Band to Discover: Motopony

Band: Motopony

Album: Self-titled

Current Status: Touring

Oh,  I don’t know what to do with these boys except to let their album play. Sunlight glinting, a soft and sporadic breeze, and rocks in a dry creek. Yep. Their music is an untarnished landscape perceived by Milton Avery

Stripped down and reconstructed through their clean presentation and use of keyboards as conveyors of notes collapsing inward, the melodies, somewhat repetitious, have door-knocking drums dug deeply in. The vocalist seems to stuff the words in his cheeks once they gurgle up from his throat, and he then releases them either abruptly or trepidatiously.

The sound of fingers tapping on a hollow plastic table pulled me into “Wait for Me” and the dinner plate reference reminded me of one of my favorite fairy tales, The Magic Tinderbox. The mythical quality is nice and peaceful and playfully portrayed in the keyboards. Many people prefer a summer album, one to enjoy now that the days are longer and the sunsets are more sanguine, and this is my summer album though Keaton Henson‘s Dear… is a strong second, especially with “You don’t know how lucky you are.” Unfortunately, though beautiful, the latter promises more of a morose summer than one of great repose, so Motopony won’t be dethroned.

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Band Camp Albums: List 3

The Band: The Heart Strings
The Album: Flap Your Crazy Wings
Location: London, England
Status: Responding to comments posted on their Facebook page

In small doses, the songs on this album kick of spring time perfectly. The melodies are traditional but the mesh of sounds with electronic overtones create a peppy arrangement. This combination would not have translated as well as it does if the mixing wasn’t as quite good as it is.The lyrics are funny or sentimental. For example, “Nice Hangover” is true to its title and even includes twittering birds.

The Band: Dana Falconberry
The Album: Though I Didn’t Call They Came
Location: Austin, TX
Status: Playing many, many times in their hometown

Typically, I don’t listen to this style of music; however, I can’t ignore the amazing talent of this group. Crisp and layered, this song below is representative of the album.  Her band has grown from 3 ladies singing to now a band playing with them, but the whistles and flawless harmonizing is still the core of their sound.  Why don’t I have the Band Camp link to the album? Oh, the mystery: First, you must purchase a colorful print from Dana. On it is a code which you need to unlock the album on Band Camp. You might be able to find access to it on her web site, but if you wish to preview it, then you can listen to the album on her MySpace page.


Interlude

I have been slacking, but only when it comes to posting. I am researching a little at the moment. In the meantime, here is a performance for the interlude.


Music Venue to Discover: Skinny’s Ballroom

Name: Skinny’s Ballroom
Location: 115 San Jacinto Blvd. Austin, TX 78701
Hours: Tue-Sun 5pm-2am

Skinny’s Ballroom creates an intimate setting for the band and the audience, making it a great live music venue, but what makes it so amazing is that it goes above and beyond conventional; in fact, it is like an Austin music fan splayed open, with all of its sincere love of music exposed alongside its eclectic quirks and incomparable preferences. From the time the doors open to the time the door closes, it shines.

They have something of quality scheduled every night they are open. Their calendar has both fan participation and fan appreciation events along with live music. The Ukulele Night you bring your own ukulele and receive instructions and jam. Music Trivia Night challenges any music aficionado with an array of clever categories and questions. Several bands play on the nights for live music, but they also have an open mic night.

If you can’t make it to Skinny’s to see a band, then you can catch the show even if you are five states away: they broadcast it on their internet radio station. (You also can download from their website an application for your iPhone or Android.) When they aren’t broadcasting a band, they are sending you damn good music, the kind without genre limitations.

The bartenders, hosts for the different events and the mom-and-pop owners are unpretentious music lovers who treat you like a guest in their home, except they do expect you to pay for your drinks, which
isn’t asking too much.


Band Camp Albums: List 2

My list for this month isn’t like last month’s, which I had selected from close to 10 that I had been listening to. Slacking off, I didn’t begin my search until the end of the month. However, that doesn’t mean my list is mediocre. These bands are punchy and worth the same attention as those on my last list.

The Band: The Equals
Album:
The Equals EP (2011)
Location:
Austin, TX
Status: Playing around Austin, next show at Emo’s
Why?
Each instrument swings in and then cascades into the next, either creating a well-developed layer or a thoughtful and significant contrast, similar to techniques used by other primarily instrumental bands, like Explosions in the Sky and Julianna Barwick. The hard strong drum beats aren’t jarring but instead create a smoothness. It sounds as though they have incorporated a little acoustic guitar in with the electric guitar, but I am not sure. Whoever did the mixing did a stellar job, though the volume of some instruments could stand a little tweaking.

