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Smells Like Pop hit the sweltering hot (literally) scene at Branx on Thursday Night for the Suuns, Talkdemonic and Handsome Furs shows, and then raced over to the practically empty midnight performance by EMA at Holocene. Suuns played a loud and revved-up set that was all over the place (good thing) sounding at times like Clinic, Can, Stereolab and more (good thing, too). We're looking forward to hearing how their sound may get distilled into something immediately identifiable as Suuns. But, just as happy if they keep going as they are now. Talkdemonic played a nice set of experimental noise pop, but suffered from the laptop disease that many bands today are infected with–I kept thinking how much better they'd sound with a couple more musicians on stage instead of having everything pre-recorded on a computer. But, hooray for the Macbook--it played a great set! Handsome Furs came on last like the Tasmanian Devil couple from Looney Tunes. To say they were wound-up is an understatement. In other words, “I want what they're having.” The crazy energy of husband and wife, Dan Boeckner (Vocals & Guitar) and Alexei Perry (Synths & Beats) was almost unbelievable at the start, but their attitude and live sound quickly grew on me–it was a fun, danceable show! Go see them if you can...

EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints Souterrain Transmissions | May 2011 I admit that I checked out the EMA album because Pitchfork told me to (on their list of best reviewed records). I didn't know anything about them/her when I first listened to this noisy and dirge-like set of pop-songs. Feedback and melodrama meet in equal parts to create a sound-space that could easily be at home in the late 80s, early 90s or even now. More likely “now” for an album recorded solo by a woman (gasp!) that seems inspired by Nirvana* (Anteroom), NIN (Milkman), and even Prince at his chattiest (California almost seems like a response to Purple Rain). EMA, or Erika M. Anderson is a former member of Los Angeles bands Amps For Christ, and Gowns, and this is her debut solo release. She uses her fragile and sometimes raspy/husky voice well as she sings and chants softly (sometimes loudly) over her songs of sadness, regret and maybe even hope? The lyrics seems purposely oblique and are for the most part mixed to work around and within the trance-like music and noise, adding to the overall sound instead of being framed by it. The nine songs on the album at first seem quite long with their slow, churning builds (I'm a sucker for the beautiful and sad slow-build). Some are long, like the trance inducing “The Grey Ship” at over seven minutes, but the pretty and brittle “Breakfast” is just over 3 minutes in length but seems much longer. The entire album clocks in at just 39 minutes which feels right – anything more would be exhausting. Coda is a stand-out track – an a’capella Appalachian-esqe ditty than flows into echoing noisy guitar scrapes and drones that would be right at home on a Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs record. My apologies for referencing so many bands when trying to describe the sound of EMA. I think the comparisons are somewhat valid (and not just lazy writing), though I’m looking forward to future releases from EMA as she grows and expands as a songwriter, further developing her unique voice. Anderson was named an Artist to Watch by Rolling Stone and New Band of the Day by The Guardian among other accolades. EMA will be performing live with a backing band at MusicFest NW. I'm excited to hear how her songs might fill-out or be expanded upon in a live setting versus the studio layering that created this very lovely album. Smells Like: [rating=8] *EMA recorded Nirvana’s Endless Nameless for Spin Magazine’s recent Nevermind Tribute Album. It’s a noisy, shambling caterwaul – nice!...

I really like Steely Dan.[1] Over the past ten or fifteen years they have served a welcomed role as a recurring interest that unexpectedly returns every other year or so, always bringing new lyrics to unpack, unusually crafty musical phrases to discover, a previously buried yet thoroughly riveting guitar solo or even an entire song[2] that, for some reason, chose to remain hidden on previous listens. Liking Steely Dan is not as divisive as it was a ten or fifteen years ago. Through the 80s and 90s, most everyone I knew dismissively grouped Steely Dan with the soft rock excess of the 70s (Fleetwood Mac, Seals and Crofts, etc.). Superficially, this is understandable. Steely Dan’s songs rely heavily on one or another of lilting sing-song choruses, ubiquitous 70s Rhodes piano (truly the paragon of offensive inoffensiveness), stiff white funk and, at times, even the slightly fey use of pseudo-exotic textures (bongos, light bossa nova rhythms, fake sitar, etc.). Somewhat surprisingly, however, time slowly rehabilitated Steely Dan and they are now regarded primarily in contrast to their inoffensive contemporaries and, as such, enjoy a general respect across the spectrum of outspoken music fans and critics. But such rehabilitation inevitably resulted in a compromise that reduced Steely Dan to two fairly anemic signifiers: (1) an academic pursuit in the immaculate performance of complex song structures; and (2) a needling, biting sarcasm.[3] In other words, Steely Dan was welcomed back to the club of “serious” pop music so long as it assumed the role of the sardonic, pot-smoking prodigy in band camp who never lets you forget that he has a cooler record collection than you. The musical aspect you have to appreciate (or not) for yourself. I am not sufficiently versed in music theory to do more than pretend to understand the true extent of their infamous unorthodox time signatures, what is really meant by “jazz chord progressions” or even how odd the elusive “mu chord”[4] really is. That said, a disproportionate number of my favorite guitar solos can be found in Steely Dan songs.[5] Though easier to access, I posit that the true nature of their lyrics and, by extension, their twisted gestalt, is equally hard to put your finger on. Suffice to say that, dismissing Steely Dan as simple peddlers of “dark sarcasm” oversimplifies and soft sells what are, at heart, truly deranged songs. Consider the following:

1. Their Name

Trivia time!  What do the bands Steely Dan, Soft Machine and Thin White Rope all have in common? That’s right!  They were all named in homage to beat writer William Burroughs. “Steely Dan” was the name of a dildo that made a brief appearance in Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch.”[6] For a long time that was all I knew about Steely Dan the dildo and my hunch is that there a lot of people that know this piece of trivia that have never actually read “Naked Lunch.”  That is not intended as a slight -- the book is simply hard to read.  It is a defiantly nonlinear shock piece with blatant button-pushing that can seem almost quaint in its dated and singular pursuit in alarming straight America.  Still, the book’s overall impact is impressively squalid, and it has a drug addict-as-nocturnal-amphibian motif that is uniquely unsettling. But what of Steely Dan the dildo? I don’t know if it is due to the slow normalization of pornography into the mainstream, but, to the extent that I thought about it, I think that I assumed that said dildo was relatively innocuous, perhaps repurposed as a non-sexual MacGuffin, neatly distanced from its lurid origin – perhaps filled with cash, state secrets or jewels. It was only when I finally read Naked Lunch, that I realized both that this was my expectation, and just how wrong it was.  Steely Dan is a dildo.  Plain and simple. As it turns out, we know a fair amount about “Steely Dan III from Yokohama.” For starters, we know the untimely fate of Steely Dan I (the victim of vaginal dentate) and Steely Dan II (chewed to bits by famished Candiru[7]). We also know that Steely Dan is rubber and, from context, we know that it is a strap on. There is more. It may give some readers comfort to know that Steely Dan III was used for heterosexual sex, somewhat of an anomaly in the cross-section of Burroughs’s writing that I am familiar with. “Whoosh!” I hear you exclaim. “I am certainly not homophobic, but I am glad that I can continue imaging Steely Dan as a traditional, innocuous suburban marital aid.” Not so fast! In addition to squirting milk (huh?) in the brief time we know it, we see that Steely Dan III was used for…. …wait for it… …wait for it… …pegging. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

The official schedule for MusicFest NW has been published and I'm a kind of bummed as many of the bands I was looking forward to seeing are playing at the same time! One of the main conflicts for me is Friday Night's Midnight slot with the Horrors playing at Dante's and Olivia Tremor Control playing at Someday Lounge. Take a look at the schedule, and let us know what shows you're looking forward to, and which shows you're going to have to flip a coin to decide which one you will see. Meanwhile, here's the new Horrors single, "Still Life" for those who like their early 80's sounds on the gloomy side. ...

Lot of new music is availble for streaming at the moment, and it's a nice way to check out some new sounds. Providing you don't mind the typically low-rez sound quality – do yourself a favor and buy the record if you like what you hear! First up, GLOSS DROP by BATTLES is streaming now at AOL Music. Frenetic and fun, proggish "math rock" minus the insane, but enjoyable chipmunks on acid vocals by Tyondai Braxton (who has left the band for solo projects) from the last record. And, yes that is Gary Numan on track six! Deerhunter as a live band can be an incredible experience or maybe merely interesting, but never a waste of time. Go see them when they come to your local musicatorium. For now, you can stream a LIVE DEERHUNTER SHOW at Rhapsody. I actually like the show they recorded at the New York Apple Store, iTunes Live from Soho, a little better and for only $3.99 (x 8 tracks), it's a great deal. The NPR Music site is an incredible source for new streaming music. Right now you can find Modest Mouse, the Thermals and more live from Sasquatch, the new self-titled Bon Iver album, Death Cab for Cutie's Codes and Keys and much, much more (like Badly Drawn Boy live in studio on KCRW)! Just bookmark their site already. Want more? Sorry, I'm out of time but we'll share more streaming music as we find it!...

