NYC Popfest: The Radio Dept. | Mondo! @ Don Hills | 5.15.2009

Nobody really knew what to expect of enigmatic Swedes The Radio Dept. who were playing their first ever New York show, which was also second-ever show in the United States. There's an air of mystery around the trio — they aren't big on interviews or press photos or playing live in general or releasing records in a timely manner — which fits well with their dreamy, often amazing music. With all the other bands on the bill (Liechtenstein, Cats on Fire, The Tartans), most people's expectations were lowered, kind of amazed that we were actually going to see them play at all.

The verdict: pretty good. Playing drummerless and with a lot less guitar pedals than I was expecting, the band recreated the hazy charm of songs like "1995" and especially "I Don't Like This" the latter of which is from their near-perfect This Past Week EP. The smoke machines and moody lighting kept things mysterious. It sort of reminded me of the Cocteau Twins, who didn't get a drummer till late in their existence. I do wish they'd worked up at least one song with one of the other Popfest bands' rhythm sections, and maybe played one song as a full band — say, "Where the Damage Isn't Already Done" from Lesser Matters — but the laptop percussion and bass sounded pretty good. And loud. You could feel those subfrequencies in your stomach.

The set was short, a "warm-up" for their proper show at The Bell House, and included "Freddy and the Trojan Horse" and, I think, "Pet Grief" and "Why Won't You Talk About It." (I could be wrong about those last two.) The show finished with a new song, perhaps upcoming single "David" (out June 23), which if its thumping, distinctive beat is any indication, the new album will bear a distinct balearic influence. ("Freddy and the Trojan Horse" was already heading that direction.) Maybe they've been hanging at fellow Swedes Studio's studio.

 MP3: The Radio Dept. – I Don't Like This (buy it from Labrador or Emusic)

Frank from Chromewaves make the trek down from Toronto for the show and will probably have a review up Monday or so. Meanwhile, here are a couple more pictures from the show:


Soundbites Best of 2008 | Singles, Tracks + EPs


So here's my list of best singles, album tracks, and EPs from 2008. Unlike my Best Albums List, songs that were from a 2007 album but were released as singles in 2008 are eligible. But single reissues are not. (Which is why "Time to Pretend," Friendly Fires and Pacific are absent from my list.) With the concept of the "album" diminishing in this world of digital downloads, singles are becoming more important. I'm not calling the death knell for the Album, but if groups whose music leans toward the poppy and immediate side of things wanted to just release singles or EPs every couple months instead of a full-length, I'd be okay with it. As I've said before singles are ephemeral in nature, and though I've hit my yearly limit on a few of the songs on this list, there was certainly a period of time in 2008 where all 50 of these were stuck on repeat.

1. Mystery Jets feat. Laura Marling – Young Love (MP3) (Video)
The most inventive, deceptively simple (but actually kind of crazy complex; listen to all the little flourishes), repeatedly-rewarding pop song of the year. Great video too.

2. Metronomy – Heartbreaker (MP3) (Video)
Fantastic bassline + creaky doors + whistling = my second favorite song of the year.

3. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Everything With You (MP3) (Video)
A great big hug wrapped in a fuzzy indie pop sweater.    

4. Violens – Violent Sensation Descends (MP3
Loud Quiet Loud as has never quite been done like this before. I can't wait for their full-length.

5. Dizzee Rascal w/ Calvin Harris – Dance Wiv Me (MP3) (Video)
I've never been much of a Dizzee fan, but add Calvin's '80s-style production and you've got a dancefloor killer.

6. Sam Sparro – Black and Gold (Video)
The rest of this album does nothing for me but "Black and Gold"'s glammy throb is irresistible.

7. TV on the Radio – Golden Age (Video)
2008 was the year of Change and TVotR made the perfect soundtrack. This is the sound of hope with a good beat.

8. Sexy Kids – Sisters Are Forever (MP3)
Just try not to bounce 'round the room while listening to this slice of Scottish pop perfection a la Altered Images.

9. Esser – Headlock (MP3) (Video)
Effervescent single, ridiculously catchy, like superballs set free inside a perpetual motion machine… yet loaded with downer lyrics like "I've got a problem, it's called living." Perfect.

