Don’t Look Back in Anger: Pitchfork Music Fest Styles of the Past

July 25, 2008

So, here’s the deal.  I kept referring to my past Pitchfork commentary, but then I realized my MySpace blog is torturously slow (and some of the pics are missing).  So, I’ve rescued it from that page, updated some of the pics, reformatted, and voila… a year-old piece that still makes fun of festival-goers effectively.  (A topic that, apparently, is timeless.)  Away we go!

Originally posted 8/9/07

 

In and Out

Well………. both Pitchfork and Lolla have occured and aside from all the music I wanted to see, a bonus for going is the people-watching.  Trends come and go, but never are they more embraced (badly or not) than at music festivals.

I’m not dismissing and ESPECIALLY not condoning any of these, but here’s a little heads up about what the art undergrads and coffeeshop workers near you will be sporting and/or name-dropping over the next few months:

 

1.

Out: Aviators

In: White/plastic-framed sun-glasses,  and the glasses David Duchovney’s wore in Zoolander

2.

Out: The Baumer  

In: The Smooth Sailor

 

3. 

Out: Truckers Caps

In: Painters Caps

4.

Out: Iceland

In: Sweeden

5.

Out: Vespas   

 

 

In: low-cc pedal-start motorbikes

Puch Maxi .JPG

 

6.

Out: Dance-Punk

In: Prog

7.

Out: Soccer jerseys

 

In: old-school soccer / tennis / basketball shorts

 

 

 

8.

 Out: the urban cowboy

 

 

In: the urban lumberjack

 

 

 

 

9.

Out: useless terms like “electroclash”

 

In: useless terms like “futureshock”

 

 

 

10.

Out: headbands

 

In: kerchiefs

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Coldplay: Gonna Say Somethin’

June 5, 2008

First things first, I must admit I really like Coldplay. Dammit. It’s true. Perhaps this is why I’m about to be hard on them.

Remember when Coldplay was the sleepy London band that gladly accepted the “music for bedwetters” tag, and wrote obtuse guitar-led ballads and strolled on the beach in slow-motion at dawn? I miss that band. From what I’ve heard of the new leaked album, that band is completely and totally gone.

Chris Martin and crew have, in four albums within a decade, attempted to cultivate the sort of grand sound and message that U2 worked nearly three times longer to cultivate, and even now U2’s preaching still seems like a fight for relevancy. I’m not saying setting your sights on being the next U2 is a bad idea–I can’t think of another band that’s stayed more-or-less “important” for as long as they have.

To me, Coldplay’s current trajectory seems baffling. With an upcoming double-named LP like Viva La Vida or Death and all His Friends, you know they’re aiming for a “statement” album, and god bless ‘em for giving it a go.

If the opening single, “Violet Hill”, is anything to judge by, the upcoming album is a soaring political and spiritual (and self-deifying) CD that forgoes anything you might have liked about 2000 A.D. Coldplay. For a band whose debut album, Parachutes, featured 10 tracks of which only three tracks had more than one-word titles and none of which veered away from troubled love-drunk troubadour territory, this is an suspect undertaking.

The thing that irks me the most is that I don’t know why Coldplay feels it’s their place to produce some sort of politically, socially, and spiritually conscious album. Have they discovered something since the disappointing X&Y that caused a revelation about modern times?

2000’s Parachutes rolled in with sweet guitar strum and nondescript lovelorness, and the impressive Rush of Blood to the Head followed in 2002. Hmm, maybe at that point, 2002, with 9/11 and London Subway Bombing memories still raw, it would’ve been a good time to say something about something. No dice. Coldplay upped the bombast, but the lyrics still wallowed in romantic vagaries and abstract forlornness. Though, now that I think about it, Martin seemed very concerned with Free Trade at that point. Hey, what happened to that?

So. Can stadium-filling bands make serious statements? Yes. They Can. Do stadium-filling bands really make a difference? I don’t think so. They can succeed in looking serious, but then your encore is “Yellow” and then it all goes to shit.

Now that I’ve lambasted a band whose music I may or may not have used for College-era seduction purposes, we’ll have to sit back and see. Maybe they’ll pull it off. Maybe Coldplay will have a seat at the G8 convention. Maybe people buying 80$ arena seats will absorb whatever message of universality and global consciousness Martin is communicating. That would be an incredible and wonderful thing, and I will gratefully write an adoring and redeeming retraction.

