One of the things I admire most about Avey Tare (Dave Portner) is his lack of complacency. At no point in his solo work or as a member of Animal Collective has he adhered to expectation or perceived boundaries, and that wild card nature has often resulted in brilliance (with the occasional misstep). You’re never quite sure where he’ll evolve to next, but can rest assured it will never be boring.
Tag: animal collective
Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear has been making music for a long time. Nine albums and a bunch more EPs with Animal Collective, and counting Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, five solo full lengths as well. That’s a wealth of material, made all the more interesting by how his sonic and lyrical themes have evolved over the last 15 or so years. The one thing he’s never been is complacent, and that’s served him particularly well on landmark records such as 2007’s Person Pitch and 2009’s Animal Collective release Merriweather Post Pavilion. Though each new piece of music stands alone as its own unique statement, we have reached a point where there are certain qualities that define a Panda Bear song. Things like samples, reverb, psychedelia and overdubbed vocal harmonies have become par for the course, it’s just the way they’re presented that has changed.
Following the dark, dub-infested minimalism that was 2011’s Tomboy, it’s something of a relief that Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a bit more well-rounded, albeit still quite serious affair. Singles like “Mr. Noah” and “Boys Latin” bounce, swirl and ensnare you with their hooks before you have the chance to realize you’ve been sucked in, the words often so obscured with reverb that you’re never fully sure what they’re saying but sing along anyways. That’s part of the charm. Yet when a phrase does come across with clarity, as on the latter track with the line, “Dark cloud has descended again,” it turns a seemingly joyful moment to one of dread. Such is the dichotomy that permeates much of the record, as Lennox embraces the love and serenity that growing older and having a family can bring, while at the same time wrestling with the fear of dying and leaving them all behind. The album title itself spells that out explicitly when the lyrics don’t.
At it’s heart however, Grim Reaper seeks to establish an overall focus on good triumphing over evil and finding the pleasures in life, one day at a time. The two tracks at the center of the record, “Come to Your Senses” and “Tropic of Cancer,” take a break from the frenetic sound collages that dominate much of the album to offer moments of sobering contemplation and outright beauty. On the former, Lennox chants, “Are you mad?” over and over, each time with a slightly different intonation, as if he’s trying to suss out what those three words even mean before finally deciding, “Yeah, I’m mad.” With the latter, harps and pianos plink with a heavenly sort of grace, as Lennox considers life after death and in doing so revives some of the memories of his own departed father from more than a decade ago. It’s a bit of a callback to his 2004 solo debut Young Prayer, which was created as a tribute to him.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper probably won’t be remembered as the best Panda Bear album, though it is his most accessible and all-encompassing to date. Thanks to its meticulous sequencing and reflective themes, it’s the sort of record that takes you on a journey and leaves you off in a much better place than where you started, even if it took some serious chaos to get there. Chalk up another big win for Mr. Noah.
And so it begins. Following yesterday’s artist guide, which exposed you to all the sounds of the artists performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I’m now proud to present the first of three previews guides leading up to the start of the weekend this Friday. Speaking of Friday, that’s what we’ll talk about right now. The way that this works is pretty simple: I’ve arranged all of the artists in order of their set times, and separated them according to the hour in which they’ll be performing. From there, I’ll talk a little bit about each one, and ultimately make a recommendation (as indicated by **) as to which you should see at that time, provided you’re able. Even though it’s a shorter day than the rest, Friday still has plenty of quality to offer. Learn all about it with the guide below!
Hundred Waters [Red Stage, 3:30]**
With Death Grips calling it quits, the singular obstacle that could have drawn people away from Hundred Waters has now been removed. The band has also gotten a promotion from the comparatively small Blue Stage up to the large Red Stage, as they’ll have a full 45 minutes to perform with no competition anywhere else at the festival. Now you may think this is a good excuse to show up later and skip this band, whose material you might not be very familiar with. But let me assure you, Hundred Waters are great, and very much worth showing up early for. In the weeks following the release of their second album The Moon Rang Like A Bell a couple months ago, I developed an addiction to this band that holds pretty steadfast today. They make very chill but very gorgeous electro-pop, and singer Nicole Miglis has the voice of an angel, often twisted in fascinating ways reminiscent of early Bjork. It should make for a delightful start to the weekend, so show up when the gates open!
Factory Floor [Blue Stage, 4:15]
Neneh Cherry with RocketNumberNine [Green Stage, 4:35]**
Factory Floor’s sound has been described as “industrial post-punk,” which doesn’t seem particularly accurate to my ears. They’re so much more than that, as they avoid easy characterization by pulling from a wide variety of sources that include disco and more traditional EDM. Primarily they’re able to craft interesting, beat-heavy dance music that keeps you guessing. Their self-titled debut album from last year proved to be quite worthwhile, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun watching them grow in both profile and songcraft. If you’re in the mood for a groove, Factory Floor are a safe bet. It’s somewhat tragic then that they’re paired up against Neneh Cherry, who is a legend. Cherry herself probably wouldn’t like that “l” word being tossed around so flagrantly, but she’s been making music for a few decades now, and when your career gets that long you earn that status whether you want it or not. Equally fascinating is how Cherry remains something of an unknown entity in the United States, where her only breakthrough “hit” was the song “Buffalo Stance” from her 1988 debut album. Perhaps that’s why she’s only ever played one U.S. show. Her set at Pitchfork will be her second, essentially turning it into a must-see situation. As an artist who is also always innovating and never sticking with one particular style or genre of music for too long, if she does a career-spanning set it will be all sorts of fun and maybe just a little weird. More likely she’ll play a lot of stuff from her latest album Blank Project, which is an understated but powerful record that features collaborations with Robyn, electronic duo RocketNumberNine (who will be performing at the fest with her) and Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet). So yeah, unless you really want to get your dance on at Factory Floor, Neneh Cherry is the one to see.
