Saturday, May 31, 2008

Heard These Guys Yet? - May 08 Edition

We're getting this month' s editions of new/underground/upcoming artists out a bit late. Blame me, not your devoted recommenders. We started this feature last month, and plan to continue it because it's fun and educational. On with the tunage!

Recommender: Biz
Band: Four Tet
Blurb: This isn't really such a new band, and it's really not so much a band as one guy. Kieran Hebden, an electronic "folktronica" Musician from London, is probably as well known for remixes as his own material. He's done remixes of tracks by bands you might have heard of like Radiohead, Explosions in the Sky and Andrew Bird, among many others. The album I've been enjoying recently, Rounds, was actually released in 2003. The music on this album doesn't rawk: this is good music to relax and think to. Many of the tracks start out seeming almost ridiculously simple, like a single note piano line, and then usually evolve with increasingly complex rhythmic elements, using drums mostly sampled from jazz albums. The music builds dynamically but never loses its sublety. He uses a lot of samples/loops, but there are also a few guitars and other diverse things layered in, such as when he adds what sounds like chinese folk instruments, or in another instance a Tori Amos piano sample. It's pretty experimental, and each of his albums has a different feel. The latest short album, Ringer, has a much more overtly electronic-techno feel.
Reminds me of: Pretty closely related to Manitoba, Fridge and Prefuse 73.
File Under: Futurefolk for Thinking Blokes
But don't take my word for it: Four Tet at Myspace

Recommender: PMaz
Band: The Nines
Blurb:In the comedy piece “Rock, Rot, & Rule” (check it out if you have never heard it), the phony interviewee claims that the band Chilliwack “rules’ because they come from Canada , and it is hard to "break out" from a place like that. Well, Rush has done pretty well for themselves and I have always had a soft spot for Sloan, but the next big thing out of Canada has to be The Nines. Truth is, the Nines have been hovering around for about 10 years but are now getting noticed by power pop heavies Jason Falkner, Bleu, and Andy Partridge (XTC), who have all worked with The Nines in some capacity. They play straightforward, piano-driven power pop and the songs rarely go over 4 minutes. The latest album, “Gran Jukle’s Field”, is their most eclectic album yet, and released one year after “Calling Distance Stations”. Tracks such as “Don’t Be a Fool” crossover into Scissor Sisters-like disco territory, but don’t be fooled (nice reference back to the title, eh?); they are all about great, melodic power pop. Lead vocalist Steve Egger’s voice is very reminiscent of Andy Partridge, just without the extreme quirkiness, and that's a good thing. Note: There is a U.S. band called The Nines, and they stink.
Reminds me of: Later period XTC, Ben Folds, Matthew Sweet, Fountains of Wayne, Paul McCartney.
File Under: Pop for your pop.
But don't take my word for it: The Nines at Myspace

Recommender: Jonas
Band: Why?
Blurb: Why? first intrigued me when I read that Boards of Canada remixed a song for them on their ‘The Hollows’ EP. That specific remix is incredible, but the EP itself was lackluster due to the other remixes and other bands covers of Why? songs. However, the few original songs gave me a taste of their true talent. So when they recently released their full length, ‘Alopecia’, I was eager to listen. Excellent album! The style is slightly spoken word singing (think Beck) with a dark gritty and sometimes haunting indie-rock background. The musicianship is extremely tight, but not over polished. I find my head bobbing up and down to the funky bass-line while silently mouthing the lyrics, that’s the sign of a good band. There is a good mix of rock instrumentation, the aforementioned excellent bass-line, with just the right amount of electronic manipulation tossed in. And their lyrics, I absolutely love them! They are all over the board, rather cryptic and dark, and many times… humorous.
Reminds me of: An angry Beck pancaked with Gomez in a minor key when it’s cloudy outside.
File Under: They Might Be Gigantic
But don't take my word for it: Why? at Myspace