The Band: Tiger Waves
Album:
Only Good Bands Have Animal Names
Location:
Austin, Texas and Chicago, Illinois
Status: Playing Mohawk in Austin, Texas
Why?
If the songs were ordered differently, this album could be the soundtrack for time-elapse footage depicting the demolition of a skyscraper and the construction of a bio-dome. The songs seem divided into two categories, ones with modern melodies and ones with distinctive 1960s pop melancholy.  They are a band that seems to go by feel, seeking songs through pushing instrumental strength and pairing these arrangements with caressing and harmonizing vocals.  (Because of their saturated songs and moments which border on being overwrought, I am a little worried that these two members might fall into each other if they decide to work on their next album isolated from others.)


See them live: The Vitamins

Band: The Vitamins

Where: Austin, TX

Album: None found

Current Status: Playing live, last show Hole in the Wall

Who are the Vitamins and why should you see them live?

There is not that much out there on the Vitamins or on their other band, Tia Carrera. Eric Conn (drums) and Jamey Simms (guitar and vocals) love to rock and love it loud. This and many other qualities distinguish them from other bands named The Vitamins, pop rock bands.

Erik Conn on drums. Before the band even started to play, my eyes were on the stage because I was mystified by the way in which Conn’s drum kit was arranged. Two floor toms, identical in size, and a cymbal flanked his right and a third tom along with a snare and two cymbals flanked his left. This organization predicted his movement for the evening, tightly wound in one section and then the next, with surprise appearances on the other side, either slipping his hand under or over one arm. It seemed like it would have been awkward for most other drummers, but not for him: occasionally with eyes closed, he moved within his own universe where all the planets and stars were arranged precisely.

Jamey Simms on guitar and vocals. The vocals, delivered in the style of Iggy Pop, made incredibly brief cameos in the two songs the band played, one song under ten minutes and the other over 10 minutes.  A guitarist who most likely dreams of shredding every time he sleeps, Simms has the same way of doing business as Conn, compartmentalizing riffs and presenting tight arrangements. He could incorporate in a little reverb and definitely allow it to linger more and, in fact, it would have been great if he had let some riffs just tease themselves out more gradually; overall, he demonstrated he is serious about shredding and in showing every way there is to shred, like a kid at Halloween showing each piece of candy in his trick or treat bag saying, “this is my favorite; no, wait, this one. No, this one…”

If you could only see them but not hear them as they played, you would think Simms and Conn had no idea the other was on stage with him. They hardly looked at each other and were nowhere near each other; however, musically they are more than aware of each other. In other words, while they are improvisational in style, they definitely are on the same spooky wave-length. The video below isn’t of the best quality, but it was the only one on which one is able to hear the drums and the guitar.



Punkucation: Introduction

Someone volunteered to try to clarify punk rock for me. Below is a combination of his insight with additional research I did on punk rock. The good thing about punk is that it has a broad range.  For the introduction, there are the classic punk rock bands along with some of the lighter, easier to listen to bands all the way to the extremely political and more aggressive bands.

The Classics
The Clash, The Ramones, and the Buzzcocks are the most well-known classic punk rock bands. The following songs aren’t their most popular songs, so you might not be familiar with them.

1. The Clash formed in the U.K. during the 1970s. Their album “London Calling” opened the door to success in the U.S. in the early 1980s.

2. Also formed in the 1970s, the Ramones is true-blooded NYC punk and the most prominent American band to influence punk rock, though they didn’t influence the mainstream.

3. The Buzzcocks basically defined “indie rock band” in the 1970s with their ability to maintain a strong following but not be influenced by mainstream entities.

Fun Punk
Lighthearted “fun” punk doesn’t have the political or social commentary.

1. NOFX carved the path for the punk scene in California, which bands like Green Day later followed, up and down the West Coast. This band falls into almost every category, which many think of as a hallmark of a truly modern punk rock band. To emphasize this contrast in NOFX between fun and aggressive, you can listen to songs like “The Brews,” “The Moron Brothers,” “New Boobs,” “Monosyllabic Girl,” and “Johnny Appleseed” and then the list below in the next category.

2. Like NOFX, The Descendents infiltrated the punk rock scene in California during the 1980s and are a mix of hard punk rock and punk humor.

3. The Dead Milkmen are more dark humor than fun, which is one of the reasons they were so popular on college radio in the late 1980s. They did record and sell a significant amount of albums during their time together.

4. Youth Brigade promoted the different aspects of the punk rock subculture, from music to art, and were more of a band for other punk rock musicians than punk rock fans.