The Haxan Cloak [Blue Stage, 5:15]
Sharon Van Etten [Red Stage, 5:30]**
To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure why Pitchfork booked The Haxan Cloak to play this festival. London-based producer Bobby Krlic is the man behind the name, and while what he does is brilliant, it’s also incredibly minimalist and dark. The last Haxan Cloak album Excavation was one of my favorites from last year, however it’s so subdued and death obsessed that it’s never something you want to put on during the daytime. You listen to it in the pitch black of night, in your bedroom, by yourself, with headphones on. It could well function as the soundtrack to your favorite horror film. How this is going to translate via a late afternoon time slot on an outdoor stage is a mystery to me. Part of me thinks there’s no way it can work. It’d be great if Krlic proved me wrong. A far better bet is Sharon Van Etten, the dynamic singer-songwriter who continues to grow by leaps and bounds with each new record. When she performed at this festival for the first time in 2010, she performed solo with a single guitar, and at one point couldn’t continue because she broke a string. The guys in Modest Mouse lent her a new guitar so she could continue. Four years and two new albums later, she’s got a full band behind her, regular radio airplay, and a lot more guitars. Her confidence as a live performher has grown exponentially as well, making her shows lively, beautiful and altogether worthwhile.
SZA [Blue Stage, 6:15]
Sun Kil Moon [Green Stage, 6:25]**
This one’s a case of hip hop/R&B vs. folk. Without a doubt, even though SZA will be on the smaller Blue Stage, you will probably be able to hear her set by the Green Stage when Mark Kozelek aka Sun Kil Moon is performing. It’s the simple disparity in styles and volume. As to why I’m recommending Sun Kil Moon over SZA, that’s purely a selection based on quality of music, not quality of live performance. I’m betting that SZA will put on a thoroughly enjoyable, relatively high energy set, dominated with tracks from her debut album Z. The problem is, that record isn’t exactly great, or even pretty good for that matter. Meanwhile, Sun Kil Moon’s latest effort Benji is regarded by many critics to be one of 2014’s absolute best. It is truly a remarkable record, filled with engaging melodies and lyrical stories that come across like pure poetry. Yet like most solo folk records, it’s extremely laid back and bare. If you can find a spot in the grass near the Green Stage to lay down as the sun begins to dip in the sky, there’s some real potential that Sun Kil Moon could hit your sweet spot. Or you’ll just spend the whole time during his set talking loudly with your friends.
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks [Blue Stage, 7:15]
Giorgio Moroder [Red Stage, 7:20]**
If there’s a conflict to be had on Friday, it’s with this time slot. For those who love psychedelia, specifically Animal Collective-style psychedelia, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks delivers in spades. This is a more straightforward and catchy Animal Collective side project, and their debut album Enter the Slasher House is one of my personal favorites from the first half of 2014. Of course I’m happy to advise you to go and see them if their music is something you might enjoy. But your better bet would be to split your time somewhat unevenly and spending a fair portion at Giorgio Moroder. The man has been part of the music world since the 70s when he helped to turn disco into something huge. He’s continued his pioneering ways ever since, to the point of winning a Grammy last year for collaborating with Daft Punk on their Random Access Memories album. All indications are that his set will be very fun, very dance friendly and very familiar. By that, I mean he’ll be spinning mixes and remixes of classic dance and disco songs from the last few decades, so you can sing along while showing off your best (or worst) moves. What’s not to love?
Beck [Green Stage, 8:30]**
Beck’s headlining set should be a delight. You may be worried that his quiet, acoustic album Morning Phase will dominate the set list, but rest assured he’ll probably only play 3-4 songs from it. The rest will be tons of classics, from “Where It’s At” to “Sexx Laws” to “The New Pollution” and beyond. In other words, there will be no shortage of silly, off-the-wall energy. This is a music festival, and the man knows what the people want to hear. So yes, stick around and enjoy it. Sing or rap along to all the hits. I’ll be right there with you.
Dave Portner, aka Avey Tare, has made plenty of fascinating music as a member of Animal Collective, not to mention outside of that band as a solo artist. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks is his third project, but if you’ve heard anything he’s done previously then what he’s bringing to the table here isn’t a whole lot different. The good news though is that it is diverse and different enough to justify creating a whole new band to put it together. At the same time, whitewashed, fun house psychedelia seems to be a specialty of Portner’s, and it’s almost always a great idea to play to your strengths. So with this track “Little Fang,” the first audio we’ve heard from this new band and from the forthcoming record Enter the Slasher House, we get that tricky blend of strange and trippy composition complete with modulated vocals and stray sound effects. Yet unlike anything else, there’s an extreme clarity and straightforward approach to the song that makes it remarkably easy to digest. For my money, it’s one of the most commercially accessible and catchy things that Portner has ever done, and he’s managed to pull it off without diminishing expectations or sacrificing key elements of his work. If you didn’t know any better, it’d be remarkably easy to confuse it with something by Of Montreal or Ariel Pink. There’s no guarantee the entire record will sound this way, but at the very least it’s a strong introduction to this brand new band.
Preorder Enter the Slasher House (out April 7th)
Animal Collective have put themselves in an extremely tough spot. They dared to make a great album, and vastly succeeded in doing so. 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion became the poster child for psychedelic pop music, and it was at or near the top of virtually every year-end “best of” list. As recently as last month, the album claimed the #8 spot on Pitchfork’s People’s List, a poll voted on by close to 28,000 readers. It took the band nine albums and nine years to finally find that sweet spot in their music. Great as success might be, the expectations that bloom from it are anything but easy to handle. Do you try and build upon the things you’ve done before, stay in a holding pattern by trying something similar, or go off the grid altogether and hope for the best? Anyone that’s listened to enough Animal Collective over the years knows they don’t pander to an audience and they don’t sit still. They don’t even know what or where the “grid” is.