Recommender: Reed
Band: The Brunettes
Blurb: New Zealand's leading indie-folk-pop couple haven't really hit their stride yet. Their new album, Structure & Cosmetics isn't the best album they have within their reach. It's a bit all over the place in terms of sound and style, but the high points are ultimately extremely rewarding. At their best, actual brunettes Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield manage to encapsulate the sweet swing of 70s era pop-folk while putting a modern spin on things. A recent stint opening for The Shout Out Louds in Europe brought them to my attention, and scouts placed there claim that the duo put on a very solid performance. I recommend Her Hairigami Set for starters, but again they have a lot of different angles in the works. Check 'em out!
Reminds me of: Halfway between Broken Social Scene and Wilco, if you can imagine that.
File Under: Yummi Bears Bouncing Everywhere
But don't take my word for it: The Brunettes at Myspace

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday Youtube

First let me apologize for the lack of content over the last week. Things were extremely hectic 'round here and I was sick as a dog. We'll have new bands tomorrow and Morty & Stephen coming in on Monday with their June previews.

On to the youtube. This week's edition features Led Zeppelin absolutely killing their Dazed and Confused. My Zeppelin period ended, oh, about eighteen years ago, but that doesn't mean I don't respect the band. People love to talk about how they lifted riffs from various blues artists for the bulk of their work, but there is no questioning their ability. Thanks to beloved reader CG for submitting this week's rawk.

Without further ado, savor the chops:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

OWR: Mean Girls

53: Vapid

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thursday Youtube - Influenza Edition

Because I feel like hell on a hockey puck today...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

OWR: The Illusionist

75: Extravagant

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Talkin' Takeovers

See the Future, Today -- The Futureheads are doing an advance stream of their new album This Is Not The World. What we've heard here so far doesn't really impress us all that much, but we're surely going to listen to the rest of it. Click here for sounds.

Cab Fare for Bloggy -- Death Cab for Cutie has taken over the reins at Stereogum today. They've posted about all kinds of stuff, from "The Radiohead Model" to Nate Dogg and Warren G. Check out the main page for all their bloggy goodness.

Better Dead Than Red -- JD's excellent Top Ten Red Scare Movies of all time. Yes, the new Indiana Jones makes the cut!

Weird Science -- It's not just the science of "Man Getting Hit By Football", it's the silly explanation of the science with blustery commentary over the whole thing that makes us laugh hysterically at this. Enjoy!

What's Steve Martin's Deal?

When you hear the name Steve Martin, what comes to mind first? Most of us probably think of The Jerk and then follow that up with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. While these are both justifiably deemed modern comedy classics and in their day were considered innovative and original, I've noticed something about Martin. Has appeared in more non-pornographic remakes than anyone in the history of cinema. Martin's illustrious career has featured him as lead actor in 30 films. Of those, 14 have been remakes or sequels to remakes.*

It wasn’t always this way. Martin’s first film, “The Jerk,” scored big with audiences and put him on the map as a lead comedic actor. In 1981, Martin reprised Bob Hoskins’ part in a remake of “Pennies From Heaven.” It was his second leading role, though the movie flopped with little fanfare. From there, he was the centerpiece of several quirky, but largely uneven comedies including Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man with Two Brains, and All of Me. Along came ¡Three Amigos!, panned by critics but a significant box office success.
Martin's prolific run of remakes began to ramp up in the summer of 1987 with Roxanne, a modern day version of Edmond Rostand's oft-filmed play, Cyrano de Bergerac. The inspired choice drew rave reviews and did pretty well at the box office. A year later came Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine, a successful remake of the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven film, Bedtime Story. Father of the Bride (with Martin in the Spencer Tracy role) followed in 1991. Then, from 1994 to 1999, five consecutive Martin vehicles reprised old, familiar territory: A Simple Twist of Fate, Mixed Nuts, Father of the Bride Part II, Sgt. Bilko, and The Out-of-Towners.

