Saturday, December 22, 2007

The New Chamber Ensembles

For probably the fifth time since this fall began, I'm showing my dad stuff on the internet. Music stuff. Since I embarked upon this whole, "Hey, I think the type of journalism I'm gonna practice is music journalism!" thing, he, my mom, my best friend, and really anyone else who'll listen (and who loves me enough not to just leave the room as soon as they get bored) has been subjected to internet tours of what excites me musically - and subjected to them frequently. Hence the blog, I guess. Dad (a onetime music history major at Florida State and of the best musicians I've ever encountered) just finished watching Arcade Fire's Take Away Show at my request. (It came out in March. I just caught up last week. Psh.) Before that, I made him watch "The Penalty" by Beirut (see previous least this one's only three months old). Dad's a good sport. We're commenting on the way that even though these two groups have chosen different instruments, they've both stepped outside the norm (rock n' roll-wise) and employed not just unusual strings and percussion, but several wind instruments as well.

See, we're both wind players. He played the clarinet for many years and since then has turned to numerous old wind instruments like the baroque flute and recorder. I've been playing the flute for 11 years, and the piccolo for five. (Plus, I'm a really bad guitar player now, too...) I grew up playing duets with Dad in our kitchen. Kitchens have nice acoustics.

Point is, we pay attention to instrumentation. In his Take Away Show, Zach Condon utilizes not one, but two euphoniums (Dad raises his eyebrows. "Two euphoniums?"), as well as a trumpet and a couple other things. This sort of accordion-related, big-band concept seems to have been getting less unusual lately. As someone who's rapidly stumbling upon better and better music by the day, I can't tell if it's just that I haven't been looking until now or if it's really a trend. Whatever the case, string basses have been popping up all over, accompanied by hand cymbals, ukuleles, horns of all types, dancing cellists, and what have you. I'm extremely ok with this.

We watch as Win Butler and the whole crew warm up, playing arpeggios and drinking tea to loosen up vocal cords. ("That guy plays French horn and bass clarinet?" asks Dad.)
The room they're in sounds like every backstage. We've played those very arpeggios, sat on folding chairs in the midst of dozens of others who are doctoring their musical tools, tuning up, preparing. Musicians are all the same.

They pile into a freight elevator and play "Neon Bible," from inside, beating on the ceiling and ripping up magazines by way of percussion. It's intimate and beautiful and has a thousand times more meaning when you know what a motley collection of contraptions have produced the song. We follow the bouncing camera as they walk through the halls to the packed-to-the-gills auditorium. The crowd parts to Butler's megaphone-assisted requests and they perform "Wake Up" for an audience with disbelief and excitement spelled out across their faces as clearly as if it were in sky writing. "It's such a distinctive sound," muses Dad. "These groups...they're like rock chamber ensembles."

This video is very very much worth your time:

The face of "popular" music is changing. We're not tied down to specific collections of instruments the way we were at the beginning when rock began, or soul, or country, because each genre has influenced every other genre. They're meshing and fading and borrowing, and classical and jazz are creeping into all of them. Ends of the industry become higher-brow while the others go lower. Besides, genres define themselves other ways than orchestration nowadays anyway.

Maybe the holiday stress is going to my head, but it all makes me happy and hopeful. Possibilities seem endless in world that contains groups like these.

Going on vacation tomorrow morning. Will blog again when I get back (unless Grandma's neighbor has wifi...doubt it). Working on Stomp and Stammer ads this week, as well as preparing for an interview with A Decent Animal for SEP. They're opening for Band of Horses on New Year's Eve which is only a week away! I have to resist the urge to squeal whenever I think about it.

Again, joyous Christmakkah everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Also, does anyone know why my banner's all stretched horizontally like that? (See above.) It looked pretty as a PhotoShop file...

"We're gonna need a montage."

Been feeling a bit scattered lately, as evidenced by the lack of posts. It's not that I don't have any ideas, it's that I've got too many.

Here are some of them:

1. A tribute to Of Montreal - themed multimedia, including ridiculous videos, Daytrotter sessions, live performance journal, etc. Really, it's just so easy to talk about them because they're just so interesting (read: "insane" and "musically prolific"). I think this one'll have to wait a couple days.

