Summer couldn’t come quicker

As is its crazy custom, the blogosphere is all atwitter (no pun intended) with predictions of the song of the summer. There are many strong contenders, including but not limited to that crazily catchy tune by Foster the People. However, Pumped Up Kicks has some strong competition on the “summer song” front; some strong competition indeed.

Although his 2007 debut has been deemed an “indie classic” (whatever that means anymore), I first heard David Vandervelde featured on Fader’s Youtube channel Fader TV. Lying on a grassy lawn David, with a strange friend resembling a bizarre amalgamation of Charles Manson and an indie version of Danny DeVito, made a beautiful pair. Anyway their appearances, although interesting, are beside the point. I was intrigued with the juxtaposition of lyrics like “You were talking shit/Didn’t know how to tighten your lip” and the bluegrass/pseudo-country vocal stylings. So I went out on a limb and bought the EP.

Goodness gracious. It’s like they just took a disc and just dipped it summer. I love this song so much, and it’s making me even more excited for the amazing few months to come. If you’re a fan of The Sleepy Jackson, then you will LOVE this.

Learn How To Hang – David Vandervelde

A Sufi AND A Killer

To educate:

What is a Sufi?
One who does not separate himself from others by opinion or dogma; and who realizes the heart as the Shrine of God.

What does the Sufi desire?
To remove the false self and discover God within.

What does the Sufi teach?

Happiness.

What does the Sufi seek?

Illumination.

What does the Sufi see?
Harmony.

What does the Sufi give?
Love to all created things.

What does the Sufi get?

A greater power of love.

What does the Sufi find?
GOD.

And lose?
self

Hazrat Inayat Khan

His name is Gonjasufi. He collaborates with Flying Lotus and The Gaslamp Killer. Vocally, he sounds alternatively like Devendra Banhart and Al Green. He’s a shaman. He’s a metal head. He’s whatever you want him to be and most definitely has his shit together. I’m not really sure how this album works, with influences from lo-fi shoegaze to funk to metal to electronic to wtf does that even exist genres, but it does.

This is a short post for music so immediate words just kinda cheapen it’s rampant ass-kicketry. Check it outttt.

Kowboyz & Indians – Gonjasufi

Ancestors – Gonjasufi

I think they deserve a great big Congratulations

MGMT, Oh MGMT. I’m going to begin this review by saying that I am a completely biased listener. I was lucky enough to see them play in 2008, a good half a year before the (literal) hype machine started making Kids and Time to Pretend some of the most overplayed songs of the summer. I got to meet the band and get stuff signed, and for an impressionable 16-year-old that’s pretty life changing.  I actually listened to and enjoyed the second half of Oracular Spectacular and  have spent numerous afternoons rocking out to Metanoia. Suffice it to say I am a fan.

But don’t get me wrong. I did approach listening to this album with a critical ear. OK as critical as possible without having to be actually objective. Having that said, I love it.

But before I get into what Congratulations is, I want to get into what it is not. There are no Kids on this record. The sound found on Time to Pretend is all but completely diminished. In many respects this album is a lot more pared down and simple; undoubtedly the product of the band’s touring for nearly two years and learning that the transition from album to live show is not necessarily a smooth one. The production, although confirmed by the band as less of an influence, seems much more crisp and professional… No more strange pointless instruments or disturbing mixing to be found here.

But I hear you ask, “Gabby, how can it be MGMT without strange random instruments and horrible mixing? That would be like Jäger without alcohol… totally pointless and disgusting!”

That’s what I thought too people, until I heard the damn thing!

And now for the sycophantic fan-girl raving. OK so, where Oracular Spectacular was like an eclectic shiny musical mosaic, Congratulations is way more focused and cohesive effort. With its airy surf-rock, late 60’s pop sort of feel it’s very light without being kitschy. One of the most marked improvements is the vocal performances by Andrew VanWyngarden. Although his vocals on the last records were by no measure shoddy, he seems to have improved by miles. Sometimes laced with his customary Bowie-esque swagger (Flash Delirium) and other times traversing heady heights with a wavering feminine falsetto (Congratulations), Andrew seems to have  finally learned how to harness his vocal versatility and distill some of the more distinctive aspects of his already unique voice.

