Monday, November 29, 2010

Grass Widow - Past Time

Grass Widow
Past Time
(2010, Kill Rock Stars)
RIYL = Sleater Kinney, Vivian Girls, meh

At first glance, Grass Widow looks like just another retro-pop girl group in the vein of Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, etc. However, on tape, Grass Widow is a tangled, wiry mess of arty post-punk that melds all the cutesy bandwagon-hopping blah-ness of the afore mentioned bands with something much rougher. If you’re looking for reference points, Sleater Kinney is probably a bit more accurate, but not wholly. I don’t know – comparisons are lame anyway. Grass Widow are a harmonic, multi-voiced, un-harmonic throat gripper of a band. And a worthy one to be chiming out tunes in this landscape of quick fixes and indie one-hit-wonders. Past Time, similar to their debut, grows on you with repeated listens. Like weeds. It chokes you out of your meh-music daze with a taste of what real indie rock ought to be sounding like these days. Really an awesome indie-pop rock record.


Zach Hill - Face Tat

Zach Hill
Face Tat
(2010, Sargent House)
RIYL = Ponytail, Black Pus, Hella,

Zach Hill is undeniably one of the bestest, most high-profile drummers working in modern indie rock today – if not the best. I consider him a part of my indie rock drummer trinity, which includes in its ranks Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) and Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt, Black Pus, etc.). The day that someone organizes a fantasy indie rock band in the vein of fantasy football, Zach Hill would certainly have to be the most sought after in the drummer position. I’m still floored by the memory of Zach Hill drumming live for Marnie Stern and the realization, midway through the set, that the double bass pedal work that I was hearing was actually being thumped out by Hill using only one foot and one pedal. It’s been a lengthy legacy with Hill collaborating with just about everyone and their dog and Hill has picked up a lot of songwriting genius from the exposure. This ain’t just some drummer one-off. His second solo album (probably, I don't really check these things anymore), Face Tat maims with its spastic no-wave noise rock in thirteen punkish bursts, arms and sticks assumedly flailing and feet as well. (seriously, if I hadn’t seen him play live, I would’ve assumed he had an extra arm or two.) What else do you need to know? A seriously lovely bit of outsider noise pop, minus the pop.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Geoff Mullen - Bongo Closet

Geoff Mullen
Bongo Closet
(2010, Type)
RIYL = Keith Fullerton Whitman, Belong, Dolphins Into the Future

Just and FYI, bongo closets don't of a necessity contain bongos. At least that doesn't seem to be a requirement on Geoff Mullen's latest. Though, admittedly, some of the closets represented here do (contain recognizable bongos). Mostly though, Mullen's closet music is of the sonorous sort - that space low in the sea where everything echoes deep and movement is slow but powerful. You can't simply swim through this stuff. Also, this underwaterness is outerspaceness. Alien waters as it were. Instead of barking dolphins and bellowing whales, we get scissoring lasers, zonk-out, underwater transportation systems and other, I don't know, alien stuff. It feels like it's been an eternity since Mullen's last full length release and Bongo Closet is a perfectly terrific return. And this one is on vinyl too. Really good murky drone type stuff. A little queezy uncomfortable, but in a darkly satisfying way.


Listen to the full album here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Slaves - Ocean On Ocean

Ocean On Ocean
(2010, Debacle Records)
RIYL = Goslings, Grouper, Beach House

When you place one ocean on top of another ocean (using a torrent of cranes and a large canvas tarp), you are bound to experience, in the aftermath, one of two possible outcomes. The first is that the topmost block of ocean will, once released from the tarp onto the bottommost block of ocean (an action accomplished by inserting a pocket knife into the middle of the weight-bearing tarp), sink uniformly in a slow, steady fashion, falling through inch by inch, allowing sufficient time for the coastal cities surrounding the ocean-on-ocean convergence to slowly deconstruct, move and reconstruct their businesses and homes at a further distance. All of this completed (ideally) during an orange-red sunset and the deafening rush of ocean-on-ocean chatter and assimilation. The second possibility is that, upon the release of the topmost ocean (by the knife-in-tarp method), time will screw up and process in a contorted state. The contortion is glitchy, but most often finds space in a slow-motion trap that brings beauty and perspective to what is, inevitably, a full sinking flood: the topmost ocean being rejected by the bottommost ocean and thereby crashing outward onto property previously described as “dry land” or “inhabitable.” The second possibility, in its twilight stages, offers a submerged purr in the ears and the view of thousands of objects, furniture, pets, vehicles, toys, human bodies, bobbing unmanageably amidst the salty waters as they stretch skyward. These variables are listed audibly by the Portland duo Slaves (Barbra Kinzle and Birch Cooper) on their debut album, Ocean On Ocean. Consider it a precursor.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Caballos Y Entusiasmo - Hidropony

Caballos y Entusiasmo
(2010, Self Released)
RIYL = Juana Molina, Kemialliset Ystavat, Devendra Banhart

