Show review: The Twilight Sad at Brighton Music Hall – 2/26

February 29, 2012 in Show Reviews

Let’s just be clear on the fact that I am a total fanboy for The Twilight Sad. Their formula of loud-quiet-loud shoegaze-y post-punk on Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters struck exactly the right chord for me, and I’ve been following them ever since. I was bit unsure of how they’d pull off integrating their old material with the synth-heavy Cure-via-krautrock songs from their latest record during live performance, but my fears were proven unfounded. Their set was tight, well-sequenced and brilliantly executed. This is a band that knows their material and how to make it work on stage.

Before our Scottish heroes actually took the stage, though, we were treated to two opening acts. The first was singer-songwriter Micah P. Hinson, who is evidently much more well-liked in Europe than the US (his words). Hinson played a series of endearing, folksy songs on acoustic guitar, with occasional backing vocals from his wife serving as his only accompaniment. From his off-kilter croon to the Woody Guthrie reference scrawled on his guitar (‘This machine kills fascists’), Hinson was a few continents and decades stylistically removed from the evening’s headliner. A set of good songs and some hilariously self-deprecating stage banter made him a worthy addition to the lineup, regardless.

Up next was New York-based quintet Forest Fire. The band initially seemed a bit nervous on stage, but eased up once they’d worked through a few songs. Their sound was somewhere between folk and straightforward indie rock, with occasional splashes of punk-y vocals and attention-grabbing guitar work. Vocalist/guitarist Mark Thresher was talkative and charming, and did his best to keep the crowd engaged even during an unfortunately time-consuming technical issue toward the end of the set. Forest Fire were a fun opener, which was a good counter-balance to the intensity that would follow.

The Twilight Sad’s late arrival due to travel issues resulted in a sound check immediately following Forest Fire’s set, which I initially worried might remove a bit of the mystique from the show. It’s a bit like looking at production photos from a film set before you see the film. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t quite feel right. Thankfully though, my apprehension was once again misguided. Once the band had departed from the stage, fifteen minutes passed before the house lights dimmed and a loud noise reminiscent of a distorted siren began playing at three or four second intervals over the PA. The band re-emerged and almost immediately overpowered the siren sound, which we now realized had been setting the tempo for No One Can Ever Know single ‘Kill It in the Morning.’ As the song’s bass line kicked in, whatever awkwardness carried over from the sound check dissipated instantly.

Interestingly, the band has chosen the new record’s cathartic closer as the opening song for this tour. I think the choice was a valid one though. The song is driving, intense and immediately attention grabbing. It works best at the end of the album, but it’s a perfect introduction in a live show to the band’s evolving style. There’s a bit of the old and the new. From there, the setlist was a pretty even mix of material from the new record and older cuts from Fourteen Autumns and Forget the Night Ahead. The largely moody and restrained nature of the new songs became even more evident when played side-by-side with older material, but that gave the set a sense of balance. And even if the new songs sounded less bombastic, they certainly weren’t lacking in feeling.

Lyricist/singer James Graham is one of the more engaged and intense vocalists I’ve ever seen perform live. He made it about thirty seconds into the first song with his microphone still attached to the stand, preferring constant movement around the stage to standing in any one place for too long. Graham alternated between calm pacing while singing and throwing himself to his knees shouting. He sold every word. Or at least he did when he was audible. Whoever was running the boards at Brighton the other night had some issues keeping the vocals anywhere near loud enough, and so Graham was unfortunately rendered too quiet or totally inaudible on more than a few songs. It was a frustrating distraction that should’ve been dealt with sooner than it was.

Granted, part of the issue may have been the vocals having to compete with the massive volume being output by the rest of the band. The Twilight Sad have a reputation for skull-crushingly loud live shows, and while I did leave with my skull intact, the walls of noise emitting from guitarist Andy MacFarlane’s half-stack were far from polite. Through doubled-up delay and distortion pedals and a few tremolo bar tricks borrowed from Kevin Shields, MacFarlane commanded what sounded like an army of guitars from a single Fender Jaguar. This, in combination with the tight rhythm section (Mark Devine on drums, Johnny Docherty on bass) and synth work from Martin Doherty (contributing backbone to newer songs and atmosphere to older ones), rendered the band a sonic force to be reckoned with. It was an impressive, gloriously loud display. The next morning may have seen me regretting the decision to take out my earplugs midway through ‘Kill It in the Morning,’ but it was worth it. I’ve always said there are bands that I’m willing to sacrifice small bits of my hearing to, and that most of them are called Swans, but The Twilight Sad have officially joined that very exclusive group.

