Monday, June 29, 2009

FOA OMG!!1!: Ball of Flame Shoot Fire

There was a time (it may still be going on, in fact), when the sheer act of contacting me directly through my Fear of Arthropods email address about your band basically obliged me to listen to whatever music you sent along. See, just as what you wanted was to be in a band and to have that band be successful and heard by lots of people, what I wanted was to be a music journalist and to write about bands and hear music before it releases and have what I write be read by lots of people. When individual artists and labels and publicity companies started sending me promos or inviting me personally to listen to records...well, I still flush with excitement whenever a bubble envelope arrives in the mail or when a full album download shows up in my inbox. It's the best.

Back in the day (a whole year, year-and-a-half ago!) someone named Tim from a band called Ball of Flame Shoot Fire out of Pittsburgh sent me just such an email. Tim made a good case. He had searched for some of the bands they had shared bills with, and this led him to FOA, where I was (as usual) gushing about Man Man. He told me BOFSF had opened for Man Man before, and that if I liked them, I might like his band, too. Then he sent me an EP. It was called Grumpy Little Bird (the name made me giggle right off the bat), and while it was a bit rough around the edges, the compositional prowess it betrayed was well beyond what I had come to expect from unsolicited promos. I liked that it was virtuosic and unhinged, full of howling and crazy piano etudes and big words.

Now, Ball of Flame Shoot Fire has released their debut full-length record. It's called Jokeland (pronounced like "Oakland" but with a "J," Tim tells me), and it marks a palpable leap forward for the band. Though still slathered with all the idiosyncrasies that made Grumpy Little Bird charming, it's a much cleaner, more realized effort. The production value is miles better, for one thing, but the songs themselves feel more fleshed out and mature as well. Sure, the vocal style is still weird. There are still frantic instrumental arrangements behind the too-many-syllables-for-one-line lyrics. There are still group sing-alongs. It still sounds like the musical representation of what might happen if a circus collided with a Southern rock festival--especially if there was an awful lot of pinstripes and face paint and feathers involved. But Jokeland is more experimental, sound collage-wise, and explores a greater range of compositional ideas. Certain numbers are down-tempo-- mellow, even-- and provide welcome relief from the feverish pace kept up by most of the album. I'm a big fan of "Wishthroat" and "Butcha Poppa," and "Bertie Hey" keeps getting stuck in my head for hours.

Jokeland is crazy and fun and smart and interesting, and I really hope enough people can stomach its beautiful weirdness long enough to dig in and really appreciate it. Stuff like this doesn't come around everyday.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FOAVOD: Noot d'Noot - "Fingers Like Steeples"

Heads up y'all! Atlanta funk collective Noot d'Noot are free agents and are self-releasing a 12" (vinyl w/ CD-R inside) called "Cash For Gold" this Saturday, June 20. They're celebrating with a show at The Earl that night.

The band is awesome to dance to, not to mention super nice. I had the pleasure of interviewing them for Paste:Local last year, and loved every minute of it.

Here's the (nifty-lookin') video for their song "Fingers Like Steeples" from the record. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Live Review: Bon Iver @ Variety Playhouse 6/7/09

I saw Bon Iver play twice, six days apart. The first was at the Variety Playhouse; the second was a hot, packed, mid-afternoon tent show at Bonnaroo. It was almost the exact same set. Both times, I almost cried. They're that good. If you ever have a chance to attend a concert of theirs, don't think about it. Just go!

For Stomp and Stammer's Tales From The Moshpit:

Bon Iver @ Variety Playhouse, 6/7/09

I don’t know how it happens. I can’t say, because I’ve never done it. I’ve never written songs that were so beautiful on first recording, first conception, that they garnered ecstatic blog attention, that they then made it into the near-mainstream, that they got co-opted by questionable pop culture venues (we’re lookin’ at you, Grey’s Anatomy), that they have somehow become worthy of live alteration, augmentation, jam-outs. I don’t know how a collection of nine songs grows like this. Without too much reference to all the Wisconsin cabin mythology that’s been absolutely beaten to death by the blogosphere, it’s pretty amazing to think of Justin Vernon’s journey, from a down-and-out musician alone with his recording equipment in the winter of 2007 to an indie darling, signed by Jagjaguwar, accompanied by three new bandmates, asked to mix others’ records (like The Daredevil Christopher Wright’s In Defernece To A Broken Back) and getting to contribute to The Red Hot Organization’s much-lauded Dark Was The Night comp.

