Sound Bites Best of 2008: Gigs

"Seeing Jarvis Cocker makes you realize that almost all other bands are chumps. This is how it's done. This is a show. This is charisma. This is It. You can't take your eyes off him. My #1 show of 2007 was his show at Webster Hall (and I hate Webster Hall) and this one was better."

And also these…

"Featuring members of infamous garage rock collective CPC Gangbangs, this was Red Mass' first-ever live show and clearly they wanted to make a statement. As their name would suggest, Red Mass were about 10 strong and all-clad in red… apart from the one dude who wore only a Speedo and gold paint."

"The Muslims played an astounding 10 shows during CMJ, and this was the last… 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."

Casiokids | Cake Shop | 10.25.2008

"…It was at this point that Ketil squeezed through their wall of keyboards, past the monitors and got face-to-face with the crowd, basically standing directly in front of me the whole time. My friend Erin said it looked like I was being serenaded."

Late of the Pier | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 10.22.2008

"These are youngsters but they rock like pros, pulling off the guitar heroics, the funky parts, everything. And we danced to it. Even more than the Klaxons, Late of the Pier seem to truly come from outer space. But they make it seem like the most natural thing on earth."

Women | Cake Shop | 10.21.2008

"Women are so much better live than on record. The album, while good, is a little too drenched in Animal Collective-style reverb, while onstage (or in Cake Shop's case, the floor) they hit pretty hard."

Kirsten Ketsjer | Lit Lounge | 10.16.2008

"This is the definition of power trio (not to compare them to Cream or anything, there's no bass), three as one — you know, very New Testament but in a rock sort of way… If you like Velvet Underground, Television, Bettie Serveert, the Greatful Dead, Marnie Stern, metal, indie rock, Denmark, spoken word, noodling, no-bass bands, twin-leads, or Nordic good looks… this might be the band for you."

This was a swoon-worthy night. The Bunnymen are 30 this year, hence this celebration of what they consider their crowning achievement with three shows: London, New York, and their hometown of Liverpool."The Killing Moon" is what a lot of people were there to hear, and many unbelievably left after that, but for me it was the album's more obscure gems that made my knees a bit weak. 

"Main Oh See John Dwyer is one of those mike eaters, it spending more time in his mouth than not, all the better to get that overdriven, distorted vocal sound. But I wouldn't want to be the band that used it after them. He's also a Give 100% performer, who slams his guitars around and whose eyes bug out a little when he sings. The rest of the band are no slouches either (they've got a whalloper of a drummer) and there was a nice interplay between Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees' other singer, Brigid Dawson. They played their hearts out."

BOAT | Cake Shop | 8.17.2008

"If BOAT lived here instead of Seattle I have a feeling they'd be my favorite local band.  All their songs are catchy, and funny without being jokes. The band also has good stage banter and a penchant for props — big signs, confetti and shakers made out of Solo cups."

Witch Hats | Santos Party House | 8.11.2008

"Witch Hats really benefit from clear sound; the sludge turns into organized noise, even if it's just as loud. (Super loud!) It still takes a minute or two for hooks to break through the chaos, but they are there. Witch Hats are wild but with purpose, a bit gothy without looking the part, and possess a wise-ass sense of humor."

Metronomy | Union Hall | 8.01.2008

"Metronomy are better live than you think they're going to be. It probably has something to do with the stick-it-and-clickit lights they had affixed to their chests. Aware that they are three dudes playing keyboards and guitars and bass (and occasionally saxaphone and melodica) with no drummer and a fair amount of pre-programmed music, they know you have to give the audience something more if you want them to actually pay attention to you."

"We are in the midst of a heatwave here in New York with temperatures in the upper '90s during the day and only dropping to around 80 at night. I have spent a lot of it in semi-legal performance spaces with zero air conditioning. There has been a lot of sweating but Sic Alps were the first band I've seen all week that made it feel like the heat was being generated from the stage."

P
ants Yell! | Pianos | 6.13.2008

"A tight cohesive trio with a beast of a drummer, Pants Yell! were on fire in the packed room. On their excellent third album from late last year, Alison Statton, they sound polite, but live it's more hyperkinetic. You could even say they rocked."

"I texted my friend Don before they started: "There are like 10 girls here. Five are bartenders, the rest are here against their will." I was excited to see Swervedriver's first NYC show in ten years, but all this, um, dudeness was freaking me out. But then Swervedriver came out and just killed it. Like the last ten years never happened. Jaw-droppingly, why-aren't-you-still-a-band-and-making-records good."

"I know this wasn't the coolest show of the night (Sigur Ros) or the coolest show of Love Is All's visit (Cake Shop or Market Hotel win over this) but what show! And band-for-band one of the best I've seen this year."

