Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good Morning.

The Morning Benders
The Independent
San Francisco, CA
March 30, 2010

If so inclined, one could find reasons to quibble. i.e., the set was barely an hour long, consisting essentially of the Big Echo album, w/song order shuffled. No encore either, it was pretty much wham-bam thx & goodnight.

Honestly though: it was a great show, & it was a good hour later before I even thought to get critical like that. The Morning Benders have quickly matured into a very sharp & very satisfying live band. Still centered around the original & efficient trio, they’re currently touring as a 5-piece. The new songs, so richly & lushly produced on the album, were fleshed out beautifully onstage. All of the playing was fresh, exuberant, totally fun.

Of course, this was something of a triumphant return: the album is a big hit (in indie terms), the tour has been selling out left & right, NY, LA, & SXSW all went well, Hey life is looking good for the Morning Benders. This hometown show was all sold out, & the mood appropriately festive.

As per my usual preference, I stood right up in front of the stage. That put me amidst all the girls, sighing & fawning all gaga for Chris Chu. What a heart-throb, what a dreamboat. Which ought not to suggest that Chris is just a pretty face, no way that. He is waifish & mignon, yes, but he’s also a man all in charge of his destiny. The sweetness is there but it’s plenty balanced; there were portions of actual ferocity. It’s a rock & roll band, after all.

& I have commented before about Julian Harmon’s drumming, of which I am an unreserved fan. But I’m not certain I’ve ever been fully appreciative of Tim Or’s bass playing. Like every truly great bassist, Tim’s grapple against those unwieldy blocks of sound is undertaken w/grace, w/fluidity. He constantly does difficult things & he makes them all look inevitable.

The closing number was “Excuses,” accompanied by a string trio & members of both opening bands. I think I counted thirteen people on the Indy’s little stage. Nicely done, that.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Video by the Gossip.

I love this band. The current tour brings them back to San Francisco (again, already!). April 19 at the Regency Ballroom.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Holy Fuck.

Holy Fuck.

That’s the band name, it’s Holy Fuck. OK, I’ve said it three times now I won’t belabor it. (Yeah, not much!) Not every band has a central conceit but this one here evidently does, which is as follows: they make electronic music, but not by the “usual” methods. & so, the typical tools –the sampling, the looping, the programming, & cetera– are actually not among the key ingredients here.

On first listen, you may find that surprising. Because, texturally, this music does sound pretty-well synthesized. & even rhythmically, you’ll hear a kind-of-a-sort-of-a mechanized groove. But. Not so fast bc something else is going on here, which entails a degree of looseness, of –I don’t know– warmth or something. & sweat. Not incidentally, you’ll perhaps notice the drumming. Which is not performed by coded lines of software, but rather by human arms & hands holding wooden sticks. Sticks, I say! (Also, I understand that HF deploys old analog instruments, non-musical noisemakers, & sometimes toys.)

It’s a kind of a balancing act, this music made by humans, yet all dressed up to sound like it’s made by machines. The new album’s (probably-incongruous) title is Latin, & it is set for release on May 11. Holy Fuck’s management has thus far ignored my polite request for an advance listen, but sometimes these things do work out. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, download the advance track here:

HF - Latin America (mp3)

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Lykke Li Video

You probably already know about Lykke Li, yeah? 24-year-old Swedish singer, her debut album Youth Novels drew some attention in 2008. She played Coachella last year. She's got a cool name. Anyway, "Possibility" is the first bit of the new album that, I gather is still in progress & has no official release date targeted yet.


Go, go.

Check this: “All around and Away We Go” is an early leak from Twin Sister’s upcoming mini-album on Infinite Best Recordings, to be called Color Your Life. Once again, this is a band that delights in coloring outside the lines.

OK, so I get now that I should expect to be surprised by Twin Sister, but still: I did not anticipate this post-proto-disco-techno vamp référant w/the airy-sexy vocal. & after getting my sea legs on that, I certainly did not expect the little feedback interlude at ~2:20, punctuated incongruously by what I had already sussed was not some stranger’s errant ringtone. That 22 seconds of ambient whisper at the ending ices the cake nicely, nicely.

You just may have heard it first here:

TS All Around & Away We Go (mp3)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

oh. MAN.

I notice that my mp3 software (pointedly-unnamed, right, bc what am I: some kind of corporate endorser?) has a Play Count indicator. It’s no big deal I’m sure yours does, too. My point is I’m seeing that I’ve now played that MAN/MIRACLE album over 50 times since I wrote my valentine to the band last month. Which I’ll just go ahead & tell you works out to one-plus times per day.

It has not grown old, it has not grown thin. This is a little surprising to me, if only because THE SHAPE OF THINGS was so immediately fun from the very first listen. Look, I’m not proud of being a snob but here’s the truth: when music is that catchy, is that suddenly enjoyable, it usually tends to mean there’s not a lot of depth there. It’s a trade-off. The music that does keep on yielding new surprises long after you think you’ve got it is –often– the stuff that took a little time to get into in the first place.

M/M has not seemed to work that way, though. I loved it right away. I did. I thought it was poppy but edgy & very catchy & just fun as all hell. I keep on listening though, & my appreciation continues to broaden & to deepen. This I had not anticipated.

