Ahhh, and here’s bizarro experimental music done right. Semi-popular indie music just keeps getting weirder and weirder, and I for one couldn’t be more proud or excited with humanity. This band has been around for the better part of the decade, cutting their teeth in the NYC avant-garde scene and apparently making some powerful friends in the process — like fellow Brooklynite psych kings Oneida, who signed them to their new and predictably awesome Brah imprint.
This disc was recorded in the Oneida’s new studio, and whereas I went in expecting high strangeness, what I got was even more delicious and discombobulating. Kind of like a combination of Wolf Eyes’ harsh disorientation and potent Excepter level art drone, but with more instruments or something to that effect. If there’s one thing I always call bullshit on in experimental circles, it’s boringness, and fortunately, while discordant and difficult might be adjectives you could use to describe City Of Straw, boring wouldn’t even begin to apply.
Wow, this is tough review to write, as I’m typically a fan of unabashed mindfuckery. Here, I’m entirely conflicted. On one hand, listening to two straight records of pummeling guitar squall is certain to put you in an abnormal headspace, allowing channel demons psychically if that kind of thing suits your fancy. On the other hand, this is two discs of monolithic guitar noise. No variations whatsoever. No low end to speak of. Two straight fucking albums. Or in other words: completely fucking unnecessary.
Which is a supreme disappointment, as I’d been hearing about Skullflower (aka Matt Bower and guests) for a while now, and this was my introduction. He’s has been around forever and is apparently somewhat of a legend in the world of bleak experimental psychedelia — hence his signing to the legendary Neurot recordings. And that’s where things get really confusing. Guy struggles away in obscurity for decades… then gets a label that’s going to promote his shit, and this is what he drops.
And maybe that’s the problem: classic heavier than thou posturing. Wow man, an entire two-disc set of nothing but guitar noise. That’s sooooo brutal (inflect Nathan Explosion effect). The problem is that in the year 2010, exactly zero creativity or originality goes into making a record like this — just pretentiousness and ego. If this was something novel, I’d give it extra points, but I already have several albums in my collection (that I don’t listen to very often) that sound exactly like this.
To anyone reading that digs this kind of thing and is upset, here’s some advice: go buy a 4-track recorder, a cheap guitar, and a distortion pedal. Turn it up until it starts feeding back wildly. Hit record and scratch the strings without playing any actual notes. Now make another track or two doing the same thing. Congratulations, you just made this album.
My fiancé and I spent March 28 to April 1 preparing for LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden, which Pitchfork graciously streamed live. To their credit, the feed was unusually good and to my ISP’s credit, a handful of “buffering” moments didn’t deprive us of any music. To watch the video on our TV, we had to buy an HDMI adapter for her MacBook, borrow an HDMI cord to connect it with the TV, and very accidentally found the necessary sound cords in one of my desk drawers. Armed with the appropriate technology and a reasonably well-stocked drink cabinet, we found the effort entirely worthwhile. On April 3, LCD Soundsystem’s Wikipedia article was changed from “is a New York-based band” to the past tense, and I’m left trying to integrate a somewhat anomalous experience.
I’d never listened to LCD Soundsystem with any great interest until my fiancé took me to see them at Bonnaroo. I enjoyed the music and she enjoyed the music, but no one was dancing. They’d been billed on a day headlined by Bassnectar and a slew of rave bands, who all apparently found James Murphy’s beats less than engaging. A giant crowd milled in front of the band while pockets of painted, glowing exhibitionists circulated between stages. For her, it was a disappointment, but not entirely inconsistent with her experience. Neither of us can report knowing anyone that really likes LCD Soundsystem. During their show at Madison Square Garden, an announcer asked several fans what their favorite songs were; the first person that he asked couldn’t name any. My fiancé’s conditioned expectations were so strong that throughout broadcast that she thanked me constantly for watching it with her, because she was so accustomed to listening to their albums by herself.
Since then, I’ve asked several people — mostly musicians — what they thought of the band. Although most of them had no strong opinions, all of them said that they’d never cultivated an interest because of Murphy’s occasionally almost conversational vocal delivery. It’s not too hard to imagine that this tone might suggest a lack of passion to certain ears, particularly in lieu of the architecture of some electronic and dance music. That is to say — if people hear what they feel are emotionless, disinterested vocals punctuating something that sounds as repetitive as dance music can seem, they’re not likely to hazard any of their own emotional investment to fill the perceived void.
