My Muslim(s) Pilgrimage

March 16, 2010

The Soft Pack have by now become better known for who they are NOT than for their music.  They are most certainly NOT The Muslims, who released their self-titled EP in 2008 to great blog buzz and maddening scarcity.  

Each 12″ LP was famously riddled with actual .22 caliber gunshots before 1928 Recordings shipped out.  This presented clear production and distribution issues that made hard copies somewhat difficult to locate.  Such did my monomania consume me that I befriended one of the owners at San Diego’s M-Theory Records who kindly promised to hold a copy for me if he ever received one, which was a lie from the pit of hell.  Nevetheless the band had become a little too cool for school, migrated to LA, and were scarcely to be found in San Diego again.

Upon some reflection, quite possibly industry pressure, and maybe a sobering assessment of the impetuous decision to follow in Salman Rushdie’s footsteps, The Muslims announced a name change to the slightly more politically-correct The Soft Pack and this year released a(nother) self-titled debut under the new moniker.  Not as gritty or immediate as their former incarnation, The Soft Pack is still a wonderful throwback to the 80’s when underground bands released college music without such tremendous regard for irony. 

The Soft Pack’s consensus standout is closer “Parasites,” the only re-tread from previous releases.  However I would also remark on my personal favorite, “Answer to Yourself,” a sort of personal creedo battling with the demons of self-doubt of early adulthood.

Yea you gotta answer to yourself
Two days a week outside yourself
You take an hour a day, an hour a day,
And you don’t respond to anyone else…

You gotta choose what to read
Choose what to believe
And you don’t take it from anyone else.

But I think I’m gonna die before I see my time. 

Reminds me of some of the Indie-clastic lyrics that Frank Black would occasionally write and by the way is driven by an infectious guitar line.

Now back to your own Muslim(s) pilgrimage.  While The Soft Pack is available basically everywhere, The Muslims EP is still a bit of a trick.  For instance Google, “Muslims music” and see what Jihadist fright you come up with.  So let me offer my best understanding of the original, which is again available on a limited basis. 

The actual gun-addled Muslims self-titled EP and 3-song CD insert is a dream, forget it and move on.  However you can buy a remastered Muslims 10-song LP, still authentically pistol-damaged, at Insound.  Alternately, 1928 now offers what it calls, “The Soft Pack’s Muslims LP” including digital download, above. 

Religion has always been very confusing.

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Late But Still Loved: Best Albums of 2009

February 6, 2010

I am 100% an album guy, love the statement of a full-length release that is wholly conceived.  DIY recordings and downloaded singles have become more than ubiquitous.  Their sheer numbers are dizzying, just overwhelming.  For those and other reasons, I find special pleasure in an album that is written, recorded, and produced as a single musical idea.  That doesn’t mean a concept album or manufactured conceit, just wholeness.

And by the way I think 2009 was a fantastic year for the album.

So, maybe more than most people, an album’s internal consistency is among my qualifications for a Best Of list; also some sense of durability; and of course songs I can honestly say I like.  It is not so hard to get caught up in a release heralded as Important.  For instance Bradford Cox does some writing with Deerhunter and Atlas Sound that is clearly in a different place than most musicians.  But not too many songs on this year’s Logos would I ever care to hear again.  Also, strictly chronologically, I include anything that came to my attention in 2009, whether it was released previously as import or not; I just can’t keep up.  Lastly, I think it is critical to work the word, “dystopian” into any meaningful record review. 

We bought and moved our family into a new house on New Year’s Eve or (I swear) I think I could have posted this the first week of the year.  That said, I have only read a couple of friends’ Top 10 lists out of familial curiosity.  Beyond that, I can only assume I missed many releases last year and can only vouch that these are great albums, if not the greatest.

 

 

  

1.  Papercuts

“You Can Have
What You Want”

Warm California dream pop with rousing punches of cadence to surprise the mid-tempo, You Can Have What You Want is equally the soundtrack to a rainy night or the first sunny day of spring.  From the opening bars of organ in “Once We Walked in the Sunlight” to the hymn-like closer “The Wolf,” Jason Quever’s voice floats perfectly in a buoyant, unbroken atmosphere.  “Jet Plane” and “The Void” are subtle highlights, frail and mesmerizing.  Thank goodness for second chances, since I never quite took to Papercuts’ prior release, but You Can Have What You Want is a lovely work that welcomes like a good friend.
 

