Month: October 2013

Album Review: Arcade Fire – Reflektor


As pop graduates, Arcade Fire addresses their polarizing fame, their need for a real connection, and the modern world’s obsession with its means that leaves us sitting at home alone and staring at a screen.

Reflektor addresses the simulacra/simulacrum of popular music, images, technology, and reality, shining a light on the soul-robbing injustice of capitalist greed and Facebook rubbernecking.  It’s also a travelogue and diary from the couple at its center, a cycle of songs dedicated to the desperation of only just barely being able to scratch the surface of the things and people you love.

The title track is one of the best disco songs in a year top-loaded with them.  “Reflektor”  lays out most of the theme of the album and provides a meta-message about the futility of “getting in,” whether it’s meant in a pop context or the frustrating way we can form a whole picture of a person without touching or even knowing them.  “We’re connected, but are we really friends?” queries songwriter Win Butler.  To drive home the desperation, as he faces one side of the pop music funhouse mirror, David Bowie peers back (in stunning background vocalist form).  James Murphy’s production is immediately apparent, and it’s a titanic groove, all while not diluting Arcade Fire’s penchant for making overbearingly poignant music.

“We Don’t Exist” makes a pointed statement about their insider/outsider status as crossover artists.  “Daddy, tell me why they treat me like this? / Cuz we do it like thissssss,”  Butler hisses.  No one looks at them anymore; they aren’t approached by strangers, they’re an island.

“Flashbulb Eyes” dares to ask “what if a camera really do take your soul?”  Its toy-reggae step isn’t many places removed from David Byrne or Damon Albarn’s.  Without anything to hide, would you have anything to be afraid of?  Is this the freedom we were promised when adopting the Internet into our lives?  And what’s the alternative?  “Here Comes The Night” answers that, as well as cluing in the listener to all this talk of transcendence that Butler and his wife (co-songwriter/ vocalist Regine Chassagne) received when they visited Haiti between albums.  The disparity created at the intersection of different socioeconomic worlds is exacerbated by missionaries who don’t know how to help.  They’d destroy and suppress indigenous culture in the name of Progress and Christianity.  But (to nick from Ray Charles) “the night time is the right time.”  “Night” is a delirious, joyous track, celebrating a people who celebrate without having what many would see as conventional reasons, further putting into perspective the malaise that’s included standard with most tablet devices.

“Do you like rock’n’roll music?  Cuz I don’t know if I do…,” is how Butler cheekily opens “Normal People,” a song about the precarious boundary surrounding the territory of acceptability.  On the surface it scans as teen angst, but in a world where globalization and info-fascist world powers are emerging, are such Orwellian concerns far fetched?  Tellingly, it kicks off a three song centerpiece of the most traditionally “rock” songs on the album, albeit songs in mutant shapes.

“You Already Know” opens with a Top of The Pops-esque introduction (including an actual sample from their appearance on Jonathan Ross’s program) that is the harbinger for the most saccharine plastic pop song this side of Tiger Mountain.  It’s a song in full “Love Cats” jangle-pop mode, all about fleeting moments and self-deception.  The juxtaposition of somewhat facetious musical choices and Arcade Fire’s typically thorough exploration of earnestness, passion, and true emotional catharsis is something that makes sense at this point in their trajectory, on this side of so many polarizing accolades.

Despite how oddly prefab their primary palette is this time around, they still repeatedly transcend effortlessly.  “Joan of Arc” struts like T. Rex (or it’s newer cousin, Kanye’s ferocious “Black Skinhead,” or it’s perfect mash-up partner, Tame Impala’s “Elephant”), but not without leaving behind its message of blind love, admiration, and the curse of prescience.  Heady stuff, of course, but there aren’t many bands as capable of wielding such lofty themes with confidently nonchalant tunes.  It’s a challenge Arcade Fire has risen to through four albums and with a sound that had only evolved incrementally up until this point.

Structured as a double album, complete with intermission, Reflektor’s second side opens with a dreamy reprise of “Here Comes The Night,” before shimmying off into its primarily funkier second half.  “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” leaps from the Rolling Stones’ languid lope to a sound a little more solemn and back; “Its Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” answers with a funk approaching that of the purple one Himself.  References to Chassagne and Butler’s real-life partnership abound, though their relationship is just as tied to their music as their music is tied to the internet as the internet is to pop culture, everything in relation to an actual reality hazy at best– elusive, shifting, elastic.  “Its Never Over” is suitably amorphous, drifting from hazy sweetness back into a jelly-leg jam with what’s probably the best single hook on the entire album.

“Porno” is a domestic promise to differentiate between the images on a screen and the real fuckin’ deal.  In other words, it’s baby-makin music for the stable household, sexy, but responsible.  Don Jon could learn a thing or two from Win Butler on how to treat a lady, but there’s something just beneath of the breakdown between our info-laden techno-reality and how unsatisfactorily this represents the lives we lead, even as we dive further into that domain. As porno is to sex, so our profiles are to us.

