Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Röyksopp - Junior

Since Melody A.M. dropped in 2001, Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp has been one of the most consistent Euro-club acts I can think of (along with their friends and collaborators, The Knife, of course). The newest album, Junior, drenched the blogosphere immediately after it leaked in late February, and the full album was made available on March 22nd. If it was up to me, I would listen to this album on good speakers everyday, all day long, but alas – there are classes at Oberlin, and they get kinda hard during fourth module. Sigh.

Junior is the first half of Junior / Senior, of which Junior is heavily pulsated and club inspired. Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge have stated that Senior will balance out the pure vigor and beat-centric groove of Junior, focusing on more of the downtempo electronic ambience that listeners expect from Röyksopp’s slower songs, such as “Someone Like Me,” for instance. To be released in the indefinite future, Senior will probably be incredible, but the absence of chillaxed grooves goes totally unnoticed on Junior, which sounds every bit as complete and balanced as their previous recordings.

“Happy Up Here,” the first single, is a brilliant follow-up to favorites such as “Remind Me” (as heard on Geico commercials) and “Poor Leno,” but is in some respects, more captivating. Clocking in at less than three minutes of length, my only complaint with the single is that it is too short. Röyksopp is special to me because their electronics are used to add musical interest and they don’t weigh too heavy on the sparse singing. If anything, the twinkling, multifaceted, synthesized landscape of “Happy Up Here” is interesting enough, even without the characteristic, shimmery vocals. For you Parliament fans out there, this song highlights a sweet “Do That Stuff” sample.

Other hot tracks from Junior include “Vision One,” which features one of the smoothest, grimy bass lines I can think of, as well as pure vocals from Norwegian singer/actress Anneli Drecker. The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson adds her voice to three tracks, including the strangest song on the album, “Tricky Tricky,” which showcases lyrics only Andersson can pull off with such peculiar grace: “Is six afraid of seven, ‘cause seven eight nine? / I’m about to lose it a second time. / Staring at the wall, hour after hour, / running up and down, over and over.” Lykke Li lends her quiet talent to two songs, of which one, “Miss It So Much” is on the album (the other is one of those annoying iTunes bonuses, which you can find online, of course). The closing track, entitled “Across the Graveyard” is relaxed and uncomplicated, leading into a mood we can expect from Senior.

The trip-hop influence that has been simmering within Röyksopp for awhile now bears itself clearly in this album. However, the only way to really describe Junior is that it is recognizably a Röyksopp album, through and through. There’s nothing better than that, especially on a beautiful spring day. Get this album before the third week of April. Wink wink.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

I remember my romance with 2003’s Fever to Tell as if it was yesterday. Oberlin almost-graduate and Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman, Karen O symbolized everything I thought was awesome: grungy, yet bizarrely elegant femininity, eccentricity, strength, pure sexuality, and the New York art rock aesthetic. The sound was fresh and catchy, yet it was raw and had more spice than sugar. Unfortunately, the gorgeous, but uncharacteristic single, “Maps,” caught hold of the masses more than their grungy, in-your-face stand-outs that started many love affairs with the band. Because none of the other tracks sounded even remotely like “Maps,” the band redirected their focus for the sake of popularity, one can assume. Big mistake.

The 2006 sophomore release, Show Your Bones, featured an album’s worth of songs reminiscent of “Maps,” but without the lyric interest. Even Nick Zinner’s speaker-blowing guitar riffs sounded less inspired and gritty, and as a result, the art rock band lost their artistry and fell into the nebulous spectrum of the mainstream alternative. Karen O’s narcissistic flair and tour-induced alcoholism started seriously getting in the way, nearly leading to a dissolution of the band.

After a short hiatus, the Is Is EP dropped in 2007, making up for every hint of disappointment I felt with Show Your Bones. Karen O was back, screeching her way into her thirties with reckless abandon. Songs like “Rockers to Swallow” and “Down Boy” sounded effortlessly unprocessed and organically commanding. With this effort, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs started their ascent, but have now landed in a limbo of genre, so to speak.

It’s Blitz!, released on March 31st, is a far cry from any other YYYs release. Karen O ordered that all guitar parts were to be ditched for layers of synth – a smart choice when trying to appeal to a techno-essentialist, increasingly European club-inspired consumer base. While still New York-based, It’s Blitz! was recorded in the middle of nowhere. They began writing the record during a snowstorm, Karen reports, in a hundred-year-old barn in farmland, Massachusetts. Using synthesizers bought on a whim from Ebay, Nick Zinner, Brian Chase and Karen O wrote songs reflective of the space around them without straying into the ambient wasteland of uninspired alternative rock.

