Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Feature: When THE VILLAGERS Come to Town

Igor caught up with Villagers front man Conor O'brien before his solo set at DC9 to talk about being on tour and how he feels about the album Becoming a Jackal now that its getting a good deal of attention. Listen to the feature below!

Villagers Feature by igorgerman

And a video after the jump

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Concert Review: Disappears, Woven Bones, Far-Out Fangtooth (Philadelphia, PA)

Disappears w/ Woven Bones and Far-Out Fangtooth
Kung Fu Necktie (Philadelphia, PA)
June 17, 2010
Okay, I’ll admit it. As much as I like my bearded bards of folk music and hipster heroes of indie rock, my heart will always more or less belong to the lo-fi garage rock scene. I live for the fuzzed-out noise, the relentless guitars, the almost impossible to understand vocals. If I could do nothing but go to crowded warehouse shows of this variety for the rest of my life, I would probably be the happiest person on the planet. Give me your unbearably tight black jeans, your whiskey drinkers, your crappy black hair dye.
Basically, give me shows like the one Chicago band Disappears played on June 17th at Kung Fu Necktie, my venue drug of choice, with Austin trio Woven Bones and Philadelphia locals Far-Out Fangtooth. I wasn’t even planning to write this review, but I feel like it would be a public disservice not to after how incredible the night turned out to be. Turnout was modest, thanks to a Pissed Jeans concert around the corner and Game 7 of whatever everyone’s pretending to care about this week, but that didn’t seem to matter to the bands at all. Every. Single. One. KILLED. IT. See the excessive punctuation? See the capital letters? Yeah. That good. It’s really quite difficult to communicate just how much so without the frantic gestures I’m currently making at my computer. Use your imagination.
Far-Out Fangtooth is one of those bands that does garage with a hint of rockabilly, something that you might not initially notice by listening to their recordings on MySpace. Even the way the four of them were dressed highlighted their distinctive sound. One guitarist sported jet-black hair, a ripped jean jacket, tight jeans, black boots. The other wore a simple white shirt-blue jean combo and had the look of pre-fame Kings of Leon. Their female bassist was tiny and punkish, but also quite sweet, and spent most of the set sitting quietly off to the side. On drums was perhaps the most interestingly dressed guy of the bunch, wearing a shaman-poncho looking thing with complete normalcy. For their first show at KFN, Fangtooth were loud, confident, and unabashedly proud of what they were doing. Everyone noticed, too. Fun fact – they stuck around after the show for weekly resident DJ gig Night Train to spin a set, which they started out with Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” Yep.

Take Cover: I'm So Lonesome I'll Never Get Out of This World

A.A. Bondy, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (Hank Williams)
John McCauley, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" (Hank Williams)

This one time, I played a Hank Williams III song on my radio show, and forty-five seconds in, had lost all 12 of my dedicated listeners. Every. Single. One. It wasn't pretty, to say the least. Not that 12 is a whole lot of listeners, but things went from bad to worse in the short span of a few countrified, twangy guitar licks. The WGTB listenership doesn't have too much respect for honky-tonk country, it seems, but maybe there's more tolerance for the work of grandaddy the O.G. Hank Williams-- an intriguing, legendary character in American lore and the patriarch of a talented country dynasty.

Williams, aka Hank Senior, aka Luke the Drifter, died rather famously in the back of a Cadillac at age 29, inspiring decades of references in literature and music (see the full list of tribute songs here) and securing his spot as a mythical, looming figure in the trajectory of American music (this year's award of a Pulitzer Prize didn't hurt, either).

Here's two appropriate singer-songwriter covers of Williams; I couldn't decide which one I liked better. The first is a gorgeously sung cover from his Alabama-born brother, A.A. Bondy. Bondy has the range and timbre in his voice to attempt this classic mournful tune, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." The second features hard-living, hard-playing, too-young-to-look-so-old Deer Tick frontman John McCauley in a crunchy, ragged rendition of the bittersweet "I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive," which he manages with admirable effort.

-- Caroline Klibanoff

Monday, June 28, 2010

We'll Do It Live: Peter Wolf Crier In Studio

This past Saturday Peter Wolf Crier crammed their gear into our tiny WGTB studios and delivered a soulful performance of these four songs. The duo has built a strong base in Minnesota, and after recording Inter-Be, they joined Jagjaguar and started this short but intense national tour. The small crowd that gathered to check out their performance was delighted with the intimacy of the show and impressed with the atmospheric sound they were able to so naturally create. Read Fiona's review of the album and listen to/download the four live tracks below!

Peter Wolf Crier - Crutch and Cane by igorgerman

Peter Wolf Crier - For Now by igorgerman

Peter Wolf Crier - Saturday Night by igorgerman

Peter Wolf Crier - Untitled 101 by igorgerman

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sounds of Summer: A Summer Music Preview

Sounds of Summer:

A Summer Music Preview

We are now more than half-way through 2010,
and it has been a phenomenal year for music so far. We have seen (or rather heard), top-notch albums from high profile names such as The National, LCD Soundsystem, She & Him, and Beach House, as well as some surprisingly great albums from up and coming artists like Delta Spirit, Avi Buffalo, Surfer Blood, and The Tallest Man On Earth. Things don’t seem to be slowing down either, as a slew of summer releases will keep the good music coming through the sunny season. Here are some of the season’s albums we’re eagerly awaiting.

