Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Flagpole: 25 of Our Favorite National Releases of 2009

I had the privilege of contributing to Flagpole's best-of list this year! Other fantastic writers (who also happen to be friends of mine) weighed in, so check it out!

One of my blurbs:


Deerhunter's Bradford Cox took a break from all his Internet micro-releases to record his second full-length for solo project Atlas Sound. Logos, according to Cox, was made up significantly of first-takes, a fact that only proves how fantastic he is at retro song structure; for him, it has become almost effortless. Joined by other indie luminaries like Animal Collective's Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and Stereolab's Leititia Sadier, Cox explores all his facets as a songwriter and puts forward an almost stream-of-consciousness statement on his place in the musical world. [JR]

I also wrote short summaries about the awesomeness of albums by Here We Go Magic, Animal Collective, Bear In Heaven and Grizzly Bear. Read the whole thing here.

All of Flagpole's best-of coverage is definitely worth a read. They touch on content from just this year and the whole decade, and they do it on both a local and national scale.

Flagpole: The Five Local Bands of the Decade

Flagpole: Cream of the Local Crop (2009)

Flagpole: The Decade You Listened To Too Much Music: The Rise of Digital Distribution in the '00s

Decade Trends: Ups and Downs in the Local Music Scene

Oh, and that last one uses this picture of Lazer/Wulf at the Morton Theatre, which is awesome....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Record Review: Alec Ounsworth - Mo Beauty

For Stomp and Stammer:

Alec Ounsworth
Mo Beauty


There's never been a voice quite like Alec Ounsworth's, one part slippery like a mud wrestler sliding around on himself, one part crunchy like rusted gears grinding to a halt. When I first heard his debut LP with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, his vocal style was so idiosyncratic that part of me thought he must be kidding. Then I realized how dead serious he was about songcraft. The two full-lengths CYHSY put out were simple post-rock at its finest, two-chord-based walls of sound, moving bass lines and Ounsworth's ridiculous howling soaring and ululating above it all. Lovely. Though the band hasn't made it clear whether the Clap Your Hands project has ended permanently or is just on hiatus, Ounsworth branched out this year with two releases on his own, one with a band called Flashy Python and one under his own name.

Released in October and recorded in New Orleans, Ounsworth makes it very clear that Mo Beauty isn't CYHSY and he doesn't want it to be. Leadoff "Modern Girl (With Scissors)" has certain things in common with Ounsworth's compositions as a member of CYHSY, yes. It's lyrically oblique; the melodies build upon themselves like layer cakes, each verse getting more topically specific as his voice rises higher and the tune winds tighter. "What Fun" and "Obscene Queen Bee #2" feature vocal lines that, characteristically for Ounsworth, rock back and forth like waves on a ripply pond. But the wall of sound is missing. Instead of a wash of guitar and bright keys and that glorious, kinetic bass, all the instrumentals have been provided by venerable New Orleans musicians. It's more like classic rock, more like jazz, more traditional. It's brass-heavy and masculine like a blues band, not shiny and euphoric like CYHSY...[Read more]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Record Review: Bear In Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth

Beast Rest Forth Mouth is one of the best records of the year! Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.

For Flagpole:

Bear In Heaven
Beast Rest Forth Mouth

Blessed with one of the best leadoff tracks in recent history, replete with driving percussion and reverberating keys, Bear In Heaven’s sophomore full-length barrels into existence from a silence that never knew what it was missing. Sounding like the love child of Tears For Fears and Yeasayer (just listen to single “Lovesick Teenagers”), Beast Rest Forth Mouth stretches out wagging fingers in all the cardinal directions its name would obliquely suggest.

Led by Georgia native and Brooklyn resident Jon Philpot, Bear In Heaven recently congealed into a full-fledged four-piece after years of lineup changes and members’ relocations. The result is an album with hips, high heels tapping at 100 bpm, a throwback that, like recent luminaries such as M83, references new wave without keeling over into it...[Read more]

Paste Best of What's Next: Carnivores

These ATLiens certainly deserve to be Artist of the Day!

Paste Artist of the Day:
Best of What's Next: Carnivores

Hometown: Atlanta
Band Members: Tauseef Anam (drums), Philip Frobos (bass, vocals), Nathaniel Higgins (guitar, vocals), Caitlin Lang (keys, vocals)
Album: All Night Dead U.S.A.
For Fans Of: Abe Vigoda, Black Lips, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

With a jangly guitar lick and a far-off, echoing vocal line, Carnivores stealthily prowled into their hometown’s heart this summer via local college radio station WRAS.
The song getting repeated plays, “A Crime,” sounded almost familiar but also brand new, a lo-fi, noisy punk take on a sunny surf jingle that veers for a too-brief moment into a tropical groove before coming to an abrupt end. It offered a view into some manic, nostalgic world, one where everything reads in second-person and problems can be danced away at either sock hops or in mosh pits.

It seemed like Carnivores snuck up from nowhere, claws bared, and strolled right into considerable local notoriety. But for the quartet, the journey has been long and any recognition they’ve received has been hard-earned. And if their scattered, precocious debut LP, All Night Dead U.S.A. (released locally in July on Atlanta startup Double Phantom Records) proved worth listening to over and over again, it’s because the band tried over and over again to make it so. All of them former members of another local group called Chainestereo, the four Carnivores reinvented themselves into their gloriously noisy current group in 2008, after a lineup change and a philosophy adjustment. “You know how you pay your dues and play all of those awful shows, and do the stuff that nobody wants to do, and build whatever it is that you have, locally?” says bassist Philip Frobos. “We did all that with [Chainestereo], and then once things made the transition, they were a little more exciting. It was like everybody was there waiting. It was good to go.”...[Read more]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paste Best of What's Next: Pyramiddd (Starfucker)

Here's my (albeit HEAVILY edited) Artist of the Day piece on Pyramiddd (formerly Starfucker) for the Paste website! Josh Hodges turned out to be much more philosophical than I had expected, having seen the band live once before. He was thoughtful and forthcoming on the phone, which, sadly, is more than you get from a lot of artists.

