Are you familiar with the Stones Throw Records Rooster? Well you should be. The label is a futuristic powerhouse made up of dreams galore. Artists from every walk of life and from all genres are popping up on Stones Throw’s radar and, to put it simply, we couldn’t be more excited.
One of the label’s talents is quickly making a name for himself in Europe, working as a studio engineer while pumping out records that somehow transcend everything we’ve come to know about time, space, and, well, music. James Pants has been on Stones Throw since 2008, the same year of the debut of Welcome, a punk-ass, ‘fresh-beat’ album combining all of his favorite vinyl into one cohesive track listing for listeners to suck on.
James Pants’s sophomore album, Seven Seals, sounds completely different from the first but is just as radical. This time around, Pants has funneled all of his intergalactic dreams into a sole synth-powered, cult-inspired record that mixes the best of otherworldly expectations with realistic arrangements and beats. His latest self-titled album delivers pure, celestial foresight into the future of artistic interpretation as we know it. While the new record is by no means anything like the last two, it still leaves us anxiously clinging onto tracks like Clouds Over the Pacific, wishing we were anywhere else but here.
Photos of James provided courtesy of stonesthrow.com
Like a breath of fresh air, Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, emerges from a brief hiatus with a kickass electro pop-rock hybrid record just in time to put a chill in our bones this fall. Clark’s charismatic voice carries us through her new album like a sturdy tree branch from which you just can’t let go, right before the bell rings on the first day of school…We are truly amazed at how Clark has evolved as an artist. From a backing musician for Sufjan Stevens and The Polyphonic Spree to her solo debut, Marry Me, in 2007, it’s thrilling to see how Annie steadily continues to blossom into a fine young musical artist on the verge of veritable superstardom. If St. Vincent’s sophomore record, Actor, is any hint of what Clark’s musical capabilities are, Strange Mercy is a kick in the butt to all the music critics out there who dared to doubt her talents.
In a world where overproduction and a sterilized sense of what’s good runs the musical food chain, it’s refreshing to hear a female solo recording artist who doesn’t need auto-tune or an overplayed hip hop producer to sell records. Strange Mercy is a testament to the future of all our musical dreams and we aren’t the only ones who’ve taken notice, either, as it seems as if every single music publication out there has listed this album among the year’s best (Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin, etc.).
Now, onto the music. In essence, Annie’s arrangements leave you wanting more, just like a good lover should. Her undeniable guitar skills breathe fresh life into every track, carrying us through the record like a fresh, burning Altoid that hurts so good. Notable singles include Surgeon and Cruel, which are merely a miniscule taste of what the rest of the album has to offer. Tracks like Northern Lights and Chloe in the Afternoon give us that uneasy, hyperactive, wanna-run-around-town-without-a-care-in-the-world feeling that most music, at least as of late, seems to have forgotten. Strange Mercy ultimately embodies what music is all about: evoking emotions and thoughts while inspiring tired bodies to get the f*ck up and make a MOVE. So we’ll be the first to join the throngs of adoring fans and give it an emphatic A+.
Photo provided courtesy of caseycurry.com
Commuting can be a real bitch. Sometimes, music is all we’ve got to get us through, whether it’s conquering the open road or weaving through a bustling interstate. I personally fancy a good ol’ fashion road rager to get through the tough times tied up in traffic (you’ve got to beat your head against the dash to something), and when I’m in need of some serious therapy after passing that one guy going 50 in the fast lane. It’s no ultimate list per say, but it’s a damn fine lot—enjoy, and drive safely.
1. Queens of the Stone Age, Turnin’ On The Screw
2. Björk, Army of Me
3. Hole, Gutless
4. Sleigh Bells, Riot Rhythm
5. Sleater-Kinney, Light Rail Coyote
6. Led Zeppelin, Black Dog
7. Wu-Tang Clan, Bring Da Ruckus
8. PJ Harvey, Who the F*ck?
9. Modest Mouse, Convenient Parking
10. At The Drive-In, Chanbara
11. Bikini Kill, Suck My Left One
12. Black Keys, She’s Long Gone
Close your eyes. Now imagine yourself on your dream vacation, where your only care in the world is how much you don’t have to care about anything, at all… What are you listening to? Let me help set your summer dream soundtrack by introducing Memoryhouse. This space-aged, sub-pop, dream-rock duet sounds like they’ve stepped out of your favorite childhood storybook, just to lend a hand in guiding you through your every ‘adult’ aspiration.
Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion have found their sound niche by guiding imaginative musical arrangements behind an ethereal vocal style. Dream pop is nothing new to us here at VG, but among the sea of overproduced ‘indie’ bands it’s nice to discover a genuine collaboration of talent and musical style that’s as sincere as the memories that have molded us into who we are today.
We look forward to the re-release of Memoryhouse’s first EP, The Years, this fall from Sub-Pop Records.
