Thursday, October 24, 2013

review: thee oh sees at the empty bottle 10.22.13

This would be my fifth review of an Oh Sees show. What new things could I possibly have to say about them at this point? I wasn’t expecting to have much myself, but was pleasantly surprised by the dynamic range the band displayed Tuesday night (the first of two shows) at the Empty Bottle. I’ve come to expect them to play a lengthy, sweat-drenched set containing a decent selection of their best songs at break-neck speed with a few stretched to expansive and varied lengths. Last night was very diverse and rich tonally and the emphasis was turned to the doomy vibes buried under the warm fuzz and skuzz of their newest (and best to date if you ask me) album ‘Floating Coffin.’ I figured they’d skip most of my favourites from it in favor of songs that would get the sold out crowd moving. Instead they played all of my favourites—‘No Spell,’ ‘Minotaur’ and the gloriously dirgey, sludgy drone fest ‘Strawberries 1 + 2’—in addition to the tracks I was expecting (i.e. ‘I Come From the Mountain,’ ‘Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster’ and ‘Tunnel Time).

The expanded versions of live standbys ‘Block of Ice’ and ‘Dead Energy’ were present as were standards ‘Tidal Wave’ and ‘Meat Step Lively.’ Even though their ability to speed through their already fast songs wasn’t the order of the night the audience remained engaged and responsive. They ended their main set with an understated version of ‘Minotaur.’ What was most fascinating about this was the fact that it represented a shift in main man John Dwyer’s current iteration of Thee Oh Sees—which has specialized in tightly-played, cracked-out, trippy, psychedelic garage punk—which has now successfully incorporated the restrained, eerie and haunted beauty of the earliest stages of Thee Oh Sees as a full band. I’m hoping this means when I talk about how much I love ‘Sucks Blood’ and ‘Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion’ with a fan newer to the band that they are less willing to dismiss the band’s quieter stuff so quickly. Since Dwyer and the band have figured out a way to get the beauty and dynamics they are capable of married with their unparalleled speed and controlled abandon it seems that they are now, somehow, capable of anything.

Their encore represented this more than anything—‘Putrifiers ii’ standout ‘Lupine Dominus’ followed by the heavy, loud/quiet ‘Moon Sick’ EP standout ‘Humans Be Swayed’ (which they also ended the late set with at Logan Square Auditorium last year). The way the band let the latter track wind down to nothing, Dwyer holding his plastic guitar cocked like a rifle before exploding back into a jittery, fuzzy drone delivered the goods in a way that the band only hinted at during the Logan Square Auditorium show. I remember them playing ‘No Spell’ and ‘Humans Be Swayed’ there and feeling that they were on the verge of some significant breakthrough. When ‘Floating Coffin’ arrived in the spring this breakthrough crystallized and the band’s set at the Empty Bottle proved to be the final piece of the puzzle. After 14 rock solid albums how they have managed to pull this off is beyond me but, as always with Thee Oh Sees, I find it difficult to worry too much about it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

diary 10.20.13- cover the windows and the walls

Diary 10.20.13- cover the windows and the walls by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. spirit in front of me- crystal stilts- 'nature noir'
2. fragility- white fence- 'pink gorilla' 7"
3. glyphs- sic alps- s/t
4. girl- disappears- 'era'
5. i suck at life- bare mutants- 'the affliction'
6. the waiting- angel olsen- 'half way home'
7. i've gotta stop- mazzy star- 'seasons of your day'
8. hotel 2 tango- sharon van etten- 'we are fine' 7"
9. the keepers- ty segall- 'sleeper'
10. lux- death and vanilla- 'from above' 7"
11. millenium blues- clear horizon- s/t
12. cover the windows and the walls- grouper- 'cover the windows and the walls'
13. dungtitled (in a major)- stars of the lid- '...and their refinement of the decline'
14. suhr- loveliescrushing- 'glissceule'
15. bolt- loomer- 'ceiling'
16. wonder 2- my bloody valentine- 'm b v'
17. come down easy- spacemen 3- 'forged prescriptions'

