• Cursive, Minus the Bear, and Moogfest

    7. Jan. 2013, 2:21

    After losing my music festival virginity to Warped Tour in 2008, it took four years for me to warm up to another. Daytime summer heat and mediocre outdoor venues aside, I got to see two bands I really wanted to see—and cheap. For the price, I couldn’t expect Moogfest.

    Moogfest, for me, started two days earlier, in Atlanta. At the Variety Playhouse, I met up with my friend Paul and caught the beginning of opening fodder Girl in a Coma. Sounding something like Karen O-meets-Alanis Morissette’s-odd-vocal-twang over energetic all-girl punk I doubt I’d pay to see again, they still kept me distracted until Cursive hit the stage.

    Cursive covered the hits and then some from their eight full-lengths, many from their best known The Ugly Organ, regrettably all I’d heard in full. Hearing more, I knew I had to hear the rest, if only to join the hardcore fans who knew all the words to their other songs. Fans like my friend Paul.

    So it was, if only for The Recluse, their biggest hit, that my tongue joined theirs (metaphorically speaking). Tim Kasher sang as an overnight lover more attached than intended as “I wake alone in a woman’s room I hardly know.” Uncharacteristically catchier and more melodic, it capped off a slew of other songs spanning relationships, philosophy, art, and religion.

    Not quite, alongside Minus the Bear, with their layered guitar loops, danceable drums, and often uninspired vocals. Two songs into their first set, I was more concerned with whatever smelled of ganja and piss. Then, I remembered a drunken douche bag who’d, moments earlier, pushed his way to the front because “my friends are up here.”

    Not to be outdone, another drunken burnout shoved his way to the front—directly in front of me. After Paul and I politely convinced him to move, I stood assertively shoulder-to-shoulder to the guy for twenty minutes before he finally turned and curtly related, “I’m going to make your day, man,” then disappeared.

    Behind me, a mother and daughter thanked me. So ended the only really exciting part of Minus the Bear’s first set. The second set ushered in some of their older work more familiar to me. I danced a little. Then came a crackling, high-pitched voice in the crowd calling for their breakout single The Fix between every next song until the band finally caved.

    As we all sang along, even the bowels of hell couldn’t keep angry burnout from rejoining us. Only this time, I wasn’t the only one pushing him back and this time, he left for good once he’d had his fix, the song ended. “We should kill that guy,” I overheard another fan say after the show.

    The next day, Paul and I caravanned by car to Asheville, North Carolina. Paul watched electronic act Justice that night while I got a taste of downtown Asheville by myself. We convened at Asheville Music Hall for a free concert.

    We caught the underwhelming Levek and a two-person instrumental group called 2PPM (Two People Playing Music). 2PPM’s jazzy drums, groovy bass lines, and distorted piano so entranced me I later went to buy their record only to realize I was talking to Levek’s merch guy. I felt awkward long enough to find out 2PPM’s music is free online anyway, and it’s hard to argue with free.


    Especially if you’re the $3 waters I bought the next night at Moogfest, in the U.S. Cellular Center. Enough fuel to run from venue to venue, catching a few songs each from Nas, Pantha du Prince, Bear in Heaven, and Miike Snow before learning a lesson about music festivals. You can’t catch all 19 bands playing 5 venues, often at the same time. If you want even a decent spot anyway.

    El-P (right), his hype man (left)

    So I walked 20 minutes to The Orange Peel venue where I waited in front of the stage for nearly half an hour. But I got my spot. El-P made it worth my time, with only a hype man and two multi-instrumentalists, one playing guitar/drums and dressed in just a bathrobe, sunglasses, and a captain’s hat. El-P said it was his guitarist’s preferred outfit; he joked, in turn, that he wore it for El-P.

    El-P performed mostly his latest album—solid but not my favorite—and dedicated a song to his recently deceased friend Camu Tao. Later, he brought out fellow rapper Killer Mike, who’d played a set of his own there earlier that night.

    You know I had to get a shot of Killer Mike's shirt.

