The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World album review

James Kirby will release a new album by his project The Caretaker called An Empty Bliss Beyond This World on June 21, 2011.

The album is conceptual in nature like most of Kirby’s works. The Caretaker moniker was inspired by the Stephen King film The Shining in which this line is spoken: “I’m sorry to differ with you, sir. But you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker. I should know, sir. I’ve always been here.” It is part of a scene in which the past caretaker, who is presumably dead, informs the present one that he had never been the caretaker. In this manner, Bliss takes nostalgic parlor room music and causes the listener to forget how it even started. Bits and pieces of old-fashioned tunes are looped as they are layered on top of crackling vinyl recordings. Since 1996, the British musician has created eerily beautiful sounds that could be heard emanating from a haunted ballroom.

Memory as a theme is used constantly throughout Bliss. Each track was made using a specific moment in a song from a previous era. That moment once isolated has then been edited to repeat unto itself yet behave as if it were the continuation of a finite melody. The listener can pinpoint that moment, but without rapt attention may be unable to recognize the minute changes that Kirby has put into the track. Therefore, on most of the album it sounds like two similar phrases being looped forever.

The structure of the track listing is fairly interesting. All of the titles are longer than usual and give a reference to either brain function or the afterlife. The title track “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World” appears twice as does the track “Mental Caverns without Sunshine.” However, “Mental Caverns” is composed much the same way in both appearances, yet on the second airing the track is about half as long as the original. The track ebbs and ebbs and ebbs and ebbs until it’s about to finally flow when of course it just ends abruptly instead. Fifth on the release is titled “I Feel Like I Might Be Vanishing.” The repeated phrase on this one sounds like a romantic movie score from the 1930s.

Bliss contains a trove of forgotten memories that are wonderful to discover or maybe even rediscover for the first time.


Freelance Whales Interview

Freelance Whales have come a long way since 2008. From being virtually unknown to becoming one of 2011’s most buzzworthy bands, the band has kept their humbleness through it all. I was able to have a short chat with Chuck Criss before the second set at Bonnaroo on Friday afternoon.

Bonnaroo Festival – Day Three

Clearly, I am not cut out for this lifestyle. Woke up on Saturday feeling terrible awful. I spent most of the afternoon getting the camp site ready for our departure. When I finally decided to venture back to the festival it was nearly 6:00 pm and Wiz Khalifa was about to start.

The Wiz played on What Stage to a rather large and sprawling crowd. From the side view it looked as if the audience was tightly packed in, but once I got in there some careful navigating brought me to a pretty good view. Khalifa performed with energy and honesty. He seemed refreshingly excited to be playing at Bonnaroo. The Wiz orchestrated a “TGOD” chant (standing for “Taylor Gang Or Die”) to get the fans hyped. After asking if anyone liked Rolling Papers he went into a few tracks off the album including “Roll Up,” “On My Level,” “Get Your Shit,” and the immensely popular “Black and Yellow.”

It started to get dark outside around 8 or 9pm and booming thunder drowned out all sound. Then it began to rain. Because of the dust swirling in the air and the bright lights illuminating the festival, you could see each individual raindrop slanting down to the ground. Fortunately it only lasted for a hot minute. I was having visions of mud people storming the campgrounds.

As much as I wanted to watch Eminem do his angry aging white rapper thing, I skipped it. Sometimes you’ve just got to know your limits. Eleanor and I went to sleep in my car around 10:30pm to rest up for the 15 hour drive in the morning.

So long Bonnaroo!
It was crazy fun and you totally kicked my ass!


Bonnaroo Festival – Day Two

The sun woke us up this morning. It became burning hot inside our tent at about 7:00am. Outside, many campers were already milling around planning the long day ahead of them. At 11:30am we attended a short media orientation session and then split up.

Eleanor went to see Sharon Van Etten play at the Which stage. She said once the singer/songwriter got warmed up the show was fairly indicative of Van Etten’s sultry style. Meanwhile, I prepared to do an interview with Freelance Whales and cursed my misfortune of having to miss a set by Phosphorescent to do so. That Willie Nelson cover they do of “Reasons to Quit” is by far one of my favorite songs.

And so I did the interview with a Freelance Whale by the name of Chuck Criss. He was very nice and a pleasant conversationalist. The reason for his solo appearance was due to the fact that the band was trying to fulfill the numerous media requests that were scheduled for the day. Some went to photo shoots and others did short interviews like mine.

