Tag Archives: Albums

Andrew Bird – “Noble Beast”

andrewbird

Hi, blog. I’ve neglected you quite a bit over the past semester, not really giving a shit and just posting setlists of shows I’ve been to and radio playlists. Well, I swear I’m going to start treating you right again. That and I think my friends are getting less and less receptive to me shoving records down their throats.

Anyway, the new Andrew Bird record is great. Really great. I remember hearing it for the first time when it came out at the end of January and knowing it was the first “big deal” record of 2009 that I would throw on my top 10 list and see how many publications did the same. From the opening violin swells of “Oh No,” the album’s got a very ethereal sound, one that’s simultaneously calculated and carefree.

Andrew Bird’s always been the kind of thing I have to be in a specific mood for, but in the last few weeks I’ve found myself coming back to this record more and more. With an empty house and a warm summer breeze rolling through the windows, I’ll put on Noble Beast and watch it fill every corner of the room. It seems a grave disservice to listen to it any other way.

Andrew Bird – “Noble Beast”

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Just Throwing This Out There, I Don’t Hate the Two Tongues Album.

two tongues

I didn’t love the last Say Anything record and I haven’t liked Saves the Day since Stay What You Are, but fuck me if I didn’t like this little number that found its way into my mailbox earlier this week. This band’s been endlessly hyped since its inception; Max Bemis of the aforementioned Say Anything and Chris “My Voice Keeps Getting Higher” Conley of Saves the Day combine with a few other members of their respective bands to form an AbsolutePunk supergroup.

With a formula like that, I wanted to hate Two Tongues. I really fucking did. But, honestly, they did this damn thing right.

With Dave Soloway, Saves the Day’s undeniably crafty lead guitarist, on bass, it’s pretty easy to tell that the majority of the guitar work is Bemis’. While Say Anything sure isn’t a band known for impressive fretwork (why do they even bother having 3 guitars?), what they lack in technical proficiency they more than make up for in melody and memorability. As a result, most of Two Tongues sounds like B-sides from …Is a Real Boy, though slightly less ambitious. I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear yet, but that album fucking rules and this is a huge positive.

In short, Max Bemis wrote a bunch of songs, and Chris Conley stopped him before he overwhelmed himself and released another two-disc monstrosity. Can’t guarantee it’ll still have appeal a few months down the road, but hey, whatever, it’s fun now.

Two Tongues – Two Tongues

Really?: New Phantom Planet Video/Things I Liked in 2008: Phantom Planet

Adam, who plays bass in my band, once told me he was going to see Tim and Eric’s live show in New York. Upon his return, I asked how it was. His response: “There’s a reason their show is only fifteen minutes long.”

I’ve seen some of Eric Wareheim’s other music videos, and to me his style of “filmmaking,” I suppose I’ll call it, never translated well in any medium besides television comedy. “Tom Goes to the Mayor” took some time to grow on me, and I love “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!” for its utter insanity and countless celebrity cameos. Yeah, maybe one of these days Eric Wareheim’s directorial talents will translate well into a music video.

The new Phantom Planet video for “Dropped”, however, is not that music video. It’s almost too ludicrous for its own good, with the band parading around in green screen suits with stuttery edits abound. There’s a side plot with a mustachioed man trying to seduce a potential lover with gifts and talents; it’s so awkward that it was all but totally lost on me.

All that being said, I fucking loved the new Phantom Planet record. It came out right as the air was getting warm and got me in the perfect mood for summer. Blasting Raise the Dead with the windows down is the only way to do the album justice; Phantom Planet clearly wears their SoCal roots on their sleeves and grew some fucking balls in the years since the release “California.”

It’s pop rock, but with more emphasis on the latter. There’s a loose concept about a “Hotel California”-esque run-in with a cult that’s more evident in some songs than others (like “Leader” and “Do the Panic”), but it’s fairly irrelevant. There’s some Radiohead channeling on “Quarantined,” and “Geronimo” takes on rough sex with an equal amount of vigor. Seriously, if the last you’ve heard of this band is the theme song to The OC, do some catching up. Losing Jason Schwartzman is the best thing that ever happened to them.

Oh, but don’t expect to see them anytime soon. 2008 marked an “indefinite hiatus” for the band. Boo!

