Posts Tagged ‘Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Yours, Mine and Ours

Joe Pernice & Norman Blake at The Dakota Tavern in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI don’t think Toronto necessarily has an international reputation as a destination for expatriate pop geniuses, but apparently Canadian women hold a certain appeal for them. Joe Pernice of Pernice Brothers has been up here for the better part of eight years while Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub moved to Kitchener a couple years ago – both on account of their Canadian wives – and on Friday night, they were on stage together at The Dakota Tavern for a low-key show together. It had been advertised as a Joe Pernice show with the promise of a “special guest”, and while a show from Joe alone would be worth pencilling into the calendar, once the faintly-veiled clues as to who said guest would be got out, it turned into a must-see.

Anyone expecting a high-falutin’ musical summit between two of the finest pop songwriters around would have done well to dial down their expectations, though. The show was much more of a back porch strumalong between two old friends who just happened to have one hell of a songbook to draw from and though it had its share of sloppy moments, that arguably made it even more special and memorable than if it had been meticulously rehearsed. Pernice started out with a short solo set that drew from his many projects – Pernice Brothers, Joe solo, Scud Mountain Boys – and included a new song entitled “Surf’s Up” that he revealed was from a new, just-completed Scuds record. Scoop!

Blake was then invited onstage and the two spent the rest of the show playing each other’s songs – Pernice on a standard acoustic, Blake on a Nashville-strung parlour-body – and reminding the gathered that they were two of the funniest stage banterers in the business with some great repartee. There was plenty of time for banter as Blake’s guitar required plenty of tuning and retuning – their first run through of “Baby Lee” went further out of tune with each strum and forced a do-over – but when they were able to get onto a song, it was grand if clearly not overly rehearsed. Even with a music stand overflowing with notes onto the floor between them, they were happy to do things off the cuff – Blake had to teach Pernice the chords to “You Was Me” from his Jonny side-project with Euros Childs on the fly (it turned out fine) and even though their take on Fanclub’s “I Don’t Want Control Of You” was a bit of a comedy of errors, they still made it tremendously entertaining.

The stuff that was more properly arranged, however, was nothing sort of sublime. Hearing them trade verses on “Everything Flows” was easily the highlight of the night and their finale of “Alcoholiday” not far behind. You obviously didn’t have the wall of harmonies that Teenage Fanclub proper can offer, but Pernice’s falsetto was a pretty good stand-in. It wasn’t just about the Fanclub material, mind, as their work on “Loving Kind” off the last Pernice Brothers album Goodbye Killer was stirring and their cover of The Zombies’ “The Butcher’s Tale” darkly affecting. Though they obviously could have kept going all night, a hard curfew forced them to cap things at 90 minutes though they were permitted an encore of Fanclub’s “Start Again” that was a divine finale.

It’s not clear if this tweet is a joke or a promise, but an actual collaboration between the two – or even some more of these casual-vibe shows – would be a great treat and a far better way to enjoy having these talents as locals than going through their trash.

The Calgary Herald has an interview with Joe Pernice about his plans to release two albums this year – the aforementioned new Scuds record and the long-promised new Pernice Brothers album.

Photos: Joe Pernice & Norman Blake @ The Dakota Tavern – June 22, 2012
MP3: Pernice Brothers – “Somerville”
MP3: Scud Mountain Boys – “Grudge Fuck”
MP3: Teenage Fanclub – “Baby Lee”
MP3: Teenage Fanclub – “It’s All In My Mind”
MP3: Teenage Fanclub – “Everything Flows”
MP3: Jonny – “Candyfloss”
MP3: Jonny – “Gloria”

Dirty Projectors are giving away a couple tracks from their forthcoming Swing Lo Magellan, out July 10. They play The Music Hall on July 6.

MP3: Dirty Projectors – “Dance For You”
MP3: Dirty Projectors – “Gun Has No Trigger”
Video: Dirty Projectors – “Gun Has No Trigger”

The Alternate Side has a session and Clash, Houston Press, and Indy Week have interviews with Lower Dens. They play Lee’s Palace on July 17.

Beirut has released a video for the title track of last year’s The Rip Tide. They are at The Sound Academy on July 19.

Video: Beirut – “The Rip Tide”

The Antlers are streaming a track from their forthcoming EP Undersea, due out July 24.

Stream: The Antlers – “Drift Dive”

The Shins have rolled out a new video from Port Of Morrow; they’re in town August 4 opening up for The Black Keys at The Molson Amphitheatre.

Video: The Shins – “No Way Down”

Pitchfork talks to Cat Power about her new record Sun, due for release on September 4.

Aimee Mann has given Rolling Stone the title track of her new record Charmer to stream. It’s out September 18.

Stream: Aimee Mann – “Charmer”

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has taken their reunion from the stage into the studio and are set to release their first new album since 2004’s Damage in Meat & Bone, out September 18. Then they’ll take in back to the stage with a series of live dates that includes an October 18 appearance at The Horseshoe in Toronto. Stream one of the new songs below.

Stream: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Black Mold”

San Fransciso goth-gazers The Soft Moon will be at The Drake Underground on September 22, tickets $11.50 in advance.

MP3: The Soft Moon – “Tiny Spiders”
MP3: The Soft Moon – “Breathe The Fire”

Michael Gira’s Swans will make an appearance at Lee’s Palace on October 25 in support of their new double-record We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head, tickets for that $26.50 in advance.

MP3: Swans – “Sex God Sex”

Matt & Kim are preparing for the Fall release of their new record Let’s Go with a video for the title track.

Video: Matt & Kim – “Let’s Go”

Boulder Weekly has a tete-a-tete with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco while The Daily Herald and Missoulian chat with Nels Cline.

Interview talks to Munaf Rayani of Explosions In The Sky.

Spinner documents a typical day in the life of The Flaming Lips, assuming that playing a free show in downtown Toronto as part of NXNE counts as typical for these guys. Maybe it does. You don’t know.

Okay, gotta go. San Francisco beckons.

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Matador At 21: The Lost Weekend Day Two

Belle & Sebastian, Spoon, Superchunk and more at Matador at 21

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThe generally packed Matador At 21 schedule didn’t allow time for much activity beyond getting rocked and sleeping it off, but on Saturday I still managed to get away from The Palms and over to the strip with Dave Rawkblog and Brad Almanac for some Vegas-style (read: totally excessive) buffet and celebrity-sighting (Pete Rose and Tim Gunn were hanging at Caesar’s Palace while I bought a new mouse), and it’s a good thing that I loaded up before the evening’s festivities, because this day was going to be a long one.

So long that I had to skip out on the first mainstage act of the day – Girls – to take care of some business, and was okay with that. I’d seen them at Pitchfork and that was enough for a while. I did make sure to catch Come, however, seeing as how it was just the Boston quartet’s third show in 15 years. And yeah, it was a good thing I did as they played the role that Chavez had the night before of groundbreaking ’90s act whom if not for the relative misfortune of being ahead of their time, might have found a much greater audience. Led by Thalia Zedek and her worn, emotive voice, their set was heavy and atmospheric with her and Chris Brokaw’s guitars weaving through and around each other overtop the steady and grinding rhythm section. Like Chavez, Come were a band I tried out some time ago and couldn’t quite get into – their performance made me think it might be time to try again.

Photos: Come @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
Video: Come – “Cimarron”
Video: Come – “Submerge”

I figured I’d gotten enough The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion back at Pitchfork, but found I actually enjoyed this performance considerably more. Surely the setting was part of it – the JSBX are far more suited to playing dark, grungy clubs – or fancy theatres masquerading as dark, grungy clubs – than bright, sunlit afternoons at festivals, and being in their element definitely helped their vibe. They sounded jammier and greasier and angrier than they did there, that last one partly thanks to Spencer’s dissatisfaction with the sound onstage – at one point, he smashed his mic and tried (unsuccessfully) to sing through the kick drum mic. They eventually got things fixed in time for their big finish, but the stage crew was clearly unimpressed with Spencer exploding his blues all over their equipment and cut their set off at the earliest opportunity though they probably could have squeezed one more in. This wasn’t well-received by the audience, resulting in one drink thrown and one demonstration of the Pearl security’s lack of tolerance for thrown drinks.

Photos: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Dang”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Flavor”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Talk About The Blues”

While most of the performers at Matador at 21 were veterans that represented the pinnacle of the label’s roster, there were still a few new acts injected into the lineup, including one of their most recent signees – Perfume Genius. Though the piano duo, playing some songs on separate keyboards and some on the same, took the energy levels down several hundred notches following Jon Spencer’s over-the-top set, the stark beauty of their short set largely and impressively silenced a room that had been absolutely adrenalized minutes earlier. I tend to approach the sensitive, piano-based singer-songwriter thing with some trepidation, but I think Mike Hadreas is the real deal. They’re currently on tour in support of debut album LearningLearning and at the Drake Underground in Toronto tomorrow night. If you’re on the fence, let me nudge you towards yes.

Photos: Perfume Genius @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Perfume Genius – “Learning”

The evening’s timetable had been overly optimistic in thinking that the simplicity of Perfume Genius’ setup would allow them to segue directly into Cat Power’s set, and the changeover and soundcheck ended up taking considerably longer than zero minutes and set things back by at least half an hour. Anyone hopes that the occasion would find Chan Marshall revisiting the days of Moon Pix and You Are Free evaporated when the band setup was clearly that of the Dirty Delta Blues Band that had supported her on the Jukebox tours but when her set finally got underway, there was a nod to those simpler, starker days as Chan offered her version of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” accompanying herself only on electric guitar. But then the guitar went away and the band came out and the rest of the set featured the southern soul diva Cat Power who dazzled on 2006’s The Greatest with a brace of largely unfamiliar songs and covers. I admit to having some reservations of her continuing on in this style as it puts too much focus on Cat Power the voice and that’s not nearly as compelling as Cat Power the songwriter but regardless, she sounded great, looked radiant and seemed pretty together save for some random repositioning of her mic stand.

Photos: Cat Power @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Cat Power – “The Greatest”
MP3: Cat Power – “He War”

When 2010 began, high up on my list of bands that I had yet to see (but really wanted to) was North Carolina’s Superchunk. I finally got to check that off thanks to their short but sweet set at SxSW in March, and as energized as they were there I clearly hadn’t seen anything yet. Playing half a year later with a terrific new record in Majesty Shredding and some touring under their belts, Superchunk were a rock revelation. Easily the most energetic performer of the weekend – and that’s saying something – the former Matador signees and current Merge masterminds incited a pogo party in the crowd, pounding out power punk gems from all points in their career, wrapping with an explosive “Precision Auto” and just generally being awesome. Superchunk. Super. Chunk. Can’t wait to make it a three-peat when they play the Sound Academy on December 9 opening up for and inevitably upstaging Broken Social Scene.

Photos: Superchunk @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Superchunk – “Digging For Something”
MP3: Superchunk – “Misfits & Mistakes”
MP3: Superchunk – “Never Too Young To Smoke”
MP3: Superchunk – “Rainy Streets”
MP3: Superchunk – “Becoming A Speck”
MP3: Superchunk – “Pink Clouds”
MP3: Superchunk – “Detroit Has A Skyline” (acoustic)
MP3: Superchunk – “Nu Bruises”
MP3: Superchunk – “Skip Steps 1 & 3”

Continuing the Matador-Merge cross-label summit were Spoon, who started their career on the former but found their fame on the latter. And like their label bosses and lead-in act, it’s kind of funny that I’d gone some five years without seeing Spoon live and here this was my third Spoon show in the past six months. This one wasn’t too different from those, with the band tight and taut and embellishing their sound with a locally-recruited horn section and guest percussionist. Their special treats for the occasion were a cover of the late Matador artist Jay Reatard’s “No Time” and a few seriously old-school back catalog selections including fan favourite “Car Radio”. Their set may not have offered a lot of surprises, but it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Photos: Spoon @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Spoon – “The Underdog”
MP3: Spoon – “I Turn My Camera On”
MP3: Spoon – “The Way We Get By”
MP3: Spoon – “This Book Is A Movie”
MP3: Spoon – “Mountain To Sound”
MP3: Spoon – “Chips & Dip”
MP3: Spoon – “Idiot Driver”

Oh, Belle & Sebastian. The only British act on the mainstage this weekend and really, not having a lot in common stylistically with most of the other performers but still big enough and beloved enough to rate closing out the second night’s programming. Their presence at this event was something of a surprise since they had been on an indefinite hiatus since 2006’s The Life Pursuit and Stuart Murdoch was devoting all his energies to last year’s God Help The Girl project. But it apparently doesn’t take long to get the band back together and though most would be happy just to have the band back, they’ve returned with one of their best records in some time with Write About Love, out next Tuesday and currently streaming at NPR. I’ll comment more on the record next week after their Toronto show at Massey Hall also on the 12th – for now, just their Vegas appearance.

And it’s a show that opened with a new song – “I Didn’t See It Coming”, the first track on the new record – and even if it was unfamiliar to most of the audience, the duet between Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin was immediate enough to announce that Belle & Sebastian were back and hadn’t lost a step in the time away. And if anyone had forgotten how good they were as a live band, they were well reminded by the Scots’ wonderful hour-fifteen set. In between songs that touched on every one of their albums, going back as far as their debut Tigermilk for “The State I Am In”, Murdoch and guitarist Stevie Jackson tossed off wonderful bits of banter to the audience and each other and Murdoch demonstrated his throwing arm by tossing autographed toy footballs into the crowd and later, audience members were enlisted to clap and dance through “There’s Too Much Love” and “The Boy With The Arab Strap” and rewarded with gold medals. Those of us not so fortunate as to cut a rug with the band had to settle – so to speak – for bobbing up and down to energetic readings of favourites like “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” and “I’m A Cuckoo”. By the time they wrapped up the set with “Sleep The Clock Around”, things had already run almost an hour later than scheduled and it was unclear if we’d be allowed an encore, but clapped and cheered for one anyways. The band returned in short order, saying they’d been given permission for one more song if they made it “fucking quick” and though “Me And The Major” was quick, it was still glorious. And yes, I do feel incredibly fortunate to be seeing them again so soon, particularly since I’ve been so handily reminded of how much I love this band.

Photos: Belle & Sebastian @ Pearl at The Palms – October 2, 2010
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Write About Love”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Funny Little Frog”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Another Sunny Day”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It”
MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Storytelling”

If I had any sense this would have been the end of the night but I’d skipped out on the previous night’s after party festivities and damn it, this was Las Vegas – you don’t go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Instead you go to indie rock karaoke and rush the stage when Matador staff are called on to sing Pavement’s “Summer Babe” and crowd surf Ted Leo. If you’re wondering, it looks something like this. And then at 5AM – 8AM your own time – you go back to your room and pass out.

The Patriot-Ledger and Phoenix have features on the Come reunion. Rolling Stone talks to Cat Power about her plans for her next record, and they include playing all of the instruments herself. If that pans out, then it surely won’t be sounding like The Greatest or Jukebox – colour me intrigued. Interview and NPR have features on Superchunk. The Guardian interviews Belle & Sebastian, who are running a contest wherein a winner gets to spend a day with Stuart Murdoch and co-write a song for a forthcoming 7″.

The AV Club, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Las Vegas Weekly all have further Saturday night recaps.

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Pitchfork Music Festival 2010 Day 2

LCD Soundsystem, Wolf Parade, Titus Andronicus and more at Pitchfork Music Festival 2010

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangEven though it barely counted as a half-slate of acts, day one of the Pitchfork Music Festival had left me feeling more worn than it should have. Chalk it up to not having done a proper outdoor festival in a few years, and having forgotten what it was to deal with the crowds and the heat. Oh, the heat.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it yet, but this past weekend in Chicago was hot. Damn hot. Maybe technical heat wave hot. And while it was enough to make most North Americans melt, one gets the sense that Barcelona’s Delorean felt right at home. Not only do they hail from warmer climes, but the electro-euro, get-naked party anthems from their debut Subiza are tailor-made to celebrate it. The quartet did their best to turn hipsterfest into Ibiza and while they succeeded in getting some of the crowd moving, most could only muster the energy to sway.

Photos: Delorean @ Aluminum Stage – July 17, 2010
MP3: Delorean – “Stay Close”
Video: Delorean – “Stay Close”

Over at the Balance Stage, set a little ways from the main stages and more importantly in a shady grove of trees, Kurt Vile was turning in a set of ’70s-ish art-punk/pop that wasn’t much to look at, with Vile generally keeping his face hidden under a heavy head of hair, but was great to listen to. I think I still have a copy of his 2009 release Childish Prodigy kicking around somewhere – I should get better acquainted with it. Vile comes to town for a show at the Great Hall tonight.

Photos: Kurt Vile @ Balance Stage – July 17, 2010
MP3: Kurt Vile – “Overnite Religion”
MP3: Kurt Vile – “Hunchback”
Video: Kurt Vile – “Freak Train”
MySpace: Kurt Vile

I’d mentioned that a lot of the acts at Pitchfork were performing in a setting far larger than they were accustomed to, and that it shouldn’t be a surprise if what works in a small club doesn’t translate onto an outdoor stage. Such was not the case for Titus Andronicus. Maybe more than any other band still living on the club circuit, the New Jersey punks not only rose to the occasion but used it as a launching pad for even greater things. Tearing through material from their excellent album The Monitor, they had the undivided attention of thousands who were more than up for screaming “you will always be a loser!” at the tops of their lungs. Though guest spots from tourmates Hallelujah The Hills on horns helped classy up the proceedings a bit, it was still all about the fury of Patrick Stickles’ grand and angry anthems. The first truly epic set of the weekend.

Photos: Titus Andronicus @ Connector Stage – July 17, 2010
MP3: Titus Andronicus – “A More Perfect Union”
MP3: Titus Andronicus – “Four Score And Seven” (Part One)
MP3: Titus Andronicus – “Four Score And Seven” (Part Two)
MP3: Titus Andronicus – “Titus Andronicus”
Video: Titus Andronicus – “A More Perfect Union”
Video: Titus Andronicus – “Titus Andronicus”
MySpace: Titus Andronicus

Back at the mainstage, the throngs gathered for a little Wu-Tang action courtesy of Raekwon. Now no one in their right mind expects a hip-hop show to start on time, even at a festival where things had been running pretty damned smoothly, but this time the delays weren’t the fault of the performer – the DJ’s laptop was apparently overheating on stage and generally freaking out over the PA. I’m telling you, people, it was hot. Eventually they sorted things out sufficiently that Raekwon was able to come out and do his thing, and while my hip-hop education has been ongoing, his stuff seemed to have a harder, leaner aesthetic to the beats and backing than the more throwback, old-school (read: ’80s-style) hip-hop that I’d been listening to. But that said, his set had an extremely positive energy, buoyed by a sea of Wu Tang hand salutes from the crowd, and peaked with a performance from a quartet of pint-sized (child, not midget) breakdancers showing off their moves.

Photos: Raekwon @ Aluminum Stage – July 17, 2010
Video: Raekwon – “New Wu”
Video: Raekwon – “House Of Flying Daggers”
Video: Raekwon – “Ice Cream”
Video: Raekwon – “Canal Street”

I’m not sure if Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins were going by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or just Blues Explosion, but I suspect the former was more appropriate as they had taken the project out of mothballs to mark the reissues of the albums which came out under the JSBX name and not the ill-received Damage which was credited to just BX. Whichever it was, they clearly hadn’t let any rust settle because while Spencer wasn’t quite the unhinged blues prophet from their ’90s heyday, he still fit into his leather pants pretty well and those blues still exploded on cue, delivering big guitar jams and plenty of rock’n’roll swagger. Ever the showman. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion plays Lee’s Palace on July 31.

Photos: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion @ Connector Stage – July 17, 2010
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “She Said”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Sweet N Sour”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Wail”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Dang”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Flavor”
Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Talk About The Blues”
MySpace: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Wolf Parade have always hung around at the periphery of stuff I like – I enjoy the live show but the albums never stay in rotation that long – but with their latest Expo 86, they may well have made an album that I can really get into though it may be for the reasons that some fans like it the least; to my ears, their many quirks and tics have been dialed down and they’ve just made a big rock record. And as such, they were more than suited to play the next-to-last mainstage set for the day, coming as close as the festival would to stadium-size rock anthems. Their live show still relied heavily on Dan Boeckner for stage presence, but it was good to see Spencer Krug not only moving his keyboards to centre stage – last time I saw them he was off to the side – but also contributing some serious hair whipping. JAM has an interview with Wolf Parade.

Photos: Wolf Parade @ Aluminum Stage – July 17, 2010
MP3: Wolf Parade – “Ghost Pressure”
MP3: Wolf Parade – “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way)
MP3: Wolf Parade – “Language City”
MP3: Wolf Parade – “Call It A Ritual”
MP3: Wolf Parade – “My Father’s Son”
MP3: Wolf Parade – “Shine A Light”
Video: Wolf Parade – “Modern World”
Video: Wolf Parade – “Shine A Light”
Video: Wolf Parade – “I’ll Believe In Anything”

I have never counted myself as an Animal Collective fan, but was still curious to see what Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, had up his sleeve for his Connector stage-closing set. As it turns out, he had pretty much nothing. Taking the concept of “solo act” very seriously, he was set up on a platform positioned well towards the back of the stage, standing with a guitar behind a bank of keyboards. And from this position, he played tuneless drones and random beats seemingly designed to test peoples patience. It was hard to tell if it was a deliberate anti-performance or if it simply hadn’t occurred to him that what he was doing was extraordinarily dull to watch, but from the faces in the crowd, the reaction seemed to be somewhat blissful but mostly bored and a few confused. If Panda Bear ever goes on tour, I’d like to suggest that he keep the same wheeled platform, but have it spew flames while being pushed around by armoured dwarves. Or something. Anything.

Photos: Panda Bear @ Connector Stage – July 17, 2010
Video: Panda Bear – “Take Pills”

The Toronto stop of LCD Soundsystem’s supposed farewell tour was an unqualified slice of amazing, but somehow I knew that this setting would potentially provide an even greater high, to say nothing of extra personal space for dancing. After all, the bigger the crowd, the bigger the party, right? In this case, absolutely right. James Murphy and crew seemed to be feeling extra loose and riding the vibe from the audience, as though their set list read much like that in Toronto, the rockers seemed wilder and the dance numbers groovier and Murphy’s between-song banter extra droll. It was 90 minutes of steady, throbbing good times with the highlight of many highlights being, unsurprisingly, “All My Friends”, which just sounds better and better the bigger and louder it’s played. I may have come late to the LCD party, but I’m not leaving till they kick me out.

Photos: LCD Soundsystem @ Aluminum Stage – July 17, 2010
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “Drunk Girls”
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends”
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “Someone Great”
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “North American Scum”
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “Tribulations”
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “Daft Punk Is Playing”
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “Movement”
Video: LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge”
MySpace: LCD Soundsystem

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Little Faith

Review of The National’s High Violet

Photo By Keith KlenowskiKeith KlenowskiTo suggest I’m a little bit biased when it comes to The National is something of an understatement. The Cincinnati by way of Brooklyn band has put out two of my favourite records of the century in Alligator and Boxer, and when word came that their next record would arrive in 2010, I reserved a spot for it in my year-end list. That’s about as big a declaration of faith in the greatness of a record as a blogger can make.

The flipside of this, however, is the probably unrealistic expectations that accompany that faith. Boxer was almost exactly the record I needed at that point in my life, and the odds of that sort of synchronicity happening again with its successor is probably about nil. This understanding did allow me some perspective in contemplating High Violet, but didn’t change the fact that it had some enormous footsteps to follow in. After all, Boxer was widely considered to be a watershed album. How do you follow up a career peak?

By turning it into a plateau. If there were a way to actually quantify such things, High Violet would rate as almost as good or even better than Boxer, with the plus-minus determined only by one’s personal resonance with the material and the tone of the record. Whereas Boxer felt like a lightening of philosophy after the noir-ish Alligator, its elegiac mood has darkened again on High Violet. The glimmers of hopefulness that punctuated Boxer seem to have been muted and the angst and anxiety is again creeping in around the edges. This doesn’t, however, herald a return to the cathartic rock moves of Alligator; much to the dismay of fist-pumpers everywhere, it’s clear the band is well past its days of writing tracks like “Abel” and “Mr. November”. Instead, it manifests itself in a lyrical clarity that’s a ways removed from Matt Berninger’s typical obliqueness and his delivery, which finds him not necessarily expanding his range – I don’t think anyone expects him to find another octave anytime soon – but songs like “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Conversation 16” find him pushing it in unfamiliar directions or dwelling in parts of his voice that he might have only passed through fleetingly in the past en route to more comfortable territory.

Though longtime collaborator Peter Katis is still credited as providing additional production and mixing, High Violet notably lists the primary recording site as guitarist Aaron Dessner’s garage and the band as sole producers; it’s evident that the studio was heavily utilized as an instrument on this outing, which represents an aural shift from the cleaner textures of Boxer towards something denser and sometimes hazier. Album opener “Terrible Love” sounds almost filthy with its base of fuzzy, tremoloed guitars and I’m still not sure what the oscillating tones that bookend “Little Faith” are. More familiarly, the orchestral accents and choral vocals that embellished Boxer have returned, but feel more like integral parts of their sound.

Ultimately, High Violet triumphs by not trying to eclipse Boxer, but stand alongside it. The band offers growth without abandoning its strengths – hell, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “England” are two of the most National songs they’ve ever recorded. It’s thoughtful, sad and stately and, for all the shadows it casts, is downright luminous. The National are incapable of disappointing.

There are features on the band at The Wall Street Journal, Spinner, The Fly, Canadian Press and The AV Club. Their live-to-web show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in support of the Red Hot Organization is still available to stream at YouTube and you’ll probably get a lot higher quality stream watching it after the fact than in real time.

The National play Massey Hall on June 8 and 9.

MP3: The National – “Afraid Of Everyone”
MP3: The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Video: The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
MySpace: The National

The Antlers, who are opening both of those National dates and others on the tour, are interviewed by Beatroute and The Guardian.

Pitchfork interviews Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady; they’re at the Kool Haus on July 18.

It was announced last week that bassist Carlos Dengler, upon completion of their new record, has left Interpol. Expect to see a new face – and perhaps moustache – holding down the low end when they open for U2 at the Rogers Centre on July 3. No release date for album number four has been confirmed.

PopMatters talks to The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. Strange Powers, the documentary about he and his band, will be getting a limited theatrical release on October 27.

Trailer: Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields

Acoustic Guitar interviews M Ward, who will be in town on June 9 at the Sound Academy as the “him” in She & Him.

Reuters and The State profile Band Of Horses, whose Infinite Arms is out tomorrow. They play the Toronto Islands on June 19.

Nada Surf busts out the covers for NPR’s World Cafe.

Also paying a visit to the World Cafe is Josh Ritter, who plays a few songs from his new record So The World Runs Away.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have released a video for the title track of last year’s Higher Than The Stars EP.

Video: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – “Higher Than The Stars”

Pitchfork reports that some industrious fans have compiled an album’s worth of Titus Andronicus rarities and made them available for download as Feats Of Strength. Odds of them busting out any of this material when they play The Horseshoe on July 14 are poor.

A couple of big shows have just gotten attached to NXNEEagles Of Death Metal at The Phoenix on June 16 and Girl Talk at the Sound Academy on June 18. Expect their names to show up in advertising all over the place and for a modest number of wristbands to get into each show (50 for Girl Talk). And speaking of NXNE, the schedule for this year’s festival is now online and yes, just like every other year, it’s impossible to use/navigate/save/do anything with. It’s called a grid, people – look into it.

Video: Eagles Of Death Metal – “Cherry Cola”
Video: Girl Talk – “Feed The Animals”

Au Revoir Simone have scheduled a date at the Great Hall for July 15. Their last release was 2009’s Still Night Still Light but they were recently featured in session at Daytrotter.

MP3: Au Revoir Simone – “Shadows”
MP3: Au Revoir Simone – “All Or Nothing”

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is back and will be exploding blues all over the Horseshoe Lee’s Palace on July 31. There’s no new material coming out of this short reunion, but there is a best-of comp in Dirty Shirt Rock ‘N’ Roll: The First Ten Years and reissues of the studio albums proper are imminent. Magnet has a Q&A with Spencer, who will be playing guest editor on their site this week.

Video: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – “Talk About The Blues”

I’m really not sure what you could expect from a Van Dyke Parks live show, but Toronto will find out on September 29 when the arranger to the likes of The Beach Boys and Joanna Newsom, along with Clare & The Reasons, plays the Music Gallery.

MP3: Clare & The Reasons – “Ooh You Hurt Me So”