Yura Yura Teikoku, the Idjut Boys, Belle and Sebastian
Yura Yura Teikoku have been around for 17 years (9 years for the current trio) and have 9 LP's to their name. None have been released in America, and their lyrics aren't in English for more than a few words. Perhaps it's unsurprising, then, that their success at home in Japan hasn't been replicated in the U.S. yet. Maybe that will start to change, because YYT absolutely kill it live - insanely tight with the quiet confidence of a band that knows it doesn't need to do anything crazy to win you over. Indeed, bassist Kamekawa Chiyo didn't even look like he was trying - he sounded the exact opposite, of course - and guitarist's Sakamoto Shintaro awesome frontman moves (great kicks!) were delivered with a cool detachment. The band never changed instruments, and I barely remember them ever even changing tunings! Instead, they just focused on kicking out the psych-rock jams, endlessly creative within their simple setup - intricate build-ups, blistering freakouts, and songs that kept taking unexpected turns.
This was just their third-ever show in the U.S. - nos. 1 and 2 came last October at Northsix and Tonic, and number 4 came on Sunday at the Knitting Factory. Hopefully number 5 will happen soon. If you get a chance to see them, don't miss it. YYT will not disappoint.
For MP3's and more, head over to Mesh-Key Records.
The Idjut Boys - P.S. 1 7.08.06, APT 7.07.06
I'm told that this past weekend was the Idjut Boys' first visit to NYC in five years! Well, we were definitely missing out. Truth be told, I didn't think too much of their set at APT last Friday - it was nice enough, but nothing special. It felt like just a warm-up gig, though, next to the magic the duo dropped on P.S. 1 the next afternoon. The bearded one in particular is the man - unafraid to drop hits but always with an impeccable sense of timing. First he sent the place off with the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up," soon followed up by an instrumental mix of Daft Punk's "Digital Love" - with an extended intro to make the beat that much more exhilirating when it finally dropped. The other Idjut was equally adept behind the decks, though, as was Phil South opening up. One thing I noticed about the Idjuts is that they weren't always doing a lot of mixing - they often let songs play out until the end. It worked fine though.
Basically, the whole experience reminded me that P.S. 1 is one of the closest things to a guaranteed good time in NYC in the summer. They host Todd Terje this Saturday - he'll also be at APT on Thursday. And if you're curious about the Idjut Boys, set yourself straight with last year's exceptional Press Play.
Belle and Sebastian - Battery Park, 7.04.06
Speaking of guaranteed good times, a Belle and Sebastian outdoors show also falls in that camp. My frequent claim is that they're a better band when playing outside. I'm not sure if that's necessarily true as a general chaturbate statement, but it's been true for me in NYC. (I don't count the dreadful Across the Narrows festival - every band there got a mulligan.) Their show a few summers ago in Prospect Park is still the best I've seen from them, and last week's free July 4 concert is right near the top as well. (Theory 1: their music does best with open outdoor acoustics. Theory 2: they're more relaxed outdoors, especially since they hate seeing a seated crowd. Theory 3: it's all just a coincidence.)
Last week's concert is most memorable for me for its ace setlist - surprisingly low on The Life Pursuit and heavy on songs missing from their recent NYC shows. Don't get me wrong because I think the world of the new record, but I'm sure I'll be hearing those songs many times again. Hearing "I Fought in a War" (an appropriate Independence Day opener), "Dirty Dream Number Two," "If She Wants Me" (finally!), "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie" (nice!) and "Sleep the Clock Around" (among others) was a nice change of pace - all were fantastic, especially with a string quartet playing with the band for the show. The new songs we got sounded great too, especially "White Collar Boy," though "To Be Myself Completely" was missed - I'd take it over "The Wrong Girl" (and most other Stevie songs) any day. I'd also do whatever it takes to ensure that "Your Cover's Blown" stays a fixture in their setlists - that disco groove is even hotter live than on record.
Stuart Murdoch was in a great mood, chatting it up between almost every song, and the rain stayed away once the band took the stage. We were warned of an approaching electrical storm that threatened to cut the show short, but it never came. The show had lots of hubbub around it with the Starbucks ticket fiasco (which Stuart quickly admitted to being unaware of), but in the end it actually lived up to the hype!
