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Category: lollapalooza 2010 Page 1 of 2

Live Friday: 10-29-10

Largely in honor of the stellar double billed show of LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip I was able to catch on Monday (show review), I thought now was as good of a time as any to feature Hot Chip in a Live Friday session. A couple days before their Chicago show, the band spent a little time at Minnesota Public Radio to do an interview and play a couple songs. Not only is Hot Chip pretty excellent in a live setting, but they’re also pretty hilarious in interviews. So the guys played three songs off their latest record “One Life Stand” and then chatted about their current tour, how some of their new material is more designed for a non-club environment, and whether or not they’re secretly making pop culture references in their lyrics. Everything is handled with smart, self-effacing humor. You can stream the interview by clicking the link below, and of course the tracks are fully downloadable which is something I encourage you to do.

Hot Chip, Live on MPR 10-21-10:
Hot Chip – Take It In (Live on MPR)
Hot Chip – Alley Cats (Live on MPR)
Hot Chip – Hand Me Down Your Love (Live on MPR)

Stream the entire interview/session

Buy “One Life Stand” from Amazon

Album Review: Warpaint – The Fool [Rough Trade]

Topics that tend to come up when talking about the band Warpaint: 1) Wow, their drummer is really, really good. 2) Shannyn Sossamon used to be in the band, along with her sister Jenny Lee Lindberg, but is no longer in the band. 3) They have an interesting sound, and one you wouldn’t expect from a group of women. Please keep in mind that those are not things I personally have said about Warpaint, but in the handful of conversations I’ve had with people about them, those three topics seem to be universally mentioned. In the last few months, hype surrounding Warpaint has hit a fever pitch, and they became even more buzzed about for their set at Lollapalooza. They played a show the night before opening for The Walkmen that I attended, and having only heard a couple tracks from them beforehand, I walked away moderately impressed. Not nearly as excited as many others have been, but enough that their debut album “The Fool” seemed like it’d make for an interesting listen when it came out. Well, we’ve finally hit release week, and support for the band continues at a steady, if not frenzied pace.

Assuming you’ve caught wind of the Warpaint buzz, perhaps you’re now wondering if all the talk is backed up by a great debut album. A short while ago, the band toured with The xx, and naturally that exposed them to a whole other world of fans that could appreciate the dark and feminine songs they make. Many have tried to define exactly what Warpaint sounds like, and labels like shoegaze and dream pop have been thrown around a lot. The thing is, with a lack of fuzz on the guitars and generally sparse melodies, Warpaint lacks the waves of noise that typically define those genres of music. They have more in common with psychedelia largely thanks to the serpentine way their songs bob and weave for an average length of 4-6 minutes. Another interesting thing about the band is how few chords they use, choosing instead to craft most of their melodies by individual string picking, with bass and drums equally prominent in the mix. The equality of instruments brings all of them into closer focus, making standout performances that much more apparent. Now’s a good time to mention what a prize Warpaint has in drummer Stella Mozgawa, another great female percussionist in a long line of great female percussionists. Drummers aren’t always the most noticeable members of any band, but Mozgawa holds her own court in Warpaint. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the band’s live show, though in dealing exclusively with this album you still get a pretty good idea of what kind of force she is. And while the drumming may get its fair share of attention, all of these women are strong presences in their own rights.

“The Fool” is largely a record based around mystic energies, the sort of telepathical bonds some people share with one another. To many people such concepts are utter loads of crap, but we’ve all experienced those moments of deep connections, whether it’s saying the exact same thing at the exact same time as somebody else or trying to negotiate a small hallway with someone walking straight at you from the opposite direction. Yes, most of these things last but a second, but in Warpaint’s case it’s like these women work through their songs via brain waves. One part compliments another in just the right fashion, and it’s enough to turn these compositions from feeling like they’re drifting without purpose to ones that are intentionally directionless because they’ll find their own path anyways. Call it the natural course of things. Another purpose such a style serves is to create a bit of tension, the lucidity of it all hovering so close to the edge that you’re constantly worried things will come off the tracks suddenly and without warning. There’s a similar sense to the vocals, but that’s far more reliant on tonal inflections that dictate the eerieness of it all. There are lyrics that deserve a very harsh and angry vocal that simply float by in a disaffected manner, and the confounding of expectations is disturbing like a guy quietly sitting in a corner sharpening his knife. There’s no direct indication this guy is going to stab you, but at any second he might just leap to his feet and attack, right when you let your guard down. Songs like “Baby” and “Undertow” rely on these vocal and instrumental combos to creep you out in just the right way, and that’s something both unique and cool about Warpaint.

The thing about “The Fool”, and at this point Warpaint in general, is that as interesting as their sound might be, it can be both draining and lightly boring after awhile. There’s enough variation on the album’s 9 tracks to give each song its own identity, but you’re left wondering how long they can keep such a thing going. Their “Exquisite Corpse” EP mined the same sort of material as well, and with so much tension building and little to no release, listeners are bound to become frustrated with it sooner rather than later. That this isn’t an outwardly pop-oriented record hurts it too, as the lack of song structure and catchy verse/chorus payoff can make for problems when it comes to memorability. Outside of a whole bunch of listens that involve memorizing lyrics, if someone asks you to recall a specific Warpaint song it might prove difficult as your brain might register it as one big amorphous blob. That said, there aren’t enough amorphous blob bands making music these days, and these women have the talent to make it work for them. “The Fool” is a good start, but not quite the incredible surprise of 2010 many hype-peddlers might have been hoping for. At the very least it’s an overly solid introduction to a challenging band that certainly has the potential to one day become the toast of the indie world. For now though, maybe test the waters a little bit with this album should it strike your fancy even a little. Above all else though, should you have the ability, be sure to see them perform live, as they move from an intensity on record to pure transcendence on stage.