    Afterward, I jetted off for the second half of Primus at the last venue only to find myself the worst crowd position of the night. So I walked right back 20 minutes to catch Black Moth Super Rainbow 30 minutes early to ensure a good spot. Though I’d only heard a few of their songs—older songs—I’d loved what I’d heard and loved them even more live.

    Solid musicianship, especially tight, ever-pulsating drums turned hazy vintage-synth-driven songs into an indie dance party. Meanwhile, wall-projected videos played, music videos where appropriate and for the rest, trippy visuals of odd locations with randomly appearing-and-disappearing people. The crowd, too, was fun to watch, especially a guy in a rhinoceros mask who went crowd surfing and a guy wearing a creepy surreal orange-shaped mask from BMSR’s Windshield Smasher music video.

    "I hope my friends didn't misunderstand me," I told several strangers in the packed crowd. "When I told them I was going to GZA/Genius." I paused. "But really, how could they? It works either way."

    As GZA took the stage, he showed us how relevant a rapper in his mid 40s can be, moving the crowd with only a DJ behind him and decades-worth of charisma. He ran through his entire classic Liquid Swords album alongside numerous other songs and guest verses he’d written over the years. In between songs, he humorously engaged the crowd, calling out one fan who couldn’t identify the rapper on the kid's own Wu-Tang Clan shirt he’d worn to the show.

    After the show, Paul and I walked to a vegetarian-/vegan-friendly restaurant open late, literally the last two customers that night allowed into a crowded Rosetta’s Kitchen. We loved it so much we came back the next day for lunch where he happened to run into and get a picture with The Magnetic Fields. Before I started home, I confessed my love for Asheville, my desire to be inside it forever. I would have to wait in line, Paul reminded me, with all the other people with the same idea, in an already overcrowded local job market. Guess there’s always next Moogfest.

    - Daniel J DeMersseman

  • Why Am I Writing About Against Me

    19. Sep. 2012, 0:27

    The face of my indifference!

    I was indifferent to the music of Against Me! and the only orange camo-fox t-shirt, plaid shorts, and fedora in a sea of black tees, save for a few white ones, with only our collective lack of melanin in common. But an alcohol-infused mosh pit can swallow you whole—your personal identity, personal space, and possibly your fedora to a sudden thrust, your eye to another—though I left with them all intact, if just barely. Not that I came for any of that.

    “That drummer looks like a mix of [two different people we know from Valdosta] and that guitarist is a dead ringer for Bobby from Valdosta,” I told my friend Daniel. Turns out it was Bobby. And that the drummer was a mix of the two different people we knew. Still, we didn’t talk to Bobby—we thought it’d be weird to tell him he looked like someone we knew—and we didn’t talk to the drummer because of our policy of not talking to clones made of spliced genes (pretty good drummer though). Bobby, an ex-Valdostan, had joined their ranks in Gaineseville, Florida, as a guitarist for The Future Now, luckily not also the Future Now we knew from Valdosta, same in name only.


    No, this was more of “a harder-edged Foo Fighters with a different singer,” to paraphrase my friend. “We’re going to do something real rock and roll right now and put our capos on,” they told us at one point—and, in even truer rock and roll fashion, rang in our ears long after.

    Even as the The Rivernecks replaced them on stage—the bandleader in a “Grabass is for Lovers” t-shirt, along with numerous other members, including one with a banjo. There was even a guy who looked like a mix of Chad Kroeger and John the Baptist or Jesus, on banjo—who was, luckily, just “a fisherman,” Grabass is for Lovers eventually told us.

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (or is it Ooooooh?)

    But even that and a decent drummer really just meant country songs with half-interesting intros. Otherwise, I could barely tell the songs apart until the last one. Something about "Get me to the porch. I wanna drink my life away”—it was memorable, if only because it felt like they were reading my mind.

    Then, someone in the crowd capped off the set with a courtesy fart, and a girl behind me spoke up: “It sucks being short. I wish I were tall.”

    “No, you don’t,” I told her. “Then, you’d be more worried with whose ass to stuff a stick of Big Red into.”

    Bring the one who dealt it to the stage! We will spank him as one!