In many ways, their courage to always try new and different things is admirable. There’s brilliance in the unknown, and somebody’s got to go looking for it. The problem is you can take a lot of wrong turns along the way. Animal Collective have fared better than most, because even when their songs sound positively nuts, there’s still that slight pop sensibility that keeps them grounded. Jumping through their catalogue, it’s a little tough to find a lot of similarities between Here Comes the Indian (2003), Feels (2005) and Strawberry Jam (2007).Where they are similar is that all of them are very good albums, and all are challenging to a multitude of unique degrees. It’s not hard to understand why the band failed to gain a large audience in the pre-MPP years, even as they jumped record labels from the smaller Fat Cat to the larger Domino in 2007. Taking three years and keeping many music obsessives waiting patiently for a follow-up, Centipede Hz is what they’ve finally handed over. Whatever your expectations are, don’t think for a second that they’ll be met.
One of the main things worth noting about Centipede Hz is that multi-instrumentalist Deakin has rejoined Animal collective after taking an extended break back in 2007. It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much or how little of an impact he’s had on the band over the years, but his absence from the last album may have played some part in its success. That’s not meaning to suggest Deakin is a harmful presence, but rather a catalyst that caused Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist to rethink their approach to songwriting and composition at least a little bit. Sometimes less is more. In the case of the new album, the sentiment turns out to be the exact opposite. Virtually every song is jam-packed with sonic dissonance, and with so much going on it’s tough to know what to focus on at any given time. Some would call it layered and practical, rewarding multiple listens by giving you new elements to explore each run through. While it does become easier to penetrate the more you listen to it, this album forgets the one key that has made Animal Collective such a compelling band over the years – patience. They used to grow their songs slowly, adding more parts and elements until you’re left wondering how you wound up so buried in sound. The cacophony of opening tracks “Moonjock” and “Today’s Supernatural” don’t build to anything. They start with the dam already broken and millions of gallons of water bearing down on you. It’s overwhelming if you haven’t battened down the hatches in anticipation.
Animal Collective also used to have the “freak folk” descriptor attached to their name, a label that was justified for their emphasis on acoustic guitars with a splattering of odd time signatures and polyrhythms. Listen to an old song like “Leaf House” off of Sung Tongs to get a fair grasp of what that sounded like. Their movement away from guitars and towards synths and electronic textures changed things a bit, but it also gave the band a better lower end with some severely heavy bass that cranked up the danceability factor of their music. Take “Peacebone” from Strawberry Jam as an example. By contrast, virtually all of Centipede Hz sounds thin because it ignores that heft and replaces some of the bass and rhythm parts with bells and whistles and other random sounds that all stay in the shallow end. “New Town Burnout” and “Rosie Oh” both skitter by without ever bringing the sort of boom they might otherwise deserve. Even tracks like “Mercury Man” and “Amanita” where you can hear things that are almost definitively bass drums and guitars don’t impact and rattle speakers the way they should. The effect may be intentional though, designed to mimic the effect of listening to the radio on tinny speakers. The mixture of varying radio broadcasts which serve as interstitial moments between tracks and give fluidity to the record seem to support this theory. Is that sort of a move necessary on an album like this? Not really, but who knows what goes through these guys’ heads as they piece together songs.
Maybe one of the main points of Centipede Hz is to push you into liking it, because at their heart these are really simple psych-pop songs dirtied up by a lot of challenging excess. The more you listen to it, the better you can process all of it. That doesn’t make the songs good though. Some of them just sort of wander without much purpose or direction, or take detours down paths that otherwise betray strong melodies. “Wide Eyed” and “Father Time” are both guilty of this, and they sit right at the center of the record. The former is surprisingly straightforward and bouncy, but overstays its welcome and has some so-so vocal work from Deakin. The latter is just utterly forgettable. On an album with so many distinguishing moments for better or worse, it stands as a shrug-worthy effort that even the rather slow and boring “New Town Burnout” doesn’t stoop to minutes later. After pointing out so many apparent flaws, it’s important to note that there are a bunch of very good to great moments on Centipede Hz too. Besides the opening two tracks that have their charms, “Applesauce” has some weirdly great energy going for it, as does the closer “Amanita.” The powerhouse cut of this album though is “Monkey Riches,” a nearly seven minute freak out that comes across like a breath of fresh air. If Animal Collective had done the entire record using that song as an inspirational point, we would have another Merriweather Post Pavilion on our hands, but in a different sort of way that likely would have stood up well amidst their varied catalogue.
You can’t really say that Centipede Hz is a bad record. It’s bad by Animal Collective standards, which are heights that are tough for almost every other artist to reach. If you’re in search of an entry point and a way to ease into the band’s world, this isn’t it by a long shot. But that also raises a great point about these guys: no matter which of their albums you listen to, you’ll never think it’s another band. They may have jumped from acoustic guitars to thumping beats to sound effects and radio snippets in the last dozen years, but they’ve always retained a challenging conceptual sonic structure uniquely their own. There’s comfort in that, even when they release something that might be considered subpar. So they’ve finally hit a creative speedbump, which more than anything else has been a long time coming. Consider this also a way to temper excitement for whatever they’re going to do next. Not that they ever felt any pressure before. At least fans won’t be expecting another miracle. The greatest and best hope you can have is that Animal Collective remain Animal Collective. Everything else is a proverbial roll of the dice.
On Tuesdays I typically like to give you a rundown of all the new records coming out that you can purchase and hopefully enjoy. This week is no different, but I do want to take a brief second to highlight a record that came out a couple weeks back that’s very much worth your time and cash. NYC artist Natalie LeBrecht has been performing under the name Greenpot Bluepot for quite a few years now, and her reputation for creating otherworldly and dynamic songs has steadily earned the attention of many. One of those people is Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, who agreed to co-produce the new Greenpot Bluepot record with LeBrecht. The final product is Ascend at the Dead End, a very freak-folk, vocal-based album that is unlike almost anything you’ll hear these days. She’s one part Bjork and another part Cat Power, and but in the end such descriptions don’t do Greenpot Bluepot justice. You need to hear the record for yourself. Naturally then, here’s a full album stream for your listening pleasure. Oh, and if you’re interested, you can buy the album here.
