The XX – Fiction EP review

I have no one to blame but myself for never really giving The XX a fair shake. Had I checked them out under normal circumstances I might have liked them, but it just so happened that the first time I heard their debut album was while I was on a road trip with a really hot hipster zookeeper.  We were trying to get the party started, and the intro track really delivered in that regard but sadly after that the album was just too slow and dark for the mood we were looking for. Well in hopes of getting laid that night, I instantly took the cd out and blew the band off; especially after I had later heard that their live shows weren’t all that great to begin with. Keep in mind however, that that was reaction to their performances during festivals and those who know The XX knows that their music isn’t really made for the daytime outside show. This is more of the night time club music with strobe lights and possible gender bending.

And I think that this is why bands release Ep’s in the first place; so they can both introduce potential fans to their sound in a rather quick fashion and at the same time experiment with some songs that they wouldn’t normally be able to release. The first track on this EP is Fiction, and it is exactly what you’d expect to hear from this indie pop sensation. It has their signature keyboards and light and complimentary guitar mixed in with the dark and low vocals of Oliver Sim. Once you combine that with his lyrics of “I wake up alone, with only daylight between us, last night the world was beneath us, tonight comes too long” you get a sound that’s next of Interpol’s Paul Banks and the INXS’s Need You Tonight without the charisma.

Next up was Together, the song they wrote for The Great Gatsby. It ends up being a perfect fit for that movie with it’s almost hip hop beat and dramatic violins that come in at the end. However, all throughout this song I just imagined Baz Lurhmann (director) unnecessarily throwing in flying satin sheets and a sky that’s raining pearls just so he can put in his grandiose two cents . But the good news is, that without a tattooed goddess sitting next to me to distract me, I was actually enjoying the album so far. Wait, is that really good news???

Now comes the first of the three Fiction remixes. This reminds me of when Filter had 7 remixes of Take My Picture; do you really that many? This version is a club remix for sure, especially since they just repeat “When we’re not together” over and over again. You can’t help but be reminded of Armand Van Heldon’s Funk Phenomena, which if you were alive when it came out, you most certainly spun a glow stick or two while dancing to it. The funky addition of the guitar might be my favorite part although it only appears briefly in the song.

The second remix is the Mary Jane Coles Version and it also continues to remind you of late 90’s dance music. This one brings back all of the lyrics of the original and musically it feels like something you’d hear in an upscale lounge in Europe or swanky Manhattan. Like my man Bill Cosby said in season 6 of the Cosby Show “This is the best elevator music I’ve ever heard”.  I swear I’m related to this man some way somehow!

Finally comes the third and final remix of Fiction and this one belongs to Marcus Wogull. This one has more of a driving beat with the sound of a high hat that’s used for timing. Midway through the song they lose the Russian techno keys for a second and bring in the guitar but then they immediately get bored with that and resort to the unimaginative sound they initially introduced to the track. This is my least favorite of the three but that’s mainly because it’s so repetitive.

Overall I like this EP and suggest you at least give it a listen on Spoitfy.

Lightning Dust – Fantasy album review

Fantasy does not wait to tantalize and seduce.  Amber Webber has the poppy, sensationalistic voice that goes well with this sort of minimalist, trance-inducing, dream pop. From the start, you get the sense that the band will not go on any self-indulgent tangents, a very promising sign for a full-length listening session. In an era where the hip way to musically masturbate is via Macbooks, Lightning Dust do not overstay their welcome or go on long monologues about trivial events in their day. They satisfy the listener with standard indie electronic music that sounds really nice.

If a lot of this kind of stuff (electronic indie pop, however vague that genre tag may be) tends to be like listening to an acquaintance tell you a ten minute story about how at the grocery store the cashier made a snide remark to them as they were leaving and that it made them upset, i.e. it’s repetitive, glib and boring, Fantasy is like drinking tea with your friend that you don’t see that much who writes pretty poetry.  The interaction is terse and pleasant. It knows when to amp up or shift directions, so that the listener does not have to make up excuses about other pressing social obligations.

Allegories to human relationships aside, Fantasy is a trustworthy record of the kind that will appear on best-of-the-year lists of bloggers and music nerds. It won’t become a sensation, appear in a Twilight movie, or be played at Urban Outfitters. It is a quaint album for relaxation and for purging away the excess of the day. There’s nothing really innovative, exhilarating or game changing on here, but without records like this one- a dependable, reliable record- to instill a sense of sanity, I would argue, you might go crazy.

