Summer 2010 Flashback

Posted in Music on June 18th, 2011 by Tom

Last summer I was really getting into a few awesome bands who put out records that set a fantastic tone for my summer. It seems like another age, looking back, and while I don’t have nearly as much idle time, there’s still plenty of great music!

At the time, in very heavy rotation was Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, Wolf Parade’s Expo 86, and Tokyo Police Club’s Champ. I realized today that I have something ‘new’ to share from each of those artists, and I thought it would be fun to do an omnibus post!

Arcade Fire-
So I’m sure everyone is essentially sick of me talking about how much I liked The Suburbs, which is fair, but nonetheless: I’ve been jamming to a decent live recording of that album’s title track, and recently the AF crew did a rearrangement of the emotive centerpiece of that album, ‘We Used To Wait


‘We Used To Wait’ [Rearrangement for WBEZ]
[ mp3 ♫ ]

It’s definitely a softer, less aggressive cut of the song, and while I miss the piano, this version is still very full in terms of instrumentation, even as an acoustic track.

Wolf Parade-
Sadly, nothing legitimately new from Wolf Parade. You can hop over to NPR and listen to their Sasquatch set, which is really good. I think there’s a live stream of their last set too, which I heard did not disappoint. Instead, from these guys I instead offer a track from their previous effort, At Mount Zoomer.

I bought the record last summer, but never really sunk much time into it. Feeling nostalgic, I fired it up, and found a lot to like.


‘California Dreamer’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Above is an example, ‘California Dreamer‘ of the epic soundscapes that Wolf Parade so excels at. (9 tracks, only 1 of which is less than three minutes, 4 of which are longer than five!)

Tokyo Police Club-
This isn’t purely TPC, but instead by proxy of their keyboard player, Graham Wright. He has a solo album coming out soon (June 28) titled Shirts vs. Skins which has a lot of TPC’s signature sound to it, and I really warmed up to this track.


‘Soviet Race’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

I can’t tell to what extent I’m supposed to associate it with October Sky, but it’s a lot of fun regardless.

So that’s it for the summer 2010 flashback. Believe it or not, I have some legit album reviews in the works. Kinda had a mini-crisis where I decided I hated everything I was listening to, and had to start fresh with some new material that’s worked out much better.

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The National, Arcade Fire, Live in Kansas City

Posted in Music on April 29th, 2011 by Tom

So I took a little Easter vacation, both from school and from the blog, and while I was doing that, I saw the greatest musical pairing of my entire life.

The National, my favorite band circa 2008-2010, and the Arcade Fire, who had my favorite release of 2010 and the most intimidating back-catalog in all of indie music, played in my hometown of Kansas City, MO on April 20th.

Somehow, “amazing” doesn’t quite cut it. First, the track list:

Main Set (The National)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Anyone’s Ghost
Mistaken For Strangers
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Abel
England
Fake Empire
Mr. November
Terrible Love
About Today

When I was gearing up for this show, I checked out what they played only a few days prior at Coachella (it was more or less the above), and rolled my eyes when I saw ‘Abel’ and ‘Mr. November’. Not that I don’t like those songs, I just didn’t like them enough to need to still hear them live, given how long ago they were released.

What a fool I was. These guys know exactly what they’re doing. The screamy songs from their earlier records actually sound better than the recorded versions because of Matt Berninger’s erratic, spontaneous live performance, and have earned their long stays in the group’s live repertoire.

Slower tracks like ‘Slow Show’ are suddenly given new life on stage, carrying an energy that surprised me, and really suited the material well.

I was glad to hear ‘Fake Empire’ and ‘Terrible Love’ late in the set, as they’re probably my two favorites, despite not being particularly deep cuts. I was most surprised to hear ‘Squalor Victoria’ which is a cornerstone (for me) of 2007’s Boxer, and ‘Conversation 16’ which is a (utterly fantastic) song about zombies, as near as I can figure.


‘About Today’ [Bonaroo, 2010]
[ mp3 ♫ ]

To close the set, the group played ‘About Today‘ from their Cherry Tree EP, which I don’t think I’d heard before, though I think it is a regular closer for the band. They dedicated it to TV On The Radio’s Gerard Smith, who had died earlier that morning from a battle with cancer. It was a really kind gesture, and the song was poignant and emotive to match.

