volcano!… ‘Splosians!

September 23, 2008

This was originally posted on URChicagos site, but far be it for me to deny my own blog some musical gold:

volcano! at The Empty Bottle Thursday

Lying dormant for nearly three years, experimental rock trio volcano! (note the lowercase “v”) has recently released their second LP, Paperwork.  Their much-acclaimed debut album Beautiful Seizure, released by UK label Leaf, was met in late 2005 with enthusiastic acclaim here and abroad (scoring them an early appearence on oft-imitated music performance site La Blogotheque). The debut album shook; not just the pavement, but the pervading stigma that “art rock” bands can only be one thing or the other – art or rock. volcano!’s sound rectifies this disparity—simultaneously heady and accessible, intricate and forceful, ethereal and dynamic.

volcano!’s fluid creations can shift from jagged guitar squall to delicate instrumentals backed by the atmospherics of multi-instrumentalist Mark Cartwright, their song’s pop structures can quickly devolve into poly-rhythmic improvisation care of percussionist Sam Scranton.  Meanwhile, vocalist/guitarist Aaron With always seems to have a trick up his sleeve, with a lyrical range that wheels from mischievous wordplay, to urgent exclamation to staccato abstraction—often in the same track.

Paperwork is its own little bundle of surprises, as the hilariously titled “Africa Just Wants to Have Fun,” bounces and jabs at celebrity-turned-philanthropists with a nod to guitar-led Afropop—both of which seem all the rage these days.  The album has a bunch more surprises and creative twists, with Scranton mentioning a load of  diverse influences from track-to-track, including the otherworldly psych-pop of Animal Collective to the shameless R&B come-ons of  R. Kelly.

volcano! returned this August to do their first live show in two years, a CD release party for their new full-length. The Chicago-based band will be playing again this Thursday, 9/25, at The Empty Bottle. Check out a Q&A with percussionist Sam Scranton on the UR Chicago Online Exclusives page.

MP3:  volcano! – “Africa Just Wants to Have Fun” (site)(myspace)(facebook)
-Brian Howe Battle

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2006 Albums of the Year, Late As Usual

January 28, 2007

Top Albums 2006

Ahhhh! It’s the obligatory “end of year list,” and obligatorily posted late, by moi. Okay. I would like to mention that I can only rank albums that I’ve actually listened to. Here’s 10 (+5) albums from 2006 I’ve listened to a lot and have actual insight on:

Preface: In keeping with the concept of the Arctic Monkeys’ debut “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not” I will say that The Arctic Monkeys are good, and that they deserve to make any and every “top 10” list.

1. Hot Chip, Hot ChipThe Warning

Oh Man. You can’t hate on this CD. This is the kind of record that changes people opinion on a “sort” of music. I.E., my friend Jimmy’s 30-something pseudomentor Chad (that’s his real name). Chad said something like… “I really like that ‘Hot. Chip’ song. Even though it’s kind of, ‘dancey’.” Join the club Chadly! The LP is just too catchy, too poppy, too funky, too damn fun to categorically deny because of dudes with keyboards and silly mustaches.

Free mp3: “And I Was A Boy From School”

2. The Hold SteadyBoys And Girls In America

Everyone’s afraid to put this album at number 1. It SHOULD be. (Hypocrite warning). This is an album I would recommend, without hesitation, to anyone. It’s a straight-ahead rock n roll album… which I thought didn’t exist anymore. I thought every band needed some sort of concept, prepackaged backstory, or clever nod to whatever retro-trend in the band is aping. The Hold Steady has straight-up rock swagger that reminds me most immediately of Guided By Voices. But the content… oh my… the tales Craig Finn talk/sings are wonderful. They’re the kind of personal/universal “‘member when?” youth stories everyone relates to even if you’ve done nothing of the sort: Betting on ponies, drinking, smoking, troubled kids, raging parties, first loves. All of them done in this anthemic, Glory Days-meets-Chuck Klosterman type storytelling. Indifferent to cliché, Finn’s immediate literature reference, “…There are times when I think Sal Paradise was right,” sets a tone for a terrific and shambling LP.

Free mp3: “Killer Parties”

3. Junior BoysSo This Is Goodbye

This is a sexin’ album. It’s an album by and for th’ sexin. I didn’t think Junior Boys would be able to top their previous release, Junior Boys – Last Exit, but they did… well… he did… as one half of The J.B. left before this album got made. Yet another reason why the band can’t be mentioned without a casual name-drop of sonic frères’ m83. This stuff blows m83 out of the water. Transcendental, groovy, electronic but deeply soulful, the understated crooning (and sometimes just cool breathing) of hit single  “In The Morning” would have to be my favorite single of the year.

