Expo 86

Posted in Music on June 29th, 2010 by Tom

Today Wolf Parade releases their third album, titled Expo 86 after the famous Vancouver, BC World’s Fair. My previous exposure to the band has only been by proxy, via singer/keyboardist Spencer Krug’s work with Sunset Rubdown. What I lack in perspective though, I hope to make up for in voracity: this album is awesome.

One of the coolest things about Expo 86 is that it has a really unifying sound across all the tracks. By no means is this to suggest they all “sound the same”, but instead that they’re all uniquely crafted musical experiences, just cut from the same cloth. The quality of tracks is consistently above average, but after a battery of listens, I’ve identified a few standout songs.

Early in the record, the first two tracks consecutively improve until the third one, which puts them to shame. ‘What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Has to Go This Way)‘ is rife with quick one-shot guitar solos and fantastic bridge, all layered upon a really powerful synth/percussion backing that made this one noteable; past that, the lyrics made me chuckle, as well as ponder at their meaning:

I wonder if all the beaches
in all your holiday towns
will turn to giant shining earrings against the cheek of the sea
when finally this supernova goes down

I sleep all night with the light on
and dream about the sun
Maybe because of the light
Maybe because of the sun

I got a friend who’s a genius
nobody listens to him


‘What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Has To Go This Way)’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Some really cool imagery in there. Following that is ‘Little Golden Age’, an interesting intellectual tussle with nostalgia, and ‘In the Direction of the Moon’, which is a longer song, slower in tempo, and is perfectly placed in the song list to calm things down a little (not to mention inserting a little lupine-based imagery).

After it is maybe my favorite song on the entire album, and the reason I looked into this album in the first place. ‘Ghost Pressure‘ was released in the lead-up to the release, and remains the strongest among the lot, in my opinion. Along with ‘Pobody’s Nerfect’, which follows it, you have the high point of Expo 86.


‘Ghost Pressure’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The constant repetition of the refrain, with a slight variation in the melody each time, adds a great deal of texture to the song, and the replacement of “little vision” with “ghost pressure” at the end, layered over the original refrain seals the deal. It’s a really interesting sound, perfectly balanced with the synth, that showcases Wolf Parade firing on all cylinders.

My love of ‘Ghost Pressure’ should by no means suggest that the rest of the songs are not great in their own right. ‘Oh You, Old Thing’ is a surprisingly heartfelt addition that momentarily morphs to a dance beat midway through before seamlessly pulling back to the original chord progression. Pair that with the anthemic ‘Yulia’, and you have a perfect sendoff for the manic closing track ‘Cave-O-Sapien’.

From the get-go, this album finds its footing and never looks back. Insightful without being overbearing, Expo 86 is a lot of fun.

Wold Parade – Expo 86.

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Broken Bells

Posted in Music on June 25th, 2010 by Tom

The debut record of the Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) / James Mercer duo, dubbed Broken Bells, is a fascinating piece of music. I’m not especially familiar with Burton’s work, other than the occasional Gnarles Barkley single, but I do own the past two Shins records, and so I approached it from that vantage.

There’s definitely evidence of the Shins characteristic lethargy, (‘Trap Doors’, ‘Your Head Is On Fire’) which is perhaps the bit I care for the least. Not to say that I don’t appreciate a good slow song, it’s just that when it drifts into Mercer’s typical flavor of ethereal musical wandering, it’s difficult for me to stay engaged. This is in stark contrast to tracks with heavier beats (‘Vaporize’, ‘The Ghost Inside‘) which are where the record really shines. Additionally, the choice of ‘The High Road’ was a good one for the single.


‘The Ghost Inside’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

As far as structure is concerned, the first five tracks are very well balanced. As for the latter half, the ‘Trap Doors’/’Citizen’ combo lags just a bit too long, but if you stick it out, the final three songs are one of the best-structured closing sets I’ve heard in a while. ‘Mongrel Heart’ is almost elegant in how simply it accomplishes its goal of being an urgent, yet disillusioned penultimate track, but more perfect than that is the segue into ‘The Mall & Misery‘.


‘The Mall & Misery’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

I’m not sure what it is about this song, but it might be best the track on the album. The guitar is more present than on the preceding tracks, and the vocal harmonies swell and fade at all the right times, but there’s more of an overall feel to it that just does a great job closing out the record.

One of the better records I’ve heard this year, and it’s quite unique to boot, Broken Bells is worth the time.

Broken Bells – Broken Bells

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Death Cab’s John Huges Tribute

Posted in Music on June 22nd, 2010 by Tom

A few months ago at a tribute event to the late John Hughes Death Cab for Cutie did a cover of the seminal Simple Minds classic, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. This is readily available on VH1’s page, but I hadn’t seen anyone put up an MP3 copy yet, so it seemed worth posting.