Artist of the Day:
Best of What's Next: Pyramiddd

As the dance-pop quartet recently re-dubbed Pyramidd knows, tossing the term “fucker” into your band name isn’t always the best idea. Until this fall, the foursome had called itself Starfucker, a name slapped on back when the band was just a drumming-only solo project for multi-instrumentalist Josh Hodges. By the time Hodges had unwittingly accumulated three bandmates and started touring, the name had stuck—but had started becoming a distraction, discouraging booking agents from Oregon to Japan. There was a certain amount of attachment to the name—it was what the band had been known as when it released its self-titled debut LP in 2008 and its follow-up EP, Jupiter, earlier this year—and he band didn’t want to betray itself or the people who had made its career possible so far.

But still. They were called Starfucker.

So in September the band invited invited fans to suggest new names, and in October finally settled on Pyramiddd as its new moniker. After playing the last Starfucker show on Halloween night, the band embarked on its first European tour in November, and plan to return to the U.S. to make a fresh start with its new name. Paste spoke to frontman Hodges about the Starfucker legacy, his plans for Pyramidd, and—unexpectedly—how Eastern philosophy makes for great dance music.

Paste: What have the last couple of years been like for you guys, going from not being known to being known on a national level?
Josh Hodges: I think people think we’re a lot bigger than we actually are. We still play for like ten people in Nashville and places like that, you know? I don’t feel that much different—it’s just that we tour a lot. We’ve done like three national tours in the last two years. We’ve done three or four West Coast runs. It’s really fun, and it’s really disruptive to any kind of normal life (Laughs) that I would have in Portland—that all of us used to have in Portland. But it’s worth it...[Read more]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flagpole Feature: The Antlers: Finding the Hope in Hospice

It's my first feature for Flagpole! And it's about a band whose record I really admire. I've written about them before; I did a review of Hospice for Atlanta Music Guide back in August. And tomorrow night, they'll be in Athens to play at the 40 Watt. Can't wait!

The Antlers
Finding the Hope in Hospice

Once in a great while, a true concept album gets made. It doesn’t preach or pander; its narrative serves not as a crutch, but as a framework through which its creators explore actual, fallible emotion and musically ambitious composition. Sometimes, even, the expression of its theme isn’t so abstract as to be unrecognizable to the uninitiated (we’re looking at you, In The Aeroplane over the Sea).

So it is with Hospice, the breakthrough album from Brooklyn, NY’s taxidermically named The Antlers, a trio that this year suddenly turned a lot of horn-free heads. The band—frontman Peter Silberman, multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and percussionist Michael Lerner—self-released Hospice this March in their impatience to have it heard and, subsequently, sold out of it. “We ended up kind of in the deep end, the good side of that, with people wanting to buy it,” Cicci says. “We didn’t really have distribution, so we didn’t have a way of getting it to the record stores in L.A. or Toronto or anything like that.” Unwilling to wait months for a label to put out the album, it was Frenchkiss Records (founded by Les Savy Fav’s Syd Butler) that ultimately secured the rights to Hospice’s August re-issue, promising speed instead of complex, lengthy production cycles.

Bolstered by this new exposure, The Antlers have finally gotten the opportunity to let Hospice speak—or rather, wail—for itself. The album comprises nine movements, all with one-word names, chronicling the death of a loved one and the emotional fallout thereafter. Silberman’s voice breaks from full-feeling tenor into strangled, wrenching falsetto as he sings of pain, verbal abuse, hallucinations, grief and the surreality of it all. The band creates a sonic spectacle composed alternately of simple folk, shimmering ambient tones and fleeting anthems, notes dazzling, wobbling and fading out like the smoke after fireworks...[Read more]

Record Review: Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy

Two Kurt Vile posts back-to-back?! Geez, this guy must be good.

For Stomp and Stammer:

Kurt Vile
Childish Prodigy


With a dirty buzz and a watery echo on every vocal, Kurt Vile, Philly's self-proclaimed "Constant Hitmaker" has released his second LP of fuzzed-out noise pop, this time via Matador. It's the follow-up to his debut, uh, Constant Hitmaker, and it's the kind of music that's got both bile (that's "bile" with a B!) and beauty behind it even through the delayed stadium sound present on every track, from leadoff "Hunchback" onward. It's as if he sings from one second in the past and one second in the future, a startlingly effective way to lend an all-encompassing feel to what is ultimately a low-fi effort.

Despite the raunchy recording, Vile's songs are anything but gross. The record's brighter numbers, "Overnite Religion," "Blackberry Song" and the so-gorgeous-it's-not-fair "Heart Attack," are all punchy acoustic guitar and tambourine and pretty keys and unadulterated joy. Vile breaks into psychotic falsetto intermittently, sounding deliberately and charmingly insane through all the songs' washing layers. "Heart Attack," for me the album's standout, is a small song, if that makes sense; that is, it's only a surprising chord progression and a slurring vocal delivery away from being unremarkable, but that distance has suddenly become acres and it seems now impossible that it ever could've been ordinary...[Read more]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Live Review: Kurt Vile and the Violators, Lovvers, Carnivores @ 529, November 3

This was an awesome show. I could've gone on for pages about how much I enjoyed Carnivores and Kurt Vile. Fortunately, I'm getting a chance to write more about the former, and I'm sure the latter will return soon, having recently signed to Matador. (My review of Childish Prodigy will appear in this month's Stomp and Stammer.) ATL folks, if you haven't checked out Carnivores yet, please do! You won't be sorry.