    But I thought about what she said, too. In an ideal world, the crowd would’ve formed more of a mullet—not a literal one but short people in the front, taller people toward the back. But no, in true punk rock fashion, it was more of a devilock, short people forced to its outskirts and tall people front and center, some hanging over the stage in the singer’s face only a few songs into Against Me’s set.

    While I wasn’t really familiar with their music—though more than the other bands—I couldn’t help but feel it, thanks to the crowd. That human-devilock-of-a crowd forcibly replaced me upfront, and I decided not to fight it—because I probably would’ve literally had to fight them—being pushed and hit enough where I now stood, I thought. But what might not always have been enjoyable was certainly never boring, progressively more so as the set raged on. By the end of it, a large portion of the crowd, led by a large shirtless man, had joined the band on the small stage. Though never directly inviting it, Against Me seemed to eat it up, their vocalist hanging from the rafters by the end.

    That smell! There is no escape! Let us make our escape!

    Okay, so I came for Against Me after all or rather, the experience of Against Me. And I came for the spectacle of quasi-celebrity Laura Jane Grace, formerly Tom Gable, and I wasn’t let down. Grace was friendly enough when Daniel asked for a picture and, when we mentioned we were from Valdosta, asked us if we liked Ninja Gun, too. Plus, she still sounded like Gable, still looked like Gable, if slightly more glam rock; clearly enjoyed herself, and proved her showmanship from start to finish. If anything, she seemed more in tune with herself mid-sex change than beforehand, not that I knew her beforehand.

    More importantly, my friend was a big fan of Against Me, and I was here to hang out with him and for the opportunity to get out of town. I wasn’t let down either. St. Augustine’s Café 11 proved a nice, if smallish, venue with delicious sandwiches and local microbrew beer. Hopefully, I’ll be back for that and David Bazan in November. And while I won’t likely be back at another Against Me concert, I felt inspired, if violently so, to believe in my own passions. And to hope away the days straight of ringing in my ears.

    - Daniel J DeMersseman

    http://www.no-fun-intended. blogspot .com
  • A Few Recent Songs in Review

    31. Aug. 2012, 11:58

    If business statistics are any indication, most people these days feel as annoyed to buy and listen to albums in full as I do. This is especially true for me lately so, in lieu of an album review, here are a few recent songs.

    (Sixto) RodriguezSugar Man
    Though technically released in 1970, Cold Fact was a critically acclaimed commercial failure, effectively out-of-print stateside since its release but, thanks to belated platinum-selling cult status in South Africa and a recent documentary on the phenomenon, his music is now better known. His most popular single (from the album), Sugar Man is a guitar-folk song tastefully peppered with subtle symphonic flourishes and light splashes of synth, whose eponymous drug dealer’s “jumpers, coke, Mary Jane… make [his] questions disappear.”

    JJ DOOMBite The Thong
    For a self-proclaimed supervillain, Doom (a.k.a. Viktor Vaughn, formerly MF DOOM, Zeb Love X) is more of an underground hip-hop hero, even hip-hop god, given his massive presence of solo/collaborative projects. More Vaudeville Villain-era Viktor Vaughn than 2004’s classic Madvillainy (with fellow rapper/producer Madlib), it’s typical DOOM, with his now-predictably monotone flow and witty nonsense rhymes, over an airy electronic beat with shifting, syncopated drums. The song ends in some man’s begrudging rant about how music rarely takes off commercially until white musicians/vocalists enter the mix. I guess it’s enough to tide me over until the next Madvillain album finally releases.

    Bloc PartyOctopus
    Britain’s Bloc Party have kind of always been TV on the Radio-lite, except for a few somewhat interesting singles. And its catchy, stuttered guitar riff and danceable backbeat make it—if you ignore its near-asinine lyrics—possibly their best work since 2005’s Banquet single.

