Thursday, January 26, 2012

no, seriously. put another dime in.

feed this jukebox.  Sharlene's, 353 Flatbush Ave. Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

I've seen my share of jukeboxes, but this weekend I had my mind blown by one.

It sat there like a birthday present, hunched in the back of a crowded dive bar. My friends and I had just had dinner to celebrate my 29th year, and contemplated calling it an early night. There were simply too many people around, not enough seats, and some really intense metal blaring over the speakers.
But then – silence. We were standing in the glow of the very thing that just moments earlier had assaulted our eardrums, and the credits stood at zero.

I whipped out some ones without much thought. There's nothing worse than waiting around to hear your songs after some idiot has blown twenty bucks to play Bob Dylan's entire catalogue, but when given the opportunity to start a new round I take full advantage.

The first, most obvious thing about this amazing machine was that it played CDs. Now, I'm sure there are jukebox enthusiasts out there that would scoff at such a modern thing in favor of 1950's era boxes that play 45s. Not I, not existing, as I do, in a wasteland of ugly wall-mounted digital jukeboxes. Even bars that I consider my favorites are foolish enough believe that these abominations fulfill their jukebox requirement, but that is painfully false. I can appreciate the breadth of choice offered by digital “jukeboxes” (if you feel it appropriate to bestow such a title on a overgrown, overly flashy mp3 player), but the highly inflated costs per play and the sacrilegious option to “play this track next” offered to line-jumpers are just a few of the evils that permeate the atmosphere around any digital box.

So yes, I marveled, if not rejoiced, that this was an automated CD player before me, and began to select my plays. Choosing songs for an entire bar full of strangers holds similar rules to making mixtapes for friends. You don't put on multiple tracks by the same artist. You don't go for the obvious – sorry, Johnny Cash, Abba, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, etc – unless you want to come off like an amateur. Deep cuts are always more respectable than well-known hits. Start with a banger, because everyone can see you still standing there choosing the rest of your tracks. Don't be afraid to vary genres and eras. And while they might be permissible on a personal mixtape, in a bar on a Saturday night there is just no room for downers.

The main difference in selecting songs for a playlist and selecting songs on a jukebox is of course that on a jukebox, selections are made from a set of curated parameters. Often this includes the dregs of the bar owner's collection of Metallica discs. But not on this jukebox. Instead, I was flipping through hand-made mixes and comps. Not Weezer's recent (read: shitty) albums, not Frampton Comes Alive! or the soundtrack to Grease. These mixes had themes and titles – WHAT IT IS! was fleshed out by 60's girl garage bands, WALKING THE DOG had Morrissey following Blondie, The Kinks, and Ike & Tina Turner. There were four expert Motown collections, three assemblages of unusual covers, and a smattering of rockabilly, sixties classics, glam rock, and nineties indie darlings under headings like TEXAS FUNK, DANCING BAREFOOT, and THE DAY BARTENDER. When a band's repertoire warranted representation by a whole disc, a best-of mix often featured deeper cuts alongside more well-known hits. Everything had personality - the Michael Jackson card was handwritten and labeled “Dead Kid Toucher (R.I.P.)”. It was like this jukebox was trying to animate and enliven and expound. I felt that it may even be able to teach me something and found myself wanting to go back to the bar in the daytime and start with 0101 until I'd cycled through every choice available.

The fact is that most jukeboxes never strive for more than “decent” status. My favorite jukebox of all time was in a diner in Ohio and had the Shins before Garden State blew them up, and the second EP the Liars put out, among other gems. Playing the last track on “They Threw Us In A Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top”, which clocked in at thirty-plus minutes thanks to a never-ending loop (the vinyl version is locked-groove), sometimes resulted in the staff shutting the jukebox down, and once resulted in the entire restaurant clapping when the onslaught had ended. But it was a “prank” we pulled often, over huevos rancheros and black bean burgers alike, at least until the old dear was replaced by a dreaded TouchTunes. The jukebox I met this weekend is leagues above all that. It feels wholly original, personable, and thought out by the bar's proprietors, and that alone sets it apart. It is a meditation on bar soundscape, a chance for everyone to become the most in-the-know DJ.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An introduction to me and the music I love

Before I start describing to you my impression of the past year in music and what I'm looking forward to in the coming months (a succinct way to give you a glimpse into what you, our reader, can expect from me), I'll tell you a wee bit about myself.

