Tuesday, August 28, 2012

review: wild nothing- 'nocturne'

The wait is over—the new Wild Nothing record seemed to drop down from heaven a mere month or two ago. The last quarter of 2012 is packed with greatly anticipated releases and this one is an appropriate place to begin the sorting. I’ve spent a week listening to the stream of the record that was posted on Captured Tracks’ soundcloud page (thanks for that, by the way—talk about a refreshing trend) and the beautifully packaged vinyl showed up on my doorstep this afternoon. It has six different front cover options that double as inner sleeves/lyric sheets. The cover art is a good place to start as the record is bursting with colour in ways that the greyness of 2010’s ‘Gemini’ and its companion EP ‘Golden Haze’ only hinted at. A lot of the gauzy haze has been shaken off—by side two it’s all but a memory before the smoke curls in again for the last two tracks.

The preceding singles pointed the way—‘Nowhere’ basically laid out the template, ‘Wait’ set the bar songwriting-wise and then the swooning and wistful, clear-eyed beauty of ‘Shadow’ appeared a month ago. Its B-side ‘Feel You Now’ sported some deliberately 80s-sounding production flourishes. In a nutshell this album is pretty much an expanded version of those two singles with a little bit of ‘Your Rabbit Feet’ from ‘Golden Haze’ thrown in there for good measure. What I’ve always loved the most about songwriter Jack Tatum’s affection for 80s sounds is that it isn’t self-conscious or at all ironic. What’s more he really knows his stuff. I’ve been going through a bit of an 80s vinyl renaissance lately—the production touchstones of that era are often thought of as kitschy or dated, but if you throw on a slab of vinyl that was recorded and pressed in the 80s something special happens—it becomes clear that these producers and mastering engineers REALLY knew what they were doing. With the vinyl resurgence having been in full swing for years now those of us who never stopped buying vinyl have had to endure some pretty sloppily put together slabs of vinyl and have, most likely, paid through the nose for them. It’s made me revisit a lot of my 80s vinyl and what I hear when I put on, say, ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush or ‘Faith’ by the Cure is how well-suited what we think of as 80s style production is to vinyl as a format. The cuts from most 80s vinyl are far more likely to be deeper, clearer, longer, louder and more expansive than those that were produced in, say, the last ten years. These people knew what they were doing. Due to the fact that most of us first heard the music from this era on the first wave of compact discs our view of the virtues of production from this era are skewed by the flaws of a new format that no one understood (kind of like how people are having to remember how to properly record for, master and press vinyl).

I can’t help but think of all of this when I listen to this record because I can’t help but think that Tatum is attempting to safeguard these sounds and put them in a modern context because for many these sounds never got a fair shake. The care that he puts into utilizing the sounds that he uses is something I find very unique and admirable. Having said that what I loved the most about ‘Gemini’ was how it took 80s-styled production, married it to the morose jangle of the Smiths and the La’s and showered it in those beautiful layers of droning shoegaze-y dreaminess. Talk about dream pop. Now this combination is present through much of side one, but begins to be stripped off around the time that ‘Through the Grass’ fades out. While I miss this element of Tatum’s sound I do find it admirable that he is cutting it down in order to let his songs breathe and come alive in a fresh way that we haven’t heard from him yet. This also seems to be the result of the fact that this record was made with his live touring band . Sparseness and space is placed in higher priority than layers of gauze, as well. ‘The Blue Dress’ has a nice Cure-like arrangement that has the verses carried only by the rhythm section and Tatum’s voice. ‘Through the Grass’ and ‘Only Heather’ form a nice couplet where the dreaminess of the record reaches its apex and the wistfulness of ‘Shadow’ and closing track ‘Rheya’ work as nice bookends. Tatum has said in interviews that the different phases of the moon pictured on the cover are supposed to be reflected in the mood of the music, which makes sense since the music on 'Nocturne' is wider in scope than 'Gemini.'