  

  

  

2.  The Horrors

Primary Colours

What else could The Horrors have deftly incorporated into Primary Colours?  The album is a stirring brew of three decades: 70’s glam, 80’s goth, and 90’s shoegaze.  For someone who cut his teeth in college radio on the shoegaze sounds of Ride and Swervedriver in the early 90’s, I love the many unexpected ways it has been resurrected in the last few years.  Archetypal single “Sea Within a Sea” turns into a crashing, triumphant anthem that punctuates a remarkable sophomore album.

 

 


3.  Blank Dogs

Under and Under

If The Horrors are a tour de force of 80’s pop and goth, Mike Sniper’s Blank Dogs conjures a dystopian dream of those same years.  Each song on Under and Under begins simply enough with a recognizable synthesized melody that could easily be mistaken for New Order or REM, but quickly warps into their miscreant step children.  But these songs, both awful and beautiful, are pop gold:  Danceable, addicting, insistent.
     

 

 


4.  BOAT

Setting the Paces

BOAT, always strangely CAPITALIZED, is another band that crossed my radar with their previous release, Songs That You May Not Like, but whom I fell in love with in 2009.  Setting the Paces is at times whimsical but never silly or juvenile.  Like Pavement, BOAT writes hooks on songs like “Lately,” “Prince of Tacoma,” and “God Save the Man” that are very of-the-moment, almost extemporaneous.  You wish all bands could write songs like this without overthinking the Irony Of It All. 

 

 

  
  
  
5. P.O.S.
 
Never Better
 
Seems like Brother Ali got all the indie rap attention this year, but in 2009 I was more impacted by fellow Minneapolis rhymer Stefon Alexander.  Never Better bristles with conflicting punk and rap aesthetics.  It is alive and rhythmically exhilarating, from the aptly titled, “Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty)” to namesake “Never Better.”  But Alexander also delivers some fantastic lyrics like the exhortation concluding “The Brave and the Snake”:  “Dedicated to the rat race/And to the great escape/And to the greatest days/And to the things we make with our own hands..And to the great escape/And to the great escape/And to the great escape.” 

 

  

  

6. The Antlers

Hospice
 
If I seemed slightly repelled by the concept album in my rambling introduction, can you blame me?  Remember Paradise Theater?  But also recall Dark Side of the Moon and you are much closer to The Antlers’ moving statement on love, rescue, and mental illness, Hospice.  It’s a familiar story arc:  Songwriter experiences life-changing Damascus experience; hermetic protagonist emerges from self-imposed isolation with mysterious musical statement; National Public Radio swoons.  For all that, Hospice is a troubling and beautiful commentary on a portion of live that resides uncomfortably close to death.
  
  

  

   

   

7. Here We Go Magic  

Here We Go Magic
 
Here We Go Magic is a perfect example of an album that cannot be consumed track-by-track.  The first one third of the self-titled album is an amalgam of Paul Simon and Panda Bear.  But Luke Temple’s sequencing on Magic is deft.  He begins to intersperse those international flavors with ambience and drone, then locks out with the whimsical, “Everything’s Big.”  The only meaningful way to hear the album is end-to-end, and I recommend that experience highly.
      

  

  

  

8. Erik Blood

The Way We Live

I would now like to coin a phrase.  You’ll find Seattle’s Erik Blood variously described as “soulgaze” and “shoegazing crooner.”  To me the perfect discriptor, the extension of singer-songwriter, is singer-shoegazer.  From the opening bars of “The Way We Live” it’s clear that Blood fills every produced space with layered guitars and vocals.  But alongside the wall of sound come soft edges and soulful vocals in songs like “Saved You” and “Odds for Sods.”  Blood pairs two genres that by all accounts shouldn’t coexist.  It is a tragedy that The Way We Live is available by download only.  Props to my friend Toby who bird-dogged this amazing performer all year long.

