Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Playlist: A Lazy Shade Of Winter Mix (12-01-2010)

"Mixtape" is a simulatenously dated yet timeless term. I recall recording songs off the local oldies radio station (Oldies 103.3 WODS-Boston) onto cassettes in my bedroom in middle school so I could listen to stuff like "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Riders on the Storm" without waiting for the DJ to cycle through his library of 87 songs and get back to the one I wanted to hear. On the other hand, I recall the all-too-short days of Muxtape (five fucking months!) when users could create digital mixes for other users to peruse; now, the site is just a photo of cassette and nothing else, thanks to the generous folks at the RIAA. And now, it seems like cassettes are becoming more popular in some circles for the collecting/nostalgia/tangibility aspect of them, while some are just capitalizing on this feeling and incorporating it into more modern technology (see: the mixtape USB drive). So what's my point? No matter what the format, people will always be looking to share music and, specifically, music organized in a way that makes sense to them in a meaningful way, whatever meaning that may be. In my short time on earth, the only thing I can really say for certain about humankind is that we have a tendency and desire to extract order from chaos, in direct violation of the second law of thermodynamics, and musical mixes and playlists are but a small, yet immensely enjoyable, way of doing just that.

So here I present the first post in an indeterminately ongoing series of musical mixes. Every once in a while, when I feel so inclined, I'll share a playlist of songs that I've been jamming lately or just really like or feel strongly about or think you will enjoy or . . . whatever. They may or may not represent my mood and they may or may not just be great tunes, in general, so try not to read too much or too little into the songs themselves or the mix as a whole. There, vague enough for ya?

This first mix is somewhat punnily titled "A Lazy Shade Of Winter" since we seem to be reluctantly and dazedly slipping into the shallow end of the winter months here in Pittsburgh, it being December 1st already and yet the dreary, drizzling, coldish rainy weather tells me that the goddess of seasonal change is only just stepping off of the autumnal ledge and dipping her anthropomorphic toe into the pool of wintry wondrousness. I am, in fact, looking forward to flurries and hats and gloves and scarves and boots and hot chocolate and seeing my breath the minute I open the door to my apartment building even though I haven't stepped outside yet. In the meantime, I'm totally cool with hanging back with Mother Nature and saying, "Hang on a sec, Winter, I'm feelin' lazy, I'll be with you soon..."

A Lazy Shade Of Winter Mix (11-30-2010)
mixed by Brendan Sullivan
1) Tama Impala / "Solitude Is Bliss" / Innerspeaker (2010) Modular Recordings
2) The Spires / "Held" / Curved Space EP (2010) Beehouse Records
3) Beach Fossils / "Lazy Day" / Beach Fossils (2010) Captured Tracks
4) The National / "Anyone's Ghost" / High Violet (2010) 4AD
5) Lohio / "Wind and Leaves" / Family Tree EP (2010) self-released
6) The Greenhornes / "The Way It's Meant To Be" / Dual Mono (2002) Telstar Records
7) Electrelane / "To The East" / No Shouts, No Calls (2007) Too Pure
8) Neva Dinova / "Ahh" / The Hate Yourself Change (2005) Crank! A Record Company
9) Warpaint / "Undertow" / The Fool (2010) Rough Trade
10) Of Montreal / "Famine Affair" / False Priest (2010) Polyvinyl
11) Disappears / "Magics" / Lux (2010) Kranky
12) Buildings Breeding / "Emmawood" / In The Key Of Calloused Fingers (2009) Devil In The Woods
13) The Greenhornes / "There Is An End" / Dual Mono (2002) Telstar Records
14) Dandelion Snow / "The Grand Scheme Of Things" / The Grand Scheme Of Things (2010) Big Bullet Records
15) Sebadoh / "Soul and Fire" / Bubble And Scrape (1993) Sub Pop
16) Dr. Dog / "Jackie Wants a Black Eye" / Shame Shame (2010) ANTI-

(download mp3 here)

[Note: I obviously do not own any of the copyrights to the music contained herein, so if you really want to crack down, bemyfuckingguest. To the rest of you, please go out and support these artists if you like them; I've included them here because I sincerely enjoy their music and want others to experience it, too. So, basically, I want this to be shared with as many people as possible but only if I know that, somehow, it will help support the musicians represented here. Do what you can, and the rest will work itself out.]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Video jams, upcoming concert: Dandelion Snow / "The Grand Scheme Of Things" and White Wives / "Hungry Ghost"

