30 April 2009

Album Review: Years - Years

I consider myself one of a lucky few, and not just because of how pretentious I am--I listened to Years far ahead of its scheduled release date of May 5th. But I am redundant. Watch as I posture breathlessly about this indie-cum-experimental-cum-Dntel (because Jimmy Tamborello takes a category for himself) "masterwork." I promise to call it a masterwork at one point.

When I was debating whether or not to pick up this CD by Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think multi-instrumentalist Ohad Benchetrit, I was worried. Ohad never really made himself known to me, and I knew Do Make Say Think's reputation--slow movements, high crescendos, sometimes dull. Was I ready for an intelligent snoozefest?

I wasn't, which was fortunate, since Years is no sleep inducer. It's a magical, emotional post-rock masterwork. BSS and Do Make Say Think fans look elsewhere; this is not Ibi Dreams of Pavement or Almost Crimes, nor is it even related to Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead. Years is a guitar plucked and kneaded by nimble hands, in parts chopped up and down with a staccato knife and others angelic like a swan. This is a tome of sense and sense decayed, of times past and present.

If Broken Social Scene is baroque pop, then Years is baroque post-rock. All the most eccentric aspects of BSS are pulled together and introduced with new elements. All semblance of pop normalcy goes out the window when you hear album opener "Kids Toy Love Affair," a nearly neurotic orchestral combination that start starts with airborne woodwinds and flighty guitar strings pressed in punches. But even this serene yet puzzling arrangement is injected with a symphony of horns and nervous violins. The elements crowd together and crow with tension and the illusion of resolve. For an album opener, its as out there as "Clap Your Hands!" on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but here it makes as much sense for totally different reason--this is the song that sails away from the port and tells you that your journey will not be in the standard format.

Years escapes most definitions of music, so it must be content to be called post-rock. It's not acoustic, although much of the album makes use of decidedly un-electric guitars. "Binary Blues" is You Forgot It In People it it was produced by Dntel coming hot off of Life Is Full of Possibilities, and "Are You Unloved?" The Glow, Part 2 the same way. Other parts veer off into wild, unexpected nooks and crannies, like the heartbreakingly subtle "Hey Cancer...Fuck You!" as it captures all the mood swings and chaos of a catastrophe even as the rhythm never deviates from its prescribed path. The fugues of "September 5. October 21. 2007" and "44" are about as experimental as an artist can swing without veering into crazy country.

On the other hand, Years quotes classic Broken Social Scene and proceeds to demonstrate why those hipster Canadians are so damn popular. "The Major Lift" is almost certainly inspired by "Canada vs. America" from their E.P. To Be You and Me, with its frantic horn calls and indecisive strings fractured by hi-hat stutters stolen from The Flashbulb, who's looked for them in his sock drawer twice by now. And I'd be damned if the horns (again with the horns!) that soliloquize in "Are You Unloved?" didn't take a leaf out of Feel Good Lost. "A Thousand times a Day (Someone Is Flying)" probably learned how to put that tremolo on its guitars by listening to "It's All Gonna Break."

Maybe I'm just seeing Broken Social Scene in Years where there is none. But some of the cues and references are spot-on, and in a collection of music as diverse and tangent as Years, it can't be just a coincidence. I refuse to believe it. And you know what? I'm happy with that. Years is loaded with emotion and nostalgia, and it'll be a delight both for fans of Broken Social Scene and people who obsessively listen to... well... I'm not sure. How does on classify the human heart set to music?

25 April 2009

Just Tweeted: Secret Mini Tigers Show

Per Ben Collins of Modern Art Records, or @moderncollins in tweetspeak, Phoenician big timers Miniature Tigers will play a "secret" show at Last Exit in Tempe tonight as a warm-up for their upcoming tour with Kevin Devine, which does not include a stop in AZ. Catch the boys at 8 p.m. sharp!

The Valley Tonight: Mates of State, Bandwagon III, The Real Coachella

I'll go out on a limb and suppose that you're neither one of the many attending McDowell Mountain Music Festival, with a lineup boasting The Flaming Lips, nor did you venture to Indio for Stagecoach. So you're probably looking for something awesome to do tonight that has nothing to do with confetti or traveling to California. Worry not. I think I can help.

- Mates of State, Black Kids, Judgment Day at The Clubhouse, $17, doors at 7:30PM. Dance party. Need I write more?