Although most of the songs sort of fall into the same sort of psychedelic surf-rock vein there is still enough tonal variation to make the LP interesting.  The opening track, the conspicuously titled It’s Working is almost uncomfortably appropriate start to the album; as if MGMT are some sort of hallucinogenic drug and they’re constantly afraid your trip won’t be good or, worse still, their music will have no effect whatsoever. I Found A Whistle sounds like a demented hymn with its invocation of “Hey I found a whistle/It works every time”, and the album rounds out with Congratulations which, in the present moment, is my favorite song on the album with its soulful melancholy.

My only real qualm with this album is the absence of the Prince/neo-funk influence that I loved in Electric Feel and Boogie Down. However, in the context of the direction they’ve gone with this album, it wouldn’t make much sense.

I could go on forever about the differences and similarities between these two albums, but ultimately I’d rather you just head on over to MGMT’s site and listen to it for yourself. I guess what it boils down to is a question of age. Despite the ridiculous cartoon cover, musically Congratulations is a hell of a lot more grown up than MGMT’s debut. It’s kind of like OS was the band’s drug addled adolescence, sort of an acid fueled parody of itself; full of melodrama and yet still extremely self-aware. I know it’s cliché to say, but it seems as if MGMT has grown up a whole lot on this album. They’ve settled down and learned how to use their peddles and not decided to go on any random bizarre musical tangent that had occurred to them. The result? A really enjoyable, well-made and FUN listen…  And not in the old so-crappy-it’s-good way.

But yeah… the drugs are still totally there. Just not as obviously.

Congratulations comes out officially on 4/13 and you can pre-order it here.

Dragons R Kewl

Ahhh where to start. Well first of all Ming Long’s project has a pretty awesome name: Radiant Dragon. The name fits. This music is dreamy, layered and as colorful as it can possibly be. Frost Satellite sounds like a Disneyland boat ride (think “It’s a Small World” just not in the musical sense, thank God) on acid, like you’re floating through all of these amazing and vibrant environments with your friends and it’s relaxing and beautiful and fun all at the same time.

Seriously guys, this is the real deal. Think streams of multicolored euphony and birds of purest spun heavenmetal and so on and so forth. It’s horizon-broadening. So much music tries to do what Radiant Dragon is effortlessly doing. It’s got these really solid hooks and breakdowns that suck you into the songs, but it’s all covered in a hazy, orchestral synth gauze so it’s not exactly alt-pop or electronica, it’s just to the left of those genres levitating comfortably in its own little sphere.

Additionally the vocals are pretty buried in the mix so the emphasis here is definitely on the production and the arrangement. This is for good reason. Believe me, I’m not trying to hate on Ming Long’s vocals, but the undeniable selling point of this music is the instrumentation. If Radiant Dragon’s brand of chilled out electronic-pop is not to your taste then you can at least admire his music for its flawless composition. But then again, if this music isn’t to your taste you’re probably an idiot and we can’t be friends anymore.
Radiant Dragon – Frost Sattelite

Radiant Dragon – Preseli

Fun!

I heard this track in the background of Nylon’s coverage of Anna Sui’s Fall/Winter Collection. Whoever is behind editing the Anna Sui shows always picks the best music! I remember hearing Devendra Banhart’s Carmensita for the first time last year in their coverage of her Spring/Summer collection. It was a great moment.

Pumped Up Kicks

And so the tradition continues. Thank you Nylon and Anna Sui for always provididing me with lovely new pop music! And by new I mean ridiculously new. From my scouring of both their website and the first page of Google, it seems as if these guys don’t even have an EP out yet. However, if you’re living in L.A. (lucky bastard) and you sign up for their mailing list you can gain access to a show they’re putting on at the Viper Room this Wednesday! If you’re like me though and don’t live anywhere near the city of angels, you’ll just have to sit tight and enjoy this one track. Oh well.

Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

So Much Love for Alexander Wangs New Rags

Seriously people…

The pearl embellished velvet jacket was simply magical and I adored the dramtic velvet harlot dresses. I seriously want a pair of those long leggings as well… so simple and yet so beautiful. This isn’t necesarily my favorite of Wangs collections, but this line is certainly one of my favorites this season. Yay for velvet!

(I think this song should have been playing in the background of the video)

Velvet – The Big Pink

WinterSurfrockwut?!1

This music is not weather appropriate, but honestly, when has that ever mattered to me? The band is called Surfer Blood and their album, Astro Coast came out January 19. It’s a pretty cool way to start of the year methinks, with their upbeat jangly guitars and the pretty but slightly misplaced choral vocals.

Fun, surfy, power-balladesque, adolescent melodies with some Calypso breakdowns that have you going “WOAH!” in a good way. When it’s good guys, it’s good.

