Friday, February 24, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Frankie Rose w/ Dive and Night Manager

There's a certain art to being cool. It requires equal parts detachment, judgement, untouchability, and flippancy. Being cool might make you the envy of your less-than-cool counterparts, but it's ultimately an empty, lonely act. Because being vulnerable isn't cool, being cool entails keeping others at bay, elevating yourself to a level above the uncool, refusing to let anyone in, and never showing emotion or excitement because it is somehow unbecoming. It's a problem that is unique to my generation; though real “cool” barely exists anymore except as a marketing concept many of us have been posturing ever since, fearful of ever revealing the uncool sides of ourselves, deprived of true connection in order to maintain the illusion of coolness, feeling pain only when the facade fails us. In the real world, this looks like a dimly lit bar in which everyone nurses PBR from a can and no one talks to anyone. And in that bar, Frankie Rose fills the jukebox.

As a drummer for Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts, Frankie Rose was at the forefront of the resurgence of a noise pop movement that took its cues from the intertwining jangle and grit of sixties garage rock and girl groups. In recording her first album as Frankie Rose and the Outs, she never strayed far from this sound. Her vocals had begun to take on a dreamy sort of submerged quality with her first solo album, recorded under the moniker Frankie Rose and the Outs. But by and large the album, while expertly crafted, was nothing new. It was perfect in terms of continuing the sound and vibe that made Frankie something of a household name in indie rock circles. To some, the resume she'd built was not only impressive but impenetrable, unapproachable. But to be honest, it felt cold and rehearsed and well-worn to me, not a record I could get behind on an emotional level. It wasn't bad, but it it wasn't life-altering and ultimately I lost interest. To join the Frankie cult I would have had to buy dark sunglasses and a leather jacket and thrown away all my clothing that wasn't black, and I probably would have had to spit on anyone who talked about how into Adele they were. But what I really wanted was license to feel and share freely with my peers, not judge them or their tastes, not act like mine are better than anyone else's.

Here is what I like to imagine happened next. Frankie was walking through the graffiti-scrawled streets of Williamsburg when a white light enveloped her and suddenly, the Earth was no more than a blue speck far below. Her abductors, benevolent alien beings with glowing solar plexuses, took her on an epic interplanetary voyage in which she witnessed incomprehensible forms of life and their bizarre customs, each of which held more meaning and beauty than her indie-rock royalty act. She was shown the error of her ways and told to go forth to the earthly masses and write an album with some heart, lest she be re-abducted and dissected. No longer obsessed with being cool and furthering her own reputation as purveyor of such, Frankie Rose came back to Brooklyn and wrote her gorgeous sophomore album, Interstellar.

While this may be a fanciful version of the truth, the end result is the same.  Interstellar, out now on Slumberland Records, gives having your head in the clouds a whole new meaning.  Frankie's vocals sparkle and swirl like gauzy nebula gasses, the stuff of galaxies being born. The gritty guitars have been replaced by poppy riffs and spacious synths that reveal yearning and hope and a red-hot emotional core. Every second feels expansive, reminding us that the big bang is still happening and that even as we rotate on this rock we are hurtling through space. The lyrical content isn't particularly heavy and remains relatively carefree, but that's not to say it suffers from any of that.  Rather, it feels much more relatable than anything she's written to date. There are instances (particularly “Know Me” “Daylight” and “Night Swim”) that recall the most impassioned moments of new wave, though that heartfelt artfulness permeates each new song. Tracks like “Gospel/Grace” are still informed by the jangle pop of Frankie's former work but here she has made everything bigger, warmer, more urgent and airy. Closing track “The Fall” is like listening to a dream – the kind you go back to sleep for so you can keep dreaming it. Its hushed vocals unspool over a simplistic but indelible guitar line, diffused synths and a droning cello reminiscent of Arther Russell's "This Is How We Walk On The Moon". Listening to Interstellar basically made me reevaluate every snap judgement I'd ever made about Frankie or her tunes. There's a line in title track and album opener that sums up the whole endeavor perfectly - “weightless, free from predictable ways”. Amen, sister, amen.