Violens + Savoir Adore + Amazing Baby | Union Pool | 5.10.2008
"It pleases me greatly to go into a show mostly blind and come out a fan of every band on the bill. That never happens anymore. Maybe I'm just going to the wrong shows."

"This was the first night of their American tour for Elbow's great, just-released fourth album, The Seldom-Seen Kid which is full of the heartfelt mini-epics the band are so good at. Joined on this tour by two violist/backup singers, Elbow were grander than usual, but it was Garvey's charm, humor, and smokey voice that makes people lifetime fans."

"Liela Moss is a pistol. As much as you wanted to check out the rest of the band, it was hard to take your eyes off her. She knows what she's got and she knows how to work it. There is no doubt Moss is beautiful, but she's got the pipes to match and, obviously, a stage presence to hold it all together. Moss held the crowd but certainly the rest of the band kept her up. A lot of crushes were made Wednesday night but The Duke Spirit are the total package."

Liars | Warsaw | 2.09.2008

At 6-foot-somethingorother, Liars front man Angus Andrew is a magnetic, kind of menacing presence. Even in a raspberry colored suit. While sitting down. As you may have heard, Andrew threw out his back shortly before Liars were to begin their current tour with No Age so he's being doing the shows from a chair. (The accompanying table is a nice touch.) For some bands this might have been a major setback but it didn't seem to affect Liars' ferocious performance at Warsaw one iota.

"Jeepers, how good are The 1900s? It's been almost two years since I saw them open for Midlake at Mercury Lounge and had kind of forgotten how good they are. And they've gotten better since. Watching last night's fantastic show at Union Hall makes me wonder why I left their album Cold & Kind off my Best of 2007 list." 

Sound Bites Best of 2008 | Albums

2008 was a great year for good music and a pretty good year for great music. I kept expanding my list from 20 to 25 to 30, and then back down to 20 (sort of). Deciding what would be my #10 took forever. (The top #9 have been there for a while, with the order shuffling around till seconds from this posting.) And actually my Top 5 were as close as they've been in ages. My rules: whatever year an album is first made available in any legally obtainable format (CD, vinyl, digital, etc), that is the year it's eligible. No compilations of previously-released material. So no MGMT (came out last year), no Bon Iver (wouldn't have made it anyway). Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2008:

01metronomy

1. MetronomyNights Out (Because Music) | A couple things take Nights Out to the top slot of '08. They've worked out a distinct sound that is instantly recognizable whether it's their own tracks or the remixes they do for other artists. It's manic, with a water-damaged quality to it that sounds like what it feels to be up for 36 hours straight, buzzing on espressos (or whatever) but dead tired. In a good way, obviously. It sounds like nothing else. Plus, whistling! Above all else, it's my favorite of the year because it's almost all hits. Nights Out contains at least seven single-worthy tracks and absolutely no bad songs. How many albums can you say that about this year? 

MP3: Heartbreaker | A Thing for Me

Myspace | Buy it on Amazon

02mysteryjets
2. Mystery Jets – Twenty One
(679 Recordings) | If you'd told me two years ago that Mystery Jets would make one of the best pop albums of 2008, I think I would've scoffed. Here was a band who claimed King Crimson to be a primary influence, and who never met 17 disparate musical ideas that they didn't like and want to put all into the same song. Not that they didn't have some good songs before but The Mystery Jets were just too damn inclusive. But there's no denying the pop smarts and inventive arrangements found all over their new album, Twenty One, a highly enjoyable statement about being young by people who actually are young. And like Metronomy, nearly every song could be a single. It seems unfathomable that this didn't get released in America.

MP3Young Love | Two Doors Down

Myspace | Buy It 

03deerhunter
3. Deerhunter – Microcastle / Wierd Era Continued
(Kranky / 4AD) | What a year Bradford Cox has had. Two Deerhunter albums, plus an album and six EPs under the Atlas Sound moniker. All of it good, some of it was amazing. Microcastle was the crowning achievement.  I liked Cryptograms but this is a stellar album, indie rock with a pop sensibility, and showcase for Cox's songwriting abilites and studio ingenuity. And that the suprise bonus album, Wierd Era, was nearly as good is all the more amazing. May 2009 be as fruitful for him.

MP3Deerhunter – Never Stops 

Myspace | Insound | Emusic

04crystalstilts
4. Crystal Stilts – Alight of Night
(Slumberland) | The band I became more obsessed with in 2008 than any other, probably because they gave me seemingly endless chances to see them live, most of which I took advantage of. (I think I saw them 10 times at least.) Somewhere between Bo Diddly, JAMC, and The Chills lie Crystal Stilts' moody, twangy, echo-drenched sound which is even sweeter on vinyl. So many great songs, and seemingly sprouted fully-formed. According to lore, Alight of Night has been sitting around completed for four years waiting to be released! Seriously guys what were you waiting for? On the plus side: hopefully this will mean a second album will come sooner than later. 