Gauntlet Hair – Stills album review

A global population of around 7 billion people means that the genre Noise Pop must have a healthy number of followers, and it would also seem likely that the Noise Pop duo, Gauntlet Hair, has a number of people who are fans of their music (there may even be one or two people who like their name!, crazy I know). So, what is Noise Pop, who are Gauntlet Hair and why should you listen to their latest release, Stills? Noise Pop is actually an easy genre to describe, its not quite noisy pop, it’s actually more pop with noise: Gauntlet Hair are members Craig Nice and Andy Rauworth who enjoy making pop tracks and mixing noise into them; and finally you should also check out their new album because it not only contains some catchy songs with pop, but they all have interesting noise mixed into them! Listening to Stills is not entirely different than walking by a construction site with one earbud in playing some indie pop, while a black sedan passes by with tinted windows blaring out some heavy bass from a house track. Walk by ten different construction sites with ten different tracks loaded on your i-Cell and wait long enough for ten tricked out cars and you’ve successfully recreated the entire album (huge congrats on that by the way).

With track names such as “Spew”, “Bad Apple” and “Waste Your Art” there’s a definite sense of melancholy to the whole production. However, when you really get into the bare bones of the tracks and begin to hear some of the musicality of the album this woe feels like a fabrication. Gauntlet Hair are not a couple of depressed musicians who moved to Colorado simply because they wanted to recreationally ‘use’, no they are actually quite talented and have yet to figure out how to tame their noise down into something excellent. Their debut album was released in 2011 and had some interesting heavier tracks, Stills tunes thing up and creates a catchier more compelling album. Perhaps 2015 will be their third-times-a-charm album, until then enjoy the noise.

Autoheart – Punch album review

New from two-year-old group, Autoheart, comes Punch. Now, before we get started, it is important to keep in mind that as a reviewer one must be critical. If each review spoke volumes of the album in question opinions would hold no merit and taste culture would simply not exist. Furthermore, keeping in consideration that taste varies from listener to listener, if one were to ask my honest opinion of the twelve-track compilation from London indie-rockers Autoheart I would respond with one culminating word: alright. Truth be told, the album is too long for the style and themes on which it elaborates. For the style of the music–that being relatively generic indie-pop–the length of each song is simply exasperating. With one full listen, the album draws on much too long. Each successive track does not especially vary from the one before it and, frankly, the textures of the vocals and instruments hardly changes. Albeit, the songs have catchy elements and the production of the album is on point but, at the end of the day, it has very little staying power. The collection lacks a certain spice; there are few alluring facets setting it apart from other indie-acts like it.

Taking this all with a grain of salt, the one track that does jump out (at least for my ear) is track eight, “Hung Over in the City Dust.” Overall, the composition is intriguing and the ascension of the piano is pleasing to the ear. The vocals, too, amount to something notable and the lyrics hold their fair share of weight. Overall, it is well-executed–my only criticism being that it is just too long being the better part of five minutes long. There is something to be said about a song that knows how to end. Another decent track would be track one, “Anniversary.” It is a pretty accessible track which sticks out when first listened to. It does well in setting the precedent for the rest of the album.

Overall, I am honestly excited to hear how Autoheart grows from Punch. Having only been around since 2011, the young rockers have much to build on. My guess is that although Punch is not necessarily a masterpiece, it sets a decent pace for things to come. I’ll be very interested to see how the artists of Autoheart evolve.

Riva Starr – Hand In Hand album review

At first listen Riva Starr comes across as a slightly tilted Thievery Corporation. At times it sounds like its nothing but stock loops and yet at other times it sounds like the result of a severely experienced DJ who knows exactly how to control the vibe. When it hits these highs it sounds genuine and worthwhile just for how it makes you feel. The anachronistic instrumentation dials in a mix of 90’s alternative rock and 60’s soul. The influences don’t end there, however. There are plenty of points where a new influence will arise from the stew to stir the pot. Despite the variety nothing really comes across as out of place.

Hand In Hand brings the positive vibes full force, never more evident than the first track: “I’ve got a beating heart, life is the sweetest make believe.”. Played at a party, Hand In Hand would do well to bring all your buds together in a sweaty dance party. The atmosphere is maintained throughout although the spirit may change from track to track. Sometimes the tender love turns into down right sexiness. If you choose to play this at your next house party that locked bedroom is probably locked for a reason. Riva Starr is definitely channeling some free-love leftovers from days gone by.

