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."

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." 

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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Video Roundup: Amazing Baby, BPA, Camille, Violens

I used to do a Music Video of the Week feature, and not sure why I stopped. So here's a bunch of new videos, complete with random thoughts from me.

Amazing Baby – "Pump Your Brakes"

Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Basketball, teen witchcraft, Egyptian gods, rocking out? Can't say I'm a fan of this style of "whatever everything" videomaking popularized the by the MGMT boys, but I am an Amazing Baby fan and like the song, which is available on their free Infinite F**king Cross EP.

BPA feat. Emmy the Great — "Seattle"

Brighton Port Authority is Norman Cook's new project which purports to be some sort of secret, "lost tapes" kind of thing in hopes of distracting us from how boring the last couple Fatboy Slim albums were. But the BPA are better just by the nature of the project, which are all collaborations.  I was kind of hoping that this would be a cover of PiL's "Seattle" because I couldn't imagine Emmy singing it. But no, it's an original and quite lovely, actually. As for the video itself, Cook has always made clever ones and this flip-block concept is pretty cool.

Camille – Money Note

I can't say this song by French singer Camille does much for me but the video, directed by Paf ! Le Chien (yes that's a person's name) is pretty great in a Nagi Noda-meets-Gondry-meets-Mummenschanz kind of way.

Violens – Doomed

Typical of their art collective background, Violens' video for the Aztec Camera-ish "Doomed" features no lip-synching, or even the band at all. Instead, we get a bunch of pretty young girls in a nice old house with a surprise, creepy twist ending featuring high thread-count linens.

Crystal Stilts + Violens + Chairlift | 92y Tribeca | 10.11.2008





This was the "soft opening" of 92Y's new cultural and arts center in Tribeca. Three of New York's most buzzed-about new bands played and we were allowed the wander around and explore the space, which includes a screening room (showing Anna Biller's faux cult film Viva and and genuine article, Santo Contra la Invasion de los Marcianos), a cafe, galleries and classrooms. The main draw was the very nice performance space with its swanky bar, nice lighting, well-lit stage and two giant support beams that will block the view of many during crowded performances. Despite that it wil be a nice place to see a show if they work out the kinks.

I was a little shocked there weren't more people there for this — it was free to get in and the lineup was kind of amazing, in a NYC up-and-comer kind of way. Lord knows I've written about Crystal Stilts enough, and Violens and Chairlift too. Most of the folks who might've attended were probably at that Diesel 30 extravaganza out in Red Hook. I'm going to guess there were maybe 150 attendees, many of whom seemed to be there just to check the place out.

The biggest problem of the night was the attrocious sound. All three bands featured keyboards prominently but apart from Chairlift you couldn't hear them at all. Crystal Stilts, playing in the most brightly lit stage of their career, still managed a great good show. The band are clearly loosening up — singer Brad, usually stoic with eyes closed, actually cracked a smile more than once. Violens suffered the most from the poor mix — Jorge Elbrecht's guitar was knock-you-back loud, overpowering everything else. Given the right sonics, Violens are amazing; tonight was more violence than violins.

Chairlift had the best sound but really should have played first. By the end of the evening people were talking more than paying attention and their ethereal, synthy sound (which I do really like but at times drifts perilously close to Enya territory), light on drums, just didn't hold the crowd's attention. Two girls standing in the front row next to us talked loudly enough to cause my friend Kelly to tell them to shut the hell up — and she's one of the nicest people I know! 

Anyway, a trial run like this is just the sort of thing a place like this needs, and certainly the sound seems like something that isn't a permanent problem (like those big-ass columns, shades of Tramps if you remember that place). They'll figure it out, and 92Y is a welcome addition to NYC's venues.

Violens | Seaport Music Festival | 8.22.2008

A picture-perfect evening made for what was probably the most enjoyable Friday at the Seaport of the Season for me, with Violens turning in the best performance.* Or maybe the most surprisingly great, as they've only got four songs released and my previous experience seeing them live was a good but… with a surprisingly great sound mix, the lovely weather, the band's excellent songs, tight playing and  a set of influences that so closely mirrors my own… Violens shot up my list of favorite new bands over the course of their 40-minute set.

Violens_seaport_1 As you may know, frontman Jorge Elbrecht is also part of the art collective Lansing-Dreiden (very post-punk in concept no doubt), who released two albums in the early Aughts. While L-D focus more on the art side of things, Elbrecht has Violens as a musical outlet. Less than a year old, Violens are made up of members of the L-D Section touring band (which Elbrecht wasn't part of [I don't think], despite singing lead on the records…again, very post punk) and they've become a tight little unit, capable of light, jangly pop ("Already Over" and  a Smiths-y set closer) and serious shredding. "Trance-Like Turn," which is a New Order-y techno-rocker on the Green Owl compilation where it's found, takes on more ethereal, dreamy feel… until Elbrecht rips it up. He's said in interviews of his love for The Monochrome Set and Mr. Bungle and it's clear here he's serious. I was seriously impressed.

Here's a couple songs I shot:

Trance-Like Turn:

And this rocker is called "Grey Reigning":

I'm anxious to see them somewhere like Mercury Lounge where we get a more intimate setting but good sound. And I know it's somewhat rediculous to expect a band this new to have an album out this quickly, but I am ready for another EP already.


MP3: Violens – Violent Sensation Descends
(via RCDLBL; buy the Violens EP from Insound)

They've got a new EP coming out, actually, but you gotta go to Fashion Week to get it. Violens are scoring designer's Patrik Ervell's unveiling of his Spring '09 collection, reworking their songs as marches. And they'll be giving out copies of those reworkings at the event.

Also: Violens play Philly club Johnny Brendays this Saturday (8/30) and then head off to the UK to play a bunch of shows with MGMT and Amazing Baby in November:

Nov 3 Ambassador Dublin
Nov 5 Academy Leeds
Nov 6 Rock City Nottingham
Nov 7 Academy Bristol
Nov 9 Barrowlands Glasgow
Nov 10 Academy Birmingham
Nov 11 Academy Manchester

* Best Seaport Music Festival Show that I saw… missed Dirty Projectors last week.

Violens + Savoir Adore + Amazing Baby | Union Pool | 5.10.2008

Violens1It 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.

I was there primarily to see Violens, the new band from some of the Lansing-Dreiden folks, though I’m not sure exactly which ones. Definitely singer/guitarist Jorge Elbrecht, and probably keyboardist Iddo Arad. Maybe more, but hard to say. L-D were an enigmatic bunch who didn’t believe in album credits or band photos… or even playing in the live incarnation of their band.

Violens are more forthcoming about the who’s and whats. It’s also a more cohesive sound. Lansing-Dreiden incompassed everything from synthpop to metal, but Violens seem more influenced by ’80s UK pop, both of the jazzy variety favored by Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout, and those that prefered delay pedals like A Bell is a Cup-era Wire and The Sound. (In that respect, they also reminded me of ’90s Swedish band Eggstone.) And like L-D, they still love the reverb. They also like volume. Why didn’t I bring earplugs? The ringing in my ears seems especially prominent today. The best moments of the show combined the jazzy and the delay-ridden rocking out. And my favorites of the night are not to be found on their MySpace, so I think there’s a lot to look forward to with these guys.

You can get Violens’ song "Violent Sensation Descends" from RCRDLBL. They’ve also got an EP, which wasn’t for sale last night, but you can get it at Insound.

Violens next show is June 5 at the Mercury Lounge where they’re playing with Chairlift and Mixel Pixel. Tickets ($10) are on sale.

But as I said, the whole bill at Union Pool last night was very good. All three bands are signed to Cantora Records that is probably best-known at this point for being the label who released MGMT’s first EP. Tonight proves they’ve really got a good ear. The weather was horrible yesterday and I figured between the torrential rain and showing up at 9pm there would be nobody there. But the place was already pretty packed when I got there, and I think as many people were there for opening band Amazing Baby as their were for Violens.

It was Amazing Babys first-ever show, though you’d never know it. They came prepared and kind of knocked everyone’s socks off. Though I’m probably wrong, I’m going to go out on a limb and say
Amazing Baby don’t sound like any other band in NYC. To draw
comparisons… maybe a heavier, more-psychedelic Roxy Music? That sounds about right. Who are they? The band seems to be primarily an offshoot of rawkers Stylofone, but the live permutation, last night at least, also featured ex-Diamond Nights guitarist Rob Laakso and Jane "Spider" Herships on bass. There were also two female backup singers and a keyboardist. (Maybe that’s where the Roxy comparisons come from for me.) They’re the kind of group you could imagine going the denim-leather/lightshow route but just let the music do the talking. And that came through loud and clear. I’m pretty sure they’re my new favorite NYC band and seem ready for domination.

MP3: Amazing Baby – Head Dress

MP3: Amazing Baby – Supreme Being

Amazing Baby’s MySpace has these plus three more and you can download all of them.

If you’re intrigued, Amazing Baby are playing tomorrow (5/11) at The Annex. Go ahead, bring Mom, it’s an early show — supposedly they’re on at 9pm. They’re on around 11pm I’ve just been informed. And if you can’t make that, they’re playing Glasslands on Thursday (5/15).

SavoiradoreIn between Amazing Baby and Violens were Savoir Adore who are also making a kind of music that seems scarce these days — pure pop. This is the sort of stuff that seemed so prevalent in ’80s indie music, be it Let’s Active or The Go-Betweens or The Reivers. Not that they sound dated in any way — I don’t think this kind of pop ever really goes out of style. (Even though it kind of currently is.) Deidre Muro and Paul Hammer compliment each other so well, both vocally but also the way their guitars intertwine. Keyboards seemed superfluous at times, except when they were set to Melotron, which they usually were.  Apparently most (all?) of Savoir Adore’s songs are for a concept album yet-to-be explained involving characters named Mr. P, Dr. Rousseau and a wooded forrest, but you needn’t know any of this to dig what they’re doing:

MP3: Savoir Adore – We Talk Like Machines

MP3: Savoir Adore – Mr P. Professor of Thought.mp3

Both these songs, plus two more, are available on their Cantora Records page. Savoir Adore are opening for Los Campesinos! this Thursday (5/15) at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and then play Lit on May 23.

So to recap last night’s show. Three bands, all different, all great. My friend Don was armed with his nice digital SLR and took some photos which you can find here.