[Above: Carnivores. Below: Kurt Vile, photo by Sarah McKay]

For Atlanta Music Guide:

Live Review: Kurt Vile and the Violators, Lovvers, Carnivores @ 529, November 3

Carnivores are my new favorite local band. After rising from the ashes of the now-defunct Chainestereo, they’ve re-formed with renewed vigor and have plenty to show for it. Tuesday at 529, the group pulled about half the set from its surprisingly awesome debut LP, All Night Dead USA (released locally this July on Double Phantom Records), but the other half was newer material the band hasn’t yet recorded (or stuff I just didn’t recognize). Of the familiar numbers, “A Crime” of course stood out; it’s the quartet’s single, and it has the potential to endear them to anyone with an ear for retro pop and a heart for psych-punk.

Bassist Philip Frobos and guitarist Nathaniel Higgins alternate lead singing duties on most of the songs, but the real treat comes when keyboardist Caitlin Lang takes the mic, as she did for the set’s final selection. While the whole band exudes palpable charm (not to mention seemingly haphazardly executed skill), Lang’s unassuming attitude and blissfully violent delivery endear her the most. When mixed with Higgins’ echoed-out, ambient guitar tones, drummer Tauseef Anam’s grooving, manic drumming and Frobos’ kinetic, winning bass lines, Carnivores’ show becomes harder to pass up each time...[Read more]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

James Husband - A Parallax I

For Flagpole:

James Husband
A Parallax I


James Husband, better known as Jamey Huggins from Of Montreal (and who’s played with loads of other bands, too), makes his solo debut with A Parallax I. It was recorded in three different studios by three different techniques over five years, and it sounds like it. The cassette-recorded tracks seem appropriately fuzzy and mellow, the all-analogue third of the record sounds as blended and optimistic as it should, and the digitally recorded numbers are as crisp and precise as Huggins’ layered, intricately timed arrangements require...[Read more]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Record Review: Spring Tigers - Spring Tigers

It's weird, Spring Tigers totally share a member with Boulevard, the now-relocated band of my old co-worker Benjy at Copy Services at the UGA Library....I knew something about this record sounded familiar!

For Flagpole:

Spring Tigers
Spring Tigers
Bright Antenna

Lyrically, Athens’ Spring Tigers have claws. Throughout its debut “mini-LP,” the band explores matters more deeply than its almost manic sound would suggest, delving into themes like frustration, self-loathing and disillusionment with a humorous twist. “Stripmalls in the Sun,” for example, describes a shallow world that’s pretty, but not truly beautiful, perhaps drawing a parallel to the seriousness lurking just beneath these songs’ saccharine, dance-inducing post-pop surfaces.

But that’s where the edginess ends...[Read more]

Friday, October 16, 2009

Paste: Getting to Know... Volcano Choir

My interview with Chris Rosenau of Volcano Choir is up on today!

Getting To Know... Volcano Choir

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver has been pretty public about his love for experimental post-rock outfit Collections of Colonies of Bees. The band’s music is largely instrumental, frequently epic and, like so much music that can’t lean on vocals as an audience-catcher, depends on building tension based on pacing, volume and orchestration. It could be said that some of their arrangements are reminiscent of Bon Iver songs, but what’s more likely is that Vernon’s instrumental compositions have taken more than a few cues from Collections of Colonies of Bees. The group, which formed in 1998, probably provided much of the inspiration for the unshackled take on traditional modes that has made Bon Iver so remarkable. But rather than limit his affection to reference points in his own work, last fall Vernon teamed up with the five members of Bees (all fellow Wisconsinites) to make something entirely new—a group named Volcano Choir and an album called Unmap (out now).

Volcano Choir sounds like Bon Iver’s glitchier, more experimental cousin, happily mixing electronic trickery with post-rock prowess and traversing considerable sonic territory. From stacked-vocal-driven pieces (“Seeplymouth,” “Youlagy”) to modern spirituals (“Mbira In The Morass”), the album works some kind of haunting magic, one that isn’t afraid of its own strangeness. The baritone a-cappella-group-style backup singing of “Cool Knowledge,” for example, certainly departs from both bands’ charted territories. But these six musicians haven’t just wandered off the map—they’ve attempted to erase songwriting boundaries altogether, and their journey will likely be a long one. Paste recently spoke with Bees guitarist Chris Rosenau about the making of Unmap, writing songs backwards and the future of the new musical project.

Paste: Tell me about the birth of Volcano Choir. You guys have all been friends for a really long time, right?
Chris Rosenau: Yeah, we met Justin and the guys from his previous band, DeYarmond Edison, in 2005. We had a mutual friend—a guy that’s actually in Collections of Colonies of Bees now, Thomas Wincek, who’s our Rhodes player. They were into a record that we had done and he just put us in touch with them. They asked us to come up to Eau Claire to play a show and we did, and just kind of hit it off. We ended up touring with DeYarmond a bunch throughout the Midwest, and then just obviously ended up staying in contact with all those guys, still. We’re still all really good friends.

The whole Volcano Choir thing came about really gradually and really slowly. Basically, the whole thing started when I had recorded some solo stuff right around that same time—it was a little bit before we actually met Justin. I had just written some stuff as a total experiment with no plans of ever doing anything with it, but I was always interested in the back of my mind in finding a vocalist that could add to it. The whole idea was writing some really stark, minimal-type pieces with no overdubs or anything like that, just an idea for a vocalist to kind of use as scaffolding for something. I had never done anything like that before. So I did those things and Jim Schoenecker from Bees and I were screwing around with them, but there was no plan, so they just kind of sat forever.