Artist: Dandelion Snow
Song: "The Grand Scheme Of Things"
Album: The Grand Scheme Of Things
Label: Big Bullet Records
Released: June 1, 2010

Dandelion Snow is the stage name of singer/songwriter Roger Harvey, who has laid claim to NYC, Portland and Pittbsburgh as home towns. I somehow stumbled on his blog/website a couple months ago, and then saw that he was on the bill for a local show I was definitely attending and got pretty excited. I'd been jamming this track periodically since finding it. The guitar twang and throbbing organ and buried banjo lines and rollicking drums . . . it's fucking perfect for tapping your finger on the steering wheel as you coast down an empty highway. And that's what I'm thinking about as I listen to it, tapping my toe on the floor as if I were pushing down on the gas pedal and staring at the white walls of my bedroom like it's a window to the flat, corn-filled skyscapes of Kansas. Wistful and wishful thinking, I know, but anything that can remind me of the greatness that is On The Road earns a place in my mind and heart. The lyrics do wonders to help this comparison, too, discussing a cross-the-country-and-back-again road trip slash musical tour full of truck stop sleeping, violent rednecks, record shopping, the fuzz, drinking, gambling, awesome times, etc. And the video has some old-timey, grainy footage of driving and a little boy who's running around looking for his place in . . . well, the grand scheme of things.

[I thoroughly enjoyed his live set at the Lava Lounge last week, too. Stay tuned for a show review; live video here: part 1 part 2]

Dandelion Snow's website mentions another band he is now a part of, and I've done some internet searching and figured out that White Wives is a punk band featuring Roger Harvey (DS), Chris Barker and Chris Head (from fucking Anti-Flag!), Andy T. (bassist of The Code), and Tyler Kweder (drummer of American Armada). The band has been on a November tour with The Lawrence Arms, and they will be playing in Pittsburgh on December 28 at Garfield Artworks. The lineup looks to be heavy on the in-your-face punk, which is quite different from Dandelion Snow, but I'm looking forward to seeing what that's like. See ya there. Here's a live White Wives song called "Hungry Ghost":

///WHITE.WIVES\\\ HUNGRY GHOSTS. INITIAL HAPPENING. Sept. 3rd 2010 from White Wives on Vimeo.

Dandelion Snow
Website (sign up for the mailing list there and get a free mp3)
Reverb Nation
Album reviews of The Grand Scheme Of Things: 1 2

White Wives

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jams of the day: Yo La Tengo opening tracks (all of 'em!)

Artist: Yo La Tengo
Songs: "The Cone of Silence", "Clunk", "Barnaby, Hardly Working", "Can't Forget", "Detouring America With Horns", "Big Day Coming", "Decora", "(Thin) Blue Line Swinger", "Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop", "Nutricia", "Return to Hot Chicken", Everyday", "Nuclear War Version 1", "Beach Party Tonight", "Shaker", "The River of Water", "Stay Away From Heaven", "Today Is The Day", "Tighten Up", "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind", "What'cha Gonna Do About It", "Here To Fall"

Albums: Ride The Tiger, New Wave Hot Dogs, President Yo La Tengo, Fakebook, May I Sing With Me, Painful, Electr-O-Pura, Camp Yo La Tengo, Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo (Disc 1 & 2), I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, Nuclear War EP, Summer Sun, Prisoners of Love (Disc 1 & 2 & 3), Today Is The Day EP, Yo La Tengo Is Murdering The Classics, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, Fuckbook, Popular Songs

I love teaching math, but at the same time, grading exams is a total drag. I put up with it because it's a big part of what I enjoy, but I wish there was a way to just forgo the whole shebang and assess students based on something else. Like personal opinion. Or height. Just kidding. Sort of.

So last weekend, I had to grade a boatload of exams for the class I'm T.A.ing and I holed myself up in my office or the study room and banged 'em out. But I needed the perfect music for it. Typically, I opt for something on the instrumentalish side, so I can pay attention to the words and numbers and symbols I'm reading. In the past, I've had marathon sessions of Deerhunter, Sigur Ròs, and Sonic Youth, but this time I opted for Yo La Tengo. In the process, I realized that part and parcel of having a long list of stellar albums to their credit, the opening tracks on their albums tend to be outstanding examples of the mastery of their instruments and the variety of sounds they can produce with them. So I present to you, dear reader/listener, the opening tracks to every single Yo La Tengo album, ever, in chronological order. I did not listen to all of these during my grading session, so take my claim of stellarness with a metaphorical grain of salt. But still, thinking about the fact that all of these are from one band is mind-blowing.