Hey, glossies. Not sure if you’ve heard, but Beastie Boys‘ new record, and to a lesser extent, Fleet Foxes‘ newest, are the hottest shit since slice bread. No word yet on whether The Most Beautiful Woman In The Universe‘s newest is any good. Or, J.Lo‘s. Regardless, here is a handful of highlights from the coming weeks’ new releases.
Philly’s own Man Man has created a new work of curiosity; and, after The Antlers‘ emotional and sweeping previous record, Hospice, their new one should be worth at least a half dozen listens. Then, there’s that kooky collaborator, Danger Mouse, who has joined forces with an Italian composer (plus Jack White and Norah Jones) for one wild ride of an album–a dramatic, mixed bag of genres, songs, interludes, and intros.
Friendly Fires‘ self-titled debut has been invading our eardrums since its 2008 release, so the group’s much-anticipated sophomore effort should be a treat. Then, you’ve got a fascinatingly titled new Arctic Monkey‘s disc (If you say so!), the HIGHLY exciting debut from Cults (have you heard the song Go Outside yet?), and a new one from Canada’s Junior Boys should fuel dance floors well into August.
If that weren’t enough, just as summer starts to hit its stride, we will also get new records from Bon Iver, YACHT, Little Dragon, and, hold onto your blunts, ladies and gentleman, Lil Wayne‘s Tha Carter IV will also be hitting streets come June. I’m not sure that Wayne’s I Am Not A Human Being could have gotten us more excited about the future of hip-hop but then, 6 Foot 7 Foot came along. Damn, this music season is going to be pretty hot ‘n hazy–in more ways than one.
Lady Gaga, Born This Way
Arctic Monkeys, Suck It & See
Washed Out, Within And Without
About a year ago, I was blown away by STORE, a Kate Watson-Wallace choreographed piece, at what was an old, abandoned Rite-Aid in West Philadelphia. It was part of Philly’s Live Arts Festival and it was my introduction to Philadelphia’s creative dance culture. Ms. Watson-Wallace is a Philly-based choreographer, performer, and director of a performance group called anonymous bodies, specializing in site-specifice installations. She has also choreographed music videos for groups like Animal Collective and Black Dice. Needless to say, the woman is talented and prolific. Her approach to dance is a touch on the left-field side, but that’s why she’s so beloved and that’s why her new work for PIFA, AUTO, seems like a guaranteed mind-blowing experience.
Watson-Wallace has created a trilogy for her 2007 Pew Fellowship: HOUSE, a show performed inside a row home; CAR, a performance basically for four people in the back of two moving cars; and STORE, a performance piece about American greed. In STORE, she and a team of dancers interact with an overhead PA-system announcer, wild light projections, and haphazardly strewn garments and goods. In a flash, dancers would go from inching towards one another on the floor covered in random garments, to jumping up on their feet and dancing to M.I.A. It was one of those cultural experiences where you are awe-struck by what’s before you and not entirely sure you’re getting what they’re putting down. Nonetheless, you know there is a lot at stake during the performance: emotions, indictments, conflicts and even manifestos. AUTO, no doubt an interpretation of CAR, is no longer just for four people at a time. And this PIFA-specific series of performances is sure to be worth the effort of getting out to 3300 Henry Avenue, at Falls Center Parking Garage. The tickets are $20 and transportation can easily be arranged on the PIFA site for non-drivers.
When you think about what cars mean to Americans, it gets weird. For instance, as a space, the car sees us at our most vulnerable and brazen times. It sees you when you’re putting on make-up during your the rush-hour commute; and yes, it sees you smoking that bowl before you go into the movies and/or you losing your virginity to your high school boyfriend at 17. Get where I’m goin’ here? So CAR and AUTO both explore the idea of this space and what it means for humans, whether they be a driver, passenger, or on-looker. Beyond the emotional space idea, cars can also be destructive–they can blow up and they can ruin lives. It’s exactly these notions of space, emotion, and physical realities that Watson-Wallace and her team seek to explore at their intersections. Technically, you will watch the performance in a parking garage. You’ll move through it and watch the performance at different points. And seriously, can’t you imagine a striking dance performance in a public space like that? How many times have you been spooked by a sound, weirded out by how you can’t find your parking spot, or witnessed a domestic disturbance in spaces like these?
Hurry up, the performances run towards the later side of April, with performances at 8pm on the 21st-24th, the 28th-30th and May 1st.
Disclaimer: PIFA, the Philadelphia International Festival of Arts, based in the Kimmel Center, is sponsoring the writing of a series of blog posts. Bill Chenevert will be contributing previews and event spotlights leading up to the actual festival, which will take place all over the city of Philadelphia, in numerous venues.
A look through your PIFA guide, and all of musical events from which you have to choose over the next three weeks in April, is enough to make your jaw drop. Now, some of them, rightly so, are cross-listed for what would be considered a dance piece or a multidisciplinary collaboration between, say, a musician, a dancer, and a visual artist—but still, the selection is quite impressive. What about the good stuff that’s cheap? How can I squeeze out as much inexpensive music entertainment out of this PIFA bill, you ask? I give you answers.
