Archive for September, 2011

Girls — FATHER, SON, HOLY GHOST : Album Review

Girls
Father, Son, Holy Ghost

tACKY Grade: 8.6/10

1. Honey Bunny
2. Alex
3. Die
4. Saying I Love You
5. My Ma’
6. Vomit
7. Just A Song
8. Magic
9. Forgiveness
10. Love Like A River
11. Jamie Marie

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two years since Girls released their debut LP Album, that in such a short amount of time a band could make so astronomic a leap or leave so bold an imprint on the world of independent music. Essentially, Christopher Owens and his little lo-fi band from San Francisco have crafted an entire genre and burned down a path for innumerable other bands to diverge from. Album was an early-career masterpiece for Girls, a 12-track exploration of heartbreak and the dreadful feeling of being an island, an isolated soul in a less-than-welcoming world. Sure, there were some fun and upbeat tracks, but largely it was an affectionally longing record highlighted by its singles “Lust For Life” and “Hellhole Ratrace” that delved into a dichotomy between playfulness and drab loneliness and more importantly by oft-overlooked back tracks like “Lauren Marie” and “Darling” that were as soulfully dolorous as they were enchantingly dreamy. No band in recent memory could appeal to so broad a spectrum of interests or occasions. Whether you sought a summery beach rock tune like “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” to rock out to, or a brash yet sweetly remorseful track like “Laura” to include on a mixtape after you’d been dumped, or just something to calm yourself like the instrumental “Curls” with its sly psychedelic undertones draped behind crafty and subtly masterful guitar harmony, or just about anything else that could fall under the loose umbrella of heartbroken lo-fi pop, Album had it all. It was quirky, gushing, charming, artistic, and friendly. It was, and still is, as good as anything we’ve seen since its release.

Even the EP that followed it, Broken Dreams Club, couldn’t quite encapsulate all that was available on Album, but was still one of the best EPs of the decade. That left us, like many of you, wondering – what the hell can we expect from Girls on their second full-length record? It was difficult to imagine them avoiding the inevitable slight step back that a band that is nearly perfect on their first go-around is almost always forced into. Just take a look at a few of the artists of the same time-frame and their recent second attempts if you need examples, Bon Iver, Toro Y Moi, Sharon Van Etten being the easiest to pick out. Certainly, all of those artists’ second LPs (SVE’s is somewhere between a full-length and EP, but it serves the same purpose here) were very good albums, but they were also letdowns in one way or another. They displayed shifts in style, lessened but not extinct soul, and a palpable effort to recapture what was previously effortless. Before actually listening to Father, Son, Holy Ghost, you might assume it would be destined for much the same. For the most part, however, it escapes that fate and stands on its own feet as a great album in its own right.

The only flaw, in fact, in the entire record is their attempt to slip (perhaps too far) into the psychedelic/experimental classic rock style that was never previously their draw. I wouldn’t count that against them necessarily except for the fact that when they attempt that sound, it’s not woven all that well into the fabric of the rest of the album. The heavy-handed and pounding “Die” juts out from its surrounding tracks “Alex” and “How Can I Say I Love You”, which are both palatable and emblematic of the rest of the album – fun, sweet, easy to get into, sad but in a sort of offbeat bouncy way that only Girls could impart. Instead “Die” feels like something you’d expect from a garage rock group or some classic rock knockoff band, thrashing about with harsh drums and blaring guitar solos that lack the one thing Girls always had in abundance, which was subtlety. I’m certain that’s along the lines of what they were attempting to do, I just think it could have been better executed within the bounds of this record. Or perhaps it couldn’t have been placed anywhere else among the track listing, couldn’t have been worked in better, and that’s why it sticks out so much.