Phantom Planet – Raise the Dead

Best (Music) Thing of 2008: Okkervil River

I’ve really got to hand it to Will Sheff and the Okkervil River bunch. Not only did they put out, bar none, my favorite record of the year with The Stand Ins, but they also managed to knock me flat on my ass twice–once at Webster Hall and again at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

The Stand Ins continues where the band’s last album, The Stage Names, left off, attacking the superficiality and deception found in modern art and media. Whereas The Stage Names primarily discussed television and movies, The Stand Ins firmly sets its target on the music industry. “Pop Lie” discusses at length the ways in which popular singers manipulate their audiences into singing and dancing and believing the stories they’re singing along to are true. “Singer Songwriter” is a character study of a modern aristocrat who tries to downplay his wealth by drowning himself in pretentious art. Singer Will Sheff’s lyrics are, as per usual, beautifully constructed and articulate without ever sounding pretentious himself. He is able to cut through facades as quickly as he paints them with melodies so infectious you’ll want to sing and dance along yourself. Of course, Mr. Sheff speaks only the truth, or so he’d like you to believe.

Even the slower tracks are beautiful in their own ways, particularly the epic centerpiece of “Blue Tulip” and the self-deprecating “On Tour With Zykos,” which chronicles the aftermath of a one-night stand between a rock star and one of his fans. The view shifts from the fan, who only wants to love the man she idolizes, to the rock star himself, who is revealed to live a pathetic, vapid life in spite of the deep poetry he’s “supposed to” write.

Sheff’s lyrics are so literate that the characters in his songs become as interesting and engrossing as the songs themselves. My previous review of Black Sheep Boy discussed this as well, and while in the three years since that album’s release it would have been pretty easy for Sheff to simply get lazy and fall for tired, cliched rhymes, he’s as sharp with his wordplay as ever.

God, listen to me. I sound like I write for Pitchfork. Anyways…

Okkervil River – The Stand Ins

Okkervil Webster Hall

Picture from Brooklyn Vegan

I saw Okkervil River for the first time on October 6th in Webster Hall. It was the first night of their two-night Webster Hall stand, and it was flawless. I think the reason they don’t tour as regularly as other bands is because Will Sheff just doesn’t have it in him to give that much energy every night. He really gave the show everything he had; I remember thinking that he probably wouldn’t scream all the parts of songs like “Black” or “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe,” and time after time I was proved wrong. Also worth mentioning is the acoustic ballad “A Stone,” during which Webster Hall was completely silent. It was chilling, to say the least, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. By the time they ended with “Westfall,” it seemed like the crowd wasn’t willing to let them go.

So, naturally I had to go see them again. As an early Hanukkah present I bought Heather tickets to see Sheff play an acoustic set at Music Hall of Williamsburg. The difference with a lot of the songs was like night and day; “Our Life…” was slowed down considerably and made much more intense from guitar work by Wrens frontman and show opener Charles Bissell.

Thanks to the awesome folks at Okkervil River fan site Down the Oubliette, you can download the audio from the Webster Hall show and watch videos from most of the Music Hall set.

Here’s to 2009. Please play more shows.

Things I Liked in 2008: Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s

margot

As an impossibly huge fan of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s first album, The Dust of Retreat, imagine my excitement when I found that 2008 would bring not only a new album from the band, but two new albums. I was completely confused when the whole Animal!/Not Animal thing was first announced, but in short: after signing to major label Epic, the band brought forth Animal!, which was rejected for being too good and not as profitable as a band on a major label must be; instead of writing a new album, band says “fuck you,” digs out a bunch of B-sides, slaps it together as Not Animal; record label is happy with it, but band decides to release both.

With Animal being vinyl-only and me not owning a record player, I was nervous that I would have to settle for what the band viewed as their lesser work with the CD release of Not Animal. Fortunately, working in college radio is awesome and I was mailed a super rare promotional double-CD with both albums. Reflecting on how much that fucking ruled, I popped in Animal! first and, as much as I’d like to say I was totally floored, I wasn’t. It was no Dust of Retreat, but it was solid. The dreamy, pseudo-folk orchestral sensibilities were all there, but Animal! didn’t quite hit me emotionally the way their previous album had.

After a few times through Animal!, I’ll admit it was also intimidating to have another, almost completely different disc. There’s a few oldies that I don’t think were previously ever recorded properly, like crowd favorite “Broadripple is Burning” and “Real Naked Girls” as well as 5 duplicate tracks, but overall I felt conflicted about Not Animal. I mean, if the band clearly doesn’t care about these songs as much as the others, why should I? I might still need more time with it, so it’s entirely possible I may make another post a few months down the line taking all of this back.

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s – Animal!

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s – Not Animal

margot live

2008 was also a significant year because it marked my first Margot show, which was an event in and of itself.

Back in the summer, Coheed and Cambria announced Neverender at Terminal 5 in New York City, a four-night event during which they would play one of their albums every night. I knew it was during CMJ, I only had enough money to buy tickets to see one night, and I only liked their first two albums, so I weighed my options and bought a ticket to see Second Stage Turbine Blade.

