Monday, June 22, 2009

Dirty Projectors -- 2009.06.21 Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH

Dirty Projectors
Wexner Center for the Arts
Columbus, Ohio

1. Two Doves
2. Cannibal Resource
3. Remade Horizon
4. Useful Chamber
5. Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie
6. Thirsty and Miserable
7. Rise Above
8. Stillness is the Move
9. No Intention
10. Temecula Sunrise

11. Fluorescent Half-Dome
12. Knotty Pine

To be really honest, I didn't like the opener, Skeletons. For me, there is a clear difference between having music being "weird" because it is and having music that is trying to be "weird." To me, it's a problem that plagues a lot of bands, and one many don't shake off very easily. Prime examples are the Flaming Lips shedding off the "weird to be weird" with
the Soft Bulletin, Animal Collective with Merriweather Post Pavilion and, coincidentally, Dirty Projectors with Bitte Orca, so perhaps that's something they can work towards.

I am unsure about no.s 5 and 6, it was just the four "core" members: Dave Longstreth, Angel Derdoorian, Amber Coffman, and the drummer, whose name I don't really know. From what I could glance from the setlists people instantly started grabbing the entry was "Gimme/Thirst," so those two are my best guesses as to the tracks played. It was a great show, if rather short, but that was sort of expected. Despite a fairly deep catalog it seems that with their recent success and countless lineup changes means that they can't dig into the back of their catalog (of which I have never heard, really). I only came in knowing the
Bitte Orca tracks, Rise Above and Knotty Pine, which apparently was enough to know most of what was going on. So all in all, a great show. There were some funny moments, like when they talked about their van breaking down in St. Clairesville. It's on the border of Ohio of West Virginia, pretty much, and I was just there like a weekend ago so I knew what they were talking about. Pretty good. So if you like them, I would highly suggest catching them at some point soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Checkpoint: The Year Thus Far In Music

We're basically at the halfway point for the year, so it's time to do some ranking. I hate ranking, but it's convenient for the layman, and so I will do it. I'm going to cut it off at the end of the month, as technically A. June must end for it to be really halfway and B. it allows me to rank Wilco (the Album).

You could essentially swap the second-place record and first-place record on most people's lists and you wouldn't find any disagreements. Hell, on a given day you did that to my list, and I probably wouldn't complain. And, you could color me surprised if any record coming out later this year even came close to deposing either record.

I decided to do Top 5 records thus far because I haven't been able to get some of the other records I should have, and if I will present a top 10 later, it makes sense to present half as many at the halfway point through the year.

And here we go:

#1. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (96/100)

For those unfamiliar with Dirty Projectors, the closest comparison is to the Talking Heads, except that the frontman, Dave Longstreth, is about 1000x stranger and that they're a six-piece with three gorgeous-voiced women (and probably plain gorgeous, but that's neither here nor there), with less of an emphasis on rhythm and more on arrangement and experimentalism. But perhaps for all the experimenting they've done, this record is so not that experimental, and it's a better record for that. The record is still entirely unpredictable, with more left turns than you could ever make, but each track remains a coherent whole. Current single "Stillness is the Move" and the following track "Two Doves" would have been total double-A-side material back in the day, and there is honestly no weak track on this album. From the opening guitar chiming that kicks off "Cannibal Resource" to the last fluttering notes of "Fluorescent Half-Dome," there is no moment that ceases to hold me. I could elaborate a lot more, but then you'd be reading a record review dedicated to Bitte Orca with the above grade, 96/100. Let me tell you, that's a damn accomplishment because I'm a man who believes being weird for the sake of being weird is a load of hogwash, and for all the weirdness in the record it feels too at home to be a bad record in any way.

#2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (93/100)

And to think when this year started off, I didn't think anything would top this record, but hey, shit happens. That's not to say that this is a poor record; by far, these two are the top two records of the year. There's virtually no space between the top two, but there's a glacial chasm between the two and the rest, God save my soul for such a claim. From the opening of "In the Flowers" to the end "Brother Sport," but likely excepting "Lion in a Coma," this record exhibits the same strength across the board that Bitte Orca has, but "Lion in a Coma" strikes at the heart of the problem for many groups, and one that ultimately leads me to place this second: bands who get their branding as "experimental" or "weird" feel the desire to maintain this cred, when it is totally unnecessary and utterly superfluous. "Lion in a Coma" is that weird moment. While perhaps not an entirely weak track, it certainly represents the weakest point on a record with so many great moments, from the cyclical hymnals in "My Girls" to the fun-time romp of "Summertime Clothes" to Avey Tare's love-lust in "Bluish." Bitte Orca maintained the trademark while doing away with all the weird stuff put in for the sake of being weird...and Animal Collective likely felt the need to maintain that. You can't fault an artist for doing so, but it certainly made the album weaker. But me griping overmuch about that track in particular should not be indicative of my perception of the record - after all, I triumphantly claimed to my friends that this was the record of the year, folks, and this was back in February (perhaps a little early) - it is Animal Collective at their (collective) finest and likely stands tall as one of the best albums of the decade.

#3. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (88/100)

And so starts the rest of the records. One could ordinarily call these ones a bunch of saps, but no, that is not possible. 2009 has been stellar for music, certainly a lot stronger than 2008. Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest would have likely contended for "album of the year thus far" if this was released last year, for example. But this is certainly the best Grizzly Bear effort yet, and it's a fantastic one. The record kicks off with the groovy "Southern Point," and then goes into the star track, "Two Weeks," which gets the record off to a good start. However, it starts to lag in the middle. Perhaps this is the nature of Grizzly Bear, because it happened too on Yellow House, but for one reason or another the inherently languid tracks start to meld together too much, and slowing down, it comes harder to bear. That is not to say, though, that they are poor tracks...the slower tunes tend to play in the court of Grizzly Bear to begin with, but when they start getting sequenced one after the see where it goes.

#4: Wilco - Wilco (the Album) (86/100)

And...Wilco's at it again. I am a professed Wilco lover, so you wouldn't be off-base if perhaps I rate this higher than others do because of the love. But it is possible to adequately defend this record. This record is probably the most akin to Being There, in that there is not necessarily a coherent theme to the record. Wilco (the Album) gives you a smattering of everything, from the chamber-pop of "Deeper Down," the bright, old-school Harrison/Petty sort of pop in "You Never Know," to the hard-edged rock of "Bull Black Nova." Personally, I can easily select "One Wing" as my favorite track of this record (and challenges for track of the year thus far), but I can see how anyone can like any track on this record. Which also inherently means that someone can not like a particular track on the record. Of course, the lack of "focus," but not "flow," means that the record suffers a bit from this lack of a "thematic quilt" that can tie the record together. But this lack means that Wilco get to happily play where they may, and for that it is a great record. Sometimes, there is no real need to present such a thing; let what may be be, and you will be satisfied.

#5: Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (85/100)

The average Joe is a sucker for a good pop song. The not-so-average Joe sees that Top 40 is not a place to find a good pop song. This not-so-average Joe looks for the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's for his good pop songs. Phoenix have produced what can be considered a pure pop record: filled to the brim with catchy hooks, lyrics, the whole bit, it is impossible to not really like this album as a creation of pop. After kicking off strongly with the two singles "Lisztomania" and "1901," the album doesn't leave your head until you put something catchier in...that is to say, not many other records. While the instrumental section of "Love Like a Sunset" does get to be a bit of a sleepy track, with gently wading synths and etc., it gives welcome relief before the band kicks in again with the all the pop power in the world. The record title is perhaps a bold statement, but Phoenix meet the challenge well.


And so, there it is.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wilco - 2009.06.12 Aronoff Center, Cincinatti, OH

1. Wilco (the Song)
2. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
3. Company In My Back
4. Bull Black Nova
5. You Are My Face
6. One Wing
7. Handshake Drugs
8. Side With the Seeds
9. A Shot In the Arm
10. At Least That's What You Said
11. Sonny Feeling
12. Jesus, etc.
13. Impossible Germany
14. California Stars
15. You Never Know
16. Hummingbird
17. Misunderstood >>>
18. Spiders (Kidsmoke)

Encore 1:
19. The Late Greats
20. Hate It Here
21. Walken
22. I'm the Man Who Loves You
23. I'm A Wheel

All I can really say is, "Wow." What a great night. The band looked incredibly happy to be there, and the crowd was pretty good with responding to it. Some notes: Misunderstood "nothin'" count was around 29, though I could be inaccurate, and Hummingbird was great, especially with Tweedy's rock frontsmanship (i.e. the running in place routine with the Daltrey mic whirl). This was my favorite Wilco show (of two, albeit) thanks to the setlist which was beefy with Wilco (the Album) entries. Bull Black Nova was a beast live. My natural assumption is that they were cut short by an 11:00 curfew, which entailed minimal commentary (Jeff only spoke for more than 10-15 seconds once, if my memory serves me) and only one encore, which was the only stinky thing, but it's hard to get everything, right?

So yeah. It's hard to describe. But that's what I can think of right now, perhaps more later. Also, I couldn't find any image form last night that was sort of the right size for the layout.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Records of Great Influence (#3): The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night

You may wonder why I didn't select the more "consummate" Beatles records, the more obvious choices like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, The Beatles, or even Rubber Soul.  The simplest explanation for this particular selection is that this was the first Beatles record that I "got," in the weird sense where it all clicked for me.  There are other reasons, but first things first...

As you may have read previously, I was the epitome of "late bloomer" when it came to the genre of "rock music."  It took London Calling to save me from the dark, and it took me Being There to grasp at perhaps what rock had to celebrate.  But I was missing something, more, you could say.  The "roots of rock."  Where did it all begin?  Where was the "peak" that I had heard so much about?  That was the Beatles.  And it took me my freshman year in college to realize that greatness.  And that's where this record comes in to play.  This was that first Beatles record.  And, yeah, for all intents and purposes I got Beatlemania, though 45 years later.  Better late than never, right?

The question arises: "How did it take so long for you to like the Beatles?  Like, really?"  And I have no good answer to that.  My only real snippets of pre-Fab remembrance are my dad singing "Yesterday" as he would do work around the house, and maybe hearing "Hey Jude" playing now and again.  But I don't know why I didn't pursue that line for so long.  Blame it on all my classical music training, my lack of curiosity, whatever, but finally I got it.  And that's the first reason for selecting this record.

But in another sense, this was the Beatles at the top of their "early pop" game: there is nary a not-catchy song on this record, and coincidentally, nary a really un-danceable track (some tracks lend themselves to slow dancing, which is still dancing, for all ye heathens).  Their first all-original album holds strong.  There really isn't a weak track on this record, which is surprising since even the most enthusiastic Beatles fans (myself included) acknowledge that many a Beatles record contained filler (i.e. not one, but two Carl Perkins covers on Beatles for Sale).  That doesn't mean I don't love the filler, but there was often an obvious quality difference, and with very few exceptions you can tell when you hit those lower points.

The most obvious musical point that most think of when this record is brought up is the first note, a mix of God-knows-what (though likely just a couple of pianos and guitars) that rings in a pop masterpiece.  And, it followed a ragtag adventure of a movie.  But I really shouldn't have to defend this record, or the movie, or any song on it (that point is more arguable, but still, don't try me).

So this was the first Beatles record that really got me.  But in some ways, it lay dormant until the end of that freshman year in college, and then I finally, finally, realized the Beatles, if that makes any sense.  And then I couldn't get enough of the Beatles.  Within the span of a couple months I racked up an ungodly amount of Beatles airtime (my proves this), which rocketed them to the top of my artist list, where they have comfortably been since usurping Wilco that long time ago.

More importantly, I realized, that in some strange, kooky way, the Beatles invented almost every genre in popular music today.  Metal?  Hah, the Beatles did that "Helter Skelter"...even though Lennon liked to argue that "Ticket to Ride" was the first metal track thanks to a Ringo drumline.  They birthed the psychadelic genre (though I would argue that the genre is largely meaningless), among virtually every other genre while still perfecting their "home genre," so to speak, that of pop.  Only two genres can conceivably be considered un-Beatled: punk, which was colonized by Elvis Presley, and rap, which Bob Dylan started ("Subterranean Homesick Blues" started it all).

Therefore, for the reason of uncovering the iceberg, I put The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night as a "Record of Great Influence."  I originally intended to sort of do one record per artist, but it's clear the Beatles will violate that rule, among a couple of other artists.

In other news, too, the Beatles Rock Band trailer was unveiled earlier today.  To regrettably use the parlance of our times, I am so sprung for this game.  I am going to preorder it.  Almost now.