"The Cone of Silence", from Ride The Tiger (1986)

"Clunk", from New Wave Hot Dogs (1987)

"Barnaby, Hardly Working", from President Yo La Tengo (1989)

"Can't Forget", from Fakebook (1990)

"Detouring America With Horns", from May I Sing With Me (1992)

"Big Day Coming", from Painful (1993)

"Decora", from Electr-O-Pura> (1995)

"(Thin) Blue Line Swinger", from Camp Yo La Tengo EP (1995)

"Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop", from Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo, Disc 1 (1996)

"Nutricia", from Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo, Disc 2 (1996)

"Return to Hot Chicken", from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (1997)

"Everyday", from And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000)

"Nuclear War Version 1", from Nuclear War EP (2002)

"Beach Party Tonight", from Summer Sun (2003)

"Shaker", from Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs: 1985–2003, Disc 1 (2003)

"The River of Water", from Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs: 1985–2003, Disc 2 (2003)

"Stay Away From Heaven", from Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Outtakes and Rarities 1986–2002 (2003)

"Today Is The Day", from Today Is The Day EP (2003)

"Tighten Up" [Archie Bell and the Drells cover], from Yo La Tengo Is Murdering The Classics (2006)

"Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind", from I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (2006)

"What'cha Gonna Do About It" [Small Faces cover], from Fuckbook (2007) [released under the name Condo Fucks]

"Here To Fall", from Popular Songs (2009)

Note: I skipped over a couple of film score albums/compilations, a handful of EPs, and a bunch of singles. Sorry. That's partly because I don't have those files and don't feel like seeking them out on the interwebz, and partly because this list was already enough of a labor of love to compile/produce. I love this band, don't forget that, but goddamnit they're prolific!

[If you have mp3s of the missing tracks and want to send them to me so I can YouTube-ify them and make this list satisfy all completists then, by all means, let me know! Also, if there's a broken/misdirected link, let me know; I'm bound to have screwed something up.]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jam of the day, upcoming concert: "Mirror, Mirror"

Artist: Dr. Dog
Song: "Mirror, Mirror"
Album: Shame, Shame
Released: April 6, 2010
Label: ANTI-

Upcoming show: Dr. Dog and Sondre Lerche
CMU's University Center
Saturday, November 20, 2010

I don't know how they do it, but CMU gets an amazing assortment of bands to play on campus, and it saddens me how few of the students seem to care. Case in point: I asked one of the classes I T.A. whether anyone would be going to see The Books that weekend, and no one even knew what I was talking about. I suppose it doesn't matter, in the end, since I get to see some great bands for free and close to home. Swellegant!

Dr. Dog is one of those bands that a friend or two of mine really liked but I didn't bother to listen to because their name was off-putting. Seriously, their name makes them sound like a silly hip-hop spoof group on The Muppets. But eventually, my friend Deepak shared an album or two and I listened and was hooked. I've been particularly attached to their latest album, and downloaded it when it came out in April after listening to it on NPR for a week leading up to the release. There's something immediately inviting about their songs, with playful melodies and instrumentation (pianos and flutes play major roles, frequently) and catchy vocals and lyrics. I really can't say enough good things about them; their songs can be simultaneously uplifting in sound and profound in lyrics, and that's tough to accomplish, I say. This particular song, "Mirror, Mirror", is a snappy upbeat number with vaguely melancholy lyrics:

Things ain't what they used to be
I gotta devil after me
Tell the mirror on the wall
Mirror, mirror on the wall
There's no reflection here at all

I'm greatly looking forward to what they sound like live. I'm sure it will be a fantastic show.

Dr. Dog

Sondre Lerche

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Concert review: Big Hurry / The Slow Reel / Lauren Zettler

Thursday, October 28, 2010 at Lava Lounge

I'd only seen one show at the Lava Lounge prior to this one and, interestingly enough, that was also a Big Hurry show (back in August 2009: Big Hurry, Landline, Nik Westman & the Central Plains). I recall thinking, at the time of that first show, that I was in the bowels of a volcano and had trouble seeing the musicians. Since then, I've been back to the Lava Lounge and its bowely volcano-ness many times (spelling bee on Monday nights, w00t!) and based on that reconaissance, I was sure to snag a front row spot for the musicians this time around; that way, I could see and hear everyone really well. I'm glad I did; there were three sets of music from three bands/musicians with markedly different styles and it was super cool to see them up close.