One thing (among many) I’m really into right now today is the way that “ALWAYS, JUST” deviates so far afield of the tight, sharp paradigm of this album into a noisy monolith of monster chord feedback & crash cymbal, only to whip right back to tasty, arpeggiated “BACK OF THE CARD.” Which, in turn, itself see-saws from high-hat sophistication back again to a raucous, chaotic wash. But don't start there if you're still new to this band. Start with, e.g., "UP":

M/M are currently opening for Rogue Wave, on a sort of Western tour that culminates at the Fillmore on April 30. I will predict that, some time later, you will want to be able to say you saw them way back when.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is the name of yet another southern California band of ladies, very young & plainly very talented. Something About the Chaparrals is the title of their 4-song EP. Initially released, anachonistically, as a 12-inch which then promptly sold out. (I do realize this is like the current hip thing now, but teenage bands in 2010 making actual, vinyl records? Odd!) Anyway, you can download it all for 4 bucks & I think it's pretty cool stuff.

"Luv Goon" is the song that's been circulating for a little while already on the web. It's nicely exuberant & sunny, w/close harmonies & a perky, sliding bassline. I won't link to the other songs, since there's so few of them, but there is some healthy stylistic range here. I like "High Road," which is kind of trippy/dreamy, almost spooky in a way that reminded me of Warpaint.

There's more info about the band here, here, and of course here.


Luv Goon PH (mp3)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sister, Sister

First off I’ll just go ahead & ask, rhetorically, how anybody could not love this album cover.

Vampires with Dreaming Kids is a 4-song EP from NYC band Twin Sister. Some very interesting, very quirky songs here, & the band’s website makes a lot more material available for quick & easy download. So check that out.

I enjoy Twin Sister quite a bit. These are Pop songs, yes, but they are (& this is definitely a Plus) highly-imperfect ones. As with a lot of young(ish) bands, one can’t reliably discern whether they’re deliberately flouting the conventions, or simply missing the mark. Either way, the net effect here is novel, delightful. The songs are clever & surprising.

e.g., “I Want a House” starts out murky & plodding, only to shimmer inexorably up & out from the gloom. By two minutes in, the song is nothing but sunshine, floating & bouncing, daring you not to turn cartwheels.

download here:

TS - I Want a House (mp3)

New EP From Jetpacks

A new 5-song EP from We Were Promised Jetpacks comes out tomorrow. Two of the songs are remixes of stuff that’s already out on last year’s LP, but I’m not complaining. I’ve got a hunger for this band right now, so any little snack is welcome. It’s been like two weeks since I saw the Jetpacks show in SF, & that night has just continued to haunt me. It was over far too soon, & I’m still ready for more.

Download here:

WWPJ - A Far Cry (mp3)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Big Echo

When I first got myself all excited about the new Morning Benders album, I had heard only one song, “Promises.” I just immediately loved the start/stop rhythm, the interstitial beer bottle percussion, the breathy verse vocals, the sudden belting of the chorus. I loved the dense layering of sounds. All of that. I loved.

To be perfectly candid, I was not so automatically sold on the rest of the album when I first heard it. I’ve come around now, but initially this record didn’t always make sense to me. The songs here are very Pop; they’re plainly solid & satisfying, yes, but the production choices are not obvious ones. & so at first I was confused. See, there’s real subtlety and complexity to Big Echo; this album wants repeated listens. & it dispenses its rewards patiently.

First, the Morning Benders are having like a crush on 1960's Phil Spector. You’ll get right away that this is a wall-of-sound-type of production: the instrumentation is piled on baroquely, there’s enormous reverb throughout (hence the name, right?). Not to suggest that this is a historical re-enactment project (see, e.g.,
Gigi). No, this is a new thing all its own.

Significantly, the hierarchy of sounds in the mix here is dynamic, not static. Meaning: usually when you listen to a song, you’re basically instructed by the mix what to hear as foreground & what’s supposed to be background. There are “lead” instrument(s) placed in relief, & then other, “supporting” elements more or less behind & underneath. Probably too often, those production choices are driven by convention. i.e., You typically expect to hear the vocal out front & the bass behind &, by golly, that’s what you usually get fed.

Not so, here. On Big Echo, that hierarchy is a fluid thing. You don’t always get to settle in lazily & hear these songs the way you think you oughtta. bc the M. Benders feel strongly that what needs to be at the forefront of your attention right now might be, e.g., the rattling, reverbed tambourine jinglers (“Pleasure Sighs” @ ~1:07), or the swizzling ride cymbal (“Mason Jar” @ ~2:10), or even just a handful or two of disembodied distortion fuzz (like, all over). Meanwhile, the expected “lead” instruments (e.g., the guitar, the voice) wander in & out of the foreground, following an aesthetic logic that is sure-handed but unapologetic to (y)our expectations.

For any number of bands, this approach to the recording & production would be all
de rigeur, right? I mean, if a band telegraphs itself as capital-E Experimental, then we know in advance to expect the unexpected. Our minds are open before we even press Play. But where, as here, the song-writing is so Poppy-peppy, we might anticipate easing into something more conventional. Well, I did anyway. & so I found myself a bit at sea, at first. Yet it was the ineffable charm of the songs themselves that kept me coming back for more listens. & now that I’ve spent some time with it, I am genuinely a fan of the Morning Benders, and of this fascinating album.

Big Echo
comes out officially on March 9, & I think buying it is a very good idea. For the next few days though, you can stream the whole album right here:

The Morning Benders are a local band, if you didn't know. They are touring nationally even as we speak, & will stop in to play the Independent on March 30. Meanwhile, you can always check them out here.