10. Summer Cats – Lonely Planet (MP3) (Video)

Like the Rosebuds backed by Stereolab, Australia's Summer Cats put a sunny coat of paint on the krauty VU groove. 

11. Metronomy – A Thing for Me (MP3) (Video)
I could put almost all of Metronomy's Nights Out on this list, but restrained myself at two. Be sure to check out the video to this one.

12. David Byrne & Brian Eno – Strange Overtones (MP3
Too bad the rest of the Byrne/Eno album didn't deliver on the promise of this great single.

13. Sky Larkin – Fossil, I (Video)
Old school indie rock done with vim and vigor by this Leeds, UK trio. Vim and vigor? Really. Just listen to the song. It rocks. 

14. Lykke Li – Little Bit (Video)
Lykke Li's coquettish delivery slightly disguises just how hot this is.

15. Ida Maria – Queen of the World (MP3) (Video)
One of the most joyous songs ever about being smashed on whiskey.

16. MGMT – Kids (Video)
Hate their fashion, hate their friends, hate their rich hippie-ness, but MGMT have some great songs. The hooks are undeniable!

17. Girls – Lust for Life / Morning Light (MP3) (MP3) (Video)
There are too many "Girl" groups right now, but I've got room for San Francisco's shoegaze folk rock wunderkinds. Especially on this double A-side.

18. Animal Collective – Water Curses EP (MP3) (Video)
Animal Collective have finally started to get poppy enough for me to genuine like them. Bring on Merriweather Post Pavillion!

19. Late of the Pier – Heartbeat (MP3) (Video)
One of the many "this shouldn't work" songs on LotP's great debut Fantasy Black Channel. Yet it does, brilliantly.

20. Vivian Girls – Tell the World (MP3) (Video)
Every time these girls open their mouths to the press, it's a disaster, but give 'em instruments and hard
to hold it against them. So many things in that sentence could be construed the wrong way.

21. Casiokids – Grønt Lys I Alle Ledd / Togens Hule (MP3) (Video)
You don't need to speak Norwegian to dig this double A-side. I imagine it would help, though. But not that much.

22. The Last Shadow Puppets – Standing Next to Me (MP3) (Video)
Alex Turner and Miles Kane seem a little young to already be going through their Jacques Brel/Scott Walker period, but that's also probably why it's as good as it is.

23. The Wild Beasts – The Devil's Crayon (MP3) (Video)
Not since the days of the Associates and the Triffids has pop attempted to be so grandiose… and successful at it. I must say I can't really stomach the resto of them album, but but "The Devil's Crayon" is a bullseye.

24. Adele – Cold Shoulder (Video)
I'll take Adele over Duffy any day… "Cold Shoulder" perfectly-produced soulful pop. Ronson-produced, natch.

25. Amazing Baby – Infinite Fucking Cross EP (download EP) (Video + Video)
Hated by Brooklynvegan commenters, loved by me. Harder, more-rocking Roxy Music? About as close to a good description as you can get with there pigeonhole-adverse Williamsburg residents.

26 – 50 after the jump…

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The Soundtrack of Our Lives Take Communion… Twice!


I saw The Soundtrack of Our Lives at this year’s SXSW — twice — where their sets were almost entirely new material. After the second, I talked to lanky guitarist Mattias Bärjed and said if they’re playing all these new tracks they must have an album ready. He told me it was going to be a double. I said, aren’t they all doubles? (TSOOL’s first three albums were all technically double-LPs though they fit on one CD.) Bärjed clarified — it would be a double-CD.

He did not lie. TSOOL’s new record, Communion, is a whopping 24 songs, clocking in at 93 minutes of blissed-out, riff-heavy rock. While they have yet to equal 2001’s awesome Behind the Music, Communion is pretty consistently great across its two dozen tracks, from the propulsive “RA 88” and “Thrill Me” to the more Love-esque wistful numbers like “Second Life Replay” and the string-drenched “Songs of the Ocean.” It also features their first-ever cover — a swell reinvention of Nick Drake’s “Fly.”  The cover art, however, is way creepy with a couple blue-eyed 50-somethings holding giant glasses of what appears to be Mylanta.