First up was Lauren Zettler. I'd actually heard/seen her name before somehow via the whole Allison Weiss / Bess Rogers / Lelia Broussard / Jenny Owen Youngs / etc. female singer-songwriter circuit that I've kinda fallen into lately, much to my own (and others', I suppose) surprise, but they've all been pleasantly surprisingly enjoyable for me. I hadn't heard or seen LZ before, but roughly knew what to expect based on her association with the above group, and I was quite pleased with the result. Her voice is incredible, I have to say, and the guitar stylings were a nice deviation from the usual "girl with an acoustic guitar belting out tunes about love" kinda deal, especially since she had another electric guitarist along with her, and he was really good. Lauren would sing her heart out and play the main chords on her acoustic guitar, and the other guy would fill in some great solos and such with his electric guitar. It was really solid and tight and lovely and endearing and everything else wonderful. I do look forward to hearing her songs again, somehow. (Download a live set of hers in L.A. here.) Here's a video of her playing "Out Of My Mind" live in NYC in September 2010:

Second up was The Slow Reel, a.k.a. "the Pittsburgh band formerly known as Small Cities". I think I'd seen their old name tossed around the blogosphere, but didn't really know their music. Based on this one set, I think it's safe to say they play in a kind of 70s Southern-roots rock revival style reminiscent of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty (especially since they played the intro to "In The Air" during their sound check, and I found them playing the full cover version during a set on the WYEP Third Thursday's podcast; download that entire set here and subscribe to the podcast while you're at it). The lead singer was the male bassist, interestingly enough, and there were two female backup vocalists, one of whom played keyboards (but she looked completely bored the whole time, as Jim pointed out, which was kinda weird). Then there was a lead guitarist and a drummer, making for five band members crowded onto the main volcano platform. I enjoyed their songs, all originals (I believe, save for the sound check), and they fit into a nice genre niche that doesn't seem to be addressed by other Pgh bands. The singer did some funny- and fancy-looking toe-tapping dance moves along with the songs, and he said the word "pants" over and over to do the sound check. Funny. And he had a sweet beard. Here's a video of them playing at Howlers earlier this year:

Third up was Big Hurry. I've seen them a handful of times now, and I'm always impressed. Every set is pretty tight and controlled, never too sloppy (not to say they don't have fun onstage; I think I saw a missed intro or something at this show and the guitarist was laughing it off with the others), and their songs are just so damn good. Dani's drumming is incredible, Andy's guitar solos are beauteous, and with Lenny's bass lines they form a perfect backdrop for Kelly's voice. They played a couple of new numbers at this show, so I'm definitely looking forward to a new release from them in the near future. Here's a video of one of those new songs from the show. Audio quality isn't great, sorry:

Lauren Zettler

The Slow Reel

Big Hurry

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Film review and video jam: Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival

Film: Monterey Pop
Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Released: December 26, 1968 (rereleased in 2002 as part of the Criterion Collection)

Artist: Big Brother and the Holding Company
Song: "Ball & Chain"

When you've borrowed a movie from the library at least three times in the last year, it's a sign that you should own that movie. Also, when Barnes & Noble has a 50% off sale on Criterion Collection movies (with free shipping over $25), it's a sign that you should buy some movies. And that's how I came to order the fabulous documentary Monterey Pop online while watching it at the same time. I even bought the bonus version with a couple hours of extra concert footage and interviews. Totally worth it. The footage here is astounding. D.A. Pennebaker and his crew are able to get right up onstage with the artists and make you feel like you're standing in the front row back in 1967, but they also throw in little snippets of video of the crowd and the festival promoters and everything, and it makes the whole film feel like a time capsule for that particular three day event. There are just so many fantastic performers and performances in this film: Canned Heat, Simon & Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, The Who trashing the stage after playing "My Generation", Otis Redding crooning to the crowd, Jimi Hendrix making sweet sweet love to his guitar during an awesome cover of "Wild Thing" and then lighting it on fucking fire and coaxing the flames from it before smashing it to pieces, and Ravi Shankar playing his sitar better and faster than any human being ever. I can't wait to see the extended version!