It was unfortunate that they didn’t get an encore, but I feel like that’s a faux pas as an opening act.

[Additional Songs I’d Have Liked To Have Heard:
Secret Meeting, All The Wine, Ada, Start A War (got played two days later at the Chicago set, with Win Butler doing the backup vocals!), You’ve Done It Again Virginia, Sorrow]

And now for the main act…

Main Set (Arcade Fire)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Month of May
Ready to Start
Rebellion (Lies)
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Haiti
Empty Room
Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)
Rococo
The Suburbs & Reprise
Intervention
We Used to Wait
Keep the Car Running
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Wake Up

Encore (Arcade Fire)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Where to begin… at the start, I suppose? There is a kitschy video into with ’70s movies advertisement bumpers, complete with clips from the seminal(…?) cult-classic The Warriors. “Can you dig it?!?!?!” he asks; you bet.

‘Month of May’ is a song that I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw what explosive energy it has as a set-opener. Or maybe I’m just in a fuzzy-guitar phase, who knows, but it was a good starting point nonetheless. On the whole, the set list was appreciably different from AF’s Coachella set.

The composition of the set (The Suburbs-7, Neon Bible-3, Funeral-7) was interesting. The prevalence of the new material made sense, but three Neon Bible songs to Funeral‘s seven seemed a little stacked; then again, it is Funeral… Not a complaint really, because I got to hear ‘Intervention‘ which fixes pretty much anything, but I would have given up a few of the slower Funeral tracks to hear ‘Windowsill’ or ‘The Well and the Lighthouse’.


‘Intervention’ [KCRW, 2005]
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Arcade Fire has a few tricks up their sleeve for their live set: extended cuts of ‘Ready to Start’ and ‘N. #3 (Power Out)’, as well as the coupling of ‘The Suburbs’ with its Reprise, not to mention a really engaging visual presentation through both video and lighting all work to make this set far greater than simply the sum of its parts.

Remember the postcard thing at the end of http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/? They really did end up as the video overlay for ‘We Used To Wait’, which was awesome, having spent some time playing with that site last summer.

Getting the full quartet of the ‘Neighborhood’ tracks in one set was kinda cool, even if I don’t care for #4 as much as the rest.

‘Wake Up’ was the final song of the main set, which everyone seemed to be expecting. As much as I love that tune, I don’t like it as much as everyone else. It’s big and anthem-y, and that’s great, because it’s really cool when everyone sings along with it, but I don’t quite understand how it became the quintessential AF song.

And a two-song encore? I wanted three! But at that point, I was just starting to get sad that it was ending.

The two they saved were the huge, explosive, melt-your-face ‘N. #2 (Power Out)’, and the song that I think deserves to unseat ‘Wake Up’ as the go-to Arcade Fire anthem, ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. Both songs had the energy of a sprint-to-the-finish that left the audience breathless by the end, and it was a great way to complete the night.

It was a tremendous opportunity to see this ensemble work their craft, especially because no single member ever fell into the background. A special thanks goes to Will Butler, who ran around the stage like a crazy man, which I enjoyed immensely.

[Additional Songs I’d Have Liked To Have Heard:
Crown of Love, The Well and the Lighthouse, (Antichrist Television Blues), Windowsill, City With No Children (also got played at the Chicago set), Modern Man, Suburban War]

Few! Sorry for so long of a recap. It was a hell of a show, to have your two favorite groups playing at an awesome venue in your hometown, back-to-back. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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2010 Best Of

Posted in Music on December 11th, 2010 by Tom

Read the Full List Here

I’ve been hard at work on my top albums of 2010, and it’s finally done! Head over to the article for the complete list, commentary, songs, etc.

In the next few weeks, I’ve got exams and the like, so I probably won’t have more to share until I get home later in December. Until then, I hope you enjoy the list.

-Tom

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The Suburbs

Posted in Music on September 8th, 2010 by Tom

It’s been a long, long time since I posted, which gives rise to this terrible complex wherein the longer I wait, the worse I feel, and the less I want to post. Having completed my move, and begun school (more or less) though, I’m out of excuses.