Now, I promised I’d tell you about this week’s album releases. In stores today, you’ll find new records from Allo Darlin’, Battles (a remix record), Horse Feathers, Lushlife, Maps and Atlases, Moonface (Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown), Sidi Toure, and Spiritualized, among others. Azealia Banks was supposed to release an EP today as well, however due to her changing management a few days ago, that has been delayed for a bit. She’s apparently planning to re-record some of the tracks to help give them a better fidelity now that she’s come into some money. Good for her, I say. Good for you is today’s Pick Your Poison. I’ll recommend tracks from Andy the Doorbum, Cadence Weapon, Conner Youngblood, Death Grips, Ican Ican’t, Jesca Hoop, and King of Prussia. And hey, in the Soundcloud section you can hear a new song from The Walkmen.
Attaque – The End (ZIP)
Ugh. It has been a long day for yours truly. Didn’t anticipate my day/evening going so late, so this initial recap of Day 1 of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival is going to be a little shorter and more to the point than much of everything else I plan on writing about over the course of the weekend. But fun was the name of the game today, and to call it a great day would not be an incorrect statement. Let me tell you a brief bit about the music I bore witness to, as well as maybe a couple other quick notes about things that went down on Day 1.
Due to an unfortunate vehicular mishap, in which my car broke down and refused to start, I wound up arriving at the Pitchfork Music Festival about 45 minutes later than I had originally planned. Still, it left me just enough time to see the last couple songs from EMA. Erika M. Anderson is her full name when not being referenced in acronym format, and she had a couple friends backing her up to handle much of the instrumental work. The two songs I saw her perform were solid renditions, in particular her single “California”, in which she did a lot of the same hand gestures that can be found in the video for said song. Fun isn’t the best word to describe what I saw, but very capable and strong are probably two solid descriptors. A few hours after her set, I was being taken on a brief tour of the backstage area and stumbled upon EMA. She was sitting in the grass by herself with a guitar and was making notes on some pieces of paper. In all likelihood she was writing a song, and hopefully something at the festival inspired her to do so.
My most hotly anticipated act of the day (and essentially the weekend) was tUnE-yArDs. After the massive number of raves I heard about Merrill Garbus and her intense performances, there was a little chill that went down my spine on the quite hot day when she began to belt her vocals into the microphone. Creating all sorts of vocal and instrumental loops, watching her put together songs like “Gangsta” and “Powa” was thrilling enough even if you threw away the actual songs. She didn’t do much to actually improve upon the recorded versions of the stuff on “w h o k i l l”, but then again she didn’t need to. That record is still amazing, and just seeing the songs come together live was the treat. Hopefully many were won over by her stellar performance. While I skipped seeing Battles in favor of tUnE-yArDs, all my friends chose to abandon me, claiming I made the wrong choice. They came away with nothing but raves for Battles’ set, and given to how they are dynamite live, the reaction felt sensible.
Thurston Moore was next, as I was intrigued to see what he would do. His backing band consisted of one guitar, one drummer, one violinist and one harpist. Yep, he had a harp with him and its lilting melodies were built into a lot of the songs. Moore also had a music stand with plenty of sheet music on it, which begged the question of how well he knew the songs he was playing. And virtually the entire thing wound up being a flop. Standing out in the hot sun and watching Thurston play slow acoustic numbers was not a good time. Early on in his set, he jokingly asked if everyone was ready to hear some songs about rape and other dark things, clearly trying to make light of the fact that OFWGKTA would be performing on that very stage in a couple days. There will be protesters for that, and come to think of it, people should have protested Moore’s set as well for being rather pedestrian and boring. Everything was capably performed, and much of the material came via his latest solo effort “Demolished Thoughts”. No Sonic Youth was played, but to close out his set, Moore told the crowd, “my band is saying that we should play a rock song”, a statement that was met with applause. The spark that ignited within the last few minutes of that set was what the entire thing should have been made out of. There’s always next time. If you went and saw Curren$y, consider yourself lucky.
The great news is that Guided By Voices were up next, and the very first thing that Robert Pollard asked the crowd was whether or not they were ready to see a real professional rock show. Hell yes, the crowd was ready. And GBV gave everyone exactly what they were looking for. Chain smoking on stage, wielding a bottle of alcohol, windmill guitar work, Neko Case on tambourine, jumping around like a madman, salutes, the hoisting of guitars high into the sky, the pointing of the necks of the guitars out at the crowd in a threatening and stabbing motions – all these things happened during that set. To call it awesome would be putting it lightly. These guys are all music veterans, and instead of slowing down their set was filled with visceral energy – the sort of which is missing in so many rock bands these days. Not only that, but they did all this while running through “hit” after “hit” (the quotation marks are used because despite a long career the band never achieved massive success to justify anything of theirs being a hit according to today’s standards). They hit up “Hot Freaks” “Tractor Rape Chain”, “Kicker of Elves” and “I Am A Scientist” (among many others) from their seminal album “Bee Thousand”. Their other big record was “Alien Lanes”, and tracks like “Game of Pricks” and “They’re Not Witches” sounded even better now than they did back in the day. So to recap: Guided By Voices put on one hell of a great show. And in that same way it’s sad, because there’s only a couple shows left with their “classic” lineup in place. They’re probably never going to do this again, so if you saw them at Pitchfork consider yourself lucky.
