Monday, November 24, 2008

It's A-Live!!! - The Class War @ Northgate Tavern (11.22.08)

So, we return to you after months of absence. What can we say to explain ourselves? ......What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

That probably does not satisfy your curiosities, but it will have to do for now, because we have business to attend to. To get back into the swing of things, we are starting off small with a few words about a tiny show in Baton Rouge, LA. Lafayette locals The Class War get the honors of kicking off our brand new blog segment about live music, and it is an interesting initiation. Particularly because we had seen this band in their hometown the night before they played the Northgate Tavern in Baton Rouge, and for many reasons, homefield advantage proved advantageous indeed for this power pop quartet (trio?).

Well, the source of the afformentioned confusion is the first issue we'd like to address. Due to last minute booking and the fact that the band members still hold jobs outside of their musical endeavours, The Class War was a man down this particular evening because of their guitarist's inability to get off of work. Being as though we found him to be the most interesting member of the band to begin with, this was quite unfortunate. However, sonically, the band filled all gaps that might have been left open by their colleague's absence. Their relatively small roster certainly showed itself in their stage presence, but could not be detected by ear alone. Kudos to the band for filling us with such big sound having only three people.

Also (and this is key), they were playing a college town, on a night when the football team had a most disappointing loss, thereby leaving bar attendance, and their dancefloor, relatively bare.

Despite all this, these kids put on a pretty decent show. It might not have reached the "kick-ass" status of the previous night, but still pretty strong. Solid tempos, thick bass grooves, gritty guitar, harmonic surprises, and strong, singable melodies are the building blocks for their dark & dancy, glam & gloomy pop sound, akin to the sultry sadness of Canadian post-punk descendents The Stills. Opening the set with a slow, soothing waltz number may have been a questionable decision, but by the time they rolled around to "Put Your Lips On Me," one of the shining stars of their current EP "A Crack in the Mask," the show was in full swing with forward momentum to spare.

In summation, the band has gobs of potential and definitely should not be discarded because of one off night. If ever our travels put us back in the lovely town of Lafayette, LA, our google searches will be ablaze with queries on where The Class War can be seen serenading.

Check out The Class War on Myspace!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Musical Revue: State Bird - Mostly Ghostly

If you were to take the fantastical storytelling of Neutral Milk Hotel, the reckless spirit of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the folk sensibilities of Iron and Wine, the stoic brilliance of Sufjan Stevens, and the short attention span of The Unicorns, toss them all into a cauldron, season the mixture with ukuleles, tape loops, trumpets, toy pianos and all sorts of other things that go dink, ping, or bang! - you would end up with a delicious batch of "Mostly Ghostly" by Ohio-born celebrants of music, life, and the sun, State Bird. Released by Kansas City-based record label The Record Machine, this follow up to State Bird's 2006 debut "Marching Thru The Wilderness" delivers much more than the complimentary blue rasperry Airhead I got when I ordered it through the mail. It delivers the very definition of "eclectic."

Smattered with surprisingly candid moments (i.e. the end of "The Hollerin Mountains" when the group carries on, laughing and joking about the song they just played, or the impromptu campfire song tagged on the tail of "Ghost King Pt. 2" that sounds as if it were recorded accidentally), this album sheds all robes of pretention and beams with a playful spirit not found in the angst-ridden sobfests that many mainstream musicians are whipping out these days. After opening with a lone whistler accompanied by nothing more than an accordion (they even flub the tune, whisper "try it again," and count it off for a second try), the album then breaks out in jovial fashion with the delicate yet ear-catching ukulele intro to "I Saw The Light," one of the LP's strongest selling points and a more than ample introduction to what this band is capable of. If the group chants and brass background melodies of the first minute and a half don't grab you, then the call and response section where the band calls to their leader by name, "Oh but Coby don't you know that's a lot to let go," to which Coby Hartzler replies, "I know, I know, I know," will certainly make you stick around, for better or worse, just to see what tricks they will pull out next.