Eleanor came back from Matt and Kim gleefully announcing that they were just as cute as always. We had a lunch break. I’ve been eating stuff I packed in the cooler which is a super smart thing to do if you are on a tight budget. Food prices are a little insane at the festival. Ten dollars will get you a cheeseburger or a plate dominated by rice. Six dollars for a soy double latte, in case you were wondering. So to combat spending precious monies on food I could have made myself, it’s best to buy the higher than average priced ice bags. Seven pounds will cost you a cool $3.50. Just make sure to get it back to your camp site before it turns into a puddle bag.

Back to the music, we went to This Tent to catch Florence and the Machine. The crowd was enormous. There was no way you could glimpse anything over the sea of floating heads, but Florence’s lilting voice soared above it all. The performance wasn’t marred by not being able to see what she was wearing. She sang wonderfully and showed off her skills well on hits like “You’ve Got the Love.”

Another food break was in order. This festival is intensely exhausting! The grounds are so epically proportioned. Traveling back and forth from camp will make your feet literally scream. The sun is a killer as well. Don’t you dare think you can skimp on the sunscreen. I’ve seen quite a few skin cancer patients in the making walk around as bright red as a boiled alive lobster. You will be drinking more water than you thought was humanly possible. You will need to take time out of your day to rest. The shows continue well into the wee hours of the morning, so if you plan to make it all day long you need to plan some chillaxing time.

As we were walking back to the festival from camp we heard the last strains of My Morning Jacket playing the What Stage, which is where we were headed to catch Arcade Fire. We got sidetracked by the alluring fried oreos. Three dollars will get you three mini heart attacks covered in powdered sugar. Let me tell you they definitely taste how you’d expect them to, but the kicker is the fact that the oreo is warm and gooey and amazing. Totally worth it.

At the stage, we decided to try and see if we could get on the fancy bleachers on the right side near a big screen. Our media wristbands did in fact give us access and soon enough we were waiting for the show to start at 11:00pm. If I said that the Florence crowd was enormous, I was kidding. The audience for Arcade stretched out forever. I have no idea where it stopped really. Right before the music began, the sky apparently seemed to glitter with falling blue stars. After, reassuring ourselves that we hadn’t accidentally ingested mystery drugs we found out that it was actually a clever marketing scheme for something… Apparently during the earlier sets of Primus and MMJ on that stage five parachuters released blinking blue lights attached to a promotional item. Sixty thousand were dropped according to Jeff Hahnes, Creative Loafing blogger, who nearly had a parachuter land on him and then smartly pumped the off-course jumper for details.

Arcade Fire aptly started off with “Ready to Start,” a track from their newest album The Suburbs.  Their set included more of the new material as well as old fan favorites from Funeral and Neon Bible. Personal highlights were the rollicking renditions of “No Cars Go,” “Rococo,” “We Used to Wait,” and the encore of “Wake Up.” It was really great to hear all the fans singing with one voice all experiencing the magic. Seriously, as corny as that sounds it was a perfect Bonnaroo moment.

As we made our exodus through the masses, we decided to check out Big Boi at The Other Tent. We walked up in time to hear the end of “Ms. Jackson” and it sounded just like I remembered from the radio in junior high. “Ghetto Music,” “BOB,” and “The Way You Move” all sounded pretty stellar. It was kind of awesomely stereotypical that they invited a bunch of teenaged girls on stage to “shake dat ass.” We left to go check out Lil Wayne on Which stage. Lots of people stayed to see him. The multimedia projections that played behind Wayne were pretty obnoxious and didn’t really add anything to the performance. It was interesting to see the female singer he features on many of his tracks in person, though. She has killer style and an Indian nose piercing that connects with two heavy silver chains to her right ear.

By this point it was nearing 3:00 am and we were dead tired. We made the long journey back to camp accompanied by Ratatat, who was playing at The Other Tent.

Our second day was over. We saw a lot, ate a lot, heard a lot, chilled a lot. And now it was time to sleep a lot.

Bonnaroo Festival 2011 – Day One

Today we woke up and headed straight to the conveniently located Starbucks right next to the Holiday Inn. After a quick caffeine jolt, we checked in at the Coffee County Conference Center and went on our merry way to the campgrounds. The line was much more manageable than the previous night and we breezed through security, answering the question “Do you have anything illegal?” with a firm “No.”

We were able to stake a plot in the Bonnaroo-named “Luke Skywalker” Camp along the makeshift rope-line fence. This location should be helpful considering our early leave time on Sunday. Unlike everyone else we are not blocked in by tents and cars. All we have to do is raise the rope and we are out on the main exit road. Unfortunately, while we were pitching our borrowed tent we suddenly realized it was the smallest tent ever. It’s barely a two person. More like one and a half.