I was born and raised in a small Midwestern town like so many other Brooklyn transplants. My parents placed my hands on the keys of a piano at the age of three, and the bow of a cello in my fingers at the age of nine. I'd like to think that music is in my blood, but I know better—for instance, that the early influence of Handel’s “Water Music” in shaping my perception of the world, or the memory of watching, atop shoulders, my dad play reggae at a local summertime concert, has more to do with my love for music than what my blood may contain. Still, I get a funny feeling in my heart when I hear certain songs, as if something might be waking up...

Though I never became a spectacular musician, by anyone's standard, I still play occasionally. More importantly, however, I learned in playing music for my whole life, to keep open ears to whatever might waft through the airwaves. Subsequently, music has become sine qua non to the diversity of my experience in the world, especially as a young city dweller. Without live music (even if the sound sucks, or the venue is sub par), without the excitement of anticipating the newest album from one of my current favorites, and without the joy of stumbling upon some undiscovered new treasure of a band (or DJ, or subway busker for that matter), life would just sparkle so much less vibrantly. New York would be such a drag.

What you can expect from me, with that said, is straightforward descriptive musings about the things that move me, namely good music (and sometimes not so good music too). If what you want though, is pretentious self-impressed sounding pseudo-journalism, then, well, I can direct you toward a few good music blogs for that too. Oh, and I have a degree in International Economics...So you may get a few tangential rants here and there about the security of oil supplies pumped throughout the Caucasus and Middle East, blah blah blah...

Anyway please read-on and (hopefully) enjoy a few personal highlights from the past year in music along with forthcoming shows and albums that I'm anticipating will be amazing. Organized categorically of course--because who doesn't love lists?

Best new band of 2011: Beacon

My favorite newbie from 2011 is by far the band Beacon, whom I discovered at the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival thanks to my friend Jakub, who runs the label Moodgadget, to which they are signed. Comprised of Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett, Beacon sounds like an amalgam of what I consider to be the best elements of R&B and electronic, respectively, with mellow, synthy keys, smooth falsetto vocals and layers upon layers of textured beats. Before you check out their newest EP, No Body--a luscious soundscape of tunes about life and love--, listen to their cover of "The Rip", by Portishead. You can find it Here. And if you like it, check them out live on February 4th with Tycho, at Music Hall. Ms. Rhoades and I would love to see you there.

The album of 2011 I was most surprised I like: Suck It and See

When I heard the first song off the album Suck It and See, I thought to myself "I really like this. It must be some sort of new wave I don't know of...Yeah, definitely from the 80's...Is it House Of Love? Hmmm...No...". I then glanced over the album cover, nearly falling off my chair in surprise, to find that it was the irascible gang of drunken, juvenile Brits themselves: The Arctic Monkeys.  They seem to have inexorably matured about ten years since, say, Favourite Worst Nightmare in 2007 (we all remember "Fluorescent Adolescent's" jabby opening chorus line "you used to get it in your fishnets/ now you only get it in your nightdress"). And I like what they've become: still raucous, but a bit less self-pitying and a bit more circumspect, both sonically and emotionally (if the two can even be disentangled when it comes to music). Self-possession really does suit them, for instance in the "Black Treacle" lyric "now I'm out of place, and I'm not getting any wiser/ I feel like the Sundance Kid behind a synthesizer". It sounds like a conundrum I've found myself in too, these days. And bravo, Arctic Monkeys, for being all the more perspicacious in actually admitting to it.

Best girl anthem of 2011 that feels like a throwback: "Sadness Is A Blessing"

Lykke Li's "Sadness Is A Blessing", from Wounded Rhymes pretty much sums up my teenage years. And I'm sure had she been around in the 90's, I would have most certainly been dressing and acting just like her. The opening chords are an immediate reference to all the 60's girl groups whom I love, with a catchy I-IV-V key progression. Then comes Lykke's raspy, unapologetic plea to some heartbreaker out there, to come back to her, in spite of her . Alas to no avail, she resolves herself to the infinite sorrow that awaits her in his absence. It's a  beautifully haunting song that seems to capture every decade of pop since the 50's. It shows that women creating incredible music about how much it sucks to be love-sick is a motif that transcends space and time.

Best Album of 2011 by a girl-led band, that can even begin to compete with Body Talk by Robyn: Ritual Union, Little Dragon

All of those who know me know that I would cross the street to tell a stranger how much I love Robyn. Body Talk may actually be one of my favorite albums of all time. With that said, when I heard Ritual Union--the newest  from Little Dragon, I was pretty damn excited to have found what I consider to be a futuristic iteration of everything I like about everything Robyn's ever done. Whew. Ok, enough hyperbole for you? Yeah, me too. Anyway, Ritual Union is an album full of pulsating dance beats featuring heavy snare, combined with smooth synthetic bass lines and of course, Yukimi Nagano's beautiful, sultry voice. And while I don't have it on repeat or anything, it's perfect to play at the end of the night, when all your dinner guests have had a bit too much to drink, and some of them want to get stoned at sit on the couch while others just really need to have a freaky dance party .

