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October 30, 2009

CMJ Recap: Part II

Picking up from where I left off in Part I... This will be a relatively pictureless post. Also, no mp3 samples this time! I am without my computer and music collection. Okay, maybe some...

Friday (The Delancey)

Here's an equation that's not hard to figure out. twosyllable records + Underwater Peoples + Chocolate Bobka = F YEA GOOD TIMES. We made it to the Delancey just in time for Made A Blog favorite Holiday Shores, who I also saw on Tuesday. Oops, that was left out of Part I. Anyway, I can always rely on Holiday Shores to put on a great show. They consistently sound good, and I appreciate that in a band. Standing Room has one of their sets from an older show.

After Holiday Shores was Frat Dad, a band from Underwater Peoples. Like Fluffy Lumbers (and Ducktails and Julian Lynch), Frat Dad is from Ridgewood, NJ. Ridgewood is the new indie mecca, y'all. Sawyer sent me a release for Frat Dad and said that "Frat Dad is like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, then landing in a Middle School Cafeteria... on Mexican Pizza Day." I have no idea what that means, but Frat Dad are in-your-face loud rockers. I only wish I could have turned down the volume a little so that could delineate the songs.

NewVillager was a Made A Blog favorite when they put out Rich Doors earlier this year. I've only heard two songs from them, both on that 7", so I was a bit taken back by their live show. I was expecting something more along the lines of experimental electro, but NewVillager's music was more straight pop with R&B vocals.

Saturday (The Delancey, 92YTribeca, Music Hall of Williamsburg)

About 14 hours later, I found myself back at the Delancey for We Are Country Mice. For a day show, the venue was surprisingly packed. I wrote a little blurb about WACM on the blog for Standing Room, and I like the band now more than ever. They use just enough artful noise to keep things interesting without muddling the rest of the melodies. Their energy and ability to grab crowd participation never fails to impress me (and put a smile on my face). By the end of "Sign of the Times," everyone in the front was singing/yelling along. Definitely head on over to Standing Room to hear more.

Taking a break from CMJ, I headed over to the 92YTribeca for a screening of Sufjan Stevens' The BQE, MC'd by DJ Sufjan Stevens. Opening for the night was DM Stith, also a favorite of Made A Blog, and his spooky songs came alive onstage with the help of backing strings, bass, and drums. I still think that Heavy Ghost is an underrated album, and it's a perfect Halloween soundtrack. The Osso Quartet also performed stunning arrangements from Run Rabbit Run, and special guest Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) lent her vocals for "If I Were Queen." If you haven't given Run Rabbit Run a chance, I highly suggest that you give it the time and attention that it needs. Personally, I am a fan of impressionist music and find that the careful listening is usually rewarding.

Capping off the night was a screening of The BQE, which did not have any live accompaniment as I had presumed. This sounds corny, but I was really moved while watching the film. I'm not sure how non-New Yorkers will react to The BQE, but I felt overwhelmed with feelings of love-hate for my current residence of Brooklyn. It almost became a game of identifying the places that the film featured. I enjoyed it immensely, but I wonder how others will feel about it. Regardless, I would recommend picking up the album. The vinyl version comes with a comic book and 32-pg booklet which both add to the understanding and interpretation of the film.

The night was young, and we headed over the Kemado Records/Mexican Summer showcase at Music Hall of Williamsburg. We arrived just as Smith Westerns were hitting the stage. Man, they are young and some of the coolest-looking kids out of my homestate of Illinois. They even wear Chicago Cubs and Bears gear. Their songs have a certain naïveté, honest and playful, and they don't pretend to be any wiser than the teenagers who wrote them. Apparently, they got kicked out of the venue for underage drinking. Yep, sounds about right.

Real Estate is another Made A Blog favorite, and I'm always excited to see them perform. The boys are consistently good, and their live show has gotten tighter over the last few months. Real Estate delivers excellent songwriting backed with excellent live performances, and I couldn't ask for more. While it's not full of new material, Real Estate's forthcoming full-length is killer. Expect to see that on my list of 2009's top albums.

Beach Comber - Real Estate

Last to hit the stage was The Amazing, which was billed as having members of Dungen. From the tracks I had heard before the show, I thought that The Amazing would play pure pop tunes. But, as I found out, they really turn on the psych for some of their songs. Reine Fisk (Dungen) is an amazing guitarist, and it's hard not to become completely absorbed in his playing.

Dragon - The Amazing

The End
I didn't even go crazy during CMJ week, and it still took a lot of energy out of me. Until next year!