“Afterlife” sees Butler finally trying on the Big Suit, using the Talking Heads swagger as a vehicle to address patience in the face of unknowable quantities.   What’s after the end?  Can “we” get it together, scrape up the pieces, and move on?  Is there anywhere to go from here?

Closer “Supersymmetry” is a hazy comedown of a song that ties tiny bows around the themes of fake vs. real and real vs. hyper-real.  “I know you’re living in my mind/ It’s not the same as being alive.”  Reflektor is simultaneously as dense and perplexing as it is open-hearted and over-honest, serving as another example of its own themes, becoming the very impenetrable bubble it shines a light on.  There is much to glean from this album.  If you do solve the riddle, what do you learn?  A Cracker Jack telescope is just a toy, and through it you can only see a distortion.

The experience of being a globe-trotting, award-winning, indie-darling, world-conquering Big Deal Band is something many will never understand.  The ways our modern lifestyles affect us are only beginning to show us our need to understand it.  But the personal drama of the household is a near-universal.  Reflektor is all three, and none.  It’s also an album.  But an album can be digital, vinyl, or just the concept of the album.

The “hidden track” reprises the entire album, a hazy soundtrack jumping the gun on anything Nicolas Jaar might have taken his shot at.  In the end, it dumps us back off at the opening bells of “Reflektor”, the album becoming a mobius strip that leads us back to square one.


Josh Beech used to hang out with the hobos behind the strip club.  Now he writes articles for Internet website magazines.  He’s always known how to read.  You can follow him on twitter @joshbeechyall and hear all of his opinions about the latest celebrity gossip.  


LISTEN: Klub Monsta’s CANVAS

I saw KLUB Monsta for the first time at the second Secret Stages. They were playing in a tent in a parking lot across the street from Metro. It was getting dark, and there weren’t any lights for them, as you can see:

It was hard to see, but nobody cared.They were far and away the best thing I heard at Secret Stages that year. I remember turning to Whitney and

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saying, “Who are these guys?”. She didn’t know either.

I introduced myself after their set and they were some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. They told me about Separate But Sequel, which I devoured. They did an awesome video in the back of Bottletree, and then they got quiet.

10/24 they woke up. The new album, CANVAS with DJ Wally Sparks is available now on Bandcamp and pretty much all I’ve been listening to when I’m in front of my computer.

I’m in no way an impartial, critical observer here. I’m not even going to try to review this thing. I love it. Have a listen.

GET TRYIN: The //GT Interview

I talked with Mark Beasley of //GT this week about touring, making their two awesome EPs and their upcoming show at Bottletree this weekend. Go see them play with fellow post rockers Crystal Stilts & Zachary Cale for 10 bucks Sunday night!


BHAMFM: You guys as separate members have played in tons of bands before. What was the motivation for forming GT — to play with friends (bandmates Byron Sonnier and Scotty Lee) or to make a sound you all mutually loved?

Mark: The initial motivation was Scotty and his desire to record and perform his compositions. I joined because I liked what he was doing and it has evolved from there.

BHAMFM: Could you give us a little backstory on both the self-titled EP and the Heavy Dreams EP and how it was different recording each? Was the latest an extension of songs you’d already written/played live?

Mark: Heavy Dreams was recorded with Les Nuby (Verbena, Vulture Whale). We were very well-rehearsed on most songs and knocked things out in a few takes. Other than vocals there were no overdubs. Get Tryin’ was recorded with Michael Shackleford (The Grenadines) with some help from Lynn Bridges. Much more guitar overdubs and experimental mixing.

BHAMFM: BLOGGER BLURB TIME. Gun to your head: which of these comparisons you’ve drawn is the corniest or spot on: “Heavy psychedelic punk rock”, “stoner surf” or “Southern grunge”?

Mark: Stoner Surf cracks me up because we really did sound like that at first with all the instrumental sections.

BHAMFM: Two of you work behind the scenes at Bottletree. How did the venues on your recent tour compare?

Mark: We played some really cool spots along the way. I enjoyed O’Sullivan’s in Fort Wayne, IN because I got free beer, which is now an Instagram legacy. The Windup Space in Baltimore was cool with a Twin Peaks inspired stage. We got to see a Baltimore band have a “Replacements moment.” The Milestone IS the Nick of Charlotte, awesome.

Album Review: Roman Gabriel Todd 7″


Editor’s Note: This is Josh Beech’s first post for BHAM FM, and hopefully the first of many.  He also writes for the Mobile’s and has recently assumed the mantle as their “Sr. Birmingham Correspondent”.  His turn-ons include pretty girls.  His turn-offs include ugly girls.  

