Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ruminations: 'the velvet underground & nico' by castle face and friends

I’ve been very impressed by the reissue campaign that Universal have put together for their 45th anniversary 6-disc reissue of ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico.’ Among the biggest surprises was the announcement of this tribute album being released on vinyl by Castle Face. I pre-ordered a copy with the first posting (it’s already sold out, in fact) that contained the tracklist, which look like this—

1. Sunday Morning—Kelley Stoltz
2. I’m Waiting for the Man—Warm Soda
3. Femme Fatale—Ty Segall
4. Venus in Furs—Blasted Canyons (featuring Jeremy Cox of Royal Baths)
5. Run Run Run—White Fence
6. All Tomorrow’s Parties—The Fresh & Onlys
7. Heroin—Burnt Ones
8. There She Goes Again—The Mallard
9. I’ll be your Mirror—Here Comes the Here Comes
10. The Black Angel’s Death Song—K. Dylan and The Black Angel Death Songsmen
11. European Son—Thee Oh Sees

Castle Face and Universal made the album available track-by-track through a bit of an online scavenger hunt which concluded on Monday with the release of Thee Oh Sees’ faithful rendering of ‘European Son.’

Upon my initial delight at pre-ordering this release I started to give it a bit of consideration and got a bit nervous. It’s quite an undertaking to take on a tribute album of such a classic. I had almost forgotten how much I loved this record until the excitement of this release prompted me to finally convert my vinyl copy of the original album and I was blown away by how unique it still sounds. What were my expectations for these cover versions? Would they be completely re-interpreted or painfully faithful versions? The answer is a bit all-over-the-map, which should’ve been obvious from the outset. There aren’t many of these covers that I’m not wild about. The cover of ‘I’ll be your Mirror,’ which is sung by label co-owner Brian Lee Hughes’ daughter seemed like a strong contender, but that one proved to have the most beautifully restrained music of all of them which suited the song so perfectly. All of them are very carefully handled—it was wise of Universal to hand the reigns to Castle Face to handle such an undertaking. A major label tribute would’ve been an unmitigated disaster, but this tribute really captures the spirit of what the Velvets did and how their influence has continued on as vitally as it has (and continues to).

Blasted Canyons’ cover of ‘Venus in Furs’ is what filled me with the greatest amount of faith for the rest of the album. The song is the first thing I heard by the Velvets that blew me away in ways that I didn’t even think were possible in music at the time (I heard it when I was 17). Their version is absolutely perfect—it takes the song, matches its level of grime and sticks faithfully to the vocal melody and the squeal of John Cale’s electric viola on the track while adding some pretty dense and brain-melting drone. It’s absolutely great. Kelley Stoltz’s soft reading of ‘Sunday Morning’ is probably my next favourite of them all—it’s matched almost perfectly to the original part-for-part. But it works. Warm Soda (a band who I’d never heard of before) do the best of making their track their own without it sounding unnatural, forced or even conscious. The Mallard’s extended version of ‘There She Goes Again’ does a good job of this as well. Ty Segall takes ‘Femme Fatale’ and pummels it into an almost completely different song. It barely resembles the original—appropriate as he seemed like an odd choice to cover it. White Fence’s ‘Run Run Run’ and The Fresh & Onlys’ ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ both hit a nice middle ground between the two extremes. Both also seemed like the most natural choices out of the whole selection.

What really put my anxieties to rest is when Burnt Ones’ cover of ‘Heroin’ finally surfaced. Personally if I’d been asked to contribute a cover for this compilation I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one who ended up having to cover this song. It’s the most influential and iconic song on an album that’s made up of iconic and influential songs. Plus I’d never even heard of them. What they do with it is admirable and reverent without sacrificing the impact of the song, which sounds entirely deliberate to me. It was nice to hear someone covering this song and doing everything they could to make it worthy of the original. They took the dynamic tension of the original as the blueprint, held true to the anguish in the lyrics and didn’t go overboard on the noise. I’m not even sure what they used to create that whirring wall of drone in the background, similar to how I wasn’t sure what it was on the original. I’m particularly fond of the climax on this cover because it’s every bit as hard-hitting as it needs to be. Thee Oh Sees’ version of ‘European Son’ starts off sounding like Joy Division covering the song and then it degrades into gleeful, anarchic noise-making (including John Dwyer’s ever-present flute).