We’ve had a look at the just announced line-up for Portland's own mega-music festival, MusicFestNW and I have to say that I'm a bit more excited this year than last. Not excited so much by the headliners who will be performing in Portland's Pioneer Square, but by some of the smaller and more esoteric acts. Hopefully the shows by Little Dragon, Olivia Tremor Control, The Horrors, Yacht and Bobby Bare, Jr. won't be overlapping! The Portland-area and surrounding parts are well represented in this year's line-up with lots of local acts, including the always dependable Thermals, Y La Bamba, Typhoon, Weinland and many, many more. And, I haven't seen the Butthole Surfers in ages--maybe it's time! Some of my favorite shows in festivals-past have been the FREE showcases – Le Savvy Fav (listening to right now), Deerhunter, Battles, and Grizzly Bear all put on great afternoon shows. Can't wait to see what's in store for this year.  Hope to see you there! Here’s the official blurb: The eleventh annual MusicfestNW is coming back to Portland, Oregon September 7th - September 11th. This year Portland's largest and most successful music festivalis at it bigger than ever featuring three nights of concerts at Pioneer Courthouse Square in addition to shows at 18 of the city's most venerable music venues. Produced by Willamette Week, MFNW teams up with music professionals from the local, regional and national music scene to curate this multi-venue festival featuring bands from indie, hip hop and punk backgrounds....

We live in a world where, thanks to ever-evolving technology, things we need and want come to us faster and easier all the time. News, information, and (yes) digital music all come at us through the internet with no waiting. Twitter is spitting out information even faster than blogs and news sites. So, when the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks album was announced on the Matador Records’ Matablog with a release date in late August, someone posted this question: If the album is in the can, why not just sell it now? I’d BUY it now. I suppose everyone would just steal it in the end either way. But why the wait? Just for the retro aspect of how things used to be? Patrick from Matador was nice enough to explain...

Beastie Boys | Hot Sauce Committee Part Two Capitol Records | May 2011 I have to admit that I haven't listened to the previous Beastie Boys’ album, "To the Five Boroughs" so my last exposure to their mix of hip-hop, punk and lounge (yes, lounge!) was with "Hello Nasty" from the late 90s and 2007's somehwat less satisfying collection of grooving jams, "The Mix Up." But, the Beasties are back, and on the surface it's like they never left. The album’s tracks may at first sound familiar, full of snark and witty word-play, but the textures are more sophisticated and the grooves more indelible than past albums. “Make Some Noise" starts with some noodling 80s sounding keyboard lines then breaks into a perky Super Mario-worthy synth riff with some old school raps that only Ad-rock, Mike D and MCA can deliver – Ad-rock often sounding like an amphetimine-riddled Dana Carvey doing his best George W. Bush and Ross Perot (Hello SEO!) the robotic vocoded chorus comes in and demands that you play this song really, really loud on your car stereo speakers. “OK” starts with some chugging synth riffs and then slowly builds with all three Beaties adding their voices to the mix until the robotic vocoded chorus comes in and demands that you play this song really, really loud on your car stereo speakers. “Yeh, yeh, right, right, OK!” It's this year's "Intergalactic". But then it stops short at just under three minutes and moves right into “Too Many Rappers”, a boasting rap heavy on the flange filter that sounds at once serious and toungue in cheek, “Grandpa been wrapping since Eighty-thre-e-ee!” Oy, that old boy is me! Being roughly the same age as the Beastie Boys, I think I must be squarely in their target audience, having just the right perspective of hearing them since their first singles on college radio to their current more rounded sound, and having travelled (maybe) the same expanding musical path. I can hear hints of TV on the Radio and other contemporary Brooklynites in their more rocking songs like “Lee Majors Come Again” with its fuzzed-out bass, bits and pieces of 70s exploitation soundtracks, and even Parliament on "Funky Donkey" which sounds like a George Clinton outake – it just needs Bootsy on bass to complete the picture. “Don’t Play No Game That I Can't Win” featuring Santogold is a great Summer party song with an infectious melting-pot groove that will appeal to both party boyz and party girlz. Of course, there's plenty of silly to offset the serious grooves, "Crazy Ass Shit,” and “The Larry Routine” among others. I could explain how this album is "reportedly" from 2009 and should be called Part One and that Part Two was also recorded but never released, but...

Radiohead | The King of Limbs TBD Records | March 29, 2011 As I'm sitting here listening to a copy of Radiohead's latest outing, The King of Limbs and getting ready to make some sort of commentary about it, I wanted to bring up two quick points: A) Writing a review of a Radiohead album is like asking to be used as a human piñata in every hip neighborhood in the known world, and B) I have been known for many years as The Guy Who Doesn't Like Radiohead! That said ...