When my fiancé and I were first dating, I think my reaction was probably the same. I’d come to dance and electronica with a more pop sensibility, so lengthy LCD Soundsystem tracks didn’t sound like what my limited experience with dancing in a public context had inclined me to enjoy. As time went on and the length of my exposure to Murphy’s music increased, the meditative quality of repetition and highly graduated song architecture eventually yielded to my apprehension. Internally, the past year had been moving me towards some kind of aesthetic alignment. I began college in love with indie pop and ambient, but I’m ending it immersed in the diverse spectrum of genre monikers preceded by the adjective “dance.” Simple dance pop is easy to come by on damn near any stratum of popular culture — whether you’re sifting underground blogs or randomly changing radio stations — but it took the accumulated year of exposure to LCD Soundsystem for me to appreciate the adjective without the moniker: dance.
James Murphy and a small group of collaborators — including Tim Goldsworthy of Mo’ Wax and promoter Jonathan Galkin — currently operate DFA Records, along with its international imprint, Death From Abroad1. Their catalogs are predominantly 12″ singles, many with whopping A-sides, a remix, and maybe an alternate edit or a dub mix for good measure — reflecting their intended destination in the repertoires of DJs, rather than radio stations. As James Curd asserts on his DFA 12″, We Just Won’t Stop, they “do their thing based on a groove, designed to make your body move.” Eliciting movement and the centrality of the groove is dance, a genre uniquely conditioned by its context. It’s been at the heart of Murphy’s career well before LCD Soundsystem, even predating his famous DJ sets with DFA co-founder Goldsworthy.
The emotional palette that dance draws from is also, to a great extent, designed by those circumstances. The moodier “dance-punk” revival that’s often associated with LCD Soundsystem (drawing its aesthetic foundation from Murphy and Goldsworthy’s early DJ sets) and the artists advanced via DFA and Death From Abroad are ironically much more egalitarian. The very names of the band’s singles agree with the notion that their music was never culturally or emotionally mute; “Losing My Edge” is probably the most obvious, but songs like “North American Scum” (originally on the Confuse the Marketplace 12″) have pretty explicit social agendas.
LCD Soundsystem – Confuse the Marketplace
A lot of this information, however, came to me piecemeal, and never because I was in love with the band. The day I started to love their music was the day they called it quits forever. I’ve still yet to acquire any of the intimacies one has with a favorite band — no long walks, drives, or otherwise. The entire performance that Murphy presided over for the band’s final show was comprised of five sets, if you include the encore. The first set was a cross section of their three albums, beginning with their last:
1. Dance Yourself Clean (with “I’m Not In Love” by 10CC Intro)
2. Drunk Girls
3. I Can Change
4. Time To Get Away
5. Get Innocuous!
6. Daft Punk is Playing at my House
7. Too Much Love
8. All My Friends
9. Tired (with “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes snippet)
By the end of “I Can Change,” I’d begun trying to find the DFA 12″ that I knew must exist somewhere, in or out of print, and made the first of at least six purchases that evening (the first of three from Amazon.com, who stock most of LCD’s vinyls). It is one of the band’s most recent, taken from their last studio album, This Is Happening, and one of the most bluntly emotional songs Murphy has even written. For a musician who’s been highly critical of what he calls “I Feel You Feel music,” with a shallow appeal to bland emotion, it was a personal and stylistic landmark; Murphy actually had the band leave their studio while he recorded the vocals and only signed off on the song at their prompting.
For Murphy, beginning their show with these songs made a great deal of sense, and he’s clearly hadn’t shied away from using certain tracks as framing devices for each set. Though “Dance Yourself Clean” falls closer to the culmination of his career than the beginning, sitting as it does at the head of This Is Happening, beginning their final show with the song was a gentle reminder (rife with puns and wordplay) to devotees that they were a party… together — “Present company accepted.” As the set built, “Daft Punk is Playing at my House” gave a glimpse into Murphy’s past and made light of the culture-competition that he harps on in other songs, finally ending with “Tired,” and the announcement that such a long show would require breaks between sets.
1. 45:33 Part One
2. 45:33 Part Two (with Reggie Watts)
3. Sound of Silver
4. 45:33 Part Four
5. 45:33 Part Five (with Shit Robot)
6. 45:33 Part Six
7. Freak Out/Starry Eyes
The band’s second set was, for me, the most recognizable. While my fiancé and I were dating, I heard occasional LCD singles playing every couple of days, but the first album that we really listened to together with any thoroughness was 45:33, Murphy’s famous jogging mix commissioned by Nike. Although the original release billed the album as available exclusively from Nike and included some vague copy about listening to the tracks while jogging, we primarily made use of it as an accompaniment to Mario Kart for Wii, and even Murphy eventually admitted that he never jogs.