There is a very special demographic for Roman Gabriel Todd.   His music presupposes that there are some who can agree that at a certain point vulgar obscenity transcends into something approaching maniacal glee.  There’s also the notion that guitars are completely unnecessary to accomplish this, bordering on nuisance.  This is a product of his innate third person perspective, where brutality (a protean mix of the farthest-out metal to the most prehistoric dino punk), jazz-fusion, and cheeky ridiculousness converge into a sound that, to a specific cross-section, is absolutely beloved.

His morbid, garish, vivid imagery is a great through-line, unifying his different combinations of genre, arrangement, and personnel.  With the exception of his early (and recently, briefly reunited) band Supreme Dispassion, each incarnation has been served under the umbrella of “Roman Gabriel Todd’s” Band Name Here, furthering the conceit of a coherent pseudo-narrative.

Most people know RGT’s music through his most perplexing and intense incarnation, Roman Gabriel Todd’s Beast Rising Up Out Of The Sea, whose name belied their nature as a violent sea change of synchronized syncopated blasphemy.  The duo of RGT and Benny Divine (the supreme drum jobber on the Gulf Coast) present Todd’s sound at its most muscular, but just as much as he seems to enjoy overwhelming the earholes, he also likes to prune it into a much more peculiar and more skeletal species.  Hot Displeasure featured RGT on drums, leaning into a bass-auto-piloted take on nerve-wracked jazz.  Roman Gabriel Todd and Bobby Sweatpants were a groovy yet lurching monster.

His most recent offering, an untitled six song EP positioned as his solo debut, is a tome of dense, mechanical electro punk.  The repetitious figures throughout create a malevolent hypnosis that is both thankfully and frustratingly brief.  The EP’s quirky and unyielding drum programming, the caustic bass frequency with which RGT delivers sickly grey color and melody, and the cheeky hatefulness is boiled down into simple, punishing, and inexplicably catchy bursts.  The efficiency with which he wreaks mischievous havoc is admirable.

There’s a cartoon plasticity to the EP that holds it all together as a consistent piece, and the 7” format definitely reinforces the momentum of the album while enforcing a more monastic devotion to the EP’s demands for focus.  The lyrics step away from the immediately disgusting and provocative in order to paint sly silhouettes.  Even at their shortest (the two-line “Uncircumcised Stranger In The Sanctuary”), they each lyrically capture a still shot to explore.

The disc is best segmented by its sides, with each representing the line of beliefs.  The Catholic imagery of side one contrasts with the Satanic imagery on the back side.  “Black Pope” is a cheeky race-baiting nightmare for racist believers.  “…Stranger…” uses sexual imagery to equate beliefs with deflowering destruction, while “Born Again Without A Brain Again” equates it with premature death (it’s also quite easily the catchiest and most hypnotic track on the disc).

Side two is about an intellectual and spirtual freedom in open defiance of the criminal repression of the capitol-C Church.  “My Worm Will Not Die” is Roman Gabriel Todd’s “evil” affirmation.  “Satanism in School” promises knowledge of a secret alphabet, something those born again without a brain again will never receive.  By the end, RGT is the master of this death.

“Don’t stop thrusting in the shadow of death,” he says, finally.  In the backwards world where Frank Zappa is called a composer and the local Cardinal is called a monster, the defiant attitude of this song and of the EP in general (the title on the back is “Darkness Upon The Face Of The What The,”  a cheeky reference to the artwork, not the content of the disc) strike as a form of bizarro motivational speaking.  Keep your brain alive, your beliefs dead, and get all up inside the grim reaper.

Order Roman Gabriel Todd’s 7″ by Paypal:,  $5 plus 3 for shipping

Roman Gabriel Todd’s The Beast Rising Up Out Of The Sea at Quarters (4/19/12) from Bullart. on Vimeo.


I imagine when the band New Order released some of their first recordings, and people found out they were the left over members of Joy Division, there was some backlash. Joy Division was bleak and dark but made such a powerful impact. Bernard Summer’s high pitched vocals and childlike lyrics. Peter Hook making it sound like he playing his bass with a razor blade. Stephen Morris’ super tight drumming. This band had a totally different sound.

I’m only now discovering the magic of New Order’s super arty music videos. The one I’m posting today checks in at about 10 minutes but it’s a good one. It kind of shows how New Order played live. All of the songs built up piece by piece. Drum track, then synth, then bass, then more synth, then vocals. I like how the video shows everyone doing their job. And Gillian Gilbert’s quintessential 1980s style. Radical.