Out now in Sweden, Communion hits the States on CD and vinyl via all-around nice guys Yep Roc on March 3, but you’ll be able to get it as a digital download as of January 6. If you have to have it now, Swede-loving Parasol records (who originally put out Behind the Music on their Hidden Agenda label) will sell you the import for $28. Here are a couple early tastes:

MP3The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Flipside

MP3The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Fly

New record also means new tour, and if you’ve never seen them before, TSOOL are one of the most awesome live bands on the planet. The last full show I saw was a two-and-a-half hour marathon at Mercury Lounge in 2007 that was one of the best shows of that year. (There is no shortage of TSOOL live footage on YouTube.) How awesome would it be if they played the ski-lodge-esque Bell House? Skippy, get on that.

Meanwhile over at the boys are in the yuletide spirit with a Christmas Advent Calendar, with every day revealing a new downloadable surprise: live tracks, b-sides, ringtones, etc. I’m hoping that some of their holiday web singles will pop up as we get closer to the big day, but if not here’s a farfisa-rocking stocking stuffer:

MP3The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Jingle Hell (Stuck in a Chimney)

While we’re on the subject, I finally got around to picking up Mattias Bärjed‘s soundtrack to Swedish miniseries Upp Til Kamp, about growing up in Göteborg from 1966-76. Music plays a big part, from what I can gather from online translators , and you can tell from the soundtrack too which includes a bunch of cool, faux period-sounding songs as well as incidental music. (May have to spring for the Region 2 DVD.) It’s a double CD. Do you sense a theme here?

MP3:Mattias Bärjed – Set Us Free (buy it at Parasol)

And also, former TSOOL (and Union Carbide Productions before that) guitarist Björn Olsson has been putting out a series of Morricone-influenced albums since leaving the group in 2001. Fans of whistling will particularly enjoy this: 
MP3Bjorn Olsson – Tjorn

And lastly, here’s the video for “Sister Surround”:

New Peter Bjorn and John | “Inland Empire”

Probably not Peter, Bjorn or John. But you'll have to ask David Lynch.

A nice bonus of attending the Pianos show tonight with Sky Larkin and Passion Pit — the free Wichita Recordings sampler CDs stacked all over the room. Usually these type of label samplers are straight-to-the-bins type things but this one has all sorts of goodies from upcoming releases, including new music from Euros Childs, The Bronx, Her Space Holiday and the new all-instrumental album from Peter Bjorn and John.

Titled Seaside Rock, it may not be the obvious follow-up to the big-selling 2006 album that had everybody whistling along with "Young Folks" but if this track, "Inland Empire," is any indication it'll be worth hearing. (And, anyway, they've already completed their proper vocal-infused follow-up to Writers Block which is due out in early '09.) Not sure whether it's named after David Lynch's 2007 cinematic methodical mindfuck or not. Reminds me a little of Vanishing Point-era Primal Scream. (Bjorn produced some of the 'Scream's new album, actually.) You be the judge:

: Peter Bjorn and John – Inland Empire (Buy PB&J stuff)

Between this, Peter Moren's solo album, and the bevy of records Bjorn has produced (Primal Scream, Lykke Li, Shout Out Louds), these Swedes haven't been resting on a whistle.

Summer in Sweden, Norway… Mixes Abound

What with the NYC Popfest still fresh in my ears (I think it's called tinitus), I've had indie-pop on the brain lately — something that's not that likely to change thanks to these two (three, really) free Summer compilations from originating in Scandinavia.

The fine folks at Swedish label Labrador have just released a 30-track Summer Sampler, containing new songs from upcoming releases as well as some choice cuts from their extensive catalog. Artists include pretty much everybody you'd expect: Pelle Carlberg, The Radio Dept., The Legends, Acid House Kings, The Mary Onettes, Sambassadeur, Suburban Kids with Biblical Names, and my favorite band to contain brackets in thier name, [ingenting].

It's a free (if very slow) download… get it here. (Downloads broke Labrador's server, now up on Pirate Bay).

Meanwhile over in Norway, Knut of the great blog Eardrums (who was on Blog Fresh earlier this year) has put together a two volume Summer's Here compilation, complete with artwork and a downloadable booklet with bios, etc. Some of the tracks are exclusive to this compilation — itt's a really nice package. I'll be honest: of the 48 bands on it, I've only heard maybe four bands (The LK, Northern Portrait, Club 8, Cold Mailman),  but Knut has great taste and I can't wait to check it all out.