P.S. “Life in Technicolor” sounds fucking great.


Whew. Phew. That Was Fast

May 13, 2008

Hi Chicago!

The Promoter Ordinance that I just mentioned earlier today has been pulled from the table. Thanks to lots of concerned citizens andTONS of letters going to local aldermen. As of right now, the main site, SaveChicagoCulture had this to say:

WE DID IT!!! THE ORDINANCE HAS BEEN PULLED!!!!
I’ll get the details and post them ASAP.
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO RESPONDED SO QUICKLY AND PASSIONATELY ABOUT THIS ORDINANCE, AND PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. WE’VE SAVED CHICAGO’S CULTURE!!!

As of now there’s 5,700 comments on the S.C.C. blog. So, yeah. Are they excited or what? Thank’s all for now, but remember the ordinance is going back to committee, and may get adressed in another month or so, so keep your eyes peeled. Jim DeRo’s got more thoughts about it, check out is just-updated blog post here.

Made aware of concerns in many corners of Chicago’s arts communities, Schulter asked DBA for more facts and figures about the alleged “problem venues” and “underground promoters” that the ordinance was designed to curtail. Some of those who attended the meeting said DBA had to admit that it had no hard information and that it has not formally studied the extent of the alleged problem that the law was crafted to address; they had only the anecdotal evidence of the single tragic incident at the E2 Nightclub five years ago.

Ouch. Well, let’s hope this can facilitate an open-forum type discussion among the committe and the city’s reputable venue owner/operators. Check out Chicago Tonight tonight (WTTW) at 7pm to see a roundtable about this. Huzzah, etc.

-B


Speed Reviews

April 25, 2008

m83: Saturdays = Youth

Best album Anthony Gonzalez has put out BY FAR. The rolling sonic washout of “shoegaze” is still in the mix here, but the vocals, dreamy as they are, are put to the forefront. The thick electro dissipates a bit to make these gorgeous songs shimmer without overwhelming you. m83 was never “inaccessible”, but this one hits the pop palate a lot more than his previous work. A few reviews point out this could be the background synth soundtrack to a never-made Brat Pack movie… sounds crazy, but totally true, and it totally works.

RIYL: French electro, stereo bliss, John Hughes

MP3: “Graveyard Girl”

Biirde: Catherine Avenue


A well-paced strummy summer winner. Definite Rilo Kiley L.A. sound going on here with deliberate midwesterness with some top-of-the-line west coast production values. It’s an exercise that’s pop one minute but often wanders into Ballad Country. Wistful guys and girls swap songs and versus, while songs build and fade tastefully. “Catherine Avenue” is the single they’re pushing (on the website), but the real winner is the cover of “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of” where charmingly hilarious lyrics are underlayed by a jaunty organ wheeled into the studio straight from Haight and Ashbury.

RIYL: The 1900’s, Saddle Creek Records, California mythos

MP3: “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of”

Cut Copy: In Ghost ColorsI’m trying to limit the number of Madchester-esque dance/pop bands I claim to love, but I can’t deny that this is a flippin’ great album. A record meant for oscillating wildly to on beer-soaked bar floors and shiny disco ones (and maybe Pitchfork Festival maybe?! Plllllease?!). These guys would tear up the outfield grass in no time. In Ghost Colours will surely usurp Justice’s Cross as THE default records to spin this season — it’s what the Junior Boys would sounds like if they stopped being ethereal and just shook their asses. Standouts include “Out There On the Ice”, “Lights and Music” and the can’t-miss club banger “Hearts on Fire”.

MP3: Hearts on Fire 

RIYL: half-dancing, half-bouncing, New Order


Top 10 Albums of 2007

January 11, 2008

Well. It’s been nearly a year since blizz-ogged on this page. But, I’m inspired by the STiTP/Kerchief Valhalla list, to post my own top 10 of the year. Like I do sometimes, I have to mention albums that are supposedly AWESOME but haven’t got my lazy-ass around to listening to.

Top 10 Albums of 2007

10. Y.A.C.H.T., I Believe in You. Your Magic is Real*
This one needs an asterisk. It took till ’07 for me to find, and fall head-over-heals with the bleeps, bloops and diary entries of The Blow. Early into 2007 Blow’s beatmaker, Jona Bechtolt, marooned singer/songwriter Khaela Maricich to pursue solo work under the name of YACHT. Since then, I’ve been left alone in a corner with no new Blow to enjoy. Bechtolt’s “solo” I Believe in You… consoled me – just like the friend whose consoling words don’t help but you appreciate them anyway.