October 27, 2009

CMJ Recap: Part I

I agree with The Village Voice in that CMJ shows are more like coronations than introductions. While I had a press badge for CMJ via BTR, I didn't end up using it at all. Instead, I took a pretty low-key approach. The shows that I went to were free, unofficial CMJ, non-CMJ, or someone was kind enough to put me on a list. Instead of running around between downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn to see the buzziest of the buzz, I kept to a small list of bands that I'd been wanting to see and bands that I can always count on for a good time. As a result, I actually had fun during CMJ and didn't completely burn out. But, I know I missed out on some awesome bands.

Tuesday (Cake Shop)

Dinosaur Feathers is a band that I've been wanting to check out ever since I heard "Know Your Own Strength." Lush vocal harmonies, backed with tropical beats and strums, serve as a focal point of their music, and it’s a refreshing change from the bands who turn up the vox reverb to the muddled maximum. Dinosaur Feathers are currently working on wrapping up their new album. Can't wait to hear it! In the meantime, check out Dinosaur Feathers' set at Standing Room.

Know Your Own Strength - Dinosaur Feathers

Little Girls was one of my first fuzz pop loves. What I remember the most about their set at Cake Shop was frontman Josh McIntyre's intense stage presence. He had a crazy stage persona, and it was amazing. Even more amazing, Josh is one of the nicest, down-to-earth guys. How he's able to harness that kind of energy in the middle of the afternoon, I have no idea.

Tambourine - Little Girls

Motel Motel's "Coffee" had been on my iPod shuffle for ages, but I had no idea, with no screen and all. I finally went to their MySpace over the summer when D. recommended the band. 1 + 1 = 2 (except when it equals zero). Motel Motel is a band that's meant to be enjoyed live, and their performance of "Coffee" was absolutely stunning.

Coffee - Motel Motel

See here for my thoughts on Surfer Blood.

Floating Vibes - Surfer Blood

Small Black is one of my latest obsessions. Warm, hazy electro sounds were executed perfectly live. I was impressed by how precise they were and how good they sounded at Cake Shop, which doesn't always have the most reliable acoustics. After seeing Small Black, I've officially put the Roland SP-404 on my holiday wish list (seen in the picture above).

Despicable Dogs - Small Black

Thanks to Pop Tarts Suck Toasted for putting on the awesome showcase. It seriously started off the week with a bang. Most of these sets are coming soon to Standing Room.

Wednesday (Pianos, Monster Island Basement)

I started out my day with Surfer Blood to redo their set for Standing Room.

At night, I headed over to an unofficial CMJ show presented by Group Tightener. This was my first time at Monster Island Basement. There's a record store inside that's supposed to be pretty sweet and is somehow connected to Eat Records.

Fluffy Lumbers is one of the NJ bands that are keeping the suburbs cool. Sam was on drums, which I don't think is the normal set-up, but they still sounded pretty good. After seeing this band, I've been giving their music more rotation on my players. I love going to a show that helps me discover my own music library. Seriously, I need some help on that front, especially when it comes to sifting through the fuzz.

Harry Dolland's - Fluffy Lumbers

Coasting is a relatively new band that I heard about through gvsb. Apparently, this was their first show ever. I don't remember too much about Coasting's fuzzed-out goodness, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for more stuff from them in the future.

Coasting - Coasting

I've been loving HIGHLIFE ever since I heard "F Kenya Rip" via gvsb, which could easily make my list of favorite songs of 2009. Since that was the only song I'd heard of theirs (and I don't think there are any more floating around), I thought HIGHLIFE would be a band that played structured songs. Their set was mostly samples with some vocals (i.e. oohs and ahs) layered on top, which wasn't what I'd expected.

F Kenya Rip - HIGHLIFE

Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast was one of the best frontwomen that I've ever experienced. She made me feel so comfortable, and her Cali charm reminded me of my best friend. Also, I enjoyed Best Coast's songs way more in person, and they stuck more than any recording I'd heard. Where have I been? "Sun Was High (So Was I)" kicks ass. No live drummer at this show, but they said that had found one.

Sun Was High (So Was I) - Best Coast

Awesome video from The Great Pumpkin:

I had to leave before Ducktails and Small Black hit the stage, but I heard that Small Black started a dance party that went on into the wee hours.

To be continued...