Whether or not it was really structured around “an arc designed for running,” a lot of early reviews made light of the corporate sell out and saw the album as having a topography amenable to soundtracking a good work out. Interspersed with tracks from the band’s follow-up album a year later, Sound of Silver, their second set highlighted the early midpoint of the band’s career. Though it had been more than five years since they unveiled their first single and their breakup was less than four away, Sound of Silver was their first album to chart on the Billboard 200. About a month before the album was released, Murphy revealed in an interview with The Guardian that 45:33 had nothing to do with exercise, and everything to do with an attempt to create a sort of conceptual purity. According to Murphy, he construed the whole exercise as nostalgia for the transitional electronica of Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4. The end product is a disco-infused homage to Göttsching’s comparatively narrowly-structured, confining thematic epic.
Nonetheless, the set ultimately highlights the band’s credibility, and Murphy’s creative refraction at a time when Sound of Silver was nearing completion. Built from the ground up as a DJ mix tuned to heart rate and body temperature, what 45:33 really emphasizes is Murphy’s role as architect — duping Nike into footing the bill for a personal creative outing that, despite their conditions, exhibits the kernel’s of the band’s coming career and his singular mastery of vision.
1. Us v Them
2. North American Scum (with Arcade Fire)
3. Bye Bye Bayou (Alan Vega Cover)
4. You Wanted a Hit
7. Yeah (Crass Version)
We’d already owned 45:33 for a little while, since buying it as a Valentine’s present, so the band’s third set became the primary nexus of my spontaneous, obsessive vinyl purchasing. All but two of these tracks have had their own independent lives on 12″ singles. “North American Scum” was popular enough to go through a couple of different pressings, ending up with a remix, dub mix, and a pair of non-album B-sides to balance them out (I opted for a smaller first pressing that I managed to find buried in the web catalog of a Texas record store). The other four come, not too surprisingly, from the band’s self-titled debut, which had more than twice as many as independently-released singles as the subsequent two.
LCD Soundsystem – North American Scum
Seen together, these are songs about displacement and confrontation (Pitchfork’s Joe Colly recently called it “cultural combativeness” — if titles like “Us v Them” and “Tribulations” weren’t explicit enough). “Bye Bye Bayou” and “North American Scum” both seem to emphasize that Murphy had become unsettled. If the chronology of their last show bears any relationship to their trajectory as a band, the third seems to represent their radical change in lifestyle as success accumulated, away from home and not always understood. Though the songs are older than others, they still express a great deal about the band’s break-up. It had become too much, too exhaustive, and too time consuming. If you’re willing to accept that even early in their career Murphy could have predicted the features that would make celebrity overbearing, then the set became fairly poignant at this point. Even the bombastic synths of “Movement” and repetitious, flamboyant affirmations of “Yeah” did nothing to cloud the emotion of Murphy’s singing about his own restlessness.
1. Someone Great
2. Losing my Edge (with “Da Funk” by Daft Punk)
By now, I’ve bought four 12″ singles from LCD Soundsystem, and two from bands on DFA or Death From Abroad. I’m also beginning to wonder how I’d ever been under the impression that the band I’d been watching for more than three hours was a hipster conceit band. In their last formal set, I’m sufficiently convinced that someone great actually was passing, that the lament in “Someone Great” became autobiographical; Murphy refused to say, but agreed that “songs are songs” and that this one could function however anyone likes it to. When “Losing My Edge” followed, though the sentiment didn’t necessarily follow, a flicker of Murphy’s sense of humor began to shine through. For a show that began with the emotional tension of “Dance Yourself Clean,” Murphy’s singular exploration of place in “Home” easily seemed like the appropriate ending, particularly when the song began its lengthy wind down and Murphy whispered, “It won’t get any better…” These three songs are a blueprint for what causes tension in the James Murphy we all know: the ambiguous ode to loss and celebrity, a lamentation of insincere cultural resurgences, and the mixed blessings of the adopted New York home that brought him fame.
LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge
1. All I Want
2. Jump Into the Fire (Harry Nilsson Cover)
3. New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down (with “Twin Peaks Theme” by Angelo Badalamenti intro)
In many ways, the band’s three-song encore was a continuation of the ideas they’d just left off with, though the sentiments have smaller social dimensions and the circumstances are more humble. Murphy is no longer a musician coming to terms with his celebrity, but a being coming to terms with his humanity. On “All I Want,” unadorned vocals and the band’s buoyant live instrumentation made for one of the show’s most emotional songs. A raucous cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into The Fire” might’ve be one of the more tonally anomalous tunes of the evening, but lyrically, was a final validation of the band’s corpus and the end of its centrality to the personal lives of its members.