My favorite clip from the film, though, is definitely Janis Joplin belting out "Ball & Chain" with Big Brother and the Holding Company. It's a good tune, but I don't think I ever appreciated it that much until seeing this live version. Joplin is on fire with this performance, from the little move where she passes the microphone away from her mouth and then back really quickly to the way she stamps her foot when she hits the high notes, to the way she just turns around and pumps her fist for the last note. It's incredible. It's crazy to think that she was probably hammered at the time (festival organizer and Mamas and the Papas member John Phillips mentions in one of the bonus interviews how Joplin was very nervous and was drinking Southern Comfort right before their set). There are brief shots of Mama Cass Elliot (also of the Mamas and the Papas) sitting in the crowd, totally transfixed, and then mouthing the word "Wow" at the end. Check it out:

Upcoming shows: concert calendar!

I realized that I haven't really advertised the fact that Draw Us Lines now has a nifty little feature on the blog: a concert calendar! We're trying to keep an up-to-date list of upcoming shows in the Pittsburgh area, but particularly the shows that we recommend (so if you're looking for us to tell you that ICP is at Club Zoo in December or that The Clarks still exist, sorry). I'm trying to keep up with the mailing lists of various production companies and check venues' websites, but I'm bound to miss something, so if there's a show coming up that you're excited about, email me and let me know!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Concert review: Bettie Serveert / Atlas / Aaron Jentzen

Wednesday October 27, 2010 at Brillobox

This was an interesting (i.e. odd) show for a few reasons. First, this was Bettie Serveert's first time ever in Pittsburgh, which is somewhat improbable for a long-established indie rock outfit but not so improbable given that they're from the Netherlands. Second, given their long-standing-ish popularity-ish, they were booked at Brillobox for $15 tickets. Third, I happened to win 2 free tickets through Opus One. Fourth, my guess is that the average age of the audience members at this show was probably 35ish, with a high standard deviation. Fifth, it was a pretty sparsely-attended show, for such a hyped band. Sixth, the three bands played different styles of rock music, and I never would have thought to put any two of them on one bill, let alone all three. Seventh, I was running late to this show since I had just finished an intramural soccer game at CMU and had to take a quick shower and then head to Lawrenceville. Eighth, I walked all the way from campus to Brillobox, even going out of my way to Craig Street and then up to Centre Avenue and then up Milvale Avenue to Liberty Avenue, just to stay along the route of the 54C bus, among others, only to have not a single bus pass me on my entire lengthy walk which took over half an hour and made me miss most of the opening act. Ninth, this has been a bit more than "a few reasons" so I should just start talking about the show from the beginning, when I arrived there.

Aaron Jentzen was playing when I arrived, sweaty and thirsty. I saw him play at the Brillo once before, so Jim and I hung out by the back bar while I chugged six glasses of water and a beer to cool off. Aaron has a great voice, I'll say that, and the other guitarist has some serious skills, but the overall sound isn't really my cup of tea. (Just went back and reread my other review, and I used that exact same phrase; must be a sign, eh?) Also, the lyrics in that song about Pablo Picasso never being called an asshole were weirdly irksome to me, even though the music was better than the other stuff I've seen. Go figure.

Atlas played next and the major thing that Jim and I agreed on about them is that they are really loud. I mean, REALLY loud. I thought the drummer was going to smash his shit apart. He also had drumsticks that were some kinda dark brown, almost black, color so maybe they were actually made out of some magic material, keeping him from breaking the drum skins. Outside of that, they had a cohesive grungy, gloomy rock sound. I've never really listened to a lot of metal or hardcore music in my life (I honestly can't name one Metallica album, for example, and the only song I can think of involves the Sandman somehow...) so I'm going to fail on spotting comparisons and influences for this band, but bear with me. The singer had an okay voice, but the bassist's voice was way better, based on the one song of his that he sang towards the end. I think if he had sang the whole time, I really would have liked it a lot more. But I have good things to say, too. The guitarist on stage-left was using all sorts of pedals and effects and really crafting some cool guitar sounds throughout their set. I just wish I could have heard him over the drummer. Check out this video of their song "Lucky Soul", it's decent.

ATLAS | Lucky Soul from ATLAS on Vimeo.

I actually had no idea what the band members of Bettie Serveert looked like, except for the strikingly blonde lead singer, Carol van Dyk, and I saw some very Dutch looking gentlemen emerge from the side door and do some silly dancing and mock-shoving of each other during Atlas' set and figured it was the band (it was). I first found the via some feature article on eMusic and downloaded Lamprey and found another album (Attagirl) at the library later. They make some straightforward indie pop-rock with highly melodious guitar and vocals; it's all really infectious and hooky, and the epitome of this is their song "Ray Ray Rain":

(This video is from the mid 1990s, so they all look really different, too.)