Hidropony is charm, pure and simple. Argentinean charm at that (which, apparently, is a much purer form of charm than I am used to). It’s the work of bedroom songwriter, Salvador Cresta, and his girlfriend Pupa - who are, together, Caballos y Entusiasmo (Horses and Enthusiasm for those who are not up on their Spanish). The album arrived to me by mail in a wonderfully world-worn package dressed in a myriad of stamps and still fresh with the sweet scent of Argentina. The disc itself came housed in a clear plastic slip, backed with some torn cardboard and fronted with a collaged Caballos y Entusiasmo postcard. This along with a ragtag collection of various other goodies (including Cresta’s 2009 solo album, Membrana de Tortuga Gitana, two DVD’s wonderfully collaging Cresta’s home videos, and a gorgeously illustrated, handwritten letter along with other odds and ends). And all of it maintaining a gloriously decorated DIY aesthetic. Cresta certainly has put time into the artifact of his work. What’s perhaps more wonderful is that this meticulous, inspiring, infinite-seeming creativity exuded in Cresta’s detail-heavy visual aesthetic carries over seamlessly into the music on Hidropony. Caballos y Entusiasmo music is that of love. And when I say love, I don’t want to limit it to romantic sentiment. Hidropony is love in creativity, it’s a love of life in all its tiny corners, its laughable moments, its different weathers; Hidropony radiates a sense of love that reassures us of the evasive purpose of the human condition; Hidropony is hope. So what exactly does hope sound like? Pretty lo-fi I guess. Ragged, bluesy acoustic guitars, chirps, bells, Casiotones, toys, “dog barks” and Cresta and Pupa on vocals both, often multi-tracked. It sounds as if Juana Molina and The Skygreen Leopards got together to create an outsider folk version of Bee Thousand. If that can be imagined. In the end, it’s a spirited bit of wonderful is all; a quaint slice of happiness. This is the real thing – you can’t fake something as brilliant as this.


Mr. Cresta, understandably, is a bit wary of the lifeless practice of sharing music through the internet. He prefers, as do I, work that bares the touch of human hands. This being the case, your opportunity to have your own personal copy of Hidropony can be accomplished via email request here (in a pay what you want model which includes, but is not limited to currency in the form of tea, music, drawings, ect.): Fortunately, he hasn't left us without something to sample. Below you will find an exclusive downloadable package with some songs and pictures from Hidropony. Enjoy!

Caballos & Entusiasmo Lttle Virtual Package

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Fun Years - God Was Like, No

The Fun Years
God Was Like, No
(2010, Barge)
RIYL = Gas, Fennesz, Tim Hecker

Anymore it seems there are fewer and fewer people who can deliver on promises of ambient music that settles in at the level of the soul. Kids are flipping textures and turning loops, but really it seems, even among the heavy weights, that the field’s of ambience are proving less and less workable. The newer breed of ambience feels like its disappearing right while you listen to it, causing you not only to forget the music but to forget other tidbits lodged in your memory. It's dangerous. Fortunately we have The Fun Years: the last, greatest stallion of ambience, collage, drone and Beauty with a capital B. What can I say about The Fun Years that I haven’t already said? Not a whole lot because, honestly, the groups evolving through stages of molasses. They may have eight tracks this time around with some shorter song lengths, but they’re still teeth deep in pools of low-level static, candied loops, meandering melodies and scoops of nostalgia. And The Fun Years are still the best at what they do. One beautiful new aspect of God Was Like, No is the opportunity to buy the album on vinyl, a first for The Fun Years (and a must for anyone). I suppose there is one thing that I would like to speak to, though I doubt I’ll flesh it out fully. It’s that The Fun Years, amidst all the gorged gorgeousness present in their tracks, levels out a wave of distemperate oddness that softly colours their work, lifting it off center, deleveling it, positioning everything perfectly awkwardly, just just enough, enough to keep you connected, unforgetting, remembering, synced and engaged. It simply sets hooks in your brain. It's simply one of the best of the year – no question.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sufjan Stevens Concert Review

Sufjan Stevens at Kingsbury Hall, November 1st, 2010

Confession: I have not attended a live show in over a year. This due in part to my disillusionment with live shows after attending hundreds over the past few years and due partly to my now 1.5 year old son. It also doesn’t help that one of the primary venues in Salt Lake City for Forest-Gospel-friendly shows, doesn’t get things rolling until well after 10PM. What can I say? I’m getting older. And I’ve pretty much seen most everyone I’ve wanted to live anyway. (At least that's what I tell myself.)

(My old bones seem to have hindered my blogging lately as well. Over two weeks without a new post?!?)

The Age of Adz has changed all of that. First off, the record is insane - in the best way possible, of course. But yeah, insanity reigneth on The Age of Adz. Simply game-changing. I even wrote a lengthy rant-heavy, apologist review for Sufjan and the album (which, wisely, I restrained myself from posting). So, when I heard Sufjan was touring, I scheduled my parents on baby-sitting duty and snatched up some tickets for me and Sassigrass.

