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Tag: music

Father John Misty, live in DC show review

Judging by the crowd full of swooning young females at the Rock n Roll Hotel on H Street in DC, you might assume that this act of handsome misfits was built for a feminine following. You’d be half right, but the content of the artist’s lyrics and style is much closer to Vonnegut and Bukowski than Adam Levine and Bieber. While the band’s looks and charms have the girls weak at the knees, Joshua Tillman, you had me at ’21st Century Schizoid Man,’ the song roaring from the speakers as they made their way to the stage.

That entrance did a great deal of work to assuage the expectations of journeying tales sung with angelic harmonics that you would certainly find at a Fleet Foxes show. You won’t find those here; Tillman left that band for a reason. Forgive him for saying ‘fuck it’ to the beautiful, mass-appealing songstry of the Fleet Foxes, instead opting for the sarcastic wit of Jeff Winger on a psychedelic binge down the coast. Unless your disc jockey bleeds the same acerbic blues as Bukowski, you won’t hear many radio singles here.

Sure, no molds are being smashed as far as song composition goes – “This is Sally Hatchet” and “Writing a Novel” sound aged and dated – but you can bet his hammered musings are as vital as you will find in the world of Hollywood that he’s simultaneously transplanting himself to and excommunicating himself from. Tillman’s brand of sarcasm is full as much with lethargic apathy as it is with innuendo; sardonic sex appeal certainly isn’t for everyone.

If you don’t quite get his humor which frankly raises the album from mundane to integral, I highly suggest Father John Misty’s live performance. Not only is it filled with brilliantly bonus lyrical asides, but Tillman is a talker and he keeps the audience laughing by poking fun at himself, bringing his new persona back to earth. Throughout the set, he fills the gaps between croons of  heart and soul with deadpan, monotone asides, playing both cynical poetic genius and cynical peanut gallery.

Even if you do already enjoy his sarcasm and ironic writing, hearing him spout it out in his clear, natural oak of a voice, you’ll pick up on any clever lines you may have missed the first listen through. That’s a tribute to the dynamic of the music. The classic southern (and at times, hickabilly) rock appropriately takes a back seat when this man takes the mic. In the dispensing of a single trailing phrase, Tillman turns a flailing death wish into a relevatory affirmation: “I’m gonna take my life. I’m gonna take my life…back one day.” Ironically, even in his rebirth he is listlessly languid, supine, effete –  unable to be fully positive.

So, do yourself a favor and let Father John Misty take you on a journey through his mid-life crisis of sorts. It doesn’t disappoint.


album review: The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet


The Mars Volta are back having released their new album Noctourniquet – a study of “how to stop the night from bleeding,” according to singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala – back on March 27th. ‘Back to what?’, you wonder? That’s what’s stumping me, too. I can’t put my finger on it. So let’s dive right in and get back to that later.

Upon a first listen through, it’s pretty noticeable that Bixler-Zavala’s vocals own these tracks. He’s forceful and aggressive when it calls for it, and understated and soft-spoken when he needs to be. Sure, we all know that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is the dictatorial mastermind composing the album from start to finish, but for the first time (as Thomas Pridgen, drummer up until this album, will tell you), Cedric is the most important man in the room. A track like ‘Zed and Two Naughts’ would fall flat were it not for his outbursts of, “Saint Christopher/don’t go-o-o-o-o wan-der-ing,” that break up the machinelike pumping of the drum and bass. His penetrating repetition of “do you think I’ll fold?” from the song ‘Noctourniquet’ will stick in your mind far after the swagger of the bass line and layers of guitar and synth have dissipated. He’s reigned in his vocal range so when he soars you well and truly feel it, and his lyrics are kept concise compared to his prior oeuvre, holding minimalism to a higher esteem than ever before. Whether it’s his timing, melody, or lyrics, Cedric is essential to every track on the album.

The primary theme of those lyrics is the relationship between parent and child, and more specifically, the will of the parents being forced onto that of the innocent youth as suggested in the opening track’s title, ‘The Whip Hand’. Often he sings from the perspective of the young boy, like in the first single off the album, ‘The Malkin Jewel’, telling stories of his mother, the town harlot and the song’s namesake. Unfortunately, his vitriolic croon in the chorus resembles that of bygone Marilyn Manson, but it works well with the subject matter and the captivating, offbeat jangle of the rhythm section. Alternatively narrated, ‘Lapochka’ – according to Cedric himself in an interview – is about a mother and her incessantly pestering child whom she in turn calls lapochka, a russian term of endearment for a young girl.