Neko Case is such an effortless charmer of a woman. There’s a certain sweetness to her, and maybe the down-home alt-country bits of her music are big contributors to that. One of the more interesting things about her is the backing band she surrounds herself with. The guys in the band were all older gentlemen complete with beards and a few extra pounds, and that alone was enough to make you think they belonged in a country band you’d stumble in and catch one night at some random bar. Who knows, maybe that’s where she met them. In spite of their appearances, they’re also excellent musicians, which is likely the reason why Case picked them in the first place. But that syrupy sweet voice of hers is in as good of shape as ever these days, and the set list mixing old songs, newer songs, and the newest of the new gave it plenty of workout. Case is currently hard at work on new material, so she did play a couple new ones during her set which were on par with everything else she’s done to date, if not better. The biggest crowd responses were for “Hold On, Hold On” and “People Got A Lotta Nerve”, and given their radio single status it’s no wonder why. There was no real reason for me to leave Neko Case, but after awhile I chose to wander over and at least check out James Blake‘s set for a few minutes. My concern initially was that his very quiet and minimalist self-titled debut would not translate well in an outdoor park. Outside of some seriously heavy bass, I’m pretty sure I was correct on that one.
Last but certainly not least, Animal Collective closed out the night in the headliner slot. It seems they got the love note I left them criticizing the very fluid and ever-changing dynamic of their live shows. The last time I saw the boys, they spent their festival time slot noodling around with psychedelic textures rather than playing most of the songs that appear on their albums. Think of it like one long acid trip in which many songs are teased but little to none are actually performed. They were on their best behavior at Pitchfork 2011 though, actually playing songs all the way through and even adding a few brief moments of silence from when one song ends and another begins. Call it common courtesy, and it made the set very bearable and remarkably fun. There was plenty of dancing going on, not to mention the glowsticks and an inflatable Spider-Man that became a part of the party. There were a handful of new songs sprinkled into the set as well, all of which sounded more than fine but with fewer harmonies than their last album “Merriweather Post Pavilion”. Between those elements and the neat stage setup complete with light-up rock-like structures and hanging shapes attached overhead by strings of lights. Animal Collective took their headlining job seriously and left the crowd in a better place compared to how they found them.
In case you couldn’t gather already, the entire day was nothing short of great. I’m very much looking forward to Day 2 tomorrow, but at this very moment sleep beckons. I’ll have photos for you as soon as I’m able. Check back for my Day 2 Recap overnight tomorrow night.
When properly structured, there are some records that automatically put you in a good mood. You could be having a seriously bad day, but find some time, throw on some headphones and a great album can transport you to a place of solace and comfort, both warming you with its embrace while also providing you with plenty of reason to smile. Matt & Kim are indie rock’s “first couple” when it comes to overzealous, super happy music, to the point where you’re often left doubting that any single person, let alone two people, could ever be THAT happy THAT much. Similarly, the early days of Los Campesinos! featured the English collective with their high energy pop songs and excessive use of the glockenspiel, and so many fell in love with that side of their personality, even if they’ve since branched out and gone a bit darker/heavier/slower recently. Among the many ways of describing such a feeling that this sort of music gives you, joyous and celebratory are two great adjectives to use. When it comes to 2011, particularly summer 2011, the band that should be on everyone’s smiling lips is Givers. Their debut album “In Light” is very much as the title describes, not to mention their cover art shows – a massive bright spot shines amidst a collection of stars and other space elements. Yes my friends, if you’re in need of a serious pick-me-up, here it is.
In the first 4.5 minutes of “In Light”, which amounts to the opening track and first single “Up Up Up”, there’s a whole host of instruments that show up and almost as quickly disappear in the mix to the point where if you blink you’ll miss them. The standard guitars and drums are just the beginning, and everything from handclaps to shakers to xylophones, keyboards and flutes all make an appearance at one point or another. The ultimate result shares a lot of qualities with Afropop, in that the moments the song settles into a groove you can easily imagine Vampire Weekend or Paul Simon trying the same thing. But the great part about the track is how it transcends that easier definition by throwing curveballs at you. Call it a hybrid between a number of different pop styles and then throw some seriously great vocal harmonies between Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson for an increased sense of beauty. So it’s complicated, beautiful AND fun? It’s one of the big reasons why Givers are a band to keep a close eye on. What makes this record even better is how the band continues to play with sounds and genres without firmly ascribing to any of them. They never stay in one place for too long, and it’s that inability to figure out exactly where they’ll go next that makes them so damn fascinating. That and their constant energy matched with some heavily catchy choruses makes for some stellar party music. One could argue that the sheer exuberance of this record and how Givers doesn’t really ever slow down until the second-to-last track is a problem, but since when is having too much enthusiasm detrimental? If anything, it’s impressive they’re able to keep it up for so long. You’ll likely get tired before they will, which is probably why some will take the band to task for that.
The way that Givers first began to get notice was when they opened a 2009 show in their home state of Louisiana for heroes of theirs, Dirty Projectors. If you find the obtuse charm of Dirty Projectors to be a little too strange for your taste, “In Light” is like an easier on the ears version of much of that band’s catalogue. You can especially hear it in the finger-picked electric guitar work on a track like “Noche Nada”, which in spots mimics Dave Longstreth’s best moments. The Dirty Projectors crew liked Givers so much based on that one show, they would eventually ask the band to join them for an east coast tour a few months later. They haven’t really stopped since then, and it’s almost a wonder that there was time to actually record “In Light”, for which they recruited producer Ben Allen, who is notable for working with Animal Collective and Deerhunter, among others. A big part of why Givers rarely take a break from touring is how easily they win over crowds. They’ve been raved about at SXSW and a whole host of other places, based primarily at the time on only having released a self-titled EP. Now that their full length is out, expect not just a lot more dates but for the crowds to continue to grow larger and larger. So much about “In Light” suggests that Givers are destined for not just big but HUGE things, which is why it would behoove you to start paying attention now, if you haven’t been already. The weather’s warm, the beaches are open, and this album wants to be your soundtrack. Between this and the self-titled debut from Cults, you’re not going to find two bands better equipped to entertain you for the season, if not the rest of 2011.
