Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jetpacks @ Noise Pop

We Were Promised Jetpacks
SF Noise Pop Festival
San Francisco, CA
February 27, 2010

Turns out we won’t actually be needing those jetpacks after all. I mean, there’s just not much in the way of thrills that can top what this band We Were Promised Jetpacks delivered on Saturday night at Slim’s. Turns out that this band itself actually is a machine from the future, one whose whole purpose evidently is to make your heart pound hard. Hey, don’t take my word for it, just ask these guys:

Based on the album, I had my own idea –call it a hope– of what this band might actually sound & look & feel like live. Because as exciting as the record is, it’s also pretty cleaned-up, yet constantly it hints at edges that are substantially rougher, dirtier, more dangerous.

& damn if that isn’t just what we got at Slim’s on Saturday night! It starts with Michael Palmer’s right hand just pummeling the strings on his black Telecaster fast as faster as fast as that arm can drive it, force feeding his Marshall half stack, feeding back & feeding it some more. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Adam Thompson, we already know that he’s a deep-chest shouter, but holy shit in person the man just roars.

OK, so this music is noisy it’s dense & that’s enough already to make it a beautiful thing. I mean, IMHO. But wait, there’s more! There’s a real brilliance here in the way that Darren Lackie (drums) & Sean Smith (bass) are able to channel all the noise, efficiently & precisely, into the compact parameters of the songs. There was no real stretching out here. This band gets in, winds it up tight & hard, & then gets the hell back out. There’s no screwing around, they’ve got some shit to do & that’s what they get done. Fantastic.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Atlas Sound @ Noise Pop

Atlas Sound
SF Noise
Pop Festival
Great American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA
February 26, 2010

I have already gone on record w/my strongly-held view that Bradford Cox is one of very few actual geniuses working in popular music today. A few months back, I was delighted to learn that he’s also a warm & engaging performer. Both aspects were again made plain on Friday night at GAMH.

This current iteration of Atlas Sound was “just” Bradford, solo, w/acoustic guitar, his (still-incongruous) harmonica, & about a dozen effects pedals & loopers. From these ingredients, Bradford crafted his sound-sculptures right there in front of us, he built them up & then he broke them back down. This music was rich & layered & sonorous & deep. Except for when it wasn’t. Because the lush, processed artifice could switch off in an eyeblink, leaving only the reedy voice, the minor chords, the harmonica whining. On a dime, this guy all alone can turn from Atlas Sound into Neil fucking Young. & when that shift happens, it’s dynamic, it’s poignant, it’s goddamn masterful. Bradford Cox whipping up High Art in real time; he’s like the iron chef I swear to god.

& yet all the while, he makes it look so easy. Bradford onstage is unassuming. He is chatty, spontaneous, just steadfastly genuine. He’s telling little stories, cracking jokes, taking requests (including mine, yay!). He’s plainly reveling in the singular moment of Now, & we are there in it with him. That feels like some magical shit. & when, late in the show, there are scattered outbursts of affection from the audience well, that feels appropriate. Because Bradford is sharing the love, & only some kind of an asshole would fail to reciprocate. I mean, right?

It was in that rather glad aura that I actually forgot to be taking notes. So I’m going to be a bit shy on the actual details here. I’m pretty sure he played for about two solid hours. I remember “Sheila” & “Walkabout,” but also a lot of songs I didn’t know, so they’re probably new. Um, he played “An Orchid.” Oh, & his dad was there.

It feels like he played about ten songs for the encore, although it may have been substantially fewer. He did play “Quarantined,” (that was my request), and he played something that we’re not supposed to tell anybody he played. (bc Lockett will get mad, so that’s all I’m gonna say about that one!) He closed out with “Kid Klimax,” and then “Logos.”