Aggressive Punk Rock
This section is more aggressive, and more politically charged and has more of a “message.” It’s the favorite type of punk rock for punk rock fans.

1. Bad Religion was an American band that attained mainstream success even though most of their lyrics focused on the disenchantment with humanity because of the general lack of social and personal responsibility of individuals.

http://youtu.be/OzT26P4IUqk

2. Propagandhi is the archetype of the “got something to say” punk rock bands.  Very unlike Poison Ivy, Propagandhi almost always speaks about politics, religion, and negative social influences.

3. NOFX appears in this category too. They have several songs disparaging the U.S. political system, like “Murder the Government” and “Don’t Call Me White.” The band also has a unique song called “It’s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite” which is about the flaws in the punk culture.


Interesting Footnotes: The last bit I will show you are two interesting footnotes of punk rock subgenres.

1. Ska Punk Rock

Operation Ivy is more of a ska style punk and they represent a whole different style within punk. Operation Ivy can fall into the different categories; it just depends on their mood. They have a lot of political type message songs, and then they throw in lots fun and lighthearted songs as well.

2. Girls in Punk Rock

One point of note is that punk rock is largely male-dominated, but there were punk rock girls who made punk rockers stand up and take notice. A documentary was made about female musicians in punk rock scene highlighting both the animosity and awe they received. If you listened to the lyrics of male punk rock bands, you definitely can walk away knowing that female punk rockers had to be more talented and more aggressive to gain any foothold. While there were feminist-charged, all-female punk rock bands, there were punk rock bands with both male and female members, like the Cramps and the Killjoys (below), though most might say these bands just barely teeter into the punk rock genre.


ACL Festival 2011: featured acts and their counterparts

The overall line up this year isn’t spectacular, especially since there are really amazing bands touring right now who aren’t play at ACL, like the Battles, and considering the musicians due to put out albums in 2012, destined for ACL in 2012. This assessment sounds critical, but it is just that most ACLs bring artists who are either with a niche audience, ones who are at their pique, or those on the cusp. About half who attend, though, are not locals, and this probably influences the line up which caters more and more to a wider, more mainstream audience.

Many bands and musicians will have an audience made up of some actual fans and others who are just curious to see why they have fans, am audience composition typical most years for almost all the featured performers. Typically, people cluster crawl. This means that even though thousands of people attend, a person will see the same people over and over throughout the day because they like similar music. Age is often the common link when it comes to music appreciation, but preference is also a factor. Therefore, each paragraph below groups musical performers not based on notoriety or genre but on the above determining factors. Also, since times can change, I am not taking into consideration if the performances conflict. The quality of the performance is what will determine who will impress the audience. Keep in mind, these aren’t reviews, but a prediction of what might be worth attending at ACL; however, just like the weather in Austin, you don’t know what will happen until you are exposed to the elements.

Bands like Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket warrant the following they have because they are talented and thoughtful bands. It is impressive that they are able to bridge the gap between indie rock fans and mainstream audiences, which will most likely result in the feeling of communal experience at both performances.

Coldplay and James Blake as well as North Mississippi Allstars and Gary Clark Jr.  have established fan bases and so, I would guess, share many of the same fans. (Again, I am not focusing on genre.) Similarly, there are several other bands who will have the majority of their audience be fans already and not find that ACL expands their fan base. Broken Social Scene will probably try to piggyback on Arcade Fire’s vibe, but they just don’t seem like they will be charismatic enough to keep a hot, grumpy crowd sated. Elbow might have some luck as they are skilled musicians, but they might not tap into Coldplay’s fan base. The reason is that the songs I know by them are fairly morose and typically these types of songs don’t pull people in at a live performance.

TV on the Radio, Gomez, Cold War Kids and The Walkmen perform live frequently and though they put on solid performances which might pull in those walking by, they aren’t standouts. These bands probably won’t gain many more fans from playing ACL but if anything will put on a show that their current fans will appreciate. However, someone might see how skilled Matt Barrick is on the drums (seriously, he and John Stanier need to have a drum-off), or pulled in by one of Cold War Kids’ more unique songs, like We Used to Vacation. Bands like Delta Spirit have a strong chance of building a fan base if they capture the attention of Walkmen fans and/or Cold War Kids fans, but they must put on a strong performance.

Cee Lo Green I have seen perform at 3:00, high heat of an 100 degree day, and when most would hold back, he performed with his heart and soul. Cut Copy will probably put on a similar performance. Both Green and Cut Copy will enthrall the crowd and get them dancing. Twin Shadow comes across as a 80s romantic revivalist, but his lyrics, voice, and arrangements are well-constructed, and I hope people stop and give him a chance because he deserves it. While he doesn’t do anything unique on stage to get your attention, his talent does make him a standout. Fitz and the Tantrums have a good chance of getting the crowd to forget how miserable the heat has made them if they play in the evening, a time when it is cooler and people are up for a little dancing, much like Ghostland Observatory did they played a night show at ACL.