Otherwise, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is as solid an album as Album was. Lyrically, it’s a little simplistic, which I will never give any record extra credit for, but because it seems intentional and done to good effect you can’t exactly hold it against the band either. The sonic painting has a little less grit to it, but is well-rounded and crafted with more crispness and a more delicate touch. Despite the obvious attempts to rock out, it is largely a river of sweetness with undercurrents of loneliness, and a truly great pop album. Girls probably wouldn’t fit on a bill with the lo-fi rock groups of the scene any more, but would more easily be heard in a show among loose-form indie poppers or avant garde artists. Truth be told, I like this a little less than their first album, but only for subjective reasons. Technically, it is by far Album‘s superior, but I just preferred its sound to this one. The difference is only slight in terms of its quality, and it is no less a must-have album, perhaps the best album of the year at this point. Only the test of time will truly reveal if it will rank above the other greats of 2011, but the fact that it’s squarely in the conversation should say enough.

Live Blog, Hopscotch 9/10

1:55 pm: Said hey to my Hepcat buddies, settling in at the day party down here at the Lincoln. Youth Lagoon is on now, really cool 2-piece indie pop group.

2:15 pm: Hammer No More the Fingers is taking the stage. Hells yeah, good classic Triangle indie rock.

2:42 pm: Two songs from Hammer No More’s new EP debuted live here, should be a good one.

3:07 pm: HNMTF is wrapping up a very good performance. Very solid, consistent, fun, and technically intricate. Their new EP and supporting tour ought to be just as good.

3:35 pm: Up next, Ben Sollee. Yes, that guy with the cello. We’ve played him a lot on the podcast, can’t wait to see what he has in store.

3:52 pm: Sollee started off with a song from his album with Daniel Martin Moore, “Something, Somewhere, Sometime”. Top notch, very engaging. Took over Davie St. with the first note and never let go.

4:05 pm: Ben Sollee is giving, if not the best, then one of the best performances of the weekend. He only has three albums out, but is hitting all of them, especially the new one.

4:28 pm: So impressed with Ben Sollee. One of the greatest young songwriters in all of music, judging by his albums and this performance. Like Julianna Barwick last night, this performance is forcing us to re-evaluate his newest album, will likely push it up into the top 10 of the year list.

4:50 pm: After brief interviews with Joe Hall of HNMTF and Ben Sollee, I’m off to grab a bite to eat before Superchunk.

6:40 pm: Back just in time to nestle in to the belly of the crowd for Superchunk. Can’t wait!

6:55 pm: Wow, Superchunk sounds great down here at City Plaza. Amazingly, I think they sound better indoors for some reason, which is surprising because of their volume, but they still sound great.

7:07 pm: Terrific set thus far, a few older tunes, now one from MAJESTY SHREDDING. “Rosemarie”. As long as I get one from ON THE MOUTH, the show will be complete.

7:12 pm: Whaddya know! “For Tension” was next. Love this tune. I have seen it live before, but I was kinda hoping for it to be on the setlist.

7:30 pm: This show gets better and better. “Driveway to Driveway”, “Slack Motherfucker”, “Learned to Surf”. They’re busting out a bunch of great live stuff, old and new.

7:44 pm: Mac was right when he noted the significance on stage. This is an historic event for music in Raleigh. A punk band playing City Plaza. Whaaa?!?! Not the Brewery or the Pour House or a house show, but the freaking Fayetteville St. Mall City Plaza. Might not seem like a big deal, but it really truly is.

7:50 pm: Myself and a handful of like-minded folks are leaving before Flaming Lips take the stage. First, they haven’t been artistically relevant in at least six years. Second, Superchunk opens for no one in my mind. Maybe 15 years ago, but not today. And if I can’t keep Flaming Lips from playing, then I’ll just keep them and their very strange fans from dragging down my memory of tonight. I’m off to catch a breather before a night of jazz rock, surf rock, and lo fi punk rock.

9:03 pm: Early arrival at Kings, patiently awaiting the first show of the night, the Hairs.

9:30 pm: Right on time, the Hairs taking the stage. I’ve heard a lot of things about what to expect, people calling them surf pop, shitgaze, 90’s alt-rock-like. Will have to wait and see for myself.

9:46 pm: Ok, so all those tags could perhaps be applied by the untrained ear, but this band is way different than any of those would imply. More like lo-fi garage pop.