- Bandwagon III at Modified Arts, $8, doors at 4:30PM. You get a sweet wristband that'll get you discounts at Lost Leaf and Carly's Bistro. Featuring Courtney Marie Andrews, Dry River Yacht Club, Blaze favorites Gospel Claws, In Symmetry, Sister Cities, So And So, Towncraft (if you go, do not miss this band while you enjoy your Lost Leaf discount), plus Underscore Orkestra.

- The Real Coachella at The Trunk Space, $5, doors at 6 p.m. Featuring Pinata Party, Miss Maney Result, Stephen Steinbrink, The Johnsons, Nerd Love, Slackers Agenda Orchestra, The Big Funny, "Paul McCartney," Logan Greene & The Bricks, Mooey Moobau (CA), Skinwalkers, Nightwolf's Tribute to Glen Danzig, JJCNV, Ray Reeves, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Father's Day

Album Review: Bishop Allen - Grrr...

Bishop Allen makes that kind of indie pop that's chirpy and adorable. Not eccentric enough to be comparable to Architecture in Helsinki or Belle and Sebastian (and certainly not as populous either with only two steady band members--seven other musicians assist the duo), Bishop is Allen is kind of like a tropical version of The New Pornographers à la Challengers.

If there's anything one can be sure of, it's that Grrr... by Bisop Allen sounds organic. The atmosphere is minimal, with every instrument ringing out in its own little space. It's reassuring to know that catchy indie pop can sound professionally recorded without becoming (too much). The background chorus on "Shanghaied" sounds fun and passionate, and listening to them I realized what Bishop Allen is about. They're that kind of indie band, the happy-go-lucky, always cheery, a little bit cheeky, taking The New Pornographers (and with them all the adventurous parts) and cranking the cute factor up to 11. Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, who front the band, could not have planned it any other way. They make no effort to remove themselves from the record, on every track leaving imprints of themselves--Justin Rice's vocal impurities (not enough to be called gravelly but audibly dirtier than James Mercer's), the distant clicking of drumsticks in opener "Dimmer", the hum of the guitar amp in "Oklahoma." This is art that was crafted out of love. The problem is that it sounds soulless.

Wait, what? How can a love-inspired collection of cute little bits be just the opposite? What is this madness I write? Is Jell-o now cake? Is George W. Bush a Hindu? Am I a teacup, short and stout?

Fear not. Bishop Allen is a band that justifies the existence of the likes of Times New Viking and Women, bands that despite such clean production are listenable because the emotions they produce don't sound like they were produced in a clean room. It strikes me as I hear the "distortion guitar" on the song "South China Moon." It produces none of the feedback expected and none of the impact it should. I don't slight just the production values. It's the realization that music is fun to listen to, and that's really it. The lyrics are passable and so wrapped up in the intricacies of relationships that they never involve me. Lovely phrases bounce around here and there, but I wish they meant something.

I have no doubt that Bishop Allen is a band whose members love what they do, but I wish they would make more than a pretty picture.

24 April 2009

piles o' promos, part the first

Robert Christgau, I am so, so sorry. 

Junior Boys: Begone Dull Care
-Blips and bleeps cross paths with sterile crooning. Seduction music for young upwardly mobile robots. 

White Rabbits: It's Frightening
-Case number umpteen of "Indie Rock" circa-Spoon, but hey, they sound really into it this time. Still, I kept waiting and waiting for a horn section to come in. A name like "Rudie Falls" practically begs it.  

Silversun Pickups: Swoon
-Well-meaning shoegaze drowns in a vat of post-grunge gloss. Goes down smooth with a dose of high school drama.

Experimental Dental School: Forest Field 
-Deerhoof and Braniac have a baby. It soon dismantles its crib and uses the parts to build a noisy, yet efficient, spaceship. It barely breaches the troposphere, but it was a solid try. 

[impromptu rating system, reflecting a clear regression back to junior high.]

(;_;)  (>_>)  (~_~)  (=_=)  <-  (-_-)  ->  (|_|)  (+v+)  (!u!)  (^U^)  (&____&)

20 April 2009

The Blaze Celebrates Bob Dylan

Today The Blaze will be celebrating Bob Dylan by spinning two hours worth of his music! Tune in from 4:30PM to 6:30PM to hear Dylan through the ages, plus exclusive tracks from his new record. You can also call in, at 480-965-1260, to win classic Dylan CDs, a 7-inch and a plethora of other really sweet, really free prizes!