I got tickets to attend the release party for Interstellar at Knitting Factory, expecting some grand announcement, an ushering in to a new age of Frankie Rose. She's one of the most influential musicians in the Brooklyn indie scene, so perhaps we'd all be given a crystal and told to let our hearts breathe, to embrace each other and stop worrying about our haircuts. Night Manager opened with an enthusiastic batch of precocious noise pop anthems.  Some bands get on stage and act like it's the most boring thing in the world to be on stage, which is always annoying because everyone at one point or another wants to be a rock star. Night Manager can't have had long to fantasize about such things – I'd say the average age of the five band members couldn't have been much over twenty – and that youthful exuberance was their strongest point. Their lead singer's vibe was somewhere between Bethany Cosentino and Anne Margaret but I probably only make that connection because I've been watching the third season of Mad Men while battling a head cold.

I had high hopes for Dive, a(nother) Beach Fossils side project whose reverb-drenched singles are catchy and evocative of epiphanies had while staring at clouds. From the looks of it, these guys really struggle to get dressed (evidenced by the rubber bands utilized to hold the guitarist's pants in place) and speaking of haircuts – yikes. While their shoegazey tracks have a just-woke-up sort of haze, Dive's performance was so boisterous it could have been a commercial for 5-hour energy shooters. The kinetic set was incredibly fun to watch and included an unrecognizable take on a Nirvana song and a pornographic tee-shirt.  Dive's debut EP is scheduled for release next month on Captured Tracks, and seeing them play the material in such a spirited manner has me psyched for it.

Frankie Rose took the stage just after 11PM with four band members, opening with the title track from the new record. The stage was bathed in starry projections, but there were no house lights at all on Frankie or the majority of the band, which reduced everyone but the drummer to indistinct silhouettes. That might have been cool for a song or two, but they played the entire set that way, and it was slightly off-putting. Much like when you spend a hot day at the zoo and all the animals are sleeping inside fake caves, the lack of anything to rest eyes on was disappointing and disconnecting. Perhaps the lighting guy was in the bathroom, thinking he'd have plenty of time to light the stage once the band really got going. But he never had a chance – the show was over practically before it began. The crowd, myself included, was just settling in to Frankie's performance, and then it abruptly ended after they'd played for just under half an hour.

I've seen some short sets, but this one left me stunned in terms of its brevity. You'd think that with two albums of material she could have fleshed it out for another fifteen minutes, even with stage banter or something. I didn't even recognize the new songs; I assumed she'd not played many of them but was later informed she'd played seven of the ten new tracks from Interstellar. The thing is, they were interpreted for the stage in such a way that they might have belonged on older albums, in the work she'd done with bands prior to striking out solo, in the detached, too-cool-for-school manner of everything that had come before. There was no trouble taken to document the evolution and preserve the openness that makes Interstellar such a great album; instead I was reminded of all the reasons I'd felt put off by Frankie in the past. She returned to the stage apologetically to play one more track (video of the encore is below) and finally asked for the house lights to be turned up a bit, though it was done begrudgingly by the house.

My overall impression was that Frankie is somehow afraid to bring her newfound sincerity into the spotlight both literally and figuratively. She was hiding the entire time – playing in the dark, rushing through the set as if nervous or embarrassed, and masking the intimate vibe of the new record behind the practiced ways of her rock-n-roll persona. Perhaps this was an effort to make the material more stage-ready but for me it had a numbing effect. I can only hope that in time she'll figure out how to parlay the stirring ardency that makes Interstellar so salient, will become comfortable with letting any pretense fall away and be truly present in the new material. I can imagine that day – Frankie stands on stage in a halo of white, assuredly plucking each note from her guitar strings, backed only by atmospheric keys and somber drums, letting Interstellar truly explode – vulnerable, earnest and far beyond the trappings of coolness.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Cate le Bon w/ Pigeons

There is something irresistibly intriguing about Cate le Bon.

Cate le Bon
Though released in 2009, I came across her debut album Me Oh My just last year and immediately became obsessed with it.  Truthfully, I wasn't really listening to anything else like it at the time. Her unique brand of psych-tinged folk pop seemed out of place in my queue, but nevertheless it made me reminiscent of the time I went to France and in the course of exploring Brittany spent an afternoon traipsing through the labyrinthian grounds of a sprawling Chateau where footpaths overgrown with roses overlooked a lush river valley and springtime seemed eternal.