Recent "covers" include Cheaper By The Dozen (and its sequel) and the new Pink Panther, which brings us up to date. That's a whole lotta remakes. The only two movies currently slated for Steve Martin the actor are The Pink Panther 2 (please let that simply be a working title - I'll offer up "The Regurgitation of the Pink Panther" if they need ideas), and Topper, a remake of a 1937 Cary Grant film.Are all these remakes a good idea? Going by the IMDb ratings, of his top ten films, only two fall in the remake category. Seven of his nine lowest are remakes. The work for which he's most revered and successful is almost exclusively of the original, made-from-scratch variety. Perhaps more damning, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was the only remake that bested its original counterpart. The average drop in rating is a whopping 1.66. Translation - most of these are not building upon the original work, but have an established concept and require less imagination, creativity and effort. Surely, nearly all remakes fall short of the original pieces, but must we then question why he continues to do them?

I come not to bury Mr. Martin, but to try to understand. Surely there must be some behind-the-scenes Hollywood business playing a role in this phenomenon. When remake projects come up, do industry powers automatically think that Martin should be the centerpiece? Is he turning down six remakes a year? Clearly Martin is the one making choices, and clearly the guy's gotta eat. Yet there must be some sort of fascination for him. He must be cognizant of these trends - it's not like he is unaware of the original films' existence.

I also have to wonder why nobody's mentioned this before. When Topper comes out in 2010, will the public (or at least the critics) finally be on to Martin's trend? Will they care? Better yet, does it even matter? My urge is to question the man's work ethic, but as I said above, clearly something else is going on. I'm about as excited for Topper as I am for The Pink Panther Comes Back All Over Again. At least we'll always have The Jerk. Maybe in 2011, Martin can remake that one. That's a project I can get behind.

*I didn’t count Little Shop of Horrors to goose up the numbers since he wasn’t the movie’s star, though it is another remake. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was not considered a remake. It’s one of the 30, but a spoof, not a remake.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

OWR: A History of Violence

74: Indecisive

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday Youtube

A downright gorgeous piece of video set to a Beatles-esque church choir:

(ht: Andrew Sullivan)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

OWR: Hot Fuzz

62: Punchy

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

First Blush: Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs

Bellingham, Washington's Death Cab for Cutie have achieved popularity few of even their most ardent supporters would have predicted. Being featured on The O.C. at the height of its run certainly didn't hurt. On their first three releases, the band still felt "small," with frontman Ben Gibbard's songwriting being its main strength. The addition of drummer Jason McGerr along with increased participation from guitarist Chris Walla took the impeccably crafted 2003 release, Transatlanticism, to a higher level than previous efforts. 2005's Plans, while not as dynamic as their previous release, strongly blended Gibbard's low-key songs with atmospheric crafting from the rest of the band, giving the group their biggest hits to date. Narrow Stairs, out today, is their sixth full-length release and has many people expecting even bigger things from the band. I could go on like this, but enough of my yakkin', let's boogie!

Track 1 - Bixby Canyon Bridge
Echoey guitar sets up Gibbard skwawking a first-person narrative. The vocals nearly swing in the early going before we get to a light, quick-thumping middle section. The drums are pretty active, but everything else is just kinda there. Its simplicity feels new but also less than what the band is capable of.

Track 2 - I will Possess Your Heart
We start with an interesting baseline that continues for about 32 minutes. A van just drove by here with the insignia "Lemoncello Plumbing." Is that the owners name? Limoncello is a sweet, tasty liqueur. WTF? Maybe they set up piping so that you can get the limoncello directly from your freezer to your mouth without any getting-up-off-the-couch. Gibbard finally chimes in at 4:30. This single came out several weeks ago, so I already know that it's really catchy if a bit straight. We get a classic DCFC gear shift at the 6:42 mark: "You reject my advances and desperate pleas. I will let you let me down so easily." But then we go back to the same thing as before. It's a solid track, but far from dynamic. I'm getting impatient.

Track 3 - No Sunlight
Another really straightforward track, this sounds like it belongs on The Photo Album (their weakest release). It could be a hit single, of course. But it's not why I got into the band.

Track 4 - Cath...
It wouldn't be a Death Cab album if we didn't have a track named after a girl. But now I look up the discography and quickly realize that I'm full of shit (the only previous one is "What Sarah Said"). More busy drums accompany their classic style. This is the kind of song that could appear on any of their albums and just makes your head bob whenever it comes on. The kids are gonna sing their brains out to this song at the live show.