Part of the reason I felt bad posting this was because by no means is news or commentary on The Suburbs something unknown to the internet at this point. I was also so incredibly excited about the record that I didn’t want review to be clouded by the giddiness of the initial release.

No chance of that happening now, though. In any case, it’s so true that it bears repeating for the nth time that The Suburbs is a fantastic piece of music, hands down one of the year’s best, and the first album I’ve heard in a long while that really demands to be listened to. There are three main aspects I want to focus on, the first of which, and a favorite of mine, is thematic structure, next is stand-out tracks, and the final one is the ‘We Used To Wait’ video.

If you’ve read pretty much any other album review of mine, a thing I harp on again and again is that the ordering of songs have some type of logic, some rhyme or reason to it. In an increasingly iTunes-99-cent-single-driven musicscape, the art of crafting a sequence of tracks is often paid only lip service, or forgone entirely. Bless Arcade Fire for providing such an explosive counterexample. The Suburbs is composed of 16 songs, divided into roughly two equal halves (credit: this idea came from Stuyvesant Parker’s staires! entry).

Though subtly different in scope and tone, both sections contain a surprisingly overt quantity of references to the album’s main themes (wasted time that isn’t a waste, driving in the suburbs, nostalgia for one’s childhood home, journeying into the night, etc.). By no means is the above list exhaustive, and a little time scanning the lyrics quickly lays bare how definite the connections between songs are, but it’s a decent sketch.

A perfect example is that the line

In the suburbs I, I learned to drive
And you told me we’d never survive
Grab your mother’s keys, we’re leaving!

from the title track appears, almost verbatim, in ‘Suburban War‘, the emotional conclusion to the first segment of the album:


‘Suburban War’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Immediately before that line, you hear the lyric

Living in the shadows of your song

which is repeated later in the album’s definitive climax, ‘We Used to Wait.’ This technique, which is dangerously simple, was executed so perfectly that it unifies the record to an extent only seen in the likes of Cloud Cult, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Decemberists. The difference here is that those were true concept albums, whereas this… is something else.

As far as stand-out tracks go, ‘The Suburbs’ and ‘Ready to Start’ are a jolting rush to get things started. ‘City With No Children’ for some reason sounds slightly different from the rest of the set, which makes it particularly memorable, and ‘Suburban War’ as mentioned above is also quite powerful.

From the second half, I’m not a huge ‘Month of May’ fan, and the slow pace of the two tracks that follow it makes ‘We Used to Wait’ just that more more powerful. The paired ‘Sprawl I/II’ songs give you (I) a chance to catch your breath (it’s also maybe the saddest track on the album, resembling some manner of a funeral dirge, no pun implied), and (II) the opportunity to lose it all over again, ten-fold.

‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’, (whose title was taken from that of Tracy Kidder’s book about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti) is a landmark work for the band. The unfettered synth coupled with Regine’s best vocal performance to date, along with some of the album’s best lyrics makes for a knockout in the record’s 11th hour.

Perhaps my biggest, and really only, disappointment was the reprise of ‘The Suburbs’. At 1:28, it barely counts as a song, and doesn’t really add anything to either its source or the album in its entirety. It’s a huge buzz-kill after ‘Mountains’, but perhaps that’s by design. A record so intrinsically melancholy would be remiss to leave you feeling so optimistic…

The final point in what has blossomed into a huge entry concerns both the track and video for ‘We Used to Wait‘. I have no hesitation whatsoever in categorically stating that this the best song on the album. Nothing else captures the urgency, frustration, and perceived tragedy of adolescence so clearly as this song does. It’s five minutes of everything I ever wanted from Arcade Fire, and when fully embellished by the rest of the record, is a force to be reckoned with.


‘We Used to Wait’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

On top of that, the band has worked together with filmmaker Chris Milk to create a highly inventive use of music and the web in the ‘We Used to Wait’ music video, located at TheWildernessDowntown.com.

It begins simply enough, with images roughly congruent with what you’d expect, given the content of the song. Where it gets really crazy is when the application begins to lay the video’s images over photographs, courtesy of Google Maps, of where you used to live as a child. The effect is touching and eerie, nostalgic and chilling. There’s also an interactive portion, where the video asks you to write a postcard to your younger self!

The whole thing works really well (best viewed in Google Chrome, much as I’d like not to admit that), and I want to applaud everyone involved for pushing the envelope.