    DOOM - Retarded Fren (ft. Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood)
    Originally from the same KEY TO THE KUFFS album as Bite the Thong, the remix climbs greater heights in the hands of Radiohead’s most famous members. Imagine Greenwood’s soundtrack to There Will Be Blood at its poppiest—okay, poppier—mixed with hip hop drums, and that’s basically what you get. Those neurosis-evoking strings and off-kilter percussion perfectly complement DOOM’s mumbly monotone stream-of-consciousness. Gems include DOOM’s “eat a rapper one-a-day like Centrum.” It’s almost enough to have me longing more for a full Yorke/Greenwood/DOOM collaboration album even than a new Madvillain release.

    -Daniel J DeMersseman

    http://no-fun-intended. blogspot .com
  • At The Masquerade, in Atlanta, with mewithoutYou and Friends

    19. Aug. 2012, 2:55

    Taylor's elephant shirt was cool, too, but I knew the one with the retarded fox on it was the one for me.

    When I found out, two days shy of my four-hour drive to The Masquerade in Atlanta, that I’d be going alone, the mewithoutYou show suddenly took on new meaning—I’d have to cover all my gas now and figure out what to do with my second pre-purchased ticket. That’s where Facebook, the hotel room my brother’d already booked, and a couple old ex-Valdosta friends with similar musical tastes came in handy. It also didn’t hurt that they gave me a cheap Kroger plastic-cup-of-wine before the show or that I was vaguely familiar with the show’s second opening act, Kevin Devine.

    Once inside, we trekked The Masquerade’s old wooden stairs to its uppermost room, Heaven. Heaven, as it turns out, is a dark, spacious tavern with mildly overpriced beers and half-decent pub food. After my fill of future-heart disease/cirrhosis and an opening band we weren’t particularly excited about, we looked around for God and instead found the merch booth manned by merch-minions and Kevin Devine. I’d settle for a picture with Kevin, I thought, and so I did—he even made an effort to pose. I, in turn, made an effort to joke—“This is the part where I joke, ‘I love your band’”—but he quickly waved me off.

    So my friends and I took our search for God elsewhere, to The Masquerade’s lower levels. He was nowhere in Hell, and the doors to Purgatory were locked, but I forgot to ask anyone working the venue if that’s where they were hiding God (because it’d be a kickass hideout). Instead, we returned upstairs, with more questions than answers, and sat through Buried Beds until Mr. Devine himself took the stage.

    He seemed to be doing a little soul-searching of his own in several of his songs, most of which I didn’t know. Kevin strummed and picked his guitar as he belted out quasi-emo indie-folk songs, moving around slightly to the beat in his tight jeans and striped v-neck. The striped v-neck, he admitted from the stage, he purchased from a chain store. Perhaps he was attempting to balance out the political tones of some of his songs and banter.

    Kevin Devine's cool. He let me get a picture with him. My thumb looks really weird.

    Someone in the crowd had yelled, nearly inaudible to those on stage, to which Kevin responded that he welcomed song requests.

    I pointed back to and echoed the fan’s words: “He said, ‘God save the queen.’”

    “God save the queen?” Kevin inquired.

    I shrugged.

    Meanwhile, Kevin continued in his understated way, “I say, ‘Down with the monarchy,’” before segueing into some love song, joined by the female lead singer from Buried Beds. He went on to Another Bag of Bones—a song I knew—which referred to the last decade of Western wars in the Middle East being “another bag of bones for God to sort through.” Then he sang of “being stoned in some park,” a “quiet that can scrape all the calm from your bones,” and how his generation needs to “get up and grow” in Cotton Crush. I was too entranced to remember to request his only other song I knew, which is actually probably a good sign.

    Anticipating mewithoutYou’s entrance, I clambered closer to the stage, abandoning my friends who preferred the relative calm of the outskirts of the crowd. Then, the crowd cheered lead vocalist Aaron Weiss’ entrance as he briefly handled his accordion before returning backstage. When Aaron and friends came back, they started into February 1878, which fittingly begins with the closing riff to their popular mid-career hit January 1979 (which they also played), recalling their former post-hardcore sound before segueing into their more-current folksier, narrative-based sound.