Let’s start with the weeklies: WXPN, Philly’s glorious local rock station, will move its extremely popular Free at Noon series over to Broad Street. Get your free on with Terry Adams & The New NRBQ on the 8th, Eilen Jewell on the 15th, The Low Anthem on the 22nd, and a mystery fourth guest on the 29th. Then, also for free, are Wednesday nights, to which you’ll actually have to RSVP in order get in on the cheap fun: typically, there are two or three guests for a more subdued early evening set (5pm-7pm), and another set later in the evening (10pm-12am). A highlight will definitely be on the 13th, when Dave P of Making Time fame will be spinning an undoubtedly energetic late set, after a sure-thing Bobby Long performance earlier in the night. Check out the XPN site for more details. Oh yeah, and every Monday through Thursday (11th-28th), for two hours, starting at noon, get dazzled by professional and student musicians performing classical and pop tunes on a beautiful grand piano inside the Kimmel Plaza, for free. Lastly, in a grand finale of the Plaza’s Eiffel Tower presence, Rockstar Entertainment is producing a Last Party In Paris fête on the 29th, and the tickets are only $10. Celebrity DJs are promised, as are cocktails and a VIP lounge, all underneath the twinkling lights of la Tour Eiffel. Ooh la la! Je suis là!
Now, if you don’t mind, a few other opportunities that aren’t in the Plaza. Philadelphia’s Independent Rock School is presenting a Night at the Movies on the 29th (8:00pm; $10) at the Kimmel Center’s Innovation Studio. Students have created scores to two classic silent movies, Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip To The Moon, 1902) and Sherlock Jr. (1924) by Buster Keaton. Then, you get rock interpretations of Cole Porter‘s music with Martha Graham Cracker! Not familiar? She’s only the premier drag lounge act in Philadelphia with one killer set of pipes. Sounds awesome. A couple other culture-fusion moments to consider: Atypical at the Painted Bride Art Center will take you to 19th century Paris via local artists Ryat, François Zayas, and Viji Rao. This will be a genre-defying combination of musical and dance talents dedicated to love. Tickets aren’t pricey and there are two performances (4/29, 4/30; 8pm; $15-20). Really tryna keep it cheep, hunh? Fine. Puentes/Bridges is a fantastic experience at Kensington’s Taller Puertorriqueño that will celebrate multiple generations of Latino culture. And it’s free. It’s a collaboration between several nearby arts organizations and will celebrate classic and pop Latino compositions. Plus, it’s outside with loads of dancing. Winning.
To conclude, a few pricier tickets worth considering at the Kimmel’s Perelman Theater. If you’re even the slightest jazz enthusiast, you know that Thelonious Monk was the MAN. Martial Solal will provide a fresh interpretation of Monk’s landmark 1959 NY Town Hall concert; a rare solo piano performance offered by the Parisian jazz master (4/9; 8pm; $32-38). For a hypnotizing evening of rhythm and visuals, So Percussion has crafted a PIFA-specific performance called Imaginary City. It’s a meditation on color, architecture, sound, and urban life that’ll undoubtedly make you say WOW at least a few times, all while shimmying in your seat (4/23; 7:30pm; $19-32). Last but not least, Afropean goddesses Les Nubians will also be on hand; the French/Cameroonian sisters expertly blend jazz, hip-hop, spoken word, and worldly elements, creating funky, soulful sounds all their own and the tickets to this performance are far from harsh on your wallet at $25 (4/21; 8:30pm). And this is all just the tip of the iceberg–a few things to get all you music-lovers thinking, researching, and planning for the ear-pleasing options that await you this April…
Disclaimer: PIFA, the Philadelphia International Festival of Arts, based in the Kimmel Center, is sponsoring the writing of a series of blog posts. Bill Chenevert will be contributing previews and event spotlights leading up to the actual festival, which will take place all over the city of Philadelphia, in numerous venues.
You may have noticed something’s going on in England. As in, white people who can sing like the dickens busting out some seriously soulful music. There has been a wave of artists making people turn their gaze across the pond in the past few years, and a handful of them are graduates of the BRIT School (also called the The London School for Performing Arts & Technology). Shall we name some illustrious alumni? Amy Winehouse, Adele, Kate Nash, Imogen Heap, Leona Lewis, this new upstart Jessie J (more on her later), and my new favorite musician in the world, Jamie Woon. Now, before I gush about Jamie, let’s talk about something that the BBC calls “Sound of…” So it’d be: Sound of 2003-Sound of 2011.