For us, the show ended very quietly. The band finished playing amidst a massive wave of white balloons, which quickly began disappearing — as lighters, still handy from the encore, were taken out. When only a few dozen were left, the lights came on and the crowd was already fairly thinned. I don’t remember if Pitchfork’s live broadcast cut out first or if we closed the browser, but by then, I’d used my own laptop to buy at least six 12″ singles. I’ll find out this week if I’ve forgotten any as they all start arriving. A few days later, I actually committed to an album (as a fan of singles, that’s the sort of backwards logic I have to work through).
Artifacts of the occasion aside, the show remains an interesting axis of change. It finally brought me into the LCD Soundsystem camp, changed absolutely nothing about my fiance’s high opinion of the band, and brought an end to the band itself. In a couple of days, we’ll both have a heavy stack of new introductions to their music, as I come to a first appreciation and hers expands, thanks to a slew of B-sides and remixes.
1 A variation on Death From Above, the original name planned for DFA, but scrapped after September 11th.
A DVD release for this Madison Square Garden show is in the works. For now, these YouTube bootlegs will have to do.
It is a warm night in San Francisco — unseasonably warm. The Great American Music Hall opens its doors for a double bill of veteran road warriors Gomez, who began their ride into the musical landscape over ten years ago, and newcomers One eskimO, who have a strong appetite for expression and experimentation. The Hall begins to fill with concertgoers in t-shirts and sandals, despite it being March in San Francisco. The air has a warmth that’s almost humid, and it seems perfect for the milky, dreamy percussion and electronica-driven sounds of One eskimO. The bar tenders pour pints and mix cocktails while I meet backstage with One eskimO’s lead singer, Kristian Leontiou, and percussionist, Adam Falkner. The mood in their green room is mellow, with a glint of excitement that becomes more intense as we talk.
I first ask about the popularity of their song, “Kandi.” “Kandi” is now in rotation on mainstream, mass-market rock radio. But don’t misread One eskimO’s recent success; they are still very much an indie band with home-made, do-it-yourself aesthetics. Still, the fact remains that having a so-called “hit song” on mass-market radio can start to change things.
“‘Kandi’ is probably a standout song for us, but it’s different from many of our other songs. I kind of see ‘Kandi’ as a doorway to our other songs. Many fans downloaded ‘Kandi,’ but they’ve come back for other songs,” he says as he finishes his dinner, wearing what might become his trademark fingerless, grey winter gloves. He’s an intense talker and keeps things going at a quick pace. He’s excited about playing with Gomez this night, and remarks that, like Gomez, and so many others in the indie scene, One eskimO have been touring very extensively. “I think maybe in nearly a year… we’ve been back in England for only six or seven total weeks. But,” he adds emphatically, “we’re comfortable with each other.”
Falkner quickly chimes in, saying, “We probably see each other as much as most husbands or wives.”
One eskimO have recently toured with Bob Schneider and Tori Amos. They’re playing Coachella and other festivals later this year. Their touring record might seem to put them in the category of alternative singer-songwriters, but the party atmosphere of Coachella could help categorize them more as electronic cross-over musicians. I ask if any of the other artists they’ve toured with resemble the category of music they think they fit into or whether they’d like to be affiliated with how those artists have marketed their music. “We kind of avoid genre and label. I don’t know what we are,” says Leontiou. “There are many different influences. But really, it’s just us.”
“We try to be honest and pure in our songs…. I think that’s why we connect with others.” Adam Falkner, Percussionist of One eskimO
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Falkner concurs strongly. “Music seems tribal these days, with groups finding audiences online and through touring,” he says. “That’s more important to who we are and how we do what we want to do.”
One eskimO’s soft electronic sound is layered with deep and emotional lyrics. They’re storytellers and clearly want to offer their audience a connection to their spirits and moods. “We try to be honest and pure in our songs. The songwriting and the musical arrangements are very personal. I think that’s why we connect with others.” During their set, they seemed to win over fans as their music and lyrics layered, and their musicianship and personality began to shine through.
Despite having horns, sampling, and electronics which might hint at a louder sound, the grace of One EskimO is in how they take all of these sounds to finesse them and use them lightly. Their arrangements include trumpeter and bass player, Jamie Sefton, and guitarist Pete Rinaldi. The four members of One eskimO got together in London in 2008 and developed the band fully in early 2009. Despite being very much a new group, their dynamic is careful, thoughtful and intense.
Through their extensive touring, One eskimO have gained an affinity for traveling in America. They’re enjoying their current stay in San Francisco. “It’s fun to be in a place we’ve been before, but to bring new things to it. I remember being here in San Francisco on an earlier tour and going down to the Bridge downtown and just walking around there for like quite a long time,” Leontiou recalls. We enjoy being in the city. I don’t like staying at motels on freeways. Tonight we’re at The Phoenix, here in town.”