    Luckily, the roughly half of their set based around their latter songs stuck with their more exciting entries from that era. Missing were Aaron’s funnily awkward stage banter and perhaps mewithoutYou’s biggest hit, the hard-punk, emotionally charged Gentlemen, which famously includes the lines “I said I’d not come back. Well, I’m coming back. And you’d better be alone” in Aaron’s signature half-spoken, half-shouted delivery (his later work is more half-sung, half-spoken).

    Still, the band filled our ears with many fan-favorites, including Allah, Allah, Allah, which controversially uses the terms “Allah” and “God” interchangeably, replacing fundamentalism with the word’s literal meaning. It's an altogether happy, folky song worshipfully declaring “Allah, Allah, in everything.” Likewise, the band’s old label had once neutered the pink curtains of “Come over and part your soft pink curtains where I'm waiting for you still” to lifeless “white curtains.” “But I’m still technically a virgin after 33 years so what’s maybe 30 more?” Aaron sang on stage in C-Minor, originally “27 years.”

    Yes, mewithoutYou are loveably, punky, folky, artsy religious hippies whose heart-wrenchingly honest lyrics and charged vocals have turned off some but endeared them to many others. Even Kevin Devine joined them on stage, dancing and tapping a tambourine, as well as Buried Beds’ violinist on another song. And I wouldn’t be too surprised to find God hanging out in their former tour van whose repurposed engine notably ran on vegetables. But you’d never find any vegetables amongst their bouncing crowds, nor would you need to feel alone.

    -Daniel J DeMersseman

    http://no-fun-intended. blogspot .com
  • The Coyote

    16. Apr. 2012, 2:48

    When I first heard Mesita’s Out for Blood, then a few other tracks from his latest album The Coyote, I thought, “Wow, I wonder how his earlier material sounds. I bet I could write an entire article about his discography leading up to this last album.” Then, I listened to it—all of it—and that wasn’t happening because that’d require listening to those albums more than once.

    Luckily, where those albums were too happy, even lifeless, Mesita found a small edge with “The Coyote.” And an edge, when your music is defined by its lush, cohesive, well-mixed aesthetic, comes in handy.

    But if you prefer your music edge-less, there’s always first track Ken Caryl, apparently Mesita’s hometown and, well, if it’s that whitebread and polluted with noise, I’m glad I don’t live there. The title track, on the other hand, I might live there. It’s got coyotes—hell, The Coyotes is the name of that song—and it’s all “Don’t say bye when you’re leaving. Just get carried away,” and, well, I kind of like that. Also, an understated falsetto, a driving beat, and some jangly guitar—count me in.

    Up next, William Cannon is, perhaps, a little too poppy for my usual taste, but it kind of makes me want to dance and it builds and transitions smoothly from one section to another, returning to earlier sections but never quite the same. Just get carried away indeed. While you’re at it, you can even skip the next song.

    That way, you’re already at “Out for Blood.” It’s one of those I-can-sing-in-mumbles joints where you don’t get any enunciation until the chorus. Fine by me. It also ends in one of several breakdown-type outros on the album.

    But skip the next song because it sounds like Christmas on speed, like a sped-up Christmas instrumental—and not in a good way. Then, you can stay on Into the Wind for a moment if you like, but it’s really just a lesser “Out for Blood.”

    You or the City, though, that’s probably the most different track of the album. Here, you get a little synth doodle which transitions to a clean, atmospheric guitar and subtle glitch and mellow strings every which way. Also, the whole second half of the song is an instrumental outro. Classy.

    Next, Search for Meaning says, “What’s the point of this?” and I’m tempted to ask the same. Suddenly though, Everything Is Burning, and we must all proceed to dancing. Glitch-synths and a steady, syncopated drumbeat give us plenty of reason to.

    Endless Building into Nothing, however, lives up to its name and is, luckily, followed by On Through the Dark, a mellow (and yet?) fitting end. You could certainly do worse than this album this year—like picking up Mesita’s older albums. So pick up this one instead.

