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Tag: the cure

Lollapalooza 2013: Sunday Recap


At some point, not in this post, I’m going to complain about how worn out and tired I was heading into Sunday at Lollapalooza. Again, I want to emphasize that now is neither the time nor place to comment on such things, because the main focus is on a summary of the things I saw on the final day of the three day festival. I prefer to use the term “lazy Sunday” to describe how I approached things, though the amount of walking and standing I did probably qualifies as the opposite of that. But compared to previous days, my main goal was to finish out the weekend in a very relaxed atmosphere without pushing myself too hard. For the most part you could call that mission a success. Here’s a Sunday recap for you:

Since Angel Haze is a member of my Class of 2013, I really, really wanted to see her perform at Lolla. Unfortunately, I made one fatal mistake: I chose to take a 15-minute cat nap before heading out the door. That 15 minutes turns into 30, and suddenly you find yourself racing to Grant Park in the hopes of catching the last few songs of a set, only to hit some heavy traffic on Lake Shore Drive. So ultimately, no Angel Haze was in my future and I arrived at the exact time her set was ending. My other realistic choices were to see the second half of sets from Alex Clare or Lianne La Havas, neither of which sounded attractive to me. So I wandered the grounds instead, taking in some of the “sights” and grabbing a pizza along with a t-shirt before dropping by the Petrillo stage for some Baroness. That was the official start to my musical day, and they were a great kick in the teeth for those of us that needed it. They had the energy of a great metal band, complete with plenty of guitar posturing and long-haired head banging. Part of what makes Baroness such a strong live band though isn’t their energy, but the music itself, which strives to transcend easily definable genres. It leads to some cool psychedelic and punk rock ethos that blend perfectly with the much heavier guitar work. They may have lost a couple members following their tragic bus crash last fall, but they’ve fully recovered and are as impressive as ever.

Have you ever seen Tegan and Sara perform live before? It’s been about seven or so years since I last caught their live show. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with it that forced me to stay away, but I saw them play a couple of small club dates back in the So Jealous era and then follow those up with a Lollapalooza set in which Sara wound up with heat stroke which caused them to abort after the first 30 minutes. Personally I think their sharp uptick in popularity combined with performing at increasingly larger venues turned me off a bit, as did their 2009 album Sainthood. But I also think that Tegan and Sara have been avoiding Lollapalooza since 2005, and I was eager to see what would happen when they returned to the festival for the first time in eight years. I also wonder how many people in the crowd saw that 2005 shortened set. Given the demographics of the festival these days, I’m betting very few people besides myself and Tegan and Sara were there. Still, in true sisterly fashion, Tegan couldn’t help bring that incident up multiple times during their set, checking in on Sara to see how she was surviving the balmy 78 degree weather. Last time the heat index was 100+ degrees. Both of them did just fine, and they triumphed with a full set that was 50% devoted to cuts from their new album Heartthrob. It all sounded rather great, and that’s sort of been the Tegan and Sara modus operandi for over a decade now. They have a lot of fun on stage, trade off witty banter and goofy insults at one another, and hit all their notes right on target. Not much more you could ask for, and why would you want to?

The appeal of alt-J is something I’ve not fully grasped yet. Their debut album An Awesome Wave is a pretty strong cocktail of the many different popular styles of indie rock from recent years, and while there are plenty of highlights (“Breezeblocks,” “Fitzpleasure,” “Something Good”), beyond those carefully spaced hits are sonically interesting but largely quiet moments. Therefore if you think that’s going to translate well to a festival stage, you’re sorely mistaken. The massive sized crowd was moderately well-behaved for much of the set, waiting patiently for the hits they recognized, then promptly singing and/or dancing along with them before another lull arrived. While I didn’t hear anyone expressing outright disappointment with the band’s performance, the turnover was high, with a mini exodus happening each time the band finished one of their hits. So what was alt-J’s biggest failure, their relative inexperience with trying to engage a festival crowd, or the mere fact that their material doesn’t lend itself to that type of situation? I’d argue a little from column A and a little from column B. As time and new material emerge, I feel like things will get better. From what I saw at Lollapalooza though, they’re a band in the spotlight who aren’t quite ready for it just yet.

While I wasn’t able to catch all of their set, part of me felt inclined to watch at least a little bit of Grizzly Bear. I haven’t seen them perform live since their latest album Shields came out last year, and the thought was it’d be nice to hear a couple songs from that album to see how well they translate on stage. In short, like pretty much everything else from the band’s catalogue, it sounds pretty great. Of course Grizzly Bear aren’t the most lively bunch when performing, and on an early Sunday evening with the sun beginning to set, their golden melodies felt almost just right even as it could well have lulled the crowd to sleep. I was invested enough after a handful of songs to want to stick around for more, but another band was calling my name on the other side of the park.