Check this one out:



I just got back from an adventure in one of the biggest cities in the world, Tokyo, Japan. It’s gargantuan, but Tokyo is an incredible city. I spent about a week there with my wife for vacation. We did our very best to experience all that the city has to offer, walking and riding on the train to all the different neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is different from the other. Japan is a unique country, and not just because of the architecture or the industry or the neighborhoods, it’s the demographics. Japan is one of the “oldest” cities in the world. “Oldest” because more then 20% of the population is over the age of 65, which is a huge number when you think about it. The country will have a massive drop in population over the next 30 or so years. The younger lot aren’t getting married nor are they having children, and the older ones will eventually pass on, leaving a large void in the population. But there are still many young people there… I digress, I’m not here to give you a lesson on the demographics of Japan. The reason for the statistics in this post is how they relate to the local music of Tokyo.

There’s a proverb the Japanese have: 出る杭は打たれる。It translates roughly to, “The stake that sticks out gets hammered.” You won’t walk into a restaurant in Japan and hear a bunch of people talking over each other or calling attention to themselves in any way. The Japanese are fairly quiet, and other than their advanced fashion senses, they don’t try to draw attention to themselves very much. Because of this, one might think that all the music would be similar but it’s not. You walk into a cafe run by an older lady, and you might hear American jazz music, but you walk into Tower Records in Shibuya, and you might hear an eclectic mix of J-Pop, K-Pop, and C-Pop.

We ventured out to Shibuya (think Times Square x 1,000) to the last of a dying breed of big box record stores, Tower Records. It stands tall amongst the office buildings and high-end fashion stores. Prominently displayed out front, just below the main sign, is another sign that says simply, “No Music. No Life” (in English by the way). My thoughts exactly. The building houses 9 total floors with 6 floors of shelves and shelves of music and music listening stations. Remember those? The first thing we did was explore the first floor which held all of the featured music. Your Justin Beibers, Lady Gagas, Pearl Jams, and so forth. There were also some of the more popular European artists and Japanese artists as well. The 2nd floor was books, magazines, and a cafe. The 3rd floor was my favorite, and where we found the music I’d like to share with you today.

There we found aisles and aisles of J-Pop and J-Indie. It was there that I spent most of my time going from listening station to listening station, checking out as much cool Japanese music as I could with the time that I had. I could have bought about 10 CDs (yes, CDs), but I narrowed it down to 2 discs and 17-inch record. My wife picked one of the CDs.

The first band I listened to was Galileo Galilei. Their newest album “Alarms” was featured at one of the listening stations. I walked up, pressed what I thought was the play button (the CD station buttons are in Kanji but the sideways triangle is kind of a dead giveaway), and immediately, I liked this band. Their sound is best described as indie pop but you can tell they are steeped in classic ’80s new wave. The very first track, also called “Alarms”, is probably my favorite song on the disc. Since the rest of the tracks listed on the back are in Japanese, and I’m not yet able to translate, suffice it to say I also like track 4 as well. Unfortunately, we have limited access to this band in America, but I was able to find one example of Galileo Galilei’s music on YouTube. Here’s a track called “Lonely Boy” from the album.

I meandered around a bit more on this floor of Tower Records and found one of the only displays with vinyl. I saw what looked like a hand drawn illustration on the cover of a 45. Below it was the listening station for who, I found out, is Sokabe Keiichi, who has actually been writing songs for quite a while. Best way to describe Sokabe is singer/songwriter, but this particular record has the feel of a smooth, 1970s AM radio hit. Of course, he does sing in all Japanese, but that’s what makes it so cool. And by the looks of his website, Sokabe really likes noodles.

 Finally, my wife ran up to me at some point during our exploration and dragged me by the arm over to a listening station to check out what she described as “sort of like Purity Ring”. The artist she was describing is called Cuushe. Cuushe is the project of Mayuko Hitotsuyanagi, and her album, “Butterfly Case”, has been spinning in our car CD player ever since we got back from Japan. The tracks on “Butterfly Case” swirl around you like clouds with washy synths and pulsating bass lines. I guess you could use the word “chillwave” to describe the music but that would be too easy, right? Mayuko’s barely-there vocals are sweet and airy. She mostly sings in English on the record, but the vocals blend so well with the music, it’s hard for the listener to discern what she’s trying to convey. But no matter, Cuushe’s music makes for great tunes to listen to when you want to relax. I’ve posted a link to a piece from one of my all time favorite music blogs, Gorilla vs Bear. They are always on top of the new stuff. Check it out here.

My time in Japan was well spent eating and exploring, but spending a few hours wandering around Tower Records was one of the best parts. It’s fun to go into a small Indie record store and search out that rare find, but to be quite honest, I occasionally miss the classic big box stores like Tower. Tokyo is one of the coolest cities on the planet, and spending time there was life changing. The places we walked and the people we met were so different, and to find some music I may not have ever found here at home was just icing on the cake. If you ever get the chance, please visit. Arigato Tokyo.