At the show, they seemed to stick to songs from their recent release, Pharmacy Of Love. I've only heard a few of those tracks, and they skew more towards guitar-driven rock than the sweeter, vocal-driven pop songs they wrote in the past, but I'm not complaining; I like both styles, and the fact that they can do both, back and forth, in one song is pretty cool. It's also really impressive how much the Dutch accent does not come out in the vocals; some of their between-songs banter was almost unintelligible to my ears, but that may have been because I was still reeling from Atlas' deafening set. We had to skip out just before midnight so I didn't catch the end of their set, but I was really impressed with how they came across live. I've enjoyed the two albums of theirs I have, and have been waffling on whether to dive into more, and now I'm pretty sure I'll get my hands on Pharmacy Of Love somehow. Good stuff. Here are some of my favorite songs of theirs, and singer Carol Van Dyk singing the Velvet Undeground song "Venus In Furs" with a full orchestra!

Aaron Jentzen
Pgh City Paper author page

YouTube channel
First/last interview on Hugh's blog

Bettie Serveert

Cover jams of the day: "King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3" and "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"

Artists: The Apples In Stereo (covering Neutral Milk Hotel) and Times New Viking (covering Arcade Fire)
Songs: "King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3" and "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"
Album: SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers! (orig. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and Funeral, resp.)
Label: Merge Records (of course)
Released: April 7, 2009 (orig. February 10, 1998 and September 14, 2004, resp.)

Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan are in a band named Superchunk, and back in 1989 they founded an independent record label to put out their music. Today, Merge Records is one of the biggest, most influential, and fucking coolest indie record labels in the land. To celebrate their 20th Anniversary last year, they released a compilation of awesome bands recording cover versions of songs from Merge releases over the years. I found this compilation at the library a few weeks back and have listened to most of the songs. A few of them I wasn't familiar with and some are mediocre at best but two, in particular, have stuck with me. That's partly due to the fact that the original songs are superb and remind me of the bands I "discovered" during my initial forays into indie rock back in college, but also partly due to the fact they are just really good, interesting, unique takes on another band's song.

First, we have the quintessential Elephant 6 band, The Apples In Stereo, applying their fuzzed-out, spacey, guitar rock-tronica with pounding drums and high-pitched male vocals to a classic cut from other Elephant 6 band Neutral Milk Hotel's seminal album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. You don't need me to tell you how good the original is and how it fits into the album. So what happens when it's removed and fed thru The Apples' funky filter? It turns into some kinda crazy, bouncy, singalong song that just slightly modifies the rhythm of the "oh-oh-oh-ohhh-oh" part so that I always get a little thrown off when I do try to sing along. Here's the original song (Part 3 starts @ the 3:38 mark, FYI):

and here's the cover version:

[Update: YouTube User Vartex points out the neat fact that this version is sung by Robert Schneider, who actually recorded the album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and sang backup vocals on the original version of this song!]

(Bonus! Here's Jeff Mangum playing this song acoustic & solo on an XFM radio session way back in May 1998 when the song was called "Up And Over Again" and there's a section in the middle where he sings "This is the part of the song where I didn't write any lyrics" but for the recorded version he sings "The weight it sits on down and I don't know".)

Second, we have the impressively lo-fi garage-punk trio Times New Viking applying their fuzzed-out, reverberating, aggressively grating yet melodic rock formula to the beauteous and touching and powerful song "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)", the first cut from indie rock superstars Arcade Fire's incredible debut album, Funeral. Seriously, the original is so great; it's arguably the best song from their best record (go ahead and disagree with me, I like to debate). The TNV version manages to capture a lot of the emotional power and distill it thru their lo-fi filter, yielding a slightly simpler (i.e. less instrumentation) sound that still retains much of the raw, heartfelt yearning in the male/female voices. You can hear a beautifully soft piano part behind all of the distorted guitar and vocals, too. Even f you don't typically enjoy this kind of scuzzy, garage-rock shite, give it a good listen or two straigh thru and tell me you can't hear something surprisingly pretty underneath it all. Here's the original song:

and here's the cover version:

(While you're here, you should check out my fave song "No Time, No Hope" from TNV's latest album, Born Again Revisited. Really good.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jam of the day: "Halleluwah" (and puzzles!)