MP3: “See A Penny (Pick It Up)”

9. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
One guy calls it “dad rock” and gives it a deece review and suddenly everyone’s off the Wilco wagon. Poppycock! This album is the real deal. In the last decade we’ve seen Tweedy grow from the guy that wrote the couplet “We should take a walk / But you’re such a fast walker, whoa-oh”, to becoming a abstract Dixie Cup Aquarium Drinker, to a Wheel/Bug/Hummingbird, to Jeff Tweedy. After all the band shifts, style shifts (fan base shifts?) Wilco emerged this year, confident in their LP’s, walking softly and carrying a big catalog. Tweedy sings sweetly, simply and directly after a few years of his free-associative and abstract lyrics. The band’s kraut-rock exercises have been distilled into a few efficient jam-outs. There’s just something impressive about Nels Cline, an avant-jazz squall guitarist, reigning in his tendencies enough to play a simple, clean Allman-brothersesque guitar duet. As Lisa Simpson once said – “It’s the notes they’re not playing.”

MP3: “Impossible Germany”

8. Flosstradamus / Kid Sister
Does not releasing a “proper album” mean you can’t get any love on year-end lists anymore? Not in this crazy inter-blag world. Although, technically, there’s no proper album out, DJ/Mash-up kids Flosstradamus and one of the duo’s kid sisters – Kid Sister, are churning out the jams. The bumpin’ beats, hip-hop mashups, old-school rhymes, and indie-happy samples have been Chicago dance/bar favorites for a while now, but it’s time for the big time. SxSW lost their brains for Floss’ remix of Matt & Kim‘s Yea Yeah, meanwhile Kid Sister’s “Pro Nails” found it’s way onto Kanye‘s Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape and the rest will be history… by the end of next year. Watch your back though Flossy, The Hood Internet‘s quick on your tail. (Photo Credit: Everyoneisfamous.com)

MP3: Kid Sister “Southside”

MP3: Flosstradamus “Overnight Star”

7. Bishop Allen, The Broken String
It’s been nearly half a decade since Bishop Allen dropped the self-released Charm School LP – an album whose hooks and lines you’d catch yourself singing constantly. The groups ring-leaders, Christian Rudder and Justin Rice, recorded the album with a microphone, a pre-amp, and ProTools while trying hard not to annoy their Bishop Allen Drive neighbors in Cambridge, MA. They’re a dynamic and fairly prolific pair… aside from the band both have cultivated what seems like their own brand — Rudder writing the hilarious entertainment section of the now-defunct SparkNotes.com, and co-creating the equally hilarious dating site (OkCupid) while both Rice & Rudder are pseudo-stars of the burgeoning “Mumblecore” film scene (Rice starring in Mutual Appreciation and Rudder as the love interest in Funny Ha-Ha). The Broken String is a triumph of sorts, a culmination of a plan that started more than a year before its release – to support the band by self-releasing an EP each month for an entire year. Each month was a new surprise – a new track that was a sure-fire hit, and the LP, while lacking some of the DIY charisma of the individual EPs, is an album full of pure pop gold. Bishop Allen are as fun as every, but stretch their creative boundries with a latin-tinged “Like Castanets” and the dramatic flair of “The Monitor”.

MP3: “Rain”

6. Radiohead, In Rainbows
Perfect timing. Every few years people start forgetting about these Oxfordshire lads they come along and blow the lid off of everything. This time it was more context than content, but the album is solid, and exciting. Most exciting, at least to me, is Thom Yorke using the word “I” again. An interesting question to be posed – Is it a coincidence that the most direct, “pop” album Radiohead has put out in a decade is the one that they’re giving away to listeners for whatever they want to pay? I.E., would a challenging album along the lines of Kid A compromise the ultimate commercial success of the album? If so, does operating “free” from the Music Industry effect an artists creative process just as much (or more so) than operating within the system? It’s a temple-tapper.

MP3: “Weird Fishes/Apregi”

5. Kanye West, Graduation
What a hilarious twist. Kanye, throwing fits at MTV Europe Awards about Justice vs. Simian winning Video of the Year, learned a few lessons about Euro Dance Pop. 1) Synths can be cool 2) Pasty White People can be cool 3) Daft Punk is fucking cool.