Warpaint – Undertow

Buy “The Fool” from Amazon

Live Friday: 8-20-10

Don’t ask me where the momentum came from, because quite frankly I don’t really know, but Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are pretty huge by indie standards today. I can’t recall a whole lot of blog love for them when their “Up From Below” album came out, but people have caught on to the band, either via the use of their songs in commercials or on the radio. They were a hot attraction at this year’s Lollapalooza, so much so that when I tried to go see them the crowd on the side stage was so big I left after 5 minutes of not being able to see anything. But this live session from them is good enough that no visual assistance is needed to fully enjoy it. The band plays a few songs from their album, including a reworked version of “40 Day Dream” that’s still pretty damn good. In some respects you could also call this an acoustic session, so if that intrigues you even more then please download away. There is a brief interview to go along with these songs, and that’s up for streaming via the link below. They talk about the film project they’re working on, how they survive life on the road in a bus, and a number of other things. Pretty solid on the whole.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Live on MPR 8-13-10:
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – 40 Day Dream (Live on MPR)
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Home (Live on MPR)
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Fiya Wata (Live on MPR)
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Up From Below (Live on MPR)

Stream the entire interview/session

Buy “Up From Below” from Amazon

Lollapalooza 2010: Final Thoughts and Photos

Put it in the books, yet another year of Lollapalooza is finished. If you were there, I hope you had as much fun as I did. I also hope you’re in better shape than I am, having barely slept all weekend and never stopping for more than a couple minutes each day to sit down and relax. Yeah it was painstaking, but also a very good time. As a wrap-up to this year’s coverage, I wanted to take a few moments and talk about the great and good, along with the bad and ugly, of the entire festival. Yes, music will be discussed at length, but in terms of amenities and food choices and other things unrelated to what was happening on stage, we’ll talk about that too. Oh, and I have close to 60 photos for you to stare at, chronicling the many musical performances you may have missed either because you skipped them or you skipped the entire experience. So without further adieu, let’s get started.

Lollapalooza 2010: Day 3 Quick Recap

If you made it through the entire weekend while at the same time maximizing the number of bands you saw, I have to congratulate you for surviving Lollapalooza 2010. The true festival warriors are few and far between, and though the heat and crowds and loud music technically affects us all in some way or another, those who spent 11 hours a day on their feet over this past weekend deserve some serious kudos. Well done to you and everybody else, because yet another Lollapalooza is in the books and hopefully you had a blast. I did, and will go over the best and worst of the festival for you in a separate post that will also have plenty of photos. For the momeng though, let’s continue to savor what was the final day of the festival, Day 3, with a speedy recap as we’ve done with the first two days.

I needed just a little extra sleep heading into Sunday, as I’d been seriously killing myself with all the running between stages and off-the-hook aftershows (more on those later). But I made it to Lollapalooza Day 3 at about 1:30pm, shortly after some serious rain showers threatened to put a damper on the entire day. The good news is that the sun held up. So did The Dodos, who turned in a stirring early afternoon performance. Between the three guys on stage, they sure made a lot of racket, especially since 2 of them were on percussion. A personal highlight was their rendition of “Jodi”, which was almost pitch-perfect even if the crowd didn’t quite understand that.

Johnny Marr is still playing the role of guitarist in The Cribs, whose last album “Ignore the Ignorant” was far catchier and enjoyable than anybody could have reasonably expected. But Marr generally tears things up, both on that record and live, and though the crowd might have been a little sparse, everyone that was there seemed to have a great time. Things were kept generally light and airy as potential radio hit after potential radio hit breezed past our ears.

Much credit goes to Minus the Bear for knowing their audience. You might not have known it, but they opened for Soundgarden a couple days earlier at The Vic for their pre-Lollapalooza Chicago warm-up show Thursday night (I didn’t go, but a friend of mine did). But with all the clouds disappearing and the sun beating down hotter than ever, Minus the Bear stuck with mostly their high energy, poppier songs. In other words, many of the psychedelic leanings displayed on “Planet of Ice” were held at bay, though ice would have been really nice at that point.

One of my biggest challenges headed into Sunday was whether to see Yeasayer or X Japan. X Japan has been around for decades but has never played a show in the U.S. before. As I’ve seen Yeasayer a couple times already, I chose the unfamiliar act. Their set wasn’t very crowded, but especially at the front, hardcore X Japan fans really openly displayed their love for the band by dressing in costume, or just flying in from Japan where they’re a national treasure. Now I got a little snarky on Twitter about the band’s performance, but honestly it was very entertaining. That’s about all I was looking for, and they delivered, complete with overblown leather outfits, a gong, and pyrotechnics. They’re everything a stadium rock band could ask for, playing to a crowd of a few hundred. Their takeover of North America may not be as easy as they’re hoping it will be, but should they land some success, at least they’ll have the great show to back it up.

