Monday, August 31, 2009

Pool Parties end with a sigh

If you're one of the bedraggled thousands who bundled themselves over to the last JellyNYC show of 2009 only to end up waiting in the listless, blocks-long line outside East River State Park, then I sympathize. Not that Beach House and Grizzly Bear didn't sound good from the curb, but I was really hoping to catch a glimpse of Victoria Legrand in action. So here's what we missed. Happy Monday, suckers.

Also, since when did cops block off a street and then yell at pedestrians for walking in it? I really, really hope that Chuck Schumer is looking into that. Also, the plague of ice cream trucks along Kent Avenue. I'll tell you what I tell the rest of them -- if it's not big and gay, and doesn't serve bacon ice-cream sandwiches, I'm not having any of it. [More JellyNYC photos via Kurt Christensen]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Heading to Hel

I'm off to Helsinki in a week to check out a showcase put on by Finnish indie/punk label Fullsteam Records, and I can't say that I've been this excited in a long time. Going straight to the wellspring of Scandinavian music -- this must be what babies feel like when they see their mother's teat.

The endlessly inventive indie act Rubik will be playing at the festival (which is taking place in Turku, apparently Finland's oldest city). I've also been listening to Disco Ensemble, another Finnish band that'll be at the show -- if they're half as good live as soundalikes Les Savy Fav, I may just never come back to the U.S. We'll see. For now, I'm amusing myself with Hel-Looks, a Nordic take on The Sartorialist, and wondering how much a beard cap costs if you buy it at the source...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Miike Snow: creepier than you might think

I happened upon a Miike Snow show (joy!) when I was in Chicago for Lollapalooza two weekends ago. They were a little rough still, but the performance beat out the rest of the weekend, by far. It was held in a venue in the meatpacking district of Chicago, which seems to still be used for packing meat in a totally non-ironic, non-depressing way, unlike the B&T wasteland of lower Manhattan.

Some quick notes: lead singer Andrew Wyatt has a rugged beard a la Ben Bridwell, and he accentuates it by wearing a Phantom of the Opera-style mask; it's sort of nerve-wracking to watch an entire band wearing aforesaid masks; I think the band needs to let the awesomeness of their song "Animal" sink in before playing any more weird, electro-infused reprises; "Sylvia" is a much more beautiful song than I had realized.

Lykke Li headlined the show, and I couldn't help suspecting she picked Miike as a headliner because of some shared Swedishness. Which leads to my next question: how do you pronounce "Miike"?

Animal Collective at Prospect Park Bandshell, Saturday 8/15

Yes, that's a giant shark teetering through an undulating ocean behind the band. Weird, I know. Almost as weird as the sight of babies in the crowd burbling over their moms' shoulders amidst throngs of face-painted, pot-smoking teenagers. I had expected to see more signs of acid consumption (people licking trees, dancing on their backs, etc.) -- that must have been the Friday night show.

The band was tight, in a jammy kind of way, and leaned heavily on their older stuff -- the recognizable melodies from Merriweather Post Pavillion peeked into view only occasionally above the melodic, if slightly confusing, fray. I spent at least half the show staring at the leaves overhead. Trippy, dude.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lollapalooza 2009

So I happened to be out in Chicago last weekend visiting a dear friend, and my visit just happened to coincide with a certain musical festival named Lollapalooza. Serendipity. This year's series was notable for several reasons -- prime among them being that Jane's Addiction was regrouping to headline the show on Sunday. (Their lead singer, Perry Farrell, created the festival in 1991 as the band's farewell tour.) What follows are some quick notes and snapshots from the show; these are thumbnails, so click through for the full images. If their quality still upsets you, my friend Erica Gannett over at Venus Zine was photographing the show for three days straight, and her camera (and aesthetic sensibility) is much nicer than mine.

The festival is, was, and until 2018 will be held in Grant Park -- hallowed ground to any liberal, and there were plenty of those on hand. Here was the scene around 3 PM, looking north towards one of the festival's two main stages (there were seven in all, covering much of the park's 319 acres).

Here are the Raveonettes, who were a charming and attractive bunch, but frankly unremarkable.

And here's Gang Gang Dance, who were loud and ugly and all the more beautiful for it. I was slightly disturbed by the proliferation of Bonnaroo and Grateful Dead t-shirts here, but I guess hippies are drawn to tribal music like moths to an open flame. Note the guy on the far left, who looks like he's just stepped out of the shower. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what he was contribuing -- but this must be what distinguishes an "art collective" from a normal band.

And here's Passion Pit on the very same (and badly undersized, considering their audience) stage. They were very upbeat and energetic, and drew throngs of young, enthusiastic people who seemed to know every word to every song. And I know I've commented on it before, but the wild disparity between Michael Angelakos's voice and anatomy is even more pronounced when he's on stage.

Here's Snoop's set, on the south side of the park. Apparently it reeked of sewage down there, and it was also obscenely crowded, so I kept a safe distance and replenished myself with some gourmet Lolla food: Top Chef Graham Elliott Bowles's black-pepper-parmesan-truffle popcorn and teriyaki portobello satay with spicy peanut sauce. Not bad, but I was still pretty upset that they were out of the lobster corn dogs.

MSTRKRFT = masterful. Wish I could have stayed for this set for longer, but Lou Reed was calling.

Unfortunately, this is as close as I felt like getting to him. Did I mention the crowds?