I understand that Deerhunter is about to get busy w/ new projects again, including the opening slot on Spoon’s tour. That particular circus comes to our town on April 13 at the Fox in Oakland. You going?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Burning Bright

The Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger

If By Yes

Consortium Musicum

SF Noise Pop Festival

The Independent

San Francisco, CA

February 24, 2010

Sean Lennon is full of surprises, & this is a very good thing. I’m quite sure Sean can have a huge, commercial career in the music industry if he ever decides to want that. On the available evidence though, he’s much more interested & engaged in just playing with his friends in fluid, interchangeable band lineups. He played with each of the three nominal bands onstage at the Independent on Wednesday night. I couldn’t discern if any of them are actual, ongoing projects, or if this was a Just For Now kind of thing.

It didn’t really matter. Because, somewhat surprisingly, Sean Lennon actually fucking rocks. Best part of the night from my perspective at the edge of stage-left was the 20-minute Noise Improv Jam between Sean on (mostly) guitar & Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier on drums. Which just killed me.

After that was If By Yes, fronted by vocalist Petra Haden. Later still, Sean fronted the Ghost of the Saber Toothed Tiger. Both bands included all 3 members of Cornelius, & also Yuka Honda (all of whom had backed Yoko Ono the previous night).

Between songs, Sean is fey & deadpan & devastating with his foppish hair & his admiral overcoat. He’s Oscar Wilde w/electric guitar. He is hilarious & charming.

Sean’s playing is all butch, however. Make no mistake about that. He is confident, he’s aggressive. He plays raunchy, even when the song is sweet. Somehow he seems to make those disparate components fit into a single puzzle. I wasn’t the only one getting a thrill out of that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band

The Fox Theater
Oakland, CA
February 23, 2010

First off, I missed Deerhoof altogether due to initial delay, then traffic, weather, & plus their set was pretty short, so there was that disappointment. I don’t want to talk about that.

Happily, I thought Yoko & co were quite awesome, I really did. The backdrop animation loop during the setup, birds flying out from Yoko’s mouth w/chirping soundtrack, that was cool:

Then there was a little 15-min documentary film re: Yoko’s entire career as provocateuse & media manipulator. Quite a whirlwind tour, that: the scissors dress, the buttocks film, the Yes paintings, then Lennon, then crazy concerts, the bed-in, the hair peace, Grapefruit, John & Yoko’s actual naked sex, all so groovy, then the eyeglasses on the windowsill one lens caked in blood, fuck, Yoko & little Sean accepting the Grammy, the peace advocacy, the flashlights flashing I. Love. You.

So, wow.

& only then does this little 78-year-old lady in the tracksuit & the jaunty white hat strut out, exuding nothing so much as sweetness & lightness & utter lack of guile.

There was something so abjectly unaffected about her stage presence: sort of like there wasn’t actually any public persona there even as, of course, you know there so totally just is. Sort of like this was just your own old auntie come out to say hello, sing a few ditties & dance a brittle, fragile little dance. & the ditty & the dance just happening to consist of gorgeously-wretched staccato shrieking & wailing over a huge, brawny Funk groove. When has anything so patently odd as this ever felt so obvious & normal? & charming, hey!

It certainly helped that the core 5–piece band was a work of art unto itself. Our little Sean Lennon, he’s all grown up now & was very clearly in charge of the music, visibly cueing transitions in the long ensemble improvisations. Of which there were several.

Additional players wandered on & offstage, some rather exotic instrumentation was deployed. It got pretty capital-G Groovy at times, but it was sharp too. The playing was never mushy or lazy so the longish jams, when they happened, stayed interesting, focused & fun. Sean delivered several old-school style rock god guitar solos, & he did it w/conviction & w/credibility. I got pretty excited by it all &, I have to say, the crowd devoured it. Go figure.

left to right: sean, fly, nipple, yoko

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bend It.

A couple of free download tracks are circulating around the web from the new Morning Benders LP, Big Echo, due out on March 9. I'm getting kind of excited about that, & am attempting to get my hands on an advance copy even as we speak. So stay tuned for that! Meanwhile, this is a kewl video I found on the band's website:

Yours Truly Presents: The Morning Benders "Excuses" from Yours Truly on Vimeo.


New free download here from Broken Social Scene. I hear the new album is coming out in May.