Best album of 2011 that almost makes me like Bob Dylan: Slave Ambient, The War On Drugs

I had heard Slave Ambient several times over the past months and didn't think too much of it, considering all the attendant hype. However, after listening to a few of their terrific live performances on NPR's "Sound Check", I decided to revisit it and see if there was something I had been missing. And ok, fair enough, they're pretty damn good. The songs do accompany arcane, poetic lyrics sung by a raspy-voiced front man, with a shit-ton of folky guitar melodies. This in and of itself makes them (to me) start to sound an awful lot like Bob Dylan tunes. I can't really help it. And for those of you who know me know I would cross the street to tell some girl's expensively-groomed chihuahua that I don't like Bob Dylan.  But here's the difference: each instrument including the vocals has reverb applied, as well as any handful of cool effects. This little aspect manages to transform each track from derivative (at best) into luscious, ambient and original. Amazing what a bit of creative thinking can do, no?

Best Album of 2011, Period: Year of Hibernation, (Youth Lagoon), tied with  Father, Son, Holy Ghost, (Girls)

So this was really, really challenging. It's basically like having to choose your favorite kid (not that I have any, but I imagine it would be an equally difficult task ). Anyway, upon much deliberation I decided to narrow it down to two. And I challenge any music lover to try and do better than that.

Ok, so first, Youth Lagoon: Who knew that some kid making songs in his bedroom would have such a substantial impact on the world of indie rock. And what makes these songs great is not that they are innovative, as is the case with much of the incredible Garage Band-made music these days, but rather the ways in which they sound like something you've heard a million times but can't quite pin down. They're nostalgically psychedelic, but simple and quiet at the same time. Trevor Powers' voice is thin but powerfully resonate. The melodies are pedestrian but unique. The lyrics are about a childhood we can all relate to; yet somehow his words still give me pause. Every time I listen to Year Of Hibernation, I discover something new about the songs. They will put me simultaneously in a good and bad mood. And that, my dear friends, is one illustrious feat.

It's rare that a band's sophomore album actually surpasses their debut, but Father, Son, Holy Ghost manages it somehow, although I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who would disagree with me. The songs range from excruciatingly slow guitar ballads to Beatles-esque jingles, which is a wide spectrum to cover, and speaks loudly to the band's versatility. Christopher Owens is a pretty self-aware dude (being a Children Of God escapee and all), and he wears is heart on his sleeve, evident in lyrics such as "They don't like my boney body/ They don't like my dirty hair/ Or the stuff that I say, or the stuff that I'm on", from "Honey Bunny", which is a track that perfectly encapsulates the band's sound: upbeat classic rock 'n roll, underpinned by dark moody intimations (think Beck's "Sun Eyed Girl").  And this little fact alone will keep me coming back to these songs again and again, probably forever.

Runners up: Unluck (James Blake),  Hurry Up We're Dreaming (M83)

Well, clearly I could go on ad infinitum about  2011, but I figured I should leave the past where it belongs, and instead look toward what awaits us right around the proverbial corner. I'll list a few albums about which I'm "stoked" (as they say in left coast vernacular), and then sign off, for now, with a lineup of shows I hope to attend. Who knows, maybe we can catch a few together...

Albums I can't wait for:
Mark Lanegan Band, February 6

Die Antwoord, February 7

Sleigh Bells, February 21

School Of Seven Bells, February 28

Bruce Springsteen, March 5

Spiritualized, March 19

Choir of Young Believers, March 20

Where to track us down these days:

01.25 Lucinda Black Bear, Union Pool
01.31 Blouse, 285 Kent
02.02 Thurston Moore, Lincoln Center, Allen Room
02.04 Tycho, Beacon, Music Hall Of Williamsburg
02.07 Mark Lanegan Band, Bowery Ballroom
02.11 Dum Dum Girls, Maxwell's
02.11 The Kills, Terminal 5
02.14 Lily and the Parlour Tricks, The Bowery Electric
02.25 Sharon Van Etten, Bowery Ballroom

Monday, January 16, 2012

NewVillager takes Manhattan

I know next to nothing about NewVillager, and I am not the only one.