Rockstar egos can sometimes override the festival's rigid scheduling, and Lou Reed played for about half an hour longer than he was allotted. He's Lou Reed, so I'm not complaining, but I have to admit that by the fifteenth minute of "Waiting for My Man," most of the people waiting for Band of Horses's set were rolling their eyes. Ben Bridwell was waving to people and shrugging helplessly from the side of the stage, which was nice of him in a down-home sort of way. Indeed, the band's time in South Carolina seems to have rubbed off on them; besides being inordinately humble and grateful for the crowd's enthusiastic reception, Ben had swapped out his trucker cap for a stetson, and sounded even more like Neil Young than usual.

There was also a helicopter circling the north side of the park at this point, looking like a heavenly, oscillating disco ball. It was probably supposed to coincide with the Jane's Addiction set, which Perry Farrell decided to go ahead and start even though Band of Horses hadn't wrapped up yet. I tell you, these things get pretty personal.

"Do we keep going?" Bridwell asked his audience, and was greeted with resounding cheers. It was a battle of the wills, and by my estimation, Band of Horses won. By the time they ended their set, I was too wiped -- and too daunted by the crowd -- to try to get anywhere near the Jane's Addiction stage. I listened to a few songs, watched Dave Navarro on the Jumbrotron as he waved the cameraman away from him a few times, and then headed back to Bucktown for some shut-eye before my 6 AM flight. Woof.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Cocteau Twins, halved

Yeah, I know, that title could be snappier (and also truer -- the Cocteau Twins were actually a three-person act for most of their tenure). Whatever. I woke up at 3am to get back from Lollapalooza, and my brain is like cold molasses, so shut up already.

Anyway, I came back to New York to find a copy of Carousel, a new album by ex-Twin Robin Guthrie, waiting for me in my mailbox. It's due out on September 28th, and is a nice treat for any Cocteau Twins fan; Guthrie was one of the band's two founders, and its longest-running member (he stayed with the group until its breakup in the late '90s), and his latest album sounds like a slightly more ambient, less melodic continuation of the Cocteau Twins' oeuvre. Think Heaven or Las Vegas without Liz Fraser's vocals. (Guthrie has also had his hand in M83 and School of Seven Bells, and his influence is palpable there, as well.)

Caveat emptor: the title of Guthrie's follow-up release in November is Songs to Help My Children Sleep. Guthrie's solo music comes off as an electronic lullabye; listening to it this afternoon, I had to struggle to keep my head off my desk. I'm going to split the blame between Carousel and Lollapalooza.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Carp a la cruz

In an Iraqi twist on the Argentine asado a la cruz, today's New York Times has a great article/photo essay about the recuperating masquf (roasted carp) scene in Baghdad.

The process, in a nutsell, is to keep the carp alive until you gut them; press them flat, butterfly-style, and stake them in front of a fire of fruit-tree wood (apple, orange, or pomegranate); then finish them on the coals themselves and serve them with flatbread, salad, yogurt with cucumber, and pickled fruits and vegetables. You can also have their guts fried in a cast-iron pan -- they're apparently an aphrodisiac.

My only complaint about that photo is that I'm not there to intercept that platter. Fingers crossed that La Kabbr is keeping abreast of the food trends back home.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Minature Tigers spawn an Animal Collective-aping side project; I promise to never compare anything to Animal Collective ever again

Yes, it's the third time I've done it in a week and it's getting really hackneyed. I know and I'm sorry. But it's such a musical meme right now that the comparison is basically unavoidable.

Luckily, though, the playful, cacophonous racket on Alvin Band's debut album Mantis Preying owes just as much to Bobby McFerrin and Brian Wilson (in his drug years) as it does to the four-man freak-pop act from Baltimore. Alvin Band is the solo project of Rick Alvin Shaier, the frontman of Miniature Tigers. And when I say solo, I mean solo -- the album is a one-man vocal symphony that Shaier recorded in a friend's bathroom in Phoenix using just a mic and a Powerbook. I'm guessing he had some chemical help, too, but maybe I just say that because listening to his music is sort of like tripping on acid. No, seriously; think Freddie Mercury performing "Vegetables" in a tie-dyed tent, and you're only halfway there.

Swedish producers forming a band: does it get any better?

Why don't more producers form bands? I mean, really -- can you imagine Phil Spektor prancing around stage with a keytar? No, you're right, I can't either. It's scary to even try. Nevermind.

The old guard may have kept the worlds of music production and performance strictly divided, but obviously that dichotomy has been in a slow breakdown ever since the days of disco. (Nowadays, it's hard to tell them apart at all. Take Girl Talk -- compositional mastermind? Sweaty, overzealous Z-100 fan? Who knows.)

Miike Snow (no, that's not a typo) is a Swedish-American hybrid of a band that represents the best of both worlds; it's fronted by American producer/keyboardist/singer/songwriter Andrew Wyatt, and backed up by Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, who together make up the Swedish production team Bloodshy and Avant. It's sort of a weird cross-pollination -- he's played with a veteran of Jeff Buckley's band and the male half of The Bird and the Bee; they co-wrote and produced Britney Spears' "Toxic" -- but my, do they make beautiful music together.

Miike Snow has been compared to Animal Collective, and the comparison certainly holds (listen to the chorus of "Burial" and try not to think of "Also Frightened"). At times, though, they sound just as much like an early contemporary of the Police -- especially on the track "Animal," whose weirdly wailed choruses, swelling verses, and syncopated strumming have Sting written all over them. At their core, though, they're industry-leading melody-makers, and that hook-savvy sensibility is what comes across strongest in their music.

Wyattm Karlsson, and Winnberg are playing Lollapalooza this Saturday, but I'm boycotting that day because I've got a weird thing against Tool -- guess I'll have to wait to see Miike Snow until they hit Mercury Lounge again in mid-September.