Author: David

The daytime MusicFest NW shows broadcast live on KEXP have been great so far, and since I had my kids with me and the shows are all ages, I decided to bring ’em along. My son’s opening soccer game took precedence in the afternoon, so unfortunately we missed the Antlers noon-time set. Avi Buffalo was playing next, so after some cajoling, arm twisting and watching a couple of videos of the band, we hit the Doug Fir. I have to admit it was kind of fun showing the kids around the venue that I normally only visit late at night. We got some ice waters and settled into the lounge in back for the 30 minute set.

Avi Buffalo as a band are young, and really just kids themselves, but the songs written by Avi Zahner-Isenberg (many recorded in his home studio) have  traces and seedlings of many older artists carried within – musicians like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and even the Pixies (Avi was wearing a Pixies t-shirt). The “pop” songs were all very pleasant and sometimes more complex as both time and chord changes borrowed from jazz crept into the mix, especially on their final song.

All in all, the kids liked the show – my son even a little more than my daughter. I think she saw through my clumsy attempts at getting her to start music lessons again by pointing out the cool drummer and bassist, both girls. Not the kids first concert (that was X/Knitters when they were just wee-nippers) but a fun afternoon of music. Afterwards we walked across the driveway to the MFNW Poster Show where poster artists from all over were selling limited edition concert posters – groovy stuff, though some might have been rated PG-13.

Avi Buffalo’s debut, self-titled  album is out now on SubPop.

Actually, there was nothing horrible about the 30 minute mid-morning set by UK goth-synth-shoegaze-pop phenom, The Horrors. Except that it could have been a little longer and the drums could have been a little softer. The Horrors wear their myriad influences proudly on their stylish sleeves, often times sounding (add looking) like the more up-beat cousins of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They combine vintage synths, throbbing bass and fuzzed-out wall-of-guitar in a style all their own, while still feeling like the latest band in an evolutionary progression of british rock. See them tonight at Midnight at Dante’s. Really. Go see them–they’re great live.

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…

I think we were expecting a lot from EMA–there’s been a lot of hype swirling around Erika M. Anderson for her recent solo record. Elements of the show were great, some good and some (like the sound and tuning of the drums) were a little flat. Her backing band looked like they felt a bit awkward which clashed with Anderson’s seeming comfort on stage. Late shows can be great or tough-going–let’s call this one somewhere in the middle.

Little Dragon played a short, but sweet 30 minute set at Doug Fir this morning for the KEXP live broadcast shows from MusicFest NW. With all of the schedule conflicts of the ‘Fest, it was nice to get a chance to see this band (my first time). Morning is a bit of strange time to head into the dark subterranean lair that is Doug Fir, and the time slot seemed like it might have had an effect on the band who experienced a couple of false-starts and timing issues. These were quickly shrugged-off and they sounded great otherwise – the smallish audience was very enthusiastic throughout. I just wish they would have played my favorite song of theirs, Looking Glass. If you want to hear them, you still have a chance tonight at 11:00pm at the Hawthorne Theater.

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 seem 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 acapella 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:

*EMA recorded Nirvana’s Endless Nameless for Spin Magazine’s recent Nevermind Tribute Album. It’s a noisy, shambling caterwaul – nice!

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…

A few reasons –

1. This is an incredibly competitive market. More releases come out now in a given week than used to come out in a month. It takes time to build up the word & anticipation for a record. A proper marketing campaign will get the maximum possible sales & chart position for a new album on release date, which in turn drives the media to pay attention and drives further sales.

2. Long-lead print press still exists, and their deadlines for features in August is NOW. They won’t run features about a new release 3 months after a record comes out – by then, there will be a whole new batch of records competing for their attention. And they need to spend time music to confirm features, and then spend time writing them.

3. Physical retail, including chains, still exists. Our distributor’s deadline for getting into their August 23 book, driven in turn by their big customers like Best Buy and Target, is NOW. And of course it takes time to manufacture records… you see a cover image above, but we don’t have the full packaging in for the CD and vinyl. The final EQ’d master is in today, and then it needs to get made into a glass master for CD and cut for lacquers for vinyl, which in turn will need test pressings, for approval. Once the records and the print are made, they need to be assembled, shipped to distributors, who in turn ship to stores – and for chains this means depots who ship out to branches, or drop-shipping to individual accounts – all to arrive on a certain date before release date.

