Mark Kozelek could learn something from The New Pornographers.

Last night I went to see The New Pornographers play a sold-out show at The Cat’s Cradle. It was the last show on this US tour, which started in Seattle on October 5. They played 10 “West Coast” shows, took two weeks off, then started a grueling span of 15 cities in 20 days. The tour ended in Carrboro last night, and they had The Pains of Being Pure at Heart with them the whole time. They’ll now take a few days off before starting a European tour followed by another North American tour in the new year. While some bands who are at the end of a tour have a tendency to sort of go through the motions for the last few shows, The Pains and The Pornos did anything but that. They both played very good sets and they certainly gave their all.

Towards the middle of the Pornos set, there was a problem with one person in the audience who wasn’t playing by the rules. Neko Case handled the situation without making things really awkward, and there’s a lesson that Mark Kozelek could learn. I’ll get to that after I rant a bit about a lesson that Sharon Van Etten could learn.

I recently saw Sharon Van Etten at the Cat’s Cradle, while she was near the end of her tour. I was very disappointed by her show and I sort of assumed that she was suffering from a severe case of tour fatigue and that she decided to mail it in. I’d seen her once before –after Tramp came out– and I remember that she played with as much enthusiasm as you might expect someone like Sharon Van Etten to display. She seemed really happy to be there and all that. This time, however, she looked like she wanted to be anywhere other than on that stage. Before her set was even over, I gave up on her and retreated to the back of the room to chat with the members of Tiny Ruins at the merch desk. She could stand to learn a thing or two from the New Pornographers about how to deal with exhaustion. I know the Pornos were tired, and I know the Pains were tired, but they certainly didn’t show it. The Pains even joked at one point during their set “We’re not tired”.

This was only my second time seeing the Pornos, and I enjoyed this show much more than the previous one. I saw them back in 2011 or so while they were touring in support of Together. That night, they played in an auditorium. A seated venue. There’s definitely a time for seated shows, and there are definitely bands who are suited for seated shows. The Pornos aren’t one of those bands. I liked their show and I had a great time, but I hated being in that auditorium. This time, they were back in the rock club where they belong.

Here’s where I get to the point. The point about Mark Kozelek.

Remember that whole mess with Kozelek’s band Sun Kil Moon at Hopscotch? The “All you fuckin’ hillbillies shut the fuck up!” Incident? I was there, and here’s what I wrote about it. The ball was rolling in the wrong direction from the get-go. The show should have been scheduled in one of the seated venues, but it was in a rock club. Because it was the end of the middle night, and because it was in a rock club, it was impossible for the audience to comply with Kozelek’s demands that we be quiet. SKM is perfect for a seated venue and terrible for a rock club. It’s just the opposite with the Pornos.

The Pornos actually made a request that wasn’t entirely dissimilar from Kozelek’s. They requested that we not make video recordings of any kind and not use flash photography. I initially misread the sign as “no photography of any kind”, which was the request that Kozelek made, and a request that some other bands routinely make. When I eventually understood the situation, I took a few photos, but none of them are any good.

I was in the second row of the standing room audience. About halfway through the set, there was a girl near me in the front row who had been using her phone to make a video, and she wasn’t being very discreet about it. During the middle of a song, Neko Case spotted the girl, and without breaking stride, she used the international hand signal for “cut that shit out”. She made the gesture several times, but kept singing. At the end of the song, she walked over to the girl, knelt down, grabbed the back of the girl’s head, pulled her close, and whispered something in her ear. It was close enough to me that I could tell that Neko had a pretty good grip on this girl’s hair. I don’t know exactly what Neko said, but I can assure you that she wasn’t asking for directions to the nearest Sheetz. She stood up, and said out loud “Don’t do that”. The whole exchange lasted not more than 10 seconds, and that was the end of it. Unless you were standing right there, you wouldn’t even have known that anything happened. Neko didn’t make a spectacle of it. She didn’t berate the girl from the microphone or bully her in any way. She didn’t pitch a fit, and she definitely didn’t insult or cuss at the audience. She handled it in a calm but firm fashion, and in way that only she and the girl know what was said. The good vibe in the room wasn’t disturbed in any way. A decidedly different approach to the “add fuel to the fire” method that Kozelek used. Things could have gone badly if Neko hadn’t kept her cool.

I was already enjoying the Pornos show, and that situation made me enjoy it so much more. Again, this is in stark contrast to the Kozelek situation where he acted like a pouting, petulant prima donna. The situations aren’t exactly analogous, but that’s not really the point. It’s about composure and a level of professionalism. Neko Case and The Pornos have it in spades. Kozelek does not. He could learn by taking a page from their book and a line from their page. But he probably won’t.