    Favorites: “Out for Blood,” “You or the City,” “Everything is Burning”
    Album Rating: 4.0/5

    Daniel J DeMersseman

  • Three Albums You May Have (Probably) Missed in 2012

    5. Apr. 2012, 18:14

    On occasion, I disappear off the face of the earth. Then, you don’t get music reviews and I don’t get to piss people off. Sad times for all. This time is different—this time, I have returned with three mini-reviews of albums you may have missed in my absence.


    Inspired by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood’s Some Velvet Morning—it’s hard to see how, other than the self-titled interlude on Phèdre’s album that chops samples the sung word “Phèdre” from the song—and the French play “Phèdre,” which seems also to bear little resemblance to the album, the album riffs on murder, death, love, sex, and sexual deviance. In the happiest, catchiest, funkiest, we-did-lots-of-drugs-when-we-made-this-album way possible.

    If you like songs that begin with electronic dog-barking/bird-chirping, with choruses about a man’s dying love (APHRODITE), or about swingers (the aptly named ODE TO THE SWINGER), the occasional weird and well-produced rap song (COLD SUNDAY, whose guest rapper sounds like a mix of Q-Tip and Snoop Dogg) or murder and possibly orgies (In Decay), or weird, atmospheric, groove-heavy electronic music, this may the album for you.

    Royal BathsBetter Luck Next Life

    For better and worse, the Royal Baths seem to have taken a page from The Velvet Underground here—mostly better. The music, then, is a little darker than Phédre and perhaps a little more grounded in reality but certainly also lyrically dark. You can also expect some slow-burning psychedelia then, too, and that’s exactly what you get.

    Lead single Harder Faster is about how, as much as the singer “loves [his] damaged girl,” he’s not sure if he can keep up because she always wants it harder and faster and how he knows how he might lose her accordingly. This builds into an outro that grows steadily harder and faster. Black Sheep, likewise, talks about how the singer thinks often of “death and murder,” wanting to “kiss [the phonies] properly—with a knife” and the like, how “I am a black sheep, and Jesus knows.” You get call-and-response vocals and occasional harmonies which, though beautiful as they are, are always slightly disconcerting. In a good way.

    DisappearsPre Language

    Disappears, perhaps, doesn’t fit the going theme, having neither melodic vocals nor especially dark themes, serious or otherwise. They do, however, rock. After years honing their skill, they’ve come upon a repetitive-yet-groovy sound. Vocals are more of the talky/shout-y variety but nearly always buried under enough reverb to make up for it. Look out for lead single Replicate and Joa, a song which, while nearly six minutes long, is perhaps also the best song on the album.

    -Daniel J DeMersseman

  • Attack on Memory

    17. Jan. 2012, 0:45

    From its opening moments, you feel the 90s filtering into your veins like a half-used heroin needle and feel the sudden need to sit and soak it all in. There's the unexpected piano melody in the beginning of No Future/No Past building into a trudging guitar, bass, and drums, that only let up for a moment and only to build still more tension, Dylan Baldi's vocals growing slowly more desperate until the final outro-chant of the song title. It's like ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead stole Kurt Cobain's vocal aggression and his heroin needle and replaced the heroin with concentrated cough syrup.

    Then comes Wasted Days, with its nearly 9 minutes, taking even more cues from Trail of Dead, mostly just riffing and building instrumental tension between sparsely dosed chants of “I thought I would be more than this.” And somehow the band makes it work. Maybe it’s all the angst.

    Fall In makes decent filler material—the butter between the bread, if you will—as Dylan subdues some of his aggression to throw in a calmer, more melodic hook. It’s still lo-fi alt-punk but less effective.

    He makes up for it with Stay Useless, an even more poppy turn, which Dylan makes work by making it also a more coherent one. It plays like a less obnoxious Wavves song as he sings, “I need time to stop moving. I need time to stay useless.”

    But the band follows up with more filler—the instrumental Separation. Again, not a bad song, but it leaves you wanting to hear more vocals (maybe that was the intent?).

    Again, they make the wait worth our time when No Sentiment kicks in. "No sentiment, no nostalgia," Baldi sings, and I think we're all just as bitterly resentful with the way American radio has long since been co-opted by bands who've replaced their 90s musical heroin needles and genuine feeling with steroid needles and overloaded machismo.