October 21, 2009

Surfer Blood - Cake Shop 10.20.09 (and Pianos 10.21.09)

If CMJ only helps a handful of bands, one will be Surfer Blood. In my mind, Surfer Blood will always the band whose buzz was almost quantifiable on Twitter around the time of their Bruar Falls show this past August. I first heard about Surfer Blood from Pop Jew, but I never made it out to that show (even though I wrote a little report on them for someone earlier that day). The next day, Sound Bites wrote this favorable review, Ryan Schreiber tweeted his regrets of not going, and Surfer Blood was Forkcasted later that day. And, they were signed onto Kanine the night before at Bruar Falls. Less than 24 hours.

Out of the bands playing CMJ this year, the one I've been looking forward to the most is Surfer Blood. Around the time that The Great Pumpkin wrote about Surfer Blood, I realized that I also really dug the band's music. The song that first won me over was "Catholic Pagans" (which is not called "Catholic Pegasus," according to the band). Sung with aching vulnerability, "Catholic Pagans" is a song that's haunted me during many late nights on the subway, when I tend to lose myself in my iPod. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to see them twice in 24 hours for free! The best CMJ goodies are free or unofficial, so no badge required.

The Pop Tarts Suck Toasted CMJ Party had a killer lineup, and Surfer Blood's set was well-attended. As expected, all the bands were playing 20-25 minute sets. Although Surfer Blood's set was short, they knew how to bang out their catchiest songs. Like Sound Bites said, Surfer Blood's music is not life-changing, and that's completely okay in my book. Surfer Blood is irresistible, and I have to admit that I've fallen for their music, which means that they're going up on my list of current obsessions (scroll top right). These days, I rarely see bands who are really truly excited by their music and having the opportunity to play. Maybe it's because it's CMJ week, but the raw energy of Surfer Blood made me remember why live music is so thrilling in the first place. I hope to catch a full set sometime in the near future. These short CMJ snippets are more like amuse-bouches than appetizers.

Be sure to check out the samples below. I'm only posting the songs that are widely circulating the Internet, but the rest of the CD-R is awesome. I saw that Surfer Blood was selling copies of the CD-R and an awesome t-shirt. "Harmonix" is my current favorite, especially because they use guitar harmonics in the song. We all know that I love a good musical pun. Astro Coast will be released by Kanine on January 19, hopefully with a song called "Catholic Pagans" and not "Catholic Pegasus." I'm just really confused by that because there's a lyrical reference to catholic pagans in the song.

Surfer Blood is playing a total of 12 shows during CMJ, so you have no excuses! But, if you don't make it, watch out for their live set from Pianos on Standing Room. We will also be putting up some other sets from the Pop Tarts Suck Toasted CMJ Party. Follow me on the Twitter for those updates.

Swim (To Reach The End) - Surfer Blood

Harmonix - Surfer Blood


October 8, 2009

Kurt Vile - Mercury Lounge 10.07.09

Oh, Kurt Vile. If you read Look at me, I made a blog, follow me on Twitter, or have interacted with me in real life, then it's no surprise to you that I went to his show at Mercury Lounge. Even he knows I'm a big fan. I'd only seen Kurt play with the Violators at showcases like the Northside Festival and Woodsist Festival, so this was the first time I'd seen him as a headliner.

Although I thought it wouldn't, the show did indeed sell out. I even heard that one desperate fan sneaked in through the backdoor. During the break before KV and the Violators went onstage, the house DJ appropriately spun Sonic Youth, fellow Matador labelmates. When I peeked at the setlist on the floor, I was ecstatic to see some solo numbers. Kurt opened the night with two solos that haven't appeared on any record, to my knowledge. I recognized "Peeping Tomboy" from one of the Ray Concepcion videos from Kurt Vile's last Silent Barn show, which I've posted below. If I had any doubt that Kurt Vile has any more good material left in him after this new album, "Peeping Tomboy" puts my worries to rest. It's true that Kurt has released three records in the last year and a half or so, and that material spans 2000 to the present day. But, it seems like there some more songs left in him.

With the October 6th release of Childish Prodigy, it was no surprise that Kurt Vile and the Violators mostly performed songs from that album. The epic "Freak Train" is a personal favorite of mine, both live and on the record, and I would have gladly listened to an extended version of the song. Although the new album was the focus of the show, he performed a couple of songs off Constant Hitmaker, and they were given the Violators treatment. While purists would complain about the transformation of "Don't Get Cute" from a soft bedroom recording into an electric rocker, I have to say that it sounded pretty damn good. Of course, KV and the Violators tackled "Freeway," the song that Kurt once referred to as their Billboard chart hit, "right above 'Like a Rolling Stone.'" By far, the live version of "Freeway" is my favorite, mostly due to J Turbo's added harmonica part. My only complaint is that as the night went on, Kurt's vocals were drowned out by the three guitars onstage. I'm not sure if that was due to where I was standing, but I could always use more of Kurt's speak-sing.