2. Inspired by the lists upon lists upon lists, I was going to throw a few of my own favorite videos of the year on of which was from Of Montreal...maybe I really do need to do that post...and two of which were directed/animated by the aforementioned Brothers Chaps from

(Heimdalsgate Like a Promethian Curse, Dir: Brothers Chaps)

3. I thought I might point you lovely people toward particularly well-designed record label websites, especially Kindercore's. This Athens label's page is just too cool for words. But to preclude that, I've instead started a lovely link section (to your right) just for neat labels. The criteria for making my label list include, "Do they produce music I want to listen to over and over again?" "Are they nice?" and "Do I want to hug them when they meet me unsuspectingly at shows because they've contributed so much to our little musical bubble?....ahem...sorry, Mike."
(Side note: I think it's funny, in my travels through Southeast record label cyberspace, how many different ones carry at least one release by Neutral Milk Hotel. Yeah, they're unequivocally incredible. But...still. Everyone can't claim them as their artist...Merge, etc.)

4. It's the holidays. This calls for Christmas music. I want to post some mp3s, and I will soon, but for now, visit Y O U or Casper and the Cookies, for some of the best indie X-Mas jams I've heard so far. They're cheesy. They're synth. They're twee. It's good times.

Casper and his cookies:

Aren't they festive?

5. Thought I might marinate on the naming of record labels a bit. Especially one such Cephalopod Records out of Nashville. I like this idea of classifying things based on their number of appendages, and apparently, so does this record label. I wanted to support these efforts.

6. A tribute to the Take Away Shows seemed to be in order. It still is. This is definitely one I'm doing.

Beirut performs "The Penalty" in a French bar:

7. Lastly, I thought I might weigh in on the whole Bradford Cox blogging thing. Maybe I won't, though.

Happy Christmakkah, everyone. Stay tuned. Oh, and what I'd really like for the holidays are comments on my blog.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What are Y O U doing tomorrow?

Deadline at SEP has kept posting to a minimum (or, you know, nonexistent) this week. But fear not, reader! It was worth it. In the February issue, we'll have Y O U on the cover, which kicks a good bit of butt, not to mention a beautifully-written spotlight on The Selmanaires by yours truly. It's going to be lovely.

To hold you over until I can convert my lengthier handwritten ideas to fantastic multimedia blogging form, here's a couple of extremely amusing webistes.

's MySpace features several videos (including Christmas ones!), versions of crappy XMas covers they've done lately, and actually cool videos of their actual songs. I especially enjoy the one made completely out of Lite Brite stop animation and the one done by the Brothers Chaps (of Homestar Runner fame).

The photo shoot for their Performer cover is tomorrow (Sunday) in Piedmont Park on the concert lawn. They need extras, so if you've got a spare minute around 3:30, drop on by. I'll be there, so... These guys have assumed several alternate identities over the years (and still do, I'll grant you), and I think the concept for the shoot involves something to that effect. It should be a good time.

Ok, other amusing webiste involves you once again visiting Have You Heard? and clicking on the Christmas card. Best use of gorilla I've seen all year. Worth a minute of your time, guaranteed.

I promise, the breath-holding while waiting for a meaty FOA post will desist soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pop Quiz!

Oh hey, I updated a lot of the links on the best songs list. Also, a lot of those songs are in the playlist I made on previous post if you want to listen. Before I go to sleep, I wanted to pose an open-ended and nebulous question.

What do Band of Horses and Mates of State have in common?

I know what I think. What do you think?

This is what I think about when I drive. This is why I rear-end people.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Have You Heard....Bees?

Bradley and Adam have thrown down their second episode of Have You Heard? Check it out. They talk about FOA again! Thanks, fellas! Couldn't be happier. You're welcome, Bradley! I had no idea a badly-labeled Band of Bees album that haplessly found itself in Adam's music library would cause so much inter-roommate strife. (It wasn't labeled because I had trouble figuring out if it was the UK or American version of Sunshine Hit Me, and finding correct track titles was a bit sticky, by the way...) They talk about it in depth, and very favorably, with which I heartily agree. A Band of Bees is great! (And they have a new record out called Octopus. Click on band link above for info.) It's a discovery I can thank my friend Bryan for, someone who has the weirdest music taste ever. (Which I mean as nothing other than the highest compliment.)

Speaking of Bees, the aforementioned band, A Band of Bees, goes by the name The Bees in the UK, which is where they're from. Now that they've gained a good bit of international popularity, they caused a serious semantics problem for American group The Bees, which has subsequently renamed themselves The Silver Seas. We covered them last month in Southeast Performer. I like 'em. They're almost old-timey. I don't know what I mean by that. 'Cept that it's good.

Here they, um, bee.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007

Hello! The six-page handwritten list that's been in my little notebook now finds a home in the blogosphere. The scrawled collection of my favorite songs of the year just kept getting longer and longer. I dare say that it's incomplete as shown here. But have a look, enjoy, and click on the ones that are linked if you want to listen (can't find all of them...yet). Also, please please please comment and tell me about what I haven't included or what you agree or disagree with. If it's not on there, it's most likely because I don't know about it.