Don't miss this! It's only on The Blaze 1260 AM, ASU's original alternative!

19 April 2009

The Weekly WTF? - Captain Space Clown, The Echelons

Welcome to what will hopefully be a regular feature here at the COTMA Blog - The Weekly WTF?

You wouldn't believe how many off-note, depressing, or just plain bizarre albums we receive here at the station. They accumulate, unlistened, unloved, gathering dust on the shelves. They haunt the music office like jilted, hideous ghosts trapped in poorly photo-shopped jewel case coffins. This feature should serve as a much needed exorcism.

Captain Space Clown - S/T

Official Summary: "Captain Space Clown and his intergallactic booty machine the Spacetramp rockin' all the bootay' to the back of the universe."

COTMA Assessment: Sounds sort of like an unofficial ICP/Orgy tribute project, without all the arty pretentiousness. Lots of synth pads and tuneless singing about being a space clown.

Constructive Criticism: Make it more space-clowny. Don't be Captain Space Clown anymore.

The Echelons - "Don't Kiss Her Face"

Official Summary: "sort of modern day partridge family with a punk rock attitude, except for the fact that they do play their own instruments and write their own songs."

COTMA Assessment: Considering these songs were apparently written by an 8 year old girl or whatever, the weirdly sexual cover art and creepy album title set a strange tone. I'd say her face is the last thing that tiny man has on his mind heh heh... (*creeped out shivers*). Shambling and boring songs with too many effects.

Constructive Criticism: lose the guitar solos, add some blast beats.

18 April 2009

Happy Record Store Day!

Today is going to be intensely awesome. Live music, cool sales, and lots and lots of indie exclusive RSD releases. If you're unsure of which stores to hit up, what's happening, what exclusives are out there, etc. then read on.

Hoodlums: Hoodlums is going to be a serious party all day. I'll be spinning the new Bob Dylan record Together Through Life at 3PM. You won't be able to hear that anywhere else until the album's out on the 28th. AKA, that's pretty exclusive. You'll also be able to pre-order the album, and when you do you're commitment will be rewarded with a sweet-a Bob litho. Additionally, your neighborhood friendly Hoodlums will have a ton of special releases including RSD exclusives from Akron/Family, Black Kids, Bob Dylan, Camera Obscura, Modest Mouse, Leonard Cohen, My Morning Jacket, Bruce Springsteen, Manchester Orchestra, Metric, Pavement, a Sonic Youth/Jay Reatard split... and the list goes on.

Plus! Hoodlums has local cats Porches, Wizards of Time, Stephen Steinbrink and Earthmen and Strangers playing, in that order, starting at 5:30PM. Needless to say, I'm horribly excited.

Stinkweeds: Tons of exclusives, obviously. Plus free BBQ, and a rad concert starting at noon. The lineup includes Courtney Marie Andrews, Dust Jacket, Doug Bale, Monophonic Hillside, Back Ted N-Ted, Fatigo and Gospel Claws. Hot dang!

Revolver: Sweet show kicking off at noon: Marlene O'Conner, Hexaclops, The Swamp Coolers, Psychedelic Mooj, FC Armenta, The Incognitoes

Zia: Wicked-serious in-stores all across AZ today. If you can make it down to Tucson's Speedway location by 2 p.m., you'll get a show from Black Lips and Hands on Fire. The Tempe location will have The Parlor Mob in for a live rock-out and signing, and Chandler has A Day To Remember doing a performance and signing, as well.

Pick one, hit up all of 'em, whatever. Just support your local record stores!

Joost Presents: Record Store Day Playlist

17 April 2009

Mastodon/Kylesa/Intronaut/Via Vengeance @ The Marquee 4/16/2009

Via Vengeance opened once again and I have to say, I don't at all mind this one man trickster opening all these great shows as they come through here. The music is about as you can expect from a local act, and on top of that, the "gimmick" of his act (that is, that he is the whole band) really is effective in getting the crowd pumped up. This man is everything that could be wanted in an opening act. As for him, he gets to play with some of the best bands in the genre. I think everyone is benefiting in this deal.

Intronaut kicked off the touring bands with a bang. The music is all but impossible to headbang to as it changes time signatures just about every other bar, but it is fantastic nonetheless. These guys were, in my opinion, the most talented band playing tonight. The coordination and timing required to play such complex music is beyond the comprehension of most people I think, and to top it off, the riffs are actually good-sounding and brutal. That being said, the complex nature of the music doesn't lend itself to the metal live venue very well. Some bands, like Dillinger Escape Plan, have been able to get away with complexities and still drive a crowd wild, but Intronaut seemed to struggle a little bit with that.