I ask Leontiou and Falkner about the difference between the community back in London and the crowds they’ve met and played to in the US. “In the UK, many fans just say to us after a show, ‘Good work mate,’ and they’re done,” says Falkner. “In the US, after a show, fans are much more curious. They’ll ask us about our gear and what we’ve done to mix the sounds. In a way, they’re much more musical, it seems…”
For a band that flirts with the mainstream and pop music, there’s an intimacy in the sound and the lyrics of One eskimO that’s essentially pure, regardless of where their current trajectory takes them. They’ve been Single Of The Week at Starbucks and have toured with major label artists, but on this particular evening, opening for Gomez, One eskimO show that the key is the focus and the sincerity they express. At 9 p.m., as One eskimO performed in front of a couple hundred folks, nothing else existed but an old bordello turned music venue, on a warm San Francisco night.
Captured From Static is the new album from the UK-based electronic musician Northcape and is his first release on the American label Sun Sea Sky Productions. Sun Sea Sky’s website states that this album is of the kind that comes along every once-in-a-while — one which both defines a genre and sets the standard for others to follow. A pretty bold claim indeed and one that creates a good deal of expectation in this listener.
There is a beautiful honesty and a subtle sophistication about Northcape’s music that is refreshing and engaging. From the opening bars of the opening track, “Doesn’t Feel Like a Long Way,” a gentle and slowly-building suspense develops as beautifully-tailored synths lift you up and carry you off. A crisp snare kicks in, and you are transported. This is music deftly and cleverly executed with a clear understanding of the emotional power of light and shade, of melody and rhythmic nuances.
And so it continues on, track after track, and this is an album where each and every track is a gem. Northcape is musical conjurer — or perhaps a better description would be a musical ticket office, because there is definitely a sense of distance covered, of travels embarked upon. Clear melodic lines are a key feature of this music, some catchy, some beautifully haunting. It is with these strands, interwoven with intelligent and perceptive beats, with which Northcape creates his magic carpet on which you are carried aloft to distant lands.
A definite sense of yearning and separation characterizes much of this album. This is especially the case in the superb “Approaching The Trig Point,” a track which has a melodic synth line like rain drops streaking down a window pane. However, just as you are lulled by the melancholic sound into wistful reverie, a smudged and dirtied synth sets up a counterpoint. Its scale and depth conjures up sense of remoteness that can only intensify the emotive qualities of the piece.
Northcape has created his own musical world, with carefully set and delineated rules. There is a discipline to what he does, whether it be in the sounds he chooses to sculpt or the moments he choses to bring the levels right down to enhance the subtle dramatic quality of what he is trying to achieve. Inside this framework he is ever inventive, using his musical discipline as a foil against which his considerable imagination can play.
This is an album of considerable beauty, an album that enchants and invites the listener to visit spaces of memory and imagination. Northcape has indeed succeeded in producing one of those albums that comes along every once-in-a-while — one which both defines a genre and sets the standard for others to follow. Melodic electronica has a new hero.
The title of The Tallest Man On Earth’s second album, The Wild Hunt, refers to the phantasmal hunting party of Norse and Germanic myth, damned forever to pursue some unseen quarry as it rages across the sky, bearing an ill omen for all who see it. Kind of a gloomy thing to call your album, particularly the dreaded sophomore affair.
With his debut album, The Tallest Man On Earth — alias Sweden’s Kristian Matsson — set the bar incredibly high. In Shallow Graves, Matsson “forced the Serengeti to disappear into my eyes” and “boiled the curtains to extract the drugs of springtime”… and that’s just the first two songs. Album favorite “The Gardener” deftly told the story of a lover gone mad with obsession and paranoia; yet it remained, at its heart, a love song. To say Matsson bore the weight of expectation with his follow-up would be an understatement.
But he bucks the sophomore slump on The Wild Hunt, forging another set of haunting acoustic folk that is at times darker than its predecessor. In the title (and opening) track, the speaker waits for his soul to be taken by the Wild Hunt — the “storming cavalcade” of myth, said to be a harbinger of war or famine or plague, and of certain death to all who cross its path. Matsson maintains his mythological bent on “Burden Of Tomorrow,” a song about a man who, “Rumor has it … was not born/ I just walked in one frosty morn/ Into the vision of some vacant mind.” Later he is “Just a blind man on the plains/ I drink my water when it rains/ And live by chance among the lightning strikes.” Even the disarmingly titled “Love Is All” conceals a twist — “Love is all, from what I’ve heard/ But my heart’s learned to kill.” This is not the song to play at your wedding.