The first single off of It’s Blitz! is entitled “Zero,” and tells us to “get (our) leather on on on” with danceable finesse. Karen O stretches her vocal chords in Fever to Tell-style, but keeps things simple and accessible. The upper register of her voice doesn’t sound quite as orgasmic as it had on songs like “Tick” or “Black Tongue,” but loses none of its climactic energy. Waves of synth flood the end of the track, in particular, but make no mistake – this is not a disco record, nor does it sound as electronic as it really is because of Chase’s unwavering rock basis in the drums.

The supremely catchy track “Dragon Queen” reeks of TV On the Radio’s David Sitek’s production, and the dance rock nuances sound disconnected from the rather passé Franz Ferdinand and Killers-esque influence. Karen O steps back on this track and lets the groove take hold, her voice flowing in and out of the music naturally and without any of the “sometimes I think I’m bigger than the sound” nonsense from Show Your Bones.

As promised, none of the music from this album sounds concretely comparable to any of their past releases, and the slow tracks are testament to this, sounding far removed from songs like “Maps.” My personal favorite track from It’s Blitz! is the tender ballad, “Little Shadow.” Beginning with quiet intensity and building throughout, culminating in epic bravado, Karen O’s evocatively hesitant voice croons, “To the night, will you follow me?” The lyrics on this album, in general, are far less aggressive than one would expect from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and instead center around vague emotional expressionism. Although this does not decrease the appeal of the album, the tracks do have a tendency to blend into each other and lack some dynamic charm that one expects from the powerhouse threesome.

Listening to It’s Blitz! is a far cry from the visceral experience of Fever to Tell, and at points sounds like a completely different band. However, the album is well put together and the production is untainted, interesting, and worth a listen in and of itself. Karen O strikes a remarkable balance between the punky yelps and screams and the exquisite, unique singing voice that attracts dedicated listeners like yours truly. Don’t go into this album expecting the alternative album of the year, as has been the general consensus from pop music magazines, but also don’t expect to get these songs out of your head for a very, very long time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Listen to WOBC!

WOBC is the coolest radio station around, and this semester I have two super fun shows! "Remix Yr Life" (Sundays, 8-10 PM EST) is exactly what it sounds like: two hours of the illest beats and sickest remixes around town. My other show, "The Seventh Circle of Hell" (Fridays, 7-8 PM EST) is a death metal show, focusing on Scandinavian melodic death metal.

Here's how you listen! for the webcast
91.5 FM in Oberlin and surrounding area

Beirut: March of the Zapotec & Realpeople: Holland

This double EP places the recognizable, warm brass and ukulele strumming of Santa Fe, New Mexico native Zach Condor’s band, Beirut parallel to Condor’s electronic side-project, Realpeople. Inspired by and written in Oaxaca, Mexico, March of the Zapotec feels distinctly robust and pure, the stately vibrato of the brass and effortlessly elegant, harmonic simplicity of the accordion mirrors the laidback feel of their previous, French-inspired album, The Flying Club Cup. The Mexican influence lies in the more complex rhythms and brass-centric melodic content, resulting in a sound far less poppy than any other Beirut release to date. Although the tuba and sometimes-abrasive rhythmic patterns (they are marches, after all), the warmer months to come will prove to be prime for listening to this EP – a truly vibrant melodic gem with just enough of Zach Condor’s rich, Serge Gainsbourg-inspired vocals to match the instrumental interest. “La Llorona” is the standout track, showing structural and motivic progression in an understated and truly beautiful way.

Realpeople: Holland was the half of this EP that attracted my attention in the first place, and it pains me to say that it’s the portion of the album that falls flat. Blending in with other minimal, warmly textured electro-pop like James Figurine, or even, dare I say it, Postal Service, Holland is as cute as can be without being remotely fresh or interesting. Songs like “My Night With the Prostitute from Marseille” contain catchy vocal phrases, which are repeated melodramatically within the context of sparse, synthesized arpeggios and taxingly simple beats. There’s nothing blaringly awful about Holland, but it lacks the dimensionality that Condor has dedicated his musicianship to, and resting on the beauty of his voice alone doesn’t quite cut it.

The two parts of this EP work together quite magically, showing the transformative abilities of Realpeople and Beirut enmeshed in each other’s influence. None of the tracks by themselves seem to stack up to past hits like “Postcards from Italy,” but the double EP as a whole is strong, intelligent, and innovative.