Kylesa was really great. Considering I'd only heard their latest CD, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The CD is pretty good, but I expected them to be the laggard in this lineup. Now, the one thing which did bother me was the dual drummers. As I've mentioned in other reviews, this is a huge pet peeve of mine if the band doesn't utilize both drummers well. Kylesa does not. 90% of the time they were playing the same thing or very close to. Seemed quite unnecessary. The band got plenty of crowd participation though...for awhile I was convinced they would end up with the best moshing of the night over the headliners, Mastodon. Definitely a huge audience response and solid if a little repetitive music, nothing to complain about.

Now, here is where I have a mini-rant about bands I like getting signed to major labels. It's great for the band, don't get me wrong, but it makes me really not want to see them live anymore. For example, the guys behind me before Mastodon started were discussing how great Dave Matthews is (seriously, not in a satirical way). Now, normally, if I ever heard that at a metal show, no, scratch that, I would expect that I would never ever hear that at a metal show. I mean seriously. Dave Matthews. As these guys continued to talk, I felt I would be doing the world a favor to kill them given their taste in music alone, yet here they were seeing Mastodon, a band that has put out a couple of good albums. This is where I want to destroy MTV or whatever it is that brings these unelite to my shows. Unacceptable tainting.

Mastodon, however, did put on a good show despite it all. They played entirely through Crack the Skye, and then took an "intermission" of about a minute, then came back and worked through their back catalog for another 45 minutes. Now, throughout Crack the Skye, the crowd was very tame to my astonishment. Granted, the new album isn't exactly full of the heavy, mosh-ready tunes that Leviathan was, but it is a good album, and the audience response was pretty flat for the most part. But after that intermission, the crowd really did get moving. A few tracks from Blood Mountain got movement, but really, it wasn't till Leviathan tracks that we really saw what this crowd could do, and then there was a great pit going, and it was what I had expected to occur an hour previously. The crowd predictably did not get into the genius that is Seabeast, but I can forgive them for getting into the rest of stuff from Leviathan (though Seabeast is definitely the best track on that album).

All in all a great show. I can't actually pick a favorite band from the lineup, they all had their unique strengths that they played to and in the end that made it a very well-rounded show which was only really complete when taken as a whole. An art few lineups manage to cater to very often.

15 April 2009

Kick Ass Spring Concert

Biggest props go out to dear friends of The Blaze Matthew Reveles and What Laura Says. They rocked out on ASU's Hayden Lawn yesterday, and drew quite the crowd. I'll be posting some pictures and video this week, so keep your eyes peeled for it.

14 April 2009

Cage the Elephant/Electric Touch @ Modified Arts 4/19/09

At the Blaze it’s a rare honor to have a touring band that is not from Arizona, come in to do a live in studio chat. This up-and-coming band is Electric Touch and will be at Modified Arts on April 19th, playing with 3 other bands, headliner Cage the Elephant and local bands Gospel Claws & Becky Lee and Drunkfoot. The great thing about Modified is, it’s always inexpensive ($8 in this case) to see a great show.

This 4-piece band known as Electric Touch is headquartered out of Austin, Texas, and is stopping by the valley, meeting up with Cage the Elephant right after their separate one-day stints at the very popular music festival called Coachella. Four days later, Electric Touch are heading to Las Vegas and opening for Bon Jovi at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, so before these guys start playing at bigger venues, stop by to see them at one of the valley’s most intimate venues, then tune in the next day (April 20th), Monday morning at 10a.m, to http://www.theblaze1260.com/ or 1260 AM on the radio dial for an in-studio interview.

11 April 2009

Amon Amarth/Goatwhore/Skeletonwitch/Lazarus AD @ The Marquee 4/10/2009

Lazarus AD opened up the show with quite a bang. I have long since outgrown my thrash days on CD...but it is really one of those genres that's great live even if you're totally bored with it on CD. The band tore it up and the lead guitarist had some great riffs and solos peppered in there that almost made me go back and start listening to thrash again. I only say almost because I'd honestly just rather see these guys again than listen to CDs. Second best band of the night.