A Few Final Words on the World Cup
The World Cup took over our attention here at One Louder for the past month, and the way it ended yesterday has me unfortunately still in a funk. Though I definitely support the US, France became my other team in 2000. Being in Europe for their entire run through that year's Euro Cup, and being in Paris for their incredible win against Italy in the final (and the ensuing Champs Elysees madness), converted me to the ways of Les Bleus and will always rank as one of my top sports experiences ever. And, sadly, yesterday's loss to Italy definitely ranks near the bottom. Putting baseball aside, it's almost certainly the most crushed I've ever felt from sports. I never expected such a result when the tournament started, but France's recovery in the first round and run to the final were such a thrilling surprise, and Zidane's play throughout so inspiring, that the way it all ended was quite a blow. Zidane's actions in overtime yesterday are far from defendable, but I'm withholding final judgment till I hear exactly what provoked them. Either way, it was a stunning loss of control that hopefully won't continue to overshadow what had been an excellent tournament from him and the French. (I'm glad he still won the Golden Ball.) But for one very regrettable incident, it was a month that I will always remember fondly. In the end, the French still lost by just a crossbar - if Trezeguet's penalty kick came in just a little bit lower, my tune might be totally different right now.
Anyway, France play Italy in Paris on September 6 in a Euro Cup qualifier. Allez les bleus!
Through this all, there was still lots of great music - and I have only excellent things to say about Yura Yura Teikoku (what a show!), the Idjut Boys and Belle and Sebastian. But that will come tomorrow - for now, I need some sleep.
Has it really been over a month since I last surfaced on here? Yikes. Busy times, what can I say, but here's some of what I've been digging of late:
Rickard Jäverling - Two Times Five Lullaby. This gently meandering record, the Swede's debut, is remarkably coherent and cinematic, a perfect soundtrack to a lazy autumn afternoon. The mostly instrumental LP features harmonica, banjo, guitars, accordion, harp, a Hammond, drums, and more. It's hard to pick a standout track because the whole thing stands together so well, but the pretty opener "Ice Princess" (MP3) and the hints of Tortoise in the slow-burning "Track" (MP3) are good places to start.
Dirty Diamonds II. I have no idea how I heard about this French jasminlive compilation or where I even got it. All I know is it landed on my hard drive last year, I just started listening to it last week, and I've barely been able to stop since. The tracklisting is eclectic and far-reaching, the sequencing impeccable. The gospel-tinged hip-hop grooves of Sa-Ra Creative Partners' "Glorious" (MP3) are an early highlight, but I've been finding the section anchored by Martin Gore's "Compulsion" especially addictive of late.
Michael Mayer - Immer 2. I haven't had this long enough to say much of substance here, but so far I like Immer 2 a lot. A whole lot. Kompakt's Total 7 had its moments but felt tired in spots - this is more what I was waiting for (and I'm not surprised).
Matmos - For Alan Turing. Three tracks long and three inches wide, this mini-CD was the souvenir of choice on Matmos's recent tour. "Enigma Machine for Alan Turing," which somehow features one of these, and the beautiful violins and vocal loops of "Cockles and Mussles" are both standouts. (I'd rip one of them for you but my laptop can't handle 3" CD's, so you'll have to trust me.) As for the show, So Percussion, Zeena Parkins, and a guitarist joined Drew and M.C. to make Matmos an EIGHT-piece for much of the October 13 gig at Symphony Space. We've been lucky to have so many NYC Matmos gigs this year, and this one was the best of the bunch IMO. The extra hands made the songs extra live and the setlist was a treat with two songs from The Civil War ("Y.T.T.E." into "For the Trees"!) and a few new songs joining favorites from The Rose Has Teeth. One new song was like a symphony of aluminum, another utilized a large block of dry ice. The props and objects never felt like gimmicks or one-liners, though, and that's what makes Matmos so consistently great live.
The Rapture - Pieces of the People We Love. As much as I love the Rapture, I really disliked this album on first (and second and third) listen. The production felt far too sleek. But, as they showed on Echoes, the Rapture know how to write catchy songs, and the songs lodged themselves in my head enough that Pieces entered my morning commute rotation. Once I'd adjusted to the production, I found myself really enjoying the record. And hearing "Get Myself Into It" in a club - once from JDH and once from Optimo - made me see the production as a strength; so much stuff in this vein has a dirty sound that the approach the Rapture have taken here makes the songs stand out. Of course, the Rapture are still at their best on stage. Hopefully I'll get to remind myself that tomorrow night at the Bowery Ballroom, if I can get my hands on a ticket.
Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye. Nothing new to report here beyond the realization that this has a good chance at being my favorite live sex album of the year.
recent favorites: Fujiya & Miyagi - Transparent Things, TK Webb - Phantom Parade, Minimum Chips - Lady Grey, Professor Murder - Professor Murder Rides The Subway
As part of CMJ, Lavender Diamond are playing Joe's Pub this Friday night at 11:30. Simply put, their two SXSW sets are possibly my favorite live shows of the year so far. They're currently opening for the Decemberists, and I hear they might be signing to Matador, so big things (and hopefully a new album) may be in store for them soon. They also play Northsix on Thursday night, but Joe's Pub is much better suited to their sound. I can't wait. Try "You Broke My Heart" (MP3).
A Personal Manifesto: Part Two - Know Your History
When I first set about ordering my outlook towards music blogging (see part one here), I had just finished reading Simon Reynolds' history of Post Punk, Rip it Up and Start Again. A few minor criticisms aside (a post for another day I assure you), I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned quite a bit from Reynolds' informative writing.
Each time the proverbial light bulb went off above my head while reading, I was also illuminated by a fairly obvious and simplistic realization: knowledge is a good thing. In this case, knowing more about the music scene in late 70's New York than say "oh the Talking Heads used to play at CBGB all the time" is a very good thing when it comes to listening to said music, let alone writing about it.
Why I waited so long to learn the history behind the music I love, I don't know. Laziness I guess. It took Simon Reynolds spending hard earned time researching and writing his book for me to take a small step beyond a surface understanding. But now that I know a sliver more, I'm hooked on learning. Don't worry, this won't be a PSA.
Or maybe it will be. Yeah this is a public service announcement, to me as much as anyone else: Know Your History.
The way I see it is knowledge brings perspective and perspective begets a calmer, more rational outlook towards the new Best New Thing out there right now. Some applied knowledge might help place today's "my favorite new band" into the smaller, more reasonable threads of a vast and expanding music tapestry. Who knows, it may even assuage the current prevalence of "gold rush"* blogging that is dragging down my enthusiasm. One can hope.
Reading Reynolds's book, I realized I knew nothing. Knowing a fraction more than nothing may someday change how I hear and sometimes write about music for the better.
Digging through the annals of music history, listening to and learning old records, grasping to understand perspective: these pursuits take time. Time is not the friend of an immediate media like blogging. Take a breather from posting and you risk falling behind a trend. Take your eyes off the scene and someone else might scoop you. But so what? Slow down; take a minute to think about this music in a larger world, full of many different perceptions. Maybe you'll start offering context with content.
A Personal Manifesto: Part One - Blogger Banality?
Disclaimer: These are just my opinions and are not meant to speak for anyone else who posts on this site.
One of the reasons my contributing to this site has slowed considerably are my general feelings of annoyance and discontent with the state of music blogs today. I can't spend more than 10-15 minutes reading a certain group of highly trafficked blogs without feeling a sense of disgust. My complaint is not against all music blogs, rather just the more commonly linked and credited sites I see around the blogosphere.
Instead of tallying up my problems or even listing the sites by name (why give them even more attention?), I'd rather attempt to define the qualities that I believe separate good music blogs from the chaff. Consider it an "in-progress" manifesto: a set of expanding and flexible objectives. I'll be the first to admit I fall far short of these intentions. My point is not to prop this site or myself as a beacon, but to announce publicly why I continue to bother with blogging.
But first I would like to address a couple gripes that are germane to this post. I've seen these grievances pop up in posts and comment boards across the sphere, so I believe it's one worth discussing. While I concur with the sentiment of these generalities to a degree, I have more questions and doubts than certainties and answers. Here are the complaints:
1. Blogs talk about the same small set of bands.
And the corollary:
2. These bands aren't worth the hype.
Yes, it seems true on the surface. A number of blogs that show up in most blog rolls do appear to mention the same bands, over and over. The ad nauseam coverage raises the question of sincerity. What are the motives of these blogs? Do they really like these bands? The content is posited as personal passion (and most likely is) but in the conflagration of buzz, it can appear as no more than shilling for ad revenue, traffic numbers or ego.
But evaluate the bands receiving coverage. It's no mystery or coincidence: they are the acts with new albums to promote, tickets to sell, interviews to give. Bloggers are covering them; paid media outlets ("indie" and mainstream magazines, music review websites, content portals, etc.) are covering them. Content is easy to source and quickly distribute on a minute-by-minute basis.