At this point I can’t say that ‘Nocturne’ is better than ‘Gemini.’ The two are so different I find it difficult to really compare them even though they share similarities. Also, ‘Gemini’ took me a long time to embrace as a record—it’s one of those albums that slips into your life slowly over time. First I only liked one track, then two until eventually, depending on my mood when I’d listen to it, my favourites would be different with each listen. I suspect ‘Nocturne’ is going to grow on me in a similar way. What’s most important is that Tatum has stayed true to the heart of everything, which is his strength as a songwriter. I also appreciate that he didn’t just give us ‘Gemini Part Two’ which he obviously could’ve done with considerable ease.

Friday, August 24, 2012

elliott smith- 'placeholder'

In the wake of Elliott Smith’s death in 2003 I found it most difficult to listen to the assortment of live recordings that I have of his shows.  Over the years I began to gather more and more and eventually, in about 2006, I plundered the collection that’s housed at archive.org.  With the various performances I found there I began to compile a collection of my favourites out of all of the live recordings I had as the sheer volume was quite daunting.  Believe it or not ‘Placeholder,’ my 40-song live compilation, was my way of cutting down.  It was intended as a companion piece to my two favourite Elliott shows—the soundboard recording from his 1998 visit to Stockholm, Sweden (called ‘Waltz for Stockholm’ I believe) and a 1999 acoustic show recorded at Satyricon in Portland, OR.  Every year I manage to listen to this whole set spread out over a few commutes and it almost makes me cry pretty much every time.  It’s a mixture of the earnest and human nature of the performances and the between-song dialogue, which anyone familiar with Smith’s live recordings can attest to.  The whole package makes for something that I’ve treasured and found comforting in the years after his passing.  I often listen to this after I’ve given ‘New Moon’ a few spins.  Next up is probably ‘From a Basement on the Hill’ and it’s supplementary rarities that surfaced right after his death.

These performances are mostly from Portland. I have almost half of the recording of his first solo show at Umbra Penumbra here as well as a bunch from La Luna, EJ's and the Crystal Ballroom. There is also a sizable chunk devoted to his two night stand at Brownie's in Brooklyn during the 'Either/Or' tour and also a few tracks from his acoustic set at the Empty Bottle in 2000. Many, many wonderful covers to be heard here. Enjoy.

1. what're you doing hanging out with me?
2. big decision
3. condor ave
4. no confidence man
5. whatever (folk song in C)
6. single file
7. little maggie
8. antonio carlos jobim (heatmiser)
9. satellite
10. bled white
11. waterloo sunset (the kinks)
12. i figured you out
13. see you later (heatmiser)
14. not half right
15. coming up roses
16. they'll never take her love from me (hank williams sr.)
17. no name #4
18. cupid's trick
19. punch and judy
20. christian brothers
21. some song
22. plainclothes man (heatmiser)
23. all my rowdy friends have settle down (hank williams jr.)
24. 2:45 am
25. no name #3
26. good to go
27. oh well, okay
28. jealous guy (john lennon)
29. bottle up and explode!
30. i didn't understand
31. clouds (quasi)
32. son of sam
33. LA
34. pretty mary k
35. ballad of big nothing
36. nightime (big star)
37. little one
38. i'm doing ok, pretty good
39. true love is a rose
40. beatiful collapsing star (aka 'lucky charm')