Of course, this is the same night of Margot’s CMJ show at the Bowery Ballroom. At first I just sighed and continued believing I’d never actually get to see them, but a few weeks before I left for CMJ a schedule was posted listing them as playing at midnight. Coheed only had one opener and started at 7, I could totally do both! So I did. The Coheed show let out at around 10, and after an arduous series of subway transfers, delays, and an eventual cab ride, I made it to Bowery Ballroom at 11:45 and prayed they were still letting in CMJ badgeholders.

Fortunately, the entire show was running a half hour late, and I was eventually let in at around 12:45 during Margot’s first song. They played beautifully, mixing together both old songs and newer ones, but the highlight of the night was the encore in which Richard Edwards came out by himself and played a few crowd requests. Mind you, he was absolutely shitfaced and could barely talk without slurring his words incomprehensibly, but he sang every note spot-on and didn’t miss a single chord.

Also there were these stupid drunk girls who kept trying to tell me jokes during their set, but I refuse to dignify their existence by writing about it here. Disregard that last sentence.

The show got out at around 2:30AM, and while it had been a long night and I was totally exhausted, I really couldn’t think of a better way to see them for the first time. Picture from my shitty camera phone.

Things I Liked in 2008: The Tallest Man on Earth/Bon Iver

shallow-graves

I figured this would be an appropriate post because these two either currently are or just finished up touring together.

I got into the Tallest Man on Earth and I definitely like him better; the guy writes folky acoustic tunes evocative of Dylan’s early days, but with fancier fretwork. His voice caught me off guard at first, but I think it’s part of what makes him so memorable; think Dylan, Willie Nelson, or Deer Tick, but deeper.

I’ve told everyone so far that he’s definitely a grower. If you’re willing to give it a little bit of time and warm up to something a little bit different, you’ll be greatly rewarded. I’d say this securely clinches my #3 spot of the year.

The Tallest Man on Earth – Shallow Graves

boniver

I don’t know what I can say about Bon Iver that hasn’t been said before. Justin Vernon recorded this album over three months in an isolated cabin in Wisconsin with limited recording equipment, and I honestly think you’re doing it a great disservice if you don’t listen to For Emma, Forever Ago with headphones. There’s so much ambient noise from the cabin itself that just isn’t conveyed properly through speakers; get a good set of noise-cancelers, hit play, and close your eyes and it’s like you’re there in the cabin with him.

It’s the perfect record for this time of year. It’s lonely, yet warm, and undeniably beautiful and heartbreaking. Well played, Mr. Vernon. I pray your next album isn’t recorded in a studio either.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Things I Liked in 2008: Death Cab for Cutie

narrowstairs

Death Cab’s been one of my favorite bands since my freshman year of high school. I could write a book about Ben Gibbard’s lyrics, Chris Walla’s intricate guitar work, that video of Jason McGerr playing a different beat with each of his limbs, or Nick Harmer’s beard, but I’ll spare you in the interest of keeping things short. Death Cab for Cutie can really do no wrong in my book. I stood by them with the OC came out, I watched all of the (hit or miss) “Directions” shorts, and most recently I defended the first four-and-a-half minutes of “I Will Possess Your Heart” in a fairly heated argument.

And yeah, I was skeptical when I first heard that the first single off Narrow Stairs was going to be eight minutes long. The title track off Transatlanticism was 7:55 and both We Have the Facts… and Plans have six minute songs, but none of them were released as proper singles. Fortunately, when we got the single in at WQAQ, I was relieved to hear that it fucking ruled. I always tell myself I’ll skip it on subsequent listenings, but as soon as that bass kicks in with a line more badass than anything Nick Harmer’s ever done, I get suckered into the whole thing, every time.

Narrow Stairs isn’t Death Cab’s best work by a long shot, but it’s solid. There’s some risks taken here the band hasn’t done in the past, and while not all of them work flawlessly, it’s good to see they’re not resting on their laurels and still trying new things.

Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

2008 also marked my first (and second) Death Cab shows. I saw them on the last day of my freshman year of college at Meehan Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island, and it was glorious. Amanda Palmer opened, and while she was incredible when I saw her on a headlining tour earlier this year, her set was pretty boring save for Regina Spektor and Radiohead covers, the latter of which was playd on a ukelele.

The second Death Cab show I went to was in October 2008 at the Oakdale in Wallingford, CT. St. Vincent opened and fucking ruled. There’s no occasion for this, but I like her album so much I’m going to post it here.

St. Vincent – Marry Me

So, in summation: 2008, a good year for Death Cab for Cutie. Not my favorite album of the year, but, as Heather would say, it’s definitely top 10.