‘Don’t You (Forget About Me) [Simple Minds Cover]’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The track is a fairly straightforward cover, but the guys of Death Cab do it justice. Kinda makes you wonder though, if John Hughes was still making movies today, what artists would turn up doing the music for them?

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New Pornographers Live in Boston

Posted in Music on June 21st, 2010 by Tom

This past Friday, while searching for a place to live in Boston, MA, I had the great, great fortune to catch a live show by the New Pornographers at the House of Blues. I got there in time to see the opening set by the Dodos, which was alright. I haven’t gotten particularly excited about that group in the past, and their live arrangements didn’t exactly sway me, but it was entertaining enough to pass the time.

The real show started soon enough, and it did not disappoint. The generous setlist was as follows:

Main Set
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Sing Me Spanish Techno
Up In the Dark
Myriad Harbour
Use It
Crash Years
Adventures In Solitude
Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
All the Old Showstoppers
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
Go Places
Jackie
Moves
Your Hands (Together)
Twin Cinema
My Shepard
The Laws Have Changed
Silver Jenny Dollar
Mass Romantic
The Bleeding Heart Show

Encore
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Challengers
The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
Testament To Youth In Verse

Looking back at the list, it’s hard to believe there were that many tracks. Then again, Case, Newman, and co. really kick it up a notch, and so it goes by quickly. Nearly every song is at least a little faster than its recorded counterpart, and some (Jackie, Dressed In Cobras, in particular) are noticeably so.

The best part of the performance was getting to “see” the sound of the New Pornographers disassembled. Having faces to match with the plethora of vocalists the group employs was really cool (especially with as much harmony as the songs use), and the sheer degree of coordination of the group was impressive, to say the least.

There was very little time wasted on banter with the crowd, which I appreciate… the exception being when someone near the front hurled a copy of Together onto the stage, nearly hitting A. C. Newman. There was an awkward moment (the group was in between songs) where they all just stood there, a little stunned. This was quickly broken by Neko Case murmuring into the mic,

Case: “What… the fuck. Who did that…??”
Newman: “Jeez. It’s our own record, too.”
Case: “I will fucking FIGHT you, whoever did this.
*crowd cheers*
Case: “Seriously.”
*more cheers*

…and so forth. They were sports about it, but there was a scary moment where I really thought she was going to fuck someone up. Which, in grander scheme of the show, was pretty awesome. Aside from that little incident, everything else went without issue.

I was pleased to hear so much material from 2007’s Challengers, which I feel has been rather underrated thus far. I really respect the group for that, because it would be easy to stock the set with tracks from their older records, but instead they really embraced the new material, appearing to be having a lot of fun with it. The Together tracks sounded brilliant, and made me want to spend even more time with the album.

The show was everything I could have hoped for, and it was a privilege to see these talented individuals work their craft in person.

NOTE: Sorry for the lack of songs. I recorded a few on my phone, but the quality was so sub-standard that it’d be pointless to put them up here. I’m going to experiment with mobile setups, and hopefully get better samples of future shows for the blog.

Featuring:

Well, Shit.

Posted in Politics on June 21st, 2010 by Tom

So the oil spill is happening, and is essentially terrible. It almost seems futile to shift into a full-blown rant at this point, because no amount of outcry can possibly do this thing justice. It will invariably fall short in relation to the sheer magnitude of what is happening.

Instead, I just wanted to post a really useful article I found on the New York Times website:

Oil Spill Tracker

Above is a small screencap of the live videofeed of the oil leaking into the Gulf. Experts estimates range widely as to how much oil has been spilled already, but even the most conservative estimates are astonishing, devastating, gut-wrenching…

Speaking of conservative things: A few of them are acting crazier than usual, whether that means rising to the defense of a multi-billion-dollar generating corporation when it’s asked to compensate those affected, or whining that the dissemination of information is the biggest problem with the oil spill, these boys are in rare form.

In particular, they’re giving President Obama a hard time for pursuing energy reform at this time, saying he is politicizing the issue. There are two ways to respond to this:

First is the nicer: to pursue energy policy reforms now is a logical response to a catastrophic failure linked directly to the issue of energy consumption in the United States; to ignore the underlying causes of the issue would truly be the worst possible response.

Second is the more childish one: Republicans used the tragic loss of human life on September 11, 2001 to justify the pursuit policy goals of their own which had been waiting in the wings for years. Now its our turn.

I don’t really like the second response, and the larger part of me doesn’t want to believe that everyone is quote so callous, but trudging up the moral high road gets more tiresome with every trek, and you never seem to meet very many people along the way.

One of my favorite film quotes of all time comes from Steve Buscemi’s character in the 2001 film Bandits:

You know the problem with being smart? You always know what will happen next. It ruins the suspense.

Let’s pair that with a fantastic Will-Smith-One-Liner from 2004’s I, Robot:

You know, somehow, “I told you so” just doesn’t quite say it.

I’ll leave you to draw the parallel yourself.