And then we met Justin, and at this point DeYarmond had disbanded. I don’t even remember how it came up, but at some point we were like, “Hey, we have all these weird tracks we never did anything with. Let’s send them to Justin and see what he can do with them,” because obviously we were in love with his voice and everything. He ended up doing some vocals on those songs, and sent them back with a note like, “Here’s some really rough stuff. Just see what you think. I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.” He was really just playing around with it, and two of the songs actually ended up being on the final record. “Husks and Shells” was one of them, and “Mbira in the Morass” was one of them. Then it was interesting, because all of a sudden this stuff that was just lying around with no plan and no focus ended up being really exciting to everyone involved. We just did the same thing with most of the other songs, by email, adding to them. That was actually right around the time [Justin] was screwing around with really what he wanted to do with For Emma, you know, with the new approach he was taking with the vocal stuff. The earlier stuff for Volcano Choir kind of happened in parallel with all that...[Read more]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Record Review: Nurses - Apple's Acre

For Stomp and Stammer:

Apple's Acre

[Dead Oceans]

We usually reserve words like "polarizing" for things with moral gravity like political policy or public behavior. When applied to a Portland, Ore. psych-pop band like Nurses, such terms start to seem less applicable. But the trio's debut LP, Apple's Acre, is without a doubt one of those albums for which your ability to tolerate the sonic texture alone dictates completely whether you can like it or not, all discussions of content aside. I feel like you'd either have to love this album based on your first listen, or hate it.

See, the content is good. Sure, it might be influenced heavily by current indie pop movements (and by "movements" I mean Animal Collective or piano-based bands like White Rabbits). And yes, Aaron Chapman and John Bowers have voices that are unavoidably nasal. But for those that found such eccentricities charming in bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, these things shouldn't be insurmountable when endeavoring to enjoy what's underneath...[Read more]

Also, check out my live review of Nurses, Throw Me The Statue and The Brunettes when they past through Atlanta last month!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Live Review: Wavves @ The Earl 10/4/09

FOA proudly presents:

The Most Overtly Negative Thing I've Ever Written For Publication!


Wavves @ The EARL 10/4/09!

For Stomp and Stammer's Tales From The Moshpit section:

There's a fine line between damaging for the sake of shock value – for effect – and just plain terrible. A band can affront its audience, like so many live musicians do, to involve them, to let out some aggression that's pivotal to the understanding of its music. A band can evoke disgust as a deliberate emotion from listeners. I get it. All that's fine, understandable and frequently enjoyable. (Unless it's AIDS Wolf that's doing it. I hate AIDS Wolf.)

But just on the other side of that line is a truly awful live performance, and sadly, that's what Wavves produced Sunday at The EARL. It was spectacularly bad. I couldn't tell you almost anything they played through the excruciating, incessant feedback that seemed to be actually drilling holes into the audience's innocent eardrums. I do know that I barely recognized a lot of the material from sophomore release Wavvves (three Vs versus the debut's two), out earlier this year, and that I was really pissed because I'd been excited to hear these songs. Sunday, I didn't hear them so much as wince through them. (And yeah, I did try earplugs. No dice. The muddy mix was bad – and the performers lackluster – with or without the murdering of my hearing's high range.)

So then the real issue is what a waste it was that Wavves sucked so hard. The tragedy, for me, was twofold:...[Read more]

(What's the most negative thing you've ever published? Anyone want to share links?)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Record Review: Throw Me The Statue - Creaturesque

For Stomp and Stammer:

Throw Me The Statue

[Secretly Canadian]

How cute is too cute? Is there such a thing as just cute enough?

Seattle's Throw Me The Statue has made a career out of staying just this side of the line between winningly sweet and disgustingly saccharine. Their sophomore release Creaturesque is by no means all bounce, though the music can definitely be crisp, and often bright. Between skipping, upbeat numbers, Secretly Canadian's pop darlings insert a trembling, mellow, sun-downing piece like "Pistols," more gravity-bound than helium-filled. Everything, whether nostalgic (with an '80s throwback slant like "Cannibal Rays") or optimistic (like the fuzzy guitars in "Hi-Fi Goon") in feel, revolves around Scott Reitherman's slow, creamy drawl, the kind of voice that goes down easy...[Read more]

Also, can we take a second to appreciate the charm of these press photos? (The top one's called "Gearamid." Ha.) Photos courtesy of Secretly Canadian, by Trae Rhee.

So adorable....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Record Review: Atlas Sound - Logos

Atlas Sound, the perhaps topographically-named solo project of Deerhunter's Bradford Cox, will release its second full-length (though certainly not second release) Oct. 20. Getting this album early was a real treat. Though a demo version leaked a while back (to much chagrin on Cox's part), it didn't do justice to the finished product, a disparate collection of songs that's as prodigal as it is pretty. Yay for ATL.

I got to review Logos for Flagpole:

Atlas Sound


After floating blissfully into the solo arena with 2008’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel, Deerhunter's Bradford Cox has planted both feet on the ground with his second full-length as Atlas Sound. Not only have the spiraling ideas he recorded alone returned to Earth a bit for Logos, but he’s left his bedroom confines to rejoin the world.

Combinations define Logos, of people and of genres. "Walkabout," the result of Cox's lesson in song sampling from Animal Collective's Noah Lennox, is a collaborative powerhouse. Above thumping bass, sharp treble clicks dance with happy keys and both guys’ remarkably different voices. It’s one of those summer-y songs that evokes a sort of alt-pop euphoria few can match...[Read more]

(The Fader has the "Walkabout" MP3)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Record Review: Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

For Stomp and Stammer:

Sunset Rubdown

If you can stand Spencer Krug's voice long enough to get through this whole album, then man, are you in for a treat. The solo recording project that has evolved into an honest-to-god band returns post-breakthrough with Dragonslayer, the follow-up to their 2007 release Random Spirit Lover. RSL was a leap forward for the band, compositionally, and while Dragonslayer demonstrates yet again the group's abilities with intelligent instrumentals and incisive lyricism, the critics don't seem to be falling over themselves with praise because it's nothing we didn't discover they could do last time.