Limited to this year's releases. I'll add a list later of stuff I listened to a lot this year that was actually released earlier.

Favorite Songs of 2007 (in no particular order)

Department of Eagles - Sailing By Night
(Really excellent song, very sweeping. I especially love the end. Wasn't too impressed with the rest of the album, was a little inaccessible.)

Band of Horses - Is There A Ghost (I'm thoroughly ashamed to admit that this is currently my ringtone. So infatuated.)

Band of Horses - Islands On The Coast (Ben Bridwell has explained that the lyric is "eyelids want to close," but he thought it kind of sounded like "islands on the coast" there you go.)

The National - Fake Empire (This song is in 3/4 and 4/4. AT THE SAME TIME. It's been done before, but not very often in popular music. It makes my classically-trained brain buzz with happiness. Way to go, The National.)

The Avett Brothers - Paranoia in B Flat Major (The link is currently just a sample...I'll try to fix it. Same goes for the other Avetts songs.)

The Avett Brothers - Shame

The Avett Brothers - The Ballad of Love and Hate

Oh, hey. If you've got a minute, read the ridiculously long column I wrote one night about my obsesson with the Avett Brothers. And then comment on it. Make a sad little blogger very very happy.

Beirut - The Penalty (I ADORE this song. It's basically perfect. Intimate and sweeping all at once. It makes me see sunsets and goodbyes. And hope.)

Of Montreal - Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse (Super-happy music about brain chemical imbalance...hmm.)

Of Montreal - Gronlandic Edit (The vocal harmonies alone are worth a good listen. Five-part stack. Hands-down the funniest part about seeing them live at the 40 Watt on Halloween was the fact that there were only two vocalists on stage, but that the audience filled in the harmonic gaps. Hilarious.)

Of Montreal - Suffer for Fashion (I haven't linked it, but see if you can find the Daytrotter version of this. It's without all the electronics, and that makes it even more obvious how well-written it is.)

Biirdie - Him (We received this record at the SEP office, but they're from California or somewhere, which is definitely not part of the Southeast region. So I got to keep it. Thanks Team Clermont! Really excellent, broad, shiny sound. This is their best song, I think.)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Yankee Go Home (Can't find this one anywhere, and REALLY like it...if you have a moment, go listen to it somewhere.)

Fishboy - Blackout/Flashback (Links to the page where you can stream the whole album, worth a listen from beginning to end, as it's a rock opera.)

Radiohead - 15 Step (I'm not linking any of the Radiohead. If you don't have this album yet, shame on you. It was free.)

Radiohead - Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

Radiohead - Faust Arp (This might be my favorite Radiohead song. I know that's a dangerous statement...argue with me.)

Wilco - Either Way

Tegan and Sara - The Con (The title track of a lovely album. Completely worth buying. And I'm always impressed with how many vocal textures these identical twins are capable of. It seems like with two of them and each's range, the possibilities are endless.)

Tegan and Sara - Dark Come Soon

Tegan and Sara - Nineteen (Hands down the most drippingly nostalgic song I've ever heard. It's the perfect breakup song. So literal. And so much about what it was like to be younger.)
Their show at the Roxy last month was excellent, by the way...

Suburban Kids With Biblical Names - Loop Duplicate My Heart (Silly but wonderful.)

The Shins - Australia (One of my very favorite of the year. Just...excellent. No verse or chorus is the same twice. Excellent work from one of the best songwriters of our time. Who can do better than "Pink Bullets"?)

The Shins - Sleeping Lessons (Very mysterious. Then it rocks out. The perfect first track to an album.)

Radical Face - Welcome Home (If you've never heard Radical Face, you're in for a treat. The atmosphere created by this's gorgeous. This is the first track following the intro, which is called "Asleep on a Train," and you can actually hear rattling glasses and stuff throughout the album, as if you know...asleep on a train.)

Radical Face - Along The Road

Radical Face - Wrapped in Piano Strings

Menomena - Rotten Hell (Just damn cool.)

Maria Taylor - Clean Getaway (Beautiful. If you turn it up REALLY loud, you can hear rain falling in the background.)

The Dimes - Catch Me Jumping (Another thank-you-Team-Clermont record for the music mag intern. I think I got it the same week I got the Biirdie album. Good week. These guys are just...clean and good. Good.)

BC Camplight - I've Got a Bad Cold (Weird. Couldn't really handle most of this album. But this song is awesome. Listen hard. It's not as funny as you initially think.)

Arcade Fire - The Well and the Lighthouse (Ah, Arcade fire. They use a hurdy-gurdy. I'm not linking because everyone, and everyone's brother, already has this freakin' album. As well they should.)