Also at play through the record are the relationships between language, memory and death, as heard in the lyrically magnificent ‘Aegis’, as well as the dualities of good and evil, decimation, and rebirth. Maybe my favorite song so far, ‘In Absentia’, is the longest – and most rewarding – track on the album. It benefits from building up to a resounding finale pleading, “Da-a-sehra-a-a-a-a-a-a,” a cry that was initially intended to be the chorus, but – I think successfully – was converted to the ending. Dasehra is the Sanskrit goddess that takes away sin, or, similarly, a Hindu celebration of good over evil. In the context of the narrative Cedric is weaving, we can read into this more as a question: “when, if ever, does the reign of one’s parents come to an end?” As you probably already know, we could spend days deciphering Cedric’s reference-laden puzzles like T.S. Eliot’s poetry, so I’ll leave the rest to you. Back to the success of the album as a whole, something that rides on more than just lyrics.

The gravity of brevity is possibly the greatest alteration to the TMV formula, and it’s one enforced by Omar to compliment the shortened song structures that he has pinpointed as integral to progressing the band’s sound. For the first time since At the Drive-In, less is more. No more breakdowns filled with relentless shredded solos, drum fills, and bass jams – unless it’s a well-rounded act of cohesion, all of that jammy goodness is left presumably for the live show. On the album, they’re strictly business. Another addition is new drummer, Deantoni Parks. I know, I know, what more could you ask from a drummer that the awe-inspiring whirlwind that is Thomas Pridgen couldn’t answer? If the drum work on Octahedron is any indication, I’d say…restraint. If you want a flying fury of drums, go listen to Bedlam in Goliath, ’cause it seems by Omar’s schemes, that precision and control are what the mad scientist has ordered. Not that Pridgen has no control, but his talents are too outspoken. He’s like the frickin’ Incredible Hulk, his presence can’t be caged as I’m convinced Omar attempted on Octahedron. This experiment requires something more like a drum machine with a heart, and the closest you’ll come to that is mister Parks. Just focus intently on the drumming throughout the album and you’ll see how it is brilliantly precise and uniquely timed, yet it never overshadows the rest of the band. Not only that, it compliments the increasingly electronic sounds of the album and the generation quite well.

So to sum up, I thought this album was back to former ass kickin’ ways – the album that should have followed up Bedlam, leaving the soft Octahedron to rest, as if it never happened. But then I listened to Octahedron again to refresh my cringeful memories of it, and – surprisingly – I didn’t hate it. The differences from one album to the next aren’t too sonically drastic. Octahedron has its hauntingly dark moments a la Bedlam as well as ravenous thrashing. The main problem was that it wasn’t able to flow because it was chopped up with long stretches of near-silence and the occasionally too harmonious interplay between Cedric’s vocals and Omar’s string-pulling that ended up turning the stomachs of most TMV fans. Oddly, some of those poppy moments still appear on Noctourniquet, but now, they are quickly forgotten because you don’t have time to dwell on them, the next song has smacked you in the face already. And there’s the beauty. In the past, a song that you didn’t like could ruin the entire album; after all, it was most likely ten or thirteen minutes long and a sixth of the whole thing. This time around, there are thirteen tracks – full, substantial songs, not spacey interludes. Although a couple reach the seven- and eight-minute mark, the majority are about five minutes long, and they come and go hard and fast making those longer takes a refreshing change of pace with meaningful growth.

So, perhaps Noctourniquet is the album we all wanted after Bedlam, but that’s not how it works. TMV needed to (painfully) grow through Octahedron to reach this point which could be the band’s crowning achievement considering it seemed like they were on the tailend of their career. The future is once again bright for this powerhouse duo (and friends).