Which isn't to say Sunset Rubdown isn't growing or that Dragonslayer isn't a phenomenal record. Maybe it's better as an under-the-radar list-topper. All the songs contain more than they seem to at first, and expand outward from their gorgeous, melody-driven centers. Meshing imaginative synth keys and the ever-present clean guitar riff around lyrics with sentiments that range from wry to romantic (fairy tales and classical mythology pop up all over) to just startlingly descriptive, Krug (Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes) and co. create a whole world you can just stroll right into – one that rhymes frequently, too. Take for an example this line from the almost tropical "Paper Lace": "There's nothing left inside the room you filled with lion skins and laurels. Those were good ideas, but they weren't diamonds and pearls." After the verse and chorus repeat a couple of times, it launches into a B-section à la Okkervil River that ups the nostalgia and stylistic punch before returning to the original theme. Though the structure isn't unique, it puts Sunset Rubdown in good company, reserving their spot among the best working in the modern songwriting tradition...[Read more]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Live Review: The Brunettes, Throw Me The Statue, Nurses @ The Drunken Unicorn 9/7/09

For Atlanta Music Guide:

Live Review: The Brunettes, Throw Me The Statue, Nurses @ The Drunken Unicorn, September 7

I’ve come to really dig the homemade decorations bands have taken to draping across their equipment for the sake of... what, beauty? Hipster kitsch? Either way, it’s pretty charming. (I mean, have you ever seen These Are Powers live?) For Portland,Ore.’s Nurses (pictured above), the knitted doilies tied to their tables and tables of sampling boards and other electronic gadgetry might be more geared toward aesthetic continuity, as many of their press photos have to do with yarn and paper cut-out triangles.

But that’s not the point. The point is that Nurses treated the Unicorn to a dynamic live show on Labor Day, replete with faithful re-imaginings of songs from their August Dead Oceans debut, Apple’s Acre. They led with “Technicolor,” the album’s first track, frontmen Aaron Chapman and John Bowers bouncing the band’s characteristically nasal vocals off each other as they twiddled their multitude of knobs and strummed guitar strings. But James Mitchell, the band’s percussionist, played perhaps even more pivotal of a role, providing the almost tribal beats that set the band apart (or group them into the same sonic category as, say, Animal Collective), all mallet work, bass and rim tapping.

When Seattle’s Throw Me The Statue followed, the show became a very different beast. Instead of three cutoff-sporting beardy fellows, TMTS had four fresh-faced people on stage, led by the band’s brains Scott Reitherman. They spliced together songs from their sophomore LP Creaturesque, released in August via Secretly Canadian, and from their early 2008 debut Moonbeams. Just as Creaturesque was recorded with a full band instead of Reitherman solo like Moonbeams, the group’s sound has grown, too. Since the last time I saw them live, they’ve evolved to play louder, faster, and with more energy, without forsaking the melodic skill, glockenspiel (!) and drum machine vs. actual drums interplay that works so well for them. Standouts from Moonbeams like “Lolita” and “About To Walk” rose to the level of more raucous numbers from Creaturesque like “Ancestors” and “Hi-Fi Goon.”...[Read more]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Playlist: Favorite Songs of 2009 (So Far)

So this year, I'm not procrastinating. I've been adding my favorite songs to a playlist as I go all year. When I stumble across a good one, it goes in, and now I've got something to show for it. It'll grow, of course, before list season this December. But for now, I thought I'd share so that everyone can listen to some awesome tunes. I know it's the playlist I turn to by default.

(BTW, despite its drawbacks, has by far the best playlist embedding site going on right now.)

Record Review: The Matt Kurz One - Debt Sounds

For Flagpole:

The Matt Kurz One
Debt Sounds
Quote Unquote

Matt Kurz’s left foot is a decent bassist. His right foot plays pretty good snare and bass drum. His right hand is a respectable guitarist. His left hand plays keys and high hat well enough. But the sum of all these limbs (or rather his band The Matt Kurz One, of which he is the sole member) excels. See, Kurz plays everything simultaneously, and sings determinedly over it all. It makes his debut Debt Sounds, which would otherwise be a perfectly enjoyable rock and roll album, into something truly impressive—something to which you can’t help but tap and sing along. That is, as long as you’ve accepted you’ll never be as coordinated as he is...[Read more]

Visit Athens local Matt Kurz at his MySpace.

Record Review: Circulatory System - Signal Morning

I'm not sure if it comes across in the review--sometimes I try to avoid exaggeration or over-excitement in published pieces--but this record is brilliant. Really. It deserves a listen.

For Atlanta Music Guide:

Circulatory System
Signal Morning

Cloud Recordings

Circulatory System’s Signal Morning embodies everything that’s great about Athens’ famed Elephant 6 collective — the experimental streak, the grumbling soundscapes, the ‘60s pop throwback vocals and guitar work (complete with backwards records), the psychedelia — without everything it risks. Will Cullen Hart (formerly of The Olivia Tremor Control), the band’s heart and head, never lets the album get overblown or long-winded. Thoughts never continue longer than the amount of time for which they’re interesting. The songs never get precious or twee (I’m lookin’ at you, early Of Montreal), even at its most adorable moments (“News From The Heavenly Loom”).

Nothing — nothing! — remains static, whether it be an under-a-minute-long interlude (of which the album’s got plenty) or rambling electronic number. The only-48-second “Electronic Diversion,” for instance, is a pentatonic rave that busts unexpectedly but somehow necessarily into a low, House-y dance growl. And the record’s longest track, “Round Again,” at a full 5:36 minutes, is a fully-developed electro-pop statement. With a melody reminiscent of George Harrison at his most Ravi Shankar-obsessed, the song’s lyrics speak of mortality and the changeability of life while the music itself rounds corner after corner, satisfyingly returning to its original home in the end. The album turns on a dime from nostalgic (“Tiny Concerts”) to emotional (“Overjoyed”) to transcendent (“The Frozen Lake/The Symmetry,” “Signal Morning”)...[Read more]

Signal Morning released yesterday via Cloud Recordings. It's the band's first album in eight years, and features guest performances by Julian Koster (The Music Tapes, Neutral Milk Hotel) and even Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), as well as everyone from Olivia Tremor Control. It's an E6 reunion, and it sounds wonderful for it.