click here

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

review: the brian jonestown massacre and magic castles at the metro 8.18.12


photo by Rodney Urbanski

If my best friend hadn’t come to town this weekend for a visit I would never have bothered with this show. Just so this is crystal clear from the outset, that is a good thing. I can’t remember off the top of my head whether or not there is an entry detailing my last visit to the Metro to catch the Brian Jonestown Massacre or not, but I would guess that the probability is quite high that there is. Regardless to say it was such an awful night that Stefanie and I vowed never to return to the Metro. I have now broken this vow twice this year—in my defense it was to catch two of my favourite bands ever (one of which was Spiritualized who hadn’t been through town in almost four years). The last set by the BJM was marred by what seemed like a cold and slightly calculated setlist. The only surprise of the night was a breathtaking live airing of ‘Give It Back!’ opening track ‘Super-Sonic’ (which kicked off the set). From there on they played well, but seemed to lack a certain spark that they can usually be relied upon to deliver at some point on any given night. What was mainly a disappointment was the lack of inspired, extended jams or new material off of the newly released ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’ To be fair they’d already rounded the entire world once the year before turning in blistering two-and-a-half hour sets every night. During the 2009 tour they played with a focus and professionalism that was new to their live show without sacrificing the spontaneity of their gloriously ragged past. Plus they played a significant amount of new material including ‘The Serious Matter’ from the ‘Smoking Acid’ EP, ‘Someplace Else Unknown’ from the as-yet-unreleased ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper’ and a blistering version of ‘Yeah Yeah’ from 2008’s ‘My Bloody Underground.’ It wouldn’t be out of the question to imagine that this was their version of taking it easy (which is still miles better than when most run-of-the-mill bands are giving their all). When reports began to filter back from the BJM’s appearance at the Black Angels-curated Austin Psych Fest that the band were playing tons of material off of their excellent ‘Aufheben’ album as well as mixing in several gems from various eras of their past I wondered if I would be willing to brave the Metro for the second time this year.

Magic Castles from Minneapolis kicked off the night. I was encouraged by many a reliable source to arrive early enough to catch their set and was very glad I did—they were excellent. A mix of spaced-out, dynamic and extended psych and more jangly/poppy psych they were an excellent kick-off to the night. Their mix was clear and packed quite a punch. Opening bands usually don’t sound that great at the Metro. In fact their mix sounded better than BJM’s muddy ‘mongo turn volume all dee way ups’ treatment (which is fairly typical of one grudge I continue to hold against the Metro). I’m beginning to think it would be better to catch bands of their level at First Avenue in Minneapolis since it’s the same size club and bands of Spiritualized and BJM’s ilk are often stopping there before the Metro. It’d be refreshing to hear them with decent sound (which has always been a hallmark of First Avenue’s long-standing reputation). Anton Newcombe watched the bulk of Magic Castle’s set from the side of the stage and walked up to the mic at the end thanking them for playing and berating the late-comers who lined up for $6 Budweisers and Miller Lites in favor of listening to what they could of Magic Castles. Bravo, Mr. Newcombe!

After 20 minutes of quick setup Newcombe and company came out and ripped into ‘Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe.’ I’d cut myself off from most tour reports at this point so hadn’t remembered they were opening with this ‘Aufheben’ highlight. It was smooth, slow and dripping with repeat percussion, just the right amount of fuzz and worked perfectly to set the mood. From there they went into ‘Vacuum Boots’ and a handful of other older songs, hitting a suitably laid-back version of ‘Anemone’ before playing my other favourite from the new album, ‘I Want to Hold Your Other Hand.’ At this point the mix wasn’t bad—the vocals were a bit buried, but I’m partial to that mixing choice myself so it wasn’t a problem for me. Normally the sound for the main band starts out muddy and incoherent and improves to this level. After about an hour the opposite happened. A stupidly sludgy and muddy mix somehow managed to trample the beautiful and stark ‘David Bowie.’ Right around this time a group of d-bags who’d been at the Cubs game all night showed up suitably pre-partied, $11 well drinks in hand, talking loudly and bumping into all of those who surrounded them. One such gentleman was standing next to me and my friend. The subject of their loud conversation? Sports. Perhaps we could discuss this later, friends? So there I was with tons of personal space towards the back of the balcony somehow still getting bumped into every five seconds by this guy, a booming, muddled mix carrying along a beautiful ballad by one of my favourite bands making my ears ring that I was still somehow struggling to hear over these two conversing. It got to me a little after a while and I was ready to go home. The band struggled a bit through a lag at this point in the set.