In conclusion this is more than worth your time. As someone's who's lived with this record since they were 17, this version is a beautiful breath of fresh air for these songs and worthy companion to the original. Could there be a higher compliment?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

repost- diary 5.17.11- set your arms down

I'm reposting this mix from my birthday last year since it was my first attempt (I failed, btw) to post a mix on mixcloud. Mostly vinyl rips mix (minus a few tracks) so that the levels are hopefully the same. Also, finally up on mixcloud!

aka 'in which i am fired from my job a day before my birthday.' maybe i should've gone with 'my time's up.'

song- artist- album
1. set your arms down- warpaint- the fool
2. bo diddley jam- spacemen 3- copenhagen barbue 1989 bootleg
3. alien rivers- crystal stilts- in love with oblivion
4. like cockatoos- the cure- birmingham 87 bootleg, or 'faded wishes' if you'd prefer
5. love fade- tamaryn- the waves
6. untitled- koolaid electric company- the koolaid electric company
7. tropical island suite- the fresh & onlys- play it strange
8. winter '68- the black angels- a nice pair
9. o, lilac- wild nothing- gemini
10. i'll feel a whole lot better- the byrds- mr. tambourine man
11. mary- jessica bailiff- s/t
12. tears in the typing pool- broadcast- tender buttons
13. waves wash over me- spectrum- soul kiss (glide divine)
14. scheherezade- panda bear- tom boy
15. turtle island- beach house- devotion
16. my time's up- the raveonettes- raven in the grave
17. 200 bars- spiritualized- lazer guided melodies
18. stinking cloud- thee oh sees- castlemania

Monday, October 15, 2012

diary 10.9.12- an endless river

Something I've always wanted to do was a mix where I was able to rip the audio entirely from vinyl. This would serve three purposes- 1) that lovely, satisfying crackle of vinyl would cover these mixes that I care about so much, 2) the audio quality would probably be way better and 3) perhaps most importantly the volume level would be far more consistent than it normally is when I'm cutting and pasting these mixes from all different sources. So here is this mix at last- this is possibly the third revision. Waitig on the new Tamaryn record is part of what caused the delay. I'm also taking November off from making mixes, so the next one will be holiday-themed.

song- artist- album

1. ekki múkk- sigur rós- 'valtari'
2. uncloudy day- the staple singers- 'pray on'
3. stupidity- solomon burke- 'stupidity' 7"
4. heel toe- the fresh & onlys- 'presence of mind' 7"
5. so nice- thee oh sees- 'putrifiers ii'
6. rolling out- moon duo- 'circles'
7. disconnection- radar eyes- 's/t'
8. through the grass- wild nothing- 'nocturne'
9. curse the night- the raveonettes- 'observator'
10. on the wall- the jesus & mary chain- 'darklands'
11. all of my tears- spiritualized- 'pure phase'
12. lord knows- dum dum girls- 'end of daze'
13. sun in your eyes- grizzly bear- 'shields'
14. for you- sharon van etten- 'because i was in love'
15. violets & roses- jessica bailiff- 'at the down-turned jagged rim of the sky'
16. violets in a pool- tamaryn- 'tender new signs'
17. the pier- dirty three- 'toward the low sun'
18. see you on the slopes- sic alps- 's/t'

Friday, October 12, 2012

review: beach house at the riviera theater 10.11.12

(if the person who took this photo doesn't want it shared here, please get in touch and it will be removed. you could also tell me your real name and i'll credit you by name here.)

I’ve tried to curtail my desire to write about every single show I attend. Mainly this is because I find myself seeing my favourite bands over and over every time they come through town. For instance, I skipped writing about Thee Oh Sees/Ty Segall show at Logan Square Auditorium a few weeks ago since I’d already written extensively about both bands multiple times. I think my grand total of Oh Sees live reviews comes to three over the past two years. In short I also didn’t write about the Logan Square Auditorium show because it was one of those instances where the environment began to overshadow the music. It was an 18 and over show and since we went to the late show it was kind of like wandering into a kegger after everyone in the room had done their requisite kegstand. It was the perfect example of how difficult I can find it to be in a room filled with kids who are so much younger than me. This is why I attend so few all ages shows as well. This brings us to last night at the Riviera, which I purchased tickets for back when they went on sale in May. I’m to the point where the main allure of all ages shows is that they begin and end fairly early thus meaning people tend to save their A-game drinking Olympic feats for after the show rather than timing their ultimate level of inebriation with the headlining band’s set time. This and, given that I often have to wake up as early as 5am to get to work, any show that ends by 10:30 is going to seem alluring. The flip-side of this coin is that being in a room full of teenagers at a show can be really irritating. This is the frame of mind I was in as I walked into the Riviera last night as openers Poor Moon were playing.

