Month: June 2014

If you hang around long enough, weird, wonderful things happen

The poster below is pinned to my door of my study. It’s a relic of a past age, that one time when my wife got mad that they didn’t have a local stage at what turned out to be the final City Stages.

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She organized a show called Secret Stages at Speakeasy featuring our favorite local bands. As you may realize, Secret Stages (in name) lived on, now announcing bands for it’s 4th year. We don’t have anything to do with it now, but that’s a pretty cool thing. It’s sponsor is Vulcan Vape, which headlined the first Secret Stages as half of Vulture Whale. And you may not know The Secret Dangers, but you do know Paul, their lead singer, as St. Paul and Broken Bones, who is playing two nights at the Alabama Theatre.

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Show Review: Naan Violence at Cuckoo’s Nest

DSCN0774Last Wednesday night I found myself watching a sitar player in the small living room of a house called “The Cuckoo’s Next”, and was surprised at the turnout for that rainy night. Though the show was promoted to start at 7pm, of course it didn’t really start until around 9pm, but the time passed fast with friendly conversation and record-listening. I loved how they had balloons on the living room floor just for that night, and how I was surrounded by mostly people talking about music and not just forced small talk. Some of the crowd were people I don’t see out often, and others I would not have expected to see there, but it all meshed well together in the hospitable environment.

The small intimate setting of the living room was ideal for the sitarist’s set. I was intrigued by him starting out playing on an acoustic guitar, because I noticed how he played it differently than the traditional ‘American-style.’ That house was his last stop after touring the past two and a half weeks. It was his second time playing in Birmingham, his first time being at The Firehouse a couple of months ago.

I was surprised that he had only been playing sitar for five years because I thought he was quite good, and he’s taking sitar lessons in India later this year. So cool. He said that he felt very well-received by the Cuckoo crowd, and enjoyed being able to play an all acoustic set for a change.

As for the house itself, it was hard to tell who all lived there, but Milton of Them Natives, who booked the show, stated that he is not planning to utilize that house as an established venue, and it is only the second show that has been booked there. Even though that house probably won’t have many shows in its near future, I thought it was still cool enough to document.

As a side note, Silver Reich, a project Milton is doing with Emanual Ellinas, is playing The Firehouse June 24th, so check that out if you can. 


Hear more of Naan Violence at zapcassettes.com.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2014… SO FAR

We are nearly half way through the year 2014 and it’s time to share my favorite albums of the year thus far. We’ve seen some pretty big releases this year and I have few I think you, my dear reader, should be spending some time with. I could mention a few more that I like but these are the five albums I’ve been spinning non-stop since they came out.

Enough with the so and so, here’s my favorite albums of the year so far.

MAC DEMARCO :: SALAD DAYS

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In 2012, Mac Demarco burst onto the indie music scene with his brand of sleazy guitar pop music. He release two albums that year and played a very long tour that bled into the year 2013. On his latest release Salad Days, Mac didn’t stray too far from his core sound although he did add some shimmering synthesizers for an extra layer of texture. This album is easily my favorite of the year so far. There was a lot of anticipation leading up to this one and Mac delivered. I was able to see him and his band of fantastic musicians perform at The Goat Farm in Atlanta earlier this year, if you have a chance to catch Mac Demarco please do it. Not only is he a great songwriter and musician, he and the boys will blow your socks right off playing live rock and roll music.

REAL ESTATE :: ATLAS

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In the modern era of music when bands go, what some people might consider, “too long” with out a release, the listener or general fan will grow impatient and sometimes seem to lose interest. It’s almost an unspoken rule that you have put out some sort of music (whether it be a new single, remix, b-side, or other) during the years between albums or people start asking “What happened to (insert band name)?” Real Estate released Atlas three years after there hit 2011 release Days, and for this fan, that was a perfect amount of time between recordings. The guys utilized Wilco Loft studio in Chicago to work on this record which may be their best album to date. Atlas picks up where Days left off but this record finds lead writer Martin Courtney tackling more current affairs rather then discussing the topic of nostalgia and old times. Real Estate is establishing themselves as one of the most important bands in modern music and this record is a perfect example of their staying power. Real Estate makes music good for any time of year. I heard Katy Goodman (La Sera, and formerly Vivan Girls) say recently, “It would be a wonderful music to listen to on almost any occasion…being at home, eating breakfast, or going to bed or driving in your car. Pretty much any situation will be better with this music playing”. So. True. (GOOD NEWS FOR BHAM RESIDENTS: Real Estate will be playing at Bottletree Cafe on 9/21! Get a ticket and vibe with me!)

THE WAR ON DRUGS :: LOST IN THE DREAM

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Americana is one of my least favorite genres of music. I’ve seen other writers and critics label The War on Drugs as a “modern Americana” band but I disagree wholeheartedly. Although their music has some dreamy elements and perhaps a more folksy approach, TWOD is a rock and roll band. Their latest album Lost in The Dream will be on several “end of year” lists this year and for good reason. This is just a great album all the way around. It’s a refreshing dip into the pool of new rock music. The production and instrumentation is near flawless and the lyrics are intentional and beautiful. “I’m a bit run down here at the moment,” from the song Eyes to the Wind, is one of my favorite lines from any song that I’ve heard this year. I’m just fully in love with this album. TWOD should absolutely be in the discussion with larger indie rock bands like The Arcade Fire and Wilco and after this release, I believe they will be.