One of the appealing aspects of Sufjan’s current tour is the venues he reportedly hand-selected. Kingsbury Hall is an aged, established auditorium on the campus of the University of Utah, more commonly used for dance and plays, and boasting plush seating with a full balcony. Not your standard indie-rock venue and certainly a factor in my attendance.

Sitting down with Sassigrass, we observed as swaths of excited, mostly college-aged kids franticly socialized in the aisles. It was quite a spectacle for those of us sitting patiently, comfortably – like a social feeding pool. There was a sheer, black screen between the crowd and the stage, the silhouette of cymbals and mic stands visible through the barrier. And then, promptly at eight o’clock, out in front of the screen, walks an indistinctive fellow with an acoustic guitar. Sassigrass and I had no idea that there was going to be an opener, but couldn't keep from bursting out in excitement when the performer announced himself as DM Stith. (Anyone following Forest Gospel this past year will be familiar with our love of Heavy Ghosts, Stith’s debut from 2009.)

Stith played a brief, skeletal, four song set – three from Heavy Ghosts and one new one (new to me, at least). The spectral beauty developed wonderfully with Stith, illuminated by a dull square of golden light, managing his way through the songs with his acoustic guitar, pastoral voice and a looping pedal. Though, “Thanksgiving Moon” had some additional support from the brass section of Sufjan’s band, glowing through the sheer-black backdrop to complete Stith’s measured, minimalist composition. Quite a wonderful treat.

And then, after a bit more time (for the socialites) – Sufjan.

The band took the stage in near complete darkness as spritely projections floated on the foreground. Expectedly, the crowd erupted. The opener: “Seven Swans.” Sufjan, banjo in hand, plucking and crooning amidst the tension of his ten-piece band until, about halfway through, the full force of group let loose in piercing explosion. A glorious hint at things to come. The song continued to contort variously until, with its completion, the screen in the foreground ascended, and the band stood, diversely costumed in all their post-Halloween grandeur.

With a small bit of banter, Sufjan and the band leveraged their numbers to reproduce the searing maximalism of The Age of Adz in renditions of “Too Much” and the post-apocalyptic balladry of “Age of Adz.” The bass rumbled through the seats with the force of an atom bomb, the electronics squabbled about ridiculously in the open air above the audience, the back-up singers performed their pre-planned dance moves (severely, hilariously out-of-sync), the dual drumming careened about wildly, bizarre illustrations and lighting geometries washed over the white backdrop, and Sufjan front and center with angel wings strapped to his back (of course) – it was an enormous spectacle and thrilling capture of the infinity feel permeating The Age of Adz.

Following that go-for-broke exhibition, Sufjan brought things down with an acoustic serving from the All Delighted People “EP.” “Heirloom” felt like a reminder to the portion of the audience not acclimated to the mind-scorching powers of The Age of Adz that, yes, this is the same Sufjan Stevens they adored. This was also a blue print of the remainder of the concert: soaring, transcendent selections from The Age of Adz followed by stripped, beautiful songs from All Delighted People. The meat of the concert was culled almost solely from Sufjan’s two most recent records.

The show wasn’t without its hiccups though. A couple lyrical slips, some questionable transitions (at least in my opinion, I was hoping for lengthier stretchs from Adz), Sufjan’s self-conscious, between song anecdotes. But the hiccups were a part of the beauty of it. Even in the midst of its full-force astral robotics, The Age of Adz and Sufjan’s live set are ultimately humanizing in their effect, bringing us closer to the artist who previously felt too highly deified. And Kingsbury Hall played an interesting part in the contradictions that are present in The Age of Adz. As much as I loved sitting back and comfortably watching the set, there was an intangible tension growing from the moment that the band took the stage and, in the middle of Sufjan’s five-part, twenty-five minute epic, “Impossible Soul,” that tension burst when, finally – finally – the crowd broke out of its auditorium-daze and rose to join Sufjan in dance as he flamboyantly and awkwardly grooved with his bandmates on stage. It was a beautiful, necessary moment and revelator that despite the queer, avant-garde elements that factor into the arithmetic Adz, the music is ultimately a physical, interactive experience – and a populous one – even in the midst of its isolating madness. It is, perhaps more so than anything else Sufjan has created, a communal record.

Additional highlights included a lengthy dissertation by Sufjan on the biography of Royal Robertson before playing “Get Real Get Right,” the flaming multimedia effects in combination with a towering "Vesuvius," the blissfully altered (in its finale) rendition of “I walked” and the soul destroying take on “The Owl and the Tanager” (a reminder that Sufjan isWstill capable of devastating songs at the level of “Casimir Pulaski Day” or “The Mistress Witch from McClure (or The Mind That Knows Itself)”).

Oh, and, for those who are interested, no, he’s not above crowd-pleasing. In what almost felt like an appeal to the crowd to love him despite a full set of completely new songs, the band closed with a muscular version of “Chicago” before a three-song encore sourced entirely by the state of Illinois.


Set List:
Seven Swans
Too Much
Age of Adz
I Walked
Enchanting Ghost
The Owl and the Tanager
(Biography of Royal Robertson)
Get Real Get Right
Futile Devices
Impossible Soul

Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.