm section to carry the bare bones of the song into swells of beautiful noise and then a nice, chunky chorus. The drunk guy next to me seemed to really be enjoying himself, turning to his friends after every song from ‘Lux’ was played declaring, ‘That was a fucking awesome song!’ I’m not sure how they’ll be able to top themselves next time, but hopefully on this tour that they’re embarking on with Lotus Plaza they’re able to attract the kind of attention that they deserve. Either way I’m sure they’ll come home and record another fantastic record and then go out and do it all over again. That’s alright with me.

Monday, April 9, 2012

review: spiritualized- 'sweet heart sweet light'

For some reason I'm going to attempt to review this album despite the fact that I am 100% incapable of being anything resembling impartial about much of anything by Spiritualized. Regardless, the multiple streams of the new record have proven too irresistible to pass up and my desire to put my thoughts down about this album is too strong. Hovering just under the four-year mark after 2008's 'Songs in A&E' comes 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light'- the seventh Spiritualized album in almost 20 years. While watching a more pared-down (at least in Spiritualized terms) version of the band blow the roof off of the Metro for two solid hours in September of that year right on the heels of their terrifyingly fierce slot at that year's Pitchfork festival in July at one point (probably after they played the title track from 'Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space'- which I never thought I'd get to hear live) I was suddenly hit with a twinge of sadness. Getting to see the band twice in a year was quite a treat, as they really only get across the Atlantic when they have an album to promote. Add to that the fact that they had turned in two blinding sets and I began to worry how long I would have to wait for their return. Given the consistent four+ year wait time and the release of any Spiritualized album is always pretty momentous.

Musically I'd describe 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' as 'Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space' via 'Songs in A&E.' The 11 songs are sprawling and lush in a similar way to their 1997 benchmark (and to many their high-water mark), but the songs burn intensely with the emotional core and sparse, unadorned sounds of 'Songs in A&E.' They also showcase another rather large step forward in Jason Pierce's (or J. Spaceman if you prefer) development as a songwriter. It also features the most crisp and clear production that Pierce has ever utilized. There's little in the way of trippy elements that are normally his hallmark, although there is plenty of feedback and guitar skronk (just listen to the rollercoaster ride of 'Heading for the Top') and a lot of the tremolos of the old days have returned. The strings and horns sound particularly breathtaking and while there is a lot going on in the mix there are very few times that anything is buried (maybe the drums a few times). The guitars are sharp and cutting and pack quite a punch. While Pierce is renowned for taking ages to mix his records (he took almost a year mixing this one, for instance) it often ends up causing the noisier tracks to lose their teeth (the only exception being 2003's 'Amazing Grace'), but this is definitely not the case here.

Stylistically the songs really run the gamut- there are a handful of Pierce's most solid ballads (like it or not, he does them very well) as well as some of his best and most unique rockers. 'I am What I am' and 'Heading for the Top' are fantastic both lyrically and musically- the former a collaboration with Dr. John from 1998 (which can be heard on a BBC session in a completely different form) that has a bassline that recalls 'Come Together' by the Beatles and a call-and-response chorus between Pierce and a Gospel choir over a backdrop of swampy overlapped percussion and squalling guitars. It segues nicely into the moody and slow-burning brilliance of 'Mary' which starts with an organ drone and some meandering wah-wah guitars and builds into a cinematic burst of dramatic string swells that wouldn't be out of place on a Curtis Mayfield record. Fantastic. Closing track 'So Long you Pretty Thing' is an interesting amalgam of influences- it starts with a verse written by Pierce's daughter Poppy (who also sings the lyrics with Pierce) over some stark piano that gives way suddenly to a swell of strings leading into a descending soul ballad that features some of Pierce's 'help me lord/Jesus' type lyrics that then jumps abruptly into a wide-eyed and soaring extended figure that frankly could go on forever. The overall effect as a closing track is closest in my mind to 'Won't Get to Heaven (The State I'm in)' off of 2001's 'Let it Come Down.' It's probably the best closing track from any Spiritualized album. Opener and lead single 'Hey Jane' is a nine-minute driving jangler in two parts (how many people still bother to do two-part singles?) that implodes in the middle only to build itself up again into one of the most beautiful and uplifting hooks in the band's career.

I would try to rank this album against the rest of Spiritualized's output but I have a difficult time figuring out which album belongs at the top of such a ranking and which one belongs at the bottom. I continue to be impressed and amazed by the fact that every Spiritualized album proves to be so rich with affecting and moving songs that continually stretch the boundaries of what the band does while working within their own distinctive framework. It's also thrilling to hear something so vital coming out of a band 20 years into its career.