Ultimately its not original, but it doesn’t have to be. There has been a void left by passing trends for good-time lovey dove-y feels could fill in a heartbeat. I’d imagine Riva Starr has a greeting for anybody privy to his private parties: “Welcome home, grab a wine spritzer and a spliff. We’re about to get lovely in this bitch.” Its definitely not for everyone. If you don’t have the good time posi feels in your head and your heart you wont find much but a fairly unoriginal DJ set. There is a missing piece to his art, and that is your ability to meet him halfway. “If depression don’t get ya, then the drugs will”. Awfully wise for what amounts to a dance party power plant. Its not often you’ll find this kind of positivity in the club scene.

Outside Lands 2013 preview – Sunday August 11th

Sunday at Outside Lands starts a bit slow, but ends with a bang. Slightly shorter than the other days of the the festival due to San Francisco’s curfew laws, Sunday’s final sets end at 9:30, so you have no reason not to go all out all day.

Kopecky Family Band (Panhandle, 1:20 to 2:00) were just featured in a New York Times article that compared them to Fleetwood Mac and described them as “a music family producing comfort songs.” Kurt Vile (Sutro, 2:30 to 3:20), known for his solo music and for being a part of the War on Drugs, always puts on a great show, as do Matt + Kim (Twin Peaks, 6:45 to 7:35).

If you’re a fan of EDM, today might be your day to commit to that style of music. There’s A-Trak (Twin Peaks, 5:10 to 6:00), up-and-comer Dillon Francis (Panhandle, 7:35 to 8:20) and finally Kaskade (Twin Peaks, 8:25 to 9:35). Young duo MS MR (Panhandle, 6:00 to 6:40) aren’t EDM by definition, but they are definitely electronic music that you can dance to, so if you have the time, absolutely check them out.

Red Hot Chili Peppers (Lands End, 7:45 to 9:35) are the night’s official headliner, and if you’ve never seen them, they’re definitely worth seeing, since you don’t really know when they’ll be on the road next. The same applies to Willie Nelson (Sutro, 6:30 to 7:40), where you can expect a layer of smoke to appear soon into the now 80-year-old icon’s performance. And then of course there’s Vampire Weekend (Lands End, 5:50 to 7:00), who will probably have one of the biggest crowds of Sunday, but will also probably put on one of the most fun shows.

The final day of a festival, much like the first, usually comes with a lot of last minute mind-changes. Maybe you haven’t seen a certain stage, so you decide to change that, or maybe you haven’t really explored all the food options so you decide to take an hour off from music to find something great to eat. Since Sunday is a bit shorter and the final day, don’t be afraid to tire yourself out running from stage to stage or splurge a bit on a tasty snack. This might be your last big adventure of the summer; make the most of it.

Biggest Conflict: Vampire Weekend vs. Willie Nelson vs. Matt and Kim vs. MS MR

Must See Set: Vampire Weekend

Outside Lands 2013 preview – Saturday August 10th

You’ve now gotten acquainted with beautiful Outside Lands grounds. You had time to study your map, realized it takes a good ten minutes to get from the Sutro Stage to Twin Peaks, and realized you only need to get to the Panhandle Stage a few minutes early to have a great view. Right when you think you’ve figured things out though, Outside Lands hits you with a bunch of big decisions to make.

Saturday night’s headliners, Nine Inch Nails and Phoenix, are probably the most overlapping in fanbase of the three night’s offerings. They play at almost identical times, with Nine Inch Nails at the main, Lands End Stage, from 8:25 to 9:55 and Phoenix across the grounds at Twin Peaks from 8:40 to 9:55. If you’re a fan of both bands, there’s really no way to win here. I might suggest flipping a coin.

Just prior to that is an equally tough decision to make – the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Lands End, 6:40 to 7:30) or Grizzly Bear (Twin Peaks, 6:50 to 7:50) or the Head and the Heart (Sutro, 7:20 to 8:20). Here, I’d definitely recommend the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Jurassic 5 (Lands End, 5:00 to 6:00) will be a cool reunion if you’re into hip-hop, as will Young the Giant (Lands End, 3:40 to 4:30), playing a sort-of-hometown, sort-of-reunion, although it hasn’t been nearly as long since they toured last and it’s really only home for frontman Sameer Gadhia, who graduated from Stanford.