Skeletonwitch is a band I'd have sworn I had seen before. But it wasn't on my list of bands seen live, so I may have been mistaken. Either way, the band was pretty good musically, but the vocals really killed it for me. The vocalist himself was good, as a frontman, but stood out in a rather adverse way by comparison to the band's music. The slight identity crisis of the music was also perhaps a bit distracting...thrash, death, black, all mixed up...I preferred the black sections myself.

Goatwhore was decent, I suppose. I'd never listened to the band prior, but they really suffered from an unenthused crowd. I was at the back of the pit for these guys, and honestly the pit was barely alive at the beginning, and by the end it was really just an empty space on the floor, just in case. the lack of crowd energy and enthusiasm drags down any band's live performance, and given the more or less generic style of music, the entire performance became quite lackluster alas.

Amon Amarth headlined and, interestingly, they were on my list of bands I'd seen live. Now, this was interesting because I didn't recall ever seeing them...not a shining endorsement by any means. I wonder why I don't remember now though. They were really great. The little details (drinking from animal horns, for instance) added enough to the thematic atmosphere and the music was good, if a bit taxing for such a long period (most metal is). When I first entered the venue, I was shoocked to see that the sound booth was in the middle of floor rather than in the back...this means a small crowd usually. Well, the crowd was indeed small, but completely enthusiastic. Normally, in the place I stand people are rather casual watchers and pretty passive. Just enjoying the music. For this show, the pit was all the way back to me (I was on the edge) and even behind me people were jumping and shouting all the lyrics, to say nothing of the huge press of people on the stage-side of the pit. Huge energy for this band, and it really made for a great experience and performance.

07 April 2009

Album Review: The Long Lost - The Long Lost

I wanted to like this album. I really did. I sincerely tried. But the more I listened, the more I knew that this was not going to happen. Singer LauraDarlington, wife to would-be partner-in-crime Alfred Darlington, failed to convince me that their record is truly worthwhile.

One could say I knew it would be like this from the start. This album, 14 songs and 45 minutes long, started out interesting and never strayed the course. Unfortunately, they don't try hard to capture you, unless you think completely dopeyelectro-acoustic folk songs about love deserves your undivided attention. From the very first song, I felt Ms. Darlington's voice too inaccessible for subject matter that should close to heart. She sings soprano from a mountaintop, her whispery airs flowing around a guitar rhythm. Sometimes a drummer brushes his kit in the background. It's all very fine, but I can't feel a connection anywhere on the CD. The misses always muses from a distance. Her voice is there, but the atmosphere is so soft and relaxed that it's easy to slip out of listening. You would have to be perfectly engaged to keep our attention focused. And while it is indeed my job to listen to each and every CD that comes my way, even I found myself distracted after a time.

As I listened over and over again to understand the album, I found myself fascinated by the artistic choices the duo made. It's difficult to not call The Long Lost pretentious when their idiosyncratic rhythm and melody choices make appreciating their craft frustrating. Nothing illustrates this better than "Amiss," the second song. At first I'm led to believe that achirpy little ditty is about to happen. Then Laura's vocals come in, everything sounds syncopated and it's driving me insane. Call me a stickler for convention, but it grates on my nerves when you set up the beat and the lead instrument or lead vocal in contrast to each other. It doesn't feel right. Even more aggravating is when beautiful, great songs like "Sibilance," with all the elements in perfect balance, are broken up by off-target music; it's right after "Amiss."

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that The Long Lost is too long. Normally I would not fault 14 songs on a disc, but for the slow pace of this album, things don't work the same. Listening to the whole thing in one go requires great patience and a large volume of caffeine. This was to be expected, as the press release that came with the CD made clear that was a singer-songwriter's album, not an electronic one--Alfread Darlington's other (or at least one of them) project is Daedelus, which is distinctly electronica. "Ballroom Dance Club" is the only song that really uses electronic elements, with a mixed result.

Overall, I am not greatly impressed. I had a hard time getting over the premise of the album--acoustic folk songs slower than a geologic process withdisinterested , simplistic vocals to match. Admittedly, folk isn't my forte. My expectations of the CD were wrongly placed because the marketing misled me. Even then, I adjusted my criticism for this review. The album isn't boring, perse . To the casual listener and passerby, it will be. The average college student would probably not like the drawling "Siren Song," which sounds like it would be at home in a 1940's intellectual drama. I can only cite a couple songs that are remotely radio-worthy: "Sibilance" and "Finders Keepers." These hardly make up for the other 12 tunes. I asked myself, Do I want to bore my listeners? The answer was, No, not really.