Wild Beast's second album, Two Dancers, is out today in the U.S. and you should get it — it's pretty brilliant. Mixing a variety of post punk influences with the very distinctive vocals of guitarist Hayden Thorpe and bassist Tom Flemming. Most reviews of Wild Beasts tend to focus on Thorpe, whose pipes are kind of like a less sad bastard version of Antony's. A bit of an aquired taste, but I think it's rather tempered here, at least compared to last year's debut, Limbo Panto. But all the talk of shrieking doesn't leave much time to talk about the music, which is slinky, sexy, understated and anchored by an incredible rhythm section — seriously, the drumming here is out-of-this-world. On tracks like "All the Kings Men," "We Still Got the Taste Dancing on Our Tongues" and the title track they're almost like a new pop cabaret version of The Sound or The Chameleons. Two Dancers will definitely be on my Best of 2009 list.
Wild Beasts are in town this week playing three shows, the first of which is tonight at Joe's Pub. They also play Mercury Lounge on Thursday (tickets) and Union Pool on Friday (no advance tickets, unfortunately). It's a busy week for shows, but you should definitely make room for Wild Beasts.
Stealing liberally from the Jesus an Mary Chain and Spacemen 3,not to mention various other psych rock bands, San Diego duo Crocodiles aren't doing anything new, but they do it very well. Dressed in skinny denim and sunglasses and bathed in red light, Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez look like a lost 1986 Creation Records press photo. It's all two-chords, feedback, reverb, and excruciating volume set against a dimestore drum machine beat. And it all works pretty brilliantly because, like fellow West Coast-ers The Soft Pack, they have one element that can't be ripped-off from someone else: attitude. All that's missing is strobe lights and smoke machines. Though it would probably work just as well with a full band.
In this two-man form, Crocodiles probably work best in the smallest clubs possible, but they're touring with Ladytron and The Faint in mid-sized venues for the next month or so. Wouldn't be surprised if they tried to work in late-night house parties as well. They're also playing their hometown with ex-SP3 dude Sonic Boom's current trip, Spectrum, which should prove to be an interesting night.
It's a bit pornographic to watch Black Diamond Bayfrontman Patrick Krief play guitar. Not that he full-on sexualizes things like Prince, but the man definitely makes a serious O Face while rocking out on his instrument. Actually, so does drummer George Donoso, who is somewhere on the intensity scale between Keith Moon and Animal. This was the last of BDB's three NYC shows, their first real American assault since going from being a Krief solo project — he and Donoso were both in The Dears up until a year or so ago — into a new and destinct entity.
That said, Black Diamond Day aren't entirely dissimilar to The Dears. The '70s glam drama, an epic swagger, but Krief and Donoso were intrinsic to the sound of that band's last two albums — and what helped make them such a powerhouse live (and whose departure has left a hole I'm not sure that can ever really be filled). As Krief put it after the show, "George and I left our stink on them." And vise-versa. While they are still developing as songwriters, Black Diamond Bay are already a powerhouse live. Tight as hell, they definitely knock you back a little. Of course, part of that is the volume at which they play, which is set at Stadium. But's it's mostly the skill and passion. And the O Face.
It was an all-Canadian night at Pianos put together by the folks at the Musebox. Fellow Montrealers The High Dials had probably the biggest draw the three bill line-up, and deservedly so — they were great. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for what they do: hazy '60s psych/country with spot-on harmonies and a healthy dose of druggy drone. (The band didn't tour with The Brian Jonestown Massacre for nothing.) I knew the name but thought I was unfamiliar with until they took stage, then I realized I'd seen them before, though I can't place where or when. And when I got home I found 2005 last album, War of the Wakening Phantoms, in my collection, which upon listening again I totally remember. And hopefully they'll be back soon, as their new double-album, Moon Country, is pretty great and has been listened to about six times today. I won't forget them again.
The official headliners were Ottowa's Hilotrons whose album Happymatic was on the "long list" for this year's Polaris Music Prize which eventually went to Caribou's Andora. (Did you ever watch my video of "Sandy"?) I know that a lot of people compare them to Tokyo Police Club and Franz Ferdinand (well that's what I read) but to me they sound like a band who could have been signed to I.R.S. in 1980 — a little Wall of Voodoo, a smidge of Skafish, and a lot of Oingo Boingo (minus the horns). (The singer sounds a little like Dick Valentine or maybe Eddie Money.) All things I like but I think I'm going to need a little more emersion for it all to sink in. They are definitely fun, though.