Cate's newest offering, Cyrk, delves even further into the psychedelic wanderings on Me Oh My; none of the songs would have been out of place on my Electric Lemonade Acid Test comps, or in a circus sideshow where both audience and performers are on hallucinogens. Cate's vocals are theatrical and haunting without being over-the-top. She seems at once mournful, chiding, dreamy, furious, and yearning. And again I am transported, wishing I could time warp to the streets of 1960's London, where I'd run around in a brightly colored velvet frock, platform boots, and a floppy hat. This is a desire that I probably haven't had since I watched Velvet Goldmine for the first time at the tender age of sixteen.

When I heard the Welsh singer would be making her way to Mercury Lounge to kick off her stateside tour in support of the album, I was filled with an overwhelming sense that if I went to the show, these flights of fancy would somehow be laid bare, that I could better understand their point of origin and in so doing clear my head of such visions. The voice would spring from between my ears to stage and become reality instead of myth. Either that, or rainbows would spring from Cate's fingertips and she'd give birth to a full-grown unicorn before our eyes.  

The show began insanely early. I arrived not long after seven and had already missed half of the set from openers Pigeons. Pigeons are another band that is difficult to... well, pigeon-hole. The first recordings I'd heard of the band featured songs sung in French, but apparently they hail from the Bronx. Lead singer Wednesday Knudsen (which sounds like a name only Jonathan Lethem would think up) is extremely tall and too skinny even to be a model, and her shoulders curl slightly over her guitar like a Madonna over Baby Jesus in a Mannerist painting. I caught Pigeons as a two piece at a CMJ showcase last October, but here the band played with their full live lineup. For fans of psych folk, I would definitely recommend catching one of their laid-back but beautiful sets. I would also recommend doing some kind of drugs beforehand.  

Cate took the stage just before eight o'clock, shrouded in a floral smock, her perfect auburn bob silhouetted by blue lights, bangs bluntly cut just above her smokey eyes. Her clarion voice was in top form as she tore through the set, and I was extremely impressed by the way she handled her guitar, at turns culling somber tones from the instrument and then wailing high notes at the next. She belted out the lyrics in measured breaths, swaying with each beat but focused intensely on playing rather than posturing. She implored the audience to come to the show in Hoboken the following night – with emphasis on the second syllable of Hoboken rather than the first, yet was gently teasing in explaining how to properly pronounce the title of the record – SURK, not KIRK. Her backing band was as instrumentally versatile as she, rotating keys and guitars comfortably through renditions of “Put To Work”, “Falcon Eyes”, “Me Oh My”, “Julia”, “Cyrk”, “Fold The Cloth” and others. Cate and Co. closed the set with both parts of “Ploughing Out” before she dramatically smashed her guitar into her bassist's, snarling the strings and leading astonished fans to believe there would be no encore, though it was not yet nine o'clock. However, after a brief absence, Cate returned for one more tune, this time at the keyboard. A video of the encore can be seen below.

SHOW REVIEW: Veronica Falls w/ Brilliant Colors

Maybe it was jet lag that led Cate le Bon and her band to end Thursday's show at Mercury Lounge at fifteen til nine, or maybe it was simply an oddity of the venue's booking.  But when I'd ventured out to that show it was with reluctance that I would miss Veronica Falls with Brilliant Colors and Grooms,  also playing that night across the East River at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Brilliant Colors
Ever one to take advantage of a good opportunity, I walked a quick fourteen blocks to hop on the L train at First Avenue, and arrived just as Brilliant Colors began to play.  I remember looking up at the stage and thinking that the lead singer was weirdly effeminate for a man, but after a while (and certainly once this person began to sing) I realized that it was actually an androgynous woman with an oddly British haircut.  Brilliant Colors had some technical difficulties in starting, claiming their instruments were frozen. I suppose this might have been the case, as it was pretty cold that evening and the band is used to the more mild climes of San Francisco. Their sunshine-infused garage jams warmed things up a bit, but in all honesty I had a difficult time discerning one song from the next, so much so that I began listening for even subtle differences but still couldn't manage find any. There's certainly something to be said for consistency, and fans of jangly surf pop might find special comfort in Brilliant Colors' repertoire though I was certainly ready for some variety.

