May 31, 2009

suddenly, all your history’s ablaze

Last night at TV on the Radio hit Winnipeg...hard. It was the kind of unrelenting performance that’s made the Brooklyn six-piece impossible to ignore. The crowd was ecstatic. It was clear from the moment they took the stage that this visit was long overdue.

Yes, TV on the Radio still matter a great deal, even if last year’s Dear Science was a small step down from Return to Cookie Mountain. What a contrast last night was to the the other time I saw them. Back in 2006, they were joined by Grizzly Bear at Playmaker’s in Fargo, where around 200 people stood awkwardly in a room that could have accommodated 800. TV on the Radio were doing their best to hide their disappointment at the poor turn out. It was a poor showing (in their breakout year, no less), made worse by the fact that most of the crowd had been made up of Winnipeggers, and by now I think the band has realized that blood flows hotter just north of the border. TVOTR is the kind of band that feeds off their audience and last night they knew just how to work us over (Tunde Adebimpe made sure to dedicate a song to Guy Maddin and the Royal Art Lodge).

My new heroes, the Dirty Projectors, opened and new fans were converted in droves (or so it seemed at the merch table). You could see jaws drop during the duet that bookends “Bitte Orca,” and by their closer, “Stillness Is The Move,” we were all quite captivated; some of us a little bewildered by the lauded single’s unexpected hip-hop flavour. I was slightly ticked, as I’d been hoping to purchase Bitte Orca at the show, and though the band was selling the album on cassette tapes (!), those of us looking a circular medium will just have to hang tight until the official release.

They were a fitting opener for TV on the Radio, who still manage to harness the sound of confusion in all of its grandeur. Dave Sitek still runs around the stage with wind chimes dangling from the neck of his guitar and Tunde Adebimpe continues to sing like he’s fighting for his life. I was pleased to hear two of my favourite tracks from Return to Cookie Mountain, “Wash the Day” and “Blues From Down Here,” kick off the set. “Wolf Like Me” brought everyone to their feet, while the percussive chaos of “A Method” provided an opportunity to have the Dirty Projectors invade the stage for the encore. More recent material, from last year’s Dear Science, held up well. “Halfway Home” and “Dancing Choose” were certainly standouts, while my personal favourite from the album, “DLZ,” lacked the stealthiness that made its trip-hop so vital. But it was a small disappointment. They ended well with "Staring at the Sun" from Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. And besides, they had a saxophone! Used well, the sax will get me every time. It adds that extra layer of (post-colonial) tension to their sound, that a mess of contradictions so tough to pin down. At once desperate and exuberant, discordant and yet so purely refined.

May 22, 2009

this is getting ridiculous... other words, prepare for the backlash.

In a hilarious new post on MBV, Pitchfork's Ryan Catbird laments the pickle they've gotten themselves into with the new Grizzly Bear album, Veckatimest, which hits record stores next Tuesday. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the album leaked over two months ago and has been gaining steady, almost unconditional support from practically everyone who follows new music. Catbird gives us the breakdown:
Here’s the rub: by busting out of the gate this year with that 9.6 for Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, they’ve created a situation where it’s going to be virtually impossible to rate an album above 9 without drawing a direct comparison to Merriweather.

Look at what we've gotten ourselves into. It's a telling problem for current web-gods and tastemakers like Pitchfork. Has popular music criticism always been this contrived, this full of posturing? Probably, but with the internet, it's reached a new level of absurdity. I've always had issues with Pitchfork's rating system. That decimal place drives me nuts, but at least now we have an instance where it's clear why they use it. Damn that Merriweater Post Pavillion! It's caused so many problems.

I'd like to say that Grizzly Bear doesn't deserve this. The music should speak for itself, but these days it often doesn't. Cokemachineglow just offered their review of Veckatimest, in which the writer falls on reactions around the office to contextualize his evaluation. Everyone, it seems, is already bored with it.
Even around the CMG watercooler there are at least as many dissenters as there are proponents. Veckatimest, you are boring Conrad. Chet said “snooze.” Somebody called them “Grizzly Bore.”

Pop music has always been inextricably linked with novelty, but contemporary critics especially seem consumed by this search for the "new" and it bugs me a little bit. I suppose I'm as guilty as anyone, but if I may... Sometimes I think I'm living in an age that privileges the "debut" and has a built-in hostility toward bands with any longevity, artists who actually want to grow and evolve.

Rants aside, I've been saving myself for next week's release. Ever since the follow-up to Yellow House (my favourite album of 2007) was announced, I've been giddy.

Speaking of Grizzly Bear, keep your eyes peeled for the next issue of Stylus, which features an interview of the band by UMFM's Jeff Friesen, host of "It's Okay, We're Lo-fi." I nearly got to do the interview, but Jeff beat me to the draw.

May 8, 2009

To celebrate my summer course in Medieval Literature...

..."The Lamb and the Lion" by The Mae Shi from their album HLLLYH

new & recommended

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Though it has yet to be officially released, the Brooklyn-based Dirty Projectors' follow-up to 2007's Rise Above (which covered 11 of the 15 tracks from Black Flag's 1981 album Damaged), Bitte Orca was leaked a few months back and has since generated a whole lot of buzz. The album's first single, "Stillness is the Move," has been stupifying bloggers and press types with it's impressive scope and its jawdropping vocals (courtesy of Amber Coffman, who curiously conjures Mariah Carey's breathy falsetto). David Longstreth's new endeavor is addictive and engaging. Bitte Orca's off-kilter composition, along with the ethereal vocal delivery of Coffman and the range of Longstreth's croon (which shines through on the rollicking, de-centered "Cannibal Resource," making it a remarkable anti-opener) make for a richly textured listening experience that doesn't let up. The Dirty Projectors will be opening for TV on the Radio later this month. Last time I saw TVOTR, Grizzly Bear opened, and, well, we all know how things ended up for them.

St. Vincent - Actor
After waffling a bit, I finally got my hands on the newly released LP by St.Vincent (aka Annie Clark), which comes two years after the surprisingly complex Marry Me, an album I never wholeheartedly embraced. About halfway through my first listen, it's clearly a step up, while charting noticeably darker territory. Clark is also known for her contributions to recordings by Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree, but she's more compositionally interesting than both artists combined. I'm looking forward to repeated listens.

Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free
Before this album is unfairly bypassed because of a short-sighted review on Pitchfork, it should be said that Akron/Family's latest (their first since becoming a trio), perfectly captures the frenetic quality of seeing them live. And this is a good thing, at least for all those who dug the split they released with Angels of Light back in 2005. Obviously, they're never going to put out another album as graceful and captivating as their self-titled debut, but Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free is features some of their most powerful folk jams (the ecstatic, proggy "They Will Appear") and some of their most intimate love songs ("River"). So, dear folk-rock lovers, please give it a taste before you toss it off as another Meek Warrior.

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