A quick glean of winners is a pretty weird little mixed bag: 50 Cent won in 2003, then Keane and the Bravery, followed by Corinne Bailey Rae (huh?) and Mika (YES!), and in the last few years, it was given to Adele in 2008, Little Boots in 2009, and Ellie Goulding last year, in 2010. This year, the winner is Jessie J, but they also name a Second, Third, and Fourth, all the way to Tenth. Second for 2011 goes to James Blake. Fair enough, he’s brilliant (more on him later), but my man Jamie comes in Fourth, behind The Vaccines and after Clare Maguire. Now, not sure if you saw Jessie J as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, but she absolutely annihilated it. She is, as far as I can figure, the first artist to ever perform on SNL without a record out. Her debut landed in the UK just a couple weeks ago, and we’re still waiting stateside for a widespread release. It’s #2 in the UK charts, held off by none other than the great talent herself, Adele. JJ performed two songs, Price Tag, which features B.O.B. (ugh, really?), and Mama Knows Best. She hams it up a little, but, my goodness, you can tell this woman can freakin’ belt. Sometimes she slips into a sort of scat-like rapping, but, really, doesn’t it seem like hip-hop is slowly creeping into everything pop music considers a success? While the SNL performances pique my interest, I’m itching to see the rest of the record and hear her studio work. It seems like Jessie J, Jamie Woon and James Blake are all at the forefront of a very excited crop of records emerging from Britain.
OK, now James and Jamie. Everyone in the world of music criticism is wetting their pants over this self-titled full-length debut (after four EPs) that emerged a few weeks ago from James Blake. Anchored by the internet success of a couple songs, namely, The Wilhelm Scream and two covers (Feist’s Limit to Your Love and Joni Mitchell’s Case of You), everybody’s buzzing about this record. A little too much, I’d say. A listen to the entirety of the record yields only a few more additionally memorable tracks (I Never Learnt To Share and To Care (Like You)), but altogether, it feels like the hype was a little front-ended. Blake’s voice is captivatingly beautiful, belying a soul and R&B flavor that’s uniquely his; and with it wafting over glitchy, dubbed out beats, it is a fascinating new blend of genres…
However, I’m saying that Jamie Woon does it better. Woon’s debut record is out on Polydor in a few weeks, and I, for one, am not scared to say that he makes me melt. We’ve now had a couple months to sample a few of his songs, and they are on repeat in my household–but on a damn YouTube page? I need this Woon disc like I need a fix, knockin’ on Neil Young‘s door. First, try Night Air, a dancey but dark and subtle beat builds and builds as Woon’s soulful falsetto gets more agitated and elongated. Where Blake relies on primarily the strength of his voice and the appeal of the minimalism of his production, Woon does fascinating things with layers, loops, beats and rhythms. Woon used to perform around London with just an acoustic guitar, and has actually sung backup for Ms. Wino herself, but he’s always been obsessed with the energy of the night (and Burial). He put out an EP a few years ago with his own spin on Wayfaring Stranger. Burial did a remix–it’s breathtaking. Seems like ever since, Woon has been working on making his tracks more dance-y, darker–more sinister and more complex. Well, he knocked it out of the park with the astounding Night Air, including the gorgeous accompanying video.
Now, with Mirrorwriting, I think we can expect a treasure trove of vibes, sounds, and songs to live to. Lady Luck is out now, too, and while it’s first listen didn’t sink it’s teeth into me, upon a few more listens, I’m sold. This is my man. He doesn’t know it yet, but that doesn’t bother me–we’re going to be getting intimate over the next few months and it’s going to be really nice.
On February 2, 2011, Jack White announced that the White Stripes would be no more. Fourteen years in the making, White has become a force of nature beyond the White Stripes, exporting his drums, screech and guitar playing into several other projects. Meg we don’t see too much of, and, to be honest, that doesn’t really end up being too devastating. She plays well WITH Jack, but when you watch her, the way you can on Under Great White Northern Lights (late 2009/2010), you wonder, if he could, would he play the drums on stage, too? Nonetheless, no matter who’s playing on those records, the White Stripes churned out some truly badass rock throughout the 2000’s. Let’s take a look at some of those gems, in a reverential stroll down memory lane, with a tip of the hat to some of Jack’s greatest non-White Stripes moments, including those to look forward to in the future.
The White Stripes release a couple full-lengths from Detroit on Jack’s now badass Nashville label, Third Man Records. A skim of these reveals no real staples or hits. That came with their third album, White Blood Cells, the record that got picked up by V2 after its summer 2001 release. It had a startling balls-to-the-wall rocker on it that really blew us away and people started whispering about the White Stripes. The band started getting press. They cleaned up their look and poised themselves for indie rock ass-kicking and name-taking.
Fell In Love With A Girl
With the spring ’03 release of Elephant, the Stripes blew it out of the water. Two of the biggest hits in their catalogue came out of this record, as well as two visually stunning videos, revolutionary today for their power.