Roxanne, Patrick & James

silhouetted Marion

Veronica Falls are cut from the same cloth as Brilliant Colors in that they also play fuzzed-out indie pop, but their music is far more catchy and varied. Their full length self-titled LP was released in September on Slumberland, but I knew very little about the band beyond the few seven-inches and some demos they'd released. I liked their cheeky lyrics and sunny sound and had assumed that they hailed from somewhere on the West Coast, but as it turns out, the four members of Veronica Falls are English. Roxanne Clifford's vocals harken back to obscure girl groups of the 50's and 60's, but she is backed by vocals from drummer Patrick Doyle and guitarist James Hoare instead of beehived jivers in sequined dresses. Marion Herbain on bass rounded out the group's energetic dynamic, though MHoW seemed less appropriate a venue for the band than a smaller, rougher space like Glasslands or even Shea Stadium or Death By Audio. Veronica Falls is the kind of band whose sound is simply better suited for the raw DIY spaces that abound in Brooklyn, which is not to say that their somewhat cutesy image is at all indicative of their sound. Elements of twee and shoegaze are certainly present, but the band is anything but shy. Their confidence pounds through every fierce beat, making them a fun band to watch on any stage.

Veronica Falls played some new jams as well as favorites “Beachy Head”, “Found Love In A Graveyard” and “Wedding Day” and closed with an excellent rendition of “Come On Over” before encoring with a cover of Roky Erikson's “Starry Eyes”. Video below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Six Songs for Your Sweetheart

Happy Valentine's Day from AudioFemme!  Thus far we've gotten some excellent feedback and would LOVE some more if you've got a few seconds to email us and let us know what you think, what you'd like to see more of, and - oh, yes! - submit something.

If you need some inspiration, we've got our first submission RIGHT HERE!  It comes to you from Jessica Darakjian, a self-described 23-year-old grandma living and working in Brooklyn, NY.  Currently she is getting ready to move back to California where she will partake in her favorite pastimes - riding a bike, gardening, making pickles and pies, surfing, going to flea markets, and listening to country tapes with her grandpa.

Personally, we think she could do most of these things just fine and still stay in New York, but she will not be convinced.
Enjoy! - Eds.

Is it just me or does anyone else wish Ye Olde Valentine's Day was celebrated a little different? How, you might ask, could I ever dislike chocolate boxes, cutesy cards, hearts and bows, fancy dinners, pretty dresses and shoes, lots of flowers, and maybe jewelry (if you’re uh, rich)?  Well I don’t. I’m not saying I would refuse any of those things if they were handed over to me. But, I am saying that most likely I would love you, dear, a bit longer and harder if you approached this holiday a little differently… Can’t a girl get a mix tape in this day and age?  It’s all I want. Honest. Just to hold the little shitty piece of plastic in my hand and know it took you 45 fucking minutes to get the cut right so the tape didn’t run out in the middle of our favorite song. Can’t I listen to it over and over, until I know exactly how many seconds are between the click of the needle setting down to the actual beginning of each song? Everyone remembers how fucking special this is, we all know how much heart goes into it. From a friend or lover, there is no doubt that mixtapes are just, ya know, absolutely honest. So Happy Merry New Kind of Valentine's Day - here are some songs I’m playing for my sweetie pie.

(One of my favorite videos. I wish I could dance like her. But honestly, Catherine should have just chosen Heathcliff and then none of the crazyness would have been necessary, right?)

(Even though you and I both can't stand to look at that fucking blue hat this weirdo is wearing, you cannot try to tell me this song didn’t melt your heart when you were/are in your rebel high school loser stage)

(Best scene from Rock 'n' Roll High School. Makes me all googley)

(off the most played record I own. “I need it everyday")

(I can tell by the way you dress, that you’re real fine) 

(awww, Miss Cora, you are a lucky lady)

Feel free to give Jessica some L O V E.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Tycho w/ Beacon, live at Music Hall Of Williamsburg

I was super excited to go see Beacon last Saturday night. My exposure to them thus far had been pretty limited to their brief stint at Cameo Gallery for the Brooklyn Electronic Music Fest, at which they only played a handful of songs. But they were shockingly good songs. Especially considering what one immediately notices about this duo. They look like a couple of sartorially unassuming white kids from your hometown somewhere in the Midwest. Until they start playing music that is. Then they're magically transformed into bass-blasting R&B/electronic superstars. It was a bit surreal to hear such a cavernous, all consuming sound coming out of the two of them, actually, and it made my attitude toward them swing dramatically from skeptical to deferential in a matter of seconds.

So there I was, waiting outside Music Hall to meet the person from whom I was scalping a craigslist ticket to this sold out show (Tycho, the headliner, is pretty damn incredible as well, which I'll get to). Suddenly the building started shaking a little bit, and my chest cavity began to vibrate oh so subtly. From a distance I heard opening chords of "See Through You". And I knew immediately, that this band is as good as I remembered them to be that night three months ago.