11.23.2014 — “The Devil” by Praises

Praises (Jesse Crowe)

If you only listen to one song today, make it “The Devil” by Praises (2014, from the EP Praises).

Praises is the recording project of Toronto-based dream pop/shoegaze/indie pop musician Jesse Crowe. You may already know her as one half of the band Beliefs. After that band’s self-titled 2013 album won critical acclaim, Crowe went back into the studio on her own to make a finish working on a four-song EP, which was released in April of this year via the wonderful Toronto indie label Hand Drawn Dracula. Today’s song is something that she’d already been working on since 2012, and there’s an ever-so-slightly different version floating around out there, but today’s song is the final version that made it on the EP.

There’s four songs on the EP, and two of them remind me of Wye Oak. This is one of those songs.

“The Devil” by Praises

Crowe doesn’t sound like Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak, but there’s just something about the whole package that reminds me a bit of Wye Oak. I’m sure Crowe wouldn’t object to that comparison.

I love how it starts with a bit of fuzz. By the first verse, the fuzz sort of levels off, making room for the melodies and Crowe’s strong vocals.

You can buy a digital download from the HDD web store here. While you’re there, spend some time exploring the shop. Load your cart up with other great releases like the ones by Beliefs and Weeknight.

For extra credit, here’s the video:

11.21.2014 — “Badada” by Walking Bicycles

Walking Bicycles

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Badada” by Walking Bicycles (2014, from the album To Him That Wills the Way).

Walking Bicycles is a Chicago quartet whose music could be described using some combination of “noise”, “psychedelic”, “doom”, “pop” and “post-punk”. You might say that they sound like the offspring from a bizarre one-night-stand between Jane’s Addiction and Warpaint. At least that’s what I think their new album sounds like. They’ve been around since 2004, and they released one album and an EP before they were forced to take a hiatus. In 2008, Julius Moriarty (guitar) was arrested for possessing “a large amount” of weed, and he was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in federal prison. He only had to serve three years of that sentence, but the band obviously had to take a break during that time. During those three years, he apparently wrote some magnificent letters to his wife and band mate Jocelyn Summers (vocals). The album that the band released this year is a reflection of those three years in prison, the relationship between the two, and the letters that they wrote. You can read all about that in this article from Noisey.

The name Walking Bicycles has shown up in various emails over the past few months, but I got one a few days ago specifically promoting two new videos, the album, and that article from Noisey. I downloaded the album and wasted no time listening to it. They also wasted no time in getting to the point. Right out of the gate, it’s really doomy and gritty and slightly metallic. The first song is called “Impending Doom”, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s in the first couple of songs that Jocelyn Summers channels Perry Farrell. I never thought that I would write that I liked something because it reminded me of Jane’s Addiction. However, that’s exactly what’s going on with the first side of this album.

By the end of the album (and at less than 30 minutes, it’s a very short album, it’s a little lighter and brighter and certainly more upbeat. Today’s song, by the way, is the last song on the album.

This is that song:

Perhaps part of the reason that I say this reminds me of Warpaint is that there’s a song on To Him That Wills the Way that’s called “Warpaint”. Really though, there’s a rhythm guitar bit in this song that reminds me a bunch of Warpaint. Not any specific song, but just in a general sort of way.

I love how right smack in the middle of the song it gets all shoegazey and wall of sound-y. Even if just for a few seconds. That section of the song sort of floored me the first time I listened to it thoroughly. By “listened to it thoroughly”, I’m not just talking about giving the song my undivided attention. I’m talking about listening to the whole album from front to back, uninterrupted and undivided. Although this song stands alone just fine, I’ll suggest that you listen to the whole album that way. Uninterrupted and undivided. Also, you should play it really loud.

You can buy a digital download of the album via bandcamp here. You can also get it on vinyl via the band’s own imprint label High Wheel Records here.

For extra credit, here’s the video:

11.20.2014 — “Continental Shelf” by Viet Cong

Viet Cong

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Continental Shelf” by Viet Cong (2015, from the forthcoming album Viet Cong).

Viet Cong is a post-punk/noise quartet from Calgary. Two of the guys used to be in the now defunct shoegaze band Women — Matt Flegel (vocals/bass) and Mike Wallace (drums). They are joined by Scott Munro, who was a live guitarist for Chad VanGaalen, and Daniel Christiansen(guitar). Christiansen used to play in a Black Sabbath cover band with Flegel and Wallace.

The band started in 2012 after Women broke up and one of its members passed away. They immediately did a ton of touring, including a bunch of dates in Europe. So far, their only release has been a tour-only, cassette-only EP called Cassette.