BSS plays the Fillmore here in San Francisco on May 1, FYI.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I thought I should post at least a few tracks from this band, just to give a sense of the rather wide stylistic variety in play. I finally had to conclude that, to get the full range, you have to pretty much hear the whole album. There’s just an awful lot going on here.

Which then got me curious, & so I went hunting for a little info on these guys. Only to turn up actually not very much. Here’s a hint for you, though, if you go looking: what you’ll find is some references to Malakai, but now it’s evidently Malachai. It is the same band, so I can save you that step. My thought on that is if you’re a band, maybe you don’t want to go around changing the spelling of your name. I mean, if you want to get noticed. If you like, actually want people to find you on the internet. So I’ll just put that out there. But hear:

So. But the album is called Ugly Side of Love, & it’s pretty fun stuff I'm here to tell you. Rhythmically, there’s a lot of Right-Now-This-Minute going on, but texturally we’re in yet another facet of the Capital-R Retro realm that seems to keep on cropping up all over lately. So, e.g., hip-hop beats over Hammond organ. Or, then again, vice-versa: Because it totally depends on the song. So, in the alternative, it's sometimes the drum-slash-bass that connotes the old school, albeit juxtaposed w/samples spinning. Mash mash mash.

I definitely hear a lot of a nineteen-sixties flavor here, even if I can’t always seem to identify why exactly. The 1st track, “Warriors” did strike me as kind of a butched-up West Side Story kind of thing for a minute there. By the time I got to “Snowflake,” I was thinking Psychedelic, like as in Disraeli Gears or something. Which I’ll just go ahead & link to for the benefit of the youngsters in the house who have no independent recollection of E-major chords wielded like blunt hammers by so-stoned bad boys in creepy paisley silk. Yeah. Just let that settle in for a moment. Then hear this:

OK, but then, just when you think you have this band figured out, there are also all of these Trip-Hop-ish sort of Portishead-y bits.

Which I love. & so, I'll say that the segues from one song to another are frequently incongruous. Almost, sometimes, like listening to a mix tape but of course you’re not. & the common thread, to the extent there is one, is just this sort of broadly-sketched, um, trippiness.

Now, I can’t claim to have listened to any Sixties Psychedelic Music in recent memory (I could have done before writing this, if only I had actually wanted to, which I so didn't), but my recollection is that SPM (as I'll now call it) could never be nearly as sexy as it so obviously wanted to be. & why? Because the drumming (I am sorry) just didn’t swing. It marched. Lockstep. The critical difference here between then & the Then being referenced here now is, not surprisingly, the respective foundational rhythms. So here is Malachai re-imagining that earlier, simpler (yes, I am being ironic, hello?) time, but the maybe Key difference is that hip-hop has now occurred in the interim. &, antecedently, so has Funk. Not that this music is explicitly either, I'm not saying that. But the points of reference are well & clearly laid out. & Malachai swaggers hugely, right down the center of the aisle.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Done.

I spoke too soon about Sam Amidon: Monsieur Sam’s label finally got back to me after all, & w/a top-secret download code for the whole album. So I got it now. As anticipated, I See the Sign is an interesting collection of sort of re-imagined archaic-American music pieces. Folk songs. But not really.

Most of the songs on the album are credited as traditional, public domain, albeit “recomposed” by our Mr. A. Except, notably, for the R. Kelly cover (“Relief”), which believe it or not meshes pretty seamlessly with the extemporized ballads, hymns, shanties, & (I think) jump-rope rhymes here.

Sam’s arrangements are satisfyingly spare; he leaves a comfortable amount of breathing room around & w/in the songs. At the same time, his instrumentation draws from a fairly broad palette, adding narrative emphasis to the sung stories, & adding harmonic richness to the sometimes-skeletal melodies. There are some almost-lush string & woodwind textures here & there, surprisingly evocative of Aaron Copland, of all things. I didn’t expect that! Here’s why I think that’s interesting: Mr. A is actually straddling a couple of very different artistic traditions here.

On the one hand, he positions himself as a Folk practitioner. Which, to my understanding, makes him an inheritor of (mostly) oral traditions, a performer of songs handed down w/out clear provenance of authorship, & whose structure is collective, fluid, fairly open to interpretation.