  

  

  

  

9. The Pains of Being
     Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being
Pure at Heart

Gauzy pop about 20-something angst and sex in the library.  Yes, I am too old for these themes but the hooks from POBPAH have been irresistible since the band formed in 2007.  Frequently a bit ribald, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart follows in the footsteps of the Pale Sants and JAMC, with enough percussive energy to drive the melodies.  If you aren’t offended by, “This love is fucking right,” you’ll enjoy the entire debut.  

  

  

 

 

10. The Dutchess 
       and the Duke

Sunrise/Sunset

In addition to one of the year’s great CD layouts, Sunrise/Sunset sports a gritty combination of folk and punk.  Sunrise/Sunset was a late entry for me, but the more I listened, the more I was drawn to the non-nonsense Western ballads.  Songs like “Never Had a Chance” and “New Shadow” are accessible and universal.  Thankfully, The Dutchess and the Duke return to Salt Lake in March, as I missed a couple of their performances last year.

Some other favorites this year:

A.C. Newman – Get Guilty
Dawes – North Hills
Delorean – Ayrton Senna EP
Fanfarlo – Reservoir
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimist
Loney Dear – Dear John
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Summer Cats – Songs for Tuesdays
Symfoniorkestern – Set Fire to Yourself (For What You Believe In)
The Hidden Cameras – Origin: Orphan
The Postmarks – Memoirs at the End of the World

A few releases I partially downloaded and liked but still haven’t bought because I was out of money:

Afternoon Naps – Parade
Bishop Allen – Grrr…
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of  Dead – Century of Self
Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Au Revoir Simone – Still Night, Still Light
Cats on Fire – Our Temperance Movement
Cornershop – Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast
Dan Deacon – Bromst
Hayden – The Place Where We Lived
Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard – ‘Em Are I
Solillaquists of Sound – No More Heroes
Tap Tap – On My Way
Tim Cohen – The Two Sides of Tim Cohen
Viva Voce  – Rose City

Disappointments:

Elvis Perkins – In Dearland.  For instruction on how to pen a New Orleans tribute, see Alec Ounsworth’s Mo Beauty

The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Communion.  Yet another testament to the fact that the double-album is unsustainable

Best Live Show:

A Place to Bury Strangers – Urban Lounge, October 22

50 Songs Brought to You By the Year 2009, Part III

December 21, 2009

These are some of my favorite songs from the concluding year.  Songs not singles.

They are generally, but not exclusively, pulled from albums that aren’t in my evolving Top 10 list for 2009.  Too, they are less in order of priority than listed chronologically.   One other note:  The author does not guarantee certain songs were not released on Latvian 7″ in 2008, or are actually covers of krautrockers Can or Donna Summer, certain limitations apply, mileage my vary, see your dealer for details.

Click on any of these songs to hear my choices for Part III:

A.C. Newman“There May Be Ten or Twelve” from Get Guilty.  Wow this song would be great live.  Get Guilty was out in the first couple weeks of 2009 and there wasn’t another purely pop record that bettered it the rest of the year.

Cut Off Your Hands“Happy as Can Be” from You & I.  “Happy” is one of the few songs from You & I that haven’t been floating around as a downloads or on 7″ since 2007 and 2008.   It’s also atypical of the rest of the New Zealanders work.  Wish I had seen them at Kilby Court in March.

Franz Ferdinand“What She Came For” from Tonight: Franz Ferdinand.  I thought Tonight was a great album and “What She Came For” shows off a little Red Hot Chili Pepper punk funk.

The Crocodiles“I Wanna Kill” from Summer of Hate.  Probably a dozen bands do gauzy lo-fi better than the Crocodiles but none of them had a better single.

The Sounds – “Midnight Sun” from Crossing the Rubicon.  Some part of artistic maturity is just liking what you like whether or not it seems uncool.  Which this definitely is.

Girls – “Laura” from Album.  I’m interested to see Girls when they play Salt Lake in February because I’m not quite feeling them like every other blogger on planet Earth.  Some of the sad sack vocals are a nice Paul Westerberg touch.

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down“Learn Better Know Faster” from Learn Better Know Faster

Thomas Function“Picking Scabs” from In the Valley of Sickness.  Southern fried Sex Pistols.

Alec Ounsworth“Bones in the Grave” from Mo Beauty.  These songs are much more challenging and worthwhile to me than Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

El Perro Del Mar“Gotta Get Smart” from Love is Not Pop EP.  Light-as-air atmospherics from Sarah Assbring and fellow Swede Rasmus Hägg of Studio.