Musically, the album does not stray far from its predecessor. Matsson backs his earnest, plaintive vocals with his nimble guitar picking and strumming. But closer “Kids On The Run” hints at new horizons for his “man-with-guitar” style. With a big, brooding piano as his accompaniment, Matsson croons heartbreaking lines like, “And no, I will never speak of days/ Because I know you won’t count them/ No, we have never grown a day/ From the poison we shared,” in a song that stretches to nearly five minutes — an epic, by his standard.
Though nothing here quite reaches the dizzying heights of “The Gardener,” lead single “King Of Spain” comes close. A driving guitar opens the piece, before Matsson howls, “I never knew I was a lover,” launching into an outsized song about the power of illusion. He whirls through lines about “provok[ing] the bulls with words,” as “All the senoritas sighing/ Will be the fountain of my lies.”
But the record nearly skips when he declares, “I’ll wear my boots of Spanish leather/ Oh while I’m tightening my crown.” It’s a bold bit of self-awareness and derring-do (the numerous comparisons to Dylan at this point are both ubiquitous and superfluous), and Matsson delivers the line with the requisite wink and nod, begging the comparison while also undermining it. When in the following verse he intones, “Because you named me as your lover/ Well, I thought I could be anything,” he’s rebuffing attempts to be labeled — whether as a lover or as standard-bearer for the elusive “next Dylan.” Besides, why be the king of post-Elvis rock when he’d rather be the king of Spain?
Don’t look now, but Secret Cities, a trio (now quartet!) of music makers hailing from the Midwest, might have made the most enjoyable album of the year. Their debut, Pink Graffiti, is a laid-back, charismatic indie-pop album in the best sense, joyously constructed without being overly dramatic. This band is all about layers: layers of vocals harmonizing in and out, layers of acoustic, analog, digital sounds, and layers of lyrics that stick in your mind with the utmost poignancy.
We got a chance to talk to the trio just as they finished touring the US about their album, about songwriting via snail mail, about the fact/fiction behind the movie Fargo and about how Brian Wilson is kind of a jerk!
What’s the story behind Secret Cities? How long have you been playing together? Charlie Gokey: MJ (Marie Parker) and I have been making music together since we were kids. We met at band camp around 2001, kept in touch through the internet, then eventually started exchanging tapes through the mail. Alex [Abnos] joined around 2005 when we toured for the first time. I met him on the internet, and fortunately, it turned out he’s not a murderer or a 50-year-old pedophile. Right from the start, we’ve never really lived in the same place. I only see Al and MJ when we’re going to tour or record.
Can you explain the concept behind the album I’ve been hearing about? Gokey: I kind of forced this on everyone like a jerk. It’s not like the whole album is about any one thing. There are just a bunch of songs about the relationship between people and music, the relationship between people and other people, and those relationships getting kind of mixed up. That sounds like an absurd, pretentious thing, but that theme just sort of developed naturally. When we were just starting to record the album, my girlfriend and I split up. Shortly thereafter, I saw that Brian Wilson was signing his new record at a nearby Borders. I felt compelled to go see him because I had written a little about him in college, plus certain songs he wrote were pretty intimately tied up with this relationship I had just gotten out of. When I actually saw him and tried to talk to him, I was shocked by how old he looked, how little he cared that I was trying to say something to him, by the reality of his personhood. After that weirdness, Brian Wilson became the central figure in my writing — sort of an easy place to start in sorting through the intense emotions of that breakup and the process of making music.
Any other influences that were prevalent writing these songs? Gokey: I spent lots of time listening to The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, and the spectacular girl group compilation, One Kiss Can Lead To Another, as we were figuring out the album. That stuff strikes a certain balance between jubilation and melodramatic sadness that really appeals to me; I wanted to try to make music that captured that in spirit, if not necessarily in sound. I think that’s what people are hearing when they compare us to groups like The Arcade Fire or The Antlers. No offense to either group, but that’s just not the music I listen to. Alex Abnos: Not sure how much of a faux-pas it is to reference something as recent and popular as this, but The Dodos’ Visiter was a pretty big inspiration for me. The energy on that album is amazing, and I think a lot of that comes from the drums. I love how the percussion strikes a balance between being rhythmically complex while remaining catchy, accessible, and appropriate for the songs themselves. Marie Parker: I’d consider anything I was listening to obsessively in college as influences, as well as the orchestral music I studied in college. So, lots of Elephant 6 stuff, Patrick Wolf, and Joanna Newsom, but also Dvorák, Beethoven, Glass, and Puccini…
A lot of bands getting recognition these days are doing so with a summery, west coast vibe (Wavves, Best Coast, Toro Y Moi, and such). Pink Graffiti feels like it’s coming from the opposite hemisphere, with its sleigh bells and luminous, almost chilly production. Is this a conscious choice, or just a happy coincidence? Gokey: I guess I don’t necessarily think of the production on the record as chilly — just kind of dreamy. The sound of our record is more or less a failed attempt to rip off the sound of the first Circulatory System record. That album is insanely deep, absolutely perfect to my ears.