On the other hand, “serious” (i.e., academically-trained) composers have their own longstanding “tradition” of helping themselves to the local, rustic musical dialect, extrapolating freely from it, & creating “high” Art.

Sam Amidon seems to me to engage in both of these realms, maybe w/out fully inhabiting either of them. So, is he the country mouse or the town mouse? The lack of an easy or comfortable answer to that question is, itself, reason to find this artist interesting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Man / Miracle

Can anybody really explain matters of the heart? I mean, hey, sometimes you just fall in love. Who can predict, who can explain? I have attempted for a couple of days now to talk myself out of it, try to maintain some modicum of bloggalistic objectivity or something. But, no: I have been completely 100% sold on this album right from my very 1st listen. Which as of now is, like, ten listens ago. All in the span of I think 3 days. Yeah. Compulsive, me. I truly cannot seem to help myself, I’m just that into it. So yes like I said: It’s Love.

Man/Miracle is the name of this local band. Or, excuse me, it’s: MAN/MIRACLE because these boys are evidently all about the ALL CAPS, as if the band name & song titles must ALWAYS BE SHOUTED or something. OK, but who cares right bc this here band is the goods. THE SHAPE OF THINGS is the name of their debut long-playing endeavor. Go ahead & shout it if you like, I’ll wait.

The band is, first off, crisp & sharp & tight. But not uptight. See, the collective rhythm chops are very solid, & the drumming in particular just exemplifies finesse. But. M/M will still go right ahead & cut loose sometimes w/the big raucous distortion feedback thing just because, Hey that’s fun. & then, they go ahead & change it up. & then change it up again, a new dynamic shift, a new time signature, a new stylistic reference, it’s quick & surprising & just relentlessly smart. (Kind of like the Minutemen, sometimes, if you can believe that (all pause & bow heads now)). A lot of the lead guitar parts are in a sort of spectacular quasi-Afropop mode, throwing down riffs that are simultaneously rhythmic & melodic. Oh, & gorgeous, I hasten to add. (I mean, since I’m in love & all.) Did I mention that it gives me a thrill.

Look, the whole musical package is just ebullient & fabulous & I really think you need to check it out. Go here first to listen, and then go ahead here for the buying part.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What About Sleigh Bells?

It seems a lot longer, but I guess it’s only been since October. At CMJ in NYC last year, there was evidently all manner of buzz re: this duo called Sleigh Bells. Consisting of this guy Derek Miller (ex-of hardcore band Poison the Well, currently now thrashing sometimes guitar sometimes drums) & lavishly tattooed schoolteacher Alexis Krauss (who sings), both sharing the stage with, I gather, an iPod and/or laptop or somesuch, loaded full of samples & tracks & all.

Anyway, Stereogum was all hot & bothered about Sleigh Bells at the time, I saw a little sidebar writeup in the New Yorker of all places, discussions ensued. There was, you know, hype. There were (& remain) four recorded Sleigh Bells tracks readily available on the internet, each offering a wee taste of the various directions this nascent band might head if it ever became a going concern. Post-initial buzz, the trajectory of responses followed the familiar bell curve: (1) Intrigue (2) Backlash (3) Apathy. It was lightning quick. But I thought their stuff showed some promise, & I was curious.

Meanwhile, is the other shoe still ever going perhaps to drop? It looks like they’re playing gigs still (including the opening slot on the Yeasayer tour), but no album out yet. From time to time, I wonder & wait re: Sleigh Bells. You can still hear the original four tracks on Myspace.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bring the Noise

2nd Thoughts Dept.: OK, I shouldn’t ought to have been so harsh & reductive talking about MBV wannabes the other day. That wasn’t nice. I mean, I have a deep & abiding affection for that kind of dense, distortion-slash-reverb guitar Noise. It’s nice to find it wherever it can be found. e.g., I was listening to No Age this a.m. in the car. It was loud & it was luscious & it made me very happy.