Jesu“Losing Streak” from Opiate Sun EP.  This song is the highlight of an EP that didn’t exactly add to Justin Broadrick’s canon like Lifeline or Conqueror but didn’t detract from it either.

Brother Ali“Us” from Us.  I hoped Brother Ali, from Twin City’s alternative urban scene, was going to turn out an entire album of gospel-infused narrative rap.  Alas no. 

The Flaming Lips“Evil” from Embryonic.  “Evil” again displays the Lips peerless ability to convey the most profound musical ideas with the simplest arrangements.

Viva Voce“Octavio” from Rose City.

Eulogies“Two Can Play” from Here Anonymous.  Lovely, if somewhat feckless, melancholy pop.

Ramona Falls – “I Say Fever” from Intuit.  Here’s a barnburner to finish my Top 50 songs for 2009.  The whole number from Brent Knopf just thobs but the real payoff is at the 3:00 mark.

I managed to avoid most of my Top 10 albums in this list.  That post is next.  Oooo…Always tease into break!

50 Songs Brought to You By the Year 2009, Part II

December 18, 2009

These are some of my favorite songs from the concluding year.  Songs not singles.

They are generally, but not exclusively, pulled from albums that aren’t in my evolving Top 10 list for 2009.  Too, they are less in order of priority than listed chronologically.  One other note:  The author does not guarantee certain songs were not released on Latvian 7″ in 2008, or are actually covers of krautrockers Can or Donna Summer, certain limitations apply, mileage my vary, see your dealer for details.

Click on any of these songs to hear my choices for Part II:

Tortoise“Northern Something” from Beacons of Ancestorship.  You can’t lose with two drum kits pounding away at once.

Delorean“Seasun” from Ayrton Senna EP.  I have this hangup with EP’s.  I don’t normally buy them.  But “Seasun” put this on my list.  This song and the following one are definitely among my top 2 or 3 songs of the year!

Telekinesis!“Tokyo” from Telekinesis!  I’ve listened to this song about thirty times I bet.  Angular pop of the highest order hearkening to Hoodoo Gurus.

Wye Oak“Take it In” from The Knot.

Future.of.the.Left“Chin Music” from Travels With Myself and Another.  Check out the riff between verses!  Wish I hadn’t missed this show in SLC.

Let’s Wrestle“We are the Men You’ll Grow to Love Soon” from In the Court of the Wrestling Lets.  The video adequately portrays Let’s Wrestle’s general arrested development.  But how about the bah-bah-bah’s in the chorus?!

Phoenix“1901” from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

P.O.S.“The Brave and the Snake” from Never Better.  Devastating lyrics and climax.  Rap lives!

Eat Skull“Talkin’ Bro in the Wall Blues”  from Wild and Inside.  An album I otherwise found a little too esoteric.  But “Talkin’ Bro” has some inspired moments.

Grand Archives“Witchy Park/Tomorrow Will” from Keep in Mind Frankenstein.  Too much folk music this year.  But the resolution in “Tomorrow Will” was one of 2009’s sweetest offerings.

David Bazan“God Bless This Mess” from Curse Your Branches.  My theme song this year.

The Big Pink“Dominoes” from A Brief History of Love.  Am I a complete sellout because I like bubblegum pop like “Dominoes?”  Maybe.  But the hooks can’t be ignored.

Early Day Miners“So Slowly” from The Treatment.

Cymbals Eat Guitars“And the Hazy Sea” from Why There Are Mountains.  More than a Pavement knockoff, this album was a real grower for me.

Daniel Johnston“Queenie the Doggie” from And Always Was.  We West Virginians hold a special place in our hearts for favorite son Daniel Johnston.  Bias aside, this may be my favorite song of 2009.  Even with the needless production it is childlike, saccharine, and utterly without guile.

Music Go Music“Light of Love” from Expressions.  Instructions for happiness:  Turn up to 11 this ABBA/ELO tribute by Bodies of Water.  Repeat as necessary.

Tyvek “Hey Una” from Tyvek.  Detroit’s new Stooges.