Play What? Play This Playlist: An Open Letter to Greg Monroe, 7th NBA Draft Pick for Detroit Pistons and Former Hoya Baller

Dear Greg,

When we heard the news last night that you were chosen to join the Detroit Pistons in big-time Detroit Rock City, home of the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and a pretty good NBA team, we have to admit we were happy for you. Even though in the spring, your initial decision to go pro left us feeling Heartbroken and Jaded, our campus Hero leaving us in the lurch, destined for bigger and better things while your classmates and friends watch from far away-- well, Hey, that's No Way To Say Goodbye.

We get it: you're a Superstar now, and we hope your Dope Boy Magic skills will carry you far in Detroit as they carried you far at Georgetown. Best wishes in your future endeavors. We'll Miss You! (Especially Miley). Don't get too big for your britches, make good choices, and give us a call from time to time.

Oh, and we made you a mixtape. Welcome to Detroit City.


Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Did the Intern Show Up? New column!

Over here at WGTB, we get pretty excited about new columns, especially in the summertime. And this one is gonna be good. Below, the first installment of DJ Emily Simpson's “Did the Intern Show Up?”: A Diary of Long Nights & Even Longer E-mail Threads From a Philadelphia Music Club.
Hello! Welcome to my new column, a venture that could just as easily be titled “What I Did During My Summer Vacation” and exists more or less for the purpose of my telling absurd stories about the people and problems I deal with on a daily basis. Since June 1, I have held the not-exactly-coveted title of intern for Kung Fu Necktie, which is hands-down the most unique bar-slash-music-venue I have ever seen. Located in Fishtown, a neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, it holds about 120 people at full capacity – think along the lines of DC9 or the backstage at The Black Cat.
I’m sure you’re wondering why they would even need an intern. Sucks to be you then, because I don’t have the answer to that particular question, even after the thousandth time I’ve been asked. What I can tell you (briefly) is what I actually do. I am officially or unofficially in charge of: updating the website/calendar, maintaining the Facebook and Twitter pages, keeping track of the sound techs, working as “band liaison” (aka telling them how to get their drinks at the bar), printing will-call ticket lists, losing at pool, checking IDs, working the door, helping out the bartenders, moving amps, filling out paperwork to settle with bands after shows, and texting my boss reminders about absolutely everything. There’s more, never fear. The duties of the intern – or the slave, as some of the patrons have taken to calling me – are endless and varied.
Doesn’t my job sound fun? Don’t you want to move to Philadelphia immediately and have a cage match or drinking contest to decide who gets to keep it? No? That’s okay. I actually kind of adore it. A lot of that has to do with the people, who I swear on a huge stack of vinyl I am not making up or exaggerating at all. Here’s a brief introduction, so in the future you can pretend to have a vague idea of what I’m talking about. Or not. It’s completely up to you.

Concert Review: This Will Destroy You (Philadelphia, PA)

(photo courtesy Music Underfire)
Concert Review: This Will Destroy You w/ Light Pollution and Slow Six
Kung Fu Necktie (Philadelphia, PA)
June 11, 2010
I suppose I should begin this concert review with a disclaimer: I am currently an intern (whatever that means, even I'm not entirely sure yet) at the bar where this show took place. That means that I have exposure to all of the bands both before and after the show, that I get to deal with sound check and scheduling problems and cranky tour managers - the whole deal. Not that it should affect anything I write about the show, because it won't. I just thought you all should know in the interest of fair and honest journalism and all that jazz.
Allow me to actually begin this review by saying a few words about the opening bands, who are each deserving of their own article of praise. First up was Brooklyn band Slow Six, a group of five guys with an obvious classical interest in music. There were two equal violinists onstage alongside a keyboardist, a drummer, and a guitarist. No vocals were necessary for the sweeping sounds of their own miniature orchestra, the songs themselves both lulling and engaging without being too overbearing or difficult to follow. At this point, I can't say that there was much of a crowd to speak of, but those who were there found themselves unable to look away from the stage. Not showy at all, the members of Slow Six managed to grab attention solely through their prowess and obvious love of the music they were playing. And just as a fun side note from the backstage end of things, some of the guys were pretty shy and blushed a lot when they were given compliments (which happened a lot). Overall, definitely a band to look out for in the future. They're going places quietly, but surely.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The District Dialect: Go-go Music

Kaitlin Karano tracks the history and development of the Go-go movement in DC by highlighting the impact of Chuck Brown and how, years later, the Beat Ya Feet Kings have revitalized the genre.