Saturday, October 12, 2013

review: crystal stilts, zachary cale at the empty bottle 10.10.13

I haven’t ventured out of the house to catch much live music lately—in fact, the last show I saw was Sharon van Etten and Speck Mountain in Millenium Park in June. It’s been even longer since I’ve been back to the Empty Bottle, which is my favourite local venue of its size. Crystal Stilts’ stop at the Bottle was something I heard about before hearing anything about the release of their new album ‘Nature Noir.’ I saw them twice there following the release of 2011’s excellent and energetic ‘In Love With Oblivion’ and found them to be more impressive live than I was expecting. They remain rare amongst their Brooklyn-based peers in that they seemed more concerned with songwriting and atmosphere than much of anything else—they haven’t cultivated much of an image to speak of and their music has always retained a quiet integrity and sense of purpose.

I have to admit that one of the reasons I opted to go in the first place was because it was on a weeknight and neither of the band’s previous two stops had reached sold out status. If I can’t go to a seated show with a considerate audience, a weeknight with a near-capacity crowd is the next best thing. There’s something alluring about catching a great band live in a room that isn’t packed to the rafters—it usually means that everyone who’s there really wants to be there. It was a bit of a shame to see the Stilts play a set that was plagued with sound problems and microphonic feedback to a half-empty room. I couldn’t figure out why this was the entire night and have concluded that it’s because of the more restrained and atmospheric arc of ‘Nature Noir.’ Where ‘In Love With Oblivion’ took their sound and shot it through with some urgency and speed the new album is more like a mix between the more fully orchestrated tracks on the ‘Radiant Door’ EP and the band’s debut self-titled EP. It probably didn’t help that Pitchfork wrote a really lackluster review of it, either. The energy of their set reflected this as well. They seemed to fall victim to the feeling this entire week has had of everything being in retrograde.

They started with a handful of ‘In Love With Oblivion’ tracks—‘Sycamore Tree,’ ‘Silver Sun’—before diving into the new album for the bulk of their set. They were able to recreate the textural richness of the new songs beautifully and effortlessly live, the juxtaposition of the two albums’ sound made for a nice contrast. ‘Star Crawl’ sounded particularly great—one of the areas where the band succeeds the most is what a compact and formidable whole they are able to make with their individual elements. It’s usually easy to see who’s doing the heavy lifting on stage and who’s just there to fill in the cracks here and there, but the five members of Crystal Stilts are a fully locked-in unit. Their restraint and sense of control are where they draw a lot of their live energy from. When they let loose they are extremely powerful—the main set ending one-two punch of the bluesy jitteriness of ‘Electrons Rising’ straight into the pounding velocity of ‘Prometheus at Large’ was strong enough that an onstage power outage that ground it to a halt just as the band was getting to a drawn-out sense of focus wasn’t able to dull the sense of excitement and urgency.

The band never dipped into any of the older material or anything from ‘Radiant Door.’ They did play both tracks from the ‘Love is a Wave’ single. The set seemed brief—possibly due to the disappointing turn out and the persistent sound issues. Of course, since the band’s output favors brief song lengths to stretched-out ones such a move could’ve been intentional. The small crowd was able to convince them to do a few more songs at the end of the night. There was also a weird, vaguely apathetic energy in the room the entire night—the crowd talked very loudly through much of Zachary Cale’s acoustic-based set. It was a struggle to hear much of what was going on throughout his set. There was a small halo of people gathered at the front of the stage to hear his open-tuned and blues-based songs. There was also a tall photographer snapping pictures and getting absorbed in the glow of his smartphone. Cale soldiered on as best he could—it is amazing how loud people who are gathered in the back by the bar can get. It was an impenetrable din. He played a decent Robert Johnson cover and almost skipped his last and best song due to the roar of talkers (his bandmates convinced him to play this last song). Cale joined Crystal Stilts onstage to make the interwoven guitar lines of ‘Nature Noir’ a beautiful reality towards the end of their main set. He managed to match JB Townsend’s tone nicely and it made for some really nice interplay during the spindly lines of 'Worlds Gone Weird.' It also made the closing set of songs benefit from a bigger sound. When a unit that tight is augmented by even one person it can make a huge difference. Hopefully Cale will be able to play a more appropriate setting during his next stop in town—while I love seeing shows at the Bottle, acoustic-based acts tend to rarely get a fair shot when they play there. The little that I could hear of his set sounded promising.