50 Songs Brought to You By the Year 2009, Part I

December 14, 2009

These are some of my favorite songs from the concluding year.  Songs not singles.  I have never been entirely confident of the single concept nor do I feel bound by what the band or record label decide is their money tune. 

They are generally, but not exclusively, pulled from albums that aren’t in my evolving Top 10 list for 2009.  Too, they are less in order of priority than listed chronologically as I noted them in my Blackberry.  One other note:  The author does not guarantee certain songs were not released on Latvian 7″ in 2008, or are actually covers of krautrockers Can or Donna Summer, certain limitations apply, mileage my vary, see your dealer for details.

One question this has brought up with a few people:  Why don’t I pay the $20 or whatever to WordPress to archive my audio so that you can play the songs right off my blog?  Some day I may do that, but the legal workaround might be a bit impolitic because of my current employer and position in the media. 

Click on any of these now-fully-disclaimed-songs to hear my choices for Part I:

Iran“I Can See the Future” from Dissolver.  Former experimental rocker Aaron Aites cleans up nicely on this radio-ready track.

Asobi Seksu“Familiar Light” from Hush.  Rhythmically exciting dream pop.

Black Lips“Starting Over” from 200 Million Thousand.

Gun Outfit – “Guilt and Regret” from Dim Light.  Wide open rockabilly mash-up of Lou Reed, X, and Lamb Chop.

Mazes“I Have Laid in the Darkness of Doubt” from Mazes.  Enchanting lullaby from 1900’s side project.

The Phantom Band“The Howling” from Checkmate Savage.  Dark guitar rock with a little Who thrown in.

Elvis Perkins“123 Goodbye” from Elvis Perkins in Dearland.  This album is one of my big disappointments, but 1,2,3 is a song worthy of debut Ash Wednesday.  Hearkening to his dead parents, Elvis writes, “The songs are their grandchildren they didn’t get to meet.”

Dan Deacon“Red F” from Bromst.  Dan went a little more mainstream after Spiderman of the Rings.  The payoff about 2:00 into “Red F” is heart-pumping joy.

Other Lives“Black Tables” from Other Lives.  Look, I know there is no indie-acceptable way to admit that I bought this CD for this one song and I recognize it is total adult alternative Coldplay rehash.  But I love it.  And it’s my list.

Michael Zapruder“Ads for Feelings” from Dragon Chinese Coctail Horoscope.

Great Lake Swimmers“Pulling on a Line” from Lost Channels.  I was a bit tepid about Tony Dekker’s previous album–I’m sorry I can’t recall if it was in fact Ongiara I downloaded or Bodies and Minds.  But this one I really liked.  “Pulling on a Line” is warm and universal like Iron & Wine.

Metric“Sick Muse” – from Fantasies.  How can you complain about this chorus?  Video from the “Sick Muse” video contest.

Micachu“Vulture” – from Jewellery.  Don’t know exactly what to do with Micachu, some kind of twee/math rock hybrid.  But this song is fun to challenge yourself with.

Passion Pit“Little Secrets” – from Manners.

Apostle of Hustle“Soul Unwind” from Eats Darkness.  My mind is full of mush, I can’t quite place the 80’s influence on this one–The Police I think.

God Help the Girl“God Help the Girl” from (yes) God Help the Girl.  It sounds like Zooey Deschanel (It’s not) and the sing-off backstory to GHTG is art school pretentious but there’s no getting around it’s a nice ditty.

Star Death and White Dwarfs“New Heat” from The Birth.  Galloping 60’s psychedelia fronted by Dennis Coyne, nephew of the Flaming Lips’ Wayne.

Free Swedes Please!

December 14, 2009

While I catalogue the year’s music and try to catch up on everything I missed, I thought I would pass this along.  I downloaded the new EP Tänd eld på dig själv (för det du tror på) by Symfoniorkestern around Thanksgiving and have been really enjoying it. 

As closely as I can tell, the EP translates into “Set Fire to Yourself (For What You Believe In)” and came to my attention courtesy of  Swedish fetishist website Swedesplease

It really is a delightful collection and best of all–it is free!  As of today, you could still download the EP gratis here.  So shop early, meaning now, and give a listen to this lovely bit of work.

You cannot go wrong with an album composed of largely indecipherable characters that you cannot type on an English keyboard.