new music: Post War Years, free Live 360 Session EP

Only weeks after my post about British indie rockers, Post War Years’, newest music video (seen here), the band has offered up a free four-song EP of their Live 360 Session. The song for the video, ‘All Eyes’, is on the EP as well as three other new tracks that don’t disappoint. ‘All Eyes’ is probably the most well-rounded of the beasts, but the opening track, ‘Galapagos’, although instrumental, might be my favorite. At just about two and a half minutes long, the track showcases the group’s penchant for ever-evolving uses of electronic-based percussionistic beats. Its name, ‘Galapagos’, does it justice, as one loop of glass percussion – literally a bottleneck effect – is slightly mutated and propagated to create a sonic jungle from a sole, bottlenecked lineage. Add some synthesizer siren calls and you’ve got one trance-inducing island you won’t mind adapting to. The following tracks bring the listener back to more conventionally composed songs with airy vocals that harmonize with metallic bass lines and guitar riffs before ‘All Eyes’ brings the EP to a close. Get a free download of the EP here at the bands site and listen for yourself…trust me, you’ll have it on loop for days.

new music: Post War Years, ‘All Eyes’

This single and accompanying video by struggling (in the best sense of the word) Londoners, Post War Years, somehow slipped under my radar when it was released in November. It’s a slight departure from the tunes they’ve been putting out the past couple of years. Typically energetic, the boys have slowed down the pace from danceable speed-freak to a methodical sway. The acid-induced video is captivatingly creepy…just the way I like ’em. About two-thirds the way into the song (and video) they reveal the trick up their sleeve, and that’s what I like about the band. They have progressed nicely in the short span of their existence, and they have a knack for incorporating new, smart sounds to each of their songs. Although I would say a track of theirs called ‘Black Morning’, is still their best song yet, if you give it a listen, it’s comprised of a completely different set of sounds from this new single – and I’m willing to bet there’s more where that came from. Keep an eye out for these brits, they’ll be big in no time.

The Shins and the Stand-ins

This post is inspired by a blog post from September of last year titled Last Shin Standing. Writer Casey Newton details the ins and outs of The Shins‘ transformations in the past decade: their rise to fame and the resulting changes to their roster. I suggest you go check it out for the super-apt analogy of the group through their own song, “Sleeping Lessons,” or if you are clueless about the band’s situation. If you’re to busy for that here’s the short version: frontman and composer James Mercer fired his bandmates after their third successful album together for “aesthetic” differences. Obviously, there’s more to the story, and it’s further fledged out in the aforementioned article.

Now that the ‘new and improved’ Shins have just released their latest album, Port of Morrow, on the 20th of March, judgment day has arrived, and I really don’t see any huge steps in the way of instrumentation that the former band members wouldn’t be able to perform. Frankly, Port of Morrow sounds just like any other Shins album – a bit indie, a bit poppy, and a bit whiney. If this is what Sandoval, Crandall, Hernandez, and Johnson were axed for, I’m not seeing the point. The “band’s” sound is practically the same, save for a few tweaks (mainly provided by Dobson, and I’ll get to her in a moment). What I mean by that is Mercer claimed to have shed his band so that he and his vision could progress and move on to new heights that the rest for some reason or another just couldn’t reach. To be fair, that’s understandable. Those guys can composite their sounds to form beautifully melodic songs, but technically, they are nothing special and only afford so much room for growth. So what has the new band reached? From what I can tell, a better live performance [I haven’t seen them live other than SNL, which is hardly a stage for fair judgment (just ask Lana Del Rey), but that’s the word on the street] and a new album that fails to reach even the heights of Oh, Inverted World and Wincing the Night Away – both performed admirably by the outcasts. My gripe is that Mercer has taken his opportunity to flee what was The Shins, yet he hasn’t flown further than the front lawn. He kept the name on the mailbox, kept the sound, and lost the respect of a sizable chunk of his fans and friends.

It would appear that James Mercer is finally getting what he wanted…band members that can upstage him instead of just play what he says to. New guitarist, Jessica Dobson, poses that threat. On an album of grand proportions that lacks an edgy pertinence, Dobson shines on the final and namesake track, Port of Morrow, while backing Mercer with harmonies and distinctive guitar effects throughout the preceding songs of the album. Not only that, she certainly has the presence to be a frontwoman, as she is already making waves with her own band, Deep Sea Diver, out of Seattle. Their debut album, History Speaks, was released February 24th, and you can stream and buy it on the group’s bandcamp. At least watch this studio-basement video of their two leading singles and witness their jagged, jammy goodness for yourself:

So, at last we can see that there is a silver lining to Mercer’s revolving door of collaborators: stand-ins are people too, and now they’ll get their time in the sun.