MP3Crystal Stilts – Departure 

Myspace | Buy it 

05twtw
5. The Week That Was – S/T (Memphis Industries) | Field Music may have disolved but the Brewis brothers remain some of the most creative  – and prolific — artists working today. 2008 provided twice as much music. David Brewis gave us School of Language, which was good but a bit too clinical for my taste. But Peter Brewis' The Week That Was is a brilliant look at our obsession with media and instant information, inspired by Paul Auster and glistening like an '80s Trevor Horn production. If that all sounds overly heady, the album is resplendent with lovely melodies and big rhythms. And with brother David and Andrew Moore in the band too, the big headline is Field Music kinda never really broke up.

MP3The Week That Was – The Airport Line 

MySpace | Buy It 

06muslims
6. The Muslims – S/T
(1928 Recordings) | They may be now calling themselves The Soft Pack, but whatever the name this is one hot record. Like I've said before, these San Diegans aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. But they write great songs, sound raw and alive  and have mountains of the one thing you can't fake: attitude. The bullet-riddled vinyl EP you see here (which included a CD with three more tracks) has sold out two runs but will be reissued under The Soft Pack name as a 10-song LP in 2009.

MP3:   The Muslims – On My Time 

MySpace | 1928 Recordings

07lykkeli
7. Lykke Li – Youth Novels
(Atlantic Records) | Of all the Scandinavian pop singers out there (Annie, Robyn, et al), I think Lykke Li has the best chance of sustaining a career. Especially if she continues to work with colaborator/producer Bj√∂rn Yttling who helped her craft such a distictive organic sound to go along with all those catchy hooks. Li's voice — fragile, understated — makes Youth Novels all the more human.

MP3Lykke Li – Let It Fall 

MySpace | Buy It

08tvotr
8. TV on the Radio – Dear Science
(DGC) | Finally, TVotR deliver on the promise they made with that first EP back in 2003. Much like what The Associates, ABC, and Scritti Politti attempted in the mid-'80s, Dear Science is the post-punk asthetic applied to pop ideals. This is the sound of them really going for it — and succeeding spectacularly.

MP3TV on the Radio – Crying 

MySpace | Buy It

09lotp
9. Late of the Pier – Fantasy Black Channel (Parlophone) | The craziest record of the year that still manages to hold it together somewhat within pop boundaries. Within its grooves, Fantasy Black Channel offers up post punk guitars, synth pop, g-funk, glam hystrionics, prog… often wthin the same song. Take "Bathroom Gurgle" which melds Gary Numan and Queen like it was the most natural thing in the world. Just maybe not Earth.

Fantasy Black Channel gets a U.S. release through Astralwerks on January 13, 2009.

MP3: Late of the Pier – Heartbeat 

MySpace | Insound

10highdials
10. The High Dials – Moon Country
(self-released) | A late entry in the 2008 race, Montreal's High Dials exell at country-tinged psych-shoegaze (a sound that is timeless for me) and even though they no longer have a full-time sitar player, the songwriting remains top notch. This double-CD is only six minutes longer than thier 2005 album War of the Waking Phantoms but splitting it onto two discs makes it easier to take it all in. Plus, a sound this big kinda needs two discs. What it really needs is vinyl, but it's CDs and digital for now.

MP3: My Heart is Pinned to Your Sleeve | Invisible Choirs 

MySpace | Buy It

11 – 20, and more after the jump….

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Quasi + Crystal Stilts + Sic Alps + Soft Circle + Marnie Stern + Jeff Lewis | Knitting Factory | 12.20.2008

Quasi
Sicalps_kf

Marniestern_kf

Wow, one of the best single-show line-ups of the year currated by and staring Quasi, that had us ping-ponging between two floors so there was no downtime. (Though there was some, in my opinion, unecessary overlapping going on which was slightly annoying.) The last time I saw Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss was at NorthSix five years ago and I'd forgotton how good they are. This was also my first time seeing them as a trio (Joanna Bolme, who like Weiss, is also a Jick). Coomes spent a lot of time on guitar instead of keyboards which clearly he enjoys. And it's always a pleasure watching Weiss play drums.

Sicalps2
Perhaps following Quasi's lead, Sic Alps made their debut as a trio last night, adding former tour-mate and fellow San Franciscan Ty Segall on drums. Segall is a great performer in his own right, and anyone who's heard his great debut from this year knows he's a perfect addition to Sic Alps' sludgy, swampy garage rock. The band flew in from San Francisco just for this show and left behind The Monolith — their towering Jenga-like stack vintage equipment that is such a visual presense at their shows. But with Segall on drums, it freed up Matt Hartman to crank out all sorts of weird noises on his guitar and occasionally sing. Mike Donovan still scrunches up his face when he sings, as if someone is resetting his shoulder. For my money, it was the set of the night.