Track 5 - Talking Bird
"1-2-3-4 -- Oh, my talking bird. Though you know so few words. They're on infinite repeat. Like your brain can't keep up with your beak." I think this is not really about a bird. More likely an old friend that Gibbard's sick of, right? "The longer you think, the less you know what to do." OK, maybe it's a bird. Either way, it's another tune on this album that has few changes, except this one is slow and low. Could be good live, though.

Track 6 - You Can Do Better Than Me
We get a little organ and tambourine at the start of this one. Again, it's pretty straight, but a new sound with excellent percussion. It's rock doo-wop that reminds me a bit of The Beatles. "You can do better than me, but I can't do better than you." I'll call this one "cute."

Track 7 - Grapevine Fires
A sweet, mellow track which features long vocal tones. So far, it's a real nice track, and I have the feeling it will grow with time. Could be the gem of the album, even though it doesn't rock in the least.

Track 8 - Your New Twin Sized Bed
More beds. This has the vibe of DCFC covering Cat Stevens, told in the second person. I mean that in a good way. Again, things keep going straight and are pretty basic, but it's another song you just want to enjoy, and the band's made it easy to do that. Could be a huge, sentimental hit.

Track 9 - Long Division
Driving drums and bass give way to guitar melody. It's very "We have the facts and we're voting yes." Even down to the lyrics. This will satisfy the band's fans for sure. The booklet with the CD has pages of different size. I'd compare it to the Hungry Hunger Caterpillar, but "We have the facts..." fit that bill much better. I'm sure there's some children's book I'm forgetting. Whatever, I'm boring you right now. Sorry.

Track 10 - Pity and Fear
Dark beginning (it's about damn time). "I have, such envy, for this stranger lying next to me." The drums pick up at 1:39. It's a solid track, but once again, we're missing the coda section that has long been the hallmark of DCFC's best work. It's not a departure for them, but an avoidance of what they do best. Then the song just abruptly ends.

Track 11 - The Ice Is Getting Thinner
We're coming to the end of the album, and I don't think I've been excited once. It's sparse; just vocals that sound like "why you have been sooooo sad" with a little counter from the bass. The guitar adds to the sadness with a small solo. And we wind down this album meekly.

A lot of the tracks intentionally blend together, which actually works pretty well. So many of the songs start and end with the same beat/line/plan without any adjustments in between. That the tracks connect gives some degree of flow that wouldn't be there otherwise. I keep wanting Transatlanticism, and this certainly isn't that. Maybe I'm just being selfish. Right now, I have to ask myself, "Is it better than The Photo Album?" As I said, it's their weakest, but it's by no means without merit. I'm inclined to put it ahead of that one, but behind all their others. Plans grew on me in unexpected ways. Maybe this one will also. and Circuit City are your best bets on price (9.99). With the a full "sticker price" of 18.98, the time to purchase is now. I realize this isn't exactly a positive review. The songs are all good, I just feel like they're missing something. I'll give it more blushes and see how it grows on me. What does everyone else think?

Unyielding Commissioning Goes Rustic

For the last time -- Have you contacted your alderman yet? As discussed here on Friday, the Chicago music scene needs your help. Details here. Also, the issue will be covered on WTTW's Chicago Tonight broadcast this evening at 7pm. If you don't chime in today, it will be too late. The vote is still currently scheduled for tomorrow. Do it!

UPDATE! -- We did it! You did it! Well, somebody did it. The Promoters Ordinance has been tabled (for now). So we can breathe easy for the moment. Thanks to everyone who did their part. We'll definitely keep track of this issue, but kudos to the folks in city hall who stepped back from their hasty plan and are getting more significant input from the people this will impact the most.

Bird on Bird -- In today's New York Times OpEd section, Andrew Bird goes into fascinating detail about the recording process for his new album. He confesses that he is a bit of a control freak, and explains his adoration for the more natural, old-fashioned recording techniques. Worth a read.

