26 October 2009

CMJ Update #2 (Wrapup)

I only went to one panel on Friday, and it was about music and film, and may have been one of the better panels I saw. The panelists role-played and went through the choice of a song for a movie or commercial which was really fascinating and educational.

The Slayer listening party was a fun time, complete with Slayer DVD imagery and some Gallows DVD added in as well. Both DVDs are really good in fact, I might have to get them. Really bizarre but fun to see...if you like the weird and possibly grotesque. After the listening party we grabbed some authentic Chinese food in Chinatown and hopped over to the Relapse showcase.

Gloominous Doom opened up the showcase, and though it wasn't what I expected from a band with doom in the name, the music was pretty neat. The band has a bunch of technically solid players who transitioned from ska to dance to metal all in the same song, but the transitions themselves were not entirely smooth, mostly due to teh "purity" of each style played. Putting ska next to grindcore or even jazz fusion is just not entirely smooth no matter who plays it. I'd love to see this band move more progressive a la Between the Buried and Me, and less Iwrestledabearonce.

Howl was a bit more complete feeling than Gloominous Doom, though less to my liking stylistically. I was particularly not a fan of the vocals, though in general something with this band kept them from being overly enjoyable for me.

Complete Failure was a thrashy-y/grind-y band which didn't appeal to me at all. I struggle to see the appeal in music that is all blast beats and speed such that it basically devolves into noise. But that's just me.

Black Anvil were really solid. The first band of the night that the whole audience was really starting to get into, and one of two bands a lot of my CMJ friends were excited to see live. A sort of black metal-influenced hybrid, they keep the vocals black with more traditional metal guitar lines and less tremelo picking which makes for a fun and somewhat unique sound.

Revocation was, interestingly, my favorite act of the night. Normally a death/thrash sort of hybrid would hold no appeal for me, but the music was somehow catchy and good-sounding, and really got the whole crowd energized and moving.

Salome probably could have won top band of the night for me had they been a bit less experimental. Now, I'm all for bands experimenting, even live, but when you're a really doom-y, slow tempo band, experimentation for 10 minutes per song tends to drag and become tedious, very unfortunately. I also didn't dig the vocals. High-pitched screams just don't work in doom in my opinion, it detracts from the heaviness.

After the show, lots of sleep. Saturday was the day off. Did some tourist-y wandering around Times Square with some of my promoters and Kim Kelly, then hit up Jekyll and Hyde for dinner round 1, followed by dinner in Little Italy with Sarah and Becky for dinner round 2. After packing and pulling an all nighter, I hopped onto the plane bright and early at 6 am and came back to sunny Tempe exhausted and a little bit sick. A valid sacrifice for living life like a rockstar, and learning too of course.

23 October 2009

CMJ Update #1

It has been an interesting CMJ event thus far. Unlike previous years, the schedule was packed early and gradually trickles off from there.

Tuesday was a ridiculously long travel day. Leaving Phoenix around 6 AM, I arrived in NYC around 4 PM, and got to my hostel around 5 PM. After checking into CMJ and picking up my badge, I met up with Sarah for some tasty dinner before running to the Dethcote party I'd been invited to during dinner. The music was loud and not good (some dance-y club music), but the beer was free (if you knew the right people) and catching up with all the guys from last year was fun.

Wednesday I went to 4 panels which was pretty intense to say the least. When I showed up to the first panel, about social networking and music, it was fairly empty, but by the end it was packed with people sitting on the floor, and I felt a bit uncomfortable being surrounded by so many hipsters. Moving onto the second panel, I was a bit less overwhelmed by hipsters, since it was about music and mobile devices. Pretty cool stuff thrown around for a tech guy like me. Then there were the two metal panels. The first was great as some of the feedback thrown around might result in some positive changes in the industry, always nice for those of us working in it. The second panel was, well, tense. One woman in the back of the room liked to call all music pirates thieves and had many a rant about how kids were destroying metal. Needless to say, in a room of college kids, that didn't go too well. Of course, most of us get all our music for free legally anyways, because they give it to us. So it also seemed a bit pointless to bring up. Still, the discussion was great.