This recent effort is Arcade Fire hitting their stride like never before. Undoubtedly, people will continue to trumpet Funeral as the Once and Future King of all AF albums, but The Suburbs is the strongest evidence to the contrary one could ask for.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

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Trailer: Where the Wild Things Are

Posted in Film, Music on July 18th, 2009 by Tom

As you might glean from my last post, I saw Harry Potter recently. My thoughts on that aside, I’ve got to say that one of the things that stayed with me after I left the theater had nothing to do with brooms, horcruxes, or even Ginny Weasley!

One of the previews we saw right before the film was for Where the Wild Things Are:

I instantly knew what I was seeing as soon as I saw the shadows of the Wild Thing’s horns, and got really excited. As a kid I remember loving this book; when I heard they were going to do this film a while back, I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out, but was certainly curious to see. My excitement eviscerated any concerns I had upon hearing the Arcade Fire song, “Wake Up” (more acoustic than the album cut, FYI) over the studio logos! I got so excited, I actually had trouble containing myself in the theater.

As I let it wash over me, I suddenly got very sad. I don’t even particularly like that Arcade Fire song all that much (Neighborhoods 1, 2, 3, Crown of Love, and Rebellion (Lies) would all easily outrank it), but there was something in the pairing of those two things that struck me in a strange way. Something about taking a story from a part of my childhood so far gone, so long forgotten, drudging it up and juxtaposing it with an incredibly recent aspect of the same life [I only heard Funeral for the first time last August] that caught me funny.

Come to find after viewing the trailer a few more times and reading about the film some that Spike Jonze is directing the movie. I knew I knew that name, but couldn’t remember from where. More clicking; Ah! He directed Adaptation! One of my favorite movies of all time, which (due to its emotional content) got me through a handful of rough points in my life! How weird, that the same guy is back again, messing with my head this time with only a trailer

A Theatrical Poster

A Theatrical Poster

Enough about my baggage though: The Film! It looks awesome. The fantastic people from Jim Henson’s Workshop are doing the suits for the Wild Things, and the faces are done with computers. For one, I’m just plain stoked about this. After the disappointment endured suffering through countless Hollywood films that put all their eggs in the CG basket, I’m really excited that someone’s hybridizing it for the forces of good [I always bitch that the new Star Wars films look fake while the old ones look real, mainly because the new ones DO look fake, and the old ones DO look real, on account of the new being mostly CG, and the old all making use of models!]. But the result of using both in this movie looks fantastic.

Past that, the music will also be a hybridized effort between Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Arcade Fire! Ahhh. Excitement abounds; I might even pay for the soundtrack if it’s good. I read somewhere that the camera work was done by hand, for the majority of the scenes involving the Wild Things, to give it an other-worldly sense, which seems to work well for such a film.

What I’m most excited about is to see how they fill this. In the trailer, I see shit blowing up everywhere Where the Wild Things live, and none of that is in the book. I actually found the book sitting out at a store I was at down in Harvard Square, and I paged through it real quick. Most of it is actually about Max being a punk, and getting sent to his room without dinner for being a pain to his mom. Then he dreams/imagines a world where crazy Wild Things live. They make him king, because Max seems wilder than they do!

Then proceeds about 6-7 text-less pages of them just like, parading around Wild Thing-land. Then Max gets lonely for his mom, and goes home. Nothing explodes in the book. What gives, Spike Jonze? I don’t mean to be like “you changed it! boo!” at all. I understand that adapting a pretty-short-mostly-illustration-children’s-book into a 2 hour film isn’t easy. You gotta add stuff, in this case: conflict? I feel like the parts of the book with words comprise maybe… 40 minutes of film, if you stretch it, embellish it a little. That comes up at least an hour short, meaning that a lot of stuff, the body of the work, I’d expect, must happen Where the Wild Things Are. I’m pretty geared up to see how that pans out. The explosions, the maritime scenes, and the varying landscapes all look really interesting EXCITING, and I’ve got a good feeling that they’ll stay true to the original message and tone of the work.

Let’s just say I’m going to be seeing this the first day it’s out.
I just hope I’m not the only person older than 12 that came not on account of a child.
After all…

There’s one in all us.

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