The District Dialect: Go-go Music ft. The Beat Ya Feet Kings by igorgerman

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: Kurt Vile, Square Shells EP

Kurt Vile
Square Shells EP
9.2 chilled PBRs out of 10 chilled PBRs

I’m not going to lie about it – when I listened to the first song off of Kurt Vile’s latest EP, I wasn’t really sold. “Ocean City” is the kind of low-key song that brings to mind a chilled out Beach Boys sound, the kind of stuff that everyone seems to be making these days. Not bad by any means, but I was worried that the entire EP would follow in that pattern.
And then I got to the end of the song, and I realized that I was completely, stupidly wrong. Kurt Vile is nothing if not innovative. That particular song, with all its guitar strumming and simple melodies, fades out with the touch of electric sound that weaves its way throughout the rest of the record. Square Shells is a landscape of sound, eclectic but somehow managing to pull it off without appearing to try too hard. Some tracks incorporate samples, some rely on electric guitar, some have vocals, one might even have what sounds like an electric accordion. I could go on and on, and honestly I could not list everything on this record.
Such a wide variety of influences makes it pretty clear that composition is incredibly important to Kurt Vile, and it shows most in tracks like “The Finder,” which has no vocals at all (and it’s the one with the accordion, which makes it even better). It’s this strangely hypnotic melody, quiet in all the right ways, and by the time it’s over you will guaranteed want to listen to it again, and again, and again…until you’re either in some kind of weird trance or you’ve fallen asleep to have blissed out dreams. This is going to sound strange, but I would actually love to see him play this in a church. Maybe on an organ.
The point here being that once I start using seemingly unrelated and random associations for songs on an album, it’s just too good or too unique to put into familiar musical terms (I could throw in the phrase “lo-fi” for good measure, if that helps at all). Square Shells is brimming with everything that is missing from so much of the new music put out these days and rated by Pitchfork. It’s “found art” at its very best and its most genuine. There is absolutely no excuse not to go get this EP immediately and put it on your permanent rotation.
I’m serious. Right now.

- Emily Simpson

Tracks to check out first: “The Finder,” “Invisibility: Nonexistent”

Take Cover: 15 Best Dylan Covers

15 Best Dylan Covers of All Time

"The radio makes hideous sounds." - Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is immensely coverable, one of the most covered-artists ever, in part due to his prolific catalog but also due to the nature of his songs, which are easily melded into a new arrangement (even by Dylan himself). Though I am ceaselessly faithful, approaching Weberman-like levels, in my loyalty to Dylan’s original work (because even sometimes the President of the United States must have to stand naked) I also think there is room for more voices in a way that only adds to his initial creation (because he not busy being born- and reborn- is busy dying). Some of his covers have become more well-known than the originals, like Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” or The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

This was a difficult list to compile and is by no means definitive; almost everyone has covered Dylan at one point or another, creating a huge database of covers both good, bad, and mediocre. But because there are fewer really stellar covers than bad ones, in honor of the 15th installment of Take Cover I give you below my Favorite 15 Dylan Covers of All Time. Let us know your favorites in the comments (I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Concert Pick: Voxtrot at the Black Cat

Wednesday, June 23rd

There are only a few times when you can be sure that this is the last gig ever dude. This is one of those. Voxtrot has had a successful seven year stint, including the release of their well-received self titled debut, but has recently announced that this is their farewell tour. Sure, they may be pulling a Jay-Z, but are you willing to risk it? 

Review: Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (II)

Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles (II)

After a self-titled debut album with an array of juxtapositions like dark-yet-catchy and disjointed-yet melodic electronic synths, Crystal Castles has arrived with a sophomore album that flaunts the band’s lo-fi skills but with an added veil of grit, haziness, and further obscurity. This new layer is immediately apparent from the opening track, “Fainting Spells” where a consistent, almost horror film-like rhythm resonates in the background while a cacophony of lo-fi sound clips, messy keyboards, and Alice Glass’s screaming vocals play over it. At first listen, it can give the impression that the listener is not as hip and young as he/she thought, but more like an angry parent protecting his or her ears from an emo teenager’s music. But wait! The second track and single, “Celestica” comes to the rescue and reminds the listener why Crystal Castles is (strangely) so…likeable!
Songs seem to redeem themselves from one track to the next, and even within the tracks themselves--as seen in “Doe Deer” where percussion beats that were once unique to the hip hop genre seem to supervise an ironic harmony between the apparent record scratching and the dance-y hip hop beat.
Parallel to the concept of “white noise” which is recognizable as a soothing and consistent wall of sound, Crystal Castles could well have discovered an aspect of sound that could be called, “black noise.” In a way, it is the musical embodiment of a strobe light. Their second album boasts loud, busy, and dark music that one could get lost in—almost terrifyingly so—but the music simultaneously lends a comfort of consistency and progression. It accommodates chillin' with the homies as well as raging at a rave. Call it a classic teenage attraction to all that is loud and rebellious, but Crystal Castles provides a powerful fortress of sound that their name alludes to from the television series She Ra: Princess of Power: “The fate of the world is safe in Crystal Castles…Crystal Castles, the source of all power.” 

P.S: If you dig Crystal Castles’ second album, Crystal Castles (II) then head over to this website to download some remixes and secret tracks (for free!)

--Charlotte Japp

Friday, June 18, 2010

Concert Review: Wakey! Wakey!, The Spring Standards at DC9

Wakey! Wakey! with The Spring Standards and Chris Cubeta
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In the interest of full disclosure:
So, I missed the opening band. I hate doing so, and from what I’ve heard of their music and this particular performance, Chris Cubeta and the Liars Club, fronted by Cubeta, long time friend and producer of Wakey!Wakey!, this especially was not a show to miss. Roommate bonding trips to Ikea take far longer than one might expect, especially when one of said roommates leaves the brilliant blue stoneware set—the one that matches the kitchen perfectly—on a bench outside the shore. So that took a while. Mea culpa.

The Spring Standards’ setup and soundcheck took a bit longer, I think, than any of the 50-75some crowd expected. Heather Robb, the Standards’ ebullient leading lady—adorning the bluest of dresses and even brighter, bluer leggings—arranged with exacting care no less than seven instruments in front and around herself, carving a mini-niche at the center of the DC9 stage. James Cleare, with shaggy hair and the coolest of Batman tshirts, strummed and riffed anxiously on two or three of the five guitars lined on the edge of the stage. James Smith bounced on and off the stage, checking mics and his own cache of instruments, arranging a snare, tom, guitar, bass, mic and two cymbals in front of his stage left corner.
A listener new to the Spring Standards wouldn’t quite know what to expect. The glockenspiel, tom, synth, organ, keys, computer and electric feel emanating from Heather’s spot would presuppose the bouncy, edgy spunk of a Ra Ra Rasputin show; indeed Ken Quam of Ra Ra was in the audience. But as the Spring Standards launched into their opening few songs, especially
Skyline, scenic with clanging cymbals, suspended vocals and patient dynamics, the Standards established their unique sound—as if She & Him and the Swell Season invited the cautiously obliging White Stripes to afternoon tea.

Review: The Moondoggies, You'll Find No Answers Here EP

The Moondoggies
You'll Find No Answers Here - EP

The Moondoggies are a four-piece band from Seattle, Washington who blend blues, soul, rock, and country to create an infectious sound that radiates with whiskey-soaked Americana. Their music is fresh, but familiar, harkening back to the woodsy, psychedelic sounds of greats like The Grateful Dead and The Band, while sharing elements with fellow west coasters Fleet Foxes and The Donkeys, namely soft harmonies and laid back guitars, but a bit rougher around the edges. The Moondoggies effortlessly combine all of these different components, comfortably living in a nearly unclassifiable genre (at least not without using multiple hyphens) with a sound that lies somewhere between the west coast and the south, classic rock and modern folk. There’s something endearing about these long-haired, bearded guys and the music they make, or maybe it’s the name.

Their debut album, Don’t Be a Stranger, provided a handful of great tracks, includingBlack Shoe,” “Ain’t No Lord,” andBogachiel Rain Blues,” and garnered them some attention from the blogosphere. Their new EP, You’ll Find No Answers Here, has more of what made that album a success - hook-heavy tunes backed by warm three-part harmonies, jangly guitars, and a Rhodes organ. The EP opens with “It’s Hard to Love Someone,” an upbeat country boogie whose piano melody and sing-along harmonies juxtapose its lyrical content about the trials and tribulations of love. From there, the music slows down, aligning with the overall melancholic mood of the lyrics, as dreary vocals and a softly plucked acoustic guitar serve as the only instrumentation on “Just Makes Sense to Me.” The third track, “Down the River,” is a departure from The Moondoggies’ traditional sound, but it works beautifully, and may be the EP’s best cut. Substituting the three-part harmonies for a female backing vocal adds a lovely dichotomy that mirrors the lyrical theme of unrequited love. The Moondoggies pick things up again and return to their bread and butter (see above) with “Sad and Lonely.” Finally, they close out the five-song EP with “Fly Mama Fly,” which poetically connects the themes established in the previous four songs over cascading guitars and vocal harmonies, telling us we’ll “find no answers here.” The EP lacks the same catchiness as the promising debut, but it seems to show more maturity and growth as songwriters, and is a tenderly crafted concept album that focuses on the pains of love. Oh, and these were just five songs that “didn’t make it onto their next proper studio” album, Tidelands, due out September 14.

Note: Catch The Moondoggies on tour with fellow Seattle band Blitzen Trapper.

-- Jared Iversen

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Concert Review: Sasquatch! Music Festival

In the final weekend of May, West coast WGTB warrior Scott Lensing took extensive notes on his experience at the Sasquatch! Music Festival in order to relate to loyal blog readers the performances, the atmosphere, and the best new upcoming college-rock bands. Below, Scott's account, with awesome pictures-- here's to hoping we see many of these bands come through the District in the next year.

Sasquatch! Music Festival
The Gorge; George, Washington
May 29-31, 2010

Never have I looked forward to a music festival with such giddy anticipation, with such unrealistic expectations for sonic fulfillment. The lineup? Stellar. The venue? Debilitating in its beauty. The company? Debaucherous. I knew that when I woke up on May 29, it would be the Christmas morning to top all Christmas mornings.

And so it began on the wonderfully sunny Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. Three hours southeast of Seattle, the Gorge could very well be a worthy destination for a family of four embarking upon a road trip, parents determined to expose their restless, Nintendo-addicted children to the glory of the American frontier.

But Sasquatch is certainly no place for a family. It is precisely the place, however, for a group of young ruffians looking to indulge in the sights and sounds of some of the best indie rock/pop/folk around. The clientele was surprisingly young, so much so that at times I oddly felt like a geezer. Young co-eds generally could be seen bopping about, faces freshly smeared with paint and multi-colored feathers artfully stuck in their hair. Somewhat surprisingly, Canadians abounded at the festival, with red maple leaves of every size and form on display on their cars, bodies, and bags. I was a foreigner in my own country.

The music (oh, the music!) was so captivating, though, that I was never distracted from the artists by the antics of some choice audience members. Sasquatch is comprised of four stages, with the Gorge Amphitheatre (pictured above) as the crown jewel of them all, hosting the biggest names that the festival had to offer. This stage in particular maintains a great balance for the variety of fans and musical acts. Its sloping, grassy hillside pleases those who like to experience their music lying inertly prostrate. Others, myself included, are free to dance around on the generous floor space in front of the stage.

(Check out the pics below or here and read more of Scott's article after the jump)

Made with Slideshow Embed Tool

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The District Dialect: Life Pieces to Masterpieces

                                                                                                                                                       Photo by Shyree Mezick                          

Avi Ascher-Shapiro helps tell the story of Life Pieces to Masterpieces, a DC Non-Profit dedicated to supporting the arts for DC's youth. The Program is undergoing a change in leadership, and its future success depends heavily on the competence of the young, new leaders.

Review: Jamie Lidell, Compass

Jamie Lidell


Sometimes it’s all too tempting to pigeonhole the beardy and bespectacled gentlemen of alternative music. Each crafting his own brand of the thinking man’s pop song. All crooning those literary lyrics. But despite blending in inconspicuously with his contemporaries, Jamie Lidell’s sound stands out, sitting more comfortably among the likes of Stevie Wonder and Sly & The Family Stone. It’s clear from the video for “The Ring,” the single from his newest release, Compass, that Jamie has a lot of soul. Or perhaps that he has a lot of sand in his pants. Maybe both. That being said, his manic twitches and convulsions are not at all ill suited to the feel of Compass as a whole. All written and recorded in a few frantic fell swoops, Compass plays like an album that was, well... all written and recorded in a few frantic fell swoops. Coasting in on the tailwinds of his collaboration with Beck, Wilco and Feist on the Record Club’s recreation of Skip Spencer’s Oar, Lidell’s work on Compass draws from the same manic, experimental energy with many of the same players contributing. And as with most things done with manic, experimental energy, the results on the album are exciting, if inconsistent.

Far from the middle-of-the-road, polished soul of 2008’s JIM, Compass pulls hard in every direction. The title track encapsulates the spirit of the album, morphing from spacey and delicate to beat-heavy and dissonant and back again. From the weightlessness of “You See My Light” to the even, summery Jackson 5 sound of “Enough Is Enough” to the heavy junkyard funk of “Your Sweet Boom” (which might give Bret from Flight of the Conchords a run for his money for the title of The Boom King), the album runs the sonic gamut. Occasionally, Lidell’s nervous, deconstructed soul energy strikes gold on tracks like “Completely Exposed” or “Coma Chameleon” (Boy George, anyone? I’m sorry. He made that too easy). On the other hand, it occasionally misfires in 80s slow jam duds like “She Needs Me” or “It’s A Kiss." And following his musical compass in the millionth direction it points him, Lidell also finds himself in new, vulnerable vocal territory. If it’s possible to pinpoint the place where Beck’s influence as producer and collaborator is felt most, the heavy, desert dirge of “Big Drift” could make a good case, calling to mind the best of the hollow rawness and sorrow of Sea Change.

This is a fairly unrefined peek into Jamie Lidell’s artistic mind, which by all accounts sounds like a weird and chaotic but undeniably funky place—a place where one might reasonably spend a good amount of time squirming about in the sand shouting “There’s a rhythm to his madness!” And I’d have to agree with flailing beach Jamie. While it won’t be remembered as the album where it all came together, Compass certainly points Lidell's sound in what looks like a promising direction.

Recommended Tracks: “The Ring,” “Big Drift,” “Completely Exposed,” “Your Sweet Boom,” “Gypsy Blood”

-- Catherine DeGennaro

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Take Cover: LA to NYC and Back

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Blind Love" (Tom Waits)

I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt like most people love Zoe Deschanel: shamelessly and with abandon. So naturally when I came across this gem, a casual home-recorded (yeah right... only because there's obviously a fully equipped studio in his home) version of Tom Waits' "Blind Love" off the quintessential 1985 album Rain Dogs, I was elated. But then came the fear. What if it was bad? What if he couldn't sing, or didn't get Waits' whole thing, and butchered the song like some other actors I could name? This could be tragic.

Well, fear not. Rain Dogs takes on New York blues from Waits' L.A.-born-and-raised standpoint, and guess what? Levitt, too, is originally from Los Angeles but went to Columbia for school and now lives in the Upper East Side. Too perfect. And though the clinking glass-and-swallow at the beginning is beyond cheesy, the rest of the song is gorgeous, perhaps-- dare I say it?-- better than the original. His voice is yearning and light, especially towards the end, and the harmonies are just ragged enough to retain Waits' rawness. The whole cover is summed up by its own aching line: "They say if you get far enough away / you'll be on your way back home." From Waits to Levitt, it's a closed circuit of young talent and broken hearts across one great big yawning country. Though Levitt does make one notable change: he switches "blue eyes" to "brown."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: HEALTH, ::Disco 2

::Disco 2

HEALTH:Disco::Get Color:Disco2. Anyone familiar with pre-2002 SAT analogy jargon can easily decipher that colon-enjambed phrase as “HEALTH’s self-titled debut album HEALTH is to Disco, the remix of said album, as Get Color, the same group’s second album is to Disco 2, the band’s second remix.” Duh.
If you didn’t follow that, or you’re from the Midwest and only ever took the ACTs, here’s the analogy in layman’s terms: Noise-punk band HEALTH made an album in 2007 called HEALTH. They then invited groups like Acid Girls, Narctrax, Nastique, and Thrust Lab to remix the entire album, the product of which they released in 2008 as Disco. Now, HEALTH has taken their 2009 album Get Color and had people like Crystal Castles, Small Black, Javelin, Gold Panda, and Pictureplane remix all of those songs into 2010’s Disco 2.
Still a little convoluted, but that’s the kind of thing one might expect from a group whose two full-length albums (to clarify, that’s HEALTH and Get Color) steer away from conventional musical properties like “rhythm” and “melody” and can more accurately be described simply as “noise.” HEALTH doesn’t even always fit that description; the first 20 seconds of the album are practically blank. While HEALTH drew criticism for being a weak imitation of noise-punk bands like Liars and Boredoms, HEALTH came closer to their goal of a synthesis of digital sound and quality dance beats with Disco and set themselves apart from the crowd.
Again, Get Color, the album on which Disco 2 is based, is more of a musical experiment than a traditional dance/pop album. However, in Get Color, HEALTH stepped up to the big league and out of the shadows of Liars and the like by introducing melody and dancibility, qualities missing in both HEALTH and, for the most part, Disco. Disco 2 predictably and proportionately climbs ever higher, as HEALTH’s strong points—a better original album and a well-practiced and developed handle on intricate synths and dance rhythms—converge.
Disco 2 reaches the balance lacking in previous albums. Tracks like the Cfcf remix of “Before Tigers” and Small Black’s take on “Severin” retain the well-crafted artistic interest of HEALTH’s originals, but transform the songs into addicting, wider-appealing versions. The album opens with “USA Boys”—not a remix but a brand new single from HEALTH that is right at home among the remixes—which sets the tone for the remainder of the CD and begs to be listened to on repeat. The rest of the album features a well-rounded mix of dance beats and ethereal, trance-y songs. While the good tracks are great, a couple of the middle songs, “In Violet (Salem Rmx)” for example, can revert to HEALTH’s older, jam-sesh style, which gets little boring. Fortunately, listening for and figuring out the overlaps in different remix versions is enough to keep you entertained through some of the more repetitive middle minutes.
Where HEALTH’s sound previously leaned towards noise, Disco 2 branches further out than before, creating a bridge between their old sound and more conventional dance music. “USA Boys” stands out as an example of the new path HEALTH seems to be headed down, and if they continue their pattern of full-length album followed by remix, then HEALTH’s next set should score high enough to get them into the college of their choice.
Recommendations: “USA Boys”, “Before Tigers Cfcf Rmx”, “Severin Small Black Rmx”
--Emma Forster

Interview with the Moondoggies

Last Wednesday in Atlanta Caroline Klibanoff sat down with The Moondoggies before they headed to Bonnaroo and DC tonight. The interview is a bit noisy, but the friendly Seattle four-piece opened up about heir break from the local Seattle scene, the music they grew up on, improving their stage banter and of course the inevitable animal-fighting WGTB question of 2010.