If you get to the park early enough, try to catch some of Atlas Genius’ set (Twin Peaks, 2:10 to 2:55). The Australian duo just finished a tour opening for Imagine Dragons, and are soon setting out on a headlining tour of their own, playing some of the same venues they just opened at. Even earlier are The Lone Bellow (Sutro, 1:05 to 1:45), one of my favorite surprises at SXSW this year. They are playing early enough that there shouldn’t be too much of a crowd for their set of folky, alt-country.

There is also a bunch of great local music on Saturday’s bill. Chipper indie folk from Social Studies (Twin Peaks, 12:45 to 1:25), anthemic rock from the Soft White Sixties (Lands End, 1:00 to 1:50), alternative folk-rock from Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (Sutro, 4:40 to 5:30).

Biggest Conflict: Everything after 6:30. Yeah Yeah Yeahs vs. Grizzly Bear vs. The Head and the Heart, Nine Inch Nails vs. Phoenix, etc…

Must See Set: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The Grove Festival: Girl Talk

I tip my hat to the event planners who had the foresight to put Girl Talk on before Hot Chip, who played before Phoenix. The three of them were a proper jab-hook-uppercut combo that bowled us all over. Girl Talk…There are not a lot of curtains to pull back here, so-to-speak. No insights that one cannot deduce for themselves if they’ve heard even just one of Gregg Gillis’ tracks. You could play 30secs if any of his mixes to a stranger on the street who seemingly has no understanding of what’s hip, ask them three words to describe what they think his concert might be like, and they would be right. It’s like this: the songs sound the exact same, but instead enjoying it in your living room that’s the size of a hamster ball, it an entire square city block of sound. Bigger IS better. Always.

As I fear giving you a redundant perspective, I’m going to take an editorial risk here, and attempt to explain the concert as it banked off of my friend Amy who was standing beside me. It’s like this: I’m actually reviewing my friend Amy watching the concert, instead of reviewing the concert itself. It’s Girl Talk through an ‘Amy’ filter. Got it? Are we clear? A postmodern concert review? I don’t think anything would make Girl Talk happier.

First off you should know that my friend Amy and her better half Grant are easily the most decorated concert soldiers I know, which even if I was trying to be humble, is incredible. They have seen so many bands, have collected so many tickets stubs, seen so many venues, and in the specific case of Grant, bought a gazillion concert tees. Seriously. He had a tee for almost every band that played the festival, and he changed them as the bands changed to show his fandom. (I tip my hat to YOU, Sir.)

“Holy sh*t, write that down,” Amy says. She’s doing her condensed booty shake which means she’s feeling it, and wants to move so badly that only small movements will guarantee she moves enough. She’s points to the stage, “MJ’s Do You Remember vs. Daft Punk’s Get Lucky! That’s new. Sh*******t.” She continues to move. She looks at me again and this time taps my notebook. “Write it down.”

Girl Talk has revolutionized the mixed tape. I don’t think anyone can dispute that. Who else do you know who can mix like he can? Nobody. Maybe your mother, but we don’t know who she is. “Look at him go!” Amy’s screaming because Gillis has removed his soaked white t-shirt and is swinging it above his head. She turns to me, “He’s like a little DJ Ninja.” I look up to the stage and sure enough he’s making exaggerated Bruce Lee gestures.

Every DJ has his own dance persona. Some of them favour a simple fist pump, others make hands like they’re begging for justice while jumping up and down, not to mention the ever elusion no-dance-at-all which makes you believe the DJ doesn’t even know the crowd is there. Girl Talk is a full extension kind of guy. Finger tips, to pointed toes, he explores the full breath of bodily expression. Amy giggles, and then smiles affectionately. “Ahh, that’s adorable.”

The stage is flooded with people pulled from the crowd, and I would wager his entire entourage. Honestly though, thousands of people around us are having the best dance party of their lives “Lindsay, my mind is exploding right now. Aren’t you dying?! This is so awesome.” As the set progresses, the bulkier dudes up front who at first were dominating the stage are beginning to run out of steam. “Uh, oh. Some of them are slowing down,” she says, and raises her eyebrows in concern. She nods towards the pixie-sized girls with fairy wings who are covered in body paint. “At least we know some of them are going to make it.”

I can tell you who did make it. Amy. As Girl Talk’s last climactic beats echoed through the park, Gillis raised his hand as if the salute the drifting notes as they sailed away. Amy closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, then turned to me again. “Bathroom then beer.”