9:55 pm: I hear a lot of different influences swirled into this band. Their carefree pop and simple rock instrumentation gives the impression of early- to mid-era of Montreal, or perhaps Let’s Wrestle.

10:02 pm: You can also hear a little early Yo La Tengo at moments. High praise, yes, but it’s only shades of that sound.

10:21 pm: How a band with one short EP and two singles filled an hour set is beyond me, but they did and sounded really good in doing so.

10:30 pm: Going to interview the Hairs then move over to Tir na nOg and the Pour House for a while.

10:44 pm: Really cool interview. Awesome dude, very engaging to chat with.

10:58 pm: A little late, apparently, for the start of Beach Fossils’ set. Wanted to catch Fight the Big Bull too, but got over here too slowly.

11:05 pm: Tir na nOg is freaking packed. Probably the early crowd for Titus Andronicus.

11:28 pm: Caught a few of Beach Fossils’ really great tunes, but can’t deal with the ridiculously crowded vibe here. Gonna get a head start on the long walk to the Union for Times New Viking.

Live Blog, Hopscotch 9/9

8:40 pm: Arrived downtown in time to catch the end of Drive By Truckers’ City Plaza set, staying for the beginning of GBV.

8:55 pm: Skipping out on GBV (blasphemy, I know!) to make sure I get a great seat for Julianna Barwick. Walking down to Memorial Auditorium.

9:46 pm: Julianna Barwick has finally taken the stage, first two songs are off the charts amazing. Her mastery of looping is beyond her years. So subtle, even in a genre that prides itself on subtlety. Her talent and soft-spoken power are overwhelming, her stage presence undeniable, her voice perfect.

9:53 pm: As we noted, live performance is a huge measurement for our album of the year list. Barwick’s THE MAGIC PLACE is sky-rocketing up our list by the second.

10:10 pm: Leaving Fletcher and heading up to the Moore Square area to get ready for Braids.

10:21 pm: The line for the Pour House is ridiculous. Stopping in at Tir na nOg to see King Mez real quick, then hopping in line.

10:44 pm: Missed “Plath Heart” but I’m finally in for the rest of Braids.

11:02 pm: Braids cementing themselves as our favorite new artist of the last couple years. The place is packed, the pit a dance party. Not quite as much as the last time I saw them, but I get the feeling that the Hopscotch crowd isn’t as ready for what they’re seeing as the people who went out specifically to see Braids open for Toro y Moi in the spring.

11:11 pm: Ended up catching the bulk of Braids’ set. They were stunning as ever. “Native Speaker” and “Plath Heart” (even through the wall) were top notch

11:18 pm: Off for a short break, then camp out the Pour House for the rest of the night.

11:40 pm: Back at the Pour House for Disappears. Late start but fucking rocking beginning to their set.

11:56 pm: Setting up an interview with Braids but we can’t hear each other talk over the thrashing indie rock of Disappears. Really impressive stuff from them.

12:09 am: Interview with Braids on the street. Great people, outstanding artists.

12:25 am: Want to head back in but even the VIP and Press lines are getting out of hand. Think I’m going to call it a night.

12:40 am: Caught up with Iggy Cosky outside Bu-Ku. He’s not performing for the festival, but has a couple shows next week.

1:03 am: Finally calling it a wrap on Night 2 at Hopscotch. Less walking than last night, fewer bands seen, but the quality still tremendous.

Hopscotch Preview, Friday 9/9

Alright, last night was fantastic. A lot of walking, but fantastic. I got to check out everything I had hoped to except the line-up at Lincoln Theater. I went down there to check it out, but it was packed so I decided to head back to a place I could actually, you know, get in to. So, I managed to catch Dinosaur Feathers (great), Twelve Thousand Armies (very good), Tender Fruit (great), Dustin Wong (great), Reading Rainbow (very good), Weekend (very good), and Cold Cave (pretty good). All in all, a successful night one, even if I did completely ignore my schedule. That being said, I’ve got plans for tonight but will likely not stick to those 100% either.

I’ll probably kick off the night down at Fletcher Opera Hall for Julianna Barwick, kind of get a chilled out start to the evening. I was hoping to see her perform a smaller venue, see how her ambient loop layering played in a place like Tir na nOg or Kings Barcade, but I’m sure she’ll be brilliant at Fletcher or anywhere.

After that, I’ll be heading up to the Pour House to see Braids play. I’ve seen them before, and they stole the show as an opening band. They might have given the best performance I’ve seen all year when they opened for Toro Y Moi, and I would expect this set to be fairly consistent with that one. They haven’t put out any new albums since then, haven’t had any changes to the band of note. Perhaps they’ll give us some new material from something upcoming, or if I can get in touch with them afterwards I’ll try and dig up some deets on what they’ve got going on.

From there, we have a few options — Swans, Twin Shadow, Disappears, Mount Eerie, and Generationals will all be playing. I’ll probably go catch the end of the Vivian Girls’ set, then just see where my feet take me from there. In any case, I’ll end up back at the Pour House for the last show of the night, Japandroids. I’ve wanted to see them for years and missed them every time I had the chance, but tonight I will most certainly be catching them.

This is all subject (perhaps likely) to change, but tonight’s schedule seems much more sane than last night’s. Then again, I could get down there, talk to some people, and realize how wrong I am about that and end up seeing 8 bands like last night when I expected to see 4 and actually saw 7. I’ll be live-blogging from the festival again tonight, so I’ll keep you apprised of my ever-changing schedule.

Live Blog, Hopscotch 9/8

6:00 pm: Getting it cracking with the delicious country jams of John Howie and the Rosewood Bluff.

6:35 pm: John Howie just wrapped up with a phenomenal closing track “The Last Great Guitar Slinger” that had Sadlack’s rocking. Up next Chip Robinson.

6:47 pm: Solo acoustic lo-fi bringing a small but raucous crowd to silence, nothing like it in the world. Chip Robinson and his powerfully stark voice are as blazingly brilliant as his songwriting. “And the world don’t stop if you want it to…”

7:15 pm: Leaving Sadlack’s for a short break, then downtown for the start of the festival.

8:31 pm: Dinosaur Feathers at King’s — high-intensity psychedelic-spun 50’s pop. The place is packed to capacity and the band is rocking.

8:48 pm: Dino Feathers were really, really good. Kind of like old school Vampire Weekend playing soda shop pop. Mostly stuff from their debut LP, plus one that sounded new… New album on the way?

9:14 pm Tir na nOg for Twelve Thousand Armies and the start of Tender Fruit’s set.

9:21 pm: Twelve Thousand Armies is really cool. Kinda like a less poppy version of Girls. Lo-fi, bluesy, sweet music over grainy but commanding vocals. Perfect lead-in for Tender Fruit.

9:44 pm: Twelve Thousand Armies covering GBV. Gotta love it.

10:06 pm: Tender Fruit open with a solo ukelele tune. Unexpected but phenomenal. Love her voice.

10:22 pm: Tender Fruit might be the most aptly named group at this year’s festival. Sweet and ripe, and yet delicate and raw. One of the most underrated sets you’ll see all weekend.

10:31 pm: En route to the Hive to catch Dustin Wong and Reading Rainbow, then over to either the Lincoln or Pour House to wrap up the first night.

10:38 pm: Dustin Wong is really neat, somewhere between chillwave and psych-pop. Either way, really cool experimental instrumental synth electropop, although it almost feels more influenced by folk than by pop music.

10:57 pm: Dustin Wong was brilliant, even if he did spend the entire show messing with his pedals and staring at the floor.

11:05 pm: Between sets, just noticing how cool a venue the Hive is. It’s my first time here and I really love the space. The set-up — air-tight bar with a stage in the upstairs apartment of the Busy Bee cafe — and the classy but homy vibe make it a really nice spot to take in a show, especially for the slate of bands they have on tap who all seem like they’d thrive in an intimate environment.

11:31 pm: Reading Rainbow taking the stage. If their set is as good as when they opened for the Dum Dum Girls, we’re in for a treat.

11:40 pm: After a slow starter, Reading Rainbow performed a new song. Needless to say their next LP will be highly anticipated around here.

12:02 am: Hell of a show by Reading Rainbow. Maybe not quite as strong as the first time I saw them, but comparable. Leaving the Hive and Tir na nOg area, off to check out the Lincoln and Pour House.

12:08 am: Everyone else had the same idea, the lines down here are insane. Skipping the Lips, off to catch the end of Weekend’s set, then Cold Cave.

12:13 am: Back at Pour House, Weekend is bringing down the roof on the place. Best post-punk show of the young festival.

12:40 am: Cold Cave is taking the stage. I have no idea what I’m in for, just that it’ll be good.

12:47 am: Very hipster-friendly dance music from Cold Cave. Disco-inspired electropop twisted with experimental rock undertones perhaps? It is fairly good and fun, but at least in my opinion not quite up to the hype.

1:00 am: While I do enjoy dance parties, I think I prefer their studio stuff. Something about the live show turns me off, but perhaps it’s only the crowd. Because the music itself is wonderful to listen to, but I just get this intuitive feeling that I’d rather be enjoying it from afar.

1:27 am: For a band that doesn’t have a ton of material, they filled out the set well and even played an encore. Not the most engaging show ever, but fun.

1:35 am: Finally done Hopping Scotch for the night. Very strong Day 1, even if I did tear up all my plans and catch a little bit of everything. That being said, I’ll still draw up tomorrow’s schedule in the morning but will likely throw it to the wind too. I need a time machine to catch everything I want to!

Hopscotch Preview, Thursday 9/8

Hopscotch Music Festival Notes

Well, it’s Hopscotch week around Raleigh, and the city is abuzz in anticipation of a phenomenal line-up and exciting schedule of non-show events. From Thursday through Saturday, Downtown Raleigh will be one giant indie rock concert, bringing together legendary bands that have left their mark on the music world over the last twenty years and brand new underground artists that are cutting their teeth to make it on some level or another and, of course, outfits of every status in between. Everyone knows the names of the headliners playing the Amphitheater – Guided By Voices, Drive By Truckers, Superchunk, Flaming Lips, Dodos – and those are all groups known to put on incredible shows, so I wouldn’t expect anything less. What you might not know is how unbelievable the rest of the line-up is.

There are points in time where you have to choose between seeing the Black Lips and Lonnie Walker, BRAIDS and the Vivian Girls, Titus Andronicus and Times New Viking. In these cases, among others, there really is no wrong way to go, as you’re bound to see a phenomenal show either way. If you’re only interested in one genre, you can stick to that and not have too many conflicts to drive yourself crazy over (perhaps only three or four), but my recommended method for taking in all the great stuff would be to try and catch a little bit of every kind of sound on display. With that in mind, we will post each day what we recommend you see, as well as a couple sets we’ll be sad to have to miss. We will also be live-blogging from the festival, and over the weekend or next week host plenty of Hopscotch-related material including interviews, reviews, news, and (hopefully) even a performance or two.

Tonight, you should start off at Kings Barcade for the opening set of the weekend with Dinosaur Feathers. As the name might imply, the Feathers are a wildly chaotic indie pop band in the mold of Architecture in Helsinki perhaps, and a perfect artist to kick off the festival proper. Their first album didn’t get a ton of publicity, but probably should have, and it really gives the impression that it would lend itself to a great live show.

From there, you have to make a choice – do you go for the upstart local folk band Tender Fruit or the veteran local blues rockers Spider Bags? Personally I’d go see Tender Fruit, except that you have to consider the “where”, and I can see going from Kings to Tir Na Nog (for Tender Fruit) to Lincoln Theater for the rest of the night could be a pain in the ass, so with that in mind I’d say skip on Tender Fruit and go catch the Spider Bags over at Lincoln. Tender Fruit are great, but they’ll play around here again sometime soon. Spider Bags do not play very often, and are opening for the two bands you’ll want to see the rest of the night, the Love Language and the Black Lips.

The Love Language, as you know, are the fledgling local indie pop stars who have made quite a name for themselves in the last couple years with two strong albums, but they are still growing into themselves and it remains to be seen whether they will continue to burn brighter and brighter as they mature or become self-absorbed and fizzle out like many of the bands in their style do. For now, though, they’re great and put on a good live performance.

The show of the night is clearly the Black Lips at the Lincoln. This Atlanta, GA garage rock outfit has been putting out good album year after year, and can’t seem to stop being the most consistent artist of their genre. Their live set is not just energetic and loud, it embodies energy and volume. They’ve toned down some of the antics, but never the music. It’s a little surprising they aren’t included in the Amphitheater shows this weekend, but perhaps they don’t draw quite as large of a crowd as some of those other bands’ names do. You’ll have to miss out on Fan Modine, Lonnie Walker, and William Tyler in order to catch the Lips, but trust me: it’ll be worth it to catch one of the more raucous bands of the last 10 years live and in person, especially considering the groups that are opening for them.

theAnimalsCanKillYou Podcast #6, Part 1 (09/06/2011)

Although I couldn’t quite get it posted over the weekend, as is normal, because of holiday plans, today’s podcast covers last week and this week, all jammed into one. We talk about last week’s releases, preview Hopscotch Music Festival, and discuss the news of the day in indie rock. Oh, yeah, and there’s some great tunes for you too. New Dum Dum Girls, Blitzen Trapper, Bon Iver, Nurses, Pepper Rabbit, and a number of other wonderful artists.

theAnimalsCanKillYou Podcast #6 Part 1

Top 10 of 2011 (So Far) #1

Times New Viking
Dancer Equired

A lot of times when a band like Times New Viking, known for the dirtiness, grittiness, and ear-shredding volume of their music, advances in their career and begins to clean things up, they are roundly criticized for pandering to the scene or conforming to the norm or trying to be something they are not. This is not generally unfounded criticism, as it’s usually one hundred percent true, or true enough to make it worth saying at least. This is not the case with Dancer Equired. First off, it is still very loud and loose, but in an extremely well thought-out way. The cleaning up of their sound is only in its manufacturing and not in its concept or texture. The small tweaks are only to be expected, and are surprisingly welcome in a place where I initially expected they would distract from what was already one of the greatest bands of our time. Instead, they merely show maturity and better accessibility, they allow TNV to play in the same old sandbox just with a new set of dirty old toys. Just about any track here would fit in perfectly on Rip It Off or Born Again Revisited or just about any of their other old releases. The best album in a while that you can just crank the fuck up and rock out to.

Favorite Tracks:
“It’s a Culture”
“Ways to Go”
“F*Ck Her Tears”

Top 10 of 2011 (So Far) #2

the Ladybug Transistor
Clutching Stems

From the second you first lay the needle to this record, you know you’re in for a treat. The opening track and title track, which has become something of a staple on our podcasts, is the kind that turns your soul to mush, the kind that makes you wonder what the hell you’ve been listening to that isn’t this. From there, it only gets better. Even despite its lush appearance and clean execution, it still holds true in composition to the band’s lo fi pop beginnings. It has shades of the early years of their career, but filtered through much more lavish production and slightly more refined sensibilities, and in that way Clutching Stems manages to lend itself to the pop sounds of the day without losing the band’s uniqueness in the fold or compromising their artistic integrity. Frontman Gary Olson continues to mature as a writer and to emerge as a force to be reckoned with as a performer. Perhaps the best example of this is “Oh Cristina”, which features his forward and brilliant vocals portraying a simple but haunting tale of a love long lost. Every single song has its own individual charm, but the way it all comes together as the record progresses is what is truly endearing and gives it its classic feel and memorable nature.

Favorite Tracks:
“Clutching Stems”
“Light on the Narrow Gauge”
“Oh Cristina”
“Hey Jack I’m on Fire”