Beach House has been probably my favourite new band since I first started buying up all of their music a few years ago. I’ve missed every one of their live stops in town since their headlining show at the Metro in April of 2010. I even missed them opening for Grizzly Bear at the Metro in 2009. Seeing them at Pitchfork in July was a very emotional experience for me mainly because of this—it had been built up in my mind for years at that point. Despite lofty expectations I walked away from their sunset-timed set that day in complete awe. I was a bit worried that I’d have a repeat of the Oh Sees/Ty Segall show plagued with enough tiny, petty annoyances to keep me out of the moment. Surprisingly, the night went incredibly smoothly. Poor Moon only played for 30 minutes (while it would’ve been fine if they’d played a full 45 minute set it was nice to not have to wait for the main event). I staked out a spot towards the back of the 2nd tier and had tons of personal space and didn’t have people passing in front of me the entire night. I couldn’t really catch a decent view of the band onstage, but they had brought with them a jaw-dropping light show that I've only seen surpassed by the one that My Bloody Valentine brought with them to the Aragon in 2008. The normally muddy sound at the Riviera was full-bodied, but allowed for the subtleties to shine through. The abundance of low-end ended up enhancing the sound rather than making it just sound like a bunch of loud crap that you can’t draw anything out of. It sounded hard hitting and incredibly beautiful. Where the open air and light at Pitchfork had hindered the sound and the light show, here at a huge indoor theater this was never even close to a problem. I expected to hear more of the backing tracks, but those continue to play even less of a part than they had during their many, rambling ‘Teen Dream’ tours. Considering there are only three people playing fairly Spartan parts they were able to summon a hurricane of overwhelming and beautiful sound whenever they wanted to. Their performance was incredibly dynamic and the simplistic mix of lighting effects made for a highly immersive sensory experience. It was easy to close your eyes, zone out and get completely lost in the experience—much like the aforementioned My Bloody Valentine show.

The setlist was drawn from the entirety of ‘Bloom’ (except for ‘New Year’), more than half of ‘Teen Dream’ (the first half and ’10 Mile Stereo'), two tracks from ‘Devotion’ and one from the self-titled record. Things went smoothly through the first quarter of the set with the same highlights as their set at Pitchfork (‘Other People’ again hitting an early emotional high note) until the first surprise of the night—‘Master of None’ from their self-titled debut, which segued into ‘Silver Soul.’ From those two songs until the next unexpected surprise of the night—the incredibly beautiful and moving version of ‘On the Sea’—the set achieved a level of pure bliss that I’ve experience very rarely at shows I go to these days. It’s one thing to enjoy the overwhelming balls-out abandon and anarchy of a great rock band, but it’s entirely another to let music that is otherworldly and beautiful weave it’s web around your senses. The version of ‘Silver Soul’ that they played last night was jaw-droppingly beautiful and blissed-out. When they played it at Pitchfork it took on a wistful and deeply wounded energy. Here it took on a contented beauty that was almost religious. It was the type of feeling I remember from seeing the Cure 12 years ago.

The next series of highlights came during the encore. They played ‘Turtle Island’ (which I definitely wasn’t expecting to hear that night), which grew into a giant behemoth of powerful beauty that the album version barely hints at. From there they tore into ’10 Mile Stereo’ with more abandon than they had at Pitchfork into ‘Bloom’ closing track ‘Irene’ which is capable of completely destroying me even when I just listen to the album version. Even knowing they would probably end with it did nothing to dull its emotional impact.

I was home by 11 and was able to get five hours of sleep before work today. As I remember the show I continue to bask in the joy of falling in love with a band so deeply that their music has woven itself into the fabric of my memories in only a few years. During the night I remembered people and events I hadn’t thought about in years and it took me back to some of the most beautiful moments of the last two years (which have been incredibly trying and difficult). I don’t care how hyped they are, their music is an important part of my life. I should also mention how gracious the band were throughout the course of the evening—Victoria Legrand thanked the crowd at least five times for being there saying that this experience wouldn’t exist without them. It was refreshing to hear from a band playing their biggest headlining show in town to date. It also feels good to love a band this much and share the experience with a great crowd for a change. It certainly was more fulfilling than if I’d stayed home and watched another round of absurdist political theater even if the ‘side’ I consider myself to be on had ‘won’ that round.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

review: tamaryn- 'tender new signs'

I’m not sure what to write about this record. It’s been held out in front of me for months and months now and now is finally here. I’ve been enjoying the way that Tamaryn have been posting photographs and lyrics from the songs since sometime in August (I think—it’s all a bit fuzzy now). I was hoping that the hazy aesthetic of the pictures would be indicative of what the album would sound like. Once opening track ‘I’m Gone’ was finally set loose this appeared to be the case. Next came the video for similarly woozy and chunky ‘Heavenly Bodies’ which only seemed to underscore this fact. By then I was practically foaming at the mouth and pre-ordered the LP in the hopes that I was quick enough to snag one of the 50 with the postcard set. So few bands bother with much of an aesthetic these days. Wild Nothing comes to mind with their six different covers for the die-cut window sleeve of 'Nocturne.' It’s clear that Tamaryn are going for an aesthetic consistency that 4AD always made a priority.