I’ve seen Frightened Rabbit 3 times now, and the first time was before I had heard any of their music. That performance, about 3-4 years ago, sold me on the band at which point I bought all their music. The second time I saw them they had been run ragged on tour for several months with no break, all the while partying a little too hard. Singer Scott Hutchinson’s voice was shot and it wasn’t very good. For Lollapalooza this year, the band was back in shape physically, but their set still had issues – the biggest of which was a lack of energy on stage. Even some of their most energetic tunes were left feeling a little flaccid in the hot summer sun beaming down. They couldn’t have turned up the tempo just a little? At least they seemed to largely pull from their best album to date, “Midnight Organ Fight” rather than their so-so new one “The Winter of Mixed Drinks”.

MGMT drew a huge crowd for their set, and that was to be expected. Apparently most people there just wanted to hear “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel” and “Kids” over and over again, because most seemed turned off by the highly psychedelic nature of MGMT’s performance. There were plenty who just gave up after 15 minutes, choosing to try and find greener pastures, or just some good food nearby. I arrived late with food in hand and stuck around long enough to finish my meal, though I couldn’t hear that well. I thought the guys did some nice work.

I may enjoy the new Temper Trap album more than MGMT’s latest (but not by much), which is why I left the latter to go see the former. With the smaller crowd at the smaller stage, Temper Trap really held things down well and got the crowd engaged with sing-along choruses. Of course “Sweet Disposition” came off best, but it was clear there are more potentially big hits we could be hearing more of in the coming months.

Finally, though virtually every one of my friends went to Arcade Fire, I chose Soundgarden with the idea that this could be one of those “once in a lifetime” situations. Having missed out on their shows in the 90’s, this was a big chance to finally see those classic songs played live. And Soundgarden did deliver, playing pretty much every song you might want to hear from them, unless that song is “Pretty Noose”. No worries though, because even when they weren’t doing big radio hits like “Spoonman” and “Blow Up the Outside World”, they tackled “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” and “Gun”. To be fair, the heaviest stuff tended to sound the best, especially the non-singles, but there was something to be said for those as well. “Outshined” was taken to the next level thanks to Chris Cornell coming off the stage and interacting heavily with the crowd of rabid fans. With his hair grown back out long and curly again, Cornell also looked pretty much exactly the same as he did in the 90’s, with that same voice to match. The set wasn’t without its flaws, like how the performance of “Black Hole Sun” seemed like the equivalent of pulling teeth to Cornell as he was probably only doing it because he HAD to. His frustration is understandable, but couldn’t he at least ACT like he still kind of liked the song? Also a small issue was the general attitude the band members had towards one another, which seemed to be the equivalent of a holiday family gathering of strangers. All four guys were there and playing to the best of their abilities, but in terms of interaction or to suggest there was any love between these guys, you could forget it. The question should then be raised: how long can this reunion last? Well, should they break up again tomorrow, I no longer care – seeing a Soundgarden show gets crossed off my Bucket List. I’ll have more details on this show and others in my final impressions of Lollapalooza 2010, which will be ready to go in the next day or two.

Lollapalooza 2010: Day 2 Quick Recap

Photos are on the way Monday, but in the meantime, here’s a speedy recap of what went on (from my perspective) at Day 2 of Lollapalooza 2010.

The Morning Benders were more than a perfect way to start the day. Their lazy summer melodies just floated through the air and put smiles on faces. Closing with “Excuses”, Chris Chu builds his vocal harmonies one piece at a time via a looping pedal, and the result is exquisite to the point of singularly making it one of the festival’s highlights so far.

The Soft Pack were a little…soft when I saw them live last year, and for their big stage Lollapalooza debut they were again not very effective. The guys appear to be trying hard, and they’ve got the witty stage banter going, but somehow their songs still come off as lifeless and somewhat dull when they’re more exciting in recorded form.

The trio known as Harlem are an entertaining group of guys. Between a goofy t-shirt that features a girl in a bikini to some really funny stage banter, there’s plenty to love. And their songs are pretty damn good too, though they suffered a setback early on when a guitar string broke. No worries, they grabbed another one that apparently wasn’t prepped/tuned properly. They just kind of shrugged and kept going in delightful fashion.

Wild Beasts don’t make the most energetic songs, there’s a lot of quieter moments and a touch of psychedelia. While this should have turned off a lot of people in the band’s early afternoon set, instead there’s something about their performance that simply captivates in all the right ways. It may have been quiet, but it was nevertheless great.

Though they’ve seemed intent on becoming a mediocre band via their last two albums, Stars proves they still know how to put on a show. Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell bounce off one another easily while the other band members dance around on stage and shoot confetti into the crowd. It’s a bit exhilarating, and given that they played a generous portion of their older material, the set turns out nicer than expected.

The crowd was MASSIVE for The xx. At least it was at the start. Dressed in all black like they do, the band played mostly straight renditions of their album tracks, and on occasion the crowd would clap or dance along. Their minimalistic slow material shouldn’t have worked in this environment, but the crowd kind of forced it to. Then as the set continued people flocked out en masse. Too bad, there was a really rousing rendition of “Infinity” that included some frivolous cymbal banging.