And tricks they do not fail to provide, but that's not to say this disc relies on gadgets and gimmicks to stay afloat. There is true substance beneath the hoots and hollers. In addition to the multiple melodic motifs that pop up throughout, a running narrative carries the course of the album with textual themes like blinding sunlight, woods full of dangerous bears and a recurring character called the "Ghost King." Their natural nack for storytelling is equally paired with their ability to make, simply put, great music, a skill displayed most evidently in the dark and driving dirge of "The Golden Glowing Mask." Finding its foundation in a simple, two-chord drone, the tune's slow and steady swell from lamenting lullaby to rousing rally cry sends chills up the spine, tears to the eyes and makes you want to embrace those you love and forge battle against all who mean them harm. The kind of song that makes you fall in love with the power of music all over again.

And fall in love you will. Once your toes stop tapping, stop smiling, stop laughing, and "Mostly Ghostly" has run its course, you, like me, will wonder, "Does the sun shine brighter in Ohio?"

State Bird - I Saw The Light
State Bird - The Golden Glowing Mask

Buy "Mostly Ghostly" on
State Bird on Myspace!
State Bird Official Website

Friday, April 25, 2008

Musical Revue: Antenna Inn - Do/Work

For those of us who are giddy with glee at the onslaught of colossal groups like Architecture in Helsinki, Broken Social Scene and Hallelujah the Hills that cover the stage and cry out in a cacaphony of chaotic yet carefully composed counterpoint cantabile, a time for rejoicing is at hand. But for those of you who are growing tired of these runamucks with their counter-rhythmic tendencies, stacked polyphony and safety-in-numbers mentality, please, I beseech you, in the name of all that's good, before you close the gate to these types, allow one more.

Antenna Inn is easily one of the most creative bands in the New Orleans indie scene and their latest (and for all practical purposes, debut) EP "Do/Work" will be available on May 10th for everyone who doesn't mind a little rhythm in their lives. Although the band techinically already released an album ("I Minus") in 2003, that former roster was a mouse at the feet of the mammoth they have evolved into, and therefore can be considered a thing of the past as they move into this new beginning. And what a beginning it is! As a group, they have the power to boggle, shock, blow away, and depress any aspiring musicians within earshot who can't help but feel pale in comparison. Like its creators, "Do/Work" is all at once tribal, ambient, hard, delicate, anarchic, precise, sophisticated, accessible, and damn good.

This quaint collection of art rock tunes fills out a healthy 36 minutes and keeps hold of even the shortest attention span for the entire ride. Expanding upon their pop-song structures with everything from silky smooth guitar solos, sweeping horn passages, drastic meter changes and extended, ebb-and-flow instrumental jams that can sometimes take you miles from where you started, AI has a unique ability to dangle the musical carrot close enough for the listener to smell but far away enough to keep you chasing. Going a full 2 minutes before Sam Craft's vocals enter, the intro to the closing track "Come On People" develops from a soulful solo guitar riff, into a strangely empty and atmospheric latin groove, into a drawn-out, ambient, two-chord progression over snare drum syncopation that could cause an anuerysm, and finally swelling into a three-note, polyphonic climax, after which we are again left in suspense through a 9-count tinkering ride cymbal solo before the payoff finally arrives in Craft singing softly "So if you're looking for love / Stop / Unless you're looking for pain / Stop." Tension, beautiful tension.

A strong close isn't all this EP is good for. Right out the gate, the band pulls out all of their guns in the heavy-handed tale of a nightmare, "Ernest Borgnine." Opening with a two-chord piano riff that holds more weight than its simplicity should allow, the song quickly launches into a menacingly primal groove that would make any band entertain the idea of picking up a second drummer. A few bars and several syncopations later, the nightmare begins: "On a railroad track / There's a thickening crack / And even though they patched the hole / The trains all crash into the river, crash into the river." Following this locomotive imagery, the drums emulate the persistent "chugga-chugga" of a giant choo-choo under a driving chorus that could make "oooh-woo-hoo-hoo-hoo" a household catch-phrase. As the song progresses, the established groove is derailed by a couple of triple-meter interruptions, the second of which being a jazz waltz that devolves into a drunken trumpet choir finale so terribly wonderful you can't help but smile.