AWOLNATION and Foster for the People  I have listened to off and on for months and have had near missed with their live performances. Both AWOLNATION’s performance and Foster for the People’s performance are worth catching depending on whose debut single you prefer. My sense is that both have the potential for a tragic performance, not from their fault but because festival newbies tend to be jinxed. While AWOLNATION and Foster for the People are more indie than pop rock, Young the Giant and Airborn Toxic Event are going to try to let it wash all over you with some very feel-good, catchy songs: respectively “My Body” and “Changing.”

If I had to choose between Empire of the Sun and Santigold, I would choose Santigold. The reason is that I think she will put forth more effort to make the live performance memorable based on her talent whereas I think Empire of the Sun will exert effort on the spectacle. (Also, Santigold has the swagger of Lady Saw who hits you outright, like an A-bomb.)  Pretty Lights is electronic-based and mixes similar to Moby in that it is mostly down-tempo and, on the other hand, Skillrex is an abrasive electronic band; both construct fairly basic electronica but maybe they will surprise people.

Fleet Foxes and Ray LaMontagne play music that is very mellow and lovely. The first time I heard LaMontagne was at an ACL festival a few years back and he amazed me and everyone else. It is difficult to reach a crowd at ACL when you are just using raw talent, but his talent is incomprehensible. I would say that fans of LaMontagne will appreciate Telekinesis and Phosphorescent‘s music to some extent.  Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses and Iron & Wine will most likely not reach a new audience and it is quite possible that since they recently played in Austin, there won’t be too many people planning to see them if their times conflict with other musicians who are on the “to watch” lists.  In fact, fans of the latter musicians will gravitate towards The Head and the Heart, who don’t really jump out at me but seem to have created a following, and the Cave Singers; though I am not sure if these fans will stay.

Note: The hyperlinks are primarily for the bands’ and musicians’ MySpace pages because those provide direct access to at least four songs to sample.


Albums to discover: “Fits” and “D” by White Denim

Band: White Denim

Albums:Fits” (Expanded version) (2009) and “D” (2011)

Current Status: Touring

The first time I heard a song from White Denim’s “Fits,” the song “Everybody, Somebody,” I couldn’t finish listening to it.  I thought there was nothing but discord and it unnerved me. When I listened a second time, I was disappointed in myself for being so easily put off the first time. I have gone through “Fits” completely and it is amazing.

The music is a controlled dissonance. The band creates the overall sound with just vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, no extravagant equipment or weird menagerie of instruments; though random sounds appear briefly, they are nonessential. As a band, they all manipulate tempos and melodies as if they are conjoined creative elements and not basic properties. They all must do this with such awareness and respect to each other’s contributions because otherwise it would just be a mess, like two tripping idiots playing a kudzu and jug who think they have just re-invented jazz. This is not implying that there is a fine line, but it is just that no other band could do what they do. Their collective imagination is boundless.

The drums are key to establishing the unity, which throws me off because I almost always expect the bass to take on this responsibility. Those beats are so tightly reined that when they shift it is either so flawless they sometimes seem to overlap or one arrangement drops the previous into oblivion. The basslines create a gravitational pull, whether used as the main feature or simply as an undercurrent. Sometimes I can’t hear them, not because they are lost in everything else but because they are so grounded in the guitar chords that they muscle and burn through everything else.  The guitar riffs oscillate between being predictable and unpredictable like the sounds of pots and pans rattling as they hang off a Model-T busting down a bumpy dirt road; the vocals mirror the guitar riffs while driving with eyes carelessly on the road.

Now I am hooked and my expectations are high. Not much time has passed since my induction to “Fits,” and so when “D” came out I really wasn’t ready to move on. “D” lurked. I gave in. It wasn’t until the video for “Street Joy” appeared that I decided to write a comparison of “D” to “Fits.”

“Fits” appears suddenly, using an old special effects trick: splicing the film of a movie to cause an abrupt appearance of a monster to seem magical. “D,” on the other hand, uncoils itself around you. Don’t think I am making a comparison between the first songs on the two albums; the tempos are too similar for there to be this much of a distinction. No, I am referring to the ways in which the two albums evolve. “D” progresses like a tight and strong coil being pulled and each song seems to reflect this pattern: slow and fast arrangements overlap through different instruments. Whereas “Fits” is dominated by forceful electric guitar, “D” has electric and acoustic guitar skillfully combined in the songs which is something few bands can execute so beautifully. In “Fits” tempo changes are common within most of the songs and the same is true of “D,” except Petralli’s vocals don’t consistently mimic these shifts in “D” which makes for a subtle surprise.