An aside about the Monolith for you Sic Alps fans: Talking to Hartman after the show, he said that with Segall on drums in the space that the Monolith would normally be, it may now morph into more of a Wall. Sounds like they're gonna need a bigger van.

Crystal Stilts' set in the Tap Room was marred by not-so-great sound and not having keyboardist Kyle Forester with them this time but it was still a good set. I've written about them enough this year so I won't bore you with more, but I did get video of a new song, the one that was called "poopface" on their setlist at Le Poisson Rouge. It's below.

Somehow, this was my first time seeing blog-adored guitar-slinger Marnie Stern, who has been praised upon high by all the heavyweights. While I appreciate her energy, and it's fun to watch a cute girl doing Steve Vai style hammer-on guitar flourishes, she is just not my thing. 

Neither was Soft Circle, which is ex Lightning Bolt and Black Dice drummer Hisham Akira Bharoocha. Like Andrew Bird, Liam Finn, Feist and others, Bharoocha uses loop pedals to be a one-man-band, building his creations from the bassline up… but he focuses on grooves, not so much songs. Which I think was my problem. He does it very well, but the songs don't really go anywhere, they just get bigger until he decides to stop.

Jefflewis_kf
Wearing a ratty Watchmen t-shirt, Jeff "Jeffrey" Lewis opened the night with his charming, funny, thoughtful, absurdist folk and spoken word. He's a real charmer if you ask me, and we got a couple "movies," both of which were works in progress: "Low Budget Detective Flick" and "The Complete History of Communism in Korea."

This was also my farewell to the current Leonard St. location of the Knitting Factory, which will close on New Years and reopen in February in Williamsburg in the former Luna Lounge space. The Leonard St locale opened just before I moved here in '95 and I've seen a lot of amazing shows there over the years: Wedding Present, The Fall, Jonathan Richman, The Chameleons… the list goes on. I hope they'll transform the Luna space into somewhere more pleasant to see a show. See ya in February.

There are a few more photos up on Flickr. Here are those videos:

Sic Alps – Message from the Law

Crystal Stilts – Untitled new song

Sic Alps + Thee Oh Sees + Ty Segall | Death by Audio | 9.28.2008

Sicalps2

Theeohsees

A sweaty, awesome night of three Bay Area garage rock bands playing variations on a theme. And I do mean sweaty. I thought the last time I saw Sic Alps at Death by Audio would've been the hottest show of the year, but actually Sunday night rivaled it, mainly due to 100% humidity thanks to Day Three of a Noreaster that had settled over the Tri-State area.

You'd think that storm might keep the crowds away, but it was a packed house — mainly there to see Thee Oh Sees. It was my first time seeing the quartet who played on the floor instead of the stage. Main Oh See John Dwyer is one of those mike eaters, it spending more time in his mouth than not, all the better to get that overdriven, distorted vocal sound. But I wouldn't want to be the band that used it after them. He's also a Give 100% performer, who slammed his guitars around (including a very cool 12-string that never seemed to go out of tune, which is amazing) and whose eyes bugged out a little when he sings. The rest of the band are no slouches either (they've got a whalloper of a drummer) and there was a nice interplay between Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees' other singer, Brigid Dawson. They played their hearts out.

MP3: Thee Oh Sees – Vsit Colonel
(buy it)

Sicalps1
Sic Alps, who headlined the night, lost a lot of the crowd and momentum from the Oh Sees set due to taking forever to set up and not going on till after midnight on a Sunday. Not sure what the problem was, it's just two guys, but it was worth the wait. It's a thick, dirty sound that mirrored the humidity of the evening. Guitarist and main singer Mike Donovan, who plays barefoot (don't think I'd do that on the DBA stage) and eyes-closed, keeps the intensity levels high, while drummer (and Henry's Dress alum) Matt Hartman seems a little more loose, singing through a pencil-thin mike that seemed hand-picked for its ability to make his voice sound as tinny as possible. Between them was a towering, teetering rack of vintage reverb boxes and amps that looked more like a lifesize Jenga game than a soundsystem. But it obviously did something… they were loud as shit. The stage was bouncing, I'm shocked the monolith didn't fall over.

MP3: Sic Alps – Message From the Law
(buy it)

Ty!
Joining Sic Alps for a few unrehearsed songs was the night's opener, Ty Segall, who fronts Epsilons but here was playing an impressive solo set. Like Sic Alps condensed to one person, Segall played guitar and drums and sang all at the same time. Yes it's a bit of a gimmick but he made it work thanks to some very good songs. Definitely check him out if he swings through your town.

MP3 Ty Segall – The Drag

Ty's solo album is out on John Dwyer's Castle Face records and I'd put in a buy-it link but darn if I can find one.

A few more pictures on my Flickr. Tour dates for Sic Alps and Thee Oh Sees after the jump…

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