The band kicked it back into high gear with ‘Waking Up to Handgrenades’ and from there the show began a slow ascent that it rode to an entirely new level. After ‘Sailor’ the band kicked into one of their single chord drone jams. One would think that after having seen them play four times I would be able to identify some common characteristic that these jams share, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you what it was even at this point. It seems the only commonality that they share is that they all start with Anton hugging one chord and signaling to drummer Dan Allaire and the rest of the band joining in from there. This one was a blinder and every minute of it was truly breathtaking. Keyboardist Rob Campanella switched roles with Newcombe in the middle of it and then switched back as the drone began to recede. From there Newcombe spent a few minutes talking about how much he loves the Cryan’ Shames and how ‘Sailor’ was, indeed, a 100% intentional cover of ‘Sailing Ship’ from their ‘A Scratch in the Sky’ album. He also spent a great deal of time thanking the crowd for showing up in droves during their many stops in town over the years (I can remember the Metro selling out for their 2005 stop) and declared that it was one of his favourite cities to play in America along with Portland. Quite a compliment from one as well-travelled as he is and it explained a great deal as to why the caliber of their shows here is often so high.

From there they moved on into the grand finale of the night and the most unexpected surprise—a very extended ‘Straight Up and Down.’ For as long as I’ve been a fan of theirs I’ve always wanted to hear one of their live workouts of this song. This one was formidable in ways I hadn’t expected. During the section with the ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ ‘woo-woo’s mixed with the ‘Hey Jude’ singalong I somehow witnessed the band morph before my eyes into the Rolling Stones of the late 60s. What’s more they made this transformation look so incredibly simple and effortless. I would even go so far as to say that they played with a potency and passion that the Stones have probably been lacking for years. Regardless of whether or not you agree, this is how I felt at that moment. As the band left the stage Matt Hollywood walked up to the mic and raised his hand and said ‘Alright, now who wants to get pregnant?’ and then they were gone in a haze of feedback. Perfection. Although maybe they could stop at Lincoln Hall next time? Please?

Monday, August 20, 2012

diary 8.8.12- 'before i went under'

song- artist- album

1. forget the song- beachwood sparks- 'the tarnished gold'
2. chelsea girl- ride- 's/t' ep
3. do you want to give $$?- sic alps- 'napa asylum'
4. do you know ida know- white fence- 'family perfume vol. 1'
5. # '75- the heads- 'everybody knows we got nowhere'
6. all the hurry and wait- darker my love- '2'
7. open (fix mix)- the cure- 'high' 12"
8. shadow- wild nothing- 'shadow' 7"
9. the hours- beach house- 'bloom'
10. i bought my eyes- ty segall- 'slaughterhouse'
11. i'm slowly turning into you- the white stripes- 'under great white northern lights'
12. one neck- holly golightly- 'truly she is none other'
13. of ripples- vestals- 'forever falling toward the sun'
14. never let me go- florence and the machine- 'ceremonials'
15. down in the valley- solomon burke- 'definitive soul collection'
16. let me ride- the staple singers- 'the best of the veejay years'
17. true love will find you in the end- spiritualized- 'sweet heart sweet light'
18. violently shaking- soft speaker- 'a violent parade'

Thursday, August 2, 2012

and still more tracks...

I found myself with a nearly finished new shalloboi record in the can last week. It was quite an unexpected surprise. I hope to get it released quickly and plan to edit the tracks down so that it will fit on a single LP- hopefully sometime next year inbetween releasing 'field of flowers' 7"es (which are being mastered as we speak finally).

'ema'-
This song is a result of listening to 'Valtari' too much. It features the use of bowed guitar, which used to be a shalloboi hallmark. It was written as a 7" companion for 'mae' (which can be found in a previous entry and on the shalloboi soundcloud page.

'lost forever'-
After 'ema' and 'mae' I felt pulled back in the old-style shalloboi direction. Tons of reverb, more bowed guitar, looped percussion. On the chorus Stefanie is singing in German. Good luck figuring out any of the words. This track will be the second-to-last track.

'd├╝sterenlied'-
Inspired by the amazing Panda Bear track 'Scheherezade' off of 'Tom Boy.' Another idea I had a while ago in the form of another song. Looped voices and bowed guitar drones. The ending melodic guitar line at the end will probably be cut from this in order to get it to fit and I'm going to do a few more mixes to try and get different vocal sounds. This will be what I like to call the 'come down' track- sort of a quiet, short song after the big, overwhelming finale. Fun to do every once in a while.