The Youth Are Getting Restless -- In Scene-Stealers' Tuesday Top Ten: Eric's Top Ten Alienated Youth Movies. I've only seen three of these! I'm as surprised as you. I always thought I was a pretty alienated youth. Perhaps I need to do some filmic digging and catch up.

More Music -- Lolla has included a few more acts to their lineup. New additions are Iron & Wine, Toadies, Saul Williams, DeVotchKa, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, and Wild Sweet Orange. Pitchfork added a bunch a while ago (and continues to sporadically supply them by the handful). Latest additions include: The Hold Steady, Caribou, and Sebadoh. See the entire lineup here.

Test your legal knowledge -- Not the greatest quiz in Mental Floss history, but see how much you know about Music Lawsuits.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reminder: Call or Write Your Alderman

Once again, we don't ask for political activism much around here, but if you live in Chicago and you read this blog, this is an issue you should care about. We discussed the Promoters Ordinance at length last Friday, but the vote comes up just two days from now and the time for action is running out. The good folks at Live Music Blog agree. We have another update from Jim DeRogatis which includes quotes from the Chicago Music Coalition as well as an open letter from Metro. Please click here to find your alderman and let him/her know how you feel (you're against it!).

Thanks for caring about the Chicago music scene.

OWR: The Savages

64: Shouty

Sybris w/ Bon Savants & Apteka @ Subterranean

Apteka frontman Adam Lukas followed his initial greeting with his best Max Fischer impersonation, informing the audience that free earplugs were on hand back at the merch table. Such an offer was not merely a public service, but portended the type of sonic intensity they intended to deliver. From their first thunderous notes, it was clear that they would leave no doubts about fulfilling Lukas' promise.
Audience requests for "Fuckin Jam Numbers 1-4" were satisfied with glee. Pounding away on the drums, Jesse Hozeny acted as the engine pushing the ferocity while Lukas' intense vocals carved out their own space in the sound. The set peaked about halfway through with "The Sheet." It ended all too early with the thumping "She Is Riots," while indie-rawk babes eagerly danced it out directly in front of the stage.

Boston's Bon Savants don't exactly look to blow out the speakers with their music, so their set felt a bit subdued after Apteka's assault. But with a streamlined sound and very clean vocals, their set was well-received by the now nearly full audience.

But most were here to see Chicago's Sybris, celebrating the release of their (excellent) new album. They are led by frontwoman Angela Mullenhour, whose voice was spot-on, even though much of the night was spent rocking out. The band was embraced by their die-hard aficionados as well as anyone who just happened to wander upstairs to catch the show. Honestly, I can't see anyone disliking this band.

They do sound a bit like 13 years ago, but are really freaking good at it. Plus, 13 years ago, music was pretty darn cool and I'm willing to embrace it. Things could have been a bit louder, but again, perhaps that's all Apteka's fault. Sybris finished strong without an encore (which frankly would have felt unnecessary for some reason), capping off a superb night of performances in a solid venue for the low-low price of ten dollars.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Gets Serious

You gotta tell em! -- This coming Wednesday, the Chicago City Council is voting on a measure that would greatly affect the music scene here in town. Five years after the E2 crowd stampede tragedy, they are looking to impose financial and regulatory constraints on any independent promoter putting on a show in Chicago (not counting the largest, seat-laden venues). They have reportedly sought little input from the Chicago music community and while they are working from a well-intentioned point of view, their actions are hasty and carry with them potentially devastating effects on the music scene in our fair city. Greg Kot has a really solid post on his blog which sums up the whole thing pretty darn well. Money quote:

The new ordinance will cut down the number of such shows, and add to the financial burden already felt by one of this city’s most precious cultural resources: its music clubs.
Jim DeRogatis has also had several postings about this. Here, here, and here. So for once, Fighting the Youth is asking for something in return. Please contact your alderman and let him or her know that you oppose the ordinance and believe that there is a better way to ensure safety. Here is the note I wrote to mine:
I am writing to express my opposition to the proposed Promoter Ordinance, scheduled for a vote this Wednesday. The ordinance, while well-intentioned, has the potential to cause major harm to Chicago's music scene. If promoters are forced to incur these extra expenses, they will simply not bring their concerts to the city. Our music venues have an excellent track record of keeping their patrons safe whether a show is put on by an independent promoter or their regular partners. They have every incentive to continue doing that with or without this ordinance.