Park City’s Rock ‘n B-Roll

November 30, 2009

Park City will host a music festival the week before Sundance next year.  The first Orion Independent Music Festival has been announced January 14-20 for the Main Street area of Park City.  Sundance, which has dabbled in music in year’s past, then begins on the 21st.

Organized by Steffon Olsen of Salt Lake City, Orion promises “national and international artists” but also to give exposure to unsigned artists.  So far it looks like there will be quite a bit more of the latter and less of the former.  The website is a little difficult to navigate but I don’t see anyone booked that is likely to bring the world’s Beautiful People to town a week early ahead of the Sundance Party.

A writer for the Park Record newspaper describes something a little more organic.  As many as 60 bands and dozens of record reps kicking the tires.  Olsen promises one big name performer will “attend” Orion but it’s not clear if they’ll play.  He’s not dropping any names.  Olsen’s hoping for up to 3,000 folks per night which may be a little ambitious.

Kudos to Park City.  Maybe we’ll get a notable act before January.  Or perhaps the nascent event will bloom into a full blowout in 2011 with side venues and a main stage that lures brooding Hollywood socialites and their retinues to Utah for an extra week of Seeing and Being Seen. 

Shows are $5 each with wristsbands for the week priced at $40.

UPDATE:  It looks like the headliner for 2010 will be Joshua James Wednesday night January 20 at the Spur.  Band of Annuals opens.

The Pains of Managing Your Music Budget

November 28, 2009

With no little sacrifice, I skipped a couple of promising shows this fall because the music dollar only goes so far when the country is still muddling through a deep financial rut. 

For instance I skipped Dutchess and the Duke, Great Lake Swimmers, Dinosaur Jr, and Le Loup.  A guy just has to make decisions.

America, your bands are suffering! 

 

Most regrettably, I passed on The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at Kilby Court.  Instead I felt compelled to conserve my spending for the Phoenix concert that was originally scheduled six days later at the Urban Lounge.  Morning of the show, I learned it had LONG AGO been cancelled and that Phoenix would soon be headed overseas. 

Heartbreak.

By now Salt Lake’s touring season has wound down.  The first two weeks of November included shows like Art Brut, Fanfarlo, and Joshua James.  And then not so much in the way of headline-making performances until next year.

So here’s a benefit.  I consolidated my limited music budget into CD purchases since I didn’t see as many shows coming up that I was interested in.  In fact, in one fell swoop yesterday I bought several discs that I had been trying to find used all year.  The end of November is pretty much a cut point.  No more time to lurk around the used section if I want to assemble a partially cogent Best Of list.

I kept my shopping list pretty well focused on things that could be Top 20 candidates like Grizzly Bear, Brakes, and Brother Ali.  Plus I found a promo copy of Soundtrack of Our Lives “Communion” for a buck. 

I loves me some TSOOL and it was One.  Freaking.  Dollar. 

I think I’m going back today for The Antlers “Hospice” and I special ordered 3 or 4 groups I couldn’t wait on any longer like BOAT and Cornershop.

So…a little buying splurge but only because the live shows are drying up.  Makes me wish I hadn’t skipped some of those acts earlier this year.  One other opportunity is to take in a few local artists that I need to be more familiar with. 

What’s a recession for, if not keeping your money local?

Fanfarlo at the State Room

November 16, 2009

IMG_0230

The buzz over Fanfarlo has been growing it seems since the London-based band wowed audiences at SXSW this summer.  Their debut album Reservoir was originally released in February, but their Atlantic Records release last month and this fall’s heavy U.S. tour has spawned a wave of momentum.  I downloaded several tracks from Reservoir this fall but listened to the album in its entirety twice Saturday.  I grew more excited as the day went along; it was going to be a fun night.

Freelance Whales from Queens opened the night and I caught enough of the set to get the gist.  Like Fanfarlo, they specialize in brass and odd instrumentation to create a mildly eccentric hootenany.  Oddly enough, I liked a couple of songs better that were somewhat more twee.  Overall, the arrangements were a bit swallowed up in the mix and the vocals seemed out of sorts and tentative.

IMG_0238If I thought Freelance Whales looked no older than reform schoolers, how about Fanfarlo lead singer Simon Balthazar?  Seriously he cannot be 16 years old.  Absent a verifiable bio online, I choose to believe that he is a Swedish child prodigy born in 1993 until proven otherwise.