I finally got into the show not shortly thereafter, and settled in toward the front to be enveloped by loud bass, hot beats spun by Jacob Gossett, and Tom Mullarney's smooth reverbed-out voice singing the songs I've come to know pretty well at this point, from their EP No Body. After a few tracks, the crowd was glued. Whoever hadn't heard of them before, or had any doubts about their talent, was elevated to instant fandom, I'm sure of it. And it was then, when these guys knew they had everyone wrapped around their little fingers, that they upped the ante and performed this Ginuwine cover.

And I thought that would be the pinnacle of my experience of this show... Alas, I had no idea what Tycho had in store for us.

Tycho's set was amazing for three reasons.
First, and for those of you who aren't familiar with Tycho, this is a band that puts more effort into cultivating a spectacular audio-visual experience for their audience than anyone I've ever seen live. While the music itself is primarily a blend of ambient sounding electronic and live drum/bass/lead guitar, the video work that Scott Hanson (Tycho's founder) produces and curates to accompany the  music is really quite thoughtful, and heightens every song's sonic impact with total deliberation; each clip of video is stunningly executed, and seems to be timed to accentuate certain beats, tones, and shifts in musical phrase to an ideal degree.

Second, there isn't so much going on, even despite the crazy visuals, that you can't focus on any one musician in particular and feel captivated by their technical abilities. For Example, the bass player was so good, and stalwart (many of these tracks were over five minutes long), that it was easy to get lost in his playing and forget everything else that was happening. The band's first encore performance had Scott playing solo, and apologizing to the audience for the noticeable  absence of bandmates, with the candid admittance that he "just needed to give them a rest". 

Third, these songs are pretty mellow, generally, but they never ever bore. There was a dude standing about six feet in front of me who was breakdance-fighting/shadow boxing/going into epileptic shock for the entire set. I swear to god, he never stopped moving for the full hour and a half they played. There were also any number of fist-pumpers and of course the occasional girl who would burst into tears at the beginning of a certain song...

Anyway, please enjoy a video from the show, and hopefully get a sense for what I'm talking about here. Do trust though, that this little clip in no way does Tycho justice.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Dum Dum Girls w/ Widowspeak

Last night, we AudioFemmes visited Music Hall of Williamsburg to see Dum Dum Girls perform a blistering set for a packed audience.  We missed openers Punks On Mars (not too intrigued by that band name, sorry) but caught most of Widowspeak’s set. Below, our innermost thoughts and feelings regarding the spectacle we witnessed. - Eds.

dressed all in white and practically glowing
L: Annie, what did you think of Widowspeak?

A: Well. Here’s the thing: I have a hard time getting on board with singers who sound painfully derivative of someone whom I happen to love, in this case, Mazzy Star. It doesn’t help that Hope Sandoval is still around and making music. In fact, I hear there’s a forthcoming album slated for release this summer. However, independent of the issue of Molly Hamilton’s striking similarities, both sonically and aesthetically, to Mazzy, I have to admit I’m a sucker for dreamy sounding girl-pop.


L:  Oooh, I had no idea Mazzy Star was putting out new material.  Yet another reason to look forward to summer.  But I digress - we were talking about Widowspeak, and I agree, it is hard not to hear Hope Sandoval when Molly Hamilton opens her mouth.  I’d actually seen them before at Glasslands when they opened for Dirty Beaches roughly a year ago.  They covered Chris Isaak.  I bought the Harsh Realm 7” (white vinyl!  I’m such a sucker for that kind of thing) and I think by now I’ve worn the grooves out.  I mean I’ve had nights where I put on that title track and just pull the needle back over when it’s done playing, and then repeat that about eighty times.  There’s something about the lines “I thought about how it was / I thought about you because / I always think about you” that just gets to me.  It’s definitely the kind of obsessive-minded song that makes playing the shit out of it feel totally appropriate...

... Seeing that live and knowing to expect it was a highlight for me, but I think that’s where the band excels - in the quieter, more contemplative moments.  I could have sworn they had far fewer members the last time I saw them, and so it was a bit off-putting to have three guys backing her up.  But I understand the need to amp up the performance as they are going out on tour with Dum Dum Girls.Speaking of which.....

