Friday, February 25, 2011

Whathaveyou - Friday, February 25, 2011



Various and Sundry Goings On About Music:
  • The Grammys happened. Arcade Fire, Black Keys, the artists formerly known as the White Stripes all won stuff. Avetts performered with Dylan. And there was much rejoicing.
  • FANTASTIC news out of the ANTI- Records camp. Tom Waits is working on his next album! Woo! Wonder where it will fall on the Waits-o-meter?
  • Congrats to Toro y Moi for earning a Best New Music review from Pitchfork. This is usually a Midas touch for up-and-comers. Chaz's ship might have just come in.
  • Official release date for TV On the Radio's new disc: April 12, which puts them out of consideration for Indie Music MAYhem Part Deux.
Recent Listening:
  • Radiohead - The King of Limbs
  • Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
  • Uncle Tupelo - Still Feel Gone
  • My Morning Jacket - At Dawn
  • Bob Dylan - Basement Tapes
Upcoming Releases of Import:
  • Felice Brothers - Celebration, Florida (March)
  • Strokes - Angles (March 22)
  • Cass McCombs - WIT'S END (April 12) 
  • TV On the Radio - Types of Light (April 12)
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Here We Rest (April 12)
  • Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (May 3)
  • Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (May 10)
  • Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys (May 31)
My Upcoming Concert Schedule:
  • Bright Eyes (Asheville, March 5)
  • The Avett Brothers (Savannah, March 30)
  • Iron and Wine w/Low Anthem (Savannah, April 23)
  • The Fleet Foxes (Atlanta, May 14)
A Tube For You:
I need a little pick-me-up this morning, so here's the video to one of the most uplifting songs from the past few years: "Who Knows, Who Cares" by Local Natives, who wrote my favorite album of 2010.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Poll Results 12: What Bespectacled Indie Guy Releases the Best album of 2010?

I admit it: this will most certainly not be remembered as the "Year of the Bespectacled Indie Guy." But at the same time, it won't be remembered as "The Year of No Bespectacled Indie Guys", because that would be ludicrous and objectively untrue.

Wasn't much of a turnout for this poll, but it wasn't really necessary. The results delivered a mandate:
11 (57%) - Colin Meloy (The Decemberists)
2 (10%) - Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie)
2 (10%) - Will Sheff (Okkervil River)
4 (21%) - Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi)
The readers stand behind Colin and the D's. It should be noted that their album has been available for over a month now, while the only of the other three that's out there is Chaz's Underneath the Pine. Seems to have had some effect on the results.

Thanks for voting. New poll's up soon!

On The King of Limbs, reactions, etc.

 

The following are thoughts on the reception of The King of Limbs. You'll note that I don't take much time to discuss the actual music--but know that I've listened to it, a lot, and I think it's phenomenal.

--- 

As most citizens of the first world by now know, Radiohead's eighth LP proper emerged last week. Announced and released in a fashion similar to In Rainbows (save for the pay-what-you-want format), the band gave us mere days to prepare for the thing to drop. Announced Monday, it leaked Thursday and dropped Friday. (If only I'd known when I wrote this post that it'd be less than a month before I heard a new Radiohead album!)

Should we have expected another In Rainbows? Surely by now we know that expecting "another" anything out of Radiohead is a foolish enterprise, unless it's "another sidestep of our expectations." What we were given was an eight song LP that clocks in at under forty minutes. Reviews overflow with descriptors like "subtle," "challenging," and "subliminal."


Social media was abuzz Friday morning with praise/criticism. As expected, complementary reactions swirled like a pair of swirling dragons: "Radiohead has done it again!" and "What the hell is this?" Kneejerks all around! This was especially evident in the dissenters; I can't tell you how many "Am I the only one who doesn't get Radiohead?" tweets/comments/statuses I scrolled through Friday morning. I don't bemoan the fact that someone doesn't like Radiohead, but this whole "I'm guess I'm just different and I don't care, flame on!" mentality is both stale and tiresome.

Thankfully, hipster scribe Chuck Klosterman was there to lend some cutting sarcasm to the situation:
"I'm sure Radiohead is depressed about these reviews, since they obviously make albums for people to listen to once at 9:20 am on a laptop." - @CKlosterman
Precisely. Now that virtually all access barriers have crumbled, music consumers have grown lazier, angrier and less patient than ever; and this was painfully evident last Friday morning. "How dare Radiohead not make an album as immediately accessible as In Rainbows! They're back to all this electro-nonsense! They're trying to isolate their fanbase! Sure, I'm only halfway through the fourth track, but the Twitterverse must know of this injustice!"

Part of the problem, as suggested in the above faux-diatribe, is that In Rainbows was so accessible. Radiohead reclaimed a lot of listeners who'd (shortsightedly) dismissed the band as space-age electronica; fallen angels of alt-rock. In Rainbows lacked the kind of great experimental departures that bred those criticisms. The result was a gorgeous, moonlit album, deemed acceptable by the Bends crowd. In fact, it tied with Kid A in a HSW Reader Poll as Radiohead's best. But it would seem the band shattered that trust with a comparatively strange album. This must seem like an egregious bait-and-switch to those who were cautiously willing to re-accept the band.

The problem with this is that, all things considered, the album isn't that strange. Out of the eight tracks, only "Feral" is oblique enough to warrant any comparisons to Radiohead's oddball offerings. Yet so many are crying foul. Why? I can't help but think that, in the minds of so many of these folks, Radiohead is set up for failure. And I'm not claiming that no one is allowed to dislike Radiohead. My point is that people let this band piss them off--and that's what confuses me.

Is it the atypical announcement and release strike you as pretentious? It shouldn't. It isn't any more of a "stunt" than a months-long marketing campaign. Think of the U2s and Coldplays of the world: a new album means ubiquitous banner ads, late-night appearances, advance singles. God forbid when the biggest band in the world decides to quietly announce and self-release its album

I've also seen a few folks gripe about the length of The King of Limbs. At 37 minutes, it is the shortest Radiohead LP to date. I'll point out that In Rainbows was only five minutes longer (although it had two more tracks.) I understand it might seem unsatisfying that we had to wait over three years for 37 minutes of music, but it seems silly to hold it against a band who famously scrutinizes what they put to record. The band have been very candid about their disinterest in longplayers; based on their own rhetoric, 37 minutes seems generous.

And then of course there are the pity-starved "I must be the only one" folks. No one is the only one who thinks anything, especially when it comes to taste. I realize it's just e-posturing, but it's carried out in a way that's lazily provocative. I'd argue that there are better ways to distinguish yourself.

Finally, there are those who just aren't going to like the record. And believe it or not, I totally understand. This kind of music is most definitely not everyone's bread and butter. But a social media gripe-a-thon after one listen is about the saddest thing I can imagine.

My own pet peeves aside, where does this leave Radiohead? Critically, the reception has been positive, but not overwhelmingly so. Noted Radiohead sycophants Pitchfork only gave the album a 7.9 and conceded that "the band's signature game-changing ambition is missed." But it's the paragraph that prefaces that statement where the writer perfectly sums up what, in the post, I was trying to communicate:
"A trawl through message boards and social networks leaves the impression that many disappointed fans are still struggling to make sense of the gap between the greatness of the thing they got and the genius of the thing they thought they might get. It's in that gap, when assessing the album overall, that it's easy to get tangled up."
That might be giving a bit too much credit to the disappointed camp--but the sentiment is there. It all boils down to time.  Klosterman's point with that tweet was that this band isn't interested in recording bright, shiny, fast food music. This is one of those albums that will take a bit of patience and acclimating if you're going to experience a payoff. Maybe you won't--maybe you'll listen to it 100 times and find yourself no more convinced than the first time you heard it. But if you get up in arms before you allow yourself an adequate amount of exposure, then frankly, you don't deserve the payoff. And in the long run, that mentality will cost you a lot of satisfaction.

Friday, February 18, 2011

HSW Housekeeping: Programming note

There won't be a Weekly Whathaveyou due to a time constraint; half-day at work is about to end, and I'm heading up to Columbia to see opening day of the National Champion South Carolina Gamecocks baseball season.

But just a few release notes: Obviously, everyone's heard about the new Radiohead album. In fact, I'll be listening to it on my way to Columbia. While the digital version comes out today, the big packaged version comes out in May. THEREFORE, I declare it a contestant in the 2nd Indie Music MAYhem. Woohoo!

Also, as the poll (which ends today, vote fast!) speculated, Death Cab for Cutie will release its next album on May 31, which means it's barely a contestant, unless the release date gets pushed back--something that occurs pretty regularly. So we'll see if they stick around for the showdown. But as it stands, we've got a pretty good contest brewing.

Have a great weekend,

G

11 Best Second Tracks: Conclusion

Two "11 Best" features in the books. Here's the condensed list:
11. Band of Horses - "Wicked Gil"
10. Toro y Moi - "Minors"
9. Drive-By Truckers - "Sinkhole"
8. Tom Waits - "Shore Leave"
7. Animal Collective - "My Girls"
6. Spoon - "The Way We Get By"
5. Modest Mouse - "Gravity Rides Everything"
4. Bob Dylan - "Isis"
3. Sun Kil Moon - "Carry Me Ohio"
2. Wilco - "She's a Jar"
1. Radiohead - "Paranoid Android"
Despite it being the focus of this feature, it's not like I eagerly anticipate the second track of every album I hear. I just try to listen to every track with some degree of scrutiny that doesn't overshadow the base enjoyment of the record. But as a critical listener, it was difficult for me to ignore that there seems to be a trend: the best albums, in my opinion, have track 2s that have some sort of perpetuating effect on the whole work. On to this month's Wild Card:

Ryan Adams - "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)"



Why's it the Wild Card? While it is the second track of Heartbreaker, the first track is comprised of thirty seconds of lighthearted banter between Ryan and David Rawlings. "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" is an album opener in every sense of the term. But it'll always be the second track.

Keep an eye out for the third edition of 11 Best sometime in March.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

11 Best Second Tracks: 1

1. Radiohead - "Paranoid Android" 



Was it too easy to choose the second song on what is arguably the best album of the last thirty years? Perhaps, but let's face it: OK Computer would not be OK Computer without "Paranoid Android". Nor would it achieve what it sets out to do were "Paranoid" elsewhere in the track order. Initially, it seems like an odd choice for a second track. Why roll out the pièce de résistance so soon? The Book of Zeppelin tells us to save your "Stairway" until at least the fourth track, right? It actually might have seemed a little more obvious to place a song like "Electioneering" as track two. Think of In Rainbows, where the medium-paced opener was followed by a high-speed rocker.

But Radiohead brought out the big guns early, and boy did it work. Can anyone really imagine the last sizzling seconds of "Airbag" bleeding into anything but the sinister guitar/shaker intro of "Android"? Most bands would want to keep their ace in the hole. But Radiohead let the giant lumber out of the gates after only four minutes, and in doing so set the stage for an era-defining album.


---


Upcoming: The wrap-up and a wildcard.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

11 Best Second Tracks: 6-2

6. Spoon - "The Way We Get By"



Among all the entries in this list, "The Way We Get By" might be the purest example of what a second track should be: it collects from the shrapnel of opener "Small Stakes" into a shortform indie-rock anthem. It's got a magnetic tension that dissuades even the most attention-deficient listener from skipping ahead or wandering off. It's a classic Spoon song--both in the sense that it's considered one of their best, and it's a perfect representation of the band. Featuring a chunky electric piano riff behind Britt Daniel's grainy snarl, "The Way We Get By" is the keystone of Kill the Moonlight.

5. Modest Mouse - "Gravity Rides Everything"




The Moon and Antarctica is, at times, a frightening album. There are psych-rock wildfire breakdowns and lyrical turns that, frankly, will depress the shit out of you. But thankfully, its utility as a second track is not only in its breath-easy pace and shimmering aesthetic; "Gravity Rides Everything" provides a caveat to all the downer fare that awaits. Isaac Brock offers a message that, on its face, is a comfort: "everything will fall right into place".  Sure, he applies the phrase to sagging flesh and dead bodies, but in context it acts as a much-needed consolation. It's something to keep in mind while he spends the next 13 tracks howling about how we're all going to die. Alone. Gee, thanks man.

4. Bob Dylan - "Isis" 
(Thanks to a copyright claim by Sony Entertainment, there is no Youtube available of "Isis". This is stupid. But it'd be equally stupid if you've never heard "Isis"--I would suggest grabbing Desire as soon as possible.)

I've been going on about the importance of a second track relative to the others, and how it can guide an album and all that stuff. But in this case, the track itself is just so good that it doesn't especially matter where it fell. I've written about my personal attachment to "Isis" in the past, but let's put all that aside for a minute and look at the facts: it's a song about a death-defying journey to an ancient tomb, it's seven minutes long, and it's one of the few songs to feature fiddle playing I'd deem "bad-ass." He also rhymes "necklace" with "reckless", which stands as Dylan's second greatest rhyme.* It actually does provide a service to the album, adding some much-need whimsy after opener "Hurricane"--one of Dylan's most well-known songs, but far more topical than most tunes on Desire.

*The first, of course, is "employed" and "De La Croix".

3. Sun Kil Moon - "Carry Me Ohio"




Often, second tracks have a "let's get down to business" feel to them, especially when they follow a lighthearted opener. "Carry Me Ohio"--easily one of the best songs I've ever heard--is an excellent example of this. After the whimsical lyrical set of opener "Glen Tipton", Mark Kozelek reminds us that he earned his stripes writing achingly personal lyrics; the kind that eschew melodramatic overtures, but still manage wring every last drip of sympathy from your heart: "Can't count to/all the lovers I've burned through/so why do I still burn for you/I can't say." There's a sort of portentous feel about the arrangement that makes it gripping, but never redundant. It also shares an album with last month's Best of 11 top track, "Si Paloma". Expect to see a few more Ghost of the Great Highway tracks appear before the feature ends.


2. Wilco - "She's a Jar"



What makes "She's a Jar" such a brilliant second track is that it should have been the first track. Before the release of Summerteeth, the label put pressure on the band to include a radio-friendly single. Reluctantly, they remixed "Can't Stand It". But instead of compromising the flow of the album with a punched-up single, they placed the song at the very front of the album. That way, you can get the single out of the way--and then the album starts. This is how I always listen to Summerteeth. And I really like "Can't Stand It". But "She's a Jar" makes it painfully evident that it, and not its predecessor, is the start of Summerteeth.

---

Tomorrow, we reveal the number one number two.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

11 Best Second Tracks: 11-7

11. Band of Horses - "Wicked Gil"



The spectacular opener like "First Song" deserves an adequate follow-up, and "Wicked Gil" proves to be just that. There's something about those pounding guitars and Bridwell's jet-engine vocals that energize the song. "Wicked Gil" serves its role by carving out the overarching style of this album: it's uncomplex, it's rather repetitive, it's often difficult to make out the lyrics--but BOH manufactures all these qualities into strengths.


10. Toro y Moi - "Minors"



"Minors" found a spot on the Best Of 10 songs of the year list, and it just so happens that it's the second track on Causers of This. Unlike most entries on this list, "Minors" slows the pace of the album, its chorus pouring hot waves of synth over Chaz Bundick's words. Perhaps for a chillwave record, slowing it down is just what track 2 should do. At any rate, it's both a mellow dance track and an serviceable carrier of the slow-burning torch that opener "Blessa" ignited.


9. Drive-By Truckers - "Sinkhole"





If you thought Decoration Day was going to be a gentler affair based on its country ballad opener (and namesake for a HSW feature), "Sinkhole" should snuff that out. It features a razor-wire guitar riff behind Patterson spitting the kind of Southern gothic poison on which the DBT's have built a career. It's a key element of a really stellar run of songs--the first eight of the album are almost flawless.


8. Tom Waits - "Shore Leave"




Back when I wrote up my Tom Waits primer, I covered this song a bit:
"Listen to 'Shore Leave' and tell me it doesn't evoke images of a sailor on liberty in some seedy southeast Asian seaport."
Since no one has told me otherwise, I'll assume my declaration was received with wholesale acceptance. "Shore Leave" doesn't just effectively sculpt an environment; it's crucial as a second track, an "establishing shot" that sets the stage for the upcoming tracks. In fact, the last verse ends with the sailor yearning for his girl back home in Illinois--and the next (non-instrumental) track, "Johnsburg, Illinois" is about that girl. It's a subtle enough transition, but also offers the listener an overt directive as to the where Tom is taking us.

7. Animal Collective - "My Girls"



In its brief existence, "My Girls" has already been dubbed a classic by both alternative media and the fans of blippy trance icons Animal Collective. Indeed, it's a tremendous song with an infectious pace, celebratory air and explosive chorus and delivery that doesn't let wane the lingering grandeur of opener "In the Flowers". It's ironic that such an ambitious song very candidly expresses the desire for a simple life.

---

Tomorrow, numbers 6-2.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekly Whathaveyou - Friday, February 11, 2011



Various and Sundry Goings On About Music:
  • The new Strokes single is out, and I find it catchy as all get out. It's not quite as loose as "Last Night" or "Reptilia", but it doesn't disappoint as a single. Listen to it here.
  • Tom Waits will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this March; that we already knew. What we now know is that Neil Young will be doing the inducting. An interesting choice, because I can't think of any crossover between the two aside from the perfunctory connection one can make about them both being folksy songwriters. The choice was also surprising because most assumed Keith Richards would be a no-brainer--the Stones' guitarist has collaborated with Waits on several occasions, and the two are good friends.
  • In what seems like an immensely contrived move that is also kind of awesome, Bob Dylan will perform with the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons and the Grammys in what's being billed as a "Salute to Acoustic Music". It's still not enough to make me sit through an awards show--thanks to Youtube, there's no need to sift through all the crap to hear three to five minutes of good music.
  • Last week I made excuses about why I hadn't written this month's Best of 11 yet. Well I did the introduction (scroll down), but that's all I had time for this week. Look for parts 2-5 next week.
Recent Listening:
  • The White Stripes - s/t
  • Dr. Dog - Fate
  • Blitzen Trapper - Furr
  • Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus at Antibes (Live)
  • Sigur Ros - ( )
  • Toro y Moi - Underneath the Pine
Upcoming Releases of Import:
  • Bright Eyes - The People's Key (February 15)
  • Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots (February 15)
  • The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh (February 22)
  • Toro y Moi - Underneath the Pine (February 22)
  • Felice Brothers - Celebration, Florida (March)
  • Strokes - Angles (March 22)
  • Cass McCombs - WIT'S END (April 12)
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Here We Rest (April 12)
  • Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (May 3)
  • Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (May 10)
  • TV On The Radio - Types of Light (Spring 2011)
My Upcoming Concert Schedule:
  • Bright Eyes (Asheville, March 5)
  • The Avett Brothers (Savannah, March 30)
  • Iron and Wine w/Low Anthem (Savannah, April 23)
  • The Fleet Foxes (Atlanta, May 14)
A Tube For You:
I used to listen to classic rock pretty much exclusively. This was back in high school when I was keen enough to recognize that most of the new stuff on the radio was garbage, but I had no way of knowing that shit like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Kid A was happening. So I pretty much stayed on the Clear Channel Classic classic rock station and listened to the same 100 songs that every classic rock station plays. There were a few bands I couldn't stand, and one of them was Heart. "Magic Man" is still one of those songs that makes me cringe. There were several others.

Anyway, cut to ten years later, and I'm a snobbish douchebag who runs this blog and pretends to be some kind of bigshot. So I was looking for a suitable Tube for this feature, and stumbled across the Decemberists playing a Heart song. It was back on the Hazards of Love tour, so the band had a few female vocalists in tow (My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden and Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark.) Sure enough, the ladies took on Ann Wilson's impressive vocal part and, for the most part, made it work. Stark's voice doesn't hold up to Worden's massive vocals (the same goes for their contributions on album), and Chris Funk's guitar playing is a little off at times, which leads me to believe they learned the song in a pinch. Still, it's pretty cool to see the band try something like this with largely positive results:

 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

11 Best Second Tracks: Introduction



February: 11 Best Second Tracks

If any album wants my undying praise, there had better be some attention paid to sequencing. I hardly go one post without underscoring the importance of track placement in making a great album. What's more disappointing than a record where the lead single is first, and everything following is fluff? An great album ebbs and flows, rises up and settles back down, suggest a vaguely linear path down which the listener should travel. This is why I think the shuffle button is crippling our generation--I know people who acquire a new album, and never once listen to it in its intended order. This boggles my mind. What would happen if you read the chapters of a novel in the same fashion? Granted, few LPs depend on sequence in the way chapter books do; still, to disrupt an album's sequence is to dismiss a vital aspect of its production. (I know I sound like such an insufferable snob right now...I apologize. I use the shuffle too, but never when listening to a specific album.)

Most albums have strong openers, cathartic closers, definite midpoints, and so on--but the track position by which I am most intrigued is number two. Again, we all know those albums that essentially exist as a vehicle for a lead single. You may as well chisel out the part of the CD where all the rest of the songs are written (that works right?) But I contend that track #2 is of the utmost importance. Why? Because it's a tone-setter. The opening track reels you in, but the second one has to strap you to your seat and start the train chugging along. That's why it's not uncommon for the second track to be a bit uptempo--it sends the message that the journey has only just begun.

So this month is all about the 2-spot--fitting, for the second month of the year. Which #2's best leverage their placement, harness the momentum of the album opener and spin it into a sonic experience that results in a classic? We start with the honorable mentions.

The first band that comes to mind when I think of masters of sequencing is Radiohead. Their albums achieve a cinematic quality, and a big part of that is because they employ a tremendous amount of foresight when it comes to their track orders. Of course I selected one of their 2-spots for the list, but a few that deserve mentioning: "Pyramid Song", "Sit Down, Stand Up (Snakes and Ladders)", and let's not forget about "Creep".

Dubbed the "American Radiohead", which at one time was a suitable moniker, Wilco is another band that's mastered the art of the flow. They show up in the list of course, but virtually all of their albums boast a strong second act. "Kamera", "Far Far Away", "Casino Queen"--even "California Stars" from Mermaid Avenue fits the bill.

This month's list skews heavily towards recent releases--this will probably be a trend throughout the feature--but a few notable second tracks from decades past include The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby", Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane", Led Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", and Pavement's "Elevate Me Later".

A final few honorable mentions:

I had a few more jotted down, but these six stood out as particularly crucial to the overall tone of their album. With that, there's nothing left to do but roll out the list. As a reminder, I'll post 11-7, 6-2, the top spot, and finally a wrap-up. Look for it all to roll out soon.

Monday, February 7, 2011

HSW Newsflash: Spring slate heats up with new TVOTR


Just the other day, I was listening to Dear Science, and thinking "Gah, I bet it'll be at least another year or so until TV On the Radio releases a follow-up." My reasoning was that several of the band's members have been involved with side projects as of late, and I assumed that this left little time for the band to piece together another masterpiece.

While I can't confirm the 'masterpiece' part, it was just announced today that the band has pieced something together, and we'll get to hear that something before too long. Types of Light is the name of the new LP, the release date of which has only been narrowed to spring 2011. They'd make a fine Indie Music MAYhem contestant, that's for sure.

The aforementioned Dear Science, was our #5 album of 2008. And had we been around in 2006, rest assured that Return to Cookie Mountain would have been close to the same.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 3, 2011: Dr. Dog


Dr. Dog
w/The Head and the Heart & Buried Beds
The Music Farm (Charleston, SC)
February 3, 2011

The surest sign of a good live band is the ability to win over the fringe--those in attendance who'd consider their fandom casual or mild. Such was how I classified my appreciation of Philly rockers Dr. Dog. Prior to Thursday night, I could summarize my knowledge of the band thusly:
Of these three, it's the last bullet was most intriguing to me. If my favorite band says "open for us," there's a reasonable shot that I'll approve, too. After all, Wilco's recent openers (and by recent, I mean in the past few years) other than Dr. Dog have included Bon Iver, the Fleet Foxes, and Grizzly Bear--not a bad list.

Now by all accounts Dr. Dog is a laudable live act--I've even heard the old "I don't like their records but I like them live" descriptor. That usually sounds an alarm to me, because more often than not, it's used to describe jam bands. Nothing wrong with a jam band (I guess)--but I'm too much of a studio album fanatic to let live prowess alone validate a band. As I've written before, I'd much sooner champion artists who deliver on record but not live.

It was chilly and rainy in Charleston on Thursday, February 3. My buddy and I grabbed a bite near the venue before the show, and at one point the band walked right past us. My friend said "Holy crap, that was Dr. Dog." Had he not said that, I wouldn't have known it was them--just another illustration of the level of fandom I possess. Anyway, we headed over to the venue just as the doors opened, grabbed a beer and a t-shirt, and took a spot about twenty feet from the stage.

It turned out there were two opening acts: up first, we had Philly indie-rockers Buried Beds, a six-deep collective with a penchant for snappy pop hooks and saccharine harmonies. The were part Shins, part New Pornographers--the latter due in no small part to their dynamic female vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist/mandolinist. Her voice achieved what so many cutesy indie girls seem to intentionally eschew, that being a refined bravado that kept up with--if not challenged--the boys (a la Neko's role in the New Pornos.)

Up next was The Head and the Heart, a poorly-named sextet from Seattle. Their self titled debut has created some blogosphere buzz since it's summer '10 release. It's actually not a bad disc, and it displays a lot of maturity for an ostensibly young band. Their songwriting is both ambitious and immediately digestible, a common ground that's difficult to achieve. They do an excellent job of recreating their punched-up indie folk in a live atmosphere, although at times they're a bit overly stoic and self-serious for a bunch of unkempt 20-somethings. Plus the girl's voice drives me up the wall--she has that 'indier-than-thou' timbre, like whatshername from Pompamoose. Thankfully she mostly provides harmonies (which, to be fair, she does very well.)

Above: The Head and the Heart. 

On came Dr. Dog, looking like rock stars through and through. Sporting garish shades and/or trademark ski-caps, their look was intentionally over the top (not that they didn't seem to enjoy it.) Only bassist/co-lead vocalist Toby Leaman seemed dialed down, looking more like a line-cook who just knocked off work. His ragged-roar vocal style (as well as unassuming dress) ably complements his co-pilot, Scott McMicken. McMicken, visually a mousy hybrid of Thom Yorke and Rick Moranis, spent the night wailing on his big-bellied semi-hollowbody electric while belting out his half of the set. He possesses a tremendous classic rock voice, high and grainy, almost like he one day inhaled the slightest amount of helium and the effects never wore off. Big and bearded, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Frank McElroy tied the front line together, providing flawless harmonies and guitar work that helped replicate the band's often dense studio arrangements.

The setlist was heavy on material drawn from their two most recent LPs (thankfully, the two I know.) The set kicked off with "Stranger", opening track from last year's Shame, Shame. Other album tracks played were "Shadow People", "I Only Wear Blue", "Mirror Mirror", and "Shame, Shame". There may have been a few more I can't recall at the moment, but I can confirm that they didn't play HSW's #17 track of 2010, "Where'd All The Time Go". It's like they don't even read this blog or something.

There were Fate tracks a-plenty, including "The Breeze", "The Old Days" (I'll award it song of the night honors,) "Army of Ancients", "The Rabbit, The Bat, and the Reindeer" and "The Ark". Again, there were probably more, but these are the tracks I remember.

Perhaps one of the most surprising take-aways from the show was the crowd. First of all, I had no idea the band had such a fervent following. The house was packed; the crowd sang along--loud--to every tune. I even met someone who said Dr. Dog was their favorite band. I sort figured they were the kind of band who a lot of people liked, but weren't really anyone's favorite. Boy was I wrong.

Maybe it was the weather, but the audience was also a bit schizophrenic. Two guys got in a fight, and then appeared to be dancing in the same group only a few songs later. One of the guys--a strung-out teenager--wandered up onstage at one point, and was followed by nine or ten others before the security guard realized it, and shooed them back into the audience. At one point, a girl tossed a glowstick on stage. Leaman snapped it, threw it back to her, and the girl twirled it above her head, spraying all the luminescent goo everywhere (just missed my shoes by a few inches.) It was just as oddball an audience as you'd expect from a band like Dr. Dog, who seem to put a premium on getting loose and having a blast--which they did this night, until almost 1 AM.

I brought up jam bands earlier, and it strikes me that while they certainly aren't a jam band, I noticed some "crunchier" types at the show. They obviously draw some of that crowd, and I guess rightfully so. I think Dr. Dog does have that jam band mentality--a little weirder and freespirited than the average indie rock band--but their sound is much too rooted in classic rock and modern Americana to leave any room for ten minute solos and other such tie-dyed tactics. Their sound owes a lot more to The Band than it does the Dead.

In conclusion, Dr. Dog has a warm gravity about them that's drawn me in from the fringe where I lingered only last week--you can now call me a card-carrying supporter. I wager you'd be hard-pressed to find a fan of any kind of pop or rock music who couldn't enjoy themselves at a show like this. But there's more to their music than major keys and pleasing harmonies--they're talented musicians and songwriters, and boast one of the better dual-vocalist attacks in music today.

(note: Can't seem to find a setlist online. Anyone?)

Other Music Farm reviews:
The Hold Steady
Modest Mouse
Andrew Bird

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekly Whathaveyou - Friday, February 4, 2011



Various and Sundry Goings On About Music:
  • The big news this week is that the White Stripes have hung it up. This seems to be sort of a technicality at this point, since they haven't really done anything in a few years. They did release a live album in 2009, but haven't actually played together since 2007. There were some whisperings of a new album. But it would seem that it isn't the case, although you never know with Jack and Meg--they could up and release an album next week. Remember, this is the same pair who convinced us they were siblings. More likely, though, Jack is more interested in his myriad other projects. Still, I don't get the feeling this is permanent. 
  • Caught my first show of the year last night: Dr. Dog played the Music Farm. Look for a review sometime early next week. Sneak preview: It was a late show and I'm very tired right now.
  • There's an interesting interview with Sufjan Stevens up on Pitchfork. He talks about his newfound electro-experimental approach, and is very candid and realistic about the fact that he's isolating much of his audience. He even mentions something about tacking on a few old tunes to the end of the set, acknowledging that he's reluctantly throwing a bone to the Illinoise crowd. Give the guy credit, I guess: he's got a vision. Check out the interview here.
  • A bit of site news: I'm absolutely crushed at work right now, but going to get February's 11 Best up as soon as possible. I've already started it and decided on a topic. I hope to roll out the intro post sometime next week.
Recent Listening:
  • The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh
  • Dr. Dog - Fate
  • The Head and the Heart - s/t
  • Various - A collection of well-known classical movements. Perfect for the hellish, work-intensive project I've got going on right now at the office.
  • Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers
Upcoming Releases of Import:
  • Bright Eyes - The People's Key (February 15)
  • Drive-By Truckers - Go-Go Boots (February 15)
  • The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh (February 22)
  • Toro y Moi - Underneath the Pine (February 22)
  • Felice Brothers - Celebration, Florida (March)
  • Strokes - Angles (March 22)
  • Cass McCombs - WIT'S END (April 12)
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Here We Rest (April 12)
  • Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (May 3)
  • Okkervil River - I Am Very Far (May 10)
My Upcoming Concert Schedule:
  • Bright Eyes (Asheville, March 5)
  • The Avett Brothers (Savannah, March 30)
  • Iron and Wine w/Low Anthem (Savannah, April 23)
  • The Fleet Foxes (Atlanta, May 14)
A Tube For You:
As mentioned, that Dr. Dog review will be up in a few days, but for now, here's a taste of what I got last night. "The Old Days" was one of a few songs I was really hoping to hear, and the boys delivered. Here they are delivering some other time:

 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stray thoughts on 2011 so far...

Happy February, everyone. The first twelfth of 2011 is behind us, and as far as I'm concerned, this is already shaping up to be an excellent year for music. I certainly don't remember being this excited last year. There a ton of new releases on the way, and it seems like a new one is announced every couple of days or so.

2010 was a year for new finds--almost 40% of our top 25 albums were by artists I hadn't previously explored. While there's no telling what new-to-me stones I'll turn over this year, I do know that the current release slate is chock full of personal favorites. Obviously, this is a function of being a more seasoned music fan--the more bands I discover, the more releases I'll anticipate. Still, it seems like 2011 is bringing the goods. Consider this:
  • Three out of four of HSW's Album of the Year winners will release new LPs in 2011.
  • Nine bands with five or more tags (see list at the right) already have released albums or are scheduled to do so.
  • Already have five shows on the docket for this year. This is actually tracking similarly to last year, but I'm anticipating a big touring slate this summer.
  • I've already come to know and love an LP that wasn't even close to being on my radar: Dye It Blonde by the Smith Westerns.

Just keep in mind that we're only one month into the year. I've already heard about seven new albums so far, and at least five of them are already making cases for inclusion on our year end list.

There is also reason to believe that some big hitters might be releasing new albums this year, including Wilco, Radiohead, My Morning Jacket and The Avett Brothers*. Let's hope 2011 continues its momentous path, because it could shake out as the biggest year for music since this blog revved up almost 4 years ago.

*In order of ascending likelihood.