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How much effect did coming from the Midwest have on the sound of Pink Graffiti? Gokey: It’s important in terms of musical isolation. It’s kind of freeing not to be part of a scene. There’s nobody to answer to. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing going on in Fargo, because there is and it’s awesome; there’s just less of it going on than in other places. Abnos: I’d say it’s also important in a more tangible, physical sense as well. As a band, we’ve never lived in the same city. In fact, I think I saw Charlie maybe twice between the last day of our 2005 tour and the first day of rehearsals for our 2010 tour. I don’t think I saw Marie at all in that time. We put together each of our contributions to each song on the album separately, then just kinda jigsaw puzzled them together, which I think goes a long way towards making the record sound as scattered as it does. So, it’s not just isolation from other forms of music, it’s isolation from ourselves, too. Parker: I think Charlie and Alex already said pretty much everything… although, I will add that we’re so used to doing everything separately that when we did get a chance to record together — a cover of The Microphones’ “Antlers” earlier this summer — we still took turns sitting at the computer and figuring out parts by ourselves. Isolation works well for us, I guess.
Where do you all live normally? If this project takes off, are you all going to find each other? Like a long distance relationship gone serious? Gokey: We all move pretty often, which is mostly a function of school and work. At this point, I’m in Fargo and getting ready to move in with Alex in Kansas City. Marie just left Fargo for Minneapolis for a few months. Actually, we just added a fourth member in the last few days, Ryan Donegan, who played guitar on tour with us. He’s living in Athens, GA right now. However, we’re going to be (more or less) living together after December, although where exactly is still a little up in the air. We’re going to take our long distance relationship to that next level.
You play with live with two drummers, to a bombastic effect. Is that how the drums were recorded, or is this something new you might be trying out for the next album? Abnos: All of our individual parts for the album were recorded separate from each other, which means I did all the drum recording myself. Since it was just me, my drums, and my laptop, I figured I might as well experiment with layering the percussion, trying different things with interlocking patterns and varying timbres. As it turned out, most of those experiments worked pretty well with what we were trying to do with the record, so they stayed on. Then it came time to translate that to a live performance. We knew that having a second percussionist would be pretty necessary in order to cover all those parts, and Charlie’s friend Trevor was a total ninja at learning and playing it all. You say that it was bombastic, but it’s funny because that’s not exactly what we were going for when we started; we were just hoping to impersonate what’s on the album. The end result was a lot louder and, in my opinion, a lot better for the live versions of those songs. As for the next record… I honestly haven’t thought about it yet. I’m still kind of amazed that the current one is seeing the light of day. There might be some intense percussion; there might not. Totally depends on the songs.
What songs/albums/bands are stuck in your heads right now? Gokey: I’ve been rediscovering Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail over the last few days. Definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. I really hope I get a chance to do something even half that amazing someday. Abnos: The Trotternauts, which is a project of our touring guitarist and my close friend Ryan. He and his girlfriend sing a bunch of really cute songs about space horses from the future. I played some percussion with them recently at a show and, shockingly, practicing the songs over and over again did nothing to get ‘em out of my head. Parker: When we were on tour, we kept hearing “New Slang” by The Shins everywhere we went. Weird! And so I’ve woken up with it in my head almost every morning for the last three weeks. I’ve also gotten into a lot of piano music by Rachmaninov (Just listening. I’ll never be able to play it). Delicious.
Do the residents of Fargo love/hate the movie Fargo? Gokey: We’ve sort of embraced it as a cultural phenomenon because it made us notable. I’ve found that it helps to bypass the usual geographical and cultural questions that pop up when you meet somebody from one of the coasts and they ask where you’re from. Now I can just say, “from Fargo, like the movie.” Parker: I think people feel a little misrepresented, but are also kind of amused. When we were touring, we thought it might be funny to get on stage and put on that accent, but none of us could actually do it convincingly. Although, any Fargoan who says nobody speaks that way… well, he or she’s lying.