If you read my review of Vampire Weekend‘s new album Modern Vampires of the City, then you know it’s one of if not THE finest albums of 2013 so far. It was on that reasoning I felt the need to make sure I was there for at least a majority of the band’s Lollapalooza set. The crowd was one of the biggest all weekend, and for good reason given their consistent increase in popularity over the last few years. As one might expect, there was quite a bit of material crammed into the 1 hour and 15 minutes they were allotted, though the slight surprise was how evenly distributed things were across the band’s three albums. Of the 18 songs played, the band did six from each record, except for Contra which only got five. The extra outlier was the b-side “Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)”, which has been around since before VW’s debut album when they sent out a CD-R to a bunch of music writers in the hopes of earning some attention. Overall the set was a whole lot of fun, and the crowd really liked it too. I’m just glad I got to hear “Hannah Hunt” performed live as I began to venture back to the other side of Grant Park in search of the perfect way to end my weekend.

As I wandered over to find a decent viewing spot for The Cure‘s festival-closing set, I overheard Beach House beaming out a perfect rendition of their song “Myth” to end their set. When I saw the band perform at a different festival last year, they almost put me to sleep, and I anticipate something similar would have happened had a stuck around for their full set. Beach House is a great band, but the best way to experience their live show is in a seated theater, not outside at a music festival. Which does bring me to The Cure, and how they practically excel in a setting such as this. Lollapalooza is their only show in the continental U.S. this year, as part of their “Great Circle” world tour, and naturally they aimed to please. All of their essential hits were played, from “Love Song” to “Friday I’m in Love” and “Pictures of You,” plus a handful of deep cuts to satisfy their more intense fans. Of course most were there to hear their biggest songs, which is why the crowd went nuts for anything easily recognizable but largely stopped paying close attention when “Trust” and “Want” and “The Hungry Ghost” showed up. You could claim Disintegration dominated because six out of the total 26 songs were from that record, but Wish got quite a bit of love too while the rest of the set was scattered across the band’s vast catalogue of time and space. I realized while watching their set that it’s been nearly 10 years since I last saw The Cure perform, and don’t really remember much about the last time except that I was a little disappointed Robert Smith was still doing the bird’s nest hair and white makeup style two decades later. These days I’m older, wiser and presumably more accepting of such eccentricities. But getting back to the Lollapalooza performance, I walked away quite satisfied, but felt like the pacing was off by just a litte bit. There were some big hits in the first 45 minutes of the set, but those second 45 minutes were thorny and somewhat difficult to enjoy. The 30 or so minutes of encore time was just one big hit after another, and I think if all those songs were spread out a bit more it would have kept not only myself, but the overall crowd more interested too. A small part of me was also hoping to hear a new song or two, as it’s been five years since the band’s last album of original material. Alas, it was not to be, though maybe that was for the better considering their track record the last 12-13 years. The Cure touring around just playing crowd favorites seems like the smartest move they could make, so long as there’s still a demand for it. If the crowd at Lollapalooza was any indication, that demand won’t be waning any time soon.

Snapshot Review: California Wives – Art History [Vagrant]



Let’s take a quick history lesson for the artsy Chicago band California Wives. They formed in 2009, self-released an EP in 2010 to a fair amount of buzz, and started touring nationally. One of their biggest career highlights so far came last fall when Peter Hook, formerly of Joy Division/New Order, invited the band to open for him on the Chicago date of his tour demoralizing performing Joy Division’s Closer. Considering California Wives sound a lot like classic New Order, the selection made a lot of sense. After fully solidifying their lineup earlier this year, the band signed to Vagrant Records in the spring and began to prepare their debut full length album. The result is Art History, and like so many bands it features a collection of the best songs they’ve written since their earliest days. That means 4/5ths of the Affair EP is here, plus a bunch of stuff they’ve been performing for awhile now but have never officially recorded before. Producer Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Neon Indian) helped the band reinvent their sound a bit though, and as a result even the stuff you might otherwise have been familiar with is tweaked in such a way that it feels like you’re hearing it for the first time all over again. Songs like “Blood Red Youth” and “Purple” get 30-60 seconds chopped off their runtimes in the interest of being more concise. Some of the more jangly guitar parts and heavy bass lines get whitewashed over or placed further back in the mix to streamline the songs just a bit more too. The New Order comparisons aren’t quite so apt anymore, though they retain that ’80s sheen thanks to the heavy use of synths. Now they’re probably best classified as The Cure filtered through the more modern lens of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. That works well enough for them, as Art History winds up being a day-glo pop journey that satisfies at every turn with melodies and hooks that will get stuck in your head for days. The highlights are mostly carryovers from the Affair EP, and they’re spread out generously across the album, making minor moments like “Los Angeles” and “Better Home” seem like better songs because they’re sandwiched in between two great ones. A couple brand new songs like “Marianne” and “The Fisher King” do well on their own too, with the former perhaps making the band’s strongest single to date. So yes, there are plenty of things to love about this album. There are also some not-so-great things too. Creatively speaing, Art History doesn’t break any new ground, nor does it even try to. It is by all accounts a very “safe” record, and that lack of exploration can make you feel like you’ve heard some of these songs before and done better. While many of these songs have memorable hooks, you’re sometimes left wondering if they stick with you because they’re genuinely good or simply because they repeat them so many times. How many times, you ask? Well, in the nearly four minutes that are “Tokyo,” the hook hits you 10 times. On “Twenty Three” that grand total is 8. Both are quite a bit higher than average, and that’s just two examples of many on the album. And while they don’t have to abide by traditional song structures to make an impact, the lack of a bridge in pretty much every song is just a little confounding too. What Art History amounts to in the end is a promising debut from a band that needs more time to develop and find their own niche. These songs are superficially pleasing enough to build a strong worldwide audience for California Wives, and if popularity is what they want it’s within their reach. As for critical acclaim, that one’s going to take some work.

California Wives – Purple
California Wives – Marianne

Buy Art History from Amazon

Snapshot Review: Frankie Rose – Interstellar [Slumberland]



You may know Frankie Rose from any number of bands she’s been in the last few years. She’s been the drummer for Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls, which if you know all those bands you know they’ve got a lot in common sonically. They were all part of the lo-fi garage rock revival that took place not so long ago, and her leaving those bands also pretty much coincided with the hype dying down on that sort of music. In 2010 she took matters into her own hands and started Frankie Rose and the Outs, an all female band that had a very retro 60s girl group vibe to it. Once again restless and discontent with what she was doing musically, the Outs became out of a job late last year. Rose is now continuing on her own, under her own name, though with a couple supporting players to fill out the sound. She’s also changed her sound again, and her new album Interstellar takes a cue from 80s new wave. Listen carefully and you’ll hear shades of New Order, The Cure, and The Human League in their finer moments. The synths sparkle, the drums burst open and echo, and Rose’s light, airy vocal keeps it all afloat. There are great retro pop moments all over this thing, from the beat-heavy “Know Me” to the ridiculously catchy “Night Swim”. She’s overdubbing her own vocal harmonies now too, and it adds a precious beauty to ballads like “Pair of Wings” and “Apples for the Sun”. The focus and strength on display across the record is remarkable, and it’s a real pleasure to hear her embrace that and excel despite the continued tweaks to her style and band personnel. Interstellar isn’t the sort of album you deeply analyze, but the more time you spend with it the more the little moments make their presence felt. In some ways, those are the most rewarding kinds of albums.

Frankie Rose – Know Me

Frankie Rose – Night Swim

Frankie Rose – Interstellar

Buy Interstellar from Amazon

Album Review: The Drums – Portamento [Frenchkiss/Moshi Moshi/Island]


It’s been just over a year since The Drums released their self-titled debut album, and for all the touring they did to promote it, for whatever reason the band had enough time on their hands to write and record a follow-up. This in spite of undergoing a lineup change last fall as well. There are a number of potential reasons for a band to crank out another record so quickly. If you’re like Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox or The Fiery Furnaces’ Matthew Friedberger or Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, songwriting comes so naturally that it becomes problematic if you aren’t consistently making new music. Other bands and artists will keep creating new music in order to keep the hype cycle going, keeping your name on the tip of everybody’s tongues. Then you’ve got those that did relatively well with their last album, but are being pressured by their label to hurry up and record something new in the hopes of generating more cash while the iron is still hot. Of course some artists have also been operating with a low profile for a lengthy period of time and have built a large catalogue of songs and demos that are just waiting to get that studio polish on them. Where do The Drums fall in amongst these possible options? Well, with their new record “Portamento”, it’s a little tough to say. Based purely on conjecture and the songs on this new album, it would seem that the band probably should have given some more time and consideration when putting together their sophmore record.

What brought The Drums moderate success in the first place was their whistle-happy song “Let’s Go Surfing” off that debut album, a track that was super catchy and embodied the spirit of its title. In fact, “surf rock” is one of the descriptive labels you could affix to the band’s sound, though they go far beyond that. They earned early comparisons to New Order and Joy Division, along with The Cure and The Smiths, essentially amounting to their sound being well within the realm of 80s synth-pop, but again with that sunnier, surf edge to it. The funny part is that in spite of their lighter and brighter pop side, the band is more interested in poking fun at those elements and recent surge in popularity than they are succumbing to their charms. Plus, though the melodies themselves might be charmingly upbeat, close examination of the lyrics reveal a much darker and more depressed side of the band. That’s a big part of where the 80s new wave influence comes in, along with a bunch of bass-dominant songs. There’s a certain script that The Drums followed on their debut that felt wholly unoriginal while still sucking us in and winning us over. Here appeared to be a band on the verge of either making it or breaking it based solely on whether or not they played their cards right.

“Portamento” does very little to change what we’re already familiar with about The Drums. They’re still all about those super catchy 80s-inspired melodies with just a hint of lighthearted surf, but they do throw in a twist or two to project at least some evolution. The songs go a touch darker in mood this time around, whether it’s discussing the absence of an afterlife in “Book of Revelation” and “Searching for Heaven” or emotional unavailability in relationships in “Hard to Love” and “I Don’t Know How to Love”. Yet there’s still a very toe-tapping and easygoing feel to many of the melodies. Instrumentally speaking, the band has broadened their sonic palette just a little, adding in things like vocal looping and a greater reliance on synths which means pulling away from guitars just a touch. Yet it doesn’t work out too well, especially on “Searching for Heaven” where synths and vocals are the only two elements in play. Pinned to start the second half of the record, the track just limps along with little to nothing going for it outside of Johnathan Pierce’s vocals, which come across as oddly off-key and disaffected. It becomes one of the album’s standout moments for all the wrong reasons. While nothing else ever gets quite so poor in quality, “Portamento” is absolutely front-loaded with all the best moments. Either that, or after the first half the second half starts to sound like virtually the same songs over and over again. The tempo stays relatively quick and the choruses keep pushing hook after hook like they’re going out of style, but they’re rendered as blunt and moderately ineffective on tracks like “If He Likes It Let Him Do It” and “In the Cold”.

The good news is that The Drums still have at least a handful of super addictive songs on “Portamento” to keep us on the leash for a little while longer. “Days” is by no means their most creative effort, but it’s tough to not find yourself humming it to yourself a few hours after hearing it. There’s a saxophone that pops up on “What You Were” that is a nice little treat when paired with the brisk pace and dreamy atmosphere. First single “Money” is super fun and super danceable, even if the chorus strikes far too many times over 4 minutes that it begins to feel uncomfortable. Amidst the lowlights the second half of the record brings, “I Need A Doctor” is either a good song or feels a lot like one because it’s sandwiched between two bad ones. “How It Ended” closes the record on a strong note though, practically rediscovering the energy and playfulness of the first half of the album and leaving you wondering why the entire record couldn’t have maintained that same quality.

In a nutshell, if you liked the first Drums record, you’ll likely feel the same way about the second. There are no tracks on “Portamento” that are as strong as “Let’s Go Surfing” was, but there are still plenty of successes on it in spite of that. Even then, it’s easy to call this new record a disappointment, largely because the band appears entirely reliant on big choruses and brisk tempos to get by. They seem to figure that the more times you hear a hook, the greater chance it has of getting stuck in your head. As the old saying goes though, quantity does not always equal quality. Even when you are faced with a quality chorus that doesn’t necessarily mean the more times you hear it the better. If you were to eat your absolutely favorite meal every single day, eventually you’d grow tired of it and desire a little more variety. The small sonic experiments with synths and looping and horns don’t nearly provide the sort of variety you might hope for. None of the songs on this album make it past the 4.5 minute mark, but with how quickly they bounce from verse to chorus to verse, there are times where you just want to check and see how much time is left because it starts to feel like it’s been going on forever. The same can be said about the entire record, which may only be 45 minutes but feels closer to 60. Time flies when you’re having fun, and it moves like a snail when you’re not. The Drums may have approached “Portamento” with good intentions and the hope of sustainability/increased popularity, but the reality of the situation is that they’re trying too hard. Perhaps if they ease back on that throttle just a little, take their time and write more carefully layered melodies, success will find them instead of the opposite.

The Drums – Money

Buy “Portamento” from Amazon

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