Recently, the band joined the illustrious roster at Jagjaguwar Records, and they’re set to release a highly anticipated self-titled album early in the new year.

I had never heard of this project until I got an email yesterday promoting the video for the song. I promise we’ll get to that. The email quoted Kim Taylor Bennett from Noisey, who, in the premier of the video said:

As for the song itself, Viet Cong … match each squally, distorted guitar lick, and stomped out beat, with a ragged, larynx-shredded Pixies-like pop nous, and this is the perfect union of sound and vision.

That’s a well-crafted and very convincing sentence. That, honestly, was all it took to sell me. With expectations high, I clicked on the video, and I was not disappointed. I promise we’ll get to the video later.

This is that song:
“Continental Shelf” by Viet Cong

There again is the tap of the glove to that iconic “Be My Baby” drum bit in the open. Kick… kick-kick-snare/tambourine. Coupled with some very high-end-y guitar, it seems innocent enough. For the first 15 seconds anyway. Then there’s that heavy, frozen wave of dark fuzzy bits and ice.
Then, at 0:59, under that icy wall of sound and the bass line that Peter Hook would be proud of, there’s a line that goes something like

Don’t wanna face the wall
It’s suffocating. Suffocating

I can’t quite make out the lines, but during this bit, and until about 1:47, I’m reminded a bit of Funeral-era Arcade Fire. Remember when Arcade Fire used to be dark as hell and awesome and not quite so full of themselves? Yeah. That.

Everything that I’ve read about Viet Cong includes adjectives like “bleak”, “chilly”, “pitch-black”. Based on “Continental Shelf”, they certainly are those things. In the interest of balancing out the “negative” words, they should also add “electrifying”, “intense”, “powerful”. By reports that I’ve read, this album’s dark, cold tone is perfectly fitted for a winter release. But I’m sure it’ll still be spinning at my house in the hot months of July and August.

Finally, we’ll get to the video. It’s creepy and just a tiny bit NSFW, so be careful. It’s also brilliant:

The video’s director Yoonha Park has also directed videos for Beach House, Bear in Heaven, Washed Out, M83, Broken Social Scene, A Place To Bury Strangers, and many more. You can see part of his portfolio here. Anyway, he said he wanted this to look “like a reel of film that was purchased accidentally at a garage sale or found buried under someone’s front porch”, and “an incomplete picture—like screen tests from a lost movie.” Check, and check. It’s creepy and weird and disjointed and brilliant. And I love it.

Viet Cong will be out on January 20 via Jagjaguwar, and you can pre-order here.

11.19.2014 — “Silver Phoenix” by Girl in a Thunderbolt

Girl in a Thunderbolt

Girl in a Thunderbolt

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Silver Phoenix” by Girl in a Thunderbolt (2014, from the forthcoming EP Own Your Bones).

Girl in a Thunderbolt is the recording project of multi-instrumentalist Maria Uzor, who calls Norwich, England home. Her influences range from punk to folk to psychedelic rock to northern soul to grunge to indie rock. In the press photo, note the copy of Hatful of Hollow. She also namechecks The Smiths in a terrific song called “Doesn’t Really Matter What They Think of Us” on a 2010 album called Seven Sisters. I guess it’s safe to say that she really likes The Smiths. She’s been operating under the Girl in a Thunderbolt name since about 2009. That name may or may not be a reference to the T. Rex song “Girl in the Thunder Bolt Suit”. She released an EP Songs for Modern Lovers in 2009, the aforementioned Seven Sisters, and a couple of singles before deciding to take a bit of a break. In May of this year, under the alias of Marie Tambourine, she rose to the challenge of writing and recording an album in a month’s time as part of the One Month Album project.

She has a new EP called Own Your Bones, which is due to be released on November 24 via her own label Hey Buffalo. She already has another EP recorded for later release and she’s working with a full band for the purpose of touring with Own Your Bones.

I had never heard of Girl in a Thunderbolt until I got an email a couple of days ago promoting the forthcoming EP. It was a no-nonsense email, but in it she said that her sound has drawn comparisons to PJ Harvey, Siouxie & The Banshees, and The Doors. Normally, I would ignore something if it was said to be reminiscent of The Doors, but it was the PJ Harvey/Siouxie comparison that interested me. Plus, I was fascinated by the name of the project. I liked what I heard right away, and this is my favorite song from the EP.