For everyone who is impressed by AI from this EP alone, I must inform you that the true treat lies in the lights and luster of their live shows. An audience member's dream, a sound guy's nightmare, the stage, donning mood-lighting table lamps, a strategically arranged arsenal of guitar, bass and keyboard amps, and an impressive array of perscussion toys tucked into every nook and cranny, is a hypnotizing spectacle even while the band is still backstage. Once they're on, the stage is ablaze with random shouting, barefoot guitar solos, crowd-enthralling clap-fests, and a constant guessing game as to which one of the 9 members is going to jump on the vibraphone next. That kind of raw energy is nigh impossible to capture on recording, but with "Do/Work," Antenna Inn gives it a hell of a shot.

Antenna Inn - Ernest Borgnine

Buy "Do/Work" on

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tracks Of All Ages - Vol. I

"My Drag" by Squirrel Nut Zippers, from the album "Perennial Favorites" (1998) - The punk rockers of the mid-90's swing revival released their finest work to date in 1998: "Perennial Favorites." This bona fide masterpiece is chocked full of flavors from big band to blues, from gypsy jazz to klezmer, from dixie to tango, and a little acid-trip/dream-sequence circus serenade thrown in for texture. One of the shining stars in this stratospheric LP is track 7, "My Drag." When you put Katharine Whalen's smooth, seductive, Billie-Holiday-back-from-the-grave vocals together with a tango bridge full of bari sax beef and end it all with a double-time klezmer finale driven by the masterful violin chops of Andrew Bird, you've quite simply got one of the best songs of that decade, swing revival or otherwise.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - My Drag

"Dust In Her Eyes" by Fay Wray, from the album "Tug Love" (2008) - Although some may criticize this synthed-out, heart-pumping, hard-rocking dance number as being out of place on an album largely populated by piano-rock, jazz, and even R&B influences, my only criticism is that I can't get enough of it, and CD's tend to scratch over time when you play the same track over and over again. "Vicious! / Oh, my baby is an animal ? / Don't ya know she is a cannibal / And she's looking for a fix," screams singer Kevin Corcoran at the onset of this four-to-the-floor anthem to violence and horror. Brilliant! As far as cohesiveness goes, the track's ukulele intro and jazzy/funky interludes between verse/chorus sets is just enough to make it fit with the rest of "Tug Love."

Fay Wray - Dust In Her Eyes

"New York City Cops" by The Strokes, from the album "Is This It?" (UK Version, 2001) - Snagged from the U.S. version shortly before its release in October '01 because of certain lyrical insults to the intelligence of the NYPD seeming insensitive to the recent 9/11 attacks, this pure rock gem quickly became everyone's favorite underground hit and a standard encore at The Strokes' live shows. With its ominous tribal drum call/guitar feedback intro rolling right into a riff that won't leave your head for days, "Cops" squeezes all the rock it can out of its 3 1/2 minute life span. And the climax where the band explodes out of a 4-bar drum break and Julian wails "I'm leaving, 'cause this just won't work / They act like Romans, but they dress like Turks," is an especially powerful moment when you see it live.

The Strokes - New York City Cops

"Mansard Roof" by Vampire Weekend, from the album "Vampire Weekend" (2008) - As if enough hasn't already been written about this New York quartet, I still feel the need to explain why this songs makes me quite glad. The only reason "Mansard Roof" pulls ahead of "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" as best track on their self-titled album is because its a shining example of the perfect album opener. Within the first 30 seconds, you get bright and bubbly organ, percussive, Afro-cuban rhythms, Ezra Koenig's clean and crisp vocals floating through the scale with Mozart-esque grace, and the sublime string arrangements of keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij. And this is only the intro. By the time rhythm section Christopher Tomson and Chris Baio take over, you're already addicted. "Mansard Roof" successfully introduces you to every element you can expect from the rest of the album without giving away any of the surprises, and its "opener" personality is so predominant, that even on the best of mix CD's, there's no place for it but track 1.

Vampire Weekend - Mansard Roof

"Flash" by Queen, from the album "Flash Gordon" (1980) - So let's forget for a moment that this is a theme song to a science fiction adventure film and look at it under the microscope of "sampling genius." There are two versions of this tune: the album version, which is the version that is actually heard in the film with the first scene's dialog, and the single version which samples dialog from the entire film (and with impeccable timing and style, I might add). Considering the latter, this track can be viewed as a huge source of inspiration for the sampling habits of later artists like Fat Boy Slim, DJ Shadow, 808 State, and The Wiseguys. I won't go so far to make a controversial statement like, "best Queen song ever," but there's one thing I will say: "Flash, I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!"