Musically ‘Tender New Signs’ is similar to 2010’s ‘The Waves’—there is a lot of woozy, druggy, delayed texture and a lot of floating vocals. The production on ‘Tender New Signs’ is nothing short of breathtaking, though. Where ‘The Waves’ sounded thin at times this record is full-bodied and massive. It does a great job of capturing what they sound like live, which is basically overwhelming and widescreened pure sound from all sides. It has an analog peakiness to it which can’t help but melt my heart. The songwriting has progressed quite a bit as well. Tamaryn's beautiful lyrics are easy to tune out or concentrate on—the choice is up to you (which isn’t always the case). There are several tracks that are nothing short of quaking burners—smoke coming out of the grooves as the needle passes over them kind of stuff. The middle section of the album is made up of these tracks and they are much stronger and successful than the more driving numbers on ‘The Waves.’ ‘The Garden,’ for example, sounds almost anthemic. There are, of course, dreamier tracks as well. ‘No Exits’ sets the bar for most of them and closing track ‘Violets in a Pool’ is one their best.

What’s most intriguing to me about their particular production style is the fact that guitarist Rex Shelverton uses minimal instrumentation in order to get a big, high-impact sound without sacrificing clarity or having to reign in the overdrive. While he does use a decent amount of delay on his parts, it’s mainly used as a thickener rather than a textural crutch. It enhances rather than detracts and since he is able to exert this type of control over it a great deal of the meaty sound can be attributed to attack rather than a reliance on affected tones to get unique sounds. The bass and the drums fill in the lower register and everything is given a sufficient amount of space so that everything sounds clear and nothing is buried. This is how Tamaryn’s vocals can float effortlessly over the top in an ambient haze and still maintain an authoritative prescence. It’s worth noting for its ingenuity as most bands mining a similar dreamy sound get mired in layering and effects which often end up causing something to get buried—in most cases decent drum sounds are sacrificed in favor of textural fullness. Not here, though, which is what makes this record sound so vibrant. They’ve pulled off quite a sonic achievement here as well as an album of solid songs that surpasses the considerable shadow cast by their debut.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

review: godspeed you! black emporer- 'allelujah! don't bend! ascend!'

Yup. I tracked down the leak of this album. It took maybe two minutes. I’ll still be buying the 180gm vinyl with the bonus 7”. That should be evidence enough of how much I like this record. When ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ came out in 2002 I found it to be a touch unsatisfying and fatigued-sounding. In retrospect it’s no surprise that they took a lengthy hiatus after touring in support of it—it had absolutely no reason to not be great—‘Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls’ and ’9-15-00’ were both featured prominently during their 2000 tour in support of ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ and were consistent set standouts and the album was recorded by Steve Albini. The truth is that how could a nine-person ensemble playing music as emotionally intense as this on as consistently rigorous touring schedules not get to a point of burnout after such a lengthy run? I recall reading an interview in a fanzine (remember those?) where Efrim Menuck stated quite matter-of-factly, “Yeah, we’re a nine person band. We argue a lot. With that many people involved in anything there are going to be clashes.” The non-news of a hiatus (I remember a two-year long black hole of updates in the wake of their 2003 tour before the words ‘hiatus’ even appeared on their website) was finally broken last year with a brief but highly effective set of tour stops. Having caught them at the Vic here in town I found that it appeared to have reinvigorated them in ways I hadn’t imagined. Their local stop proved to be more intense than when I’d seen them in London in 2000 in support of what I’ve always considered to be their strongest recorded effort (2000’s ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’).