A: Yeah, real quick: I would definitely give them another chance, and I often feel differently about a band’s sound in general when I hear the studio recording. You can lend me the 7” next time I come over. Anyway, moving on to the Dum Dum girls.

For me, a band’s first impression often sets the tone of the show, so to speak. And when the Dum Dum girls descended the stairs onto the stage of Music Hall of Williamsburg, decked out in white Grecian drapery and a myriad of fishnet-patterned stockings, I knew immediately, that we were in for a good time. Not to mention we were standing a stone’s throw from the hot new bass player, whose name thus far is unknown to us.

L: This bass player. Woah.  One of the most gorgeous women I think I’ve ever seen.  I was kind of disappointed when I heard their former bass player had been replaced; I thought she was a good representation of someone who isn’t super skinny and is totally sexy and kick ass, and I think it’s nice to see that, especially for people with similar body types.  Not that the new bass player was a twig; she did have some booty.  Whatever girl crushes I might have had on the band before were cemented when they emerged from backstage - every single one of them looked amazing.  I want to go shopping for tights and vintage jewelry with them.  Even if they had sucked, I would have been nearly content to watch them bop around on stage for 45 minutes.  But then they proceeded to totally melt faces.

A: Before I go on about how hard they rocked out, I must say, there’s something novel, in a heavy kind of way, about seeing a band comprised exclusively of women, play so competently and so beautifully. So many bands out there have one or two female members, who are often just eye-candy more than anything else; Or there are female-led groups who have the requisite enigmatic male bass player, or crazy drummer, etc. It’s really rare to see an all chick band like that who fully embrace their femininity and are completely unapologetic for their girliness, and who write songs about falling in and out of love that aren’t sappy and quaint sounding.

L: I agree. I wish it wasn’t such a novelty, but I don’t know if I’ve seen an all female band own a stage like that since Sleater-Kinney.  Maybe Warpaint. Honestly though, with all the bands trying to make it big in Brooklyn you don’t often see anyone, male OR female, playing their instruments as well as the Dums did.  I’d heard their shows were remarkable but I was floored by how good they sounded, how energetic they were, and how cohesively they jammed as a whole.  And I was also in love with their superfans who mouthed along with every word, including a middle-aged dude who was holding a library book the entire time!  I want to know what he was reading.

A: Hmmm. I’m gonna guess some sort of self-help book. Maybe something like, “How to change your life in 5 simple steps”

L: Step One - See the Dum Dum Girls. Life-changing for sure.
Step Two - Get an e-reader so you don't have to carry around heavy volumes to rock concerts.It looked pretty thick, though... I bet it was Game of Thrones or something like that.  He was adorably geeky.
A: Yeah, you’re probably right. That shit is insanely popular right now. I also liked that guy who was scribbling things down on his teeny tiny notepad like his life depended on it.

L: Maybe he was taking notes for his cool blog.

A: Not as cool as our blog.

L: Never!  Although it would be cooler if we could stay on topic.

A: Yeah, we really need to get it together here.

L: Admittedly, I’ve never quite understood the hype surrounding Dum Dum Girls.  Their albums are entertaining for a listen or two, but not usually ones I play over and over again.  That changed for me with the release of the first few singles from Only In Dreams.  Only In Dreams is, in part, a raw chronicle of the emotions lead singer Dee Dee experienced after the passing of her mother.  While their previous material was carefree and and even a bit frivolous, Only In Dreams has fathoms more depth, and that thoughtfulness and truth put it over the edge for me in terms of my admiration for the band.  I even went back to some of their old material, discovering “Take Care of My Baby” from the “He Gets Me High” single and falling absolutely in love with it.

A: Yeah, I never really got heavily into them. Aside from hearing their songs on random playlists here and there I never listened to much. And although I always liked what I did hear, seeing them live really changed my perception of what they are and what they do. Before I feel like my impression was that they’re kind of like a more pop-y iteration of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And while Dee Dee does sound an awful lot like Karen O. in many ways, the songs themselves are decidedly more straightforward--but in a refreshing way--especially to hear live.

L:  I don't know if I hear the Karen O. thing. In terms of performance and in-your-faceness, I'd say they are certainly of the same ilk. But the confessional nature of Dum Dum's newer tunes is not a place even Karen would dare go. The live rendition of “Hold Your Hand” was particularly moving.  Knowing where Dee Dee’s coming from when she sings the words “I wish it wasn’t true but there’s nothing I can do except hold your hand” makes them that much more powerful, but its a sentiment that hits deep with anyone who has lost someone close to them.  After playing those last chords Dee Dee kind of looked down at her guitar and swallowed hard and I remember being amazed that she had the courage to write the song in the first place, let alone play it before a huge crowd.  It was very poignant. 