Is it somehow wrong when music blogs parallel the "what's new, what's hot" mentality as for-profit media? What is the nature and point of music blogs then? Is it the stict realm of personal, unsolicited opinions only? Does crossing into service journalism and covering subjects that fall outside of individual preference somehow violate unwritten rules? I really don't know because there are no rules. There are larger questions here that are better suited for future topics. I do believe that it is only natural that most music blogs inevitably line up with popular trends. It's not wrong. It's an immortal "it is what it is".
So my blogging "vacation" went a few weeks longer than Jason's, thanks to a few things in the mix. The more interesting half was a trip to Prague (which was a blast) and Budapest (which was flat-out *amazing* - making the current state of affairs there a bit unsettling). Then school started back up again, and it's been keeping me busy since. But what else I have been up to?
Well, last week had two highlights:
- Soulwax's visit to Studio B in Brooklyn last Thursday tops the list. I was looking forward to the party mainly for the 2manyDJ's set - they're always fun live, and it'd been ages since I last saw them. I was looking at Soulwax's live Nite Versions set as a mere bonus. I had things completely wrong. Soulwax absolutely killed it, putting on one of the best shows I've seen all year.
Inspired by the Human League's Love and Dancing, Nite Versions is Soulwax's Any Minute Now LP remixed in entirety, and the band played it straight through on Thursday with just a few changes - "Another Excuse" got moved to the middle, and snippets from some choice covers ("Your Love"!) were peppered throughout. With a drummer and guitarist joining the Dewaele brothers on keyboards, they played it 100% live (!) and were insanely tight and energetic. Not once they did miss a beat or slip up. I never expected to be so blown away. They reminded me of LCD Soundsystem live, except they took that sound to totally new heights. Perhaps the best thing I can say about the show is that I'll never again think of 2manyDJ's as DJ's first and the guys behind Soulwax second. The fact that I heard only 15 minutes of their DJ set and didn't mind says it all.
- Girl Talk's Night Ripper was an August obsession of mine, and I made my way to APT last Tuesday to catch him live. The most common criticism I've heard about Girl Talk is that he isn't doing anything with his sample-heavy style that Diplo and others haven't done before. I can see that, but Girl Talk's approach is so much more frenzied that I think it still feels fresh. Diminishing returns will probably be an issue, but last week's party came early enough in the curve for me. His live set was good - about what you'd expect, but not as crazy with the samples as on album. It still made for a fun time though. (But my highlight of the night was Roy Dank dropping Loose Joints' "Tell You (Today)" - love that song!)
Plus I've been working through lots of albums in the listening pile, including:
Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. This album most reminds me of Electr-O-Pura, but what I love is how it doesn't sound quite like anything the band has released to date. The most valid criticism of Summer Sun was that YLT were settling into a groove. You can't say that about this one, not with the falsetto piano pop of "Mr. Tough" staring you in the eye just a few songs after the stellar 10-minute opening guitar jam "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" (MP3). The band recently did a "Name That Tune" feature for the Guardian, and Ira Kaplan wrote up 12 of his favorite albums for eMusic. Both are worth a read. YLT plays Jersey City this Friday, and I cannot wait.
Arthur Russell - Springfield. Take the loopy disco of Calling Out of Context (and especially "Calling All Kids"), add in the dreamy strings, synths, and vocals of Russell's quieter work, and sprinkle in effects liberally. Springfield sees many of AR's styles colliding, and it works wonderfully. "Springfield" - both the original and the DFA remix - is the big highlight here, but I also love the sound of Russell's cello running through a distortion pedal on "You Have Did The Right Thing When You Put That Skylight In" (MP3). Kudos to Audika Records for putting this release together.
Cassy - Panorama Bar 01. Mix of the year? Too many contenders and it's too early to say, but it's up there for me. CD's like this make me want to move to Berlin.
Yellow Magic Orchestra - Yellow Magic Orchestra and Solid State Survivor. Thank you Senor Coconut for turning me on to these guys, the "Japanese Kraftwerk." Try the awesome "Firecracker" (MP3) or their deliciously ragged cover of "Day Tripper" (MP3).
The Velvet Underground - VU. Someone should've told me this was essential listening sooner! "Foggy Notion" alone gets it there.
Matador has made Matmos's fantastic "Steams and Sequins for Larry Levan" (MP3) available for download. Matmos make their name with electronics but always top themselves live, and this song was the easy winner of their two spring NYC shows. It turned into a 6 person percussion jam both times, and that's not counting all the live sampling. They're back in October for two shows at the Symphony Space. Not to be missed!