What are your plans for the next six months or so? Touring? Recording? Neither? Gokey: Both, actually. We have a single coming out in about a month, and we’re getting ready to put together a new record that we’re hoping to complete by late November or early December. I’m pretty excited about it; I really like what we’ve got so far. After that, we’re hoping to spend most of the time between January and July on the road in the US and the EU.
“Get Out,” the first video from Circa Survive’s third album, BLUE SKY NOISE, debuted today. It’s a live/studio clip, so it’s not as conceptual as their past videos, but the song is raucous enough to continue to whet the appetites of audience as they all wait until April 20th, when BLUE SKY NOISE is released on Atlantic Records.
The ever-so-helpful blurb about MinionTV describes the instrumental band as something in a similar vein as Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky. Thanks guys. Really, thanks. As a post-rock band, describing yourself in the same vein as the two biggest post-rock bands around might be good marketing, but it sure doesn’t narrow down what niche you occupy.
Post-rock as a genre has slowly been developing these little crevices and niches lately, as the crescendo-driven outfits a la Explosions In The Sky are getting just as over-populated as the legions of the broody and moody style a la Mogwai. The funny thing is that, listening to the Liverpool band’s self-titled album, MinionTV really got it on the mark between the two styles.
MinionTV are hardly doing anything new here, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The melodies in songs like “Battleships” try to soar as high as possible, but the electronic ambient undertones keep the whole thing grounded — relatively, for post-rock’s sake. Other songs like “I Hit, I Miss, I Fail” make heavier use of these electronic and ambient tones, reminiscent very strongly of some of Mogwai’s gentler tunes.
The album falters a bit towards the end with the concluding tracks of “Robot Meets Girl,” a ferociously melodic blast of rock, and the very different final track, “Don’t Burn The House Down (While I’m Away)”. The last track of the album is a slight disappointment, especially considering the sonic frenzy that MinionTV takes so long to climb up to and peak at. “Don’t Burn The House Down” seems more like a rejected B-side that somehow made its way on for pity’s sake.
Still, like I said before, there is little new ground tread on this album. But MinionTV don’t seem to be too unabashed about wearing their influences on their sleeve, and nor should they. It is a solid debut album with its ups and its downs, and like all post-rock albums, the ups are through the roof and those downs are through the basement floor. Luckily, MinionTV have more of the ups in this promising debut.
The saying might go, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” but any critic who has sifted through dozens of CDs/movies/books/whatever will tell you that first impressions matter greatly. That’s why God invented press kits and photos — so we can weed out the people who don’t give a flying fuck from the people who are actually making an honest effort to be seen/heard/etc. And contrary to popular opinion, the bulk of us really want to hear something good, something that surprises us, something that makes us feel good about writing 500 words about it.
So when I bust open my editor’s package and look through the paperwork, the first thing to catch my eye is the photo of a ragged-looking Japanese duo titled, “Birthday Suits.”
Birthday Suits? That’s one of the worst band names I’ve ever heard. I’ve come up with better band names in 3rd grade, and all I listened to back then was Weird Al. Maybe the album title can provide some insight…
The Minnesota: Mouth To Mouth.
What the fuck does that even mean? Is this a concept album? About a river? Colons in titles are almost always bad news. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
I’ve gone from excited to “time to flex my atrophied writing muscles” to “I wonder what’s on TNT right now.” That’s what a terrible band name can do to you. It can make a writer want to watch Law And Order: Criminal Intent (See? Colons!). It takes me about another four hours before I come to grips with the idea of a deadline and keeping promises and the like. I put the record on, and it begins.
“This Is A Song” has a lot more bite than I expected from a band named Birthday Suits, rocking back and forth between post-rockish grinding and No Age-esque guitar/drum freakout. Okay, Birthday Suits; you have my attention.
As soon as “Table Talk” starts playing, my internal fun sensors turn on. This album is pretty great! Irreverent, dense blasts of tongue-in-cheek rock with equal nuances of surf and noise sprinkled in between. Electric Eel Shock is the mommy and Rocket From The Crypt is the daddy.
Hideo Takahashi’s first language is definitely not English. However, it’s not Japanese either! His first language is Rock And Roll! His disaffected cadence might be the result of self-admitted ESL apathy, but his cavalier delivery gives it that classic snarl and snark that you’d find from the likes of Jello Biafra or Rick Froberg. I don’t really care that I can’t understand what he’s saying half the time (“YES WE KIDNAPPED YOUR MOM/ YES WE DID IT WE DON’T DENY,” I think). It sounds awesome.
The Minnesota is a fun album through and through, clocking in at a succinct 21 minutes. Birthday Suits might have a terrible name, but their angular brand of blistering punk is no slouch. It’s the best one-chord noise I’ve heard in a long while.