Artist: Can
Song: "Halleluwah"
Album: Tago Mago
Released: 1971
Label: United Artists

This post is partly an excuse to mention some non-musical stuff I've been doing today and also to give props to my friend Sean for introducing me to this band. I've been on campus all day solving puzzles as part of Microsoft's College Puzzle Challenge. It's an all day event with 27 puzzles of various difficulties and styles leading up to one metapuzzle. Standings are based on the time required to submit the answer to the metapuzzle, which we did not too long ago, leading to a 33rd place finish out of 420 national teams, and a 3rd place finish out of 45 teams at CMU. Woo hoo!

So yeah, since 1:00 pm we've been in the grad student study room on our laptops with our brains and fingers racing. It was quiet in the room for a while, which I'm kinda not really used to (if I'm walking, I have my iPod; if I'm in the office, I have my laptop playing; if I'm at home, I have my record player) but I let that go for a while to get the puzzling juices flowing. But later on, I felt a post-coffee crash coming on and needed something to pick me up until the appointed dinner time rolled around. "Let's see..." I thought to myself, "I need something upbeat but not too distracting, something driving but not overpowering, something ... Aha! Can!" This song, in particular, was perfect. It's 18+ minutes of awesome percussion and groovy guitar, kinda long and droning but still upbeat and exciting and it never gets boring. Seriously, if you have some task to accomplish and need something in your ears to keep you going, this is your fucking song. My friend Sean tells me he used to play this song on loop when he was "working in the lab", whatever that means. The video below has the whole song, but the last four minutes are some other random thing, so cut it off around the 18:21 mark.

The whole record is fantastic, really. If you know it already, kudos, and if you don't, it's probably been influencing some of your favorite artists without you even knowing. Check out all of their records. I've heard a few of them and look forward to experiencing more. "Vitamin C" from Ege Bamyasi (video below) is another one of my fave songs, partly for the way he says "vitamin" that makes it sound like a new word, vitamency.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Concert review / upcoming show: Big Snow Big Thaw

Sunday, October 24, 2010 at a cozy house in East Liberty

Okay, this is partly a joke and partly serious :-) Big Snow Big Thaw is actually my buddy Jim (from Draw Us Lines) and his friend Dave, who I've met a few times now. I forget which one is Snow and which one is Thaw, so they'll have to set you straight on that. This wasn't quite a "concert" in the sense of the shows that I usually attend; this was an informal gathering of friends and acquaintances on a beautiful Sunday morning in the fine autumn time for some pancakes and coffee and a serenade of songs from the two aforementioned gentlemen. I have to say I wasn't entirely thrilled at the prospect of bussing to East Liberty at 10:00 a.m. after a late Saturday night, but in the end, I'm really glad I did. This place was at the end of the street in a quiet neighborhood with a fenced in yard so the extremely energetic puppy dog could run around freely. There were a dozen or so folks there, in all, with a few faces I recognized and some new people to meet. We were served vegan banana pancakes and maple syrup from an old rum bottle, plus a spread of delicious fruit, and a plate of bacon for the meat-eaters. Oh yeah, there was a big jug of coffee, too, thankfully. Neil Young's Harvest was playing on the stereo and I could hear the leaves rustling in the wind outside through the porch screen door. It was the perfect setting for some folk music.

After milling about for a while and chatting with folks, we settled into our chairs for an intimate performance from Jim and Dave. Jim plays banjo and Dave plays acoustic guitar and they both sing, and they do all of it well. With no other accompaniment or effects, they really filled the living room of this place with lovely sounds and heartfelt tunes. The first song they played was a cover (forget who, sorry) and then they played a bunch of originals that one or the other or both had written, plus one other cover song (a sweet version of local band Boca Chica's song "Lake Erie"). The banjo/guitar combo works really well for them and they have good vocal harmonies, with Jim hitting more of the high notes and David staying in the lower range. They had soft, melodic songs and quiet moments mostly, but they could really bust out a rockin' riff if they had to, and they did that a few times; in fact, this was the first time I'd seen an audience member tell a musician that his folk song was "badass". All in all, it was a really good time. I don't want to spoil the surprise too much because their first show is coming up rather soon: Thursday, November 18th, 2010 @ the Lava Lounge on the South Side. They're playing with other locals Dandelion Snow and the Justin Andrew Band. Lava Lounge is a fairly intimate venue with a small stage, so I think it will suit them all well. See yinz there!