[MP3] Circulatory System - "Overjoyed" (via Team Clermont)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Record Review: Slaraffenland - We're On Your Side

For Atlanta Music Guide:

We’re On Your Side


It’s a rare find, but Denmark’s Slaraffenland truly sounds unlike anyone else. The all-male vocal harmonies on the band’s second U.S.-released LP bring to mind a men’s choir or barbershop quartet, bass-heavy, on-pitch and gorgeous. But see, then they mix that skill with rock n’ roll sensibilities; We’re On Your Side’s throbbing percussion (“Hunting,” “Postcard”) is as important as how they sing. And Slaraffenland has brought creative instrumentation (horns, flute, clarinet, sax) and a strong ear for tension, pace and volume, too. Their compositions are more like classical arrangements than populist ditties, but pull along the same energy as the simplest power ballad...[Read more]

This song is one of my very favorite of the year:
[MP3] Slaraffenland - "Away"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Live Review: Bowerbirds, Megafaun @ The Earl 8/17/09

[Phil Moore of Bowerbirds]

Wow, I really need to either get a better camera or stop taking show photography. This is verging on blasphemous.

For Atlanta Music Guide:

[Mark Paulson of Bowerbirds]

Live Review: Bowerbirds, Megafaun @ The Earl, August 17

If there had been wires running from the instruments Megafaun and Bowerbirds played onstage, from their faces and hands to the eyes and ears of everyone in the crowd, you would’ve seen bursts of green light, energy snapping and crackling along the lines all night. That’s how electric the show was. Both acts couldn’t have given more.

[Beth Tacular of Bowerbirds]

Megafaun, up first, just didn’t want to stay plugged in. Rather than pulling his banjo’s cord out gently, Phil Cook would rip free of his restraint and bound in one stride to the front of the stage or out into the audience. All three — Phil, his brother Brad, and drummer Joe Westerlund — walked around singing joyously among the crowd members. Standouts included “Kaufman’s Ballad,” “Columns” and “The Fade” as they meshed Americana with noisy electronic feedback and experimental sound collages. The last song of Megafaun’s all-too-short set was an unplugged number where they perched at the very front of the stage and sang straight to the audience, who watched them with awe-struck, upturned faces...[Read more]


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Fiery Furnaces burn down the sound barrier

My first piece for Atlanta's Creative Loafing went up on their website today! Check it out:

The Fiery Furnaces burn down the sound barrier
Sibling duo transcends old-fashioned "with-audio" album-making

“They’ve been saying the album is dead for a long time,” says the Fiery Furnaces’ Matt Friedberger. “I don’t know why they want to kill the album.”

To the New York brother/sister duo, it seems alive and well. Famous for spectacular, keyboard-heavy live performances and eccentric, virtuosic recordings, Fiery Furnaces released their eighth record I’m Going Away July 21 via Thrill Jockey Records. But they didn’t stop there. In reaction to the supposed demise, Matt and his sister Eleanor are putting together a “silent album” — a songbook that will be made up of sheet music, instructions and other visual representations of songs that fans (or non-fans, Friedberger makes sure to point out) can use to recreate musically on their own...[Read more]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

FOAVOD: The Music Tapes - "For The Planet Pluto"

Today's FOA Video of the Day is simply adorable. Trust me. Guest appearances by lots of the Elephant 6, incl. Kevin Barnes.

The Music Tapes - For the Planet Pluto from Merge Records on Vimeo.

Record Review: Julian Plenti - Julian Plenti is...Skyscraper

It's my first record review for Flagpole Magzine!! I read Flagpole straight through college--their reviews and features were probably what planted the idea of writing for music magazines in my head in the first place...though at the time I never thought I'd be capable of it. (Look at me now!) Super excited to do more for them. Check it:

Julian Plenti
Julian Plenti is...Skyscraper


With Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper, Interpol frontman Paul Banks has joined the likes of Garth Brooks and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James in creating an arguably unnecessary—not to mention transparent—musical alter-ego. What purpose is served by even Julian Plenti band biographies neglecting to mention that Plenti is Banks or that his performing “sabbatical” coincides with years of success as a member of Interpol is a mystery. Regardless, Banks’ outing as Plenti offers a modest departure from Interpol releases. He’s approached it with a sense of humor (the press photos “accidentally” feature a banner that reads “Julian Plenti is…crap”), and seized the opportunity to side-step the watering-down of creative ideas by compositional collaboration...[Read more]

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Live Review: Akron/Family @ The Earl 8/13/09

For Stomp and Stammer's Tales From The Moshpit:

Akron/Family @ The EARL, 8/13/09

I wish Akron/Family were my family. I wish my family screamed and wailed, but also crooned and hushed and harmonized. I wish they played guitar, bass and drums but also chains of bells around their necks and egg-shaped shakers and sampling boards and recorders and penny whistles. I wish they drew a crowd that filled the room at The EARL, half of whom were rapt with attention and danced with flailing arms, and the other half of whom chatted obnoxiously and spilled drinks on people's (my) feet, requiring their noisiness to be addressed from stage. Wait, I don't actually wish that last one.

Well, it's official. Akron/Family is cooler than my family, unnecessary tie-dyed American flag backdrop and all. And they put on one of the most stunning shows I've ever seen, using just three members — Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton and Dana Janssen — to perform what on their recordings sounds like it required small armies to produce.

