Archive for June, 2011


It’s hard to believe that it’s already the end of June, and even harder to believe it’s been a month and a half since I’ve been to a show. Being stuck in Houston, more specifically Sugar Land, for the summer has been a total live music nightmare. I had just started at both of my jobs when Free Press Summer Fest was happening, and I worked the night that The Thermals came to town. To add to my frustrations, the summer calendars at many of Houston’s “best” venues leave a lot to be desired. Most of them feature bands that don’t pique my interest (here’s looking at you, Foster The People) or groups that are better suited for Warped Tour. With the exception of a free Royal Bangs show in a few weeks, and of course I’ll probably be working that night, the well looks completely dry for the duration of my time here.

This makes my anticipation to return to Austin for good even more feverish, as there are plenty of great bands coming early in the school year to make up for a lackluster summer. I’ll be getting an early start, as I’m making a special trip to Austin in early August to see none other than Arctic Monkeys, a band I’ve wanted to see live since they released their first single. Here is an early list of the shows that should help make my summertime blues a distant memory:

Arctic Monkeys: Aug 2 at Stubb’s

Handsome Furs: Aug. 26 at Mohawk

Japandroids: Sept. 8 at Mohawk

Austin City Limits After Shows: TBD

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Oct. 1 at Emo’s

Gang Gang Dance: Oct. 3 at Mohawk

Braids: Oct. 4 at Mohawk

Toro y Moi: Oct. 8 at Mohawk

Friendly Fires: Oct. 11 at Antone’s

Battles: Oct. 21 at Emo’s

Fun Fun Fun Fest: Nov. 4, 5, &6 at Auditorium Shores

Here’s hoping that more shows will be continually added to this list, and that I will have the chance to see/review them all!

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It’s been a little over a year since Brooklyn new wavers The Drums released their self-titled debut. In the time since, they’ve toured endlessly, lost guitarist Adam Kessler, and have found a good amount of success overseas. Now, according to a new video on their website, the band are hard at work on the follow-up, though little to no details were unveiled.

The video begins with grainy footage of the band working in a studio and trying out new sounds, always a promising sign. However, the vast majority of the clip consists of white noise, city scenes, and even a solo shot of a cross. Whether this was done to indicate a new, darker direction for the band or to be deliberately cryptic remains to be seen. However, the band hinted at the title for their new record, as the word “Portamento” was shown several times throughout the video. The folks at NME did their research and found that portamento is an Italian word that stems from the phrase “portamento della voce,” or “carriage of the voice.”

Hopefully, more information will be made available in the coming months. If their next album is anything like “The Drums” or their brilliant debut EP “Summertime!,” the band may have a certifiable hit on their hands. But if the band decides to take a new artistic direction, it will be just as exciting to see how it works out for them. The Drums are well versed in the ways of pop songwriting, so there is a good chance that they will be able to churn out many more memorable tracks regardless of the musical template. Only time will give us the answer, but for now enjoy one of the band’s earliest classics.

When you’re a band that tours as long and as hard as Future Islands, it is nothing short of a miracle that you find time to record new material. The ever prolific band will release their new single, “Before The Bridge,” on July 19, but they have made the A-side of the same name available for download here. The single will be released as a 7″ limited to 750 copies, and it marks the band’s first release of 2011.

“Before the Bridge” displays the band in the same fine form that made In Evening Air one of last year’s best albums, and this is arguably one of their most straightforward and pop friendly songs to date. Gerrit Welmers atmospheric synths and an excellent guitar line join William Cashion’s prominent bass playing to form the backdrop for Samuel Herring’s laments and his one of a kind voice. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the song is that the band utilizes live percussion, as opposed to a drum machine. This gives the song an even bigger sound, and it allows Welmers more room to to concentrate on creating memorable synth lines, such as the one used to a master effect in the chorus.

If this song is an indicator of where Future Islands are headed, this can only be a good thing. The production values are great, the addition of live percussion will give their songs even more force, and it is proof that the band have lost none of their abilities to write beautiful music. They are still a criminally underrated band, but for those willing to give them a chance, Future Islands are one of the most unique groups around, and they only continue to get better.

Over the last few months, there have been rumors going around that The Decemberists might be calling it quits. The talks were mostly sparked by front man Colin Meloy mentioning a “long hiatus” in an interview, and the fact that the band will be taking some time off after finishing their current tour. However, he silenced all speculation by assuring that the band has no plans to split up.

Speaking to the Associated Press this weekend while at Bonnaroo, Meloy was quick to deny the rumors, saying “With this record I feel we have a whole world in front of us with plenty of options and I’m excited to continue writing music for The Decemberists and performing with The Decemberists.”

The sudden news that accordian player and keyboardist Jenny Conlee had been diagnosed with breast cancer early last month has, no doubt, contributed to the band having to adjust their plans. While the band will play as scheduled without Conlee for most or the rest of their tour, which include a return to Stubb’s in Austin on August 8, they have no plans to hit the road this fall.

Instead, Meloy will be promoting the young adult novel “Wildwood,” which he wrote in collaboration with his wife, artist Carson Ellis. He also plans to spend more time at home with his family and work on other creative projects. Several of the band’s other members, including Conlee, guitarist Chris Funk, and bassist Nate Query will continue to write new material with their bluegrass project Black Prarie during the time off.

These breakup rumors never seemed entirely believable for several reasons. First, the band is still only a few months removed from debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 with The King Is Dead. It is very hard to think that the group, or any band for that matter, would fold at the height of their popularity. Secondly, there have been no tensions between band members, or any other external forces besides Conlee’s cancer, that would warrant a breakup. The Decemberists are easily one of the most tight knit groups out there, largely keeping the same roster for the 10 plus years they’ve been together. Additionally, the band sounded in top form when they played Stubb’s at the end of April, so any sort of speculation that the band had lost their vitality was out of the question.

In the end, though, it’s good to know that the band will get some much needed rest after what has been a whirlwind year. The King Is Dead was another great outing for them, and it gained them an even larger following than many of their longtime fans could have ever hoped for. Besides, the band has taken long breaks between albums before, so I think it’s safe to say that most will be willing to wait until they announce a follow up.

It was a telling moment when Arctic Monkeys were introduced to the world in 2005, largely thanks to this video for “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor,” that front man Alex Turner urged viewers, “Don’t believe the hype.” While the justified buzz surrounding the band reached near deafening levels before they even released their first album, the band itself could not be bothered by it. Rather than taking it as a sign that they were destined to be the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world, a notion that rocketed countless bands on their side of the pond to mediocrity, the band were able to stay humble and keep their focus on making music.

As such, the band has yet to release a bad record. Each album has shown the band’s willingness to evolve and take musical risks, and they have built a solid back catalog filled with some of the best guitar rock songs of the last ten years. Suck It And See, the band’s fourth release, finds them combining many of their strongest qualities into another solid addition to their discography. While the sheer impact of their debut will never be duplicated, the album ably proves that the band are among the best at what they do.

There was plenty of skepticism leading up to the album’s release, and for good reason. The first song to be released to the public, third track “Brick By Brick,” was a somewhat underwhelming tune that featured drummer Matt Helders on vocals. Some felt that the band were simply replicating the desert rock sensibilities from 2009’s Humbug, an album that was nowhere near as immediate as their multi-platinum predecessors. However, it is far from a terrible song, and it makes more sense in context of the album.

This time around, the band has turned to 1960’s English psychedelic music for inspiration, as many of the songs have a sunny vibe to them, but the the heavier tendencies of Humbug turn up in all the right places to add an effective counterbalance, such as on album opener “She’s Thunderstorms”  and the excellent Josh Homme featuring “All My Own Stunts.”

This new sound suits Arctic Monkeys well. It would have been foolish to expect the band to keep turning out the lightning fast arrangements and witty observations of English lad life of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare, and they delineate even further this time around both musically and lyrically. The band has slowed things down considerably in most of their songs, with the exception of  a section in “Library Pictures,” allowing the band to add an extra layer of sun tinged haziness to their sound. A near perfect example of this, and also one of the album’s best tracks, is “The Hellcat Spangled Shalala,” which sees the band building up to it’s simple and endearing “Shalala” chorus before filling out the arrangement towards the end. Tracks such as “Black Treacle,” Reckless Serenade, and “Piledriver Waltz” follow this kind of approach, and they continue to reveal themselves with repeated listens. “Don’t Sit Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” is just as effective, though in a different way, utilizing an almost instantly catchy guitar riff to serve as the back bone  to a heavier arrangement that would have fit right in on Humbug.

Turner’s lyrics, one of the major aspects that have set Arctic Monkeys apart, continue to move away from the kind of scene criticism and youthful concerns with bouncers and dance floors into more cryptic territory. No longer the kind of the verses that one can instantly connect with, many of the songs here demonstrate his way with the phrase in more universal, though increasingly challenging, terms. “Don’t Sit Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” contains lyrics like “Go into business with a grizzly bear” and “Do the macerena in the devil’s lair” that are just  as captivating as anything he has written, simply for the amount of interpretation that can be derived from them. Moments like this permeate the album, but Turner can still be straightforward when he wants to be. Many of the love songs on this album, including the title track and the excellent “Love Is A Laserquest,” feature some of his most devastating lyrics. With lines like “I’m sure that you’re still breaking hearts with the efficiency that only youth can harness” and “I poured my aching heart into a pop song, I couldn’t get the hang of poetry,” they are sentiments that anyone who has ever been in love can relate to. Along with his more complex lines, they serve as further evidence as to why Turner has been one of the most consistently good lyricists of the last decade.

There are still a sizable number of people who are pining for Arctic Monkeys to put on their dancing shoes once more and return to the sound that gained them legions of followers in the first place. However, the band knows quite well that a return to form would only stifle their growth as musicians, and Suck It And See benefits all the more for ignoring those pleas. Like Humbug, this album is a grower. With every new listen, the band’s ability to write good songs becomes harder to deny, regardless of the musical or lyrical motif. Suck It And See is simply another great Arctic Monkeys album, and while many of their contemporaries from the Class of 2005 have struggled to replicate the success of their first outings, the Sheffield quartet demonstrate a strong sense of identity that has manifested itself in another great batch of songs.

Rating: 8/10

It has been almost four years since Swedish songwriter Jens Lekman released 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, his now classic sophomore album that gained him legions of new fans and cemented his place in the indie pop lexicon. Aside from the occasional tour, contributing a few of Kortedala‘s tracks to the soundtrack for Drew Barrymore’s film Whip It, quietly releasing the single “The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love” last year, and hanging out with Barrymore and Kirsten Dunst, he has kept a rather low profile the last few years. However, he looks to be writing new material again, as he recently played a brand new song on the podcast of comedian Tig Notaro, his friend and newly acquired labelmate.

Lekman debuted the song “Cowboy Boots” on Notaro’s Professor Blastoff (you can stream the song by clicking the link) late last week. While the song only consisted of an acoustic guitar and Lekman’s soothing croon, it still posseses the kind of attention to detail and wit that is purely his own. In a brief two and a half minutes, we have Lekman talking about having a dream “730 nights in a row,” wanting a pair of cowboy boots to help him get away from a lover, and an awkward walk where he searches for “something flippable, like a dime” while he ponders the nature of forgiveness. In other words, “Cowboy Boots” manages to condense all of Lekman’s lyrical strengths into a nice and neat little package. It’s likely that the studio version of the song will be more expansive and feature plenty of samples, but even in it’s infancy it is a high quality song.

While there has been no word yet on when Lekman will release his third album, the release of “Cowboy Boots” can only be seen as a positive sign. Lekman is one of the genre’s most accessible and genuinely talented artists, and there is little doubt that his next album will continue to demonstrate his effortless ability to write great pop songs. Here’s hoping a studio version of “Cowboy Boots” and an announcement of his next release aren’t too far off.

Apparently, the title of the new Arctic Monkeys album is a little too controversial for some American distributors. The band’s new release, Suck It And See, will be sold stateside with a giant sticker slapped over the title, according to an interview done with London’s XFM. There was no word on which stores will take the initiative, but chances are good that big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are the primary culprits.

In the interview, front man Alex Turner told XFM’s John Kennedy, “They think it is rude, disrespectful they’re putting a sticker over it in America in certain stores, big ones.”

While there has certainly been no shortage of albums that have had to undergo the glitter treatment in order to be sold at big box retailers, the fact that this move comes only a week before the record’s release is kind of a low blow. Of course, given the squeaky clean image that these stores put forth, it would be safe to assume that their morally righteous constituents would take offense to an album title that could be construed into something sexual.

In my opinion, the move is an overreaction on the retailer’s part, especially considering the fact that they sell movies that glorify endless amounts of violence and the gross mistreatment of women and minorities. If nothing else, this news serves as further proof why you should buy your albums at local record stores, who have considerably more freedom in terms of the content they can sell. It also demonstrates the irony of how these stores, who thrive off of cheap labor and an economic model that does more harm than good, can get their feelings hurt by the title of an album by a band that most of their customers have never heard of.

Suck It And See comes out next Tuesday, June 6. Expect a review early next week.