PitchforkFest 2014: A Primer (Un-Abridged)

A tradition unlike any other… the Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago) Primer

Pitchfork-Festival

It has been awhile since my last musical missive. Why? Did I stop listening? Turn away from the sound?  Find my way into some ostensibly more mature passion, like wine or crotchet? No. Nothing of the sort. If anything, 2014 has been the year most filled with juvenilia and regression to adolescence than ever before. Perhaps attending too many rock shows (62 to date) combined with needing to maintain some semblance of a sensible work/life balance and sleep has cut into my writing.  Scratch that… it most definitely has. The nerdy music obsessive gene has not left the body; it’s just strolling around the venues rather than on the interwebs. Hopefully this will mark a return to form. But, let’s cut to the core.

Pitchfork Music Festival begins today (tomorrow as of this writing but when you read…) and the lineup is filled with an exciting array of acts from legends of my youth (e.g., Beck and Neutral Milk Hotel) to the next generation of musical visionaries (e.g., St. Vincent and Tune-Yards). Pitchfork’s annual festival has always been one of my summer highlights. In three music-and-sun-drenched days, you can legitimately see almost every performer on a bill that spans a wide range of upcoming musicians and heroes of yesteryear from almost every genre (indie to hip hop to electronic to experimental/indie electronic/[fill-in-the-genre) and there will always be at least a couple of killer dance party worthy moments (e.g., LCD, Robyn, Major Lazer, Cut Copy, B&S, MIA, to name a few…). Okay enough with the extended-LP intro… here is what I’m excited about by day, hour, and (stage). (For a condensed/abridged version of this go here.) (For the full lineup go here.)

But, while you read listen to this playlist as prep: PitchforkFest 2014 (Playlist)

Friday, July 18th

3:30 – Hundred Water (Red) (Indie-Experimental Electronic)

I saw HW open for Julia Holter a couple of years back at Schubas and they blew me away.  And, their newest record. The Moon Rang Like a Bell, is easily one of my ten favorite records of 2014. It is a sensual embrace of angelic vocals and lush electronic compositions. This should be a moment of afternoon beauty.

4:15 – Factory Floor (Blue) (Electronic-Downtempo)

After one listen, I was totally entranced.

5:30 – Sharon Van Etten (Red) (Indie)

Sharon Van Etten’s music will to the attentive ear cut you to the quick. She speaks the emotional truths and questions we all contemplate in our search for understanding and meaningfulness. Her voice has the haunting beauty that will lull you to a euphoric reverie. And, she’s got an amazingly endearing stage presence. Don’t Miss!

6:25 – Sun Kil Moon (Green) (Lo-Fi Folk-Rock)

…aka Mark Kozelek. His music I’ll admit is an acquired taste. It is a mix of storytelling and/or speak singing monologues over Lo-Fi folk-rock (think Neil Young but more poignant). SKM tell darkly comedic and disarmingly heartfelt stories from Mark’s personal life and observations of the world.

8:30 – Beck (Green) (Genre-Potpourri)

El Perdidor!  To be honest, I want to hear Beck play Morning Phase, his new record, from start to finish.  It is just that amazing and gorgeous of a record.  But, he won’t do that because many folks will want to hear the songs from Odelay and Midnight Vultures, admittedly not my favorite albums, and he should because life-long fans deserve that.  Regardless of what he plays, he is such a brilliantly talented musician and I’ll just sit or perhaps lay and revel in awe at the quirky and odd mix of mellow and psych folk mixed with soul and disco that he has cobbled together over the years.

Also worth checking out: Haxan Cloak @ 5:14 (Blue) – Meditative and introspective downtempo; Giorgio Moroder @ 7:20 (Red) – the 70s Dance/Disco avant-garde composer that inspired the Daft Punk song of same name  (and arguably a lot of what they did/do).

Saturday, July 19th

2:50 – Empress Of (Blue) (Electronic/Dance)

I saw her at the Moog Showcase at SXSW and was pleasantly surprised. She combines a Grimes experimental groove vibe with an M.I.A. like presence.

3:20 – Cloud Nothings (Red) (Punk/Indie Rock)

Get ready for some fist pumping and adrenaline churning punk infused indie rock! If there is any band that has found the way to channel and replicate the unique sub/urban-ennui punk and indie-rock/pop sensibilities of the Replacements, Cloud Nothings is my pick. There are angsty dirges, anthemic epiphanies, and heart-on-sleeve proclamations throughout, which is basically what growing up feels like.

4:45 – The Range (Blue) (Electronic/Dance)

The Range’s Nonfiction was one of the most exciting revelations of 2013. His music is a throwback to the early days of electronic dance music that is filled with rich, intricately layered grooves and samples.  Another performer I saw at SXSW, who totally captivated me.  Plus, post set, we chatted and he is a really smart and genuine dude.  Check him out!

5:15 – Tune-Yards (Red) (Dance/Indie-Folk)

Dance party alert!!! Merrill Garbus writes with a keen, critical, and comical vibrancy. Her music exudes life and energy and will infect even the dourest of listener.  While you groove to the beats listen to her keen wit.

6:15 – Danny Brown (Green) (Rap/Hip-Hop)

The mirthful and quirky maestro of Detroit descends on the Chi. XXX was the first rap record in years that completely captivated me. His rhymes float and flutter with a lyrical ease and his beat will keep you grinding.

7:25 – St. Vincent (Red) (Baroque Indie)

There are talented artists and their next level visionaries. Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) is the latter. Perhaps her art and commentary fly over the heads of many (see post SNL internet comments), but her self-titled 2014 album is on another level of genius (which is not to say her previous records weren’t great, which they were, see Strange Mercy).  But does her “art-rock” translate?  Hell, yeah.  I saw her perform earlier this year and it was a truly brilliant orchestrated piece of stage craft that blended authentic and carefully styled thematic tableaux.  In St. Vincent you will trust.

(beat)

8:30 – Neutral Milk Hotel (Green) (Psych-Folk-Indie)

For a generation of kids, NMH was “the band that got away”. We heard them as they were hitting their stride and then they disappeared.  It was young geek love lost. In the Aeroplane Over Sea is a masterpiece of dream-like hallucinatory imagery and heart-wrenching emotional brutalism. Jeff Mangum is a mystical poet and his return is a delight to all us geeks and weirdos that believe life is filled with every day magic.

(bed)

Also worth checking out: The Field @ 615 (Blue) (Chill-Downtempo-Electronic)

Sunday, July 20th (aka marathon day)

1:00 – Mutual Benefit (Green) (Folk) or Speedy Ortiz (Blue) (Indie-Punk)

Ahh… such a struggle!  I’m going to see MB because they sport a multi-member band of exceptional musicians with angelic vocals that play mesmerizing melodies. Prepare to be seduced by sirens…  But if you want to start your day with an adrenaline kick, Speedy Ortiz are just the musical hair-of-the-dog your mind/body ordered.

1:45 – DIIV (Red) (Indie-Shoegazer)

DIIV (pronounced “Dive”) blend the melodic Brit-Pop of the Stone Roses with the sprawling expansive Shoegazer rock of Slowdive (see below).  Although on record they sound precise and composed, their live set is dynamic.

1:55 – Perfect Pussy (Punk/Hardcore)

I saw maybe three minutes of these guys at SXSW and found that aural amuse-bouche electrifying. They are loud, brash, aggressive, and captivating.  Yes please!  Don’t get there late or you’ll miss their set.

3:45 – Dum Dum Girls (Blue) (Dream Pop)

These ladies spin dark-black seductive dreams with hints of new wave, 60s girl group pop, and Smiths-like ecstatic dreariness. For those with a penchant for (David)Lynch-esque moments of devilish anachronism, check out the Dum Dums and their spellbinding sounds. I will swoon if they play “Trouble Is My Name.”  Is it your name too?

4:45 – Jon Hopkins (Blue) (Dance-Electronic)

JH is a phenomenal electronic composer that produces pieces that go from folk-tinged meditations to floor thumping bangers.

5:15 – Real Estate (Red) (Jangle Pop)

Their sound is evocative of a West Coast surfer/slacker rock with the pleasant and mirth inducing whirl-in-the-grass jangle pop perfect for a summer festival.

6:15 – Slowdive (Green) (Ur-Shoegazer)

Yes!!! The band that to me epitomizes Shoegazer…. extended jams of ethereal and distortion-laced soundscapes. Sit back and take in the sprawling “wall of sound” that Slowdive weave… The Return of the Shoegazer Kings! Reclaiming the sound that has bred so many disciples.

7:25 – Grimes (Red) (Experimental Electronic)

Another… Dance Party Alert. Finally!!! I’ve been dying to see Claire Boucher for way too long and keep missing her when she passes through Chicago. Her blend of experimental upbeat electronic jams and performance art –like compositions get the body grooving and the mind wandering. #theperfectblend

8:30 – Kendrick Lamar (Green) (Rap/Hip-Hop)

The good kid brings his backseat freestyle to the W.I.N.D.Y. city.  Start up that Maserati…   End of the fest/night smooth beat and grooves to relish and remember three days of musical brilliance. #dontkillmyvibe

Also worth checking out: Earl Sweathshirt at 3:20 at Red Stage or Schoolboy Q at 4:15 at Green Stage or Majical Cloudz @5:45 at Blue Stage.

…can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all. – Jeff Mangum

Over and out,

a.a.

p.s. Aftershows?  Seriously?  Okay…

  • Friday Bottom Lounge – Deafhaven, Perfect Pussy, Pink Frost;
  • Saturday Bottom Lounge – Dum Dum Girls, Ex Hex, and Speedy Ortiz
  • Sunday Lincoln Hall – Majical Cloudz and Hundred Waters
  • If you can get in… DIIV at Empty Bottle Friday (currently sold out) or Cloud Nothings at Schubas, Friday (also sold out).

PitchforkFest 2014: A Primer (Abridged)

…for those with a short attention span or who prefer not to read extensive ruminations, an abridged version of the bands/performers to catch at Pitchfork 2014. (Or, if you need to find me this is where I’ll be…)

And a playlist: PitchforkFest 2014

Pitchfork-Festival

Friday, July 18th

3:30 – Hundred Water (Red) (Indie-Experimental Electronic)

4:15 – Factory Floor (Blue) (Electronic-Downtempo)

5:30 – Sharon Van Etten (Red) (Indie)

6:25 – Sun Kil Moon (Green) (Lo-Fi Folk-Rock)

8:30 – Beck (Green) (Genre-Potpourri)

Also worth checking out: Haxan Cloak @ 5:14 (Blue) – Meditative and introspective downtempo; Giorgio Moroder @ 7:20 (Red) – the 70s Dance/Disco avant-garde composer that inspired the Daft Punk of same name.

Saturday, July 19th

2:50 – Empress Of (Blue) (Electronic/Dance)

3:20 – Cloud Nothings (Red) (Punk/Indie Rock)

4:45 – The Range (Blue) (Electronic/Dance)

5:15 – Tune-Yards (Red) (Dance/Indie-Folk)

6:15 – Danny Brown (Green) (Rap/Hip-Hop)

7:25 – St. Vincent (Red) (Baroque Indie)

8:30 – Neutral Milk Hotel (Green) (Psych-Folk-Indie)

Also worth checking out: The Field @ 6:15 (Blue) (Chill-Downtempo-Electronic)

Sunday, July 20th (aka marathon day)

1:00 – Mutual Benefit (Green) (Folk) or Speedy Ortiz (Blue) (Indie-Punk)

1:45 – DIIV (Red) (Indie-Shoegazer)

1:55 – Perfect Pussy (Punk/Hardcore)

3:45 – Dum Dum Girls (Blue) (Dream Pop)

4:45 – Jon Hopkins (Blue) (Dance-Electronic)

5:15 – Real Estate (Red) (Jangle Pop)

6:15 – Slowdive (Green) (Ur-Shoegazer)

7:25 – Grimes (Red) (Experimental Electronic)

8:30 – Kendrick Lamar (Green) (Rap/Hip-Hop)

Also worth checking out: Earl Sweathshirt at 3:20 at Red Stage or Schoolboy Q at 4:15 at Green Stage.

…can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all. – Jeff Mangum

Over and out,

a.a.

Never Too Old To Dance – Winter/Spring 2014 Concert List (aka Dance Card)

headphonessavemylifeWhat? Is a little cold weather slowing your two step? I hope not. Well, if you are in Chicago, you know this City never really stops. We may sleep but we work through the frost and polar winds. Double digit negatives are nothing. In the words of Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, “I don’t mind the weather, I’ve got scarves and caps and sweaters.”

Now, if you really want to build up that inner heat without the extra layers (or doing some yoga but that’s cool too), I recommend getting the blood pumping by shaking those hips, pumping those fists, and moving those legs on the dance floor.  Or perhaps sharing your body warmth with one, two or twenty strangers in a tightly packed, sweaty music venue near you.  

In case, you need some suggestions on what and/or who to see, here you go. These are shows which I’m excited about. It’s not exhaustive so if i missed something, please, please let me know. I’m not musically omniscient. A bit clairvoyant but certainly fallible. …These are only for Chicago, but if the band is referenced here they are likely on tour so check out their site for a tour date near you.  

…and yes I do sleep.  but not much.  see you at the front of the house!

(legend… bold = definitely attending; italics = very likely attending;  hyperlinks for venues; thoughts for giggles)

February

March

  • Mar. 1st – Into It. Over It. @ Bottom Lounge
    • Emo-Alert!!!
  • Mar. 1st – Broken Bells & Au Revoir Simone @ the Vic
    • I’d go for ARS; BB put me to sleep last time
  • Mar. 7th – Classixx @ Double Door
    • Dance Party!!!
  • Mar. 13th –16th – I’ll be in Austin, Texas for SXSW… you guys will have to find your own shows for that weekend J
  • Mar. 18th – Lorde @ the Aragon
    • she’s lovely, the venue is awful…i’m kind of over going to all ages shows, be prepared to fight the young ones for a good view
  • Mar. 21st – So Many Dynamos @ Township
  • Mar. 23rd – The War on Drugs @ the Metro
  • Mar. 26th – Future Islands @ Lincoln Hall
  • Mar. 27th – James Vincent McMorrow @ Lincoln Hall
    • soulful, swooning, epic, engrossing vocals to soothe your soul
  • Mar. 27th – Real Estate @ the Metro
  • Mar. 28th – Warpaint with Cate Le Bon @ the Metro
  • Mar. 29th – Shearwater @ The Empty Bottle
  • Mar. 31st – Dum Dum Girls @ The Empty Bottle
    • Swoon… if they play “There is A Light…” I can die happy.

April

May

  • May 7th – Woods @ Subterranean
  • May 9th – The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) @ the Metro
  • May 13th – Neko Case @ the Chicago Theater
    • The lovely mesmerizing voice of Neko, great acoustics and Kelly Hogan?  Does it get any better?
  • May 16th – Mogwai @ the Vic
  • May 17th – Haim @ the Riviera (sold out)
    • These girls rock

July

One day????

  • The Smiths… I wish.

a.a.

Listen to Live Music: 2012 Fall Tours!!!

A second but short post to just bring to your attention all the great tours that will be coming through the U.S. in the fall.  Check the “Upcoming Shows” menu at the top of the site for information on who, when and where.

As always links are provided for national tour dates and Chicago venues.  Also here is just a short list to get you excited of some bands on tour:

A Six Pack and a Preview of What is Coming in 2012

As we put the first half of 2012 to rest (but not past us just yet), here are things I’m really excited about in the second half of 2012. But before the preview, take a second to watch and listen to this very summer-inspired video by Nashville’s Jeff the Brotherhood. While I can’t condone all the behavior of the Boys and Girls in this ode to the joys of frolicking, I definitely envy their ability to commune so intimately with nature. And, the song is pretty much a perfect fuzzy, lo-fi guitar rock companion to getting away (with mayhem).

Albums

There are lots of great new releases and reissues coming up in the next couple of months. For a full rundown courtesy of Pitchfork, click here. A more concise list of releases (and dates) culled from that list can be found further below but tops on my list are:

  • Cat Power’s Ruins
  • Dirty Projector’s Swing Lo Magellan
  • Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange
  • The Very Best’s MTMTMK
  • Purity Ring’s Shrines 
  • Dead Can Dance’s Anastasis
  • WHY?’s Sod in the Seed EP
  • Four Tet’s Pink
  • Yeasayer’s Fragrant World
  • Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz
  • David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Love This Giant
  • Calexico’s Algiers 
  • The xx‘s Coexist
  • Corin Tucker’s Kill My Blues
  • The Hood Internet’s FEAT

Shows

As many of you know, summer is the time of great festivals but when the summer ends lots of great fall tours also commence. Here are some particular shows/acts, I can’t wait to see!

  • Wilco + Andrew Bird + Minor League Baseball Stadium + Fireworks! (July 8th)
  • Pitchfork 2012 in Union Park  (July 13th-15th) – Although I will be in absentia, I am still eager to hear the review of this great lineup of acts slated to hit Chicago (and our torrid summer heat) next week. In case you don’t know the lineup, here is a quick highlight: God Speed You Black Emperor, Japandroids, Wild Flag, Hot Chip, Sleigh Bells, Beach House, Vampire Weekend, Feist, Kendrick Lamar, Cloud Nothings, Grimes, Dirty Projectors, Purity Ring, Danny Brown, and many more. For a full list click here.
  • Bruce Springsteen at Wrigley Field (September) – Two of the America’s great treasures meet in one (er, two) memorable evenings in Chicago and I managed to score seats in the pit!!!
  • Punk Rock Heroes in Humboldt Park at Riot Festival Chicago (September) – An all-star, all-time line-up of Punk Rock (or proto-punk rockers) will be descending on Chicago in September. I mean if the likes of elder statesmen Iggy and the Stooges, Elvis Costello, and the Jesus and Mary Chain aren’t enough to get you excited, then perhaps you’ll find joy in the addition of Alkaline Trio, Promise Ring, NoFX, Gogol Bordello and GWAR. Personally, I’m gearing up to see ’em all!
  • SLOAN! (September) For those of you who don’t know some of the greatest pop-rockers to come out of Canada, then perhaps you should catch them on their Twice Removed Tour (celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the album’s release).
  • Best Coast, Tennis, The Very Best, Colleen Green, WHY?, and Julia Holter and many, many more. An up-to-date upcoming concerts and tours to follow. (July – September)

Forthcoming Albums (with dates)

JULY

  • 07-10
    Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan [Domino]
    Twin Shadow: Confess [4AD]
  • 07-11:  Azealia Banks: Fantasea mixtape [self-released]
  • 07-17
    Frank Ocean: Channel Orange [Def Jam]
    JEFF the Brotherhood: Hypnotic Nights [Warner]
    Nas: Life Is Good [Def Jam]
    The Very Best: MTMTMK [Moshi Moshi/Cooperative Music]
  • 07-24
    The Antlers: Undersea EP [Anti-]
    The Books: A Dot in Time [Temporary Residence] (7 LP Box Set)
    Eternal Summers: Correct Behavior [Kanine]
    Passion Pit: Gossamer [Columbia]
    Purity Ring: Shrines [4AD/Last Gang]
  • 07-31
    Blur: Blur 21 [Virgin] [box set]
    Rick Ross: God Forgives, I Don’t [Maybach Music/Def Jam]

AUGUST

  • 08-07: Niki & The Dove: Instinct [Sub Pop] 
  • 08-09: Dead Can Dance: Anastasis [4AD]
  • 08-14: WHY?: Sod in the Seed EP [Anticon/Slang City]
  • 08-20
    Four Tet: Pink [Text]
    Minotaur Shock: Orchard [Melodic]
    Jessie Ware: Devotion [PMR Records]
  • 08-21
    Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Mature Themes [4AD]
    Yeasayer: Fragrant World [Secretly Canadian]
  • 08-27: Wild Nothing: Nocturne [Captured Tracks]

SEPTEMBER

  • 09-04
    Animal Collective: Centipede Hz [Domino]
    Cat Power: Sun [Matador]
    The Fresh & Onlys: Long Slow Dance [Mexican Summer]
    Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t [Secretly Canadian]
    Sondre Lerche: Bootlegs [Mona]
    Stars: The North [ATO]
    T.I.: Trouble Man [Grand Hustle/Atlantic]
    The Vaccines: The Vaccines Come of Age [Columbia]
  • 09-11

    A$AP Rocky: LongLiveA$AP [A$AP Worldwide/Polo Grounds/RCA]
    David Byrne and St. Vincent: Love This Giant [4AD/Todo Mundo]
    Calexico: Algiers [Anti-]
    The Raveonettes: The Observator [Vice]
    Sic Alps: Sic Alps [Drag City]
    Thee Oh Sees: Putrifiers II [In the Red]
    The xx: Coexist [Young Turks]

  • 09-18
    Corin Tucker: Kill My Blues [Kill Rock Stars]
    Dinosaur Jr.: I Bet on Sky [Jagjaguwar]
    Grizzly Bear: TBA [Warp]
    The Hood Internet: FEAT [Decon]
    Kid Koala: 12 Bit Blues [Ninja Tune]
    The Sea and Cake: Runner [Thrill Jockey]
  • 09-25

    Dum Dum Girls: End of Daze EP [Sub Pop]
    Yoko Ono with Thurston Moore & Kim Gordon: YOKOKIMTHURSTON [Chimera Records]

  • 10-02: John Cale: Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood [Double Six]

Future:

  • Band of Horses: TBA [Fat Possum/Columbia]
  • Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste [Universal]
  • Crystal Castles: TBA [Fiction]
  • Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes [Warp]
  • Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city [Interscope]
  • Madlib and Freddie Gibbs: TBA [Stones Throw]
  • Matt and Kim: Lightning [FADER Label]
  • Public Enemy: The Evil Empire of Everything [TBA]

Love On A Real Train: somewhere I have never travelled, or did I?

… you know the feeling when you hear something that takes you on an aural journey that sounds strangely familiar, yet somewhat alien? As though you heard it in a dream1 or in some other life (if you can countenance that notion)? Or perhaps, it is an amalgam of previously heard songs, sounds, and ideas that evoke and/or create something recognizable.

Love On A Real Train is just that sort of recording. It’s a beautiful collaboration amongst family and friends with a keen ear for harmony and a wide musical palette – clever, well-orchestrated, joy-inducing ethno-musicology. The album/project is the  “brainchild” of Joachim Cooder, the son of famed guitarist, soundtrack producer, and all world music-lover Ry Cooder. If you are having trouble placing the name, here is a hint, he helped make “Chan, Chan” famous. Still not sure? Okay, aside from his countless film credits, Ry Cooder’s most recent “claim to fame” was being the producer and a guitarist on The Buena Vista Social Club‘s eponymously titled album and the “solo follow-up” by Ibrahim Ferrer (a member of the BVSC).

Joachim assisted on The Buena Vista Social Club project and clearly his familiarity, appreciation and love for Global and non-Western musical traditions is evident on Love On A Real Train. Take the opening track “Space Shells“, the song blends West African and South Amerindian musical rhythms, evoking Ennio Morricone’s phenomenal soundtrack to The Mission (a small sample here), and adds a quasi-choral vocal track reminiscent of a minimalist composition by Steve Reich. Then, you have the dance-infused dream pop of “Pointed Into Zoom” with some gorgeous Far East Asian sounding chimes and Inara George‘s ethereal voice– I dare you not to smile while listening. Or, borrowing from a more modern tradition, “Being Alone” with Robert Frances feels as though it could easily be a collaboration between Sigur Ros (psst they have a new album!) and Bon Iver – with a subtle vocoder effect like on BI’s “Woods” from the Blood Bank EP.  (Two equally otherworldly sounding musical groups.)  Of all the tracks I adore,  my favorite is easily “Strike Up Your Matches” sung by Matt Costa and built around a traditional Incan arrangement (with those amazing woodwinds) combined with rhythm of an older folk song from the British Isles.