No "My Sympathy" this night, but Kurt said he would definitely play it at his next NYC show. I hope he also plays other favorites like "Blackberry Song" and "Amplifier," both from Childish Prodigy. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Childish Prodigy is out now. Buy it here. There were also copies of God Is Saying This To You... at the show, but they sold out pretty quickly.

Classic Kurt Vile pose

J Turbo, man of many talents

The planned setlist. Actual is below

Come On It (solo)
Peeping Tomboy (solo)
Don't Get Cute
Freak Train
Inside Lookin' Out (aka "Kraut")
Overnite Religion
He's Alright (w/ J Turbo)

Freak Train - Kurt Vile

Everyone is Talkin' - Kurt Vile (An oldie from the Accidents EP)

The Silent Barn: Kurt Vile // Peeping Tom from Ray Concepcioñ on Vimeo.


October 5, 2009

Sufjan Stevens - Bowery Ballroom 10.04.09

Although I felt like a teenybopper by arriving at the venue an hour before doors were scheduled to open, I suspected that I wouldn't be the only one who didn't mind camping out a little for Sufjan Stevens. Sure enough, the line already snaked around the corner at 6:30 PM, but doors opened early around 7:10 PM. I'd never been to a Sufjan show before and, as gruesome as this may sound, he's been on my list of musicians to see before I die. Radiohead was once on this list.

I think it'd be accurate to say that I've been waiting several years to see Sufjan Stevens. Perhaps I've encountered a select sampling, but I've found that most Sufjan fans pinpoint Greetings from Michigan as the album that hooked them in for life. I was late in the game, so my "first" Sufjan album was Seven Swans, for no particular reason other than I was uninterested in so-called indie music until late high school. Sufjan Stevens may be pioneering christian indie as a genre and the biblical allusions in Seven Swans are undeniable, but I never really considered Sufjan's music to be intentionally religious in subject matter. It never held that meaning for me, especially since I'd been raised in an Eastern faith, but Seven Swans moved me in such ways that I became a Sufjan fan for life. Besides, he put together two albums about my home state! I even had "Come on feel the Illinoise" engraved onto an iPod. I do not joke.

In person, Sufjan almost looks like an overgrown teenager in his shrunken tee and trucker hat. He was joined by Nedelle of opening act Cryptacize and special guests Bryce Dessner of The National and Rosie Thomas, who was never the mother of Sufjan's baby. Unsurprisingly, Sufjan didn't talk much, and he seemed like a pretty shy guy. But, he did joke around about making mistakes and weening himself off reading notes for his new songs. He referred to the old songs as "real songs," as if the new material were just experimentations. The new songs had big backing band sounds, electronic blips of some sort, an absence of strict song structure, and a bit of improvisation. They seemed to be a logical step forward from "You Are The Blood," the song Sufjan contributed to the Dark Was The Night compilation. I'm hoping that this fall tour is a sign that Sufjan is seriously preparing a new album.

While the new songs were interesting to hear, especially since it's been awhile since Sufjan released a proper album of songs, I admit that I was at the show to hear the old ones. My favorite of the night was "Casimir Pulaski Day," a song that actually moved me to tears. That's never happened to me at a show before, but it's hard not to get teary when Sufjan confronts you with such a tragic story, sung with a tinge of vulnerability. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one who was lost in Sufjan's songs. Sufjan's live performances are unbelievably powerful, because he's able to effortlessly recreate the moods of his recorded music without using any gimmicks (aside from the 44 effects pedals onstage). With just his musical instruments and his voice, Sufjan Stevens makes you fall for his music all over again. If music can be considered a faith or religion, then seeing Sufjan was a spiritual experience.

The Mistress Witch from McClure
Impossible Soul
The Transfiguration
Casimir Pulaski Day
All Delighted People (Note: The new live version sounds very different from the one posted below)
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands
Age of Adz
To Be Alone With You
The Dress Looks Nice On You
Majesty Snowbird
Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Lakes of Canada (Innocence Mission Cover)

Casimir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens

Lakes of Canada - Sufjan Stevens

All Delighted People - Sufjan Stevens


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