Consisting probably 80 percent of material from their May release Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, the band rocketed through the set, rarely letting the audience have one of those certain breaks after songs in which to applaud. Sometimes, between loud jam-outs, the band would get so quiet that some dude in the back would start clapping erroneously. For that matter, the audience was a bit more of a character in this play that I would have liked — and bassist Seaton seemed to share that opinion. He repeatedly talked to the crowd, toward the beginning wryly remarking "We've got stompers," (people have no rhythm!) and during the encore goading us to dance and singling out one poor sap in front of me who flatly refused...[Read more]

[MP3] Akron/Family - "River"

Record Review: The Antlers - Hospice

For Atlanta Music Guide:

The Antlers
Frenchkiss Records

Pete Silberman’s warbling voice exposes a beautiful but deep-rooted anger throughout Hospice, the breakthrough full-length from Brooklyn’s The Antlers. After a wildly successful self-release earlier in the year, the record is getting a proper reissue August 18 via Frenchkiss Records, home of other heavyweights like Les Savy Fav, Passion Pit, The Hold Steady and The Dodos.

It’ll give a wider audience the chance to experience the band’s exploration of the idea of having an abusive loved one in hospice care — of having to be kind at the end of their life, but being beaten down emotionally by them all the same. Silberman speaks of screaming and cursing and apologizing, of fictions, of pushing someone to wake them up, very literally of hospitals (“Epilogue”). His voice cracks with intensity from whispering in a lower register into tortured, strained falsetto at various points; instrumentation ranges from simple four-chord acoustic guitar to huge, piano-driven anthems to electronic ambient swaths that shimmer against each other, all dissonant and pretty...[Read more]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Here We Go Magic - "Fangela"

This may be the best song I've heard all year. Thoughts?

Friday, August 7, 2009

FOAVOD: Fiery Furnaces - promo video for I'm Going Away

These guys are so freakin' charming. It makes me wish I had a brother to bicker with about song composition and album titling. The Fiery Furnaces released I'm Going Away July 21 on Thrill Jockey Records.

The Fiery Furnaces - promo video 1 from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

The Furnaces will be at the Variety Playhouse Aug. 20 with White Rabbits.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Urgh, new banner not look so good. Will fix when have time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Live Review: Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound @ The Earl 7/17/09

For Atlanta Music Guide (and please pardon my terrible show photography):

Live Review: Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound @ The EARL, July 17

Dirty Projectors arrived late, during Atlas Sound’s set on The EARL’s welcoming stage. They’d driven straight to Atlanta from Louisiana, they told us, and more than one band member was sick. In a gesture of goodwill, the audience agreed to put out cigarettes for their benefit.

Fortunately, the smokes were the only things extinguished. Bradford Cox’s set as Atlas Sound had been a glowing one. Backed by Herb Harris, Jason Harris and Tommy Chung of The Selmanaires, he gigglingly played a handful of tracks from the forthcoming Logos for his hometown crowd. It was the first Atlas Sound show I’ve seen where he had a backing band — one that learned the songs in two days, no less — rather than just a microphone and a sampling board at his fingertips. Cox will take The Selmanaires on tour with him when he hits the road this October.

[Atlas Sound: Bradford Cox and Tommy Chung]

The headliners’ set was no less luminescent. Consisting of almost the entirety of this year’s Bitte Orca, it opened with “Two Doves,” just vocalist Angel Deradoorian singing and band leader Dave Longstreth on guitar. It was a sweet, captivating way to start, and ensured the audience’s undivided attention. The set was peppered with moments that would make us stare equally as rapturously.

[Dirty Projectors: Angel Deradoorian, Dave Longstreth, Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle]

Standout moments included the rocking unison “bitte orca” refrain in “Useful Chamber” and the guitar riff and handclap backing in “No Intention.” Longstreth almost never strums his guitar, always finger picking these frantic, stuttering melodies and looking ecstatic the whole time. Deradoorian, Haley Dekle and Amber Coffman’s voices ping-pong-ed off each other’s in such a way that it was seamless, and difficult to believe it was human anatomy and not an electronic device producing the sound (most startlingly in “Remade Horizon”)...[Read more]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Record Review: Megafaun - Gather, Form and Fly

Yay timeliness! Gather, Form and Fly releases today via FOA Crushworthy Record Label Hometapes. ("Home is where the tapes is.")

For Atlanta Music Guide:

Gather, Form and Fly


Megafaun’s albums feel like a flocking of musical ideas rather than a linear expression of them. Good thing for the Durham, N.C. trio, then, that the migration it has made compositionally takes it in all kinds of fascinating directions; ones that perhaps aren’t visible without binoculars. From the ashes of former band DeYarmond Edison (minus member Justin Vernon, now of Bon Iver), Megafaun took flight, releasing Bury The Square in 2007. The album won over a national audience with its pretty soundscapes, lush vocals and backwoods instrumentation.

But sophomore release Gather, Form and Fly cashes in that capital and compounds the interest, utilizing more techniques than a goose has feathers. At first glance, it’s just a record full of finger picking and pretty stacked vocals. It fiddles like Appalachian folk, rambles like Americana and strums like acoustic rock. But beyond all that, a strong instinct for experimentation and sound variety permeates Gather, Form and Fly; no two songs can be said to be the exact same style and no one song remains the same style throughout its entire length...[Read more]

Monday, July 20, 2009


I've had my file hosting account suspended for some reason (I suspect it has to do with the bandwidth usage surrounding me posting Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks"). Sorry if you've tried to listen to some older stuff and it's not there anymore. If there's anything specific that I once posted that you'd really like, shoot me an email. Thx!