Seven Nation Army
The Hardest Button to Button
A little over two years later, in June of 2005, they put out one of my personal favorites, Get Behind Me Satan. For some half-won White Stripes fan it was a revelation: Holy shit, these two really do wail. For maniacs already deep in the kool-aid, their appetites were satiated and amplified. In addition to the wildly successful duo of My Doorbell and The Denial Twist, they also gave us this disturbing little piece of art:
Now, in May of 2006, Jack also managed to put out a record with the Raconteurs. Yeah, Steady, As She Goes was a strong first single out of the gates. But it was worth the wait for those not so sold on them for this surprisingly soulful gem from Broken Boy Soldiers:
Oh yeah, and back in 2004, White managed to produce Loretta Lynn‘s Van Lear Rose, a triumphant new age country comeback if there ever was one, featuring one of the most haunting and resounding tracks (and collaborations) of the 2000’s.
In what appears to be the Stripes’ swan song, 2007’s Icky Thump could be their last studio album. Meg and Jack played with color and visuals brilliantly, working a black and red theme skillfully throughout their career, exceptionally so on this record’s run of videos. You Don’t Know What Love Is [You Just Do As You’re Told] and the bullfighting-themed Conquest are awe-inspiring, but the title track’s video is a true achievement:
2008 also saw the release of a second Raconteurs album, Consolers of the Lonely, featuring a few hits, but none with the real hooks of the Stripes’ strongest material. The title track, Salute Your Solution and Many Shades of Black were strong, but not on the level of their debut. Anyway, Jack would find a new outfit to really get his juices flowing soon.
In July of 2009, Jack, with the help of The Kills‘ Alison Mosshart (plus Jack Lawrence of The Greenhornes, and Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age/Raconteurs), released The Dead Weather’s debut, Horehound. With the astonishing radio power of the first single, Hang You Up From The Heavens, the Dead Weather announced their presence with an atypical edge and swagger. The stunning video for Treat Me Like Your Mother features a Jack/Alison suburban shootout, but it’s the video for Cut Like A Buffalo that really thrills.
Cut Like A Buffalo
Not ten months after Horehound, came the astonishing Sea of Cowards. It was one of the most shockingly awesome records of 2010. This record had serious punch and gut-wrenching originality. Alison and Jack share vocals a bit more, but the record flows seamlessly from bluesy thrashers to solemn and disturbing dirges. The duo turned in a mind-blowing performance of the single Blue Blood Blues on David Letterman and put forth a breathtaking video for Die By The Drop.
Blue Blood Blues
Die By The Drop
It is in this time period that Jack starts to pick up more production credits. Remember that Loretta Lynn record? He did it again with the legendary Wanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly. The result is the fantastic and brand new The Party Ain’t Over, which includes a couple covers (Amy’s You Know I’m No Good and Bob’s Thunder on the Mountain). Jack White also produced an impressive debut by his wife, Karen Elson, plus a dozen other records.
We’re going to get a little personal today, dear readers. You need to understand how I stumbled upon this magnificent record. Thing is, I write for Philadelphia Weekly, a free arts weekly here in Philly. I write these short little record reviews every week, eight of ’em, called On The Record. I’ve been doing it for almost two years now. What I do is: I come into the PW office and sift through the mail that my music editor receives, most of it CDs, and I try to review things in a timely fashion. If it’s in the paper, it means I’ve done my research–it’ll be either out next week (or in the next few weeks), or it just came out. Sure, labels and artists do a good job of making sure I know when the record hits the streets, and, of course, that I see all the glowing things that’ve been written about the artist (plus a bio that I basically never read). It’s all a bunch of bullshit. They want press and I’m the man they have to appeal to. Well, you can imagine that I get flooded with discs, most of them total crap of course, as well as emails of, Dude, I have a new CD coming out! Can you review it?! Where can I send it? That actually works. Local people who are smart enough to track me down usually get the benefit of the doubt. It’s the obscure stuff from all over the world, from labels I’ve never heard of, that I’m usually caught off-guard by. Take, for instance, my two most recent musical fascinations: New York’s Nicolas Jaar and Ireland’s James Vincent McMorrow.