Certain songs, obvious frontrunner “Street Joy” but also “Anivl Everything,” are sung so lovingly they reveal an unexpectedly smoothness to Petralli’s voice. Other songs where he lulls notes into submission make me picture a lion tamer calming the lion in front of him, not with the threat of a whip but with sweet nothing-nothings. The lyrics, complex and much more expansive for the most part than those of “Fits,” flit back and forth from observational narrative to descriptive contemplation.

One or two listens of “D” would result in only a superficial gleaning out of which the following statement would tumble: “White Denim’s album “D” is a curio cabinet and the songs are musical kitsch.” This is not the case because White Denim albums warrant multiple listens and more thoughtful consideration even though I can’t ignore the cheekiness of some of the songs on this album. “D” is reflective of White Denim’s ability to flux on hyper-drive and to be consistent at the same time. Like “Fits,” the album “D” is representative of the band’s limitless imagination.”D” sounds like an eclectic mix, for example the strings in “Keys” which softly descend into the mild twanging of guitar, and this quality does make it different from “Fits,” but “D” still progresses from start to finish with no deviation from the clever plays and mingling arrangements present in each song.

And last but not least, I put myself in a position of answering this question: can I justify falling in love with basslines or is that like a physicist falling in love with a black hole? No, I can’t justify it. A physicist could, however, become infatuated with a black hole, ergo… The basslines in “Fits” have me infatuated. If they tried to dip a used a coffee spoon in my sugar bowl, I wouldn’t stop them. This feeling is reinforced through “D,” and even though they covertly moved in a month ago, I am not harping after them to pay for half the utilities and “buy groceries for once.”


Always in need of a Punkucation

I have been in need of a Punkucation and didn’t realize it until this weekend. A musician and I talked about different bands, for example Wire, and the conversation turned to the type of band he was in: punk. He then explained the sub-genre of punk his band falls into and and why.  I concentrated on trying to understand punk and, yet again, I failed.

I am familiar with the genre of punk rock and its sub-genres,  but I can’t readily recognize on my own when music is punk, and I think this is because I don’t completely understand what makes it punk rock. I thought the difference between straightforward rock and punk could be determined in the same way a person can determine the difference between art and pornography: “I know it when I [hear] it.” Punk rock is punk because of the short, repetitious beats and the staccato-like delivery of the lyrics.  At least, that is what I thought. This weekend I also happened to go through mixes given to me over the years. Because of the aforementioned conversation, I realize that most of these mixes are representative of the different types of punk rock.

On the first punk rock mix given to me were songs from The Dead Milkmen, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth and The Cramps just to name a few. The mix was okay, a sampling of different songs from the same four or five bands. It had some congruity. I didn’t understand, though, what made some of these bands punk bands. Sonic Youth has long influenced my music preferences. I always thought of them as experimental rock, if I thought of a genre at all, not Post-punk. (How is post-punk a sub-genre of punk rock?) However, my favorite mix was made by Joe.

Letter included with Joe's Mix Tape

Joe’s mix is my favorite partly for sentimental reasons. When I listened to it, I was reminded of how much fun we had. I could picture him wearing a light blue T-Shirt which depicted two happy-go-lucky police officers throwing a scruffy man into the back of a dump truck, captioned with, “It’s time to take out the trash.” His mix also reminded me of his letters. Every letter he wrote me included either a detailed drawing or just a few pen sketches of menacing men scattered throughout. The other reason his mix was my favorite was because he put so much thought into it.

Joe took over a month to make the mix because it made him vacillate, not because he didn’t know what to put on it but because he was so thoughtful in selecting each song. The songs didn’t create a cohesive mix, but each song represented a quality of that particular band or musician. This mix featured what I now consider obvious punk bands and musicians, like The Ramones and The Clash. Because of Joe’s mix, I instinctually select “The KKK Took my Baby Away”  every time it is on a jukebox. On the other hand, there is music that I never considered punk rock, such as the Stray Cats. (How is rockabilly a sub-genre of punk rock?) He also included a few that made me reconsider what I thought of as punk and the punk persona. For example,  my perception changed of  Joan Jett as just one of the boys to a sex symbol for boys everywhere.

Listening to these mixes, I know categorically these songs are considered punk, but I don’t hear them as punk rock. Why, after so many mixes and extensive conversations, do I not understand punk?