    Sadly, the last couple tracks do little to help. Our Plans fades into directionless (read: less well-directed) angst. And perhaps Cut You is simply ill-fated. Here, the song’s narrator obsesses over a girl’s new boyfriend. He asks what the guy’s like because “I need to know, I deserve to know.” Then, he projects with thoughts such as “Do you wanna’ hurt him. Do you wanna’ kill him?” and asks, “Is he gonna’ work out?” Maybe, but this track isn’t—not quite anyway, not for me. But the album, as a whole did, in no small part, thanks to Steve Albini’s production. Thank heavens for you, Mr. Albini.

    Favorites: “No Future, No Past,” “No Sentiment,” “Wasted Days”
    Album Rating: 4.2/5

    Daniel J DeMersseman

  • Staring at the X

    31. Dez. 2011, 12:00

    Seems I always find my favorite new music after the fact. Luckily, it was after only a couple months with this album. Plus, I figured, if I hadn’t heard it, most of you still hadn’t either so here we go.

    About a minute into album opener Born Into, I realize I’m not listening to a new Bright Eyes song—there’s that drawl but no voice cracking, and suddenly the guitar’s getting a little more fuzzed out and atmospheric than I expected—but they had me for a second. But before they lose me, they bring in distorted electronic sounds that feel oddly fitting. And that’s pretty much what Forest Fire does throughout the album, blending everything around it in a slow-burning, all-engulfing fire.

    Feeding off the momentum "Born Into” sparked, Future Shadows keeps a steadier, more straightforward pace and aesthetic, still keeping their full, warm atmospheric sound intact but moving past the drawl. Then comes The News. After the tenth straight listen, I finally stop. Because I’d needed to pee the entire time. And that never happens (usually, I just pee on myself). It’s their catchiest tune and it’s even got a fuzzed-out sax wail toward the end, amid an otherwise-poppy 50s/60s vibe.

    Then, because they’re not done throwing me for loops, they throw in They Pray Execution Style, a droning vortex of synth with mellow female vocals at its epicenter. They even cycle in funky bass and guitar riffs as the song continues, almost like an evil, washed-out disco song.

    Just when I’m getting used to the constant change, the title track disappoints with a staid Americana jam, reverb-y but still Americana. While Blank Appeal returns some of the album’s former glory with a slow drone, some tremolo picking and a slow fuzzy-blues solo, the album never quite recovers its momentum. That’s because Mtns Are Mtns sounds like a bored The Snake The Cross The Crown song and Visions in Plastic is, well, it’s over eight minutes long.

    That said, when this album is on, it’s on, even really on when it wants to be. Of course, an uneven album is an uneven album so Forest Fire was smart to keep it to 8 tracks and under 35 minutes. If they were even smarter, they’d give Natalie Stormann more solo vocal duties—one song is nice (“They Pray Execution Style”) but more could certainly even out their sound.

    Favorites: “The News,” “Future Shadows,” “They Pray Execution Style”
    Album Rating: 4/5

    Daniel J DeMersseman

  • Undun

    13. Dez. 2011, 4:21

    The Roots becoming Jimmy Fallon’s late night house band was equal parts good-for-you-guys-make-money as it was a symbolic move away from actual musical relevance. Perhaps not even a conscious move so much as doing so much that they burn out some of their creativity. In fact, the entire band seems to have listened to everything Kanye West ever produced and tried to throw it in the mix somewhere. I’m not sure if that says more about Kanye’s breadth of work or The Roots’ running out of new things to do.

    Don’t let that keep you from second track Sleep. “Sleep” comes after the obligatory intro track and brings with it Aaron Livingston’s beautiful soul. “I’ve lost a lot of sleep to dreams,” he sings on the hook while Black Thought delivers adequate verses, and the track itself delivers a fittingly restless-but-can’t-sleep feel underneath.