Queen - Flash

Buy Buy Buy:
"Perennial Favorites" by Squirrel Nut Zippers
"Is This It?" (UK Version) by The Strokes
"Vampire Weekend" by Vampire Weekend
"Flash Gordon" by Queen

Further Investigation:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Musical Revue: Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - What Is Free To A Good Home?

Although it may be considered slightly slow on the uptake to dish my opinions on an EP that was released in July of 2007, the latest solo release from Canadian indie music's hardest working woman was a big part of why we started this blog in the first place. So, all judgement towards my irresponsibility as a proper blogger aside, on with the Revue.

"What Is Free To A Good Home?" is a collection of previously unreleased tracks recorded during the sessions for Haines' 2006 LP "Knives Don't Have Your Back." The EP is meant to be a "companion piece" to the afformentioned LP, and it listens as such: intriguing songs that impress, but are not quite as good as those that made the cut. That being said, this blogger was pleased as punch to get my hands on a little more Emily Haines. Aside from the fact that she's insanely attractive (see photo above), the cynical sexuality contained in her vocal chords is enough to put the staunchest 50's housewife on her back, surrounded by candles, ready for a little self-love (and self-loathing). Track after track, Haines consistently manages to capture the punch and energy of her explosive Metric-front-woman personality and transfer it into sweet, sweeping, delicate serenades born from disillusionment and exhaustion.

Be it only 6 tracks long, "Home" does not fail to provide variety. Some tracks like "Telethon" and "Bottom of the World" are quiet, calm portraits of the endless wander of life, while others like "The Bank," with the unrelenting drum kit hemiola providing a perfect bed of tumult under Haines' lyrical ode to her aimless and draining nightlife, give listeners a brief oppurtunity to tap their toes while singing along.

And while references to pop culture icons like Huey Lewis and Billy Joel will jump out to anyone who's half paying attention, family homages are saved for those of us who take the time to listen (or read) closer. "Sprig," a song that's individual genre can be found somewhere between "pop tune" and "20th century electronic experimentation," is a musical setting of a poem by her late father Paul Haines, who also wrote a poem for guitarist Robert Wyatt called What is Free to a Good Home? Clearly no coincidence. And during "The Bank," Emily sings, "We can sit on the floor and listen to my brother's records," an obvious shout-out to her brother Tim Haines, owner of Bluestreak Records in Canada.

The stand out number on "Home" is its opener, "Rowboat." After commencing the EP with a soothing brass choir, the track breaks forth with ethereal vocals looming over a liquidy piano line, Haines singing, "I've been told I'm living a lie / I've been told all my life." Letting lyrics take the driver's seat (or the oares, if you will), "Rowboat" is comprised of three poetically distinct segments strung together by a smooth, finger-snap-inducing horn line that would be right at home in the opening credits of a 70's sitcom (i mean that to be a compliment). Concluding with a coda of sorts, Haines calls out the track's namesake, "Oh rowboat left in the rain / Drifting by on the lake / Rescue my one love from the grave," seemlessly melding beauty and solemnity as if there was no difference between the two.

Spending a little more time and money to consume a little more Emily Haines is always worth it. "Home" is an alluring, home-hitting opus that feeds on any vulnerability that its predecessor "Knives" may have left untouched, although that admittedly won't have been much. If you are already a fan of Haines' work, "Home" will not let you down, but if you are a newcomer among Haines fanatics and have a limited supply of income, buy "Knives Don't Have Your Back" first so you can a lay a foundation for this "Home" to stand on. However, If The Soft Skeleton is too muted for your tastes, don't give up. You can hear a louder, more brazen Emily Haines with Stars, The Stills, Delerium, and of course Metric and Broken Social Scene. In fact, if you own any indie album by a Canadian band, keep a sharp ear. Chances are, you'll find her on there somewhere.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Inaugural Address

In times like this, when such beautiful blogs are born (let us have our moment), it only seems fitting to commemorate the occasion with a few touching words.


Enough "touching" words. We hope you enjoy what we do. Keep reading. We promise the posts will get better.