Friday, May 21, 2010

National Anthems

Well, it’s quite the brouhaha lately re: High Violet, new LP from The National. & truthfully, it’s a friendly enough album with much to recommend it. I particularly enjoy the front-center placement of the drums in the mix while other, undifferentiated textures roil deep & dark beneath. I like the formless distortion noise that sometimes hovers throughout, seeping into every crevice. I have no objection to the cool detachment of Matt Berninger’s baritone, whose lyrics veer from anguished to absurd (“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” say what??).

Picture dark wood panel, leather & dim lighting. Brandy. A cigar, maybe.

In the end though, I am just not loving it. Much as I would like to. I think my objection is that it’s all too comfortable, too clean, too undangerous. Shouldn’t something this insistently dark have a least some bit of menace about it? I’ve waited in vain for that here, but High Violet is more than anything else very very pretty. I want to pinch its cheeks.


Natl-Lemonworld mp3

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

LCD: This Is Happening.

Jesus Christ Wow & words to that effect. This Is Happening is the rather apt title of LCD Soundsystem’s resplendent & dazzling new LP. Hear some here:

LCD-I Can Change mp3

LCD (& more specifically James Murphy) will continue to be accused now of being “merely” derivative & a novelty act, so let’s start there, yes? “You Wanted a Hit” is a novelty song, & likewise “Drunk Girls” at least arguably. Not incidentally, these are probably the least two interesting songs on the album, notwithstanding sundry fine aspects to recommend them. So. I will not object to their exclusion from this discussion for the sake of anyone offended by novelty songs, of which I am no great champion.

So, next. LCD = Derivative? Well, here is “Somebody’s Calling Me.”

LCD-Somebody's Calling Me mp3

Which I immediately sussed as signifying “Nightclubbing,” viz Iggy Pop, from The Idiot (1977):

IP-Nightclubbing mp3

Crazy right? & Hey, the whole album is replete with this kind of thing. Murphy’s songs quote freely & avidly from the best of the best of very late 1970s & very early 1980s new wave, synth pop, art funk, & pertinent antecedents thereof. e.g., Bowie, circa Heroes (1977); Prince, circa 1999 (1982); Talking Heads, circa Remain in Light (1980); Television; Joy Division; Mr. Pop supra; & cetera & cetera.

Many of the references jump right out at you; others reveal themselves gradually. The best parts of the LP, I will argue, are its rhythm grooves, protracted & sinuous & deep. Which tend to pose who’s-zooming-who-type of questions. i.e., is Murphy bastardizing seventies afropop? Or bastardizing later bastardizations of same by Caucasian-American rock stars? & does it even matter, since now you’re dancing?

So I guess the operative question is whether this music is somehow diminished by virtue of its being so nakedly derived from something(s) else. Like, is LCD just a crass little ripoff, devoid of its own ideas & inspiration? Is it just retro?

To be candid, I can’t seem to muster that much snark. Not in the face of what is such a clear & unreserved gesture of Love. Just listen: there is nothing ironic or snide to be found in these connotations of the earlier era. Murphy is not reveling in kitsch, he is no fucking Hipster. No way, that. He loves what he loves & he is unabashed about it. I’m finding his enthusiasm infectious.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sleigh Bells, Treats. Beast & Beauty.

Finally now, & following all manner of buzz & anticipation, Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats is currently working the room. You likely know the backstory already, but it’s thus: Derek Miller’s hardcore band Poison the Well (nice name, that) went defunct, leaving him stranded waiting tables & chatting up customers re: the new band he was scheming of. One of said customers turned out to be the comely Alexis Krauss, who promptly then ditched her school-teaching gig. More or less directly thereafter, there was Sleigh Bells.

The project was founded, first, on Miller’s loop samples & his noisy beats, mixed strident & loud & then escorted in by raunchy guitar distortion. The latter ingredient performed live & dicey; the former ensconced in a laptop or iPod or whatevs. You with me so far? Derek hits Play, then he thrashes guitar alongside. It’s raucous & crunchy & rude. It’s a fabulous & decadent mess, it’s really fucking loud. So far so good.

Ok, then add Krauss, whose singing is breathy, lively, girlish & gamine. She really ought not to fit Miller’s musical premise, right? Krauss is all winsome, while Miller’s all WHOMP. & yet. On reflection, I’m hearing a yin-slash-yang kind of deal here: the two elements, disparate & incongruous, they accent & emphasize each other. It’s the disparity that’s compelling. & all the more so live, where Krauss (sexy & vivacious) & Miller (hunched & hoodied) perform side by side.

Anyway, Sleigh Bells started out with a half dozen songs, clearly home-made affairs rough & raw, dispersed willy-nilly over the interwebs. The duo scored a gig at last year’s CMJ, then proceeded to garner the right sort of attention. There ensued some hype, albeit virally deployed. More high-profile gigs followed, further stoking the anticipation until voila! we now have in hand an actual Sleigh Bells LP. Dressed up now in big boy pants.