The Snuggie Is the Magic Cure

Looking back at the first 19 years of my life, I realize that I had been living in a thick fog of depression, anxiety, and an intense desire to belong somewhere - anywhere. It’s just that…I don’t know…blankets are okay, but they can slip and slide, plus your hands are trapped inside. When I first saw the commercial for the Snuggie, I could hardly breathe for excitement. Here it was – the cure-all for my debilitating issues. A blanket with sleeves.

It wasn’t an easy journey getting to where I am now. I’ve been through hell since I realized that I had chronically cold arms and was in need of a Snuggie. First, my best friend from home got one, making me feel profoundly insignificant in the context of my life as a human being. He started showing signs of personal improvement, including the ability to snag his first real boyfriend (just two days after his Snuggie came in the mail!), lose weight rapidly due to the sweating associated with said blanket, and he now has improved dexterity caused by his newfound warm and liberated limbs. He also got a second Snuggie AND a blanket from the Snuggie people for free - a fleece blanket covered in cartoon cats, to be precise. I wondered if the fates were playing a cruel joke on me. Why? I thought, Why, oh why must I resign myself to a life free of mobility, warmth, comfort, and happiness? Am I doomed to be a failure? Why do my friends flaunt their superiority over me?

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, I prepared myself for the worst Valentine’s Day ever, convincing myself I would be the only girl at Oberlin without a comfortable blanket with arms to hold her all night long. I trudged right on over to the mailroom to find that my mom had sent me a box. Thinking it would be full of the usual health food, I brought it back to my room, slammed it down on the bed, and began to weep. But the moment of truth was neigh! I sat down, held my face in my cold, unblanketed hands, and just as I was about to lose it completely, I realized that maybe my mom had sent me some money in the package as well. So, I ripped it open and immediately cried out for joy. My mother had sent me a royal blue Snuggie with a complimentary reading light amongst the health food! My heart skipped a beat, and right then and there, I knew it. My life was on the up and up, and with the Snuggie secured to my arms (and my heart), I voyaged out into the world, only to find that not everyone values a blanket with sleeves.

I have heard several arguments against the validity of the Snuggie as a clothing item. Firstly, some find it to resemble a robe worn by Satanic cult members, ritualistic Scientologists, neon-clad monks, or wizards. The last person to try on my Snuggie reveled in the character that it exudes. Twirling the huge sleeves in front of his face, he muttered some spells from Harry Potter and by Jove! He was Harry Potter, if just for that moment in time. Snuggies can be used to increase creativity, and to aid in the progression of character-driven games, such as charades. Actors and actresses interested in “becoming” their character need simply to visit, as long as their character wears robes. Creative writing majors can actively be their character while they have their arms free to write it all down. Also, if the cult you recently joined has an expensive uniform, just buy a Snuggie and fit right in anyway.

Others oppose the strange and deceptive Snuggie colors. “Royal blue” looks more like electric blue, and “sage green” resembles the color of thrown-up lentil soup, but the “burgundy” color does pretty much seem like a burgundy, and you can probably spill as much red wine on it as you want without anyone noticing. Not only this, but you can drink anything while wearing a Snuggie, since your arms are blissfully free. In fact, I overheard a couple girls talking about having a Snuggie party, and I have to say, it’s a great idea! Imagine Snuggie-clad Oberlin students with PBRs in one hand, joints in the other, and cigarettes in their mouths, having the best time ever with their arms free. Need I mention the fact that Snuggies come equipped with easy butt access. That’s the advantage of getting a Snuggie instead of a robe or extra-long poncho.

After all this raving, I must mention that there is a dark side to the Snuggie. If you want to sleep naked in one, I must warn you: I have never experienced as much static electricity as I have ever since I started doing this. Every time I touch pretty much anything: ZING! I shock myself, my boyfriend, my friends, animals, teachers, whoever. As with anything, however, there is an upside to sleeping naked in a static-y Snuggie. The electricity is audible as well as visual, and can be limitlessly entertaining. Just turn off the lights, get your ass in that Snuggie, and watch the fireworks show. You’ll never have to leave your bed for the 4th of July ever again!

I am more than satisfied with my Snuggie, especially since it was free. I haven’t been sad, angry, stupid, tasteless, lame, unsatisfied, bored, frustrated, or sleepy ever since I got it. We are all special, intelligent, and fascinating human beings. As long as our arms are adequately warm.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wham City Feet Night

After the full night of psychedelic majesty that was Eyes Night, the Baltimore music collective, Wham City, put on their dancing kicks and metaphorically kicked our asses, mania dripping from the walls of the ‘Sco. It’s a good thing Dan Deacon seems to love us so much, choosing Oberlin for one of the few places both Eyes Night and Feet Night occurred. Fuck midterms; let’s dance.