Noah Lennox may be able to see the future. A little record he released back in 2007 under the Panda Bear moniker called “Person Pitch” struck hard amongst those with a love of memorable 60s pop infused with a sharp dose of psychedelia. Think of Brian Wilson’s music with more of a dosed electronica edge. It was a record so dense and complex that many struggled to fully grasp what it was doing, and though the reaction was mostly bewilderment, there was a consensus it was brilliant. Thinking about it in the most practical way possible, one could easily imagine trends in music to eventually head in the exact direction that “Person Pitch” was already showing us, thereby providing us with a glimpse into not what was but what would be. Nobody caught up to that record in 2008 or most of 2009, but somewhere near the middle of that year the rumblings of a new musical subgenre that some called chillwave and others called glo-fi began to seep out into the general populace. Though not exactly the same, the sound bore some of the distinctive fingerprints of music Panda Bear had put out a couple years earlier. Not only that, but upon reconvening with his bandmates in Animal Collective, they subsequently released their miracle of an album “Merriweather Post Pavilion” and it became like anything Lennox touched was turning to gold. That sort of Midas power is either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. All that praise can be nice, but the pressure can build to the point of madness. Plenty of people were salivating at the mere thought of new Panda Bear material, and as soon as some began to trickle out in the form of sone 7 inch singles previewing a full length without a release date, they were swallowed up immediately and obsessed over. It should come as little surprise then that Lennox waited quite awhile before finally putting the finishing touches on his new long player “Tomboy”, and though he surely hoped some of that anticipation would dissipate, in all likelihood it would have remained just as fevered had he waited another 4 years.
Instead of feeding the beast with a new Panda Bear record that has loftier ambitions than the one before, “Tomboy” shoots for something closer to normal. All those samples and complicated melodies that made “Person Pitch” such a gripping listen have been stripped back in favor of a closer focus on actual instruments such as guitars and drums. What used to be lush pieces that teemed with the life of a fully formed sonic landscape have now been trimmed significantly to the barest of essentials. For the majority of the record, it’s an exercise in minimalism. Despite some of these more drastic changes, the new album is no less of a psychedelic trip down memory lane than last time. If you’re looking for an extended journey in the form of a longer cut a la “Bros”, you’ll be left just a bit disappointed with the more concise songs that are clearly separated from one another yet fail to offer a whole lot of distinction between them. Just because there are no clear highlights doesn’t mean the majority of the tracks are terrible or that the record as a whole is disappointing. It’s far from either of those points actually, as this album is more like a colorful and beautifully painted mural rather than a whitewashed wall of nothing. As one gigantic piece, it’s rather fascinating but difficult to know exactly how to give it a proper listen in individual chunks. Simply dropping in on a centrally located track like “Drone” can create an odd sensation, particularly with its spacious yet direct melody that thrives on only vocals and synths. Start from the beginning with “You Can Count On Me” and it’s just busy enough to build a bridge between old material and new. The progression from that into the title track and so forth comes across as nuanced and refined, more than most might realize. “Person Pitch” may have had those longer cuts to push you into sticking out the entire record, that if you would stay for 12 minutes you might as well stay for 40, but digesting all of “Tomboy” in one sitting reflects a similar mentality despite the bite-sized track lengths. It seems that Lennox is trying to do more with less on most every aspect of this record.
What many fail to realize is that Panda Bear’s attempt to take a lot of the same complex ideas and genre tropes from the last album and work them into “Tomboy” is in many ways more challenging than ever. To put it another way, he’s like the MacGyver of chillwave, trapped inside a room with limited utensils at his disposal and trying to break out without the assistance of the door key that’s actually in his back pocket. Call it the thrill of the chase or just the inclination to try and do something different from all the other acts these days trying to pull off a similar sound, the results are still remarkably effective. The sun bakes and waves crash all over “Surfer’s Hymn”. There’s a slight doo-wop 50s charm smeared across “Last Night at the Jetty” that also makes it one of the most accessible things Lennox has ever created. Meanwhile “Alsatian Darn” shimmers with some of the most gorgeous psych-pop moments on the entire album. The pairing of the two longest tracks on the record right near the end feels genuinely inspired as well, taking the easier, more accessible stuff out front and the expansive mental zone outs of “Friendship Bracelet” and “Afterburner” in the back. Then “Benfica” slides in at the end to sort of tie everything together, to the point where the last few seconds make a firm period at the end of a 50 minute sentence.
Why “Tomboy” isn’t the mindblowing adventure that “Person Pitch” was can primarily be chalked up to the ever-changing musical landscape. As “Person Pitch” was very much ahead of its time, the start of a revolution that has bred countless imitators, “Tomboy” is pretty firmly rooted in the present. Where could Lennox have realistically gone with this new record? The mind can’t fathom because most of us don’t know an inspired or fresh idea until we actually hear it. At the very least, it was admirable of him to try to differentiate himself from similar-sounding counterparts by scaling back the instrumentation and increasing the overall accessibility through hooks and less obtuse melodies. What this album does more than anything else though is continue to prove that Lennox remains one of the most brilliant minds making music today. Even when falling perfectly in line with where the hype cycle is at these days, he takes all these other punks to school and shows them a thing or two about how to make good music great. It’s that angelic voice, twisted in reverb. It’s the structure and the way every piece of every song feels vital even when it isn’t. Everyone attempting to make music like this should feel lucky to have such a great example of how it’s done right. As for the rest of us, we’re lucky just being given the opportunity to listen to it, and as often as our ears will allow.