This kind of music is, for me on a good day, downright liturgical. It’s transcendent, it’s transcendental. Uh, it takes me outside of myself. To where my brain can finally shut the fuck up & there is only Sensory Experience. Like floating in the warm ocean at night & it’s nothing but the stars, the stars.

Heh. OK, so I’m exaggerating a little. I mean, I still managed to keep on driving & all during my own personal little rapture there. So. But anyway, there is a certain mode of music-making that (for me personally) is the alchemical real deal, the metamorphic whole greater than the sum of its parts. There are a lot of practitioners in this mode, particularly along the ostensible “rock” end of the musical spectrum. (Not to give short shrift to the more “serious” composers like Glenn Branca, La Monte Young --badass motherfuckers in their own right.) I tend to think they’re all chasing sort of the same thing, something that is elusive, not at all easy to define. Something transformative. It’s like there’s a point of stillness somewhere inside of the chaos, the noise.

I can’t ever seem to explain why this kind of thing makes me so damn happy, but it really really does.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sam (I) Am.

So, here's this guy Sam Amidon. He does like a Folk Revival kind of thing that wouldn’t necessarily find its way onto my radar. You know: banjo, Irish fiddle, “traditional” music re-iterated, that sort of deal.

Anyhoo, this here Mr. SamAm has got a new album coming out in March, & I’m quite intrigued about it, solely on the basis of this one song that’s circulating now, called “How Come That Blood.”


<a href="">How Come That Blood by Sam Amidon</a>

We’ve got a syncopated rhythmic foundation here, sort of gently percussive, but also sort of droning. What sounds, at first, a bit loopish to me is probably just quick arpeggios on (I‘m guessing) a mandolin? & then shortly there’s violin, though pretty clearly not in any real sort of “fiddle” mode. & then as things progress we get some rumbly bass synthesizering, right? Overall, it gives off a sort of electronica vibe that, on closer listen, isn’t actually there after all. Suffice to say that, musically, it’s a bastard stepchild, pretty far afield of any Folk paradigm of which I’m aware.

All of which just does a great job of (a) catching my interest, and (b) reeling me in. & then I’m all defenseless against the truly dark & creepy lyric re: some kind of brutal fratricide, made all the more chilling via its deadpan delivery. Is it just me, or is this some haunting shit?

& plus, I had no idea if this was, given Samamidon’s pedigree, an actual “Traditional” song (which I sort of doubted, right?), or just made up to sound like one. Shows what I know. Turns out this song has been making people’s skin crawl for, like, a hundred years.

Anyway, I won’t further embarrass myself trying to actually identify the (to my ears) countrified vernacular in use here. But we are clearly in an unfamiliar territory, linguistically speaking, right out of the gate. The lyric is as ostentatiously archaic as the music is self-consciously contemporary. Which makes for just the sort of cognitive dissonance sure to make my pulse race every damn time.

Meanwhile, the singsong, repetitive structure might be reassuring, soothing even, in another context less preoccupied with, um, blood. It only takes a minute & ½ of obfuscation before our narrator owns up: “It is the blood of my / Own dear brother / Whom lately / I have slain.” I get some chills there, I don’t mind telling.

Anyway, that’s the one song we can hear for now. I did try to obtain an early listen to some more of the album, & I got a very courteous email from Mr. Sam himself, who (alas) directed me to inquire directly to his label. Who then ignored me altogether big surprise, so no advance copy for me. March 1 is when I See The Sign comes out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Speaking of nuevo iterations of the old Girl Group trope, there’s this band out of L.A. (well, Hollywood actually, I think) right now called Warpaint.

Knowing exactly nothing about the band, I came across this song of theirs called “Elephants,” & I rather liked it & listened to it for a couple of days. I liked the simple guitar figure & its rounded tone, I liked the way a new processing effect got thrown on the vocal every verse or so, I liked the random tempo changes.

Anyway, Warpaint turns out to be like a chick band kind of thing, their original drummer evidently having departed on account of her abject hotness impelled further pursuit of being a model or actress or some such. So that’s the backstory there. Warpaint has an EP out, called Exquisite Corpse, and it’s pretty good.