The longest break we got between 9:30 and 1:00 was a trip in itself: a man and a woman shrouded in light, gazing into each other’s eyes and panting the phrase, “We cut the throats of those who are wrong.” Judging by the standards set by the quirky, neon-splattered family that is Wham City, nothing is wrong. No one is wrong. The more “wrong” the evening becomes with such artists as DJ Dog Dick, The DeathSet, and Lizz King, the more "right" it all feels. No throats cut tonight.

The very structure of the Round Robin tour is testament to the cooperative nature of the collective. Nobody has a bad spot in the room, no band is deemed an “opener,” no microgenres are defined, and the bands collaborate to create well-done multimedia presentations that simultaneously take us back to the 90’s thrust us into the future of pop music. Aesthetically, Dan Deacon always delivers with gusto, green skulls alight, fluorescently decorated equipment abuzz…even the audience becomes a part of the visual experience as the inner circle violently dances in a halo of light, singing along to the culmination of the evening, the Wham City “national anthem” of sorts (appropriately titled “Wham City”) off of the critically acclaimed album Spiderman of the Rings.

Living up to their name, the electro-rock powerhouse Video Hippos also employed visuals in a way that captured attention without distancing us from the musical experience. Perhaps the most entrancing of the videos is that of a human profile, ideas and insecurities about direction, intimacy, and even weight filtering in, bouncing off, and melding into each other as we, in our various boozy, drugged up, or simply amped states stomped our feet, grabbed each other, and stared as human emotional universality struck a surreal chord. Hey, I’ve felt like that before. But now all I care about is dancing, music, and colors, man.

Not all the visuals felt this seamless, however. Lizz King, positioning herself as a Lolita-type figure, combined images in her video for the song, “Booty Queen,” of Tinkerbell getting spanked, Pocahontas and John Smith having sex, JonBenet Ramsey strutting her way underage “stuff” on stage, and most notably, what seemed to be webcam videos of herself in assorted levels of angst and auto-sensuality. Pursing her lips to the camera as she sings, “Ooh la la, ooh la la! She’s just a BABY!” we watched as she jammed her face almost directly into the lens, smudging overdone, burlesque clown-type makeup down her face as she cried. In person, she danced energetically on a table in a series of angles and contortions as she shrieked to the minimalist electro beats and, occasionally, belted out some surprisingly soulful notes in an alto range. Her last song, an eerily slowed-down, robotisized cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, although it was wonderful to glance around the venue as people, oblivious to the fact that it was perhaps the creepiest cover of “Umbrella” ever, paired up and shared profound drunken eye contact with the grinding partner of their choosing.

“Electrospazz” band Nuclear Power Pants jokes that they’re just happy that people talk about them, even if journalists and bloggers seem to dislike their music. Not this one. Dressed in a two-headed business suit, the two singers probably sang in different keys the whole time, but the vigor with which they were able to belt out their silly and usually unintelligible lyrics as they bobbed their heads and played catchy synth lines completely won me over. The three other instrumentalists were totally decked out in neon green shark outfits which seemed to emit a weird glow. Because the music is intrinsically disjointed rhythmically, it seemed as though some people didn’t really know how to dance to it. So, there was a lot of jumping around, splashes of PBR raining down on us like amber-tinted, electro rain.

Using virtually the same set up, Height bumped shit up to the next level with their subtle use of synth and their robust hip hop beats. Rapper Mickey Free stood on a table, a sinister light showing every detail of his face, as his flow, self-assured, not too fast nor too slow, galvanized an already-intense groove. The strongest of their songs were the rock-rap tour de force, “Smash Your Eyes,” and the gritty, supremely catchy “Bad Weather,” which epitomized Wham City sensibilities in many ways – electrocentric, danceable beats, a complete refusal to pinpoint a genre, and artsy, sometimes irrelevant lyrics, as with the chorus to “Bad Weather”: “You’ve got a safari hat for rugged landscapes. / You’ve got frosty mugs full of drinks I like. / You’ve got tropical feathers on a bad weather bike.”

Employing some elements of hip hop, the predominant dance rock of Smart Growth sparked a fuse with the audience. Although not necessarily memorable or especially original, they kept the energy alive, as did Future Islands. Future Islands had all the typical electro-pop tricks up their sleeves – the increasingly intricate beats, the vamps, the heavy bass…good thing these tricks seem to always work.