By oh so many indications, 2011 is set to be the year that post-rock finally strikes it big. There is no official explanation as to why, save for saying that the sound is simply evolving and other elements are being incorporated into the more traditional post-rock sound. Of course post-rock in and of itself is a hazy term, loose on purpose to be a catch-all for stuff that sticks out like a sore thumb when placed against a standard 3.5 minute pop song. As such it’s experimental and more often than not immensely beautiful no matter if a band is using four electric guitars or a whole orchestra to get a point across. There’s also a solid rejection of verse-chorus-verse structuring, catchy hooks, and short, to-the-point statements. Post-rock is an adventure, a journey into the vast and unknown wilderness where discovery is half the fun. It is the realm of Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, along with Mogwai and Tortoise and Pelican. Thanks to a band like Braids and their debut record “Native Speaker” though, a musical genre that has reached something of a standard way of going about things gets reinvigorated with a few curveballs.
When reaching for their comparison chart, there’s probably higher than a 50% chance most people will try to define Braids as supremely indebted to Animal Collective. “They’re like Animal Collective, only if they came from Montreal,” somebody will say or write. While there are some similarities between the two groups, such as the somewhat liberal use of gurgling electronics and an overall natural flow to the song arrangements, there are far more differences worth paying close attention to. Braids doesn’t have much in the way of filtered/warped vocals (outside of the occasional echo effect) or harmonies. You can also understand and make sense of what singers Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Kathie Lee are singing. To put it another way, the vocals are “decipherable and intelligible”. They’re also not nearly part of the hippy-trippy freak-folk movement, because while a number of their songs are in the 6-8 minute range, there’s not a singular moment that feels over-extended or jam band-y. Think less psychedelic and more of a shoegaze-inspired pop thanks to creative arrangements and not a whole lot in the way of instrumental passages (save for the last track on the record). Of course that description doesn’t even suffice for this band, as they are notoriously hard to pin down into any one sound for too long. That’s largely why it’s easiest to put the band underneath the larger umbrella known as post-rock. Despite the apparant variations in styles from one song to the next, there are so many elements that hold steady across the record that everything comes off as striking and organic and exciting. Fuck genre tropes, Braids are content to carve their own path through this wilderness landscape.
“Native Speaker” begins with the first single and much-hyped track “Lemonade”, and it’s one hell of an introduction to Braids. While the sound of a babbling brook or creek may be confined to the opening track alone, it’s largely a statement for the entire record. The music softly and beautifully moves along, twisting and turning and moving around rocks or whatever else might be in the way. Somewhere in the distance a bird chirps, frogs jump around for fun, and occasionally a deer will come by for a drink. It takes over two minutes for “Lemonade” to reach a chorus, but that’s of little consequence since that time was so well spent building layer upon layer as keyboards pile on electronic elements pile on booming drums and finally guitars. Standell-Preston’s vocals hold a calm demeanor when they first come in, but that gets thrown pretty much to hell once she raises her voice to ask, “Have you fucked/all the stray kids yet?”. When the chorus does finally land, it’s a scorned scorcher, as the lines, “what I’ve found/is that we/are all just sleeping around” soar like they were launched off a mountaintop. The immediate lesson, and one that’s equally learned by most every track on the album, is that you don’t fuck with Raphaelle Standell-Preston in both vocal strength/range and personally as well. At seconds under 4.5 minutes, “Plath Heart” is the shortest song on “Native Speaker”, and it’s a synth-fueled dreamscape with an almost Dirty Projectors-esque bent to it. The vocals are practically cutesy and playful and a keyboard-created steel drum pushes that vibe further, but the lyrics betray that with a little bit of anti-relationship sentiment. That’s where the title really comes into play, because if you know how dark and depressing Sylvia Plath’s writing is, you know that a Plath heart isn’t something worth smiling about. A lovely lullaby is how the 8+ minute “Glass Deers” begins, with the keyboards lightly plinking as if singing you to sleep. The vocals play along too, even when Standell-Preston repeats over and over again about how she’s “fucked up”. Eventually though, while the melody remains on a lovely even keel, the vocals soar to an extreme as Standell-Preston begins to yell at the impressive level of Bjork or Karen O. That quiet-loud-quiet-loud singing trend continues for the duration while the lyrics are a bit more upbeat about loving someone even with all their faults. The atmospherics continue with the title track, in which the main part of the melody are a couple of quiet keyboards and a looped electronic bit that simply float in the ether. Not content to just let it sit there though, guitars and random noises begin to permeate the mix, piling on top of one another the way that great post-rock songs do. Harmonies are introduced, the vocals soar yet again, and then in a flash, all is quiet once more before the track goes gentle into that good night after 8.5 minutes of writhing around.
Have you ever been in an apartment or hotel room when a very loud rave is happening right next door? You can hear a muffled version of the beats through the wall and they totally keep you up as you’re trying to sleep. “Lammicken” exploits that sort of noise as the backing melody, along with a looped and melodic “ohhhhaaahhhohhhh”, both of which are the only two constant things about the track. “I can’t stop it,” Standell-Preston sings over and over again with varying degrees of forcefulness. Through it all, white electro-static builds and builds up in the mix, and as already mentioned, there’s no way to stop it. It overtakes everything else near the end of the song, before finally abruptly quitting in the last 30 seconds as the original backing melody plays the track out in a much more ominous fashion than before. A series of synths layered on top of one another mixed with some drum rim hits is how “Same Mum” begins, and once the playful vocals come in it becomes one of Braids’ poppiest and most immediate songs despite lacking a legitimate chorus. Some lightly picked Grizzly Bear-like guitar comes in about mid-way through the track, shortly before a 2 minute instrumental breakdown that also has some xylophone making an appearance. The final 90 seconds brings a slow down in tempo as the guitars disappear and vocals return with Standell-Preston providing interesting variations on the phrase, “We are from the same mum”. That’s the last thing she says on the entire record as we’re then led into the instrumental closer “Little Hand”. Beginning as a spacey, pulsating deep synth, keyboards begin to plink out a jaunty little melody that’s practically the sonic equivalent of twinkling stars. Carefully picked guitars weave themselves in and out of the mix as there’s just a hint of Sigur Ros-like atmosphere, even if there is no build to a huge crescendo. Instead, the melody slowly fades away as gently and calmly as things began.
