Monday, June 26, 2006

addendum: Band of Horses live

So last night I saw Band of Horses perform (my first live show in a while; remind me to talk about M. Ward and Parts & Labor sometime soon), mostly because a friend of mine wanted to see them and I was desperate to clear my brain from my soul-killing temp job (different blog, different entry). About bland openers Mt. Egypt and The Can't Sees, the less said the better.

After the between-set pause, suddenly the speakers stopped playing between-set filler (in this case, some kind of heinously bland funk-jam filler) and, at obscene value, started blasting "The Break-Up," one of the awesomely funny skits from T.I.'s new album ("Bitch, your hair look like a dirty tennis ball!"). The skit had nothing to do with anything; they obviously thought it was just funny. Well, so do I. The crowd was confused, not to mention in pain from the jacked-up volume, but I was pleased: if me and Band of Horses have T.I. in common, maybe we can get along after all.

They emerged to the strains of "What You Know," sat down, and got to it. Upbeat, rock-oriented songs ("Weed Party," "The Great Salt Lake") fared better than slower stuff, clarifying for me what I should cut from my iPod (even more so because live, Band of Horses don't deviate at all from the recordings, boosting the drums a token bit but otherwise leaving everything intact). Live presence is solid; lead singer Ben Bridwell has the understated grinning Southern charm thing down (though Kalefa Sanneh's observation about the Bowery Ballroom set that "No doubt some fans were wondering why he seemed so cheerful, and whether he had any more" seems an equal contributing factor), perfectly willing to actually listen to what the crowd says and talk back. The one new song they played as a full band was a massive leap forward; it had more than 3 chord changes, it moved more interestingly, etc. Between geniality and the potential of the new song, I'm willing to cut these guys some slack. For now.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

new stuff, way late: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Band of Horses, Belle & Sebastian

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones - Not a whole lot to say about this. Once upon a time, there was a much-hyped band from Brooklyn that MTV2 quickly discovered; then they played "Maps" over and over, and I was forced to admit that — despite Karen O being kinda scary, and despite the fact that I once heard them perform the most obnoxious song in the entire world on the radio once ("Art Star") — there might be something to these guys. But I still preferred Ada's cover of "Maps" to the real thing, and I never bothered to listen to Fever To Tell. Theoretically, a more "mature," "restrained," YYYs - to pluck from the most-repeated adjectives describing their follow-up to fame - would be right up my melodically-oriented alley (some days I think I'm just an MOR fan poorly disguised), but in practice they're kind of...OK. Whatever the spark is that separates competent, workmanlike indie rock from the masses is missing here; all perfectly pleasant, and "Turn Into" - the obligatory stab at a warm, forgiving album closer that has nice C-Major chords and lyrics ("I know what I know") that sound kind of generically healing - will make my Best of 2006 compilation if nothing better shows up, Maybe I'm old and brave enough to appreciate their previous spazziness now, though Ada still owns them any day.

Band of Horses, Everything All The Time - Or maybe just (You Can Fool) Everyone All The Time. There's different levels of response to music, and the biggest rise Band of Horses can get out of me is a slow stoner head-nod; their music plods dutifully, making the band name sadly appropriate, running through familiar chord changes and providing all the pleasures of nonconfrontational familiarity. That'll only work for me if you're peddling sunshine-y pop though; I'm not big on this kind of '70s-oriented, guitar-heavy work. A lot of reviews seem to be fixated on the fact that the sound is "big" (i.e., reverb-heavy), but I'm not at all sure how that's impressive in a post-Built-To-Spill age: after hearing that kind of massive, loud and complex guitar interplay, Band of Horses' ringing power chords aren't all that. (I have to give props to "The Funeral" though, which has inexplicably gotten stuck in my head. I guess it's something to do with my increasing awareness of mortality. Or something)

Band of Horses was the first band I've heard all year that I came to completely cold; every other new CD was the work of someone I'd heard before to some extent (even Neko Case, on the admittedly slim qualifier of her work with the New Pornographers). So kudos to me, I guess, for finally breaking out of my insular little world; shame about the underwhelming results. What's happening, I guess, is that all the bands that were new and exciting and changing the world when I was in high school have now survived and hung on and matured, and now it's possible to be kept busy just by new releases from old favorites, which to someone my age means any band formed even as late as 2001. And when I hear stuff like this, it's hard to explain to me why I shouldn't just stick to new Strokes and Radiohead albums. I feel like an old fogey...already.

Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit - I've had a vendetta against producer Tony Hoffer for a while now. This has little to do with his work on stuff I like (which is actually a lot: Midnite Vultures, 10,000 Hz Legend, mixing duties on Set Yourself On Fire) and everything to do with one of the most flat-out ass-boring albums I've heard in the last 5 years (or, more simply, since I started listening to pop). The horrifically misguided sophomore Turin Brakes album Ether Song transformed an inoffensive, placid Brit-band into an overblown monstrosity whose banal lyrical sentiments (the song title "Full of Stars" says it all) were actually more offensive than Coldplay's, simply because the music was duller. And they were enabled at every turn by the grandiose embellishments of Hoffer, who appeared to think that over-production and linking every goddamn song (all of them bummers about Life and Love and etc.) together without pause would transform Ether Song into the new Skylarking. Rarely have I hated an album more.

So I'm holding Hoffer directly responsible for everything wrong with The Life Pursuit, which contains some of B&S's best songs yet combined with some throughly reprehensible production. It's as if, after the crystalline make-over Trevor Horn gave Dear Catastrophe Waitress, B&S were suddenly worried that their music would lose something in translation if broadcast on AM radio, and decided to make it all sound murky beforehand just in case. Mission accomplished. Nor am I sure who thought it was a good idea to load the whole record down with annoying '80s synthesizers, the kind I had access to on my cheap birthday-gift keyboard as a 6-year-old; is this irony, or someone's idea of a good "quirky" touch? Things spiral out-of-hand when the songwriting gets dodgy too; "We Are The Sleepyheads" is hyperactive Orange Juice, followed by the even worse "Song For Sunshine," suggesting some kind of rejected '80s sitcom theme, or maybe Dave Grusin taking a stab at '80s radio play. Either way, it's the most left-field white-boy experiment in black pastiche since Fountains of Wayne cursed "Halley's Waitress." Except I liked that song.

Bitching aside: the rest of the album is excellent. After a while, I came to terms with the production (just as with David Kahne's work with the Strokes earlier this year). "Another Sunny Day" is as jangly as anything '80s and Scottish, "White Collar Boy" continues the tradition of sounding innocuous while singing about theft, sexual insecurities, etc., "The Blues Are Still Blue" captures the collegiate mindset perfectly ("She wants to write a thesis on the population underprivileged") while punning on its title, which turns out to be about laundry (even while they get to use bluesy cowbell, which I'm sure has been Stuart Murdoch's longstanding dream for years now), and so on and so on. I'm officially a B&S fan now, I guess, though I'm all in favor of this new aggression and sunniness of theirs; it balances out melancholy like "Dress Up In You" so well. Old-school fans, of course, will continue to request that I dislodge my head from my ass.