Other featured electronic artists included Adventure, a DJ who seemed to love playing in the cage, casually sipping various alcoholic beverages as his high-pitched, heavily arpeggiated melodies assaulted our ears in a way reminiscent of Crystal Castles and Boys Noize put together. The crowd around the cage couldn’t get enough of the twisting of knobs, the and ebb and flow of distortion. Even more seriously distorted was DJ Dog Dick, whose music demanded the audience’s attention through bizarre and sometimes hilarious lyrics, surprising tempo alterations, and sudden switches in beat emphasis. Both DJs seemed oddly apathetic, yet motivated some of the most extreme dancing of the evening.

Famously rejecting the ideals of “hipster apathy” and music constructed around influence, Double Dagger totally ravaged the ‘Sco and became an audience favorite. Right before their first song, “Luxury Condos for the Poor,” vocalist Nolen Strals looked me in the eye as he informed the audience that, “if you move up real close, at the end of this song, we’re all going to be good friends.” He was right. Spending more than half of the time embedded within the crowd, Strals demanded full attention.

Explosive, engaging, and badass, Blood Baby pushed all our buttons at the same time. Besides their incredibly intense appearances (and name), Blood Baby gave Oberlin a crash course in artsy hardcore. Immediately following a Wham City compilation video (soundtrack done by the Creepers from Eyes Night) and an exhibit in hypnosis done especially for those who were the most fucked-up, Blood Baby took the stage for the last time. Punky hardcore songs usually lead to the smashing of things – people, instruments, eardrums, whatever. Double Dagger and Blood Baby successfully accomplished all these things, but not quite to the degree of The DeathSet.

For such a small-statured guys, The DeathSet really know how to rip it up live. You might not guess just by walking around campus, but Oberlin students can really mosh if they want to! As one of their songs ended, I found myself in head-butted disrepair, but completely electrified by their stage presence. Drums, cymbals, audience members, and even band members were thrown and displaced, thrilling even those who thought they’d never like a hardcore show. The DeathSet summed up their appeal best themselves: "Tape deck, select / burning wreck, broken neck, / dirty speck, bitches wet, / motherfuckin’ DeathSet! /In your eye, weapons fly, / don't even try to feel our size, / wonder why the people cry / the motherfuckin' DeathSet!"

If there was anything too good to be true, it was the award Dan Deacon promised for the winner of the dance contest: “If you win, you will become Prince!” Fueled by high-octane electronic madness, various audience members shook what their mamas gave them, gaining screams of approval from those anxious to go head-to-head with other wannabe Princes. Oberlin students have never looked as good as they did in this two-minute span of psychosis, which is probably why no one definitively won this desirable new identity. We can’t all be Prince.

I don’t know much about geography, but I can tell you my favorite city just might be the City of Wham, that luminescent orgy of creativity. After all, “There is a mountain of snow, up past the big glen. / We have a castle enclosed, there is a fountain. / Out of the fountain flows gold, into a huge hand. /That hand is held by a bear who had a sick band.” Not just one sick band, two full nights of sick bands. Plus an after party. Who could ask for more? Aside for maybe a spontaneously magical A on that midterm you forgot to study for.

Akon: The Eternal Creeper

It seems to me that sexual icons that go for the whole playa/gangsta/pimpin thing are inherently creepers, the only differences being the stacks of money flying out of their pants, the forever-present draaank, the abundance of “whatever you smokin’ on,” the pimped-out cars, and their appealing group of friends who are just like them. Take, for example, the eternally creepy Akon, who has a limitless supply of hoes, somehow. It’s probably his new techno-influenced beats. Plus the added bonus that he’s super sincere, romantic, and probably mind-blowingly intelligent.

Or not. Akon is fundamentally confused about his existence, and rightfully so. Famous for his involvement in a car theft ring, his sexual exploitation of 14-year-old girls at shows, outbursts of violence, his new reality show about his relationship to his brother, and his overall “konvict” status, Akon seems to now have no idea who he really is. Most of the songs on the new album, Freedom, are about Akon the Badass (shown brilliantly in “Troublemaker”), Akon the Happy Dude (as in the vomit-inducing “Sunnyday”), Akon the Guy Who Got Out of Prison (displayed in the title track featuring the symbolically striking, ethnic-sounding pan flute), and Akon the Sex God (the 90’s electronica-tinged “Beautiful”). However profound and cultured he wants to sound, lyrics like “See, I’m that type of guy you won’t love. / I’m that type of guy you won’t cuff. / I’m that type of guy you daddy won’t let you go out, cause he thinks I sell drugs. / I’m that type of guy that will save ya. I’m that type that will call you later” show him for what he really is: confused, a little crazy, and sketchy as hell. This puts him on par with all other geniuses, ever.

A highlight of the album is his collaboration with T-Pain entitled “Holla Holla,” in which a heartfelt intro, complete with sweeping organ cadences, romantic acoustic guitar in the background, and Euroclub beats and synth lines set the listener up for a complete, sensual journey. The first verse fortifies the romantic atmosphere, alerting us to the fact that Akon and T-Pain have accoutrements galore: “We got plenty of drank, plenty plenty of water. / We got plenty of dank comin’ from Cali-ifornia.” The scene intensifies from here, with an unbelievably epic chorus focusing on the fact that Akon really wants to holla at this girl, and T-Pain’s really going to help him out, using his magically amplified and spliced voice to repeat that he does, in fact, want to holla at her (six times per chorus, to be precise). The beat is actually the best on the album, as it uses noises other than the hand clap, the poppy bass, and the 90’s synth sound. Despite some of the cool noises, the song ends up as a pseudo-R&B, pseudo-90’s Eurotrash attempt to seduce a girl. After all the yearnings for live lesbian action preceded by rollin’ out in a number of expensive cars in order to perform whichever sexual acts Akon and T-Pain are into (one can only imagine), I was left thinking about the word “holla,” and how (much like the word “lemon”) it lost its meaning after a certain number of repetitions, and now sounds like electronic mush to me.

The singles from this album, “I’m So Paid” and “Right Now (Na Na Na)” both feature the unsurprising, heavy synth, hand claps from all angles, and lyrical repetition of his other hit songs. For example, “Right Now” is just like his previous hit, “I Wanna Fuck You,” except this new song is much more urgent and slightly more emotional, as displayed by the constantly mutating, hurried, and repeated usage of the word “now.” It might actually be a sequel to his previous hit, or perhaps a clarification of intent. Yes, I do want to fuck you. No, not later. Right now, na, na, na, na. The bass-heavy, yet immaculately synth-fueled beat from pop-production purgatory also adds to the urgency and importance of the situation, as do lyrics like, “Just wish you could dine with me, / wish you could dine. / One that would grind with me, / ohh one that would grind.” The storyline here is made especially adorable because Akon happens to be pining for a hoe he had broken up with, and now wants back by his side, grinding and making love to him right now. What a man. How do you say no to that?

Despite having guest artists like Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne, the song “I’m So Paid” lacks something important: a point. Yeah, Akon has a lot of money. He sounds pretty happy, which is exhibited well by the happy melody, the cutesy arpeggiated synth background, and the mysteriously emotional attachment you will feel to money after having listened to both the original and remixed versions of this song, which are both on the album. I guess he really wanted everyone to know that he’s definitely been paid. Lil Wayne does a particularly disappointing job on this song, his voice even more bizarre than usual, his flow boring and slower than usual. The music video, however, is lovely, showing exactly how free Akon now feels as he enjoys his bountiful harvest of money, gliding over the open oceans with beautiful women, and basking in his infinite talent.

Akon himself said, “As soon as I conquer music, I can relax and focus on other things. Right now I’m strictly focusing on ‘Freedom.’’ Too bad Akon’s Freedom is not free at all, constraining itself to every trend in top 40 pop right now. Just mix electronic elements with cheesy lyrics, put a creeper on all the album art, add water, and gulp it down. Have fun conquering music, Akon!

Matt & Kim (my new best friends) at The Grog Shop

A friend of mine asked me what a “grog” was last time I was at the Grog Shop to see Soft Circle, Best Fwends, Matt and Kim, and No Age play. I thought about it for a while, didn’t know the answer, and thought to myself that if “grog” meant something exciting or clever, I could use it as a funny intro for this article. But it actually means “rum cut with water,” which has nothing to do with this show. So, for the purposes of this concert review, “Grog: n. A place a lot like a bigger, more intense, and sometimes more entertaining version of the ‘Sco.”

Soft Circle (AKA Hisham Akira Bharoocha) opened the show with a bang, literally, showering us all with sampled beeps, bloops, swishes, and varying drum distortions, while he complimented it all with live drumming. On his Myspace, he describes his music as “Morphing and melting memories shaped into blissful lightscapes of the past and present.” The music was danceable, technically interesting, and masterfully formulated, with a definite focus on rhythmic progression. As a former member of both Black Dice (up until Creature Comforts) and of Lightning Bolt, Soft Circle is the Brooklyn music scene incarnate. Focused on noise as performance art, Hisham captivated those early enough to enjoy the first opener.
Best Fwends, perhaps the polar opposite of Soft Circle, stormed the stage next, bringing with them some huge, floppy grey things, a park bench, and a backdrop littered with what can only be described as ugly faces (and one cat face). Where Soft Circle was focused on craft and on musical integrity, Best Fwends existed to entertain. I had been previously familiar with their remixes, but never with their original music, which turned out to be a brilliant spoof on hardxcore culture, as I was infinitely reminded of metalcore shows I went to in high school. The gimmick of the two guys being best friends actually worked, as they gave each other sporadic high fives and shared loving banter in between screamy, electronically distorted songs. The grey, lumpy objects on the ground soon revealed themselves to be blow-up gargoyles – huge ones that eventually ended up crowd surfing and consequentially being squished and punctured by enthusiastic fans. My friend who works at Goodwill in Cleveland lamented the fact that he’d probably be given these props the next day at work. The highlight of Best Fwend’s performance was the musical and spiritual culmination entitled “Hail,” which is all about worshiping Satan. Both of the present band members marched ceremoniously into the audience, hands poised in prayer position, looking profoundly convinced of Satan’s grandeur.

After setting up a projection of Zoolander onto the wall of the Grog Shop, Matt and Kim, the most joyous band alive, made our ears twinkle and our toes tap uncontrollably with their Brooklyn indie pop gems. Both humble and insanely smiley, seeing Matt and Kim live was an overwhelmingly happy experience. Songs like “Yea Yeah” (which has the most stereotypically “indie” music video ever) and “Lightspeed” (which is about a super cute game of baseball) rendered amazing crowd responses, crescendoing into Matt’s positively adorable attempts to hang on the ceiling. Having Zoolander playing in the background actually added some interesting light effects to the show, as every once in a while, Kim’s drumsticks would leave light tracers in which you could potentially see Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell’s face. I swear, Kim never stopped smiling, and Matt never stopped enjoying the cool effects he had on his new keyboard. If there ever was a band I would love to be best friends with, it’s Matt and Kim.

Did you see No Age last year at the ‘Sco when they opened for Liars? Oh, you did? Well, this performance was exactly the same. I enjoy listening to Weirdo Rippers and Nouns every once in awhile, but I must admit that most of their songs lack originality within the context of their full body of work. The result is that their live show lacks excitement. Ok, so it was really boring. The most effort they put into connecting with the audience was walking out a few feet, surrounding themselves with people for a couple minutes, then returning to the stage for more guitarcentric, underproduced rock music with indecipherable lyrics and little, if any, musical aptitude. The drums sounded messy, the guitar was overbearing, and the interesting textures present on their recorded material got washed over by the amount of flair they were trying, and failing to have.

A trip to the Grog Shop is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself. Think about it: four decent bands in quick succession, an escape from the Oberlin bubble, the presence new faces you don’t recognize awkwardly from class or “that one party,” and a noticeable absence of ‘Sco smells… Also, if you’re 21, they do serve grog.

Kings of Leon: Kings of Europe and...Not Much Else

I remember listening to my friend’s shitty indie rock band practice covers of Kings of Leon songs in high school. Albums like Aha Shake Heartache (2005) and Because of the Times (2007) succeed in their ability to appeal to fans of The Strokes and Interpol, but also fans of country and blues. The sound was edgy, raw, and sounded easy to emulate, but actually wasn’t at all (at least for my friend’s band). The vocal techniques and dynamic songwriting were refreshingly unique during the reign of one-dimensional dance rock in MTV culture. Released on September 23rd, the King’s of Leon’s new album entitled Only By the Night is, for the most part, a far cry from any of their previous efforts. The guitar hooks sometimes remind me of cheesy pop punk from the 90s, and the overall sound is highly reminiscent of Band of Horses or even a Tennessee-based version of Coldplay. There is, however, the occasional gem on Only By the Night, such as the opening track “Closer,” in which the melodramatic lyrics are overshadowed by the sheer catchiness and rhythmical complexity of it all, making it the strongest song on the entire album. The first single, “Sex on Fire,” also has a memorable chorus, but lacks in every other department. The opening 50 seconds sound like a bizarre mixture of My Morning Jacket, The Strokes, and Sting, all leading into Caleb Followill’s massively emotive and bluesy bellows of “You / your sex is on fire, / consumed by what’s to transpire.” Hey, they never made any claims at eloquence. It might be time to start questioning the ultimate goals the Kings of Leon had in mind with this album. With their image taking the front seat, the Kings of Leon are enjoying phenomenal success in Europe. So they can hold on to their southern swagger, tight jeans, and overblown egos for dear life as loyal fans of old Kings of Leon pay $3 at the door to see their friend’s cover band play shitty versions of “Charmer” and “Four Kicks.” I’ll see you there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Interview with Ratatat's Mike Stroud

Mike Stroud: Where’s your neck? Hiding hickies under there?

Litter Paragon: Uh…I just thought I’d wear my cat scarf to your show. Which was great by the way.
MS: Thanks. I hope I don’t smell too bad. I’m really sweaty.

LP: Haha, everyone is, I think. How do you like it here? Have you or Evan (Mast) ever been to Oberlin before?
MS: This is our first time. It just seems really small. I don’t know. I was just in the bus and then in this building here, and then that ‘Sco place. It seems good. Do you like it?

LP: Yeah, I love it. You and Evan met at college, right?
MS: Yes, at Skidmore, but we hardly knew each other really. And we didn’t really play together until 2001 or something like that. I was a classical music major, and then I realized the whole college thing is kind of bullshit and I left after two years. Like, it’s so motherfuckin’ expensive, you know? And as a musician, you just have to do it. A lot of music business you can’t learn in school.

LP: How did you first cultivate your highly recognizable sound?
MS: What do you mean?

LP: Usually, with both your remixes and your original work, you can immediately recognize it as Ratatat.
MS: We just make music. The new record was mostly recorded in two days. There was no time to plan ahead. Evan had some beats or whatever, and then we just slammed through the rest of it.

LP: How much of the melodic content is charted out, or planned before hand?
MS: None of it. It’s mostly improv.

LP: Where do you find more inspiration, in hip hop or in electronic music?
MS: I kind of hate electronic music. And I hate modern hip hop too, actually. The kind of music that influences me most in making the melodies and everything is classical music. All the remix shit, all that stuff – that’s Evan’s thing, not mine. If I listen to hip hop, it’s stuff like Wu Tang.

LP: Funny you should mention Wu Tang. GZA was here a little over a week ago.
MS: You get a lot of good music here, don’t you?

LP: Yeah; it’s amazing. You’re touring with some great artists yourself – how is tour going?
MS: It’s so good. The guy from Panther and I have become really tight over the past couple weeks. It’s crazy. My favorite band to tour with, ever, probably.

LP: A lot of people expect to see two traditional DJs, bent over laptops when they see you live, which is not at all what you do. How do you decide which parts to play live, which parts to sample…?
MS: We were never going to be just some laptop band. I don’t know. We just play what we think will bring more energy to the show.

LP: You said you don’t like electronic music…but the new Animal Collective remix of your song “Mirando” is being called a 10-minute techno masterpiece. How do you feel about that?
MS: Honestly I couldn’t care less.

LP: Really? It’s a milestone for Animal Collective to be remixing. Do you like Animal Collective?
MS: Uh…I don’t know. I just don’t really care.

LP: Do you even like the remix albums that you guys have put out?
MS: I guess they’re ok. But that is Evan’s thing. I don’t have much of a say in it.

LP: You’re a big part of the Brooklyn music scene. How do you like it there?
MS: I love it. We’ve been focusing on our own shit lately, but it’s a good place to be for music and stuff. Where do you live?

LP: Colorado. But I’ll probably end up in Brooklyn like most other Oberlin graduates.
MS: Oh yeah? Where in Brooklyn?

LP: I’m not sure –
MS: Oh, ok, I get it, I get it. You don’t want to tell me where you live.

LP: No, I just don’t kn-
MS: Well, I’ll give you my exact address – I’ll tell you exactly where I live. I live at ________ in Williamsburg. You can come party with us. Why so mysterious? Just tell me where you live! Where do you live?!

LP: I don’t know yet!
MS: Ok. I’ll give up. Any more questions?

LP: Yeah! Your music has been featured on TV, in movies, in Louis Vuitton fashion shows, and even in hospitals where new mothers are giving birth, according to Pitchfork. How does this kind of ubiquity feel?
MS: I mean, I guess we just don’t really pay that much attention. It’s kind of weird, I guess.

LP: Well, it was a fantastic show. Congratulations on the new album and the international tour. Where are you most excited to go?
MS: We really like Switzerland, Europe in general I guess.

LP: Very cool. Well, it was nice meeting you. Have a good tour.
MS: You too.