MP3: “Flashing Lights”

4. Architecture in Helsinki, Places Like This
There were hankerings. After the last few loops around the U.S., AiH had subtly shifted from a twee band you could dance to, to a dance band you could drink chamomile tea to. Half the band disappeared and all of the sudden these Aussie’s were doing fun chant-along world beat tunes. Cameron Bird, who’s vocal stylings on their debut LP Fingers Crossed rarely raised above a childish whisper, now growls and yalps and screams – the fun juvenile spirit is still present in the band but now it’s like their at recess.

MP3: “Heart It Races”

3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Regardless of the criticism that Sound of Silver is nearly a song-for-song repeat of their debut LP, it still sounds better than nearly everything else out there. James Murphy, and his DFA clan can churn out the beats, that much is known. But if S.O.S. is a duplication of LCD Soundsystem it’s its doppelganger – imbedding criticism and actual emotion into dance tracks. Sarcasm and cynicism is a refuge (and a cash crop in Williamsburg) and Murphy trumped expectations by turning the scene’s discoball mirrors back onto themselves.

MP3: “All My Friends”

2. M.I.A., Kala
Dude. This some crazy shit. “Paper Planes” is easily my favorite song of the year — with or without gunshots. I LOVED Arular when it dropped and I’m so pleased that her follow-up is just as bombastic, vaguely political, vaguely danceable, but wholly original. I guess I’m happy we live in a cultural climate that an album as globally scatter-brained as this can find such a wide, receptive audience.

MP3: “Paper Planes”

1. The National, Boxer
I’m not a lyrics man. In fact, I’ll really only pay attention to the lyrics if the song sufficiently interests me. Lucky for The National, the urgent, heavy but not inaccessible sound begs you to read into their lyrics. Boxer’s content, just like its sound, is dark and brooding, but offers glimpses of romance, desperation, charm, and touchstone imagery. Beyond the discussion of the album’s cryptic Willy Loman storyline, what can’t be stressed enough is that the album is a true pleasure to listen to. A great album all the way through, and an LP that begs you replay it as soon as the last measure ends.

MP3: “Green Gloves”


Hot Chip, Cool Bar

November 14, 2006

Remember the time when people said “synthesizer” instead of keyboards? Incidentally, it was also when fashionable gals were wearing like, tights under skirts, and um, leg-warmers. Well, my nostalgia-prone friend, for better or for worse, that time is back.

When Hot Chip (nay “Hawt Chip”) took the stage at The Metro earlier this month, four-fifths of them took their stations behind a wall-o-synths. Shaking the venue’s collective booty as much as 5 pasty Brits can shake an equally pasty crowd, they started the set with the throbbing dance-funk of “Boy From School” and carried the energy through the set. Mind you, Hot Chip is NOT a poke-around-behind-a-laptop band. The emphasized live element makes for a terrific show — for every electric drone and bass beat there’s dreamy pop harmonies, guitar hooks, and yes, even the beloved cowbell that’s all the rage these days. Can’t wait for the triangle to make it’s homecoming.

For the encore they banged out a riotous version of “Over and Over” and a few days later someone reminded me I screamed “SYNTH GODDDS!” at some point. Probably when the song segued perfectly into a cover of New Order’s “Temptation” — a well-deserved nod to the Kings of Pasty Dance-Pop.

While my friend was busy slurring tequila infused come-ons downstairs at Smartbar, the remainder of our group took two quick lefts out the door and ducked into arguably the most tolerable bar in Wrigleyville: The Gingerman Tavern. An oddly shaped spot that occupies the wedge between N. Clark and Racine. It’s no coincidence this bar is stumbling-distance from The Metro. The mix-matched chairs, tables and billiard balls complement it’s equally eclectic clientele. That said, if anyone knows of a better Wrigleyville bar, I’d like to hear it, drink there, and then tell you why you’re wrong.

photos by Pegs. Thanks Pegs.


Live Music Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Architecture in Helsinki, Takka Takka

October 31, 2006

They could’ve named this show “The Bands With Unnecessary Names” Tour ’06. New York-cum-Philly “indie” success story Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Australia’s Architecture in Helsinki, with Brooklyn-based Takka Takka opening took Chicago by storm early this October before actual weather took Chicago by, well, storm.

Venue? One of my faves.
Ticket price? A bit exorbitant.
Playing a two-night stint? Er, probably not a brilliant business plan.

Tickets were a-plentiful at the box office as the show was going on. Small, apologetic girls were selling their tickets for under face value on Sheffield. “I just don’t want to go anymore,” she explained. Fair enough. Maybe she had a Yom Kippur hangover. Does that exist? Well, if not, it was a crappy Tuesday in general.

Takka Takka got things going off to a… start, I guess. Simple, sweet-sounding tunes, pleasing, catchy, but not incredibly anything. Their studio tracks sound tight, but the pop charm that they exude on-record didn’t come off so well live. Nevertheless, a band to keep your eye on when they come through town again next month, playing at one of my fav venues in the city.

The headliner of the show, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, returned fairly recently from their sold-out show at The Metro earlier this year, ennui intact and ever-growing. The stage lighting creeped me out, but I’m always pleasantly surprised that lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s nasally voice isn’t nearly as obnoxious live as it is on the album. Let’s get this out of the way: A.O.’s voice sounds like David Byrne. I’m sorry if this angers people. There’s nothing wrong with sounding like David Byrne. Ounsworth insists otherwise. That’s okay, I’ve heard my voice on tape and it sounds weird too — all hoarse and occasionally lispy.

Annnnycrap, the hits were played. Oh, were they ever played. The highlight being an extended loopy keyboard and guitar jangle intro that jumped excitedly into “Is This Love?” with drummer Sean Greenhalgh tight on the beat. CYHSY speckled their show with some new material that keeps their “sound” but stretches the band’s legs a bit. I made a mental note to call a song “Krautrock Satan”, but I’ve since learned the song is called “Satan Said Dance.” A pretty catchy tune with one exception: The band’s pre-planned crowd-participation in which we were expected to chant “SATAN! SATAN!” back at them during the chorus. Neh. Problem is, 1.) not everyone (me) had heard this song before and 2.) I’d rather not chant “Satan” in general… that’s just me.

Elsewhere in the set, between-song downtime seemed a bit excessive, and I also took issue with a torturously long applause for an encore, in which most had given up and started talking to other concert goers while patting their hands together. (I learned that the man with the hoodie-inside-sportcoat combo next to me “knows you girls from somewhere… maybe Bank of America?”). Regardless, ’twas a good set. You can’t deny CLYSY propensity for catchy hooks, their tireless work-ethic and self-promotional savvy. The young band sounded fresh and confident–a great sign for a group that’s been touring incessantly.

Sandwiched between the two NY rock bands were the delightful Architecture in Helsinki. The eclectic group dressed the part–six members (an abridged touring lineup) took the stage looking like a mishmash of high school sterotypes… spaz, jock, hippie, Cure fan, etc, etc. Shirking the deliberately childish sounds of their first release, Fingers Crossed, AiH’s entire set was blissful, endearing and downright danceable (fittingly, as an In Case We Die LP “remix” album is in the works).

Swapping vocal duties and instruments between nearly every song, the band bounced through newer material and brand-new material, smooshing genres and song structures as they went. The abrupt endings and mid-song tempo changes which make their albums a peculiar experience created an exhilarating live experience–keeping the audience guessing… and clapping… and jumping around a bit.

The extended segue into a funk-friendly “Do the Whirlwind” got people bouncing, while the delightfully quirky Kellie Sutherland (right) stole the show belting out her vocals on “Wishbone” – the hap-hap-happiest pop gem you may ever hear.
Clad in a well-loved Ryne Sandberg jersey (a move Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch has pulled in Chicago before), singer Cameron Bird delivered his so-called “love ballad from the Outback,” “Maybe You Can Owe Me” with the equal parts whimsy and sincerity.

But before it could get too cute Bird got back to groovin’–hitting the drum machine and rocking out with such abandon that the instrument was knocked hard to the floor. Overall, the new stuff sounds great, one sounding an awful lot like Rusted Root (ha, in a good way) and the whole set giving off a exuberant twee-meets-Stop Making Sense rumpus.

Free Mp3’s:

Takka Takka – “Coco On The Corner”

Architecture in Helsinki – “Do The Whirlwind (Metronomy Mix)”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood”

(Photos by Pegs. Thanks Pegs.)