I came across the video for “Lighthouse” while curating a design blog and was blown away by the elaborate costumes and energetic posturing. When their self-titled debut album was released, it was hard not to fall in love with the infectious melodies and pop-inspired grooves. But who were NewVillager? They seemed to have anywhere between two and twenty members, depending on whether one decides to count dancers, living sculptures, hand-clappers, and videographers, all of whom seem to have been beamed down from another dimension beyond our own plane.

drummer Collin Palmer bestowing fan with mask
NewVillager are most certainly building a mythology around their work, which is equal parts musical and visual. A gallery installation in Tribeca last month and a video for second single “Rich Doors” have introduced a conceptual game that apparently has to be experienced to be understood, and even then all bets are off. Last week I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about, knowing that even if the set-up was less elaborate than what I'd seen on YouTube, I'd still hear some great tunes.

Ross Simonini
I was dismayed upon arrival to find a line down the block. My friend and I went to a bar around the corner for drinks, but even after we'd downed some cheap PBR and returned to Mercury Lounge there was still a line. The crowd was baffling. Had Mercury Lounge run a Groupon? That's the only explanation I had as to how the folks in front of us had wound up here.  I'm not trying to be judgmental, but none of them seemed the type that would be into the possibility of this becoming some insane piece of performance art.  Slowly but surely, we filtered through the door and the narrow bar to the show space inside. We didn't have to wait long before three musicians took the stage, which was adorned with bizarre props.

Ben Bromley makes faces, and music
The set was perfectly executed and seemed extremely well-rehearsed. Be-scarfed singer Ben Bromley's facial expressions were particularly animated as he manned the keyboard, prompting my friend to aptly dub him “the white Bobby McFerrin”. Ross Simonini chimed in with additional vocals and apparently prefers to play guitar barefoot. Drummer Collin Palmer did double-duty as hype man, stepping out from behind his kit a few times to get the crowd pumped.  Halfway through the set a dancer completely obscured by a hood with with a grin that literally went from ear to ear came from out of nowhere, wriggling off the stage and through the audience, handing out masks. One particularly ornate mask was bestowed upon a lucky observer who was invited to dance (albeit poorly) on stage. She was later joined by two friends, one of whom exuberantly proclaimed “It's my birthday!” but I'm almost positive this was not part of the NewVillager myth.

Not actually a member of NewVillager
Meanwhile, on stage right, another performer had situated himself or herself or itself inside a giant inflatable statue. A grey-and-white striped column pranced through the crowd as well. The culmination of these activities was, of course, “Rich Doors”, performed as an encore though encores are always a slightly perplexing endeavor at Mercury Lounge, where there's no place for the band to hide. When I say they played “Rich Doors” as an encore, I also mean that they played Fleetwood Mac's “Dreams”. You can watch a video I shot of the revelry below.

I went to Mercury Lounge expecting indie rock's answer to Gwar, and in all honesty I was more weirded out by the audience than the performance. What I got was definitely more random than the almost Jodorowsky-esque set-up promised in the “Lighthouse” video, but was still a little charming. Even with all the fanfare it was the songs themselves that stood out most. Well-constructed in the first place, their live translation was sublime. With regards to the mythology behind NewVillager, all I can say is that it would be nice if these artists let their fans in on the secret.  

i know what you did last year.

For some, 2011 was just a year where seemingly every other girl/gay man in Brooklyn decided to shave a random swath of hair down to the scalp. But for me, it was a collection of moments that have inspired me to whole-heartedly evaluate the way I experience music and actually make something out of my passion.

i know what you did last year.
a collection of tracks representing the highlights of a year's worth of live events.
by tiny_owl on 8tracks.
click band names in the text for youtube videos of select performances!
My meditations on this began out of a repugnance for getting older. I had tickets to see Washed Out with openers Blood Orange and Grimes, but the night of the show, a Monday, everyone bowed out, citing the old “have to be up early for work” excuse. It dawned on me that while I was still serving tacos in a tiny Mexican restaurant, these people, my friends, had careers, and that these careers were so important that they could not waste hours of sleep to see a once-in-a-lifetime lineup play to a packed house, everyone with dancing shoes on. I wrangled a friend who, like myself, had few daytime responsibilities, or at the very least could handle being a bit sleepy the next day. We had a phenomenal time, but even so I was bummed. Was I somehow immature or unaccomplished because I enjoyed this sort of thing? On Thursday, a heart-to-heart with a friend who had bailed resulted in the following conclusion: the two of us were at different places in our lives, and apparently I was not the adult.