Grizzly Bear are old pros by now. They’ve got their live sound pretty well down pat, and it’s nothing short of great. The way they handle the harmonies and balance out the set list with older and newer, lower energy and higher energy, is well played. So as nice as their set was, it met expectations but didn’t quite exceed them.

Emily Haines has always seemed destined for bigger things. Between her work in Broken Social Scene, as a solo artist and in Metric, she’s had her plate full and handled it all with style and grace. So it should come as no surprise that when Metric arrived on stage for their set, Haines went nuts on the crowd. She came out with such energy and positive vibes, backed by Metric’s upbeat and uptempo melodies. They ran through the highlights on their latest album “Fantasies”, and even slipped in their wholly incredible classic “Dead Disco” for good measure. The band seems destined for bigger and better things. This may have been the best set of the day.

Britt Daniel handles the first Spoon song all by himself with just an acoustic guitar for a friend. The band then emerges and proceeds to go through practically every one of their singles. They also pulled off a pretty dynamite cover of Wolf Parade’s “Modern World”. Normally Spoon don’t do a great job live, but this was by far the best I’ve ever seen them. Nice work.

For a total of about 5 minutes, I watched Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros perform a song. It was nice, but things were so insanely crowded over there that between the trees and people I couldn’t get a halfway good look at the stage. The one song I did hear performed was pretty decent, though it makes me think their entire set didn’t fare so well.

There are some very positive things to say about Green Day’s headlining set. There are also some very negative ones. Not getting into details here (you’ll have to wait for my final Lolla recap for that), but while it is great to hear you play the hits, must you extend every 3-minute song into an overblown epic? The chants and sing-alongs and detours are nice on occasion, but every time is a bit much. At the very least I was entertained by the sheer spectacle of it all, from the fireworks to the bringing fans up on stage, in many ways Green Day is a class act. More on this and other similar things on Monday.

Lollapalooza 2010: Day 1 Quick Recap

So at the moment I’m on very little sleep, it’s the middle of the night and I’ve just returned from an aftershow with The Walkmen. All of these factors mean I’m going to be extra quick with this recap of Lollapalooza Day 1. Try to keep up, and I’ll have more detail for you in my final writeup on the festival, tentatively set for Monday.

My day started with Wavves, and not only did Nathan Williams not freak out, but he was about 3x better than when I saw him last year at Pitchfork. Credit his new band of hilarious characters for keeping the set amazingly light and fun and mosh pit-tastic.

Oh The Walkmen. It’s early afternoon and they chose a handful of sleepier songs to play, in addition to the requisite hits of course. So “The Rat” and “In the New Year” come off exceptionally well, but everything else seems to have a little trouble inspiring the crowd. Blame the festival atmosphere more than anything, because having seen the band at an aftershow, they killed it under the guise of a small, dark club.

Mavis Staples is not only a Chicago legend, but a blues, soul and gospel music legend as well. Her new album, which was produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, is out next month, but they played new songs from it and Tweedy of course was on hand to help out for a couple. But Mavis is the one handling the spotlight, and she delivers an incredible performance that’s easily the best of the day and very much in the running for best of the festival. Among other things, she performed a cover of The Band’s “The Weight” that very much made it her own, to the point where a guy next to me asked if The Band version was a Mavis Staples cover.

As great as their album “A Brief History of Love” might be, The Big Pink chose to infuse their set with nuance and atmosphere rather than being loud and brash the entire time. Unfortunately, with the heat and the slower material, things started to stagnate and at times you wanted to check your watch to see how much time they had left. Still, “Dominos” came off well, and it wouldn’t have hurt at all for the band to say more than 2 words to the crowd.

Devo started their set with a bunch of songs from their new album. They clearly were out to keep the fans of their older stuff waiting. After “Girl U Want” and “Whip It”, I moved on to try and catch some New Pornographers. Devo’s high energy and solid performances of their songs made for one of the better things I saw all day, even if it was only half a set. I heard from some friends that things went severely downhill after “Whip It”, so maybe my leaving early was a good thing.

On approaching the large Budweiser stage as The New Pornographers were playing, I couldn’t hear what was going on until I got within about 300 yards. By comparison, walking away from Devo I could hear them all the way at Buckingham Fountain, which is at least 1000 yards. Still, I heard a few New Pornos songs, classics mostly, and they were great and delightful and I just kind of love Neko Case. A solid set from a solid band.

If you like Dirty Projectors’ obtuse melodies, then their set did not disappoint. I was surprised at how accurate they were able to recreate some of the tracks off their latest album “Bitte Orca”, and those 3-part female harmonies were nothing short of dreamy.

The Black Keys (and Dan Auerbach) have played Lollapalooza every year since 2005 except 1. Their bag of tricks is nothing new, except this time a new album and additional band members are in tow. Their set is high energy and fun, they played most of their hits, which was also nice but expected, and the couple new guys added a little something extra to the arrangements.

Apparently everyone wanted to go see Lady Gaga, because the side of the park with Jimmy Cliff and The Strokes on it has virtually cleared out. Which is upsetting mostly for the amazingly great Jimmy Cliff set. The guy may be an old reggae musician, but in no way does he act like either of those things on stage. He was always moving, dancing around, kicking up his legs, and even doing the occasional jumping splits. Combine that with a catalogue of classic reggae tunes and his superstar reputation is more than earned. This was probably the least-attended show I saw all day, and it also happened to be one of the best.