And while not exactly fitting with the other two, Bradford Cox has just posted a new Micromix on the Deerhunter/Atlas Sound blog, inspired by the Norwegian leg of the Deerhunter tour. Here's what he says about it: "It's mid-summer here so there is only like an hour of actual darkness. this mix is for the burdened youths of the nordic tribes who spit on americans outside kebab shops (credit card receipts flying through the air) like weird weather (fragments) a bottle of still water cost 6 american dollars long live loss." It's got everything from The Bats and Electrelane to My Bloody Valentine and Chrome. Worth a download. And don't forget Atlas Sound plays River to River's Seaport Music on July 25

Love Is All + Versus + Crystal Stilts | Bowery Ballroom | 6.16.2008




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.

Somehow I’ve managed to not see Love Is All till now. I had tickets to that Knitting Factory show, like everybody else, way back when but couldn’t go, or didn’t go for some reason. And I liked, not loved, their album Nine Times That Same Song and wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about. I do now. Of course, Love is All are giant grin wonderful on stage, with boundless energy. It’s a kind of joy that CSS have too, that makes you stop being cynical, momentarily, and be glad you’re here seeing this amazing band. I was won over in about 30 seconds.

MP3: Love is All – I Ran

That’s from a tour-only CDR called Love Is All Play 5 Covers. From the back cover: “We each picked a song with no member getting a say, recorded live at practice.” You might have seen the YouTube footage of them doing this Flock of Seagulls nugget at Cake Shop last week. Other covers on the EP include Dire Straits’ “So Far Away” and Prince’s periodical-loving classic, “Darling Nikki.”

Underappreciated ’90s indie rockers Versus, who broke up in 2001 but have played one-off shows here and there since (including Union Hall last November), seem to be back for real and this show is arguably their highest-profile gig since the Teenbeat 20th Anniversary. (Certainly the biggest venue.) No lyrics sheets tonight, the three-piece Versus (James and Patrick were busy with +/- duties) seemed pretty tight and brought with them a handful of new songs. (One of the Fontaine-sung ones was really good.) And there were a lot of people there just to see them, which I must admit surprised me… happily. Rumors are flying about a new album — and a label to put it out — but for now I’d just like to say welcome back.

Crystal Stilts
were on first. The band have been getting a lot of good press — a glowing Pitchfork review, they’re part of the same Brooklyn scene that Vivian Girls, ca-USE co-MOTION (both of whom were there at the show), and Pains of Being Pure at Heart are apart of. And I do think it’s a scene — new groups influenced by C86, Slumberland Records, etc. I really, really like The Crystal Stilts record, which is so Jesus and Mary Chain (or the Bodines or Jasmine Minks) at times it borders on theft but they do it so well I don’t care.

Despite a friend telling me they were awesome when they opened for the Clean at Cake Shop, I was a little worried Crystal Stilts would be, well, stilted live. They’ve definitely got a schtick. The singer stands motionless, eyes closed, the guitarist was sitting the whole time. And new drummer Frankie Rose plays standing up, with only three pieces to her kit: bass drum, floor tom and a snare, though she used a tambourine instead of a right stick on some songs. Super cool: She’s like Mo Tucker and Bobby Gilespie rolled into one. Schtick it is, but it’s a brilliant one makes for a complete package with their reverby, garagey sound. I can see how it would be better to see them somewhere smaller, darker but they held their own on the bright Bowery Ballroom stage.

MP3: Crystal Stilts – Bright Night Nusery
(buy it)

NYC Popfest: Oh! Custer + In Interview + The Pinefox | Cake Shop | 6.12.2008

I don't know if you can make the signature, but the acoustic guitar in the above photo was autographed by Pelle Carlberg. I'm not sure whose guitar it actually was — more than one person used it at Cake Shop last night — but that sort of summed up Popfest for me, that someone would want Pelle Carlberg to sign their guitar.