The thing is, it didn't really matter to me. If being an adult meant forgoing unexpected Bastille Day fireworks over the Hudson after a free tUnE-yArDs performance so that I could efficiently alphabetize files in a cubicle for a steady paycheck, then I was content to sling salsa for at least a few more years. I wouldn't trade losing my shit over those first haunting strains of Dirty Beaches' “Lord Knows Best” billowing through Glassland's papery clouds to change a dirty diaper, because Alex Zhang Hungtai is the coolest dude who ever lived, and that night he vowed to “croon the fuck out” which is exactly what happened.

I wouldn't want to miss the chance to jump on the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage for Star Slinger's closing cut “Punch Drunk Love” or to witness Phil Elvurum on the altar of the gorgeous St. Cecilia's church, his soft voice reverberating angelically around the cathedral. Or to have folk hero Michael Gira kiss my hand after the Swans show, which was the loudest, sweatiest, and single most transcendent rock-n-roll experience I'd ever had. Nor would I miss the incredible stage set-up as it virtually came alive to Animal Collective's Prospect Park set, even as the heat and hallucinogens caused teenagers all around me to pass out. Had I not decided on a whim just a day before the show, I would never have seen Dam-Funk shred a key-tar as we sailed around Manhattan on a ferry, the sun setting against the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty waving her torch over the deck. I braved the pollution of the Gowanus Canal to see a Four Tet DJ in a garden that managed to be verdant despite all the toxins pulsing through the ground.

This was my fourth year at CMJ, and it stands as one of my favorite events because in that moment, you're right with those fledgling acts, waiting to see a performance that will build their buzz or totally break them. This year, at a Trash Talk performance replete with band members flinging themselves from balconies, a friend of mine well into her twenties found herself in a circle pit for the very first time. Later that week, I watched Pat Grossi of Active Child strum a person-sized harp, its strings practically glowing as they vibrated against his fingertips.

Fiercely loving music is one thing that doesn't get boring for me. As I age, it doesn't get old. Seeing a Party of Helicopters reunion performance at Death By Audio in February proved that. I used to see them religiously when I lived in Ohio. In my veins was the same blood that was present when I was twenty, and every muscle, every cell, remembered what to do – I damn near gave myself whiplash, working myself into a frenzy.

And despite spending hours researching obscure bands for music supervision projects I freelance, I still discover bands just by attending shows. While dancing my ass off at the 100% Silk Showcase at Shea Stadium, I discovered a whole label's worth of material harkening back to club jams of the nineties, and the Amanda Brown vs. Bethany Cosentino debate was forever settled in my mind in favor of the LA Vampires frontwoman; Brown is a visionary while Cosentino is just cute.

In roughly fifteen years of attending rock concerts, I'd say I had the best one yet. I've decided that since growing up is not worth the trade-off of giving up live music, or changing the way I experience the music that I love, that I will have to marry the two. While this trajectory began years ago, this is the first time I've felt any sort of mission behind the fandom. I am the person people call and ask “are there any good shows going on tonight?”, the person with extra tickets who drags friends along to see bands they haven't heard of, the person who brings a huge group of old friends together for a show, the person who barring all that will go to a show alone and still have a blast. I am one of the thousands of people who log on to Ticketmaster at 9:55am for Radiohead tickets and still won't get any. I'm the person at the front of the crowd, snapping a few quick pictures for those who couldn't make it, and then dancing like a thing possessed for the rest of the set. For me, it's dedication. It's all part of being someone who was there.

Friday, January 13, 2012

we are audiofemme.

This blog began as a reaction, and even before it has launched, it has become an embrace.

We had noted a lack of female voice in music writing, but further investigation has unearthed a wealth of female rock journalism, both from the past and in the present. So apparently, the lack is in the notice we take, and in the validity we bestow upon such writings. Let this be a place where we can celebrate those writings instead of ignoring  them.

For now there will be two regular contributors, Miss Annie White and Lindsey Rhoades, and we will be joined by Erin M. Routson when she completes her MFA thesis.  We want to have guest contributors, and often; there's so much opinion, attitude, appreciation, humor, and terrific writing by women who love music as much as we do. We'll be seeking you ladies out in the near future, but until then feel free to submit – if you're a DJ, you run a venue, you work in a record store, you play in a band, or you heard something you just can't get out of your head.

Our ultimate goal for this blog is to make it a real thing – to incorporate the way we experience music in our daily lives. We want to make you mixes, host parties, book shows, dance with you, and link with organizations like Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and Make Music New York, all in addition to a smattering of video posts, show reviews, interviews, album raves, and musical rants.

We love music in a way that most people are ashamed or afraid to love anything – unabashedly, though not always unconditionally. We may not always understand why or how specific songs can inspire such emotional response, but we feel these emotions in ever fiber of our beings.  Everything you read or see here will stand as testimony to that. Thank you so, so much for joining us.