The Strokes started their headlining slot a few minutes late, and then finished it about 15 minutes early. The main reason why was a lack of material. They didn’t play every song from their catalogue of 3 albums, but they came close. All the hits were there, from “Last Nite” to “Someday” and “New York City Cops”, the only stone left unturned was “12:51”. As they breezed through their set, Julian Casablancas appeared lackadaisical and comfortable up there despite not moving around the stage at all. Albert Hammond Jr. tore up his guitar solos like it was on fire. Fabrizio Moretti held down the rhythm section with energy and aplomb. To put it simply, The Strokes put on a great show musically, even if it’s not the most exciting to watch.

Lollapalooza 2010: What To See

When preparing for your Lollapalooza weekend, unless you digest your music by the gallon, chances are you’ll wind up with at least a handful of moments where you’re not sure exactly what artist to go see. That will either result from a conflict where multiple artists you like are on at the same time, or you dislike or are completely unfamiliar with all the artists performing in a particular time slot. In this Lollapalooza preview guide, I aim to help you out with the tough decisions on each day, and hopefully inspire you enough to check out some different acts you might not think about otherwise. Please keep in mind that this is being written with zero regard for stage location, and if you want to walk from one stage to another it could take up to 15 minutes should it be on the other side of the park. So plan accordingly, and try to do yourself a favor and go see some artists you wouldn’t normally catch otherwise. Broaden your horizons a little bit – that’s sort of what a music festival is all about.

This year Lollapalooza is set to be bigger than ever before, with the festival grounds now extending across Columbus Ave. to a new section of the park, where one of the smaller stages along with the electronica stage known as Perry’s will be located. That also allows for tens of thousands of more people to attend the festival each day, which will probably go from bad traffic jams to worse traffic jams as it gets later in the day and people start to pack in for the headliners. But this is a new layout, and in its first year it’s going to be a game of trial-and-error to see what officially works and what doesn’t. On that note, I’ll have a full day-by-day report of this year’s Lollapalooza, so please check back to hear about the good, the bad and the ugly. For now though, let’s get started with this hour-by-hour preview of the must-see acts performing this year.

Lollapalooza 2010: The Songs

Welcome to the beginning of Faronheit’s Lollapalooza coverage for 2010. In previous years, I’ve spread my coverage over the course of a full week, starting on the Monday before the festival and ending the Monday after. It’s what I did for the Pitchfork Music Festival just a month ago, and while I have been covering Lollapalooza on this site since 2006, the sheer size and scale of it seems to require an even wider approach. Seeing as how it’s now Wednesday and things officially kick off on Friday, that wider approach will not be taken. Instead this year I’m scaling back my Lollapalooza coverage just a little bit. The reasons why mostly have to do with the economy, the endless amount of writing I have to do, and the fact that a number of notable albums were released this week and needed to be reviewed sooner rather than later. Don’t fear though, I like to think that this year’s coverage will pack the same punch as in year’s past, just in a more condensed form. That being said, today I’m happy to hand over what effectively amounts to a sampler of music from every artist performing at this year’s Lollapalooza. On the record, as there are plenty of copyright issues to be dealing with and Lord knows Lady Gaga’s people are just one of many who don’t want to give out free mp3s to the public, I can’t provide you with downloads for every single artist. What I can do is hand over an mp3 where it’s readily available and copyright cleared, and for the times it’s not, we have our good friend YouTube for streaming purposes. So there’s something of a visual component to this as well. If you’re curious about exploring and discovering new artists at this year’s Lollapalooza, look no further than this post before you start planning out your weekend. Enjoy, and tomorrow I’ll have a more in-depth written guide to what will hopefully be a weekend full of highlights. All the music is after the jump…

Album Review: The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs [Merge]

“If you say city to people, people have no problem thinking of the city as rife with problematic, screwed-up people, but if you say suburbs – and I’m not the first person to say this, it’s been said over and over again in literature – there’s a sense of normalcy.”Eric Bogosian

In its first couple seasons, the TV show “Weeds” had an opening credits sequence that was pure brilliance. It starts with a map of open land that quickly develops into the twisting roads of subdivisions with houses lined up right next to one another like a mouth full of teeth. Looking down those fully developed streets you notice that all the houses look similar, all the cars look similar, and even the people jogging around the neighborhood look similar. All of this backed by the Malvina Reynolds song “Little Boxes” from the 1960s which features the lyrics “Little boxes on the hillside/Little boxes made of ticky-tacky/Little boxes on the hillside/Little boxes all the same”. The song was written about the homogenization and conformity of middle-class suburbia, a place where the houses (“little boxes”) were made cheaply (“ticky-tacky”) and uniformly (“all the same”), and the people living there all followed the same life path to continue the cycle. And while that credits sequence along with Reynolds’ song wrap up in under 90 seconds, The Arcade Fire are now coming in decades later to dive headfirst into that same subject matter, but across a 64-minute album appropriately titled “The Suburbs”.

“Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.”F. Scott Fitzgerald

Win and Will Butler grew up in Houston, TX, a city that author Nigel Goslin once called “six suburbs in search of a center”. Calling that sort of environment home serves as a strong inspiration for much of the material on “The Suburbs”. The opening title track sets the theme and overall mood of what’s to come, sketching out ideas about “suburban war”, the follies (“we’re still screaming and running through the yard”) and perils of ADD-riddled youth (“by the time the first bombs fell/we were already bored”), along with the temporary nature of things (“all of the houses we built in the 70’s finally fall/meant nothing at all”). This suburban struggle is in stark contrast with how the band started their careers, opening their debut album “Funeral” with the exuberant “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, in which two kids talk about breaking out of their snow-buried homes and living free among nature. The way it plays out, timeline and all, you could look at “Funeral” through the hopeful eyes of youth while “The Suburbs” serves as the sequel in which that same narrator is much older and after a hard life now views things from a darker and more pessimistic viewpoint. They may be different thematically, but they’re cut from the same relatable cloth that speaks to our times and empathizes with the good and bad moments of our lives. It’s for that same reason “Neon Bible” and its darkly-themed condemnation of religious zealots wasn’t as effective.

“Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope.”Aristotle

One of the challenges that “The Suburbs” faces is the lack of massive and explosive choruses. That’s almost to be expected given the subject matter, but it does make the full album a little tougher to swallow than you might expect even though the individual songs are among their most accessible to date. The Arcade Fire don’t really do “small” songs, but the fair amount of restraint shown on tracks like “Modern Man” and “Deep Blue” is somewhat admirable. It’s about building towards something, and those calmer tracks are needed, and songs like “Wasted Hours” and “Sprawl (Flatland)” also fit that bill well without getting too bogged down in somber Neil Young-ian folk. There’s a whole segment on the second half of the album that starts to blend together if you’re not careful, and the loud and brash “Month of May” seems almost purposely inserted in there to break that up, with somewhat mixed results. But the track sequencing is actually more important than ever on “The Suburbs”, and aside from a few big highlights such as “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, “Half Light II (No Celebration)” and “Empty Room”, the rest of the album makes the best and greatest impact when listened to from beginning to end. Within that full album context, there’s very little that seems like it could be cut while maintaining the overall thematic arc.

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt, as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope and as old as your despair. In the central place of every heart there is a recording chamber. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old.”Douglas MacArthur

In this single song obsessed society however, it’s unlikely that most of the people purchasing this album will ever hear the entire thing in one sitting more than once or twice. Our society’s impatience and constant push for instant gratification is largely tackled on “We Used to Wait”. Butler begins the song by talking about the now old school art of letter writing, and how “now our lives are changing fast/hope that something pure can last”. In the final minute, he mentions what music is like today, stating, “We used to wait for it/now we’re screaming ‘sing the chorus again'” before indicting himself as well by changing the “we” to an “I”. Funny then how the song closes out with the chant “wait for it” while the chorus never does reappear as the song fades out and is replaced by the sound of cars speeding down the highway – another reference to our fast-paced society. There are other small indications that lyrically read like Butler has a problem with hipsters as well, which is amusing considering how many of them are Arcade Fire fans. The entirety of “Rococo” seems to be a pointed insult, with lines like, “Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids/they will eat right out of your hand/using great big words that they don’t understand” and making light of the unending blog hype cycle by saying “They build it up just to burn it back down”. Perhaps he was just being ironic.

“To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.”Oscar Wilde

Sonically, “The Suburbs” is close to your average Arcade Fire record. There are plenty of things going on in each song to make them seem busy, but never TOO busy. You’ve got some standard big-time orchestral fare with tracks like the Owen Palett-arranged “Empty Room” and “Sprawl (Flatland)”. There’s the introspective folk of “Wasted Hours” and “Suburban War”. The plodding piano and guitars of “The Suburbs” and “We Used to Wait” are also familiar territory, as are the high energy electric guitars of “Ready to Start” and “Month of May”. Where the band switches things up are mostly on the two “sequel” songs of “Half Light II (No Celebration)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. It’s there that they get heavy with the synths and push towards an 80s vibe. You can hear bits of Depeche Mode and Blondie pushing through, and there’s little coincidence that the album’s best song “Sprawl II” comes nearly face to face with the classic “Heart of Glass”. While an album with plenty of synths might work on some level for the Arcade Fire as the pipe organ did on “Neon Bible”, they were far better and smarter to blend their various trademarks together here, as it keeps things interesting across the 16 tracks and 64 minutes.

“It is an illusion that youth is happy. An illusion of those who have lost it.”William Somerset Maugham

Those looking for The Arcade Fire to repeat their mindblowing success that was “Funeral” will more than likely come away from “The Suburbs” a little disappointed. Given that the two records are spiritual cousins however, there’s plenty to still get excited about. It’s wonderful to hear the band come out of the funk that “Neon Bible” put them in and return to something a little more basic. The concepts on “The Suburbs” are very much broad-stroked, and that’s on purpose to give you the easiest route to grasping and relating to the material. So there’s plenty of the old ideas, a touch of the new, and a maturity that’s necessary in these tough times. This may not be an album to get lost in given how steeped in reality it is, but what it lacks in escapism it more than makes up for with high, sweeping drama that reminds us, as George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Living in the suburbs among the mass-produced houses and carefully planned subdivisions was never really as great as we seem to remember it. Win, Regine and the rest of the band spend “The Suburbs” trying to remind us of that, with the hope we’ll avoid making the same mistakes with our children as our parents made with us. Most of us have lived long enough to realize that life typically doesn’t go the way that we plan, and as life passes you by, so do many of your dreams. Depressing as that may be, we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to keep on trying each and every day to make this world a better place. If you’re looking for one, perhaps this record will be the wake-up call you need to avoid being drafted in yet another “suburban war”.

“Slums may well be breeding grounds of crime, but middle-class suburbs are incubators of apathy and delirium.”Cyril Connolly

Stream the full album at NPR for a limited time

Buy “The Suburbs” from Amazon
Buy it from Amazon MP3 for ONLY $3.99 (limited time offer)

Live Friday: 7-30-10

In the continued tradition of featuring Lollapalooza artists in the weeks leading up to the actual festival, this week’s Live Friday is a session with The Morning Benders. The band plays a handful of songs off their latest album “Big Echo” and do an interview in which they discuss working with Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear and how their sound has evolved since their last record. It’s actually pretty good all around. Of course just the songs are available for download, and if you’re interested in the interview, stream it via the link below. The songs are well done and summery, as you might expect if you’ve heard the album. The band is surprisingly adept at recreating those sounds live. Go for the downloads if you like the band, or are just interested in learning more about them. And if you’re going to Lollapalooza next weekend, be sure to catch their set!

The Morning Benders, Live on WXPN 6-15-10:
The Morning Benders – Promises (Live on WXPN)
The Morning Benders – Wet Cement (Live on WXPN)
The Morning Benders – Mason Jar (Live on WXPN) [YouSendIt] [ZShare]
The Morning Benders – All Day Daylight (Live on WXPN)

Stream the entire interview/session

Buy “Big Echo” from Amazon

Live Friday: 7-23-10

If you’ve not yet heard it or purchased it or whatever, The National’s latest album “High Violet” should be on your “to do” list in the coming months. It’s an excellent record, one of the best this year has had to offer so far, which is only part of the reason why I’m featuring the band this week on Live Friday. Additionally, The National will be playing Lollapalooza in a couple weeks, and I’m using these live sessions leading up to the festival to help give you some insight into how various bands might perform. The National are, of course, great. This session was recorded a week ago and the band plays 4 songs off of “High Violet”. There’s also an interview available for you to stream below. In it, Bryce Dessner talks a little about the creation of the indie all-star charity album “Dark Was the Night” and his various side projects. Singer Matt Berninger also gets on topic about his writing process and how that relates to the recording of a National album. It’s worth a listen if you really like the band and are interested in hearing about that sort of stuff.

Note: Due to some small hosting issues, you’ll need to download the song “Runaway” via YouSendIt or ZShare. Sorry about that, I’m trying to get the problem fixed.

The National, Live on WXPN 7-16-10:
The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio (Live on WXPN)
The National – Afraid of Everyone (Live on WXPN)
The National – Runaway [YouSendIt] [ZShare]
The National – Terrible Love (Live on WXPN)

Stream the entire interview/performance

Buy “High Violet” from Amazon

Live Saturday: 7-10-10

I don’t know about you, but despite the holiday, my week has been exceptionally busy. So busy in fact, that even getting a reduced number of blog entries in has been a challenge. So this week I’m taking a special exception and after some delays am now proud to present a delayed version of Live Friday, which for this week we’ll call Live Saturday. The session is with Minus the Bear, who are out on tour promoting their latest album “OMNI”. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the album when it came out a couple months ago, but it has grown on me a little bit. One thing that’s not lacking though is Minus the Bear’s live show, which is more fun and engaging than a fair amount of their recorded stuff. Apparently the intent behind “OMNI” was to make an album that had a closer feel to how the band performs, and considering how this set of songs played live from that album sound, they hit the mark pretty well. There’s a brief interview with the band you can stream below as well, though it’s not long and pretty much details what they did differently on this album compared to their previous ones. But have a listen, and by all means enjoy.

P.S. – Sorry, but “Into the Mirror” is having some hosting issues, so please follow the links to YouSendIt or ZShare if you’d like to download it. Thanks!

Minus the Bear, Live on WXPN 6-2-10:
Minus the Bear – Into the Mirror (Live on WXPN) [YSI] [ZShare]
Minus the Bear – Hold Me Down (Live on WXPN)
Minus the Bear – My Time (Live on WXPN)
Minus the Bear – Summer Angel (Live on WXPN)

Stream the entire interview/session

Buy “OMNI” from Amazon

Album Review: Stars – The Five Ghosts [Vagrant/Soft Revolution]

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Stars before, they’re the main band of Amy Millan, who is both a former full-time member of Broken Social Scene as well as a solo artist herself. In Stars, Millan has the added benefit of Torquil Campbell, a guy who more shares the spotlight than tries to steal it. This allows for plenty of back-and-forth singing and harmonizing, all while backed by friendly and often beautiful indie pop instrumentation. What escalated Stars’ popularity amongst the indie community was their 2005 album “Set Yourself on Fire”, a sharp and gorgeous record that featured smartly written songs and just the right degree of production to make the album sound small when it was anything but. Quietly anthemic is a great way to describe tracks like “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and “Ageless Beauty”, two highlights on an album packed with them. A couple years later Stars would return again with “In Our Bedroom After the War”, which attempted to push their sound to the “next level” mostly by going big or going home. The compositions swelled in size, and suddenly this small band was playing second fiddle to huge orchestral movements and choruses as wide as Canada itself. For a band that had earned their reputation on the idea that big things come in small packages, many long-time fans had adverse reactions to that last album. After yet another sojourn into solo album territory, Millan returned to Stars a few months ago and they officially return this week with their fifth album, “The Five Ghosts”.

The good thing about Stars is that they seem to know that they screwed up with their last record. Whether that was a function of fans telling them so or simply poorer album sales, somewhere along the line they must have realized “In Our Bedroom After the War” wasn’t their best work. To try and get back the magic of “Set Yourself on Fire”, the band brought Tom McFall, who produced that album, back for “The Five Ghosts”. In a similar fashion to your average movie sequel, McFall’s efforts this time aren’t as effective this time around, and in some ways it’s almost like he forgot how to properly produce this band. Much of the new album sounds muddy and clumsily put together, with the vocals shoved to the forefront above all else. It takes away the power that many of these songs might have had otherwise, when you can barely tell there are strings in the background on a track like “Winter Bones” or the synths on “Fixed” get relegated to wallpaper rather than allowing them to shimmer and shake. You listen to these new songs and then go back to “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” to hear the swells of horns and strings and wonder exactly what happened to that band.

Of course some of the problems with “The Five Ghosts” rest on the band too, not just their producer. To their credit, Stars smartly pulled back on the bombastic anthems of their last album, but did they pull back too far? Even compared to the densely layered indie pop of “Set Yourself on Fire”, “The Five Ghosts” feels small. Perhaps that has a lot to do with the somber melodies that populate this new record. This is by far the darkest and most depressing Stars album to date, and the lack of peppy pop songs isn’t helping anyone. But in addition to the dark clouds overhead, many of the songs are similar to one another and relatively pedestrian as far as melodies are concerned. “Coffee house bland” seems to be the name of the game here, where the idea is to keep the sound broad and avoiding risk wherever possible. In other words, Stars aren’t taking any chances towards furthering their sound, and instead they’ve regressed worse than a former alcoholic picking up the bottle again. It’s tragic to hear a band that was once so fascinating and full of life come off as bland and practically neutered.

Believe it or not, there are some good things about “The Five Ghosts”. First off, none of the songs are terrible. There may not be any surprisingly great moments, but there aren’t any abhorrently bad ones either. And secondly, the Amy Millan-centered songs turn out the best in this case mostly due to her vocal performance. Her breathy vocal style lends itself well to the balladry many of these songs contain. Not only that, but she lends a fair deal of weight and emotion to these songs through her voice, something that hasn’t always come across in anything she’s done previously. So really though many of the songs may not be the best Stars have to offer, Millan’s star does particularly shine in this instance, while Torquil Campbell takes a little more of a backseat and lackadaisical approach to his singing than he normally does. Like the tone of the album though, your general impression of it might come off as somewhat gray. To put it another way, a good review quote for the album cover might be, “Eh, it’s alright.” So Stars won’t be making any new friends with this spirit-themed album. A couple highlights do come in the form of tracks like “Changes” and “I Died So I Could Haunt You”, but for the most part results are sketchy at best. Here’s to hoping that yet again Stars can keep their ears to the ground and find a fresher, more adventurous path to take next time around. If not, their visibility as a good Canadian indie pop band might just disappear like the spirits in their album title.

Stars – We Don’t Want Your Body

Buy “The Five Ghosts” from Amazon

Live Friday: 6-11-10

It’s been well over a year since Frightened Rabbit have been featured on Live Friday. Back then, they were hard at work on tour supporting their album “Midnight Organ Fight”. That record is still held in extremely high esteem by yours truly, but the band did release a new album a couple months back. That one is “The Winter of Mixed Drinks”, and while it is filled with some great new songs, many of which some might call anthems, I still find myself preferring the grey tones of their last album. Either way, given that the band tours endlessly and in the last 2 years alone has probably played every major U.S. city a handful of times, it should come as little surprise that they’re on tour again right now. They stopped by Minnesota Public Radio about a month ago to play some new stuff and talk a little bit about life on the road. They played two songs from the new album, and the great “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms” from the last one. As I’ve also mentioned and as it typically is most weeks, there’s also an interview with the band which is available for streaming below. There’s talk of Icelandic volcanoes, finding ways to stave off boredom during long times away from home, and what to do when you discover a lonely, actual frightened rabbit hiding in your backyard (hint: get him laid). These guys are funny and jovial and awesomely Scottish, so if you like that sort of stuff, have a listen to the interview. Otherwise, the actual songs will suffice. Great performance, though I probably would have liked it a little more if it were acoustic. Ah well, you take what you can get. Enjoy!

Frightened Rabbit, Live on MPR 5-14-10:
Frightened Rabbit – Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms (Live on MPR)
Frightened Rabbit – Living In Colour (Live on MPR)
Frightened Rabbit – Foot Shooter (Live on MPR)

Buy “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” from Amazon

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