After the panels I went on the walking punk rock on the Bowery tour/bar crawl. That was a great tour where we went with our tour guides to several historic areas of New York and discussed how punk rock started in new york in the mid-1800's, with the gangs of New York. Interesting ideas, and lots of great history. Also saw where CBGB's used to be and saw one of the only real dive bars left on the east side. After the tour we went on the annual bar crawl and there was a lot of great socializing going on whilst drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

Thursday was college day and somehow I managed to get there on time despite the drinking of the night before, and enjoyed a nice, free breakfast. After breakfast, a couple of panels went on, and Sarah met up with me between the two and we got a lot of great ideas about things to do to improve the station, which is always exciting. A couple of bands played during the lovely free lunch, and the second one was particularly interesting, though I didn't care for the vocals. After another panel was the college radio awards, and though I didn't announce an award this year, it was completely entertaining and fun. After the awards I ran off to the open bar before a showcase, drank as much in two hours as I had during the entire bar crawl, and a group of us stumbled up to another bar after the showcase to watch the baseball game. After a few more beers we went up to the Comedy Central showcase and enjoyed some comedy before heading home for some rest.

Tonight is the listening party and Relapse showcase, should be good times. There will be a second update soon.

11 October 2009

Album Review: The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

I'm surprised Warner Bros. let this album see the light of day--who listened to this and decided that, despite its complete and utter disregard for Top 40 polish, Auto-Tune shine, and concise songwriting, this was music that would make the record label lots of money? Wayne Coyne and co. have never cared much for convention, sure, but Embryonic takes the band completely out of their familiar environment and gives us an idea of what Can might have sounded like if they found out they liked the sound of Vivian Girls.

On one hand, we have the sound of The Flaming Lips that is familiar to anyone who's heard any of their work after 1997. Punchy drumloops propel all manner of synthesizers and guitars through striking, beautifully rendered chords, as well as Wayne Coyne's own strangely in-tune voice. And with their carefully perfected bag of tools, the band shows off their artistic mastery of their instruments, sailing through tender slowness akin to The Soft Bulletin and rocking out like they'd only started touring yesterday in support of Clouds Taste Metallic.

And yet, there's this new side of The Flaming Lips that we haven't seen before--their experimental side. Avant garde? Maybe. It's arguable that Embryonic is that motivated to be so abstract when so much of the album focuses on melodic and rhythmic elements, as opposed to pure noise or arrhythmic pieces. Time signatures? Check. Key signature? Check. Melody? Check. The real avant garde masters would be offended. Lightning Bolt wouldn't let Embryonic into the same room as their material. Even listeners new to any Flaming Lips work at all would be able to tell that there are recurring elements that might constitute their repertoire--the drum loops, the voice (of Wayne Coyne), the slow, throbbing brainwave-stimulating synth loops, the dreamy atmosphere. If you were hoping that the band would venture into Throbbing Gristle sounds, you would be wrong. This is definitely tonal.

The result is the musical equivalent of half and half: half old material, half new modes of expressing that old material. Part of me feels like I'm simply hearing the sappy parts of The Soft Bulletin fed through a guitar amplifier. Is that a bad thing? If you don't mind lo-fi, you won't mind the new modus operandi. If you demand that classic Flaming Lips audial polish, this record will both appeal to you and annoy you to death. You will hear echoes of previous album At War with the Mystics (think "The Sound of Failure/It's Dark... Is It Always this Dark??") and some more. Get ready for pinging delays with deep reverb ("Powerless"), what may be called way too much vocoder saturation ("The Impulse"), freakouts! ("Silver Trembling Hands," "Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast," "Scorpio Sword"), some random dude doing some poetry recital or something like that ("Sagittarius Silver Announcement"), glitch-style rhythmic noise ("Convinced of the Hex," "Worm Mountain"), and just about every freaky trick in Wayne Coyne's playbook.