The first band we wanted to see had a settime of 4:15pm giving us about three hours to get situated and see what Bonnaroo was really like. Walking to the festival entrance will take you awhile. The campsites are so large that there are street signs to keep you from getting lost. Luke Skywalker is located near 2nd Street and Eighth Avenue. By the time we entered the festival grounds we were basically dripping in sweat. Everywhere people are telling you to keep hydrated and they’re really not kidding. Your body continuously sweats out your water supply. We are not camels so waiting in the water fill line is an essential as they make you toss out any liquids before entering.

Futurebirds played on the “That Tent” stage. Before this gets more confusing let me explain. All of the most used stages are named facetiously. There is “This Tent,” “That Tent,” “The Other Tent,” “Which Stage,” and my personal favorite “What Stage.” Asking someone to help you find a specific stage or tent just might devolve into a massive Abbott and Costello skit.

And so Futurebirds from Athens, GA played a welcome mixture of folk, country, bluegrass, and even a twinge of psychedelia. Amongst the large crowd were young folks and old folks. I heard one guy say he wanted to buy their album when he got home. It was a good performance and you could feel the good jam vibes radiating from the stage. At the end they performed a cover of the Stevie Nicks hit “Wild Heart” with grand vocal harmonies.

Up next on the same stage were Freelance Whales, an indie pop group from New York City. Eleanor had seen them before at the Austin, TX festival South By Southwest. She said their sound had been terrible and in effect ruined the overall performance for her. It was definitely a younger audience and most seemed to recognize opening chords and get excited upon hearing favorite songs. The band seemed very humble to be playing Bonnaroo and it was nice to hear them thank the crowd and state the sentiment that they felt privileged to perform. Also, this time around Eleanor gave them a thumbs up on sound quality. I totally geeked out during a lull in the music when I saw a minute Sophia Bush exiting the tent. Celebrity TV drama actor sighting number one.

We took a food breather and sat on a bench between the Best Coast and School of Seven Bells sets. I’ve seen Best Coast before and frankly wasn’t that impressed, but I hadn’t really paid much attention to Seven Bells. From what I could tell, it sounded pretty alright. The selection of food at the festival is varied. Everything from stuff you’d get from the state fair like fried Oreos, cheesy fries, pizza, and corn dogs to items you’d find at a nice food trailer park like stuffed burritos, vietnamese baguette sandwiches, and chicken skewer plates. Needless to say, there is a little something for everyone.

We caught The Drums at The Other Tent which turned out to be a pleasant sized dance party. I really love the surfer boy band sound and the way the lead singer uses his lackadaisical vocal style. One thing about Bonnaroo that totally freaks me out is all the underaged girls wearing nearly nothing. The Drums crowd was probably 70% female and many of them were 20% clothed. So think about that before you drop your children at some random music event without doing your homework. Pro tips; use them for life.

There was a rather short winded debate on whether we should stick around for Sleigh Bells that became decided on the amount of people stuffing themselves into the tent. Twin Shadow played at This Tent to a much smaller, but better suited audience. The band collectively has awesome fashion sense and to prove my point some bro opined “They are all dressed so cool!” George, a.k.a the Twin Shadow guy, was wearing what can only be described as a black Nefertiti hat, yet not quite as tall as the one the Queen wore. With bumping bass and sensitive lyrics, Twin Shadow got the emotional dance party started. One song, it may have been “Castles in the Snow,” was written about or for some lucky lady in attendance.

The show was great and Childish Gambino was up next, but we were exhausted. We needed sleep like a junkie needs their fix. From our distance we could hear muffled bass and low chatter, a perfect lullaby to end our first full day at Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo Festival 2011 – Day Zero

Yesterday, my friend Eleanor and I took my little shark blue Volkswagen Golf for a bit of a drive from Austin, TX to Manchester, TN. We drove through Waco quite easily, got in a small traffic jam in Dallas, and traveled Arkansas fairly smoothly. From Memphis to Nashville was just fine. Nashville to Knoxville started to get a little crazy as all the traffic was compacted down to one very slow moving lane. Cars and trucks got to know each other intimately.

However that was absolutely nothing compared to the nightmare of Bonnaroo specific traffic coming in on I-24 East toward Chattanooga. Every possible exit that you wanted to take was police blockaded. At this point it was past midnight and all the energy I had left was used to find exit 127 where the police were funneling everyone to the opposite side of the freeway. Everyone who needed to get into the campgrounds was packed onto the right hand shoulder lane in a line that stretched for miles.

Thankfully, we were just trying to make it to the Holiday Inn Express parking lot for media check-in and after forming a gameplan in front of a busy Waffle House we were able to bypass the whole thing. Of course due to time wasted we had missed the night check-in and instead slept in the car until the morning.

But good lord, lesson learned! Bonnaroo traffic is epically gnarly. Don’t get caught in it if you don’t have all of your supplies with you or know what you’re about to get into. Maybe a good idea would be to drive up on the Tuesday before the fest.

Getting here early is seriously the very best thing you can do to avoid a massive headache!

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Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys album review

Death Cab for Cutie released Codes and Keys, their seventh studio album, on May 31st, 2011. The famed indie pop rock band from Bellingham, Washington wanted to take this newest release in a different direction. Much of their previous work has been defined by crashing guitars overlaid by emotional lyrics. This time keyboards and percussion take a leap to the foreground causing the resultant music to sound lighter and less melancholy.

Codes is the follow-up to 2008’s Narrow Stairs and there has been some speculation as to the more romantic words found on this new album being the effect of singer Ben Gibbard’s recent marriage to actress Zooey Deschanel in 2009 on a rainy afternoon in Seattle. Additional instrumentation used on Codes include strings, an oboe, and the elusive theremin. Chris Walla, guitarist and producer, has mixed all of Death Cab’s prior albums, but he has handed the honor to one of his personal heroes Alan Moulder on this release.

The album opens with “Home Is a Fire,” a track that showcases Gibbard’s trademark tenor. He sings “Nothing’s the same” during the chorus and to be fair Death Cab has changed a lot over the years, yet this song feels almost too familiar. The chords are very typical of this group’s discography. Next up is the title track “Codes and Keys” which has a rollicking upbeat tempo and features a great usage of strings.

Fifth on the album is the single “You Are a Tourist.” The words are reassuring for anyone who is feeling quite down. One line advises, “If you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born in then it’s time to go.”

Death Cab has always had a way with making metaphors from the many pleasantries of watching landscapes from windows. Track six “Unobstructed Views” is another great example of this talent. The rather long introduction is smooth and serene. When the lyrics finally kick in, they compare the beauty of nature to the beauty of love. Second to last on the album is “St. Peter’s Cathedral” which features a rich tapestry of vocal texture layered with epic instrumentation.

In support of Codes, Death Cab is hitting the road for the entire summer and a few tour dates in the fall. They will perform in venues across the U.S., in Canada, and Western Europe. Hopefully, the band will continue to take their formulaic sound to new creative heights.


Ensemble – Excerpts album review

Ensemble released a new album titled Excerpts earlier this year in January on FatCat Records. The misleading band name is actually the solo project of French-born Olivier Alary, who currently resides in Montreal. An ex-student of the architecture discipline, Alary now works mainly as a producer and composer of film and museum exhibition soundtracks as well as his own original music. He became fairly well-known after remixing and helping to create a few tracks for Björk. On this recent release, Alary collaborates with award-winning film/theatre composer Johannes Malfatti to create pop songs with depth. Singer Darcy Convoy lends her vocals to provide the feminine counterpoint to Alary’s bright tenor. A string quartet fleshes out the recordings, making simple songs into elaborate compositions.

Excerpts is themed in the concept of memories, those that are both imagined or have since become too vague to remember correctly. Some are fictionalized records of situations that could have happened and places that never existed. Despite the futility of memory, beautiful thoughts and ideas can come from its function. The first track is aptly named “Opening” and sounds quite like an orchestra warming up before a show. It ends quickly to make room for track two, “Things I Forget.” Convoy’s voice is accompanied by plucky upbeat strings.

“Les Saisons Viennent” is the third track and may or may not translate to “The Seasons Are Coming.” The orchestration adds a high dramatic feel to this poppy French worded tune. Number six is titled “Mirages” and features Alvary singing his native tongue over a mysterious swirling accompaniment. The track ends in a dismantling of the carefully architected notes. Seventh on the album is the title track “Excerpts.” The song’s energy is catalyzed by the melancholy vocal delivery backed by a charming yet curious melody. 

The second to final track is “Envies D’Avalanches.” It begins rather otherworldly with lingering electronic sounds that eventually become layered under indie rock. Finally the song ends in a violent clash of chords. Alary’s mission is to compose pop music that goes beyond the expected and ventures into more experimental territory while staying accessible to the masses. Clearly, Excerpts is a winning example of this admirable goal.

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Psychedelic Horseshit – Laced album review

Psychedelic Horseshit released Laced, the follow-up to 2010’s Acid Tape, May 10, 2011 on FatCat Records. The band was started by Matt Whitehurst who plays guitar and keyboard while singing lead vocals. Rich Johnston is the longtime percussionist and occasional fill-in bassist. It’s not worth mentioning whoever is their actual bass player as they could turn out being just another name in the growing list of ex-bassists with whom the band has played. PH received much publicity in 2009 due to an incendiary Washington Post interview that appeared to air Whitehurst’s disgust for bands influenced by the sound he is widely credited for creating.

The first sounds heard on the album are tribal-like trashcan beats and psych noises. Quickly they are replaced by fuzzy vocals and upbeat electronic notes. Track three, although named “French Countryside,” evokes images of an island getaway. Between verses are waves of steel drum effects and background noise seemingly created by a large crowd of people. This is what taking a fast bus trip around rural France while under the influence of psychedelics must be like.

Fourth on the album is the title track “Laced.” Crashing electro dissonance opens the song. The lyrics are delivered in an echoey lazy way accompanied by hazed synth.

The fifth track, “Tropical Vision,” starts off all crackly like an old record with the screaming of a flock of seagulls. Bongo style drumming is paired with moaning train horns in varying keys. A possible interpretation of the lyrics could be part of Whitehurst’s belief that lo-fi new wave punk bands such as Wavves are bullshit. Hence the opening line, “I don’t need no waves, Don’t need no palm trees swaying.”

And again, it is possible to see that same reference in the sixth track “I Hate The Beach,” which could in fact be an “anti-summer sounds” anthem. This seven and a half minute epic continues the record player crackle noise for a hot second and then starts in with a random electronic melody that is nearly tonally opposite from the vocals. Whitehurst sings, “I hate the beach” like a very sunburned and jellyfish stung tourist. Toward the end it all jams out into a loon sounding bird noise and then into a different plane with circular electro noises and garbled vocals.

“Revolution Wavers” is the eighth track and it begins with a sample of two people talking from an old movie. One of them poses the question, “What’s so wonderful about reality?” What, indeed. After a short period of vocals backed by sparse notes, a barrage of swirling electronic sounds repeats infinitely. Eventually, the wall is dismantled and the song ends.

Psychedelic Horseshit did some touring in the UK and New York earlier this month, but who knows if they will actually add more dates later this summer as FatCat has promised. Either way, at least the new album delivers a glimmer of the strange dream pop future to come.

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The Antlers – Burst Apart album review

The Antlers released their second album with Frenchkiss Records entitled Burst Apart on May 10, 2011. In the same vein as 2009’s Hospice, the new work sounds emotive with a sweeping range of instrumentals. However, this time around the band has added an electronic element as well as keeping the epic underlying plot-lines to a minimum. In 2006, The Antlers were founded as a solo project when Peter Silberman moved to Brooklyn. He mainly does vocals and guitar for the group while also playing among several other things the harmonica. A few years later, percussionist Michael Lerner and keyboardist/trumpeter Darby Cicci joined the band to contribute creatively.

“I Don’t Want Love” opens the album very thoughtfully like a bittersweet love ballad sung for someone you don’t want anymore. It details the trials of two who were romantically entangled trying to stay apart with vignettes like “So if I see you again, Desperate and stoned, Keep your prison locked up, And I will leave my gun at home.” Track three, “Parentheses,” is enriched by whirring electronic noises underneath soft yet soulful vocals.

The sixth song is called “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.” Despite the terror-filled image the title evokes the track is quite upbeat and catchy. Silberman actually did experience these potent dreams of molars falling from his mouth. He says they were a product of deep anxiety, but it’s clear from the lyrics that the significance could have been something more. Maybe a sense of powerlessness in a particular situation or even a manifestation of feeling rotten like a whole head of bad teeth.

“Hounds” is placed toward the end of the album and describes a lover wanting to be involved with someone yet there are others in the way. Proverbially speaking they could be referred to as ‘hounds.’ There’s an outstanding trumpet solo near the closing of the song that gives it a warming timbre. The final track “Putting the Dog to Sleep” is both depressing and optimistic illustrated best by a line taken from the middle of the song: “Well my trust in you is a dog with a broken leg, Tendons too torn to beg for you to let me back in.”

The Antlers will continue touring across the states this summer playing mostly with Little Scream and a couple times with the Dodos. They will head to Canada briefly and then into Europe through the fall.