Thursday, October 18, 2007

Indie 500

News, as promised:

Thanks to House Next Door editor and all-round nice guy Keith Uhlich, I'm now on board as a biweekly music blogger. The format's a little different — gotta explain who some bands are for the folks at home, as opposed to just spouting off whatever I think here without context — but hopefully nothing too jarring for you, my 4 fans. I'll be posting links here regularly, as well as some other stuff (best-of mixes, some housecleaning, etc.), so no worries about this disappearing. Here's to a bigger audience, fame, fortune, free-lance fees, etc. (No, I'm not getting paid, but it's more than worth it for the increased exposure.) The title is a nod to that fine Wrens song; this week's bands are Emma Pollock, UGK, Fiery Furnaces and (blast from the past) Superdrag.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

more house-cleaning: Apples In Stereo, Arcade Fire

A little more house-cleaning, big news soon etc.:

The Apples In Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder - The first time I've checked in with the band since 1998's Tone Soul Evolution - a listening choice semi-reluctantly foisted upon me by an ex-girlfriend that proved about 2/3 solid. Still, I could never escape the sense that the AIS are the most pastiche-ridden band out there: Robert Schneider always seems more excited by the option of perfectly recreating a particular pop mode than in giving it a new gloss or tweaking it even in the slightest. Seems like hypocrisy on my part, I know (I'm the man who's enthusiastically endorsing The Broken West; what can I say, that sound appeals to me more than this), but it's just not exciting. Here as before, Schneider's at his best in either full on excitable-puppy-dog mode (perfect opener "Can You Feel It?") or inexplicably melancholy ("Play Tough," "7 Stars"). The rest of the time, something always seems to be missing: see "Open Eyes," a would be 5-minute epic stranded somewhere between The Verve's histrionic psychedelic guitars and large string arrangements and the coke-addled sneer of latter-day Oasis. Plenty to enjoy here, but little that sticks in the mind; it all sounds too familiar.

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible - I'm gonna come right out and say it: Arcade Fire are the Coldplay of indie rock, which is not intended as the diss it probably sounds like (remember, I like Coldplay). Seriously, listen to the opening minute of "No Cars Go" and tell me how it's substantively different from the riff or execution of "Talk." Add to this a proclivity to think of emotional gut impact as more important than melodicism and pretty terrible lyrics (Chris Martin is a thousand times worse, but "Mirror mirror on the wall/show me where the bombs will fall" isn't far behind), and welcome to the most "inspiring" band of the mid-decade. As a band, Arcade Fire remain uniquely talented: they have a ferocious unified attack and distinct approach to instrumentation that understands how to integrate, say, a trumpet into a song and make it sound as natural as a guitar line. Another plus: "Intervention" is basically a gimmick, mixing an acoustic guitar to the same volume level as a church organ, but the song is solid enough to transcend gimmickry. They're not bad, really they're not, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with. But they're also not a fully developed band, as many people seem to be convinced: they're a band with potential, one that needs to think more about hooks and less about repeating the same riffs over and over with increasing volume in the hope that energy will be generated, and definitely one that needs to lay off the overly-emo lyrics. Like everyone else, I've heard these guys have a shitkicking live show; I can't afford to find out, unless someone wants to make a PayPal donation.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

catch-up: T.I., Ola Podrida, Fujiya & Miyagi

A little housekeeping on this backlog I have...I basically stopped listening to anything but Sky Blue Sky and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga for the last month, so new listening has been slow. There's gonna be a few more updates relatively quick to take care of it, for reasons to be explained in a few weeks, at which time I will hopefully have a much bigger venue. Anyway.

T.I. T.I. Vs. T.I.P. - It's not that bad, really. A sequencing nightmare, T.I. Vs. T.I.P. aspires, in its own sloppy way, to be rap's own Quadrophenia, or something like that. Act I ("T.I.P.") is a bit of a mess: typically catchy songs like "Da Dopeman" can't conceal the fact that T.I.'s bravado is stumbling lyrically for new ways to express itself, resorting more than ever to blunt threats. It also has the only truly insufferable song: "Watch What You Say To Me," which has the double pain of another awful late-period Jay-Z verse and an incredibly annoying, drawled out hook: it sounds like a cough syrup fiend trying to rouse himself out of a stupor long enough to find his gun. But "Act II" is a barnburner, kicking off with "Help Is Coming," a typically immaculate Just Blaze production that finds a massive cathedral organ and exciting drum programming making up the year's biggest sounding rap song (theory: rap is the new Dave Fridmann in terms of booming, epic songs). There's also two unexpectedly decent contributions from presumably played out sources: potentially cheesy dance-crossover "Show It To Me" gets a revved-up Nelly verse. Even more interesting is "Touchdown," an Eminem-produced track that has to be some kind of perverse joke: "Southern boys love that bass," he notes, but there's almost none. It's tinny and snide, and Eminem pulls out his first decent verse in three years. Keenly aware that he's no longer the shocking center of attention, he envisions himself killing people inadvertently, bodies flying like krump dancers off his car as he's trying to drive; he just can't help it. Act III is a bit of an anti-climax, but T.I. remains the finest in pop-oriented rap.

Ola Podrida, Ola Podrida - Instigator David Wingo has done time composing scores for David Gordon Green, and it shows: Ola Podrida's debut has the kind of hazy ambience that begs to be accompanied by flare-smeared frames of woozy languor. Opener "The New Science" is a quiet stunner, its slowly-rising organ and gentle vocals conjuring up heartbreak and reconciliation as vividly as All The Real Girls. It's all a bit downhill from there, or at least just more of the same: song titles like "Pour Me Another" tell pretty much the whole story. Unlike a fellow traveler like M. Ward (or maybe like a Southern Elliott Smith without the anger), Wingo doesn't really have the range to pull off a whole album of this stuff: his songs sound like 11 variations on the same theme (pour me another indeed), avoiding bold chord changes, loud instrumentation (I can hear some trumpets pushed way to the back of "Instead," but they're even quieter than the glockenspiel), or anything rising above the energy level of a drunk late-night singalong. A debut well worth checking out, but if you're not sympathetic, it might sound like a slightly lo-fi version of Starbucks music. Check out that opener and "Photo Booth," though.

Fujiya & Miyagi, Transparent Things - I don't have much to add to my Pitchfork write-up. Without the live goofiness (which helps; it makes the record seem much less austere than it might otherwise come off), F&M prove to be really good at a kind of music I don't listen to much: krautrock without the droning boredom, lush synth passages breaking up the minimalistic rhythms. Another 3-spin record: the grooves don't really open up much on repeat listens, but quite good all the same.