In a way, Embryonic is the natural evolution of The Flaming Lips. Their earliest albums were noisy, wretched, and wild. Then the band matured and smoothed out the edges. Then they found nostalgia for their youth and merged their two worlds. We are at that last point. And as I listen to the songs again and again, I realize how much this style suits the band--so weird, but so beautiful. It's like The Album Leaf got drunk with TV on the Radio. Even as Wayne Coyne croons high and slow in "If" and a lazy bass strums along and all manner of amplification and synthesizer crash together for static jam "Worm Mountain," the twin paths are never more apparent. If you're left wondering why the hell The Flaming Lips would bother to do something so different, the answer is that it's really the same thing they've always done. Perhaps we're in familiar territory after all. But with The Flaming Lips, who can tell?

08 October 2009

Album Review: Dappled Cities - Zounds

It's been a while since Dappled Cities Fly dropped the last word of their group name to become Dappled Cities--I guess the band just wasn't fly enough. (Cue intro music to CSI: Miami.) It's been longer still since I first heard the few ringing strums of their debut, A Smile, fitted with all the meat of indie rock and the jangly sound of twee. But make no mistake--their newest effort, Zounds, is a beast of a different mythology.

Dappled Cities offers a full, rich album, lined with pastiche and filled out with big, bombastic detail. The band makes no apologies about jumping into that muddy area between electropop and indie rock that so many bands have explored--terrain charted by Of Montreal, Cut Copy, and innumerable artists. Zounds makes a conscious effort to fill every second of every song with sound; where there is no instrument playing, there is an echo of one. "It does not matter if something belonged there in the first place--there must be a something," this album says to me.

is as artistic as it is a serious indie album, defying ownership both by pretentious hipsters and pop aficionados. The word itself is both an interjection and a summation of the wild sounds the band produces. One only has to look at the cover of Zounds to realize how scatterbrained the music is. The photograph that comprises most of the cover's real estate portrays a band in a room, sprinkled with confetti, filled with the strangest of objects-- a ladder, the trunk of a tree, a large balloon in the shape of a 3, a piƱata, several photographs, and several sets of hands playing a keyboard on the floor.

It all serves to give context to the music ensconced within the disc--this is art. True enough, the mix of buzzing, whirring, gurgling, and thumping that starts the recording with "Hold Your Back" establishes the new and improved Dappled Cities as an Of-Montreal-cum-Animal-Collective-cum-Shins amalgamation that just wants to blow your mind, not with wacky exuberance or springy lyrics but with a complete tonal invention, combing through the lessons alternative music learned in the last 20 years and making notes about each of them. Each song is a synthesizer-driven indie rock song, dressed in the trimmings of that wholesome indie style--multi-instrumental, full, busy but not fabricated. I feel like Animal Collective grew became pensive, decided to slow down, and determined to find joy in life.

The listener at every turn is led, never quite able to determine the course of each tune. The album revels in the cerebral, each tune not quite the same and made of different inspirations. The listener is mislead through each song not by the style of the music but as a matter of course--who would expect the infectious danceable "Miniature Alas" to be preceded by a bizarre spoken word ditty? Zounds is an album that completes every idea--whether it's the moody "Wooden Ships" bursting into a baritone chorus suddenly or the punchy delivery of the chorus on "The Price," nearly every creative choice by the band feels natural and purposeful--"It should have always been like this," I feel. Even if many sections of the song feel like A, B, and back again, there's always a subtle (or major) tweak produced to bring the old idea to new life.

It's easy to tell that the band is having too much fun with the album. Their grandiose patchwork of multi-instrumental chaos and graceful--sometimes over-ambitious or ambiguous--lyrics will strand careless or uncaring listeners in a sea of confusion. The density of Zounds lends it weight that will wear out an audience expecting easy listening. While by no means does the music turn into noise, there is little doubt that songs like "Apart" must be experienced, not simply heard, to be understood. The steady march of lurching indie rock (Wolf Parade style) accompanying the nearly falsetto vocals can leave the unaware audience in a haze of ill feeling. The defiant "Stepshadows" plays like a funeral dirge for a chase scene in a 1990s Western, self-satisfied by its own certainty.

Thought and creativity went into this collection of songs, but it might be more difficult for the listener to ascertain what exactly the band was thinking. You are guaranteed a sonic canvas that only years of artistic endeavors will paint. After all, Daft Punk didn't write Discovery in a day.