A: I think I actually started crying a little bit during that song, because you could tell she was working so hard to keep it together. My heart really goes out to her, and I’m stunningly impressed with her fortitude and self-composure in the face of such recent adversity. Seeing her perform it was one of the many highlights. The most memorable highlight, however, for me, was the encore, for which they played “Coming Down”.  It’s a quieter song, and more sophisticated then some of the upbeat pop-rock stuff they do that seems to be their signature style. I guess I like to be surprised sometimes, even if it comes at the very end of a set. And the added effect of the disco ball lent it a dream-like ambiance that made the encore actually feel like a send-off--which is to me, what encores are all about. In any case, I would definitely go see them live again.

L: I loved “Coming Down” as well.  It was perfect as a set closer lyrically and melodically; like watching the last embers of a fire die before it goes out.  And I love me some disco ball - it burst to life at the perfect moment, just after the bridge when Dee Dee was really belting it out .  My only disappointment of the evening was the realization that I left the records I bought at the show in a booth at Lovin' Cup, where we stopped to grab a bite afterward. I called the place today but some jerk must have snapped them up. Can't say I blame him or her, I'd probably do the same thing.
Dum Dum Girls are touring the Northeast through most of February and then head to Europe in March.  These ladies are not to be missed. For additional proof of such, check out the video Annie shot of them performing "Rest of Our Lives" from their 2010 debut LP I Will Be.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

EP REVIEW: Headcage by Matthew Dear (Ghostly)

I remember the first time I heard the Matt Dear track “Tide”. I was driving around Detroit with my sister. It was the dead heat of summer. We were trying to find the Masonic Temple to attend what was rumored to be an amazing dance party thrown by a little known record label out of Ann Arbor that was, and still is, near and dear to us both.

As we circled 'round and 'round the Cass Corridor trying to find parking and hoping not to miss anyone’s set, she (this sister of whom I speak) put “Tide” on, and asked me if I had heard it yet. At the time, Matt Dear—one of said label’s co-creators and first signatories—was still just some enigmatic DJ who composed exclusively techno; so I was surprised to suddenly hear his deep, now distinctive singing voice emerge from the noise. And although I didn’t think too much of it (the singing thing, that is) I secretly hoped it wasn’t some weird gimmick, because I could imagine him parlaying this particular genre-hybrid he had created, into something quite extraordinary. It was 2004 then. In 2011 Black City came out and blew everyone’s mind, and to me, was the culmination of something seminal about that particular summer.

During the three or so times last year that I saw him and his band (handsome and dramatically impeccable in their three piece suits) perform Black City—with trumpet player and all—I felt that same little kernel of anxiety that I remember from the summer of 2004: that this amazing music might go away, like a vanishing mythological creature. I felt like I shouldn’t get too attached, for fear that it may turn out to be just another fleeting iteration of one of his many aliases.

**Listen to "Tide" Here, because apparently I'm not sophisticated enough to copy and paste code from Soundcloud.**

Anyway, you can imagine my sigh of relief upon learning that the band version of Matt Dear, Matthew Dear, would be putting out an EP in the New Year. And Headcage is pretty awesome indeed. In four tracks it both assuages the fear I spoke of, that he'll cease to make the songs that I love the most--those that simultaneously propel the listener into new frontiers of artsy electronic, and take him or her back to some unnameable era of dance music--and suggests to me what the next phase of his polymathic (no, I don't really know if that's a real adjective) career might entail . 

The first track, "Headcage" is an immediate nod to the highlights of Black City (namely "Shortwave" and "You Put A Smell On Me", I think). It combines entrancing beats and heavy, nostalgia-inspiring synthetic melodies with insightful lyrics that juxtapose Matt's laconic persona. "Around The Fountain" and "Street Song", are a bit slower and more psychedelic, but pack a punch for their marked lack of traditional "techno" indicators. For example, "Street Song", is underpinned by what can best be described as a barely perceptible, irregular sounding heartbeat.