I know we're all focused on The Election and all, and lord knows I've been watching way too much CNN lately (minus Lou Dobbs who may actually top anyone at FOX News in douche-i-ness), but the world goes on and Wednesday we're going to wake up very hungover and ask, "What now?" Well, musically, it's Krief Week here in NYC. That's Patrick Krief, former guitarist of The Dears and now frontman of Black Diamond Bay. BDB is the same band that toured here last Krief Week (July 2007) when they were just called Krief (basically a solo project) and he was still a member of The Dears but now have a full-length album out which is quite good.
Black Diamond Bay, which also features awesome former Dears drummer George Donoso, are in the same school as their former band — we're talking "She's So Heavy" Beatles, or Hunky Dory Bowie, or Radiohead — big, epic stuff with skyrocketing solos and massive crescendos. And if you ever saw Krief and Donoso with the Dears, you know how much they sell it: faces are made, sweat pours down, solos soar, and drum-fills fill the air.
New York has three chances to see Black Diamond Bay this week: Wednesday at Public Assembly (formerly Galapagos); Thursday at Southpaw; and Saturday at Pianos. They also play Election Night in Boston (tough gig) and Friday in Philly. I caught them last year and they're well worth seeing, so please go out and check out one of the shows.
Nov 4 Church, Boston, Massachusetts Nov 5 Public Assembly, Brooklyn, New York Nov 6 Southpaw, Brooklyn, New York Nov 7 The Green Rock, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Nov 8 Pianos, New York, New York Nov 13 Blacksheep INN, Wakefield, Quebec Nov 22 Le Casbah, Quebec City, Quebec
Of all the bands I saw at CMJ, Friendly Fires were the only ones to play thier guitar with a Dustbuster. As I've said before, these guys know how to make studio-created dance music interesting live, with loads of live percussion, unusual instrumentation and singer Ed Macfarlane's appealingly new romantic vocal style and spastic dance moves. The songs are pretty good too: the super-funky "On Board"; "Paris," with it's Us-against-the-World romanticism; and the dreamy "Strobe." They continue to refuse to play "Photobooth," maybe their best song, the hope of which will probably have me seeing them again.
"Whoa, she's got a keyboard player," I remarked as Emmy the Great was setting up for her first of many CMJ shows at Pianos Tuesday afternoon. I'd seen Emmy play four times previous and at none of them did she have more than a second guitarist and a violin player. But here she had three people backing her. No, four. Wait…five. Oh my god, Emmy the Great are a six piece?
My first thought was "Isn't this overkill?" I always compared her to Billy Bragg or Mary Lou Lord. One of those "less is more" types who just need their well-written songs, a guitar and a voice to win over audiences. Won't drums and a bassist and a keyboard player just make it more difficult to focus on what makes her special?
Well, yes and no. While there was all that instrumentation, it's not like Emmy became Joan Jett or anything. Drumming was gentle, embellishments tastefull, favoring the song. At Pianos, during the Music Slut party, where the mix was a bit in flux, the vocals got lost a bit in the mix but having heard most of her songs before I didn't mind so much; he set sounded much better at Music Hall of Williamsburg, though her's is really more of a sit-down kind of show.
The band sounded great and it was nice to hear the songs I knew so well in bare-bones form fleshed out a little more, but I don't think I'd have wanted it to be my first impression. She is capable of such turns of phrases, clever but often sad and hit straight to the heart of it, that's what you should hear above all else. But as Heart on a Stick said, any day you get to see Emmy twice is a good one.
Emmy's new single, "We Almost Had a Baby," is out on November 10 and her debut album, First Love, will drop in January. Here's video of Emmy doing "Easter Parade" at Pianos:
Was talking to a fellow blogger after seeing The Muslims at the Fader Fort and asked him what he thought. “Unoriginal,” he replied. That’s kind of beside the point, I think. Originality can only get you so far, and it’s OK if you’re playing garage rock if you’ve got songs as good as The Muslims’. Plus, they’ve got the one thing you absolutely cannot fake — attitude. They’ve got bucketfuls of it.
The Muslims played an astounding 10 shows during CMJ and I ended up catching three of them, the best being the technically post-CMJ show at Union Pool on Sunday where the relaxed crowd (which seemed to include every band that hadn’t gone home already) had nowhere else to go and were there just to rock out. It was also a longer show and we got a couple more than the six song set they’d honed for CMJ, including both sides of their new single — “Parsites” and the blazing cover of Spacemen 3’s “Walking With Jesus.” Despite being obviously tired and guitarist Matty McLoughlin having his fingers wrapped in black electrical tape because he’d busted them open repeatedly over the week, with blood spattered all over his guitar, they played like it was their first show of the week.