“Silver Phoenix” by Girl in a Thunderbolt

I love the organ in there. It’s a really nice counterbalance to the thickness and heaviness of the rest of it. In a way, I’m reminded of something, but I’m not sure what. It’s not Stereolab-ish enough to remind me of Stereolab. It’s not Glasser-ish enough to remind me of Glasser. But something in the neighbourhood of those. There’s something about the gloomy, apocalyptic timbre that makes me think of Beast Rest Forth Mouth-era Bear in Heaven.

There’s a lot of dark stuff and a lot of death imagery in this wonderful EP. It’s fitting, then, that the last song on the EP is named for the mythological bird triumphantly rising from its own ashes.

There is no bandcamp pre-order for Own Your Bones, and this will be a digital-only release. You can get it on the release date of November 24. And you should.

11.15.2014 — “Beyond the Stars” by Omega Vague

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Beyond the Stars” by Omega Vague (2015, from the forthcoming album Reveries).

Omega Vague is the dream pop/shoegaze recording project of Hartford, Connecticut multi-instrumentalist Craig Douglas. To date, he’s self-released five albums as Omega Vague including a self-titled one this year. There’s a brand new album slated for release on January 6, 2015. I got something in the mailbag the other day promoting the new album and specifically tonight’s song.

I’d never heard of Omega Vague before, but I immediately liked the song because it’s like an old friend. It reminds me of Nowhere-era Ride and The Catherine Wheel and things of that ilk which are very familiar to me. Douglas lists both of these bands as influences, so it’s no surprise that he makes music that sounds like them.

So far, tonight’s song is the only preview available from the new album, but if it’s any indicator, there’s a lot of promise there.

This is that song:
“Beyond the Stars” by Omega Vague

Please note the album artwork. Even that is an homage of sorts to Ride. There’s no way to deny that the iconic album cover for Ride’s 1990 debut Nowhere was a major influence on this.

Towards the end of the song, in the bridge to the last verse, there’s a guitar bit that’s quite reminiscent of the Ride song “Drive Blind” (1990, from the self-titled EP).

You can pre-order a digital download of Reveries via bandcamp here. He’ll make a very limited number of physical copies, and those will be available for pre-order sometime in December. Again, the album comes out on January 6.

11.13.2014 — “Held” by Lowtide


If you only listen to one song today, make it “Held” by Lowtide (2014, from the album Lowtide).

Lowtide is a dream pop/shoegaze quartet from Melbourne. Their particular brand of shoegaze leans more towards the melodic wave of a band like Ride than to the wall of noise of a band like My Bloody Valentine. Especially with their vocal harmonies. The band got its start back in 2010 when multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Lewis branched out from his solo project called Three Month Sunset. He recruited Lucy Buckeridge (vocals/bass), Anton Jakovljevic (drums) and Giles Simon (bass/vocals) to form this band. What? Two basses? Like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, but much different.

They self-released a four song EP called You Are My Good Light in 2010, followed by a 7″ record for “Underneath Tonight” in 2011. They’ve recently been added to the roster over at the little Australian label Lost and Lonesome. While they have a lot of homegrown Aussie stuff there, they also handle (on a very limited basis) Australian distribution for bands who are otherwise signed to other labels worldwide. Bands like The Wedding Present, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Lost and Lonesome is handling the distribution of Lowtide’s self-titled debut, which was released back in July of this year.

I’m not sure exactly how I learned about Lowtide, but I’ve been meaning to write about them for at least a week now. Like a lot of bands I’ve written about lately, it was actually a different song that initially caught my ear, but I really love this one.

This is that song:
“Held” by Lowtide

I can’t help but point out that the opening 21 seconds of the song sounds like something that would be covered in the fingerprints of the magnificent Miss Frankie Rose. If you blindfolded me and told me you were going to play 20 seconds of something from my iPod at random, I totally would have guessed that this is something from the Beverly record. Once the vocals come in, the music goes in a bit of a different direction and it’s more reminiscent of something like Ride or Adorable or something like that.

What I really love about this is the alternating coed vocals on the verses, and the coed harmonies in the chorus.

Lewis’ guitar bit is washed in so many effects it’s kind of swimming around in the ether. Simon’s bass is played very high while Buckeridge plays hers “normal”. I guess a lot of bands that use two bass guitars also do this. Then again, off the top of my head I can only name two bands that used two bass players. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin definitely used the high bass/low bass thing. Cop Shoot Cop had two bassists, but I don’t know any of their music so I can’t say. Suffice to say that Lowtide doesn’t sound anything at all like either of those two bands.

The more I listen to this, the more I like it. The rest of the record is really good, too. You should get your own physical or digital copy via bandcamp here, or from any other legal downloading place. I recommend eMusic.

For extra credit on this, check out the 1990s-style straight forward performance-style video


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