I grew up in this city, going to music performances whenever I could. I found my social niche in the process. I continue to frequent Chicago's music venues, taking in a show about once a week. It would be a shame if one of our city's great cultural resources were harmed due to hasty action, well-intentioned or not.

Click on this map to find your Alderman and his or her contact information. If you care about music in this city, I urge you to call or write in your feelings. Feel free to plagiarize me as necessary. Time is of the essence here with a vote coming this Wednesday.

UPDATE: DeRogatis has interviewed the spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs & Licensing on the issue. Click here to read the somewhat evasive and noncommittal answers to his questions. Again, please contact your alderman if you have not already done so.

EVEN MORE UPDATE: DeRogatis has now interviewed Alderman Eugene Schulter, chairman of the city licensing committee. Check it out here.

Off the soapbox -- We still gotta have some fun, here, right? Here's the ultimate nerdy movie list. The 8 Most Preposterous Movie Computer Moments. I don't know how the orange coming back at the end of Tron doesn't make the cut, but I like what they've done here.

Rock it out -- There's no ordinance yet! So anyone interested in checking out some good rawk can meet me tonight at Subterranean for Sybris, Bon Savants, and Apteka. See you there!

OWR: 27 Dresses

21: Weak

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thursday Youtube

In honor of the new album coming out this Tuesday, enjoy a Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard as he sings the most addictive song he's written to date:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

OWR: Hard Eight

70: Soulled

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Unyielding Commissioning Loves It When It's Free

I think we're gonna need a smaller boat -- My Bloody Valentine is reunited and playing in our fair city. They will be at the Aragon on September 27th. If you are unawares, MBV is widely considered the seminal shoegazer rock outfit, influencing such acts as Ride, Lush, The Verve, Swervedriver, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spiritualized, Mew and countless others. They slowly broke up in the early nineties, though the years since their departure have been kind to the group as more and more people laud their influence. But the Aragon? It's a 4,000 person venue. Yes, this group is respected and esteemed and important. But they never had anything close to a hit single and I can't imagine they're going to fill that place. The Riviera would have probably been a better choice. I've been to half-empty shows at the Aragon and they make the place feel even more cavernous and barny. We'll see what happens, but I wouldn't be shocked if they move this to the Vic.

Everybody Wants Him -- Iron Man lives again! 102 million dollars last weekend. Furthermore, the IMDb rating is a lofty 8.4 (99th best all time). Looks like expanding the trailer was a good idea. Jon Favreau's other directorial outings have had their strengths, but all have been flawed in various ways. Apparently he has hit a home run with this one, as Morty and Stephen predicted.

Street Pharmacists -- The Do-Division Street Festival looks awesome. Ted Leo is headlining on Sunday, June 1, and we know he always delivers. Other top acts include: Lucero, Mucca Pazza, and The 1900s. Note that this is not Wicker Park Fest which takes place in late July, but is nearly in the same spot. There's a five dollar "donation" cover charge, which is pretty much unbeatable. So, uh, get your tickets?

Do Yourself a Favor -- Stevie Wonder is playing for free at Taste of Chicago. Now I'm really glad I bought tickets to see him at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Whoops. Uh, anyone in the Brew City need a pair? Anyway, this is beyond exciting. Seven years ago, I saw him play for free in Detroit's Hart Plaza to celebrate the city's 300th birthday. It was possibly the best performance I've ever witnessed. So, uh, get your tickets? Stevie plays at the Petrillo Music Shell on June 28.

The Lowest Part is Free -- New Tapes 'n Tapes video! Pretty great, though I can't really figure out what they're trying to say (nor have I figured out what the lyrics to the song mean). Perhaps it's about how Wal-Mart ruins the soul. Anyways, check it out:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thursday Youtube

So I'm like, out of town by a healthy margin. Hence the even less content this week. but here's how I spent my Wednesday: