Toronto’s indie rock collective Broken Social Scene are known for creating high art. Embracing sonic detail, seamlessly connecting vast dimensions of sound, and exploring untouched atmospheric landscapes is inherent. The frighteningly brilliant masterpiece that is Forgiveness Rock Record (May 2010) is a gorgeous example. Finally gravitating towards the pop tendencies that the group have toyed with for almost a decade, never have Broken Social Scene sounded so joyous, excited, and in love with the music they create.
Whereas earlier albums consist primarily of instrumentals, Forgiveness Rock Record finds the band playing with cryptic lyrics and elliptical word patterns, making this Broken Social Scene’s most accessible album yet. The tracks invite you to sing along, not just absorb. The album as a whole is more mature and direct, with a thematic bend that lends a sense of gravity to the music. Each song is a complete artistic piece, with all the integrity, allure, and complexity that fine art inspires. Rarely do songs sound so full. That is the nature of BSS. Each song is greater than the sum of its parts.
Broken Social Scene is known for bringing together a vast collective of musicians to fill out their sound. What began as an ambient post-rock collaboration between founding members Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew (the band’s 2001 debut Feel Good Lost) slowly evolved into the gorgeously fragmented super-collective sound nurtured in the mid-decade by the chaotic overdriven production style of David Newfield on 2002’s You Forgot It In People. The spiritual connection between the individuals, who at points have numbered 17, can be felt on each of the band’s 6 releases (4 full length albums, 1 B-Side album and 1 EP). The injection of inspiration from a mass of adventurous players creates huge washes of sound full of multi-colored textures that may overwhelm the casual listener. Forgiveness Rock Record sets itself apart by leaning on a slightly tighter group, while the “additional members” and “guests” number 31 strong. Longtime contributors Jason, Collett, Leslie Feist and Emily Haines make appearances along with special guests including Sea and Cake’s Sam Prekop, but the lion’s share draws from frontmen Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning with Sam Goldberg, Lisa Lobsinger, Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin, and Andrew Whiteman. The greater focus begets music that unabashedly hits harder. The songs may be more succinct, but the band still sounds like it contains multitudes.
Since the collective’s 3rd release in 2004, individual members of the collective have made names for themselves outside of the confines of BSS. Feist became a rock diva after releasing Let It Die in 2004, Whiteman hit the road with Apostle of Hustle, Drew and Collett released solo albums, and Amy Millan and Emily Haines elevated their side projects Stars and Metric to even greater notoriety. Forgiveness Rock Record is lush and romantic and as eclectic as the members who create it. Each track has a distinct sound, embracing their endless ability to craft clever, soaring pop songs. This is no doubt enhanced by Tortoise’s John McEntire who produced the album.
“World Sick” is one of the catchiest songs the band has ever written. Harmonics and power chords swell and boom as the band both embraces global and personal yearnings. Drew’s voice leads the collective as they cry “I get world sick / Every time I take a stand / I get world sick / My love is for my land.” “Chase Scene” strings together old west guitar rumblings and horn filled climaxes with certain tension, set upon cryptic lyrics that mirror the band’s musical complexity and the gripping chorus, “I think I’m ready to fight for the scene of my life”. “Texaco Bitches” devises a joyous melody as vocal ascensions ride marching beats and atmospheric tings. “All to All” climaxes with a wave of female vocals led by Lisa Lobsinger married with a pulsating staccato base. Her angelic voice soars above electronic atmospheres like a phoenix as she has fun with words “It’s like the all to all, the all to all the ultimatum”. “Highway Slipper Jam” brings to mind one of my favorite bands, The Slip, and recalls older BSS. It’s slow and easy as high harmonies roll along and an array of subtle sounds merge together to create the end’s lullaby. “Ungrateful Little Father” shows unabated love for alliteration. The pulsing beat of “Sentimental X’s” is filled with Haines’ sweet vocal meanderings and marks the first time in the group’s history that Amy Millan, Emily Haines, and Leslie Feist have collaborated on the same tune. “Sweetest Kill” is dark and seductive, with echoes of Drew’s voice giving up deflated melancholy upon gorgeous guitar lines which closely follow his vocal tones. The album closes with an ode to masturbation aptly titled “Me and My Hand.”
Forgiveness Rock Record rounds up the BSS diaspora and serves as a robust reminder of the band’s commitment to their identity as an art collective. One of the many things that strikes me about BSS is how their free-form, chaotic approach to creating music transforms into beautiful song structures which unmask a deep understanding of when to embrace and when to subvert standards of pop songwriting. Forgiveness Rock Record follows in this vein, often to spectacular and inspiring effect. It is easy to fall for Broken Social Scene. They make accessible and challenging pop-art, they are unequivocally prolific as a collective, they spring from Canada, and over the years have become one of the most iconic and forever-evolving indie super-groups around.
On August 9, 2010 Broken Social Scene unveiled plans for their “All to All” remix series, which includes 5 different versions of the Forgiveness Rock Record track. Every Monday, a new remix was made available exclusively for 24 hours via a different online collaborator. And on Monday, the band released the provocative video for “Texaco Bitches” featuring a bizarrely sexual, oil fed wrestling match. The video’s eccentric take on today’s oil companies is coupled with a hilarious, unforeseen ending.
Don’t miss the opportunity to contemplate this collective in motion on their winter tour.
Broken Social Scene Winter 2011 Tour
1/16/11 London, ON @ The Music Hall
1/18/11 New York, NY @ Terminal 5
1/29/11 Edmonton, AB @ Freezing Man Festival
2/10/11 Atlanta, GA @ Buckhead Theatre
2/11/11 Tampa, FL @ Ritz
2/12/11 Ft. Lauderdale @ Revolution Hall
2/13/11 Orlando, FL @ Firestone Live
2/15/11 New Orleans, LA @ Tipitina’s
2/17/11 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
2/18/11 Austin, TX @ La Zona Rosa
2/19/11 Dallas, TX @ House of Blues
2/20/11 Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
Freelance Whales released their sweet and honest debut album in September of 2009, but audiences are still getting acquainted with this tenderhearted quintet from Brooklyn.
Frontman Judah Dadone (lead vocals, banjo, acoustic and electric guitar, synthesizer, bass) drew on inspiration for the band’s name from a near drowning incident in the Sea of Galilee when growing up in Jerusalem. He was seeking to grasp a rock to prove that he reached the bottom, but found it difficult to regain the surface. The Israeli fisherman who pulled him out called him in Hebrew a “freedom whale”, which then metamorphosed into the increasingly familiar name. The reference to the musical mammal and the gesture to a do-it-yourself attitude ties Dadone together with bandmates Doris Cellar (bass, harmonium, glockenspiel, synthesizer, vocals) (lead vocals, banjo, acoustic and electric guitar, synthesizer, bass), Chuck Criss (banjo, bass, synthesizer, glockenspiel, harmonium, acoustic and electric guitar, vocals), Jacob Hymn (drums, percussion, vocals), and Kevin Read (acoustic and electric guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, synthesizer, vocals).
The members of Freelance Whales found each other through friends of friends and through Craigslist in 2008 as a result of Judah Dadone’s posts aimed at musicians who might fill his imagined sounds on unusual instruments. The band further bonded at a remote, eerie, abandoned farm colony on Staten Island where a friend suggested they videotape a performance. This late 2008 evening marked the first time the 5 brought their acoustic instruments together and performances throughout the mazes of NYC subway system evolved from the experience.
The collective honed their sound almost exclusively on the stages and subway platforms of New York City. At 2009′s end, the band journeyed on their first tour supporting the highly-orchestrated, swelling indie pop of London’s Fanfarlo. Several crowded performances at SXSW brought the band’s buzz to new heights after Spin named them one of 50 “Must Hear Bands at SXSW” and NPR simultaneously referred to them as “a band to watch this year” after a live appearance on All Songs Considered. 2010 saw an April re-release of Weathervanes on both Frenchkiss and Mom + Pop, the later which houses hot indie sensations Sleigh Bells, Metric, Tokyo Police Club, and Ingrid Michaelson. “Generator ^ First Floor” and “Broken Horse” were heard on NBC’s Chuck and the CW’s One Tree Hill. Soon audiences found Freelance Whales on tour with Bear in Heaven, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Shout Out Louds, and Tokyo Police Club.
Weathervanes is beautifully poetic and full of pastel imagery that somehow make stories of ghosts and nightmares enchanting. “Generator ^ First Floor” begins the bundle of storied tales which wrap the listener tightly for the album’s 46 minute duration. Dadone softly sings, “We’re finding every day several ways that we could be friends, And in our native language we are chanting ancient songs, And when we quiet down the house chants on without us.” This youthful optimism reveals the core of Weathervanes. “Hannah’s” chorus tempts the artful dreamer by calling “if you’re attracted to the night sky, if you’re vaguely attracted to rooftops”. “Location” follows Dadone searching for his ghostly sweetheart with mood filled lyrics contrasted with honeyed harmonies and hopeful banjo strums within the interludes. “Starring” is reminiscent of Ben Gibbard’s Postal Service with its infusion of electronics and synths mixed with Dadone’s soft vocals creating an electro pop gem with rolling choruses and a banjo solo to briefly interrupt the electric flow.
The poetic story within “Broken Horse” follows the animal’s wintertime journey away from confinement with haunting, intertwining, and overlapping vocals. “Danse Flat” is strangely sparse and slightly spooky as it lures the listener into the depths of a deserted house with the sweet tune of a music box turning. “We Could Be Friends”‘s powerful ascending guitar lines, keyboard meanderings, and rock beats lift the song’s luscious lyrics, “I am convinced that we should be friends, We compare our hearts to things that fly, But cannot land.”
Throughout Weathervanes, Freelance Whales make the most of each moment where vocals are absent to imbue the sound with numerous effects, xylophone tinklings, and atmospheric murmurings. The songs rest among similar tones, which create a sweet whole while deeper listens allow the distinctions to settle in. Most of these differences lie within lyrics crafted from Dadone’s childhood memories and dream journals.
Freelance Whales is currently on their 3rd U.S. tour following summer performances at Sasquatch! and Lollapalooza. Try not to miss them before they rise to another level and the intimacy now to be gained is gone.
Remaining Fall Tour dates…
Mon, Nov 27th – Hi-Dive / Denver, CO
Wed, Dec 1st – 7th Street Entry / Minneapolis, MN
Thu, Dec 2nd – Lincoln Hall / Chicago, IL
Fri, Dec 3rd – The Basement / Columbus, OH
Sat, Dec 4th – Brillobox / Pittsburgh, PA
Sun, Dec 5th – Mohawk Place / Buffalo, NY
Tue, Dec 7th – El Mocambo Club / Toronto, ONT
Wed, Dec 8th – La Sala Rossa / Montreal, QC
Thu, Dec 9th – Middle East / Boston, MA
Fri, Dec 10th – Iron Horse / Northampton, MA
Sat, Dec 11th – Lily’s Pad / New Haven, CT
Tue, Dec 14th – Johnny Brenda’s / Philadelphia, PA
Wed, Dec 15th – Webster Hall / New York, NY
Brooklyn-based indie-rockers Bear Hands have been working the scene since they emerged in 2006 and broke out as a New York buzz band in 2007, after the release of their debut EP. Four year straight at CMJ and three years at SXSW plus opening slots for a number of influential indie artists have provided them fresh fans along the way, but the release of their first LP, Burning Bush Supper Club (Cantora Records, 2010) is the long-awaited piece solidifying the band’s locale on the indie map. Bloggers went crazy for the album’s two singles, “Crime Pays” and “What A Drag”. The full record was released into the atmosphere on November 2nd.
Like fellow labelmates MGMT, Bear Hand formed as a result of their Wesleyan University connection. All four members graduating from the Connecticut school. TJ Orscher (drums/vocals) and Val Loper (bass/percussion) used to be members of an emo hardcore band called In Pieces. In August of 2006, Rau (vocals/guitar/keyboard), arguably one of their biggest fans, asked the two to flesh out some of his musical ideas and record a demo with him. The three rapidly realized that there was potential for a band and Bear Hands was born. Ted Feldman (guitar/percussion) joined soon after to fill out the sound. The four members of Bear Hands grew up listening to punk music and together meld those young influences into their driving, melodic, and vocal rock heavy explorations.
The band’s quirky, hook-filled new record is filled with distorted, reverb heavy guitar lines, pulsing beats, and Rou’s soulful falsetto. His gritty, strangely melodic vocals bring up comparisons to Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden. Abstract lyrics also form the basis of BBSS and lend to its artfulness. “Tablasaurus”’s cryptic lines meld with layers of sound atop a hypnotic tabla sample. The album ebbs and flows between atmospheric tracks like the deeply textured “Wicksey Boxing” and the slow-building “Julien” and rock-heavy screamers like “Blood and Treasure”. “What A Drag”, the album’s standout pop track, contains solid images that tease and pull you until the song’s infectious chorus about her “goddamn long nails” forcefully hits.
The band’s sound has evolved since the release of the Golden EP in 2007. The band’s early instrumentation was founded upon two guitars, bass and drums. Since then, the songs have become more danceable and rhythmically oriented with additions of keyboards, samplers and programmed drums. This was partly due to the influence of Chuck Brody (Lykke Li, Santigold) who produced both albums.
Over the past three years, Bear Hands has opened for a long list of indie sensations including MGMT, Vampire Weekend, The XX, Les Savy Fav and has toured across North American and Europe with Passion Pit, Obits, We Were Promised Jet Packs, Hockey, Manic Street Preachers, and Mayer Hawthorne and The County. Dylan Rau was classmates at Wesleyan with MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, who selected Bear Hands on numerous occasions to be one of their opening acts. Bear Hand’s shows are known to be deeply powerfully and sonically textured.
Stop by the Larimer Lounge to catch them live on Wednesday, November 24th. The band will be finishing up their fall tour at locales across the midwest and northeast through mid December.
11/24 – Larimer Lounge, Denver, CO
11/26 – Schubas, Chicago, IL
11/27 – MOTR Pub, Cincinnati, OH
11/28 – Lager House, Detroit, MI
11/29 – Sneaky Dee’s, Toronto, ON, Canada
11/30 – Casa del Popolo, Montreal, QC, Canada
12/1 – Great Scott, Allston, MA
12/2 – Pearl Street Clubroom, Northampton, MA
12/3 – The Met Cafe, Pawtucket, RI
12/16 – Lilly’s Pad at Toad’s Place, New Haven, CT
12/17 – Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY
“What A Drag”
I’m smearing a look, in a bottomless pit.
I am sending my love, but they won’t let it in.
You are dragging me down, I am punching a tree.
When I fall back now, deeper and deeper.
You’ve got them long nails, I’m dreaming of your god damn long nails.
You’ve got them long nails, I’m dreaming of your god damn long nails.
You have your finger so deep.
Listening is really just a valueless deed.
When you live underground, it’s the way that you sleep.
It’s the light in your hair, it’s the weight of the breeze
and when I fall back now, deeper and deeper.
deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper.
deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper.
You’ve got them long nails, I’m dreaming of your god damn long nails.
You’ve got them long nails, I’m dreaming of your god damn long nails.
You have your finger so deep.
If you are a Weezer fan, the fact that the band will make 2-day stops in 5 major U.S. cities to lay down both of their first two albums is alone an thrilling notion. The So-Cal rock outfit will perform its self-titled debut, also referred to as “The Blue Album,” on the first night of each tour stop, and its sophomore release, the cult favorite Pinkerton, on the second night. The band will also play other material from its catalog after performing each album in its entirety.
Add in tour support by both Best Coast and Free Energy and the elation expands. Best Coast is affable live but Free Energy’s shows are an explosive rock punch. The Philly band has made a name for themselves in 2010 playing SXSW and touring nationwide with artists including Titus Andronicus, Delta Spirit, and Ra Ra Riot. The band is tight, wide-eyed, and brimming with enthusiasm. They diligently offer power-pop and sunny, guitar driven anthems that are pure, non-stop fun. Free Energy’s debut album, Stuck On Nothing (March 2010), was produced by none other than LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. And on top of it all, Rolling Stone named them in March one of the best new bands of 2010.
On October 22, frontman Rivers Cuomo announced on the Weezer forum that Best Coast would open the L.A. shows, and that Free Energy would support Weezer in Boston and New York. “I love these bands!” wrote Cuomo. Best Coast leader Bethany Cosentino and Cuomo also recently collaborated on a track that is yet to be released.
Weezer Tour Dates:
11-26 Los Angeles, CA – Gibson Amphitheatre *
11-27 Los Angeles, CA – Gibson Amphitheatre *
11-29 San Francisco, CA – Nob Hill Masonic Center
11-30 San Francisco, CA – Nob Hill Masonic Center
12-14 Boston, MA – Orpheum Theatre ^
12-15 Boston, MA – Orpheum Theatre ^
12-17 New York, NY – Roseland Ballroom ^
12-18 New York, NY – Roseland Ballroom ^
01-07 Chicago, IL – Aragon Ballroom
01-08 Chicago, IL – Aragon Ballroom
School of Seven Bells trigger psychedelic expeditions into colorful soundscapes infused with the sensual vocals of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and the ethereal guitar wanderings of Benjamin Curtis. Their multi-layered songs are saturated with melting guitar tones, lush vocal harmonies, raw synths, electronica-edged beats, and heavy production. The band’s love for rhythm, atmosphere and melody is overwhelmingly apparent throughout their explorations.
The members of School of Seven Bells met on tour supporting Interpol in 2004, Curtis performing with Secret Machines and the Dehezas with On!Air!Library!. When first exposed to his future bandmates, Curtis perceived a rare vibe and communication between the girls and fell deeply in love with the sound. Alejandra revealed to Curtis her dreams for a collective entitled School of Seven Bells. The name stems from a fabled training academy of thieves and pickpockets in Columbia. They began making music here and there and by 2007 put some tracks together that they had affection for and released them as the Face to Face on High Places EP. That same year, the band began touring and had the fortune to support both Blonde Redhead and Prefuse 73 on the road.
Initially, the group spent time translating elements programmed in the studio to other musicians who could fill them out in the live setting. Soon, they began featuring the tracks as originally created. If the sounds were programmed, they’d leave it that way, and if they played them themselves, they’d play it on stage. The sound became more honest and the evolution was liberating, enabling the group to remain a trio.
School of Seven Bells’ debut album Alpinism was released in 2008 on Ghostly International. The trio fused their two disparate previous projects into a new sound anchored in gorgeous, winding melodies and beguiling synth backdrops. The recording is glittery and uplifting, peaceful and hymn-like, yet at points dark and tension-filled. Each track is a distinct being, possessing its very own magic. The distorted vocals on “Chain” gorgeously lean in the direction of Black Moth. And at points, School of Seven Bells recall another one of Brooklyn babies, St. Vincent. In 2009, they supported Alpinism on tours with both Bat for Lashes and Black Moth Super Rainbow.
The trio recently announced that Disconnect from Desire, their 2nd full-length release, will drop via Vagrant/Ghostly International and Full Time Hobby in Europe on July 13th. The album, produced by band member Benjamin Curtis and mixed by Jack Joseph Puig, was recorded in the band’s home studio in Brooklyn. “Babelonia” is the gorgeously fuzzy first track off the album, which they’ve released for free into the blogosphere.
“From the start, we knew we wanted to make a record that connected on more of a direct and personal level than we ever had before,” Curtis revealed in a statement regarding Disconnect. “It’s a complete account of our lives this past year, and it’s crazy how taking an honest look at yourself can tell you the most about the world around you.”
In support of the release, the trio will perform one date at The Echo in Los Angeles on June 2nd and two at the Mercury Lounge in NYC on June 9 and 10. And in July, the band will journey abroad to the Netherlands, the U.K., Germany and Australia.
Last year, SoSB brought another atmospheric dream pop group on the road with them, upstate New York’s Phantogram. With their thudding beats, lush synthesizers, psychedelic art-rock and interchange of male/female vocals, Phantogram creates dazzling sounds reminiscent of SoSB. Don’t miss Phantogram on tour throughout the U.S. in May and June. May 13th brings them to the Larimer Lounge in Denver. They’ll also hit Sasquatch in 2010.
I recently caught Phantogram within the gorgeous IFC Studio at SXSW and the experience has held onto a special place in my memory. The duo created a unique vibe in the small blue-imbued 50-capacity space that I became wrapped within until the last notes of their set. I’ve been craving that feeling since and will experience it again on Monday when they surface at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on their tour in support of The Antlers. The group is hitting major cities and smaller ones as well between now and June.
Phantogram is the sonic manifestation of junior high friends Sarah Barthel (synth and vocals) and Josh Carter (guitar, samples, and vocals). The two came together in 2007 to push boundaries of indie-electronica with their unique style of atmospheric dream-pop. The sound walks a tightrope of genres as they weave sampled and electronically-generated hip-hop beats with shoegaze, trip-hop, R&B, indie/emo and pop. With their thudding beats, lush synthesizers, psychedelic art-rock and interchange of male/female vocals, Phantogram creates expansive, dazzling sounds of unfaltering quality that float.
While the band’s sound implies the city, the duo resides in the small town of Saratoga Springs, populations 26,186. To write and record, the two drive further into rural lands of upstate New York to a farmland barn they call Harmony Lodge. The unconventional space acts as their homemade studio/practice-space/think-tank, equipped with various samplers, tapes, records, synths, drums, and percussive and stringed instruments. It is here that Phantogram melds metropolitan influences and those of their natural surroundings to create their textural, psychedelic, beat-driven pop.
The band’s debut, Eyelid Movies (Barsuk Records, 2010), is filled with grand ideas and even better songs. In speaking of the record’s title, Barthel explains: “We ran across a description of dreams somewhere that used the phrase ‘eyelid movies’ – and it really struck us both as something that fit our music.” “Daydreams, the spots you see moving around when your eyes are closed tight, and the shapes you see in the world – those are the kinds of things we want to surface in your mind when you hear a Phantogram song,” adds Carter. Barsuk Records is home to indie greats including Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, Ra Ra Riot and Viva Voce.
There tends to be an undercurrent of loneliness and isolation in much of the band’s work, counter-balanced by awe-inspiring moments of untethered bliss. “Mouthful of Diamonds” is one of those highpoints on the record. Its gorgeous guitar melodies, repeating samples, and Barthel’s astounding voice could lift any mood. In case you were wondering, the band’s intriguing name refers to a type of optical illusion that brings 2D images into 3D, creating a lovely parallel with the rich music that this duo brings to life.
Phantogram’s Spring Tour
Apr 23 – BLIND PIG (w/ The Antlers), Ann Arbor, Michigan
Apr 24 – ROCK ISLAND BREWERY (w/ The Antlers), Rock Island, Illinois
Apr 26 – FOX THEATRE (w/ The Antlers), Boulder, Colorado
Apr 28 – CASBAH (w/ The Antlers), San Diego, California
Apr 29 – DETROIT BAR (w/ The Antlers), Costa Mesa, California
Apr 30 – THE TROUBADOUR (w/ The Antlers), Los Angeles, California
May 1 – INDEPENDENT (w/ The Antlers), San Francisco, California
May 3 – DOUG FIR LOUNGE (w/ The Antlers), Portland, Oregon
May 4 – THE BILTMORE CABARET (w/ The Antlers), Vancouver, British Columbia
May 5 – NEUMO’S (w/ The Antlers), Seattle, Washington
May 8 – WILLAMETTE VALLEY MUSIC FEST, Eugene, Oregon
May 10 – KILBY COURT, Salt Lake City, Utah
May 12- THE BELLY UP, Aspen, Colorado
May 13 – LARIMER LOUNGE, Denver, Colorado
May 14 – RIOT ROOM, Kansas City, Missouri
May 15 – RACHEL’S CAFE, Bloomington, Indiana
May 17 – GROG SHOP, Cleveland, Ohio
May 18 – MAXWELL’S, Hoboken, New Jersey
May 19 – THE BOWERY BALLROOM, New York, New York
May 20 – WRBC BATES COLLEGE, Lewiston, Maine
May 21 – JERKY’S, Providence, Rhode Island
May 22 – NORTHERN LIGHTS, Clifton Park, New York
May 31 – SASQUATCH! MUSIC FESTIVAL, George, Washington
Jun 1 – GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL (w/ The XX), San Francisco, California
Jun 2 – GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL (w/ The XX), San Francisco, California
Jun 3 – HENRY MILLER MEMORIAL LIBRARY (w/ The XX), Big Sur, California
Jun 5 – HENRY FONDA THEATER (w/ The XX), Los Angeles, California
Jun 6 – WILTERN (w/ The XX), Los Angeles, California
The enigmatic lead singer and guitarist for Iceland’s atmospheric post-rock band, Sigur Ros, is set to embark on his first tour through North America and Europe as a solo artist. With two record in less than a year, Riceboy Sleeps (2009), written and recorded with his partner, Alex Somers, and Go (April 5, 2010), his debut solo album, Jónsi has been busy during a period of Sigur Ros’ retreat. The group chose to take time off due to several members’ desires to spend time with their new children and Jónsi’s interest in exploring his imaginings solo.
To accompany his live performance, Jónsi has brought in 59 Productions to create a fantastical world that evokes the feelings and images within his music. Sigur Ros is known for pushing boundaries with the visual components of their live show, so it’s almost assumed that Jónsi would explore contemporary technology and imbue his live performance with art.
59 Productions has been praised as one of the most innovative suppliers of video and projections for theater worldwide. When invited to be a part of the tour, 59 decided to create something that strode the line of a music performance, a film, a theatrical show and an art installation. Within the current state of performance, I find it infinitely interesting to see what happens at these intersections.
The show is set in a dilapidated, burnt down building that is made to resemble a Victorian glasshouse, an old factory or museum, with large windows that span the back of the stage. Trees grow among the rubble and broken glass. In an interview with Clash Magazine, 59 shared their intention to create “a sense of life returning to this shell of a building as nature works its way through the cracks and fissures.” The scenes draw out varying themes and stories from Jonsi’s music on Go to transport audiences into a world of sheer fantasy.
59 have released several videos documenting the show’s elaborate creation.
For the extraordinary chance to experience the unfolding of this vision live, find Jónsi while he journeys across the U.S. and Canada in April and May.
Apr 6 – Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, BC
Apr 7 – Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, BC
Apr 9 – The Showbox Sodo, Seattle, WA
Apr 10 – The Showbox Sodo, Seattle, WA
Apr 13 – Roseland Theatre, Portland, OR
Apr 15 – Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley, CA
Apr 16 – Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
Apr 18 – Coachella, Indio, CA
Apr 21 – Paramount Theatre, Denver, CO
Apr 22 – Liberty Hall, Lawrence, KS
Apr 24 – Pantages Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
Apr 25 – Pantages Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
Apr 26 – The Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, WI
Apr 27 – Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL
Apr 28 – Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL
Apr 30 – Sound Academy, Toronto, ON
May 1 – Sound Academy, Toronto, ON
May 2 – Metropolis, Montreal, QB
May 3 – Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
May 5 – House of Blues, Boston, MA
May 6 – House of Blues, Boston, MA
May 8 – Terminal 5, New York, NY
May 9 – Terminal 5, New York, NY
High Places exist within a realm of experimental sounds. Repetitive samples, home-crafted percussion, and minimalist vocals imbue their sparse electronica-pulsating world. The outcome feels both foreign and warm. Mary Pearson and Rob Barber have together created a unique sound steeped in soft, wispy female vocal melodies, brisk beats, and rhythmic lines produced on folk percussion and household objects. It is music inspired by beauty and nature, whose artistry leans towards organic resonances. The subtlety of their music whispers images, allowing the listener to fill the landscapes with their own contemplations. This association might bring to mind the amorphous, dream-inspiring work of Animal Collective’s Panda Bear.
Live, the two create layered recordings with Pearson manipulating her vocals with delay and reverb, playing hand percussion, and creating and controlling various loops. Barber triggers percussive sounds from his drum pads, adds ambient vocals, and plays an array of rhythmic instruments to create the certain tone that is High Places. The songwriting is expansive and fluid, while the musical ideas produced are concise. A state of meditation is encouraged by their creations and this seems apt as Barber has been on record saying that music is pretty much the only thing that calms him down and enables him to relax.
High Places’ self-titled debut was recorded in Pearson and Barber’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood apartment in Brooklyn in 2008. And the music has that true, artsy Brooklyn feel. The two met in 2006, when Pearson was living in Michigan and both were pursuing solo projects. Once she moved to New York, they began collaborating, exchanging ideas and giving each other little bits to work off of and respond to. Their unexpected first performance came in May of 2006, when Rob was offered a gig that he didn’t want to play alone. A demo and U.S. tour dates came soon after. In 2008, the group signed with Thrill Jockey Records to release their debut and, shortly thereafter, a collection of singles under the title 03/07-09/07.
The band’s most recent record, High Places vs. Mankind (March 2010), offers a new era of the band’s experimental pop. It takes their music to a more densely atmospheric place with slow dance-heavy grooves. The sound is more mature, more complex, with Pearson’s voice more prominently set against High Places’ thick psychedelic landscapes.
The recently transplanted from Brooklyn to Los Angeles where they frequent the mountain-filled parks that now surround them. The pair’s name actually refers to a place where one has a better vantage point and can gain broader perspectives, so this spot seems apt. Their music tends to speak of their love of mountains, rooftops, and other metaphorically high places. Yet the sounds of the city aren’t far away, which likely prompt the ever-present looping of industrial utterances within their music.
The buzz over the collaboration between Shins singer/guitarist James Mercer and producer/multi-instrumentalist Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) has been mighty. The pair announced the project in September of ’09 and released their self-titled album this week. The two acclaimed musicians (Danger Mouse is half of Gnarls Barkley and produced the Gorillaz’s 2007 album Demon Days) were inspired to put their heads together after connecting at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival in 2004 when they discovered they were fans of each other’s work. They began recording in secret at Burton’s Los Angeles-based studio in March of ’08 and the culmination of their efforts is now out on the table.
Take note that this is not just a “produced by Danger Mouse” one-off. The two are apparently in it for the long haul and have plans extending past this first album.
Eyes closed, this is a Shins album. The wonderous indie sensation expanded upon their sound throughout their 3 albums (2001, 2003, and 2007), and this feels like it could be the fruit of the next step in that progression. Due to Mercer’s distinct voice, the line between The Shins and Broken Bells is rather blurry. That is an exciting reality for Shins fans in that Mercer and his bandmates have had a sour parting. Burton’s contributions are somewhat restrained, but he seamlessly infuses his creativity and influences into a realm of music heavy with melody and sparse on beats. Overall, the partnership works well. The balance of styles, Burton’s hip-hop and soul and Mercer’s inventive song construction and lyricism, produce 37 minutes of pure quality. Other than string arrangements by composer Daniele Luppi, Danger and Mercer play every instrument on the 10-song album. Mercer sings and plays guitar and bass, while Danger tackles drums, organ, piano, synth, and bass. Danger also serves as producer.
“The Ghost Inside” is the standout track on the album and offers a clear illustration of Mercer and Burton getting their hands dirty together. It’s a fabulous synthesis of Mercer’s falsetto, warbly back up vocal overlays, handclaps and unforgettable synth melodies. Lyrically, the album is direct and insightful. “Vaporizer” delivers a potent message atop sanguine organ lines: Let go of fears and unrealized hopes and live without the squashing need to know where you are going. “The Waiting Game” speaks of the elusiveness of love among buzzy synths and spacey effects. Gone are Mercer’s cryptic lyrics. He speaks truthfully of loneliness, love, and dreams falling short. “Citizen” just punches with its beat and harsh chorus, encompassing the dark feel that pervades many of the tracks. The album is missing a tad of soul and doesn’t necessarily push the envelope, but it gets inside the head.
What amounts to a dream anymore?
A crude device; A veil on our eyes
A simple plan we’d be different from the rest
And never resign to a typical life
Common fears start to multiply
We realize we’re paralyzed
Where’d it go, All that precious time?
Did we even try to stem the tide?
Why should we waste it on
Buying into the same old lies?
The longer we wait around
The faster the years go by
It’s not too late
To feel a little more alive
Make an escape
Before we start to vaporize
Doubtless, we’ve been through this
So if you want to follow me you should know
I was lost then and I am lost now
And I doubt I’ll ever know which way to go
Now it’s time to figure out how Broken Bells sound live. The duo has performed 5 shows to date over the past four weeks in L.A., Paris, London, Brooklyn, and on Letterman. You can find Broken Bells in L.A. on March 14 and in the clubs of Austin at SXSW March 17-21. Stay tuned for more dates…
Like any great album should, Big Light’s full-length debut Animals in Bloom (2010) draws me in more completely with every listen. The songs endlessly unravel as one’s ears open to the nuances. I’ve been enamored with the band since they debuted in San Francisco near the end of 2007 and it’s all in the combination. Skillful songs, prodigious musicianship, and a certain sincerity. It’s the kind of music you want to sit back and take in and also the kind that you want to move to and lose yourself within. It’s the best of all genres, melding the weight of rock, the earnestness of folk, the edginess of indie, and the transcendental psychedelia of jam. The band’s sound is easy to love and hits with an immeasurably depth. As my friend Melissa and I would say to each other back then, “Big Light plays just the kind of music I want to hear.”
From the grittiness of “Triceratops”, to the tenderness of “Departed”, to the touching words, melodies, and guitar riffs of “Rainbow Eyes”, Animals in Bloom gets inside. “Good Time of the Year”‘s youth-filled intimacy is undeniable and “Monster” strikes with washes of sound. “Heavy” just tears it all apart. It’s not just the raging guitars that send you to oblivion but the band as a whole progressing, ripping, lying deep within the groove. Unabating until the raging finale moments of “Bonebreaker”, the album is a solid realization of Big Light’s limitless potential. The album’s lyrics are poetic, pensive, inspiring and filled with color. The songs catch inside your head and refuse to let go. It’s intimate and makes you feel included.
The San Francisco foursome features Fred Torphy (lead vocals, guitar, songwriting), Bradly Bifuclo (drums), Steve Adams (bass, vocals) and Jeremy Korpas (lead guitar, vocals). After several shifts in lineup, this band feels like the one Torphy needs to convey what’s inside his head. Torphy’s voice morphs from track to track all the while staying endearing and real. And his guitar solos soar. Bradly Bifulco contributes a strength of foundation and depth that stands out on every song. ALO’s Steve Adams exemplifies what this incredible player can do when offered an alternate existence. And the most recent addition of Jeremy Korpas seals the force of Big Light. Korpus’ ripping playing which has earned him the name “Swordfish”, raised the bar of Big Light’s musicianship, allowing the band to travel where it was ready. A nod to the benefit of timing and luck, Korpas’ inclusion came by chance after needing a place to crash when first moving to SF. By way of a friend he landed on Torphy’s couch and later joined the band. Together these four individuals gesture gratitude to the great bands that inspired them – Dr. Dog, The Slip, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket – yet seamlessly unite to create a sound that is undeniably Big Light.
Yesterday, I got to chat with songwriter Fred Torphy about the album…
How does the current state of Big Light compare to what you imagined when you originally formed the band?
Torphy: Probably closer to what I imagined it being. More professional and cohesive and focused. That was something we had to work for, a permanent lineup. You saw a lot us in the formative days. It was sprawling then and you never knew who was actually going to play. That was always really hard to deal with as a bandleader. All the coming and going of the personal and getting the band staffed probably. You don’t want to push any of those things. It needs to happen on its own. Give it time. That happening was cool. I’m just stoked that it’s where it’s at right now. And that we are more lean and mean. More focused.
Are there any unseen insights into the album that you want to share?
Torphy: Mechanically we got really experimental and went deep. There are sounds you might not hear unless you’re listening on headphones. There are all of these undercurrents of noise that prevail from the beginning to the end. We capture sounds that aren’t musical in some senses. Detuning ukuleles or dropping an amplifier on the ground so that it makes a crazy thunderous sound. We put ghosts in the recording so that they could be heard later when someone is listening a little closer.
The one thing that probably nobody one knows is that there’s one guitar amp that we ended up using for 90% of the record that we got from this dude who lives in an apartment that’s next to the studio where we recorded. He’s this guy Kidd Candelario, Jerry Garcia’s right hand man for like 30 years, his guitar tech and all this stuff, and he has a bunch Jerry Garcia’s old gear. He gave us this Fender Twin that had belonged to Jerry and that Jerry used on stage for a really long time. We went back and looked at pictures and saw this thing. We had this modified Fender Twin that was Jerry Garcia’s primary guitar amp and we used it in every situation imaginable because it was cool… it sounded so different from everything else because it was modified for him. It was really loud and you could do crazy shit with it. It was fun playing with that thing. The history, recording the album in San Francisco… We’re not a Grateful Dead leaning band at all in any respect. I mean we like improvisation, we love that band, but they aren’t a model for Big Light in any way. But we did love using that guitar amplifier to make all the cool guitar sounds.
Who’s singing the words before the chorus on “Rainbow Eyes”?
Torphy: We call that the “gang vocal”. Our friend Ty Roberts and his family, Sabrina & Ted, Chris Joseph, Ray (Bradly’s wife)… There are probably 40 voices. We threw a whiskey and pizza party one night in the studio and invited our supporters and friends and asked them all to yell “rainbow eyes”.
Below is a teaser for Animals in Bloom featuring studio and tour footage and clips from their December ’09 performance at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, all set to an excerpt of the new track “Triceratops”.
For Big Light, club dates have translated into high profile gigs, including appearances at Outside Lands, Noise Pop, Wanderlust, and High Sierra and at renowned California venues such as the Troubadour and The Roxy in Los Angeles and The Fillmore in San Francisco. They’ve also been placed on bills with Spoon, Broken Social Scene, The Mother Hips, Dead Confederate, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Everest and Howlin Rain. As a fan from the beginning, it’s truly exciting to stand back and watch Big Light constantly progress and evolve at such an electrifying rate and receive due recognition for their musical journeys. Big Light’s CD Release tour for Animals in Bloom kicks off with a performance at San Francisco’s Independent on March 4th (TODAY!).
Mar 4 – The Independent, San Francisco, CA – Animals In Bloom Release Party w/ Guns for San Sebastian and Everest
Mar 5 – 50/50 Brewery, Truckee, CA
Mar 11 – The Saint, Asbury Park, NJ
Mar 13 – Sullivan Hall, New York, NY
Mar 17,18,19,20 – SXSW, Austin, TX
Apr 8 – Crystal Bay Casino, Crystal Bay, NV
Apr 16 – Cooper’s, Nevada City, CA
Apr 17 – South Lake Tahoe Earth Day Festival, South Lake Tahoe, CA
July 1,2,3,4 – High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy, CA
Animals in Bloom is for sale on the Big Light’s website, at Amazon, and on iTunes where you can download the added bonus track of “Piece Together Wings”, co-written with Nathan Moore and featuring Dan Lebowitz (ALO) on pedal steel. Jeremiah Kille of Conspiracy Surfboards created the memorable album artwork for Animals in Bloom. Check out more of Jeremiah’s work.