They play tonight at the 9:30 Club, opening for Blitzen Trapper, and it's a show you don't want to miss. Check out the interview and stay tuned for Jared Iversen's review of their newest album, later this week.
Moondoggies interview by WGTB Blog

-- Caroline Klibanoff

Review: Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: The Songs of John Prine

Various Artists (tribute)
Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: The Songs of John Prine

When I first heard of this compilation a while back, I was elated—all my favorite modern-yet-rootsy artists covering one of America’s most prominent songwriters. High expectations aside, Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine does a solid job of paying tribute to Prine’s work, which is the ultimate goal of a tribute album. If nothing else, these songs highlight his talent far more than the skills of the artists themselves, making for an all-around pleasant collection for Prine fans both new and old.
For the most part, the picks are well-suited to the songs, even if the Drive-By Truckers’ “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” proved a little too honky-tonk for my taste and the mere trace of Lambchop/Kurt Wagner’s voice has always struck me as atrocious and even more so on Prine’s “Six O’Clock News,” as it grates and shuffles in every non-melodious direction.
So that one may be a number you choose to skip. Which is alright, because a later track features the reigning lords of indie-Americana, Deer Tick, who do sweet justice to “Unwed Fathers” with a subtle dobro slide and whispery guest vocals from Liz Isenburg. Jim James rests his lovely falsetto on the heels of a discreet pedal-steel mandolin-like sound to make “All the Best” into a far more charming version than Prine’s original scathing “love” song.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Concert Review: Blitzen Trapper & The Moondoggies

Blitzen Trapper & The Moondoggies
Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA
June 9, 2010

Ed. note: These guys are playing the 9:30 Club in DC on Monday night, and I highly recommend going-- their live show is incredible and you don't want to miss it. Tickets here.

Fact #1: Blitzen Trapper is miles better live than on their studio albums. Fact #2: Blitzen Trapper is miles better live than a whole lot of other live indie-rock acts, something that became clear when they brought down the house Wednesday night in Atlanta, playing a full set and encore replete with a capella breaks, wailing guitar solos, glimmering keys and tambourines. Since it was a weekday show, the crowd wasn't too big, but the band put up a valiant effort, often adopting the rare breed of the 3-axe band with three guitars, one bass, drums, and keys (see below).

Review: Sage Francis, Li(f)e

Sage Francis

If all you knew about Sage Francis was that he is a hip hop artist you might be a little confused when you first start listening to his latest album release, Li(f)e. The intro to the opening track, "Little Houdini," sounds as if it belongs in a folk song, far away from the thought-provoking lyrics of a heartfelt rapper. I am a big fan of artists who aren't afraid to create music that bends genre expectations and Sage Francis does just this. If you were to separate the instrumentals from the lyrics it would sound like two completely unrelated albums. Sage Francis' extremely conscious lyrics, paired with folk-ish melodies, make Li(f)e seem darker and much more heartfelt than most hip-hop albums currently out today. There are very few notable white rappers aside from Eminem, Aesop Rock and the duo Atmosphere but Sage Francis is definitely capable of holding his own in the genre. Li(f)e is Sage Francis' fourth studio album and, as does his previous releases, relies heavily on metaphors to create vivid images through his lyrics. Sage Francis is more concerned with creating a conscious story rather than rapping about his money, cars and women, a concept many rappers today lack. Individually each track on Li(f)e is unique and each serves as an example of how hip-hop has evolved since the early 1980s. Despite this, as a whole the album seems scattered with no coherent, universal concept. The tracks, although great on their own, do not flow well throughout the course of the album which prevents me from thinking of Li(f)e as some sort of masterpiece, or even as something deserving an "A" grade. I probably won't listen to Li(f)e as an album too often but the individual tracks are great for future "chill" mixtapes to accompany long, D.C. summer nights.

-- Dominique Barron

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Concert Review: Kings of Convenience

After postponing their February performance due to illness, the folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience fronted an expectant crowd at the 9:30 Club on Sunday night. Few left disappointed. The Norwegian duo Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye (also of The Whitest Boy Alive) delighted with a variously moody and energetic set interspersed with the bands witty repartee. It’s rare to see such a well-heeled performance from two musicians that are, on-stage at-least, so relaxed about their public persona. At times it bordered on the overly staged- the interlude stories that reference local geography worked too well; and the sense of musical theatre was amplified by the clown-like Øye who happily took the center of attention, grooving, crowd-surfing and conducting the audience along with Bøe.

But those rare times when it seemed like too much, mostly early in the performance, were quickly counter-balanced by the pair returning to the center and performing one of their more reflective, slower songs under two sole spot-lights. It was these moments when through squinted eyes you saw a glimpse of Simon & Garfunkel- an influence overtly referenced later when, along with bearded openers ‘Franklin for Short’, they got the crowd swaying to an excellent cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Bodyguard’. Another encore later and they hadn’t stopped giving after more than an hour and a half on stage- Øye stuck around to do another 2hour DJ-set in the basement. Whilst most (including myself) bailed to get some zed’s before work in the morning, it was difficult to leave without thinking that the effortless affection and enthusiasm that animated the performance wasn’t feigned after all- perhaps these guys truly do thrive on treating their fans like kings. Four months late? The Kings of Convenience almost made it seem better that way.

--Gerard McCarthy

Review: Pearly Gate Music, Pearly Gate Music

Pearly Gate Music
Pearly Gate Music

Zach Tillman’s self-titled debut into the folk scene did not strike a chord with me—but the name, the name did. Zach Tillman is Joshua Tillman’s brother. Most recognizably a member of the folk darlings Fleet Foxes, Joshua has also been a member of several other groups and has released prolifically as a solo artist. Big brother Joshua, little brother Zach, meet WGTB. To be completely honest, it is unclear which brother is the older and which is the younger—however, several clues, including each brother’s respective time spent being a presence in the indie folk scene, and especially the raw, even unpolished sound of this album itself, indicate Pearly Gate Music is very much Zach’s little-brother-debut.