What makes Braids so interesting is their ability to sustain a melody no matter how long or short a track might be. Their five minute songs are just as great as their eight minute ones because they all feel like they’re going somewhere. Even if a track only has one line in it, repeated ad nauseum, it’s the WAY the line is sung, along with the sounds surrounding it that keep the listener fully engaged. As such, Raphaelle Standell-Preston deserves much of the credit for her powerful and highly expressive vocal performance that soars far above and beyond your average female singer. The rest of the band are by no mean slouches either though, as the tracks on “Native Speaker” end up being not so much songs but immense compositions that are complicated even when they sound remarkably simple. The only spots where the quality dips on the album is near the end. After establishing a moody intensity on the two 8+ minute epics in the middle of the album, attempts to rise back up again at a more brisk pace don’t ever fully succeed despite their best efforts. It never gets boring, it just all sort of blends together in one cohesive piece of slow burn, synth-filled post-rock that’s simply not as distinctive as everything that came before it. Despite this, “Native Speaker” is most definitely one of the best records that will be released this month, and Braids one of the best up-and-coming bands you’ll hear about in 2011. There was a pretty heavy load of hype surrounding the band heading into their debut, and the good news is that most of it is justified. There’s room for improvement, but when your first album is as good as this one, Braids might just be one record away from truly becoming a universally respected and beloved band. It’s almost ironic that they also just happen to be from Montreal.
Let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way right at the beginning – yes, Sun Airway sounds a whole lot like Animal Collective. Their debut album “Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier” holds many sonic similarities to “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, a record so many regarded as the best thing released in 2009. If there’s a band you’re going to try and imitate, at this point in time Animal Collective would be a smart move. The real challenge comes in the form of pulling it off without making a fool of yourself. There are oh so many artists out there that try to capture the zeitgeist of the times by pushing their sound in a certain direction for critical acclaim or popularity, but if it isn’t good enough there isn’t any point. Sun Airway is the duo of Jon Barthmus and Patrick Marsceill, both former members of the now-broken-up band The A-Sides. It’s taken them two long years of messing around with sounds and trying to put a record together while holding down jobs, but they’re finally done and Dead Oceans is psyched to be releasing it this week. Apparently all that time did them a world of good, because the tide is quickly rising on these guys and “Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier” is set to put them on everybody’s radar.
If you’ve gotten your hopes all high in hoping that “Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier” will be the new “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, don’t set yourself up for disappointment. This Sun Airway record is damn good, but one thing we’ve learned simply by paying close attention to Animal Collective these past several years is that such brilliance takes time to mature and fully develop. Of course every record is typically informed by the ones that came before it, so the proverbial Pandora’s Box has been opened and there’s no way to shove the flood of ideas back in. The noises that permeate and define Sun Airway’s sound are primarily electronic, from your typical bleeps and bloops to samples and beats that maintain tempo. Synths also play a huge role, as do a number of other instruments that are so varied and mixed that it’s nearly impossible to pick out each and every one. Pay close attention and you’ll catch a splattering of flute or a small dose of harp for good measure. It’s also important to note that probably 98% of the sounds that appear on the record are computer generated, meaning that they didn’t so much whip out a harp and hold a microphone up to it but instead used a program that created a “virtual harp” they could work with. Vocals aren’t really something you can fake though, so those were recorded live and the way they’re presented is one of the things that differentiates Sun Airway from Animal Collective. Barthmus is pretty much the only vocalist in the band, meaning that without an Avey Tare or Panda Bear to back him up, there’s less in the way of Beach Boys-esque harmonies. Echo effects are used with relative frequency though, to help add a nice dose of psychedelia to everything. When no vocal effects are used and Barthmus’s vocals come across with stark clarity it’s also effective in a different an unexpected sort of way.
When the vocals aren’t obscured or processed, the songs usually have strong pop elements to them, and compelling hooks are probably Sun Airway’s strong suit. Opening track “Infinity” may not have the band at their most energetic, but it serves as a strong, shimmery introduction to the record. The constant repetition of the lines “Woke up as a snowflake on an ocean/I looked over/I saw you floating next to me/drowned in the moonlight hours” works on you until it’s stuck in your head. With its toe-tappingly danceable beat and verse-chorus-verse style, “American West” is one of the catchiest songs on the entire record. It’d serve extremely well as a single, as does actual single “Oh, Naoko” which follows it. “Waiting On You” comes across as something of a cross between “Merriweather Post Pavilion”‘s “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes”, though to call it equal to either of those tracks would make it one of the best songs of the year. Perhaps it is, but it’s going to take a little longer to fully earn that honor. Towards the end of the record second single “Put the Days Away” and “Your Moon” also are two sharply addictive tracks that really help balance things out from start to finish. In other words, half the album is packed with hooks, while the other half focuses more on beauty, mood and pure balladry.
For those that found “Merriweather Post Pavilion” a bit too challenging to fully embrace, Sun Airway’s “Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier” might just be the record that skates the balance between anti-pop and pop. The record is experimental without being too experimental, and catchy without being overtly pandering. These are the sorts of things that if done correctly, will generate the right sort of buzz for a band. There are a couple small shakier/almost flat-out boring moments on this album, but they come so few and far between that they’re relatively forgiveable given how well most everything else functions. It is those times though that prevent the record from attaining that much coveted “Album of the Year” nomination but still keeps it well within the “year-end list” range. That Sun Airway began working on this record in the fall of 2008 before anyone had heard a single note of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” just goes to show that they had the right ideas from the start, even if that album did eventually provide some sort of influence in the studio later on. Where Sun Airway will go from here, and how they might benefit from this ripe Animal Collective comparison will be determined in the coming months by the ever-fickle hype cycle. They may not be ushering in a musical revolution that will become the official “next big thing”, but they have made an album more than worth your time and hard-earned cash as we continue to hold a trend towards a strong finish in 2010.