Swim (To Reach The End) – Surfer Blood

Floating Vibes – Surfer Blood

Keep Indie Alive: Say no to vampires!

One of the many bizarre things I got sucked into while through the respiratory illness looking glass was bad T.V.  I’ll spare you the gory details as a lot of it is super-embarrassing, but one show I became particularly obsessed with is called “The Vampire Diaries”

Yeah, it is as bad as it sounds.

It basically takes all of the crappiest and soppiest elements of True Blood and Twilight and assembles them into this vapid, pulpy, bloody mess. It’s written badly, the actors aren’t great (EXCEPT for Ian Somerhalder… Oh God, Ian Somerhalder) and generally you just feel like you don’t deserve to procreate while watching it. However, most alarmingly perhaps, it’s got this crazy obscure soundtrack.

Allow me to illustrate: So I’m watching the show. It’s come to one of those typical cliché moments when the vampire sexyman love-interest is conflicted in whether he should tell the beautiful brunette protagonist about his “true nature”. He’s being brooding and mysterious (no, not like the normal brooding and mysterious, like, intensely brooding… like, Tolstoy and opium man) and she’s standing there looking pretty and confused and they’re standing on some bridge which, for no apparent reason, has  twinkly white Christmas lights all over it. They go through the pedestrian dialogue, the sighing and the “discrete” glances, and then, all of a sudden WA-BAM, Glass by Bats for Lashes starts playing.

At this point I’m totally confused. It would be one thing if this was some quirky indie vampire show (that’s fun to imagine), but this show airs on a sister channel of Fox… IN AMERICA.

At first I thought it was a fluke, some show intern’s little victory. I could just imagine her, the little waif from NYU with her horn-rimmed glasses, inwardly beaming at having incorporated an obscure British dream-pop ballad into a cookie-cutter teen drama. But then the frequency of these songs abolished all pretence of coincidence from my mind. For example, at one point in the show the mayor’s unsatisfied and lovably cougar-ish wife is slumming it at the local bar. I’m not really sure why because trying to figure out why things happen in this show is kind of like trying to defeat a ninja, it’s pointless and ultimately painful. ANYway she’s sitting there, and then the “bad” vampire (because now all of a sudden predatory beings that drain you of blood and are meant to be hella scary can be something other than bad) comes in and seduces her. As the director of this show, I would want the music to reflect the sense of dark foreboding to foreshadow the violence of the impending scenes. Although derivative, I’d probably opt for some creepy classical music or just some dissonant strings. But that’s not Vampire Diaries’ style. No way man, that’s too obvious. They’re the hip cool vampire show. So in a scene that basically sets up for the murder and brutal exsanguination of a well-meaning middle-aged woman, the backing track is MGMT’s Kids.

Suffice it to say I was shocked.

I could go on about other instances in the show where the obscure music selection was inappropriate and downright weird, but unfortunately these few instances I’ve mentioned in relation to the Vampire Diaries are just small satellites orbiting a bigger problem. Vampires are infiltrating music. That’s right, you read it, they’re infiltrating it and it’s flipping sick. Just take a look at the track list for the recent Twilight: New Moon movie soundtrack:

1. Meet Me On The Equinox    – Death Cab For Cutie
2. Friends – Band Of Skulls
3. Hearing Damage – Thom Yorke
4. Possibility – Lykke Li
5. A White Demon Love Song – The Killers
6. Satellite Heart – Anya Marina
7. I Belong To You [New Moon Remix]  – Muse
8. Rosyln – Bon Iver & St. Vincent
9. Done All Wrong – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
10. Monsters – Hurricane Bells
11. The Violet Hour – Sea Wolf
12. Shooting The Moon – Ok Go
13. Slow Life [with Victoria Legrand]- Grizzly Bear
14. No Sound But The Wind – Editors
15. New Moon [The Meadow] – Alexandre Desplat

I suspect the vamps have had these guys for a while: note the pseudo-victorian apparel, guyliner and effeminate posturing

And the great thing is, these are all original songs. That’s right, if you want to get these songs you have to buy the New Moon soundtrack. This means that Thom Yorke sat in his sound proof biosphere (for some reason that’s where I imagine him working), put on his smoking jacket and thought to himself, “What kind of song should I, a literal rock LEGEND write for this silly teenage vampire drama? I who wrote the album that single handedly changed the face of alternative rock… Hmmmm…”

It’s hard to imagine that the same person I loved for coldly refusing to meet Miley Cyrus at the Grammies could pull something like this. I mean it’s not like he needs the money, or cares for that matter. This is the man from the band who allowed their fans to choose their own price for his record.

So what do you do when you feel like one of your favorite musical heroes has seriously challenged his own credibility? You go into denial. I don’t choose to believe that Thom Yorke did this of his own volition, I believe that the vampire overlords have impressed him into their infernal service to help them in their quest for world domination. You may think it extreme, but with this kind of stuff being sold to children, I think there’ve been crazier beliefs.

P.S. Thom, I will save you… on the condition that you let me hang out at your biosphere sometimes.

More proof:
Vampire Hands – Paradise Knife Fights

New Year! Get with it!

I hope everyone had fulfilling and memorable last moments of 2009. I know I did! In between dodging maverick fireworks and sharing resolutions with family I managed to have a pretty good time, considering.

So resolutions… I’m sure most of you have at least one. I have six! I won’t bore you by posting them all here, but I would like to share one of the better ones with you: buying a new pair of shoes.

Ahhh, I can hear your incredulous gasp already. “What?” you scoff, “What kind of stupid resolution is that?”

Hush you! It’s a damn good resolution and I’ll tell you why. You see, I don’t want just any shoes, I want some Toms.

These babies aren’t just cool because they’re cute and comfy, they’re also philanthropic. I kinda like to think of Toms as Keds with a conscience because for every pair you buy, a pair goes to an underprivileged child. This is awesome because, although we in the 1st world often take them for granted, shoes are important. Many kids in developing countries’ only mode of transportation is walking, oftentimes barefoot. The primary cause of death in many LEDCs are soil transmitted parasites or infections caused by lack of proper foot protection. By giving them shoes we’re allowing them to travel, play and live easier lives with diminished risk of the amputation, illness or death associated with foot-related injuries.

And it’s all legit. Toms works through internationally recognized NGOs and organized shoe drop tours to make sure that their “one for one” policy is upheld.

But all that “good will” and helping crap aside, the shoes are just cool. In addition to slip-ons, Toms have great men’s and woman’s collections comprised of offerings of Oxford and Keds style lace-ups and boots. They also have an excellent selection of vegan footwear if you’re feeling kind as well as philanthropic.

I’m ordering mine today and seriously, you should too. I can’t wait to wear these out in summer, happy in the knowledge that a kid somewhere out there is enjoying their Toms too.

Cool huh?

And so we’ve reached the end…

Well here we are again, at that wonderful time of year that has us all family oriented and warm and reminiscent. As I sit here in my bed with quilts up to my ears and a warm cup of cocoa on my side table, I can’t help but feel optimistic for the coming days. This year was both trying and rewarding for me, through the microcosm of this blog and in my personal life. One of the most trying tasks I’ve undertaken thus far was narrowing down by “best of” list for this year. The sheer volume of music that I’ve been exposed to has made this hard enough, but then there’s the fact that most of it, amazingly, was brilliant.

In any case, I won’t bore you with the details of scouring my iTunes library and re-visiting albums from earlier in the year. Instead I’ll just commence with the list! Happy holidays!

10. Rewild – Amazing Baby

To be honest, I feel a bit bad putting this album last. It really was, in my opinion, a great record. The production was flawless with its intricate string arrangements and layered synths. I found something new and interesting after each listen. My only real problem with this album was not with its execution, but with its scope. I feel that since there’s been a sort of neo-psychedelic revival, these guys needed to really reach and “push the envelope” of their sound. This isn’t to say that the album is uninteresting, I believe it is quite the contrary. However, I couldn’t help but feel like there were missed musical opportunities.

Roverfrenz – Amazing Baby

9. Two Suns – Bat For Lashes

If I lived in a fairy commune with a unicorn overlord, I think Natasha Khan would be, like, the queen. She just oozes this creative self-assurance and transcendental understanding and that definitely informs her music. It leaves nothing to be desired, exploring all sonic possibility and weaving vast dreamscapes to lose yourself in. Two Suns is a much more cohesive effort than Fur and Gold, although it lacks the kind of tongue-in-cheek humor that made songs like What’s A Girl To Do? soar (remember that verse in the chorus: “When your dreams are on/A train to train wreck town”?). Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful, ethereal listen.

Siren Song – Bat For Lashes

8. True Romance – Golden Silvers

From the minute I laid eyes upon the swirly intricate purple and gold album artwork of True Romance, I knew it was going to be one of my favorites for this year. I mean, how could anyone in their right mind resist Golden Silvers’ witty mix of nostalgic doo-wop and 80’s pop? True Romance was my go-to song this summer, and for good reason. Golden Silvers are fun and smart, two things everything (people, music, cake etc.) should aspire to be.

Arrows of Eros – Golden Silvers

7. Fever Ray – Fever Ray

This album, Karin Andersson’s (you know, the female half of The Knife) crazy side-project, was one of the best musical WTF moments of the year. When I chanced upon the music video for When I Grow Up earlier this year, I was utterly confused. “What is this?” I wondered, totally bewildered by what I had just seen, “Is this electronica, or pop?” I questioned, “Why is that girl dancing over a pool?” I still don’t really know the answers to those questions, but there’s no denying that Fever Ray is different, lively, and crazily danceable at some points. With its quirky sampling, cryptic lyrics, and creepy undertones Fever Ray is sure to be an album you need to revisit.

Triangle Walks – Fever Ray

6. Logos – Atlas Sound

Shelia is just, just one of those songs that grabs hold of your imagination and won’t let go. You find yourself singing it absent-mindedly to yourself and making it your internal life-soundtrack when traversing snowy streets. In a lot of ways, Logos, as a cohesive effort is the same. It’s pop music, but not quite. It’s dreamy and airy and childish all at the same time. At some moments though, My Halo for example, it’s dark and brooding. However, it never leaves you in that scary place for too long. I may be a bit biased since I kind of love anything Bradford Cox lays his hands on, but there’s something undeniably endearing about his brand of screwed up transcendentally melodic pseudo-pop.

Shelia – Atlas Sound

5. Album – Girls

I was fortunate enough to be tipped off about this crazy San Francisco duo by Gerlin, and seriously, thank you Gerlin because this album is like, wow. On a theater trip in London earlier this year, Lust For Life became our theme song, blaring as loud as we could possibly make it from our home-made cup speakers. Album is pretty much the crowning jewel on the lo-fi crown for this year, epitomizing that carefree, slightly-crappy but lovable sound that seems to be coming exclusively from California recently.

Laura – Girls

4. Merriweather Post Pavillion – Animal Collective

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m not about to prostrate myself before a shrine to Noah Lennox and sacrifice a baby with Brother Sport playing in the background. No sir, not that crazy yet. What I will say is this album was, categorically, awesome. It’s like synthy, loopable gold flowing all through your head and making you wanna dance like a lunatic. It’s also amazing from start to finish. No half-assed attempts or fillers here. It’s just 54 minutes and 42 seconds of masterfully crafted electronic bliss. If your friends are anything like mine, you will have had constant arguments about which song is best, but in the end it really doesn’t make a different because they’re all so fucking amazing.

But for the record guys (you know who you are), My Girls = WIN

My Girls – Animal Collective

3. Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors

I will express my love for this album in the form of haiku:

Dirty Projectors,
Solange Knowles covered your tune?
Massive respect dudes.

But seriously, this album deserves some major kudos. Not only is this Dirty Projector’s most accessible album to date, it might just be their flat out best. Longstreth’s guitar acrobatics along with his girl’s warbling, ghetto-songbird-esque vocals leave you with cool tunes that are as suited to your local indie club as they are to a chilled our party at your friend’s house.

Useful Chamber – Dirty Projectors

2. Here We Go Magic  – Here We Go Magic

I think that this was the album that I anticipated most this year. From the minute I heard Fangela, I was hooked. The crazy soundscapes that Luke Temple manages, almost single-handedly, to create are all-encompassing and deeply engrossing. The lo-fi edge of the record almost serves a foil to the intricacy of the melodies and arrangements, while simultaneously giving the record a homey, accessible feel; like the record was a demo from a ridiculously talented friend working out of his basement. I absolutely LOVE this record, and know that I will be immersing myself in its wonderful melodies for years to come.

Tunnelvision – Here We Go Magic

1. Fits – White Denim

Call it bias, call it lack of musical taste, but I am totally committed to spreading the gospel of Fits. Not only do you get 24 tracks for $10 on the extended American release, but basically every song is this amazing, in-your-face psychedelic rock explosion that will leave you breathless and energized. In a scene where a lot of music is over thought and overproduced, White Denim are wonderful glowing monsters ready to shake things up and present something awesome.

Regina Holding Hands – White Denim

Most Promising EPs (in no particular order):

1. Mystery – BLK JKS

2. Rainwater Cassette Exchange – Deerhunter

3. Life of Leisure – Washed Out

Have a kick-ass new year everybody!