After an hour-plus on stage, the band closed its set with a heavy rendition of ‘At the Burnside’ from Forget the Night Ahead, which culminated in members leaving the stage one by one while the bass and guitar were left to lean against their amplifiers and fill the room with a My Bloody Valentine-esque wall of feedback. There would be no encore, but one didn’t feel necessary or obligatory in this case. This was a masterful, well-planned set from a phenomenal and seriously underrated band. Hell of a way to close out a weekend.

Below are a few pictures I snapped at the show. Keep in mind that concert photography is harder than it looks, and also that I barely know how to take pictures in broad daylight. Regardless, I think getting a visual sense of a show, however rough, is worthwhile.

Stop what you’re doing and listen to the new Spiritualized single

February 29, 2012 in News

Right now.

‘Hey Jane’ is the first track/single to be released from the upcoming Sweet Heart Sweet Light, the first new Spiritualized record since 2008. And goddamn what a first single it is. It runs for just under nine minutes and is split into two parts, making it their longest and most expansive track since 2001′s Let It Come Down. The Spiritualized of the past, perhaps restrained a bit on Songs in A&E, are back in full force here. Part one of the new track begins as a rocker and closes with an instrumental freakout reminiscent of the utterly insane breakdown during ‘Cop Shoot Cop’ from Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space in miniature, and the anthemic coda of part two is more infectious and life-affirming than anything from the previous two records. And I say that as someone who really likes Songs in A&E. If the rest of Sweet Heart Sweet Light turns out to be this good, we’ve got a serious contender for album of the year coming our way.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go listen to it eight or nine more times.

Pitchfork Music Festival announces initial lineup

February 28, 2012 in News

…and it’s…odd. Our headliners this year are evidently Feist, Vampire Weekend and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (!!!!!!). Other notables include Hot Chip, The Field, Liturgy, Cloud Nothings and Tim Hecker. Pitchfork Fest is big news for me since it’s pretty much the only festival I have a chance at affording and getting to, so it’ll be getting a decent amount of coverage here. That being said, I will probably bitch about every Pitchfork lineup for the foreseeable future, because they’ll never match up to my first. I was there for Saturday and Sunday in 2010, when LCD Soundsystem and Pavement were headlining, and I also managed to see Titus Andronicus, WHY?, Panda Bear, Wolf Parade, Real Estate, St. Vincent, Beach House and Lightning Bolt. Last year (which I regrettably had to skip) had a less mindblowing (but still solid) lineup, and I think ‘less than mindblowing’ is a good descriptor for this year’s initial offering as well. Comments, in bullet-point:

-Godspeed is a very cool choice, and they will likely be fantastic. They’ve played a limited number of very well-reviewed dates since reuniting, and I’ve had an opportunity to see none of them. Already looking forward to this.

-Feist feels like an odd choice for a headliner. I like her well enough, and Metals was quite good, but she just doesn’t seem like a headlining-type act. Godspeed are massive and cinematic. That makes sense. In terms of scale, Feist kind of feels like the exact opposite. This could still be good though. I’m willing to keep an open mind.

-Vampire Weekend. Ehhhhh. This I take issue with. They’re a fun indie pop band, but the scale of their success seems slightly ridiculous. Contra was also not a particularly interesting album. Presumably they’ll have a new one on the way by the time July rolls around, but unless it’s some unlikely, radical reinvention, they do not interest me in the least as a headliner.

-Liturgy is Pitchfork’s first foray into the black metal scene, even if they are some bastardized version of ‘true’ black metal (there’s a large, silly controversy over this covered in this long-winded but interesting write-up on the recent Diplo/Sleigh Bells/Liturgy tour of Florida). I saw them open for Boris last year and found it…interesting. To me (and my severely limited black metal knowledge) it sounded like a scruffy, garage-y take on the genre. Maybe this means I’ll finally listen to Aesthethica.

-Tim Hecker! Hecker is an ambient/noise artist who released a wonderful album called Ravedeath 1972 last year and has a reputation as an overwhelmingly loud and powerful live performer. Very excited for this.

The rest of the list is mostly filled out by recent Pitchfork darlings, some of whom I like quite a lot (Cloud Nothings) and some of whom I’ve yet to get around to (Grimes, all of the hip-hop). All in all, kind of a disappointing initial lineup. I’m confident there will be great bands to come in the next announcement wave though. Fingers crossed for Girls and Refused (although that’s probably a long-shot).

Let’s all be jealous of everyone who was in Miami last night

February 28, 2012 in News

Radiohead opened their 2012 King of Limbs-supporting tour in Florida last night with what looks like a phenomenal setlist (courtesy of At Ease):

01. Bloom
02. The Daily Mail
03. Morning Mr. Magpie
04. Staircase
05. The National Anthem
06. Meeting In The Aisle
07. Kid A
08. The Gloaming
09. Codex
10. You And Whose Army?
11. Nude
12. Identikit (new song)
13. Lotus Flower
14. There There
15. Feral
16. Idioteque
17. Separator
———
18. Airbag
19. Bodysnatchers
20. Cut A Hole (new song)
21. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
———
22. Give Up The Ghost (with a false start)
23. Reckoner
24. Karma Police

They weren’t kidding about the back catalog songs for this tour being of the moodier, TKoL-esque variety. Lots of great stuff though. I’m glad to see that the band evidently loves ‘The Gloaming’ as much as I do, since they’ve continued to play it on both the In Rainbows tour and this one. OK Computer-era b-side ‘Meeting In The Aisle’ is certainly a left-field inclusion, but in a good way. Also, two new songs! Perhaps this is a sign that the turnaround between this record and the next one will be of a reasonable length this time.

If you’re so inclined, you can grab a FLAC audience recording of the whole show from dimeadozen.org. I’ll post some thoughts on that once I have a couple hours to listen.

It’s worth noting that Radiohead have announced precisely zero dates in the northeastern US for this tour, thus far. We’re out of luck unless venturing to Georgia (or Bonnaroo) is a feasible option.

Record review: Of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

February 28, 2012 in Record Reviews

You can read my take on the latest record from Kevin Barnes’ long running psych-pop project over at the WRBB radio blog.

Upcoming shows you should absolutely know about

February 22, 2012 in News

Essential slowcore act Codeine officially announced their first US reunion shows yesterday, one of which will take place at Brighton Music Hall on June 30th. I am already pumped about how sad we will all be.

Also appearing in June will be the world’s only ‘jam band with indie cred’ (I’m quoting somebody there but I don’t actually remember who): Built To Spill. They’ll be at the Paradise on the 22nd. BTS usually plays somewhat larger venues (they headlined Pitchfork Music Festival in 2009 alongside The National and The Flaming Lips), so this should be pretty cool.

Also, The Twilight Sad will be at Brighton Music Hall this Sunday, and everyone who’s even slightly interested should go. Fantastic and thoroughly underrated band.

So, how ’bout that Sleigh Bells backlash?

February 21, 2012 in Miscellany

Reign of Terror, the new record from Brooklyn-based ‘buzz band’ (officially the worst ever descriptor for ‘band Pitchfork likes’) is out today. Pitchfork loves it, because of course they do. Consequence of Sound likes it as well. Reviews elsewhere seem middling but not particularly inflammatory. So far, the critical reaction has been about what I expected. There’s not that much to discuss beyond how this record refines the blown-out insanity of Treats by turning down the volume in a few places and shifting from cheerleading chants to actual lyrics in others. Personally I think it’s pretty solid. It’s fun noise-pop with a slightly more serious edge than the previous album. It’s got a more shoegaze-y feel, and it’s certainly a less grating listen than Treats could be at times.

What really fascinates me about this band, though, is the incomprehensible rage they inspire in certain individuals. I follow New York-based concert archivist Dan Lynch on twitter, and he is apparently one such person. “Anyone who has ever given a positive review to Sleigh Bells is hereby banned from giving any future opinions on music,” reads one particular tweet from this past weekend. Generally I like Lynch, and I think his site is an absolutely fantastic resource for live music. I just fail to understand what exactly about Sleigh Bells inspires hatred of this sort, which I’ve recently seen reflected in various blogs and comments sections. There are hyped up bands that do nothing for me (I still don’t quite get Tune-Yards), but why be so hyperbolic about it? Part of the issue seems to stem from Sleigh Bells’ performance on SNL this weekend, which featured its two primary members plus an additional guitarist performing in front of a literal wall of Marshall stacks. Patrick Stickles (of Titus Andronicus) posted an amusing series of tweets about the consumer’s right to know how many of those amps were actually turned on (‘stack transparency,’ of course). Admittedly, they didn’t sound great on SNL. but who does sound great on SNL? The show is notorious for making 90% of bands, credible or not, sound like garbage. Other than the subpar mixing though, there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the performance. Sleigh Bells are a noise-pop band prominently featuring girl-group pop vocals, metal guitar riffs and distorted drum machines. They deliver what they promise. They are not the most talented or important band out there right now, but they also don’t claim to be. I get that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but nobody’s forcing you to listen to them. It’s not like ‘Born to Lose’ is an inescapable radio smash.

I realize that musical backlash is not a new phenomenon. It just seems like there have been unusually high levels of energy and time poured into the internet hate machine over the past few days. I should probably know well enough by now to expect that when there’s a hyped record on the way. Better start the preparations now for the inevitable shit-storm over the forthcoming Odd Future tape.

The Grammys were on last night

February 13, 2012 in Miscellany

The last several years have seen me avoiding the Grammys for some pretentious reason. I guess I thought it sounded cool to talk about how I was above paying attention to an awards show that regarded Katy Perry and Bruno Mars over my beloved indie acts. It occurred to me this year, though, that in order to work toward my goal of becoming ‘that guy who knows music,’ I probably should just watch the Grammys along with all the real music critics out there. Ultimately, it turned out to be a pretty good decision. The Grammys are ridiculous on a number of different levels, but all that ridiculousness makes for a pretty entertaining three hours of television. That being said, there were still plenty of things to complain about. Here are my own personal pros and cons of the night:

The Good:

-Bon Iver wins Best New Artist, Best Alternative Album. Is Justin Vernon actually a new artist? No. His second record came out this year. Was it the best record of the year? No. It was somewhere in the top fifteen or so. The Grammys have an odd definition of what constitutes a ‘new artist,’ and it’s easy to decry them for making an extremely safe choice in handing off Best Alternative Album to a quiet and folksy indie record. These things being said, I still enjoy Bon Iver and think Justin Vernon seems like a genuinely decent guy, so good for him. His characteristically humble and awkward acceptance was one of the better speeches of the evening.

-Surprisingly, The Beach Boys. I say ‘surprisingly’ because the addition of Maroon 5 and generic indie poster-boys Foster the People to the on-stage reunion signified an impending trainwreck to me and everyone else I discussed it with. Thankfully though, a trainwreck it was not. The two supporting acts taking on Beach Boys classics (‘Surfer Girl’ and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’) was certainly inessential, but far from terrible. When surviving members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks finally took the stage for ‘Good Vibrations,’ they actually sounded quite good, despite bearing just the slightest resemblance to zombies. Energetic stage presence will not be a virtue of their impending 50th anniversary tour.

-The amiable Dave Grohl and his Slayer t-shirt appearing roughly every twenty minutes. I’ve admittedly not listened to a whole lot of Foo Fighters, but Grohl has always seemed like one of the cooler and more down-to-earth rock stars out there at the moment. That awkward collaboration thing involving Deadmau5 and David Guetta was pretty ill-advised, but otherwise I took no issue with the ubiquity of Foo Fighters throughout the night. And it’s pretty damn cool that they won a Best Rock Album Grammy for a record they recorded in a garage.

-Paul McCartney. There’s not a whole lot that needs to be said about this. Sir Paul remains vocally and musically gifted. And the show-closing jam on Abbey Road‘s side b song suite was a definite highlight of the evening.

The Bad:

-Speaking of ubiquity: Chris Brown. Fuck Chris Brown. The internet has already driven this point into the ground, but it bears repeating that Chris Brown is not a good guy. He’s an abuser and otherwise pretty awful person. Things he is not include talented, interesting or important in any way. Why, then, did the Grammys subject us to multiple Chris Brown appearances last night? We will likely never know.

-A distinct lack of Kanye. While the bad-crazy of Chris Brown ran rampant throughout the show, the good-crazy of Mr. West was absent despite his being nominated for (and winning) several awards. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy being denied even a nomination for album of the year was some complete bullshit, so perhaps he chose not to show up as some form of silent protest. Or he just had somewhere more important to be. I’m happy in assuming that it’s the former.

-The less said about the Deadmau5/David Guetta/Foo Fighters/Lil Wayne/Chris Brown collaboration incident, the better. Lil Wayne’s enduring popularity continues to astound and confuse me. I listened to a good half of Tha Carter IV last year, and yes, it was that bad.

The Unclassifiable:

-Nicki Minaj’s part-film, part-performance art, part-musical event drew the biggest WTF of the evening, by far. I think there was an exorcism happening at one point. There was definitely a priest. And a good deal of fire. I can’t say that I understood much of this, or that I will ever want to hear that song again, but I commend Nicki on pulling off something so thoroughly bizarre on network television.

So yeah. I’ve left plenty of things out, but it wasn’t all worth documenting. I still don’t think people should take the Grammys half as seriously as they do, but watching them proved to be pretty worthwhile in at least a few ways this year.

The James Blake live album (that isn’t really)

February 11, 2012 in Miscellany

Ok, so it’s a fan-made compilation thing, not an official release by the man himself (as I had falsely thought), but this is still worth checking out.

Sourced from the unofficial James Blake tumblr.

So, I’ve made another website.

February 11, 2012 in Miscellany

It’s 5 pm on a Saturday, when I should be doing work. Instead, I am blogging. I’ve never run a blog before, but it seems like fun. I’ll largely be using this as a platform for random observations on music related things, record collecting, shows, etc. Formal-ish show and record reviews will get posted when I have the time or energy. This post serves little purpose, as no one who might actually read this blog is aware of its existence yet. Oh well. This whole endeavor will mostly be to entertain myself anyway. Off to work now.