While ‘’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ is still not strong enough to dethrone the sprawling ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists…’ (kind of a heavy task as it’s like a 90-minute statement of eternal purpose) as their best record, it certainly stacks up as their most lean and effective to date. It’s built on four tracks—two of them within the 20-minute range and two more clocking in as more focused ambient drones. The juxtaposition of scale between the four tracks plays up to the band’s greatest strengths of recognizing the impact of both huge, theatrical moments of epically unhinged emotional setpieces and tiny, spare snapshots of beautiful, overlooked moments. ‘Mladic’ (aka 'Albanian' in old setlists) is one of the new tracks I saw them play at the Vic last March. In a rare turn of circumstance I find the recorded version to be longer, yet more focused and satisfying. It makes clear what they’ve done with the track since revisiting it over seven years on, as it was started in 2003. ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ had seen previous live incarnations as well (titled ‘Gamelan’ on previous setlists) and is one of my favourite extended tracks of theirs since the fourth track of ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists…’. The production is invigorated, raw and incredibly emotional. They have always been a band that has excelled at capturing the emotional impact that their music has on tape, but this record seems to be one of the best examples of their skill at this so far. I’m particularly fond of the earlier half of ‘Mladic’ as it pounds away for nearly half of the length as a two chord drone worthy of the Warlocks in their more hypnotic moments.

All-in-all it seems to deliver on the promise of the announcement of their reunion last year. In spades. While I’d been overjoyed to hear that I’d get to see them live again I felt doubtful that they would be putting out any new music. Now that I’ve heard the results that doubt seems incredibly foolish to me. There couldn’t be a better foundation laid for their second act as a band.

Click here to read the review of their show at the Vic in March.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

review: jessica bailiff- 'at the down-turned jagged rim of the sky'

Since the first new record from Jessica Bailiff in six years is getting so little press I figured it might not be out of line to post my own review of it even though it’s been out for almost a week now. Only a week before its release did an entry appear on the Kranky records website that Jessica Bailiff’s new record would be landing. It’s notable to mention that even they had no idea Bailiff had been working on a new record, but that she had merely dropped them a line to see if they were interested in previewing it for possible release. The ‘appeared-out-of-thin-air’ arrival of the record only adds to its allure.

‘Feels Like Home,’ Bailiff’s last record, was released in 2006 and saw her offering up a compact set of her most stripped-down material. It was practically all acoustic and retained that ‘created-in-complete-isolation’ quality that all of Bailiff’s releases have. One of the greatest assets of her records is that they seem to be created in a complete trend vacuum—there is always a complete lack of consideration for anything even remotely resembling a musical trend or movement from the era that it sprang from. Her self-produced albums (the last three—the self-titled record from 2002, ‘Feels Like Home’ and ‘At the Down-Turned Jagged Rim of the Sky’) all have this magical quality, which, let’s face it, is sorely lacking in music these days. Even the best new music seems to have readily identifiable source material (except for Thee Oh Sees maybe, but even they have been operating from a fairly evident self-built base). Bailiff’s new record couldn’t be more distinctive in her own discography—she has created nothing resembling it. Preview track ‘Your Ghost is Not Enough’ sounds like a mix of material from her self-titled record and the Clear Horizon (her trans-Atlantic tape-trading collaboration with Dave Pearce of Flying Saucer Attack) record, but the other eight tracks are practically a world all their own. ‘Goodnight’ moves from a spare, meek keyboard and vocal figure into a sludgy dirge of detuned fuzz bass and loping drums. The fuzz bass and highlighted presence of drums are what set this record apart from her others. Previously Bailiff seemed to purposely bury what little drums or percussion she would use in blankets of ambience and drifting texture, but here they are clearly the stars of the show.

Several tracks evolve into some pretty heavy and epic moments—the last half of ‘Sanguine’ with Bailiff’s overdubbed chanting in the background over a slogging but insistent beat or the intense waltz-time scuzz of ‘Slowly.’ The only moment on the album that approaches ‘weak’ to my ears is the keyboard/fuzz guitar intro to ‘This is Real’—the juxtaposition of the guitar and keyboard figure seems a bit awkward until Bailiff’s vocals enter. The sun-drenched ‘Take me to the Sun’ and closing track ‘Firefly’ get as close to radio-friendly pop as Bailiff has ever been. The truth of this fact has always been what’s made her records so special to me—she COULD go that route if she wanted to, but instead she sticks with what she’s trying to convey musically. This creates a dynamic that is missing from the music of most artists of her ilk—that she will take such pure pop jewels and use them purely to her own ends is entrancing.

While I enjoy the fact that such a talented artist is willing to toil in obscurity seemingly forever, it would be nice if her music would garner wider recognition. The music industry is full of such characters, but rarely are they so purely isolated and obscure as Bailiff has always been. She’s never courted mainstream acceptance even though she easily could. She’s never been anointed with the crown of acceptance by the big guns in the indie music blog universe. Her records get notable reviews on pitchfork but she plays artspace/house/living room venues in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio. The news of her every move is received eagerly, but only by a very tiny niche. It’s a faithful audience that seems to have endless patience, which is incredibly encouraging. It’s about time the floodgates were thrown open, though.