"In The Middle (I Met You There)", is the wild card of this EP. It starts off sounding like a hip hop jam, with a line from the chorus looping over a funky beat. The melody slowly emerges from a distant synth without the listener even knowing it. Then, Johnny Pierce (from the Drums) starts to croon what has become an addictive opening verse, building up to the refrain, during which all the background music stops. Then the chorus hits, with Matt Dear's baritone voice entering dramatically, singing along with Pierce, only an octave lower. It's at this point we find out that "In The Middle" is actually a love song ("The waves will keep on crashing in/sometimes we lose sometimes we win/you saved me from myself again/baby I don't know how this will end"). This lyric repeats for a minute or so before the whole thing descends into instrumental chaos. It's both familiar and surprising, and it's the moment of Headcage that hooks me, in typical Matt Dear fashion, leaving me yearning for more. Good thing the full length album will be out next year.

At a Matt Dear show, right before we lit a fire in a bad location

Thursday, February 2, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Blouse w/ Cosmetics & The New Lines

nice blouse, Charlie Hilton
Looking at the line-up for Tuesday night's show at 285 Kent, I wasn't sure if I was about to see a handful of fashionable indie bands or if I was making a shopping list for things I needed to pick up from Bloomingdales. Blouse, check. Cosmetics, check. The New Lines, check. (Original openers Beige and Mosaics were replaced last minute by Beach Fossils side project Heavenly Beat, but could have easily fit into a department store otherwise).

Luckily for my bank account, it was the former. I missed Heavenly Beat although heard from a photographer I struck up a conversation with that his set was pretty befuddling. Actually, I think the term autistic might have been used, but I feel remiss to pass judgement on an act I didn't actually catch. I made my way toward the stage just as New Lines were setting up.

The three members of The New Lines had this adorably quirky indie rock band circa 1995 look, like they'd be scratching their feet in the dirt all sheepish-like if they hadn't been playing a show. Unfortunately, that's probably what they went and did after a set besieged by technical difficulties. It seems strange to say of something “It was so loud I couldn't hear it” but that's the sort of effect the mixing had – it seemed like every other thing was drowning the vocals, but I couldn't tell specifically what needed turning down. Surely one guitar, or even the keyboard, couldn't be obliterating my ear drums. Then they asked for “less iPod” followed by “less backing track” followed by some other way of saying “we don't have a bassist, so we need to play our songs over another part of the same song that we already recorded” and I suddenly understood. After a false start, the band stopped playing their last track halfway through a second attempt and left the stage. Even so, I wanted to hug them and tell them not to give up; I could tell that given a proper opportunity to listen to their poppy, psych-influenced songs I might fall madly in love with them. Luckily, they have a bandcamp and the only thing missing there is the trippy projections that swirled behind them as they performed.

Misty Mary on the keys
After the longest equipment change of all time, the Cosmetics frontwoman explained “We got caught in a snowstorm on the way here.” I was not sure if she meant from the bar to the stage or what, as it had been sixty degrees (!) in NYC just hours earlier. The songstress was lovely to behold and had a nice voice, while her equally attractive male compatriot backed her up on no less than three mini-synths. The overall effect was a semi-sluggish brand of electroclash but I think given time to develop and expand on their sound this could be a really fun band to see again. They have two seven inches out on Captured Tracks (which you can listen to at bandcamp) and it will be interesting to see if they are able to move past their sweet tooth for Glassy Candy.

Patrick tunes his bass
Blouse took the stage just after midnight. Leading lady Charlie Hilton repped the band name in a flowing garment, cuffed at midwrist and layered over tan short shorts worn with sheer tights and tall black wedge booties. I don't know if that is relevant to anything, but it seems when you've named your band after the fanciest of shirts that it might matter just a little. According to Patrick Adams' cool haircut it matters. Misty Mary (likely not her real name) tapping her toes clad in ripped pantyhose indicates that it matters. Everything about drummer Paul Roper says it matters – from the suspenders to the Elvis Costello frames, partially shaved head to the vintage tee.

What definitely matters is that Blouse lived up to the hype that's surrounded their self-titled release, out last November on Captured Tracks. The set was blissed-out and dreamy, yet retained the signature new-wave throwback sound that has garnered so much buzz for Blouse.  Ms. Hilton's emotive crooning made me feel like the only person bopping around in the cavernous, graffittied space. Her limited banter was sweet and humble. But for one song, the set was comprised entirely of material from the record, and the live renditions were flawless.  They closed with heavy-hitter “Into Black” before politely ducking offstage. You can watch my video of “They Always Fly Away” below.