The Grove Festival: Gaslight Anthem

Occupying in my personal opinion the best time slot for natural light, Gaslight Anthem is one of those successful underground bands who everyone loves and no one has ever heard of at the same time. Proper Indie starlettes, it is so incredibly obvious when you see them live why they have accrued such a loyal cult following. They may not be mainstream, but when lead singer Brian Fallon offered up his microphone, like he did last year at another concert, it was Eddie Vedder who rose to the challenge to sing with the band. So…ya. You should know this band if you don’t already.
Gaslight Anthem has a huge catalogue and generally isn’t one of those bands who really shine in a 45min time slot. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take what I can get, but after such a short set they left the stage and I felt like I was being left in bed just when things were really getting going. Bands like Gaslight Anthem need at least an hour and half for listeners to get their fix. They are just one of those bands; bands that bring you back to that time in your life when music was invigorating for the first time.

It might be easier for people in my age bracket to understand this, as Gaslight Anthem has been true to their sound since their inception in 2007, but their particular brand of rock calls to mind that early millennial punk-easy-rock sound that was equal parts Thrifty’s flare jeans and non-gendered nail polish, and ironically disintegrated most standards of which is socially accepted as cool at the time. Today, in 2013, Gaslight Anthem is the epitome of modern rock. They continue to push the limits of conventional songwriting while still honouring the rock elements that gave the likes of Springsteen and Billy Joel their mass appeal.

They played mostly from their newest release Handwritten, peppering the set with a few oldies but goodies. When ‘45’ started up there was an amazing moment in the crowd when those who knew the song roared, and those who didn’t know who they were watching looked to those who did and nodded emphatically. Crowd synergy. As musicians they are beyond talented. They know who they are, and their the sound seems to come effortless which is amazing because as performers they are quite adept at pulling the heavy single-foot-stomp that we as listeners employ to keep time along with the drummer when the beats are deep and the bass is as responsible for that as the drums.

Like I said, the sunset was tempering into twilight. After writing all of these reviews up today it is becoming increasingly clear that I am obsessed with light. Seriously though, no matter where you’re reading this from, no matter what time of day, make a note to wait for the sunset. Download ‘National Anthem’ from Handwritten, press play, and tell me if the orange light filtering from the West isn’t made better by that song.

Sick Puppies – Connect album review

Connect, the fourth album from Aussie trio Sick Puppies, which was released stateside on July 16th, might as well be ten years old. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural stop-gap or simply poor taste that transformed the early nu metal incarnation of this band into the lackluster rockers they are today, but even Three Days Grace had some wit to their product. Connect has none.

This might have flown back in 2003, back when Three Days Grace and Smile Empty Soul made industry rock seem inspired, but everything on Connect sounds extremely dated in 2013. Take the album opening “Die to Save You”, a song that leads with a muted metal hook ripped right from the Billy Talent catalogue. When the cribbed intro recedes, treading water with Shim Moore’s platitudes, there’s little structure left to sink your teeth into. This isn’t even radio rock; it’s boardroom metal.

There’s nothing wrong with having stadium-sized ambitions. It’s probably not even worth getting into music at all if you’re not interested in filling a stadium with people who want to hear your music. But there’s a reason Lebron James listens to Imagine Dragons and not Nickelback.

If you want to go stadium big without going completely vanilla, there has to be a twist to the formula. You have to find a new way to package massive hooks. Night Visions, Imagine Dragons’ massive debut, did just that. As a whole, Night Visions is more a great piece of market research than it is a good collection of songs. 2012’s biggest radio rock band won their title by mining EDM tropes (“Radioactive”) and running Mumford-y sing-alongs through a computer program (“Demons”). This makes Night Visions an album you can tell is wagering on stadium success but manages to do a fairly good job of never revealing its hand. You can sense the out-sized ambition, sure, but there are enough brains behind the machine to keep the curtain mostly closed.

Connect is an album that leaves the curtain wide open, forcing the spectacle into a state of constant self-awareness. These type of albums need to, at the very least, feign respect for their audience, but songs like Connect’s “Where Did the Time Go” aren’t just condescending in their banality; they’re also downright cynical. By the time Moore gets to the surprisingly nuanced late-90s nostalgia on the ballad “Healing Now”, you might start to wonder how much he’s been holding back. Don’t worry, that question will pass. You probably didn’t want to know the answer anyway.