Balthazar, drummer Amos Memon, and violinist Cathy Lucas…who looks six months Balthazar’s senior and is cute as a button…began the night as a trio on “Drowning Men.”  They were joined by bassist Leon Beckenham and trumpeter Justin Finch for the remainder of the show.  All night band members freely traded ukeles for glockenspiels, glockenspiels for trumpets, and trumpets for something called a Fanfarlophone, perhaps this thing:

IMG_0254

To address the many points of comparison that have dogged (benefited?) Fanfarlo this year:  The most apt to me is Balthazar’s similarity to Sufjan Stevens.  Several times Saturday night he would lilt his voice in a way that reminded me distinctly of Beirut’s legato “Sunday Smile.”  Note I am not a huge Beirut fan so I am glad to report that the similarities largely end there.  And to call Fanfarlo “Britain’s Arcade Fire” doesn’t work at all.  I just don’t hear it.

Fanfarlo breezily, if not compellingly, played the larger part of Reservoir, plus one song they wrote “this morning, on the bus.”  Highlights were the more energetic numbers like “Harold T. Wilkins” and encore “Luna.”  The band was entertaining, tight, and competent; if that sounds like mild praise, perhaps it is.  I thought I would be more bowled over by their 50 minute set.  Maybe I’d bought into the Arcade Fire comparisons and the truth is Fanfarlo is a gentler experience. 

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I also took about a billion pictures and that may have distracted me.  It was the first night out with my wife’s camera instead of using my cell phone and I went a little berzerk.  I also got busted for using the flash, which I swear I had disabled before I started. 

You, at least, get the benefit of a swell gallery of photos and next time I will do better on shutter speed.  The muted live experience notwithstanding, Reservoir is a sweet record, particularly if you have tried to like Beirut but have low accordian tolerance.

IMG_0197One last note on the State Room itself, which I visited for the first time.  It is built like a modified high school theatre.  Pews (seriously?) climb the back 3/4 of the performance space and leave just a small floor in front of the stage for standing.  It doesn’t invite a lot of energy.

The State Room definitely seems suited for the adult alternative crowd to chill to folk, samba, and jazz fusion, which is well represented the rest of the month.  Tab Benoit fans, I’m talking to you.

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God’s Music is Kind of Crappy

November 13, 2009

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I am a follower
of Jesus Christ.

My devotion is not perfect but, in the Christian parlance, it is relatively mature.  And I cannot tolerate most Contemporary Christian music. 

It is homogenous and pedestrian by almost any creative standard.  By that I don’t mean by “The World’s” standards; I mean as understood by most music lovers with even slightly piquant taste. 

As website Patrolmag.com put it:

“Artist after band after songwriter (presumes) that we listen to music out of a need to hear our theological ideas reiterated endlessly, as opposed to out of affection for creatively plotted melodic intervals.”

Into that space walks Derek Webb.  Mr. Webb is the disaffected former member of Christian crossover band Caedmon’s Call who has recently returned to playing with them.  In September, Webb released the solo album Stockholm Syndrome.  I can’t go so far as Patrolmag to call it a “subversive masterpiece,” but it is a step above the traditional vanilla offerings of Christian radio.

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The “explicit” version of Webb’s album…scandalously available by digital download only…is 14 tracks of reasonably engaging indie pop that is probably as subversive as Coldplay.  It is good  songwriting.  But Derek Webb is not Thom Yorke and it is uncomfortable to observe him seemingly parlay his tension with dithering religious labels into a reputation as Christian music’s Bad Boy.  I can recommend Stockholm Syndrome strictly on its own merits, distinct from the silly posturing and religious hand-wringing that accompanies it.

Sometimes the best way to enjoy Christian music is to buy from artists who write great songs and simply happen to be Christian.  Released the same day as Stockholm Syndrome was Curse Your Branches by recovering alcoholic David Bazan.  

branchesThis album by the former member of Pedro the Lion didn’t end up on my Must Buy list, but the synthesized song “Bless This Mess” is one of my favorite tunes of the year. 

Listen to it and read about the origin of lyrics like, “God bless the history that doesn’t repeat” at Stereogum.