One additional note about the record, the musicians on each track or not consistent throughout and, yet, there is no question that a singular (yet eclectic and diverse) aesthetic permeates the entire album. Also, this is definitely an album that makes excellent background and/or work meditation2 music, it’s calming, rich, and fluid, plus the vocals are used for their sonic attributes over their narrative value — for those in the crowd that can’t listen to vocals while working.  Without any further comparisons or digressions, join Joachim and his friends on a trip into another distant, yet familiar realm.

Listen to Love On A Real Train in its entirety here (via Spotify) or select songs played by members of the group on World Cafe here (via NPR)

If you like the general feel of this record, you might also enjoy the brilliant album released last year by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’s Diamond Mine (listen here) that went under everyone’s radar (except for Bob Boilen’s).

Chicago Folks a reminder:

Do Division Fest this weekend featuring (among others) the Antlers (Sun), BBU (Fri), JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound (Fri), Craig Finn (Sat), and Besnard Lakes (Sat).  (Bring sunscreen and water.  It should be another hot one.)

Hasta Manana!

a.a.

1 I’ve been told it is impossible to (a) hear things in one’s dream and (b) see colors. I definitely think I’ve experienced both perhaps i was either confused by my own mind or delusional.  Hmm…neither option is promising.

2 “Work Meditation” is essentially my term for a variation of “flow” or a Zen state of focus.

Hot oL’ Baltimore Part 1: Lower Dens’ Nootropics

Charm City, indeed. Maryland’s most populous (and well recognized) city is making a name for itself in the indie-rock world. No longer just the setting for David Simon’s much beloved The Wire, B’more is rapidly become home to a burgeoning indie-rock scene led by the likes of the Lower Dens, Beach House, and Wye Oak. (Now not all the members of the bands were necessarily born and breed in or around Baltimore, but, then again, how many of the rockers now living in the Borough of Brooklyn can claim it as their ancestral home?) Not only is the City of Firsts filled with great young bands but even their long suffering baseball team is perched atop their division (as of this writing anyways). Perhaps there is something in the water, something that breeds musical ingenuity and creativity? (You know like why they claim a slice of pizza or a bagel from New York is better than anywhere else? I’ll agree to the latter and would kill for an H&H bagel right now. Alas.)

Straight out of Baltimore comes Nootropics, the second full-length album by the Lower Dens. This group caught my ear at the beginning of last year with their phenomenal debut record Twin Hand Movement, which was described to me by a friend as ChillWave – undoubtedly a term coined to allude to the 70s/80s New Wave phenomenon and to perhaps beget the notion of a “movement.” (Without digressing too much, in my opinion, “ChillWave” is basically an updated version of Shoegazer rock that adds the production/synth elements of New Wave and layers in some early English Downtempo and TripHop. Is it a movement? Only time will tell.) The distinguishing characteristic of Twin Hand was the mix of the haunting vocals of Jana Hunter (the band’s lead singer), a sleepy, layered guitar section tinged with a Southwestern flair, and a Lo-Fi drone – or the sound of contemplation. Thus, when I ventured to see them earlier this year at the Subterranean, I was expecting to be soothed into an almost dream-like rapture. Nothing could be further from what I witnessed. Showcasing the new tracks from their forthcoming album, Jana and crew played loud, distortion heavy tracks that went on for what felt like an eternity, which was a pleasant surprise. (I do enjoy it when band turns up the volume.)

Welcome to the world of Nootropics, a break from the more languid Twin Hand Movement towards a fuller, robust and heavy sound with increased synthesized and electronic elements. It’s as though the Lower Dens had a musical muzzle removed from their instruments. The record begins with the dream-like prologue, “Alphabet Song”, and already you hear a more polished and precise sound, where before songs wandered, now they flow towards a definite point. If you listen closely, you might hear a striking resemblance to Portishead’s (comeback) Third and recent Danger Mouse produced records. Things then turn decidedly up-tempo on “Brains” and “Stem”, heavy on, and almost foregrounding, the percussion (an element in sparse quantities on the first record). With Jana’s, at times, Nico-esque vocals, “Brains” has the unique feel of a neo-psychedelic folk song that builds into a strange gothic dance track, and, then, it shifts gears straight into “Stem” with its high electronic piano chords, eerily reminiscent of some bizarre circus tune. (Because I’ve been listening to the digital version there is this unfortunate two to three second lag between tracks suggesting that the two songs are really supposed to blend into each other but there is the digital rub.)

If this is beginning to sound as though the record is a journey into an odd, dark world, then I’m achieving my goal. Although I have yet to read anything to this effect, Nootropics feels like a concept album in sound and theme. After repeated listens, I feel as though I’m passing through layers of human consciousness and experience. Perhaps, this is intentional as the title of the record refers to foods, (herbal) supplements, and drugs that enhance memory and cognitive function, otherwise known as, “smart drugs”. (For the language nerds, “Nootropics” comes from the Greek words nous, or “mind”, and trepein, “to bend or turn”.) The opening feels heady, as in located in the head or mind, and then moves towards the guttural and the base, i.e., the body. At the midpoint, the record appears to take us outside the mind and body, starting with the two part “Lion in Winter“. The first “movement” is dirge-like and evokes a passage towards. The second part shifts tempo and evokes an awakening, along with a very Kraut-rock sounding synth line. (It also reminds me a little of LCD Soundsystem from the last album.) The journey concludes with two slow, pensive (and some might say) sleepy tracks. On the whole, I think this is a fascinating listen. Is it for everybody? Probably not. I worry it might sit on the darker side for most, but if you enjoyed the last Portishead record and the work of bands like God Speed You Black Emperor, I think the Lower Dens newest adventure will resonate with you.

Listen to Nootropics in its entirety here.

In more light-hearted news:

  • “I’m Getting To Old for This” (truncated version):
    • Andrew Bird at the Roosevelt Auditorium, May 12th, 2012 – What can I say, I sat with my friends in a gorgeous old world style proscenium stage theater and marveled (yet again) at the power and beauty of Andrew Bird’s music. Playing mostly tracks off his new album, the band was pitch perfect and precise. Despite being many rows up, it sounded and felt like Andrew was singing to me in the intimate haunts he used to frequent in Chicago. The “worst” part about the show was having to sit through the entire set, especially when so many of the songs on the new album are infused with that giddy and mirthful energy that makes your body want to move and shake. Alas, I’ll have to save all those dance steps for July when he opens for Wilco at a minor league baseball park in Geneva, Illinois. This time there will be not only snacks but fireworks too! (Beats Tippecanoe and Tyler). P.S. He ended with stirring rendition of perhaps my favorite song, “Fake Palindromes.”
    • La Sera at Township, May 15th, 2012 – In Chicago there is this saying, “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”, or just deal with it. (Foolishly) Riding my bike up to see La Sara (aka Katy Goodman and crew), I could see thunder and lighting and a steady wind slowing my progress. Chilled by the brisk ride, I welcomed the tiny venue’s warmth only to find myself sweating profusely within in minutes. A boy can’t win. But I wasn’t alone, the Los Angeles based La Sera found the tiny venue to be quite sauna-like, in fact Katy asked the crowd for a towel mid show. (Note to self: bring handkerchief next time. Yes, not only do I own a handkerchief but multiple ones. It reminds me of my grandfather, who used one to dry his brow while he was painting.) Despite the heat, La Sera shone through and Katy even ventured into the crowd to play a solo on bended knees in true rock star style. (For those not familiar with La Sera, their music is more peppy and whimsy than guitar rock so it was definitely unexpected.) The show was an energetic anodyne and Katy definitely had a great time chatting with the crowd. If you get a chance, definitely, check them out. You will be smiling afterwards.
  • Check out this great conversation between St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and tUnE-yArDs (Merrill Garbus) brought to my attention by 70dayweekend.com: click here.
  • Riot Fest! Is a festival that has been going on in Chicago for some years now geared more towards the fans of Punk and Alt-Metal. In the past, they’ve had some great bands in their lineup but 2012 is far and away the best: Elvis Costello, Iggy and the Stooges, Alkaline Trio, Promise Ring, and the Jesus and Mary Chain! Check out the full bill here.  It’s like they raided my adolescent/college-era mixtapes! Plus they are expanding to Philly!

All for now, I’ll be back soon with another band from Baltimore creating some buzz.

a.a.