Arcade Fire - Black Mirror

Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running

Ach, that's all for now. May change later. Thoughts?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Listings for the Listless

Pitchfork posted their Year In Photos and it's pretty awesome.

This one's my favorite.

It's Kevin Drew. I need to get that album somewhere...

I'm constantly working on my Favorite Songs of 2007 list, but it's incomplete. My #1 favorite song is in jeopardy because it was definitely playing when I rear-ended a guy on my way to work last I might be re-thinking its designation. It was going to be "Fake Empire," by The National. I'll figure it out. Till then, feel free to experience my Best Albums of 2007 or my most recent compilation, "We are Half Awake."

Might be a day or two on that best songs list because I'm on deadline here at Southeast Performer. I had an incredible interview with The Selmanaires on Wednesday, and attended their photo shoot. It's going to look amazing, and I'm huge fans of these guys. Look for the article in February. I'm also writing a review of the new Paleface record, which I'm pretty pleasantly surprised by.

And if you're hankerin' for some lists, as always, you can visit Largehearted Boy, where there are so many lists, you could swim in them. And they're organized into a...list. Alphabetically. Mine is in the "F"s. Yay.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Have YOU heard music?

When some friends of yours decide it's time they started their own music criticism podcast, I think many people's natural tendency would be to err on the side of skepticism. I'm sure lots of people still view every upstart blog and independent critical or journalistic venture that way. Most of my friends still roll their eyes every time I say the words "my blog." (My eyes roll a little, too, I know.)

So when dear musical dude Adam Trimble (and my own personal provider of all albums I should have but don't) confided to me that he and his roommate Bradley Occhipinti were starting just such a blog and podcast, I was intrigued but unconvinced. I wanted to reserve judgment until I heard it.

Well, I just heard it and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I'm not just saying that because they're my friends (or because they thanked me and plugged my blog at the very end, which made me giggle...a lot). They're well-spoken, knowledgeable, and structure the segment in such a way that it includes all the music they're covering and flows extremely well. I learned a lot listening to them and laughed at their banter all the way. There's more to come from these folks, who plan on podcasting weekly and doing live reviews and the like. These two have also recently formed a band we should look for as they amass material and start recording and performing, called Prove Your Love.

So here's me saying truthfully that this podcast is worth a listen. Their inaugural show covers releases from British Sea Power and Gorillaz, and is an effective introduction to their project. Way to go, boys!

Monday, December 3, 2007

VHS or Beta Review

Giggle. So my very first CD review came out today in our December issue of SEP. You can read it here. Just scroll down toward the bottom of the page. Or read below where I've copied and pasted. Looking back, I imagine I could've could have written it a little better...but whatever. Milestone!

VHS Or Beta —Bring On The Comets

Produced and mixed by Brandon Mason.

Recorded at Echo Mountain Recording in Asheville, NC

Engineered by Brandon Mason

Mixed at Blackbird Studios, Nashville, TN

Mastered by Fred Kevorkian at Avatar Studios in New York, NY

This Louisville, Ky., trio’s second full-length release swims neck-deep in more of the polished, hook-filled, retro punk/disco-inspired sound we’re used to from VHS or Beta. After the interlude-like intro, “Euglama,” “Love In My Pocket” begins with more guitar and distortion than the effect the album ultimately settles into and as the song progresses, it melts almost imperceptibly into the wider, poppier sound so characteristic of the band, and by the key change before the last verse, we‘re lost in bright, ‘80s glam gloriousness.

If the record has a downfall, it’s that the thumping backbone starts to become monotonous after a while. Though there are gaps between tracks, these don’t provide any sort of real mental hiatus. “Can’t Believe a Single Word,” the album’s catchiest song, seems to melt into “Burn It All Down” at the same tempo like a DJ switching songs, recalling the group’s house roots.

Still, several songs, especially the album’s piano-heavy title track, inspire an appropriately soaring, transcendent feeling. Emphasized by the unison notes following “You took my breath, took my sorrow,” Craig Pfunder’s voice echoes nostalgically before the song rockets into an overpowering bridge and chorus.

The irresistibly danceable nature of the album is compounded even more defiantly by mid-song key changes that drive the listener into the next track. The band utilizes a more guitar-centered, less electronic sound than many of its dance-driven counterparts, and the momentum keeps rolling forward during the first half of the album, finally slowing down after “Bring On The Comets.”

The album’s final cut, “The Stars Where We Came From,” recalls the rhythmic and melodic elements of the title track, becoming a sort of happy reprise. The bass drum only takes a short break during the middle bars of this song. It concludes satisfyingly like a night of dancing. Each song stands up as a carefully crafted piece of disco-punk artwork. (Astralwerks)

-Julia Reidy