Musically the two brothers are unsurprisingly related—their voices sound very much alike (smooth and sweet and wonderful), yet Joshua focuses more on harmonies, while Zach showcases his voice bouncing off the walls of his songs on its own. However, at this point, the brothers diverge—Joshua’s solo work is closer to classic indie folk ballads, while Zach’s is…a little stranger, a little less recognizable. Zach’s set of songs in this solo release are hard even to define, let alone judge, because within each song it seems like there are three or four songs, with only a set of lyrics in common. Little Brother’s tempo picks up, slows down, several instruments come blaring in, die out again, leaving the listener at least utterly confused, if not a tad bit disappointed that the album is not more rounded out à la Big Brother. “Gossamer Hair” and “Oh What a Time,” albeit two of the album’s stand-out tracks, also perfectly showcase this lack of musical continuity—it is much like carrying on a conversation with someone who hasn’t quite figured out how to carry one on yet, and pauses for so long you’re unsure if it is your turn to speak, then raises and lowers his volume so frequently and abruptly you’re unsure whether to follow in turn or just end the conversation entirely. And yes, while Zach may have grown up with music in his blood, playing in his big brother’s bands, maybe he too hasn’t quite figured “it” out yet. HOWEVER. All else aside, this fresh, continually echoing album does show scores of unharnessed potential, so don’t shelve away the Tillman name quite yet—perhaps a traveling family band is in the works? There's always something we can learn from our older sibling––I should know, I am one.

-- Fiona Hanly

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The District Dialect: Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle

Photo by Elvert Barnes, used under the Creative Commons License

Mike Shanahan goes into Meridian Hill Park to capture the sounds of the drum circle and the community that forms around it for the second edition of The District Dialect.

The District Dialect: Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle by igorgerman

Review: Deer Tick, The Black Dirt Sessions

Deer Tick
The Black Dirt Sessions

As Deer Tick’s frontman, John McCauley, says on the band’s no-frills website “We like to put on memorable shows, the kind of shows that you don't see very often. If you don't want to get covered in beer or confetti at one of our shows, I'd suggest not standing up in the front.”

Rhode Island’s contribution to the budding alt-country genre, Deer Tick, came to my attention a year ago when I heard “Easy” on Seattle’s KEXP radio, and from that point on I had to have more. More raucous southern rock-inspired guitar riffs. More gritty vocals and Let-me-tell-you-about-having-the-Blues lyrics. More music that didn’t sound like it was made for listeners aged 15-22 but instead by a young band that appreciates older, great musicians like John Prine, Hank Williams, and Chuck Berry.

When I saw them in concert last fall at the Black Cat, I loved hearing all my favorite tracks from the first LP, War Elephant, and the following LP, Born on Flag Day. Still, their wild, rock & roll performance complete with a few forgotten verses and sloppy stage presence after a few too many drinks had me worried the band wouldn’t make it to album 3 for one reason or another.

I’m happy to say they made it. Oh, they made it. With a packed tour schedule and a more emotionally complex and well-produced, well-written album to show for it. The main change I see on The Black Dirt Sessions (named for the New York Studio where the band recorded) is that a majority of the songs are more overtly sad or bitter in sentiment compared to previous albums. Tracks like “Goodbye, Dear Friend” and the duet “Sad Sun” are perfect examples and the former is one of the few on this album featuring McCauley playing slow tempo, melodious piano and it pairs nicely with his rough and raw voice. They’re great songs and very sincere, but I preferred some of the more fun tracks from earlier albums.

The songs I like best on this album are the few up-tempo ones. What can I say? I like music that makes me want to dance. The track, “Mange,” begs to be used in some kick-ass movie ending. It’s definitely my favorite off this album with lots of attitude and many more instruments and layers than their earlier stuff. Sometimes when you see bands bringing in a whole bunch of “new sounds” it ends up sounding sloppy and overdone, but I think Deer Tick really shines on the tracks where they’ve taken some risks. “Twenty Miles” also stands out with an infectious beat and bass-line that makes you want to tap along.

The album ends with a new version of “Christ Jesus” from War Elephant. On that first album, it was my absolute least favorite track. This time, it’s one of the strongest songs – raw, more emotional, and pleading rather than angry shouting with a string section and piano changing the tone entirely. To me, ending with this song is a symbol of how the band will always carry the same spirit, but it also says, “Don’t pigeon-hole us (coughcough*Pitchfork*coughcough), we can grow and change and still rock you silly.” I have high hopes for Deer Tick and plan to see them live again soon… but maybe I’ll skip the Jack Daniels shower in the front row this time.

Recommended Tracks: “Mange,” “Twenty Miles,” “I Will Not Be Myself”

(I highly recommend “Baltimore Blues No. 1” and “Art Isn’t Real” from War Elephant if you’re thirsty for more Deer Tick.)

-- Britt Shaw