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July 24, 2009

"Reginald's Lament" - The Sophisticuffs

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via chris zak and NME

Ever wonder what Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) and Wes Miles (Ra Ra Riot, Discovery) sounded like in high school? It was recently brought to my attention that they were involved in about fifteen projects together back in their Glen Ridge, NJ days. Add Dan Millar and Andrei Padlowski, and you've got the Sophisticuffs (photo here), with Wes on bass and keyboard and Ezra on vocals and other instruments. Suddenly, the appearance of Wes in the Vampire Weekend movie trailer makes so much sense.

So what did Ezra and Wes sound like during their pre-college days? In some ways, they sound like what you'd expect from a high school band. Calling them a garage rock band is easy, but that's the first impression that I got from listening to snippets from 48 songs, mostly from an album called Factory. While "Oh No (Oh Yes)" exemplifies their garage band sound, there is more to the Sophisticuffs, and their jazz improvisation and experimental electronic influences are more evident in the tracks that are mostly instrumental. "Reginald's Lament" is the clear standout track on the album, with brass notes that bring Stravinsky to mind. The rest of the Sophisticuffs material isn't as memorable, but it's interesting to see how their current respective bands have grown and evolved since then.

Even before the days of Vampire Weekend, the Sophisticuffs weren't completely unknown. A Google search brought me to this page on Matador records from 2001 where Ben Goldberg describes Factory as the "wildly inventive musical work" of former Matador intern Ezra Koenig. Also, a Sophisticuffs song was used in the 2002 film Don't Ask Don't Tell. Perhaps it won't be long until Ezra and Wes properly team up again.

And, if you're wondering where I got these songs, I didn't download them from the Internet. I got them from a local fan of the Sophisticuffs who still had the CDs (Thanks, D.).

Reginald's Lament - The Sophisticuffs

Oh No (Oh Yes) - The Sophisticuffs

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July 23, 2009

"Warm Heart of Africa" (ft. Ezra Koenig) - The Very Best


via Green Owl

Unofficial hiatus is officially dunzo. I don't think I've ever gone this long without blogging, but rest assured because I don't intend on staying away any longer. A lot of things have been going on in my non-Made a Blog life, but I managed to sneak away for a weekend of music at a little event called Pitchfork Music Festival. In between eating Giordano's stuffed pizza and gawking at hipsters native to my home state of Illinois, I managed to catch a bit of music. Experiencing the Flaming Lips' ridiculous stage show was unforgettable, but I had to sacrifice catching The Very Best, aka Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit, who went on at roughly the same time at another stage. And, because I was in Chicago, I also missed the show at Le Poisson Rouge. So, I've missed half of their rare U.S. shows in July, which is a shame because their forthcoming album Warm Heart of Africa is one that is bound to end up on some top of '09 lists.

On The Very Best mixtape released for free last year, we heard Esau singing over remixed versions of Vampire Weekend's "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." It's no surprise that Ezra Koenig and M.I.A. make appearances on Warm Heart of Africa, nor is it shocking that Esau and Radioclit know how to make their guests sound good. "Warm Heart of Africa," the first released track, is an infectious song that's guaranteed to brighten up a rainy New York summer day and will have you singing along in no time. Ezra Koenig's voice perfectly complements Esau's and the beats of the song, perhaps because we are already used to associating Ezra with his band's so-called "Upper West Side Soweto" sound. "Warm Heart of Africa" is really just a small window into the tremendous album. It's no secret that I'm a fan of Passion Pit, but I have to admit that their debut full-length Manners was unfulfilling and sort of fell flat on its face in some places. Thankfully, we have The Very Best's Warm Heart of Africa to fill in the gaps as my favorite dance-y album of the year thus far. I even like "Rain Dance" featuring M.I.A., and that's a huge deal because I find her to be mostly unbearable.

Warm Heart of Africa will be released later this fall on Green Owl. Make sure to listen to "Chalo," which is my current favorite. I hope The Very Best add some more U.S. dates soon.

Warm Heart of Africa (feat. Ezra Koenig) - The Very Best

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