Free mp3: “In The Morning”

4. HeadlightsKill Them With Kindness

“Kind of a new record slipped into a list old safe ones… verrry PUSSY!”. Ha. Guilty. I got this record very late in the year, but, as Last.FM would testify, I’m enjoying very very much. Nothing exciting has come out of champaign, IL since, ohhhh… Braid, until now. I’m a sucker for girl/boy vocals, and this was THE album for me in the last few months. Think Stars (especially Amy Milian-like vocals, minus all the fatalistic/melancholic/depressive lovesickness, then sprinkle with a few exciting influences… occasional Mates of State keyboard fun, some navelgaze dabbling, a track that reminds me a bit of Broken Social Scene, and that standard “We’re twee But We’ll Include One Adorable Techno Track To Show We Can Do It” song. (Ahem, Belle and Sebastian – Electronic Renaissance, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – Topsy Turvy). Check ‘em out.

Free mp3: “Owl Eyes”

5. The Radio Dept.Pet Grief

Tim (The Muttering Retreats) turned me on to these guys. What a fabulous album. It’s this kind of new wave revivalism that makes me despise legwarmers and oversized belts a little less. It’s tough not to “influence pick” on the album, but it wonderfully re-creates a poppy The Jesus and Mary Chain thang in a haze of keyboards and drones and looooooooove.

Free mp3: “Against The Tide”

6. DecemberistsThe Crane Wife

Mad props for jumping to a major label and putting out an uncompromised LP, especially 10+ minute song sagas. Though, Castaways & Cutouts and Her Majesty… are still my personal favorites, Colin Meloy & Co went from your libraries favorite chamber pop band to a synth-soloing Genesis-nodding pop/progrock hybrid — quite a feat. And a little unsettling.

Free mp3: “Sons & Daughters”

7. The PipettesWe Are the Pipettes

I think, technically, this album hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet. I don’t care. Good music travels fast. Records labels can’t control product if the fanbase or buzz is large enough. The Pipettes bring back that girl group era to modern-times, a-lah Camera Obscura, but where C.O. delivers wispy lovelorn tunes with some occasional twang, The Pipettes have style, sass, swagger (and handclaps) to spare. The Pipettes – Your Kisses are Wasted on Meis a gem among an album filled with…well… other gems. The only downside is that the “we all have slightly different personalities and dress in polka-dots” seems suspiciously like a marketing ploy, you really can’t hate on these girls. 1 year from now, the re-united The White Stripes will have the Pipettes open for them. I predict it… it will come true.

8. Isobel Campbell & Mark LaneganBallad of the Broken Seas

When Isobel left Belle and Sebastian I was 95% sure her success would nearly match that of Looper. I picture, mid-Storytelling tour, Stuart Murdoch turns to Isobel on the tour bus and “Oi, Ah quite like your voice eeen that, buh eeets a bit wyrd, ya know, that one song you du, ‘The Sunrise Song’, eh?” Isobel promptly gives Stu’ the finger, jumps off the bus with a small, adorable, Scottish-looking suitcase, meets Mark Lanegan in a cowboy bar near the airport, and after a weekend in a motel, they decide to record an album. Isobel then flutters her eyes, forgets Mark for 3+ years and gives him a ring when she gets board spooning her cello.

Free mp3: “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me”

9. TV on the RadioReturn To Cookie Mountain

Good, solid album, and a welcome return after a disappointing debut LP. I feel this one was a bit over buzzed, but it’s still incredible. A good listen, all the way through, the standout being the rollicking, driving assualt of “Wolf Like Me”. It’s SO hard to tell people there’s an indie band who combines, art-punk, trip-hop and Peter Gabriel and have them still pay attention to you. But, the word’s out on them, there will have to be no convincing.

Free mp3: “Wolf Like Me”

10. IslandsReturn to the Sea

Who woulda thunk it??? Especially now that all The Unicorns are dead. Turn the weirdness level down about two-notches, and what appears but yet another fabulous pop band out of Canadia. But to be honest, I kind of miss the previous weirdness levels, but their beginnings of silly instrumentation, deliberately incomplete songs structures, and childish deliveries allowed the .666Unicorns to flank the standard pop-rock formula and conquer all. Now… about Th’ Corn Gang.

Free mp3: “Jogging Gorgeous Summer”

Honorable Mentions:
11. Belle and SebastianThe Life Pursuit
Free mp3: “White Collar Boy”

12. Sufjan StevensThe Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from Illinois Album

13. Jenny Lewis With The Watson TwinsRabbit Fur Coat
Free mp3: “Rise Up With Fists”

14. José GonzálezStay In The Shade

15. Camera ObscuraLet’s Get out of This Country
Free mp3: “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”

Mad shoutouts to an indie kids’ savior: The Hype Machine.

And the blogs I stole mp3’s from:
http://skyscraperlife.blogspot.com/
http://www.girlpants.org/  (not making this one up, promise)
http://res1999.blogspot.com/
http://www.michaelmieler.com/blog/ Mike Went West
http://timedoor.textdriven.com Timedoor
http://tracemyface.blogspot.com/ Red Blondehead
http://www.blogotheque.net/sommaire.php3 La Blagotheque


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.)