Concert Review: The Walkmen / Japandroids / ARMS

Friday, October 22, 2010 at Mr. Small's

It's always nice to see a bill with three bands you know, let alone three bands you actually like, so I consider myself lucky to have seen all of these guys in one night. That said, there were the usual ups and downs of any concertgoing experience, but I think I had such high hopes for the show overall that it made the downs feel more downy. So if my review seems negative, take that with a shakerful of salt, because it actually was a really good show.

ARMS is a band that I had randomly found on eMusic last year somehow and I downloaded and have enjoyed their album Kids Aflame. They also recently released a free EP which is a solid continuation of their indie pop/rock shoegaze sound. At this show, they played six or so songs, most of which seemed to be from the new EP because I didn't recognize any of them. They had all four guys (drummer, two guitarists, and keyboards/synth) crammed into the very front of the stage in front of a couple towers of amps (all of which turned out to be later used by the Japandroids guitarist). They were all fairly energetic, but the keyboardist was really getting into it, dancing around while playing and shaking his body really fast (although that may have just been a requirement for hitting those sixteenth notes with the tambourine). Check out the video below of them playing "Emily Sue, Pt. 2" from their new EP live back in January 2010 to get an idea of what they're like. I really enjoyed their set and wish they'd had time to play more.

Next up was Japandroids, a band I'd seen back in October 2009 at Garfield Artworks and boy was that a fun show. I really like their debut album Post-Nothing, full of hooky guitar melodies and screaming, singalong vocals. I'm still amazed that it's just two guys making all that sound. The show at Garfield Artworks was fun because it's such a cramped space and a tiny stage, and their loud sound really catered well to that. But for this show, Mr. Small's is such a giant, spacious room with huge, high ceilings and I think it didn't suit their style as much. Also, singer Brian King had kinda lost his voice for some reason, and was drinking from a big mug of steaming tea (I presume) and so they couldn't really pull off those screaming vocals that I enjoy so very much. Instead, it was just drummer David Prowse doing the shouting and Brian doing some low, quieter vocals. They still sounded solid, and the drumming and guitar work were as awesome as ever, but when a group of six frat bros in the front row singing along to "Young Hearts Spark Fire" are competing with your volume level, you know you're in trouble. Overall, though, and barring the voice problems, I thought it was a good set of material from their album and from the string of singles (stringles?) they've been putting out this year. Oh, also, David totally broke his cymbal stand during a song and had to play the rest of it without that cymbal since it fell off. It was kinda neat to watch him strike the air where the cymbal used to be with his stick to keep time and not get tangled up. Thankfully, the drummer from The Walkmen lent him a replacement and the show went on. Check out this video of "Young Hearts Spark Fire" below to see them when they're on their game.

Finally, The Walkmen sauntered out and assumed their separate positions onstage and played a long set of songs, mostly new but some old, including one encore. The two overwhelming impressions I took away from their set was that singer Hamilton Leithauser has an amazing voice and that these guys practice a lot. They seemed so polished and professional that they didn't even need to look at each other. A song would end, they'd acknowledge the applause, and then they'd launch into the next one with little fanfare or pause. It was an impressive display, for sure, but I don't think I'm as much of a fanboy of their material as some other people I know are, so although I enjoyed the way in which they play music and I was thoroughly awe-struck by Hamilton's ability to just keep belting out those tunes, I found myself almost bored by the end of it. I think my friend Robert summarized that ennui best later on when someone said something like, "Oh, I really liked that song they played called ---whatever it was---" and he replied with, "Yeah, it was so good they played it 12 more times." Kinda harsh, maybe, but funny and not so inaccurate, really. I would have been fine with them playing a few less songs. I might have left with a more positive attitude towards them. Still, I have enjoyed listening to their latest album, Lisbon, but I'm afraid it will go the way of their other albums I've listened to: I'll play it through a dozen or so times within a month or two of getting it, and then forget about it until another one comes out. Ugh, like I said, I don't mean to sound negative. I did really enjoy the show as a whole; I'm mostly just quibbling about the fine line between great and fan-fucking-tastic. I found this video of them playing "The Rat" at the show. This was definitely a high point of the evening, a really high one, I'll give you that.

Daytrotter session

Artist page on Polyvinyl Records
Daytrotter session

The Walkmen
Daytrotter sessions 1, 2, 3