Treats is way fun, let me just say it right off the bat. Every bit of the percussive excess continues unabated, & that’s a very good thing. At the same time, access to a full-on recording studio has been a boon to the Bells: the textural landscape is now more varied, more contoured, more interesting. The earlier recordings had pointed in a number of different musical directions, & Treats continues to offer an assortment of flavors. There are distinct plunges into the Hardcore realm. Somewhat less expected are all the winking references to European disco & electronica. Anyway, it’s a big thrill ride w/hairpin turns.

Most of the earlier material gets reworked here to fit the new, beefier paradigm. By & large, I am prepared to go along w/all of that. Previously, “Ring Ring” was a song that got picked on a lot bc the Funkadelic sample is so unembellished. But jesus chill it’s a fucking demo, is what I wanted to say to all of that. Anyway, that song is much more fully fleshed out now, and appears here as “Rill Rill.” It’s as close to quiet as this album gets, yet thunder still rumbles.

On the other-other hand, “Beach Girls” was already a fully-formed piece w/its seagull atmospherics & its comic narration. That one is transformed here into “Kids,” which operates now as a full-on cover of the original, referring to & commenting on a song we already know. e.g., the singsong-spoken bits re sunburns & sunglasses are accelerated & multitracked now. w/the result that they’re scripted, ritualized, one step removed: a Greek chorus of 9-year-old girls, all giggles & screaming over Thump Thump Thump. Anyway, both versions provided below, the side-by-side being fascinating to me, & maybe so to you too.


SB-Beach Girls mp3

SB-Kids mp3

Summer is upon us, peoples. I anticipate Sleigh Bells as something we’ll be hearing an awful lot of in the hot months ahead.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Video: HF @ SXSW

Oyez! Courtesy of baeblemusic, comes now this sweet vid of Holy Fuck working their magic tricks at this year's South by Southwest fest. Fun stuff:

Watch the full concert at

Monday, May 10, 2010

(Guest Post!) Murder City Devils

Note: Today's itinerant Clatter correspondent is Clint, author of the excellent & always entertaining Fernetiquette.

Murder City Devils
San Francisco, CA
May 7, 2010

I don’t go to shows that often anymore. Unlike this blog’s primary author, I’m not “plugged in” to the “scene”. HOWEVA, I am “friends” with Murder City Devils on “The Facebooks.” This normally means nothing, but a few months ago it meant that I was told exactly when and how to buy advance tickets to the Murder City Devils show this past Friday at Slim’s. At the time they were first available my work situation wasn’t sorted out; I wasn’t sure whether I could afford them.

Then I figured: “Shit dude, buy the tickets now. If you’re unemployed by the time the show rolls around, you can sell them to lazy hipsters for ALL THE MUNNIEZ IN THE WORLD.”

So I bought the tickets. Thank Fucking God, I bought the tickets. And I went to the show. Thank Fucking Satan, I went to the show.

How to explain the phenomenon of Murder City Devils to those who have never experienced them? Wikipedia lists them as a “garage punk band active between 1996 and 2001.” I would argue that this is selling them a bit short. Our Devils are less a “garage punk band” and more “the band from the best party you never went to.”

Murder City Devils are absolutely motherfucking brilliant. They’re like Gang of Four on speedballs or a club rock version of Minor Threat (with a keyboard player.) In short, they’re the perfect mix between dance rock and balls-to-the-wall punk, and by the time I’d joined the battalions of other hipsters / punks / cool kids who had discovered the visceral majesty of this particular Seattle sextet, they had already fucking broken up. Before last weekend, they had played all of one show in San Francisco in the last 9 years. Basically, I never thought I’d get a chance to catch MCD live.

In other words, I was kinda excited to see them. KINDA!

Since 95% of Murder City Devils’ songs are about getting fucked up drunk, the lady and I got fucked up drunk before the show. It was better that way, and we weren’t the only ones. For the record, they do serve Fernet at Slim’s, though I was wayyyy too drunk to remember what a shot cost.

The band is fronted by the slight, bespectacled Spencer Moody. Spencer Moody (or “Howlin’ Spencer Moody”, as he apparently prefers) is a tiny, bearded man with the lungs of a Viking. He is part vocalist, part force of nature. The first time you listen to MCD, you will probably think “Man, this band would be the biggest thing ever if their singer could actually, ya know… sing.” You will be forgiven for thinking this, even though you will be gloriously incorrect. Moody’s cheese-grater snarl is half of what gives this band its edge. His voice is what separates something pure and thrilling like Murder City Devils from those accessible but terribly average bands like The Killers or The Strokes.