This was the kickoff night for the NYC Popfest 20008, a celebration of all that is jangly, gentle, pleasant, generally polite, literate, charming… and yes, that dreaded signifier, twee. Indie-pop fans are obsessive by nature, as you have to make a point to listen to it, as you're not going to hear it any other way. And of course you'd want Pelle Carlberg, the highlight of last year's inaugural fest, to autograph your guitar. And of course he has really nice handwriting.

There were at least 30 or so people milling about outside Cake Shop when I showed up around 8:30, which had me immediately worried. Love is All were headlining the night, which meant the show was sold-out and sought-after, and for me Cake Shop is miserable when it's packed and you can't see anything unless you're within ten feet of the stage. That said, if you are that close, there is an intimacy with the place you can't really get at any other venue in the city. (Not counting semi-legal Todd P spots.) But when I descended into the underground performance space I found it sparsely populated — the people who were there for Popfest were inside. The people who were there for Love is All were outside killing time.

First up was Joe Brooker, who wasvone half of The Pines (the other half being Black Tamborine/Glo-Worm/chickfactor''s Pam Berry) and also The Foxgloves (with Stephen Troussé of Papercuts 'zine). Here he was, appropriately, The Pinefox, playing a mix of songs from his career, some of which he said he'd never played live before. His delicately arpeggiated stylings probably would've better suited a different venue, but it was a nice set.

MP3: The Foxgloves – I Dreamt Love Was a Crime

In_interviewNext was Brooklyn outfit In Interview. who take the same approach to jazz and disco as Joseph K. Not as scratchy, definitely more pop, but there was something discordant in the arrangements. Indie trumpeter for hire, Gary of Ladybug Transistor, was there with his horn on a few songs. At times it seemed like the bass player and guitarist were playing either different songs or in different keys or time signatures. I couldn't quite get my head around it enough to say I actually liked them. But I am intrigued enough to seek out their records… when they finally release something.

Unfortunately I had to leave four songs into Swedish duo Oh! Custer's set 'cause they were definitely the most enjoyable set of the night. Typifying that Scandinavian indie-pop sound (loads of reverb, '80s-style drum machines, super-catchy melodies), they also were totally charming with an understated sense of humor. "This song is about the public transportation system in my hometown," was the intro for one song. "It's called 'late.'"

MP3: Oh! Custer – Post

Brooklyn Vegan has coverage of Love is All's set, and NYC Taper has the whole thing for you to download.

NYC Popfest continues tonight at Piano's — it's an early show, starts at 6pm. Then later tonight, Cats on Fire at Don Hills. Supposedly they'll be on before 1am. We'll see.

Out of Swede Puns, but Go See Mary Onettes Anyway

For as many quality Swedish bands as there are, we don’t get a whole lot of them touring in America. Which makes The Mary Onettes’ current US tour exciting… for me at least.

One of Labrador Records’ best bands, The Mary Onettes are like, many of the groups from Sweden, obsessed with the ’80s. And they’re not denying it. Their MySpace page actually lists "mostly bands from the eighties…" in their Influences section.

You can hear some Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, The Cure, The Lucy Show, The Chameleons, and other bands creeping through on The Mary Onettes’ eponymous debut but they do it well and, most importantly, the songs are good. And according to my friend Toby at Seattle blog The Finest Kiss, they’re even better live than on record.

The touring is wrapping up this week with dates on the East Coast, including two stops in the NYC area, one being tonight at the Mercury Lounge:

May 19 | Mercury Lounge, NYC
May 20 | M Room, Philadelphia
May 21 | DC9, Washington, DC
May 23 | Union Hall, Brooklyn
May 24 | Middle East, Boston

Here’s a couple MP3s from their album which you should buy of course…though chances are it will be cheaper at the show merch table than the $20 they’re charging for it on Insound.

MP3: The Mary Onettes – Void

MP3: The Mary Onettes – Pleasure Songs

Opening for The Mary Onettes, on the NYC and Boston dates at least, are Blacklist who I caught a couple weeks ago at Death By Audio opening for Film School. They kind of sound like every band signed to Beggars Banquet between 1979 and 1983 — to the point where I’m not exactly sure how serious they are. But if you have any affection for Bauhaus, Southern Death Cult and the like, be sure to get there early.

MP3: Blacklist – Blue Shifted

New Radio Dept | “Freddie and the Trojan Horse”

Has it really been two years since The Radio Dept. released Pet Grief? The calendar says "yes." The only reason I noticed this was a missive from Labrador records letting me know that their new album, Clinging to a Scheme, will be out September 10. That’s actually a year quicker than it took for these Swedes to follow-up their acclaimed 2003 debut. At this rate, we’ll get Album #4 next summer.

According to the band, influences for the third album included "minimalistic post-punk, krautrock, repetitive ‘motorik’ beat and ambient noise." I don’t hear any motorik beat on Clinging to a Scheme’s first single, "Freddie and the Trojan Horse," though I do detect some ’80s gated drums and less reverb than we’re used to from these guys (which still means more reverb than most). It’s definitely peppier than almost anything on Pet Grief, which was a disappointment around these parts. Catchier too.

MP3: The Radio Dept – Freddie and the Trojan Horse

Peter Moren + Tobias Froberg | Mercury Lounge | 4.21.2008

"Don’t worry, I’m Swedish." Tobias Froberg was learning the problems of playing with a laptop as backing band — namely if you flub an intro you have to restart the equipment. Which meant running around the amplifiers and such, over to his macbook.

It was early in his set — second song — but it could’ve been said at any point during the evening, a laid back, fun show featuring a couple Swedes and an American named Doug. Froberg was opening for old pal Peter Moren, who was taking a break from being in Peter, Bjorn & John to play some shows in support of his first solo album, The Last Tycoon, which Froberg plays on. Froberg was supporting his second album, Turn Heads, which Moren plays on. So not surprisingly they were both out there for each other’s sets. They’d just come straight from a European tour together, they played Dublin last night. But for the US dates, they’ve got Dirty on Purpose drummer Doug Marvin as a third — you might recall he played bongos for Peter Bjorn and John on some American dates last year.

Froberg not you typical Swedish indie rocker. His songs have more of a ’70s feel, more emotional, many being piano driven. "Just Behind a Brickwall" has an undeniable Elton John feel. But not cheesy. He seemed excited to be playing to a semi-full room, making jokes inbetween songs, mainly of the "Thank you America!" variety. He was good, even though he didn’t play "When the Night Turns Cold" off his first album which is my favorite.

MP3: Tobias Froberg – Slipping Under the Radar
(buy it)

Moren’s set was equally loosey-goosey. Though Doug — whose name sounds like "dog" when spoken with a Swedish accent — had played with Moren at Joe’s Pub for a couple shows a few months back, Moren and Froberg kept throwing him curve balls, but he’s a good musician and held his own, though when they put him on piano for one song, it was entertaining to watch him craning his neck to try and figure out what chords Moren was playing. He finally gave up and switched to tambourine.

Moren’s solo album is pretty different from the pop he writes for PB&J. The songs are more obtuse, less obviously hooky, the lyrics much more personal. But he was much more a showman here than I remembered him being at either of the shows with Bjorn and John I caught last year. He was a real Chatty Cathy, and a charming one at that, with lots of stories about his songs, from his time in mandatory military training ("Reel to Reel") and as a teacher ( "Social Competence"). There was also a string section for three songs. In addition to most of The Last Tycoon, we also got two PB&J songs ("Sunday Morning," "Goodbye, Again Or") and a couple covers: A Ha’s "Take on Me" (which had all the ladies in the crowd singing along) and Buddy Holly’s "Oh Boy." Everybody was clearly having a good time.

MP3: Peter Moren – Social Competence
(buy it)

This was the first date on their tour, and I can only imagine it’s one that will be better at the end, when Moren and Froberg allow Marvin to get up to speed. Dates:

Apr 22     Middle East Upstairs, Boston, Massachusetts
Apr 23     Cabaret Musee Juste Pour Rire, Montreal, Quebec
Apr 24     464 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario
Apr 25     Wexner Center, Columbus, Ohio
Apr 26     Schubas     Chicago, Illinois
Apr 28     Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, British Columbia
Apr 29     The Triple Door, Seattle, Washington
Apr 30     Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, Oregon
May 1     Swedish American Hall, San Francisco, California
May 2     Hotel Café, Los Angeles, California
May 3     Troubador, Los Angeles, California