DAMON ALBARN :: EVERYDAY ROBOTS

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Damon Albarn has had quite a journey as a musician and producer. You may know him from his work with Blur, Gorilllaz, and the under-appreciated The Good, The Bad, & The Queen. This year Damon released his very first solo album Everyday Robots. He’s currently playing the major festival circuit with his band “The Heavy Seas”. Lyrically the album might come across as the complaining of an older person who just doesn’t get modern life, but Damon’s calling us all out about our obsession with technology and our need to constantly stay connected. I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the theme of this album and we both came to the conclusion that Damon is calling us on our shit and he’s totally right to do it. He also approaches some more tender subject matter on his own struggle with addiction and fame. Musically, the album is structured almost like a folk record but uses various instruments like synthesizers, samples, and vocal modulation to give the whole thing more layers. The thing that got me so hooked on Everyday Robots is the time signatures and percussion. Reminds me a lot of The Good, The Bad, & The Queen in the best of ways. This record is a must have for the year.

PALO ALTO SOUNDTRACK :: VARIOUS ARTISTS

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“Palo Alto” is the indie film version of a collection of short stories written by actor James Franco. The stories are loosely based around James’ own life growing up in suburban Southern California. The film is the directorial debut of Gia Coppola. If you recognize the last name it’s because she’s Sofia’s niece and Francis Ford’s granddaughter. The film itself is largely scored by Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange) but there are also some additional tracks by Gia’s cousin and Rooney frontman Robert Schwartzman. Gia’s other cousin Jason Schwartzman (Coconut Records and Max from Rushmore) also contributes a track. Although I’ve never actually seen this movie (shoutout to Birmingham’s lack of indie movie houses), I can really get an idea for the flow of the movie with this soundtrack and  the songs chosen feel like they are a perfect fit for the movie. The songs are angsty and modern but emotional. Even your boy Mac Demarco contributed his homage to smoking cigarettes, his song “Viceroy”, to the album, which is a song all angsty teenagers should relate to. Also, Devonte Hynes is probably the future genius songwriter/producer we need in the world of music right now so you should really pay attention.

 

Concert Review: Failure at The Masquerade, Atlanta GA 6/7/2014

After 16 years, Failure — Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards, and Kellii Scott — has reunited and is in the middle of their Tree of Stars North America tour, celebrating their full catalog of music with what has been billed as “An Evening with Failure”. This weekend, I had my passion, loyalty, and patience rewarded for sticking with them since a friend introduced me to them back in 2001 with “Stuck on You” on a mix CD he had prepared for me to play on UAB BlazeRadio back when I was hosting a show called Deus Ex Machina under the DJ moniker Kid A. I was joined by a friend and former coworker on the road trip, and I ran into several people from my past (two of which I haven’t seen since I was still in Dredge!) who had come from Gadsden and Tallahassee for the show.

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Instead of an opening act, the band prepared a short film that displayed their musical and visual influences over the years. This included footage from The Spy Who Loved Me (if you watch the music video for “Stuck on You”, this makes perfect sense), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ren & Stimpy (!!! – specifically, it was a clip from the episode “Space Madness” in which Ren succumbs to the crippling isolation of being sequestered to a shuttle…which fits well with “Another Space Song”), and of course the surreal La Planete Sauvage (better known in English as Fantastic Planet!)

As the Fantastic Planet footage was coming to a close, Failure opened with “Another Space Song”, which is fitting as it contains the lyrics “I’m so caught up in the tree of stars falling in my backyard” in reference to the tour moniker Tree of Stars. The full setlist, which you can view on Setlist.fm (if you don’t mind spoilers, that is), contains nearly all of Fantastic Planet, half of Magnified, one from their debut album Comfort, and a new song called “The Focus”. Before starting the new song, the band had just come on stage for their encore: the crowd was chanting “ONE MORE SONG!” and Ken answered, “So you want one more song? Nah, fuck that! How about FOUR more?!” to which the Masquerade erupted in applause.

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What? A new song, you say? Yes, indeed. And that’s not the only one. A tour exclusive live EP titled Tree of Stars contains live versions of “Let it Drip”, “Frogs”, “Sergeant Politeness”, and “Heliotropic”, as well as studio recording of a new song “Come Crashing”.

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This song is a bit of a departure from the sound I’m used to from Failure, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It feels more pop-oriented, with synths and less dissonance than your standard Failure track. For now, the verdict is “it’s growing on me.” Feel free to check it on Failure’s Bandcamp page.

It gets better: in a May interview with Smells Like Infinite Sadness, Ken revealed that the band is working on a new album that is due out in 2015! Troy Van Leeuwen, while not part of the reunion tour, will be included in this recording.

For you music tech geeks out there, the band’s live setup is 100% amplifier free. They have converted to digital, using Fractal Audio Systems Axe FX II to emulate amplifiers, cabinets, effects pedals, etc. This allows Ken and Greg to quickly switch guitar and bass duties, as they so often did last night, as well as to easily access preset banks of sound settings that so define each individual song. For example, to transition from “Stuck on You” to “Heliotropic”, Ken and Greg swap instruments, Greg begins the droning synth line that opens “Heliotropic”, and Ken pulls up the huge, nasty distortion for one of the heaviest bass riffs of all time. Instead of traditional amplifiers and cabinets, Ken and Greg each have a Sunn Model 15 PA speaker behind them simply to incorporate feedback when appropriate.

As far as live shows go for me, last night’s is matched and/or beaten by only a handful: the two times I’ve seen Radiohead (Hail to the Thief tour in Atlanta – they played Creep!!!, and In Rainbows tour in Indianapolis), Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, and Autolux on tour together in Detroit (which, QOTSA and Autolux at the time included half of Failure’s final lineup: Troy and Greg, respectively), and Sigur Ros in Ann Arbor (Takk… tour, back when they were still playing songs from Agaetis byrjun, which I sorely missed at their BJCC concert).