If you missed Passion Pit's NYC debut there is good news and bad news. The good news is it was the first of a three consecutive Wednesdays residency. The bad news is, given the size of the crowd and the enthusiastic response, good luck getting in to see them. I don't think Passion Pit need that much help from the media at this point. The audience, not sold out but close, was singing along to almost all the songs and seriously dancing. Going just slightly south of Bonkers. Pianos should really consider selling tickets to the other two shows as demand is going to be high. These Bostonians are going to be big.*
That is just pure scene reportage, not me saying they're the most awesome new thing ever. As for the review: Passion Pit are good, no doubt, but I'm not sure I get the overarching love for them. I have read a bunch of comparisons to MGMT but to my ears the obvious comparison is Aqueduct — straight-from-the-heart pop songwriting, played mostly with keyboards so you can dance to it. Main man Michael Angelakos writes Big Hooks with shout-a-long choruses and his band is tight. It's an energetic show even though Angelakos is sitting behind the keyboard most of the time, though passion definitely has him standing up just about once a song.
If there is a weak spot it is his voice. Angelakos sings on the upper end of his register, almost a shout, which isn't a problem on record but live it could use a little more finesse — it's sort of wild to the point it flies around the intended notes most of the time. It's a quibble and I'm sure control will come with time. (Passion Pit aren't even two years old.) Certainly the crowd wasn't concerned with such thing — they were too busy going apeshit. Me, I gently bobbed along.
In addition to the next two Pianos gigs, here are the rest of Passion Pit's live appearances:
Aug 14 – Outerland, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts w/ RJD2
Aug 20 – Pianos w/ D. Gookin, All These Kings, NYC
Aug 27 – Pianos, NYC
Sep 12 – Newbury Comics on Newbury St, Boston, Massachusetts
Sep 13 – Monolith Fest: Red Rocks CO, Denver, Colorado
Sep 18 – Great Scott ( CD RELEASE SHOW! 18+), Allston, Massachusetts
Oct 4 – POP MONTREAL w/ The Dodos, MONTREAL, Quebec
Playing before Passion Pit was Brooklyn trio Murray Flexorwho I actually liked quite a bit for having never heard of them before tonight. My cursory pre-show visit to their MySpace had me thinking they were in the same ballpark as Grovesnor and their live show definitely backed that up. We're talking mid-'80s UK pop — ABC or Swing Out Sister type stuff. Their super-groovy basslines really stood out for me. Plus: glockenspiel! I was dancing more to them than Passion Pit if I'm being honest. Definitely a group to key an eye (and ear) out for.
*Addendum. Never post after 2AM. In the sober light of morning and being ridiculed by Brooklyn Vegan commenters after the first paragraph was quoted there, I will concede the the first paragraph is a little ridiculous. And I probably would've de-hyped it a bit the next day if it hadn't been quoted, to read something like this:
"If you missed Passion Pit's
NYC debut there is good news and bad news. The good news is it was the
first of a three consecutive Wednesdays residency. The bad news is,
given the size of the crowd and the enthusiastic response, good luck
getting in to see them the next two weeks. The audience, not sold out but close, was
singing along to almost all the songs and seriously dancing. Going just
slightly south of Bonkers at times. These
Bostonians won't be playing places this small again."
I will try not to make silly proclimations again, but I can't make any promises.
Sky Larkin are one of the more unassuming-looking indie bands I've seen in a while — no funny clothing or shutter shades, etc. Which makes the story singer Katie Harkin told the Pianos crowd at their first-ever U.S. show even funnier. Before even crossing the street this morning when they left their hotel, a car drove by and yelled "HIPSTER BULLSHIT!!!" at them. Cue extended laughter. Welcome to New York.
Pianos was much nicer to them, and I was happy to see a decent crowd out early to see them. Having only released two singles so far in their career but have just signed to uber-cool indie label Wichita in the UK (Peter Bjorn and John, Les Savvy Fav, Los Camesinos! and more) with an album due out this fall. Here to play a couple shows and film the video for the album's first single, "Fossil, I," Sky Larkin were a little jetlagged, overwhelmed, and hot (English summers don't reach NYC temperatures, and it wasn't even that bad today) but they pulled off their American debut with aplomb.
Nestor, their drummer, in particular gave it 110%, to the point where in between songs he rested his head on the snare. Apparently Katie had some trouble with her effects pedals but I couldn't tell there was anything wrong. It was a short set (35 minutes or so) but certainly long enough for a band whose audience only a had a few songs to go on but new songs were as catchy as previously-released singles "Molten" and "One of Two." There is nothing trendy whatsoever about what they do, just good songs played with skill and energy. Definitely not hipster bullshit.
Just a friendly reminder that Leeds, UK band Sky Larkin are in town this week for two shows — tonight at Pianos and tomorrow at Union Hall. The band just signed to Wichita Recordings (UK home to Bloc Party, The Cribs, The Dodos and more) so expect to be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months. If you give them your email address, they'll give you the new recording of "Molten."