Even for digital stores, there’s a time-consuming process which includes metadata for royalty tracking, audio polishing and checking, lots of uploads and downloads and tests.

Then there’s booking advertising, planning the marketing campaign, designing banners, and all the rest.

It’s a delicate balancing act setting up a record properly for release. 3 months is about the minimum lead time possible from delivery to street date.

Lots of people fortunately do still spend money on music!

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…you can read all that somewhere else. And you can also read that it was postponed because of Adam Yaunch’s battle with cancer, but let’s just say that he’s beat the big C and we’re very glad. I’m also glad that the Beastie Boys are back with a more nuanced and mature weave to their silly space-age hip-hop fabric.

Smells Like 

Fuse, Fuse Music TV, or Fusic TV as I like to call it, has a quick 4+ minute overview of the Portland music scene. Yes, they only talk to some of the bigger names in town like The Thermals, Menomena, and Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but it’s not as cringe-worthy as the first episode of Portlandia. Are you an indie band in need of a town? C’mon down (or up) … I guess we can make room for one or two more.

As the host says, “Welcome to Portland Oregon, where people come to enjoy the great outdoors and the sound of nature. SCREW THAT, LET’S ROCK!” Thanks to Portland Mercury’s Blogtown for the heads-up.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Vagrant Records | February 2011

Polly Jean Harvey has never been an artist cautious in her approach, or particularly concerned with what her listeners might think of her sound. She’s been making her own path in the music world since her debut album, Dry for which Rolling Stone called the then-22-year-old Harvey the year’s Best Songwriter and Best New Female Singer. Raw, emotionally-bare, experimental, shocking, but always beautiful, even when the guitars are shredding and the drums are blasting like cannons. Her follow-up, Rid of Me took the back-and-forth of sober beauty and rock bombast to new heights – loud-soft-loud-soft was the sound of the 90s.

Since 1993, PJ Harvey has been recording as a solo artist (without her original trio) but often with songwriting partner, John Parrish and producer Flood. Her latest album is no exception, but instead of a recording in a studio, it was recorded live in a medieval church in Dorset, England. The location adds a haunting spaciousness to the album.

The other addition to the mix is multi-instrumentalist, Mick Harvey (no relation) a founding member of The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Crime and the City Solution and his own solo band. He has an incredible ability to play just the right sounds in just the right spots, loud or quiet. When I look through my album collection, seeing his name in the credits is almost always a guarantee of quality music. Of course, I can say the same thing about PJ Harvey, and I sometimes think of her as the female Nick Cave, another artist who can straddle genres and make timeless works that often explores the dark side of the human soul. Of course, PJ Harvey has worked with both Nick Cave and Mick Harvey numerous times before.

There’s been much spoken in the media about the themes of this album being war, inhumanity and murder, and the way they are sung about in a sometimes girlish sing-song voice with melodies and instrumentation to match. Harvey herself has said that she had done a great deal of research into war, particularly the campaign in Galipoli, but not all of the lyrics are strictly about England’s participation in global conflicts. At times the album sounds like an elegy for the entire modern world. On “The Last Living Rose,” her high, restrained voice seems to rise above the now and become timeless, almost like someone looking back at our society from a bleak and burned-out future. Many of the songs unfurl with a fiery impassioned wail from Harvey that speaks of pain and loss, and maybe thoughts of what could have been.

While many of the songs seem simple at first, they slowly reveal a depth and clarity that can only have been brought forth from an artist in complete control of her craft, having perfected it over the last 20 years. When PJ Harvey and John Parish sing the call-and-response of, “What is the glorious fruit of our land? The fruit is England’s children” it sounds at once like a gospel chant, a lament, a nursery rhyme, and a hymn. Or maybe a workingman’s folk-song from a by-gone time.

Polly Jean Harvey has created a sad, yet beautiful album, wherein she pushes her voice bravely in a way that sounds neither false nor pretentious, even when at its emotional rawest, or at its most conceptually constrained. I was listening to the album for the third time while watching an online slideshow of the massive protests in Egypt that removed Mubarek, and it created a perfect emotional pairing that brought a bit of a tear to my eyes. Different geographical settings, but very similar emotions.

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