Friday, July 17, 2009

FOA OMG!!1!: Pontiak

I'm not usually one for stoner-sludge-type guitar rock, but man, is Virginia's Pontiak an exception. I missed them when they did an in-store at Criminal Records during Bonnaroo (exasperated sigh), but I've been spinning their April Thrill Jockey release Maker since then anyway. I caught wind of the band when they passed through Atlanta last year after releasing Sun on Sun (these guys record quickly). The three Carney brothers hail from the Blue Ridge, and can perhaps thank their familial relationship for the seamlessness with which they perform and record. Live, they were a positive force, dark and menacing but somehow buoyant and bright, too. Recorded, listening to Pontiak feels like walking into a cave on a hot, sunny day. You're a little blinded, but it's cool in here, and somehow the sheer depth of it relaxes.

Maker is almost minimalist. Though vocals do play an important role in the album, they're few and far between. That's because for Pontiak, less is more. Lead-off "Laywayed" stops abruptly after the intro and inspires that kind of everyone-inhales-at-once tension bands sometimes employ live. Some tracks, like "Wax Worship," begin or end with lengthy sound collages--they drone--and concentrate more on waves and textures than any pop sensibilities. "Wax Worship"'s final minutes feature vocals reminiscent of Gregorian chants or some type of cult choir situation. You can almost hear the creepy ceremonial hooded robes.

"Seminal Shining," one of Maker's shortest track, departs from all of this. It's wholly and hypnotically different, utilizing Spanish-style guitar and low vocals throughout the length of the song. Maybe a technique of drone and ambient music comes through here; it's another example of the effectiveness yielded by lulling an audience into a certain repetitive framework before startlingly changing style or key. I like it.

Give 'em a listen:

[MP3] Pontiak - "Wax Worship"

Monday, July 13, 2009

Record Review: Bowerbirds - Upper Air

After writing a Paste Band of the Week on Bowerbirds at the re-release of Hymns For A Dark Horse last year (in which I got to interview Phil Moore), reviewing their follow-up LP was a bit of a challenge. For one thing, their style hadn't vastly changed on this sophomore effort. Many of the same elements were still there, to the point that it risked monotony. But once I listened enough, I got to experience the ways the band was growing. In the end, Upper Air is a satisfying, if not list-topping, effort from a band whose instinct for beauty is unparalleled.

For Stomp and Stammer:

Upper Air
[Dead Oceans]

“One morning you wake to find you are shackled to your bed/ And bound and gagged/ Oh my, what a predicament,” Phil Moore sings to begin “House of Diamonds,” the lead-off track of Bowerbirds’ sophomore LP. That certainly would be a predicament, but not to worry; “You were free/ You were already free,” the song reassures as Beth Tacular’s high, clear voice joins Moore’s. Two years after the self-release and one year after the re-release of the North Carolina trio’s first full-length Hymns for a Dark Horse, they’ve returned with Upper Air, an album consistent with their debut but that shows clear signs of evolution.

See, they were already free. Hymns betrayed the band’s organic, unshackled ways of writing, playing and living. (Moore and Tacular are a couple and lived in an Airstream trailer in the woods before they built their own log cabin.) The album explored almost exclusively themes of respect for nature, of living harmoniously with it and with the world as a whole. On Upper Air they still use pretty, harmonized vocal hooks and minimalist, acoustic instrumentation like accordion, piano and hand-held bass drum. They still pepper their folk songs with a darker, more intense gypsy number here or there; see “Beneath Your Tree.”...[Read more]

[MP3] Bowerbirds - "Crooked Lust"

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Record Review: Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

So far, Veckatimest is one of my favorite records of the year. Seeing Grizzly Bear for the first time at Bonnaroo was a complete thrill; I was so happy! Ed Droste is a hypnotic vocalist, and Christopher Bear's live drumming is formidable and overzealous and fantastic!

When I came back, I got to agonize over a review of the album for Stomp and Stammer. What came out was unintentionally kind of a thesis. Hope you like!

Grizzly Bear

It takes a long time to get submerged in a Grizzly Bear record. The band name itself deceives. No reckless, territorial aggression to be found here – no claws – only beauty and calculation, careful diction and studiedly released energy. The first few listens always reveal, to me at least, only the textures used and not the content. The reedy, blended treble they favor sounds like some ensemble of minstrels dancing atop an intermittently used giant bass drum. (Idea for a video, maybe?) When I’ve only gotten my feet wet, the immediacy of Grizzly Bear records doesn’t feel as apparent to me as it must to those who always gush about them.

But then something happens. On the 15th-ish listen, suddenly I’ve plunged under and all the waves of brilliance start rushing past. Veckatimest, of their work so far, is all but a tsunami. (To be fair, listening on cranked-up headphones helps, too.) Packing the punch possibly lacking in the gorgeous Yellow House and the eclectic Friend EP while still just as pretty, Veckatimest exhibits loudly the Brooklyn quartet’s abilities with theme exploration and the manipulation of audience tension. Lead-off track “Southern Point” seems a microcosm of this with its backing strings and barreling chorus, alternately gentle and jarring. Each track develops a melody or two and repeats, changing a bit each time, and often sprouts into a large, thrilling B-section or coda at the end. (Come to think of it, Grizzly Bear is exactly why you should never judge a song on its first few seconds.) They’re no less exciting for their predictability, mostly because the band ornaments absolutely everything. It sounds like they’d hang Christmas baubles on the pointy parts of their songs if they could.

Take, for example, the ostensible stand-out “Two Weeks.” As catchy as the group gets, the song just repeats the bouncy keyboard melody and soaring vocal backing (featuring Beach House’s Victoria Legrand) over and over. Here’s the thing, though: the arrangement is different absolutely every time the theme reprises. It’s the final touch that makes the song not just something hipsters can dance to, but a powerhouse composition in its own right. Same goes for “All We Ask” and “While You Wait For The Others.” Sure, they’re transcendent pop songs, but they’re effing fascinating, too!...[Read more]

If for any reason you haven't heard it yet: