30 March 2007

indie hearts still beat the same

1. "Heretics" - Andrew Bird
2. "Don't Die In Me" (Mt. Eerie Remix) - Mirah
3. "Breaker" - Low
4. "She's Fantastic" - Sondre Lerche
5. "A New Name" - !!!
6. "Long List of Girls" - The Blow
7. "Someone Great" - LCD Soundsystem

vinyl-only bonus track:
8. "My British Tour Diary [Restiform Bodies (anticon.) Remix] - of Montreal


(the play button is backwards, but i bet you figured that out.)

i originally posted this podcast a few days ago (sneaking it in at the end of march so it can qualify for the monthly quota), but it disappeared when i started drafting the text of this post, to accompany it. basically what happened is that i got back from sxsw, and the next week there were a whole bunch of records released that i wanted to hear, most of them, as it turned out, within the indie umbrella, so i bought a bunch of them, and that made me think a bunch about indie and my relationship with it.

but mostly i just wanted to say a little bit about some things about those records, in ways that may or may not illuminate or complicate the things i blathered about above.

so, sans plus ado: about the songs in the mix (in the form of album or concert reviews/first-impressions, or just more blathering):

[armchair apocrypha] might be [andrew bird]'s least interesting record to date. his idiosyncrasies were still markedly present on his last (and first seriously indie-hyped) album, mysterious production of eggs - and they're not entirely gone here (his weirdo smarty-pantsy lyrical proclivities and jokey song titles - "yawny at the apocalypse" anybody?; that unmistakable whistling.) but basically it's another step away from his most truly unique (and rocking, and best) album, '01's rootsy, genre-flected swimming hour. this is his least bluesy album, and it's his first on a blues label, fat possum.

put another way: this is the first time he's sounded so much like straight-up indie [rock]. though it's also possible that indie is just coming to sound more like him. certainly we've had a spate of literate but sensitive but quirky but mellow composer/songwriter types lately (sufjan stevens, owen pallet, colin meloy), and bird seems to be setting himself up to join their ranks in the public consciousness. but his own distinctive personality is in danger of being lost in the process. he seems to be getting more indie and less rock; as the guitars pile on, everything just ends up feeling langorous and subdued. not that this is entirely new territory for bird - it certainly feels familiar - even overly so, as when "heretics," probably the most immediately catchy track here, unabashedly bites the main riff from eggs' bangin' "a nervous tic motion" (fortunately it also adds two or three more hooks of its own.) dude loves him some "eastern-tinged" pentatonics. (fwiw, he was billed as "pop" in the sxsw schedule, whatever that means.)

anyhow, i don't mean to suggest that this is a bad album - far from it. it's not just merely pleasant either - it borders on hypnotic at times, and lyrically there's plenty to dissect (i'm only just starting to) - but, the uncharacteristically muted (i.e. boring) album art isn't entirely misleading either.

oh man, i love mirah. hadn't thought about her all that much recently (well, that's what happens when you don't put out an album for three years.) but it all came back when i saw her a couple weeks ago, at the church. if i try to say anything about her performance, it'll just sound like i'm gushing and crushing, so i won't. but it was interesting that she has long, straighter brown hair and no glasses now (and i would definitely not have recognized her.) possibly the most resonant part of the concert experience was just being in that crowd - looking around and feeling like i knew exactly who all those people were, even though i didn't know any of them. (y'know, all those cute little indie punk lesbian folkies, and variations permutations therefrom.) (also, being able to turn my head and eavesdrop on dozens of people chatting about indie music - as vaguely delimited above - including no less than three separate and simultaneous conversations about the arcade fire. now that's what i'm talking about indie community.)

anyway, mirah's a total sweetheart with gorgeous gorgeous voice who writes terrific songs - every time she did a number from c'mon miracle (which was most of them) i was like...oh yeah, i love this song! damn what a good album... well the lady at the merch table (who also did the spanish speaking on "the dogs of b.a.") talked me into buying this recent 2cd of remixes, and i was skeptical (indie-folk remixes?) but i'm glad i did. it may be the best indie remix album i've ever heard (not that that's saying too much - biggest contender would be a people's history of the dismemberment plan) - it basically boils down to the fact that 1) mirah's voice is absolutely lovely, plus 2) the songs are still great, and most of the time these two things remain reasonably intact; also even though 3) most of the mixes hew pretty closely to classy but still interesting down-tempo/ambient territory, 4) they all hold down a pretty distinct indie aesthetic (guy sigsworth of frou frou fame contributes the token "polished" potentially-commercial reworking, but that one's so pretty i bet even her hardcore fans don't mind) and therefore 5) it all hangs together very well sonically while avoiding sounding too samey. it might have been interesting to hear something really radical (for instance, something that could have half a chance of working on a dancefloor?), but it's probably just as well that nothing's that divergent. as it is, the mt. eerie rmx of "don't die in me" is one of the most idiosyncratic contributions - and also one of the coolest, with vocal cutting/splicing that manages to be "experimental" and just a little off-putting without being annoying. of course, being phil elvirum's work, it doesn't sound hugely different from mirah's original records in the first place - it just exaggerates the general microphoneyness. nice stuff. (also worth checking out: jonah bechtolt - of YACHT/the blow's "screwed and chopped" version of "jerusalem."

i have a lot to say about low right now, but i'll save it for another post later on, either just before or just after i see them on monday (!) (which knowing me means it will be up in about a month.) for now: drums and guns is really really good; i've been listening to it more than anything else in a while. and "breaker" is fairly representative of what makes it so good. (this video is pretty silly though. but i guess it's fittingly minimalist and heavy-handed/inscrutable. doesn't quite get the breathtaking beauty part.)

"sondre lerche sucks" - said matt merewitz, the jazz publicist of northern liberties, offhandedly, upon noticing three titles by the sometime-wunderkind, sometime-crooner in the "individual artists; rock/pop-ish; male" section of my cd shelf. eh, he's probably right. mr. lerche did after all put out a smooth jazz-pop vocal album last year, which i suspect is largely responsible for mr. merewitz's opinion of him. besides, does astralwerks put out anything that doesn't suck these days? (isn't astralwerks, like, the most confounding label?)

i thought about going to see him at the tla last night, but not only were tickets $20 ($5 less than i decided not to spend to see him in austin), it was a seated show. like, with reserved seats and everything. do you realize how lame that is!? i guess they figured the crowd would be mostly upwardly-aged easy-listeners suckered in by the dulcet tones of aforementioned jazz crooner record (which, by the way, i haven't heard and don't particularly intend to, though i'm sure it's interesting enough.) little did they know that young sondre has changed his tchune and is now a bonafied rock and roller. ha-ha! sucker punch, more like! (meanwhile, his backing outfit have transmogrified from the "faces down quartet" to the leaner-, meaner-sounding "faces down." named, of course, for the chorus hook of "dead passengers," the lead track on his similarly titled debut album - still possibly his best song.)

but hey - lerche was scandinavian pop before scandinavian pop was cool. (er, hence him not being cool?) he was not-really-that-indie before marginally-indie was indie. actually, the scando-pop/indie crossover merits some discussion in its own right - but we'll save that for the swee/tweedish installment in the genrephilia post series (remember that? yes, i still haven't finished writing about the february podcast...but just wait!)

anyway, phantom punch finds him putting the /rock that little bit further ahead of the pop/ - kinda like (i'm obliged to mention) squeeze or graham parker or xtc or recent tourmate/cover victim elvis costello - without sacrificing the sophisto-. i'd call it his most readily digestible record, and just maybe his best. really, it's no more and no less than i expected it to be, and that's fine by me. "she's fantastic" might be my favorite, so take that as you will - but it's pretty solid front to back. yup. nicely done.

the new !!! album, myth takes, has been getting pretty good reviews. i'm not that excited about it.

i hoped it would be dancier. it sounds vaguely "dancy" without really feeling all that danceable; it's "fun" but not actually fun. maybe it's too busy and stuffed with stuff - there are moments where the layers of instrumentation are stripped back, and the remaining grooves are revealed to be decently funky.

so it's pretty much indie guitar-based music. and it's okay. i should probably write about it when i'm actually listening to it, because i do enjoy it when it's playing. but is that enough? what good is that? don't we really want shelves full of albums that we can enjoy without having to listen to them?

on that note - i do really like the cover art, and especially how the insert folds out into a 4x larger version of the same image.

the blow opened for mirah at that show, which for mirah's sake should have been in the sanctuary as initially announced, but for the blow the basement was perfect. it was just khaela singing/rapping, with all the beats/music in a backing track (cuz the other guy was on tour), but she was a-maaaa-zing. really, i think she must have won over everyone in the crowd, instantly.

the set took the form of a lecture/demo, almost, with the songs strung together in a narrative about struggling with her own inability to write songs about anything other than not being able to get with the people she wants (and her corresponding inability to have a satisfactory relationship), involving various attempts to write about other things, failed at first, and eventually more or less triumphant (closing with the perfect popslice love-song "parentheses," and then the more bittersweet but still optimistic "true affection.")

she did "long list of girls" and talked about how she should sell it to j-lo or beyoncé for a million bucks: "it's awesome, right?" well...yeah, it's pretty awesome - i've had it in my head tons lately - though it would be good if there was a little more song to it (also, b has already done the marching drumline thing, a couple years back.) anyway, this was one of the "failures" because even though it's about how she's over the guy, her friend pointed out that if she was really over him she wouldn't be writing a song about him.

her persona was perfectly-pitched self-deprecating sarcastic confessional, performative enough to seem slightly put-on, but that slightly exaggerated edge almost gave it more honesty - even, maybe especially, when the story arc veered out of the realm of the plausible. a lesser performer might have come off as indulgent and wallowing, but the frankness and biting humor of her approach helped convey something vividly resonant about human loneliness and self-doubt. that resonance is still there, if less visceral and somehow more hopeful, on paper television, the album from which most of her set was drawn. (by the way, that's the european cover up there, which i think i like better.)

one more. AOTYTD (does that mean it'll be forgotten in 9 months?) sound of silver is indeed a good good good good good record. whether all those goods add up to a fanfreakingtastic is another question, but it's an album to smile to, darn tooting. "effortless" is a good word - it's flirtatiously close to "tossed-off," which might be the trouble. not that this album is, but i get a sense that, if he really put his mind to it, jimmy murphy could make a total bleeding masterpiece for the ages, one groove under which we could all get - cuz he's got love on his side - but as it is he's just bubbly crusin', givin' a chuckle and out pops yr rhythmical underwebbing for the next six weeks. could be longer.

am i being not nice? i haven't even listened to 45:33 (technophobic!) and this album sounded familiar like an old crush on first listen, which mind you was the day it was released and not a whiff sooner. i wonder sometimes but the bands that everybody complains about being the oh-obvious product of influences (the strokes too, holdsteady like i mentioned) often actually have an extremely distinctive steez - and what a case in point! it's so so supa-soundsystematic.

actual quibble: i'm not quite sure i'm buying "north american scum" as the pop stand-alone - it's no "daft punk" or "beat connection" and certainly no (hands-down, hush-hush LCD greatest single moment) "tribulations." i'm not sure this album has one. "someone great," which you can in fact dance to, and easily (you just have to beatmatch into it first), is a total total winner, and probably the (correct) consensus favorite. "all my friends" is close and (i think) is the one with the straight-up junior boys vibe. (also half-cops the melody from "count souveniers" is it?) "get innocuous" may be the biggest dancefloor stormer - i burst into the steamy floor of making time last friday just as it was blooming out from... some soulwax track i think. heck.

i am going to love this album for a long time.