    The next few tracks are passable, and that’s the problem—they’re well-produced but ultimately fail to attract. Make My features a surprisingly witty Big K.R.I.T. rapping "It's called cream 'cause when it rises to the top, you get the finer things" and One Time features Dice Raw rapping "If too much money talking, we make ‘em economize," and both feature smooth tracks and soul hooks but still come out lacking.

    Kool On follows with one of those repetitive raspy soul vocal samples cycling through the whole song that Kanye loves, but it ultimately distracts from the song. Likewise, “The Other Side” features a churchy organ on the hook and an at-first catchy piano twinkle with—you guessed it—another soul hook.

    Thankfully, Stomp, even after an annoying hey-it-sounds-like-I’m-screaming-through-a-radio intro, turns things up slightly, only to segue into Lighthouse, which would’ve probably worked out as a Lupe Fiasco or B.o.B hit but just doesn’t belong on a Roots album. If it makes it to the radio, too, my broken radio won’t know the difference.

    I Remember features another generic soul hook, but this time, it’s a female vocal, catchy, and not distracted by the music underneath it. Actually, the punchy drums really help here, and the string bridge two minutes in makes the song—yes—memorable.

    The strings return on Tip The Scale and, playing throughout, also keep things memorable. Plus, Dice Raw riffs on prison to great effect with lines like "A lot of n****s go to prison. How many come out Malcolm X?" and “I got a brother on the run and one in./ Wrote me a letter said, ‘When you comin’?’”. “I thought the goal was to stay out,” he answers.

    The rest of the album is short instrumentals, like something you might hear in a stage play. Apparently, this was supposed to be some sort of concept album. Luckily, there are enough good tracks and passable ones to make that forgivable. Pretty good for an album named after one of The Guess Who’s worst singles.

    Favorites: “Sleep,” “Tip the Scale,” “I Remember”
    Album Rating: 3.3/5

    Daniel J DeMersseman

  • Nightlife EP

    29. Nov. 2011, 6:46

    Phantogram (Sarah Barthel, Josh Carter) are another of those cute co-ed duos fusing various strains of electronic music into credible pop so it’s their hip-hop influences that distinguish them from the others. You can hear it from track 1, with its triple kick-snare-snare fill-snare and mellow guitar; what might pass for a TV Girl song, if it weren’t for its fuzzy bass, synth strings, occasional subtle guitar crunch, and female vocals. And the vocals you could almost confuse for Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass if they traded in their longing for Alice’s angst. Even the synth strings seem to echo the longings of “sixteen years of mechanical joy” in 16 Years.

    Track 2 is their this-is-the-one-with-obviously-chopped-samples song of the album, lead single Don’t Move. Of course, its busy, spastic samples and trippy instruments make it hard not to move. “All you do is shake, shake, shake,” sings Sarah. “Keep your body still,” she says, because “I’m not your paranoia” (and a host of other neurotic impulses).

    Turning Into Stone seems like the next logical step to not moving, but I kind of enjoy moving—kind of why I got this album—but the only movement this song seems to allow me is to skip. So on to Make a Fist, a song that isn’t much faster but certainly more alive. “This is the future” sung repeatedly for a chorus indeed.

    Like “Turning into Stone,” title track Nightlife is also too slow but might’ve worked on another album by another artist. It starts out with catchy folk-acoustic picking but turns into some bored shoegaze cliché about halfway into the song.

    Luckily, we head into a dark tunnel afterward, and it gives us just the dark energy we need. Here, Josh’s vocals on the verses create a distinct contrast to Sarah’s on the chorus. It’s not her best work—but it’s workable—which is odd because her choruses are often some of the best parts of their songs. Luckily, Josh provides a dark angst, like an angrier Tunde Adebimpe vocal (TV on the Radio), minus the frequent falsetto. You’d probably also never hear Tunde singing about biting off heads or “Don’t tell me that you love me ‘cause you don’t.” Or hear his vocals soaked in reverb and fuzzy synth bass, but it works for Josh. Phantogram have rather developed their sound here, and I’m curious to see where they take it next.

    Favorites: “Don’t Move,” “Dark Tunnel,” “16 Years”
    Album Rating: 3.8/5

    Daniel J DeMersseman