However it happens, it culminated, for me, with my first Bon Iver show. The Variety Playhouse was sold out, and as always happens on listening to their records, a certain kind of nostalgic calm had settled over the place. It’s like viewing the world through a thin veil that makes everything shinier and warmer at the same time. The set, made up mostly of the majority of debut For Emma, Forever Ago but peppered with numbers from the band’s follow-up EP Blood Bank and “Brackett, WI” from Dark Was The Night, began with “Creature Fear.” Vernon’s voice permeated the crowd like a soul singer’s; the persistent percussion swelled and pushed forward. The songs all took on new life, relying less—necessarily—on the extensive vocal overdubbing that characterizes every Bon Iver recording, and more on sheer instrumental prowess. This was helped along more than a little by the rest of the band (Mike Noyce, Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan), who sometimes played guitar, bass, drums and keys, but sometimes all played drums at the same time. They sang the stacked parts that would’ve been so conspicuously missing without them....[Read more]

(During the Bonnaroo show, the band invited the members of Elvis Perkins in Dearland onstage to perform the horn parts in "For Emma," which was incredible. Also, before performing "Re: Stacks" solo, Vernon said to the audience, "I think I'm gonna hold this beer can between my knees during this whole song. Is that weird?")

Record Review: It's Elephant's - Gets Along

It's Elephant's were among the first publicity clients of my friend Liz at Deus Ex Machina PR, and they've really been blowing up lately. They're tons of fun live, and bring a real work ethic and sense of humor to everything they do, it seems. I got to write a spotlight on them for Southeast Performer after their first album Little Trouble In Chinatown last year, as well as edit my friend Nikki's Catching Up With... piece on them back in the Paste:Local Atlanta days. Now, I reviewed their sophomore full-length, Gets Along, for Atlanta Music Guide. I feel like the band has really grown up. Have a look:

It's Elephant's
Gets Along

The danger latent in having a frontman with such a recognizable voice — in this case one with a crackling, blues-rock bent that bends and scoops from pitch to pitch — is that everything else will go unnoticed. But Brent Jay’s vocal performances, for Atlanta band It’s Elephant’s, are only a small part of the story. Behind, under and all around them are other things: confident guitar riffage, adorable and well-placed backup singing, moving bass lines, bright horns, bouncing piano and insistent drumming.

All these abilities have congealed into the quartet’s sophomore full-length, Gets Along, a mashup of related but individual song styles, down to a final track utilizing the type of electronic voice made famous by Radiohead’s Ok Computer. The band has evolved light years in the time since last year’s Little Trouble in Chinatown, even if you’re only considering production value. The hardcore twinge to their compositions has largely evaporated (save for a few bouts of screaming; see “Black Cock Down”), replaced instead with smart pacing and clean, crisp arrangements that allow all parts to be appreciated equally (see “Sam Loomis Hardware”). It’s a smart move for It’s Elephant’s, because what they have over others in their genre — we’ll call it “blues pop” — is the effort they put into layering their complementary parts atop one another...[Read more]

The band plays a record release party at The Earl June 26 with The Long Shadows and Whores.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Live Review: The National @ The Tabernacle 5/27/09

Photo taken by either myself or Sara Miller at Langerado 2008.

All I could think the whole time was, "This is my natural habitat." There's a certain kind of joy to be found in going to see The National play. It was the second time for me; the first was at Langerado last year when I was an intern at Paste. I (painstakingly) blogged this review of it for at the time, and I remember the evening as being one of the happiest I've had-- not just because of the great shows (Of Montreal immediately preceded The National), but also thanks to good company and unexpectedly free hamburgers.

Though much closer to home, the venue for this show was no less romantic, and the band seemed equally comfortable in the Tabernacle's beautiful, welcoming environment. The crowd was appreciative, the chandelier glowed pleasantly from the ceiling and absolutely everything just seemed to glitter. If only all concert-going could be like this.

Here's the review, for Atlanta Music Guide:

Live Review: The National @ The Tabernacle, May 27

It began with "Runaway." The nine-member incarnation of The National, complete with three horn players and a keyboardist, began the set with a new, mesmerizing, post-Boxer song. Poignant and compelling even on the first go-around, everyone listened with rapt attention. Then, like one communal exhale, guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner launched into the opening riffs of "Start A War" and the place erupted. It wasn't the during-intro cheers that marked the change, it was that the baritone notes that spilled out of Matt Berninger as he clutched his microphone like a lifeline were now veiled in a delicate tenor and soprano cloak as thousands sang along with him. Our song shimmered in the background like the tinsel curtain behind the band itself...[Read more]