The other thing that makes Murder City Devils truly special is the quality of its backbone. Coady Willis (Big Business, The Melvins, Dead Low Tide) is quite literally one of the best drummers alive. Every snare hit is like a gunshot. Every floor tom is like the rolling tide. The man is a goddamned machine. Hearing him on record is striking. Hearing him live is a religious experience.

Then… there’s the organist. MCD would be an awesome band without the keyboard player, but adding it makes them as close to perfect as you would ever want them to get. Which, frankly, is not very close at all.

Anyway, back to the show. I gotta say, I was too blasted to take too many notes. For the most part, they played the songs I expected them to play. I have a few minor quibbles. For example, they didn’t play “Left Hand Right Hand” or “Boom Swagger Boom.”

Outside of a few setlist issues, most had few complaints. The painted, black-clad crowd pulsed and writhed, whipped into an absolute frenzy by the band’s manic, controlled sexual energy. Half the kids were dancing, half the kids were moshing, half the kids were heavy petting in the corner. Everyone got drunk. Everyone got laid.

In short, it was everything you could ever want from a rock and roll show. Highest recommendation.

MCD-Rum to Whiskey mp3

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tallest Man on Earth

The Tallest Man on Earth
The Independent
San Francisco, CA
May 9, 2010

What a charmer: The Tallest Man on Earth, in his skinny jeans & square jaw w/his wee elfish boots & his raspish voice. On record, The Tallest has been fairly compared to a young Robert-o Zimmerman, for obvious similarities of timbre, phrasing, inflection, verbosity.

On stage in person, the analogy does not hold. The Tallest hops into the room & then proceeds to take efficient ownership of it. He roams hither & yon, upstage & down, he eyeballs the audience, now grave now flirting now comic now tragic. He cracks little non-sequiturs & we laugh as if we're in on some joke we maybe don't quite get but Oh how we wish to. The Tallest is a seducer, you see. Within ninety seconds, substantial contingents of the audience are swooning.

It was really quite a magical thing. The Tallest performs alone & unadorned. There's no band, the stage is clean, it's just him & his 3 guitars. He plays through a little practice amp that's miked right into the PA. He's got a cushy chair to collapse into from time to time as the need arrives. Which it doesn't much, The Tallest is a firecracker he doesn't much pause he doesn't much rest.

The Tallest goes & goes. His music generally gets called Folk. It's a fair descriptor, but a wholly inadequate one. I mean, ok, it's a guy & his guitar & his songs are all poignance & poetry, all of that is true. Still. I am not aware of any Folk paradigm that would encompass the ragged, naked charisma of the Tallest. Or more significantly, the raw & (hello?) sexy charge that he elicits onstage. It's luxurious & it's often quiet, right, but what The Tallest brings is rock & roll I just don't know how else to say it. You can find familiar things in unfamiliar places, sometimes. What a delight is that.

The Tallest has a couple of albums out, now. They don't (can't, really) do justice to the allure of this guy working the room. The songs are truly great ones however, & you really ought to check them out. The Wild Hunt is the apt title of the current LP.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos!
The Regency Ballroom
San Francisco, CA
May 7, 2010

I’ll be candid, I had some initial skepticism toward this band of seven or eight (it varies) players. What, w/the full-time violin & the glockenspiel, of all things. I mean, shit: such a thing could get a bit too proggy for a Friday night, right?

So I spent some time with Romance is Boring, the band’s current (& second) LP, & that did ease my concerns. It’s a sharp album: arresting, irreverent, darkly humorous. & while the playing exhibits finesse throughout, it just about never settles down into prettiness. Which would just be lazy. I appreciate that los Campesinos! are often rattling & roaring & (to tell you the truth) clattering. They went & hung that exclamation point at the end of their name &, by golly they do earn it.

So the album, I like. Friday night’s show, I fucking loved. Best concert I’ve seen in months. The audience was primed & ready, but there was no resting on laurels by this band. Los Campesinos! brought the goods, as if they had something to prove. Clear adherents to the more-is-more school of thought, the show was a rollick & a wallop, nonstop from start to finish.

There’s plenty of credit to share for that, but much of it does belong to lead singer (slash- glockenspielist, heh), Gareth (the band evidently eschews last names). Gareth is a disarming & delightful focal point onstage. & not only because he’s a thrillingly great bellower, but also for his herky-jerky stage moves. Explosive & spasmodic, all limbs akimbo, some might call it dancing I guess, whatevs. Gareth’s moves did inspire some decent moshing in the crowd there toward the end. Not to be undone, our man launched himself into the melee more than once. During the final encore, half the band followed, still playing on, patch cords trailing behind, utterly lost in the frolic in the crowd. Some might call that move punk rock, yo.

Strongly & unequivocally recommended, I must say. Hear some:

LC – We’ve Got Your Back (Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #2) – mp3