Both Jaar and McMorrow are about as obscure as they get. Googling them will yield little in the ways of Wikipedia pages or reviews. Jaar’s newest LP, due out Valentine’s Day, is called Space Is Only Noise. It’s a spare but brilliant trip through an electronic music brain. Most of the songs are titled in French for some reason (there’s no evidence that I can see that he studies or is French–he lived in Chile briefly). And while it appeals to my Frenchness, it’s the utterly intoxicating rhythms and quirky sense of what makes up his songs that I’m drawn to. I’m drawn to this record like I haven’t been to another in quite some time. It may have something to do with my deep love for Massive Attack, DJ Shadow and Tricky, but these are really nuanced and diverse. The first few tracks are drowsy, slow numbers. Colomb uses a high-pitched androgynous vocal that’s been heavily treated à la Kelly Watch The Stars (an Air favorite and sound relative), over hazy handclaps and mysterious dripping, tapping sounds. I Got A Woman uses, yes, a Ray Charles clip on loop over blippy, choppy organ bits. The real meat and potatoes comes in the middle of the record on Problems With The Sun, and Space Is Only Noise If You Can See. Here, things get downright funky. Jaar uses spare percussions like a genius underneath weird, treated and manipulated bassy vocals to amplify the cool, low-key nature of the chunky beats he’s using. He’s a master at pacing, build-up, climax and the let-down. Layers are added onto layers, elements are brought in and taken away to great effect. But it’s on the latter, which has some form of the title in it, that you get a real shocker. The spacey, almost round-like vocals give way to an ecstatically bouncy and infectious beat that belongs in a Hercules and Love Affair track, or an LCD Soundsystem record. It starts simple, but the more you listen to the song’s progression you start to realize the way the beat’s being manipulated; it’s not the same beat looped, it’s actually played on an instrument. This is the kind of record that I’ve logged play counts of up in the 15-20 range and I’m still discovering new and surprising moments of revelation. I haven’t felt this confident and excited about an artist (who doesn’t have a ton of hype or press around him) in quite some time. And it’s not about being the first to say so. It’s about the sheer excitement of a disc like his landing in my lap, my having listened with curiosity and being absolutely floored by a listen. This Brown University junior’s got a lot to live for.
Now, James I don’t have as much to say about. He’s just got an incredible set of pipes. His Irishness doesn’t come through so much. We’re not talking about pub songs here, these are emotionally poignant singer-songwriter tales done with acoustic guitar and the occasional additional guitar(s) and spare percussion. His voice is very reminiscent of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) but, if you ask me, transcends his. Yup, he’s bearded, young and white. But his voice smacks of the blues. It’s as if little bits of Louis Armstrong and Robert Johnson made their way into his mother’s womb. Sometimes, a little bit of the Grand Ole Opry spirit sneaks its way into his songs, making for a beautiful mix of country, folk, soul, and blues. His full-length debut, Early In The Morning, came out last week on Vagrant Records. There are a handful of gems like the stellar If I Had A Boat, the rollicking Sparrow And The Wolf, and the heartbreaking Follow You Down To The Red Oak Tree. It’s fun to think about all the other singers and bands that McMorrow brings to mind, but then amended–like Coldplay‘s Chris Martin (the early years) or Bruce Springsteen‘s young voice. This is the kind of music that’ll bring you to tears as you stonily slow dance with your boyfriend in your living room. It’s powerful stuff.
01/31: Best Coast @ 9:30 Club
02/01: The Radio Department @ Rock & Roll Hotel
02/05: Chromeo @ 9:30 Club
03/07: Scissor Sisters @ 9:30 Club
03/16: Crystal Castles @ 9:30 Club
03/29: Cut Copy @ 9:30 Club
04/07: Sleigh Bells and CSS @ 9:30 Club
05/26: Friendly Fires @ 9:30 Club
Most of these bands will be trolling in and around Philly and New York at the same time as well, so be sure to keep an eye to when they’ll be heading your way. And remember: You’ll never be able to forgive yourself if you miss Cut Copy—this time around in particular, as they’re rumored to be putting together quite the performance (and with Holy Ghost). So if you’re not familiar with some of these groups already, the time clearly is now. I can’t wait to see y’all there!
Have you ever gone to a show solely for the main act and had no real interest in the opening bands? Then, years later, you realize that you’re actually starting to like said opening band more than said main band? Yep. That’s how it was for me and The Kills. In 2005, they opened up for Bloc Party and I stood three rows away. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy their music, I just wasn’t as interested as I should have been. Funnily enough, I can’t remember the last time I listened to Bloc Party, but I can assure you that the Kills are on constant rotation in my headphones and in my car.
Alison Mosshart, AKA VV, and Jamie Hince, AKA Hotel, have been anything but orthodox when it comes to making music under The Kills moniker. In fact, when they started making music together, Mosshart and Hince wanted to completely separate themselves from any of their prior musical endeavors. They accomplished their goal tenfold. There’s something almost magical about The Kills, something in their chemistry… something that I owe largely to the fact that it’s just the two of them. Both sing, Jamie plays the guitar, and a drum machine provides the rhythm. It’s simple, no bullshit music.
Of their three albums to date, it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. Each one is different, but at the same time, each one leaves me with no question as to who made it. Keep On Your Mean Side, The Kills’ first full-length album, is gritty and guitar-driven. No Wow, their second release, is haunting and less heavy on the instruments. And their most recent album, Midnight Boom, is a sexy, dirty, drum machine dream. All three are sparse by most music standards, yet pack a huge punch, proving that you don’t need a million members in a band to make your music sound good.
The prospect of what the soon-to-be-released Blood Pressures will bring is what has me really excited. After taking nearly four years off to pursue other things (for Mosshart, the time off included playing with Jack White and co. in The Dead Weather) who knows what new influences each band member brought back to the recording studio and what sounds they will try out next. The new album drops in stores on April 5, so I suppose I’ll just have to wait a few more months to find out.
Also, to promote their new album, The Kills just announced a batch of U.S. tour dates. Opening acts will include The Entrance Band and Cold Cave, so don’t miss out. I suppose I will get my second chance at appreciating their live show, after all!
2011 U.S. Tour Dates
04/15: House of Blues, San Diego, CA
04/19: Granada Theatre, Dallas, TX
04/20: La Zona Rosa, Austin, TX
04/23: Masquerade, Atlanta, GA
04/24: 9:30 Club, Washington D.C.
04/26: Royale, Boston, MA
04/27: Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA
04/29: Terminal 5, New York, NY
05/03: Majestic Theatre, Detroit, MI
05/04: Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL
05/05: First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
05/09: Showbox Market, Seattle, WA
05/10: Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR
05/11: The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
I’m pretty certain this is a national thing by now, but, Rihanna‘s What’s My Name? is fucking everywhere. This morning, on my walk in South Philly after a snowstorm at 10am, I heard a muffled Rihanna singing “Ooh na na” from an unsuspecting row home on Dickinson Street. A few days ago, on the Market-Frankford line, I was sitting next to a young woman whose phone went off: “Ooh na na, what’s my name? Ooh na na.” Like with lots of these things, one can start to feel a little suffocated by a song’s moment in pop culture. How many listens did it take for you to get sick of Single Ladies? Me? Probably about 100-150. Maybe I have a high tolerance for pain, or maybe I just love a good diva pop anthem. Even more so when it’s a little unexpected hip-hop gem like Rihanna’s. Sure, she hit it big with Umbrella, but Jay-Z was on it and it was practically his song. We all know that whatever Jay touches turns to gold (though we’ll see about this Kanye duet, won’t we). And now it seems that whatever Drake touches turns to platinum.
Thing is, I’ve always been suspicious of Rih-Rih. She can’t REALLY sing. She can sing a hook like the dickens. But none of her songs really challenge her range. And with Loud, her most recent full-length, I was really NOT feeling it the first few listens-through. It seemed a little rushed, a little sloppy, a little disjointed (certainly no Good Girl, Gone Bad). Rated R was aiight, but only a few songs felt like keepers with a few CLEAR throwaways. Will.i.am, there’s the door. That Photographs song isn’t horrible until his verse kicks in. A Slash collab? Russian Roulette was pretty annoying. And while Rude Boy and So Hard are bona fide smash hits, it wasn’t enough to keep the Rihanna candle burning. Good Girl had one of the gayest, poppiest anthems in recent memory with Don’t Stop The Music. And the first single off of Loud, Only Girl (In The World), definitely has potential to be another similar banger. But for some reason it didn’t stick, at least with the general public. Rih-Rih and her team must’ve sensed it. So they released What’s My Name? less than two months later and it took off like crazy. The accompanying video of her and Drake gallivanting around what appears to be the Lower East Side has helped things, I assume. Her radiant red mane flowing behind her flawless outfit, packing in her impressive physique, doesn’t hurt either. Drake lookin’ like a chump does, but it’s not about him. His verse is fun and easy to remember and all that, but the sheer momentum and force of the hit has got it picking up speed like the end of days is near. Then she dropped Raining Men featuring Nicki Minaj. A clashing of the titans or a match made in heaven? BOTH.
Nicki and Rih are really hitting their stride right now–2011 looks like a good year for women in hip-hop. A lot of ink has been spilled about these two, but the more I listen to both LPs, the more I admire what they’ve accomplished and look forward to seeing what they’re capable of. Nicki’s rap on Rih-Rih’s track is stunning and fits flawlessly over the reggaeton chants in the background; she really does come close to stealing the show on every track she’s featured on. But somehow, these two coexist in what feels like a peaceful and productive collaboration. Fly, the track where Rihanna sings on Nicki’s Pink Friday, isn’t as much fun but it’s still solid and catchy. The airy, upper-level synth that bounces over the whole track complements Rih’s high-pitched moan-wail. As for the rest of the record, I’ve mentally split up into two camps: the tracks where she’s by herself, and the tracks with guests. On her lonesome, Did It On’em stands out as the most fierce in its lyricism and delivery. It feels like the track where she’s trying to prove how badass she is (If I had a dick, I would pull it out an’ piss on em’). Right Thru Me is the sensitive ballad-inspired relationship drama track where she sings her little heart out. It’s the song she’s been performing on TV left and right (because she doesn’t want guests to show up when it’s about her?), but Save Me is the guilty pleasure here. It’s the totally emo and unabashedly Postal Service-inspired track. But Moment 4 Life, the Drake Track, Roman’s Revenge, the Eminem track, and Check It Out, the totally mind-fucking Will.i.am spot, are favorites as well. Check It Out could do without his crappy rap, but it’s one of those pop culture moments where you feel challenged to hate something. Yes, it’s commercial and damn-near obnoxious (Will.i.am: “I’m a big balla’, you a little smalla/Step on to my level, need to grow a little talla/I’m a shot-calla, get up off my colla/You a chihuahua, I’m a rotweilluh”). But do you want to get down to it? The answer is yes. Double–no triple–that to the relentless presence of What’s My Name? The power of that track is awe-inspiring.
OMG, perfect timing, check out this NY Daily News story.
Let’s talk about the stinky elephant in the room. Hip-hop artists love weed. Often times, fans of hip-hop love weed. Marijuana and rap music are linked like a couple that need each other but don’t want to admit it. The references are seemingly limitless. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of hip-hop out there, and when it comes to lyrical content, there’s not a TON of diversity: it’s jewelery, liquor, cars, women, the government, ego, and chronic. Don’t believe me?
Cypress Hill has made a living out of rotating between the bong and the mic. 1993’s Black Sunday is an opus of weed rap. I Wanna Get High is used at least once in every rom com with a weed scene, right? Oh, and the classic Hits from the Bong. Both of ’em were used in How High, the 2001 comedy starring Method Man and Redman, who are proud to “represent all the smokers.” The Beasties? Yeah, they were high all the time, too. Paul’s Boutique is an incredible record–second song is Shake Your Rump and features a trademark bong bubbling sound. It was part of their appeal, too. And 2010’s been kind to Lil’ Wayne‘s stash. Just a few months ago, he put out I Am Not a Human Being, which is seriously dripping with weed references. It’s also one of the most varied and entertaining hip-hop records in years. It’s wild! Marijuana is illegal (just about everywhere). People get in SERIOUS trouble for having a pipe and weed dust. But there’s a huge culture that’s evolved as a result. If creativity is linked to weed, and hip-hop artists love to sample scientists saying as much, then smoke ’til you drop, dudes.
Dr. Dre‘s The Chronic, his solo debut album, is widely considered one of the best hip-hop achievements of our time. Worldwide, it’s sold eight million copies. Snoop is all over it and, back in 1992, Snoop was clearly an avowed weedhead. The huge and timeless hit Nuthin’ But A G Thang references weed more than a few times; a personal fave is Dre’s, “Take a toke but don’t choke/if you do/you have no clue a what me and my homey Snoop Dog came to do.” Remember his 2001 record? Yup, had a weed leaf on it, too. And what about hits like The Next Episode (“smoke weed everyday”) and Let’s Get High? As it turns out, Dre’s got a brand new LP headed our way in February. He’s forty five and rappin’ about weed again. This one, he says, will be his last. Kush is the single that’s been out for a couple months now, and it’s really stoney. Snoop’s back, now alongside Akon‘s metallic wail, and it’s awesome. It “leaked” on the internet and became a big deal, so he pushed out a video and seems to be rushing to put the rest of the record together. Well, the video’s kind of awesome and the introductory, “Hold up, wait a minute, let me put some kush up in it” sets the tone for the song. Dre raps, “Now it’s that puff puff pass shit, Cheech n’ Chong grass shit.” What! Did I just hear that right? Dre is almost fifty and he’s still rapping about smoking weed? He claims to be weary of the track’s success because of its early leak–he hadn’t intended it (and the song’s content) to be the first single. Not sure that matters now, Dre. It’s a bangin’ club hit.
Photo courtesy of gq.com
1. The Walkmen, In the New Year
2. Ra Ra Riot, Each Year
3. Nine Inch Nails, The Beginning of the End
4. The Breeders, New Year
5. The Decemberists, Record Year
6. U2, New Year’s Day
7. Tori Amos, A Pretty Good Year
If you are anything like me, you despise New Years Eve. It seems to be the biggest letdown of the freaking holiday season. So this year, instead of making a whole ordeal out of getting wasted and nursing a nasty hangover the following morning, kick back with a small group of friends, a couple bottles of wine, and this chillax playlist concocted especially for reigning in 2011. If you want to be really emo, just hole up alone in your apartment with a case of PBR and, um, this playlist.
1. MNDR, I Go Away
2. Chromeo, When the Night Falls
3. Delorean, Stay Close
4. Ceo, Love and Do What You Will
5. How to Dress Well, Ready for the World
6. The Hundred and the Hands, Young Aren’t Young
7. Marina and the Diamonds, Starstrukk
8. Washed Out, Feel It All Around
9. Wild Nothing, Live in Dreams
10. Thieves Like Us, Shyness
Tits & Kisses!
2010 ushered in some pretty rad albums, it’s true–and narrowing down our personal faves of the year was no easy task, but we’ve finally done it. We’ve gotten our act together (just in time!) and packaged this up extra-specially nice and pretty, just for you. So happy whatever-it-is-you-celebrate and here’s hoping for another great year of tip-top tunes to come, for you and for me, and the entire universe.
Peace, love, happiness, prosperity, retail therapy, and unbroken fortune cookies and dreams,
Your BFFs at VERY GLOSSY