Chilly Gonzalez hosts the “Piano Talk Show” at Brooklyn’s Bell House

Though not many people may be familiar with Chilly Gonzalez, there is no doubt you’ve heard his work.  He is the Grammy-nominated producer behind Feist’s The Reminder, as well as her most recent album Metals.  His tune, “Never Stop,” became ubiquitous with the iPad commercials.

Born Jason Charles Beck, Gonzalez is a musical genius that transitions between melancholic piano virtuoso to playful comic lyricist.  This was beautifully displayed on Friday night at the Bell House in Brooklyn.  With accompaniment from the string section named Fuck Lucks, Gonzalez was part musical lecturer and hilarious host dressed in a satin robe and slippers.  First, there was a discussion about major and minor keys that stemmed from his use of the Flat E minor.   He compared the major keys to the right wing and the status quo, while the minor end coincidentally embraced by the minorities.  Gonzalez played well known tunes, such as “Happy Birthday” and “Frère Jacques” in minor keys to demonstrate the somber reversal of fortune in a simple change of scale.

From major and minor, Gonzalez shifted gears to the rap genre and how it taught him about ambition.  He sang “Beans” as a comic play on the ghetto fabulous lifestyle of excess.  Rapping sick lyrics like, “And when the beans talk, I hear the echo / Speaking to me in the voice of Mr. Gordon Gekko.” Gonzalez continued his musical education covering music counts from 4/4 to 6/8, identifying the latter count sequence as “kinda rapey”.  Throughout his musical lessons, he had members of the audience join him at his piano, playing side by side.

Given the choice of another long drawn out somber piano piece or a story on how he worked with Drake, the audience chose Drake.  Drake had sampled Gonzalez’s work in “Outro” for his So Far Gone Mixtape without giving Chilly his due.  Needless to say, Gonzalez wrote a reactionary song, “The Grudge” to cope with the episode, which he never shared with Drake.  But as fate would have it, the fellow Canadian had coincidentally bought a condo in the same building as Gonzalez’s father.  Drake’s people arranged a meeting for the two and a face to face collaboration was realized when they performed together at the 2011 Juno Awards.  No bad blood after all.

The show closed with Gonzalez atop the piano playing tunes with his feet, which somehow is not surprising from such a musical genius.  Chilly Gonzalez is releasing Solo Piano II later this year via Arts & Crafts.  Let the education continue.

Exitmusic – Passage

Exitmusic
Passage
Release date: May 22, 2012
Secretly Canadian

Exitmusic, the husband and wife duo of Devon Church and Aleksa Palladino, produce a blend of chill wave meets  apocalyptic crescendo.  Though Aleksa has quite the day job playing Angela Darmody on Boardwalk Empire, she is no actress tinkering at a music side project.  Exitmusic is legit.  Last October they released their debut EP, From Silence, which included “The Modern Age” – the only track that graces their forthcoming full length album Passage.

The title track starts as a little sea foam on the shore and catapults into a crashing chorus.  Aleksa really digs into a guttural vocal delivery with “The Night” as sweet “ha ha ah’s” calm the backing music-scape.  “The City” starts with Aleksa’s numbing vocals then pounds in with drums and guitars, creating a push and pull effect.

Exitmusic is reminiscent of Beach House with a dash of Goldfrapp, but darker and more foreboding.  “The Wanting” is especially atmospheric with repetitive loops.  My favorite track “White Noise”  has Aleksa crooning in desperation as frenetic guitars seem to change her tune to an uplifting cheer.  The now defunct Los Angeles CityBeat described it prefectly as, “mak(ing) me think of two sweet kids strolling hand-in-hand into Armageddon.” Now that’s the perfect exit music.

Track list
Passage
The Night
The City
White Noise
Storms
The Wanting
Stars
The Modern Age
The Cold
Sparks of Light

Tour dates
4.10 – Baton Rouge, LA / Spanish Moon
4.11 – Houston, TX / Fitzgerald’s
4/12 – Austin, TX / Mohawk
4.14 – Fort Worth, TX / Modern Art Museum
4.15 – Kansas City, MO / The Riot Room
4.16 – Denver, CO / Larmier Lounge
4.17 – Salt Lake City, UT / Urban Lounge
4.19 – Los Angeles, CA / Echoplex
4.20 – San Francisco, CA / Rickshaw Stop
4.22 – Portland, OR / Doug Fir Lounge
4.23 – Seattle, WA / The Crocodile
4.24 – Vancouver, BC / The Electric Owl
4.28 – Chicago, IL / Lincoln Hall
4.29 – Bloomington, IN / The Bishop
4.30 – Detroit, MI / Magic Stick

5.02 – Toronto, ON / The Hoxton
5.03 – Montreal, QC / La Sala Rossa
5.04 – Allston, MA / Brighton Music Hall
5.05 – New York, NY / Le Poisson Rouge

Exitmusic provides the prologue at Mercury Lounge

Brooklyn outfit Exitmusic opened for the sold out School of Seven Bells gig at the Mercury Lounge early Tuesday evening.  Led by the real life couple of Aleksa Palladino (aka Angela Darmody of Broadwalk Empire) and Devon Church, Exitmusic produced the perfect warm-up with songs from their EP From Silence and their forthcoming LP Passage.  A soundtrack of filmy, layered choruses lulled the audience to a seance of crashing guitar riffs.  Opening their set with “The Sea”, Aleksa’s brooding voice delivers a haunting, “It’s the silent seeeeeaaa.”  From there they leaped into “The Modern Age”  where Devon shredded his guitar.

Aleksa was particularly beguiling singing, “Look up the sky’s awake, the sun is shining,” on “The Hours”.  They ended their set with a new song, “Sparks of Light”.  This writer was hoping for their dreamy re-imagining of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” but it was foregone in the short set.

Exitmusic’s debut LP Passage is out May 22nd on Secretly Canadian.  Check out the title track here.  The band is off to SXSW and a US tour that hits NY March 28 at Terminal 5 and May 5 with School of Seven Bells again at Le Poisson Rouge.

Milagres charm the Mercury Lounge

The Brooklyn-based quintet Milagres plugged into Mercury Lounge Thursday night to a welcoming crowd.  The outfit matriculated from NYU, but didn’t form until post-graduation.  Bringing their swooning tunes from their fall release, Glowing Mouth, lead Kyle Wilson’s falsetto burst opened the set with “Gentle Beast”, as the onlookers cheered in delight.  Milagres have a mutable sound that has been compared to Arcade Fire, R.E.M. and even Prince.  On their second song of the night, “To Be Imagined”, Kyle’s vocals reminded me of another Brooklyn troop, The Antlers and Canadian Patrick Watson with similar swooning and crashing cymbals and beats.  On “Fright of Thee”, a more macabre tone is evoked and resembled something Ryan Gosling’s band Dead Man’s Bones might have produced.

Guitarist Eric Schwortz served as speaker for the band chatting with the crowd and gauging interest in Downton Abbey?  Their fans were into it and the atmosphere felt like a room full of friends rather than industry suits witnessing the next big thing.  Eric also informed the audience of their latest track , “Quiet Street”, which premiered on Paste Magazine’s site.  Before concluding the set with “Fifty Fourteeners”, Kyle threw out an open invite to their fans to join them at HiFi , a bar up the street that would be honoring drink deals if they mentioned the gig.  Now that’s a classy band, taking care of its fans.

Set list
Gentle Beast
To Be Imagined
Glowing Mouth
Lost in the Dark
Fright of  Thee
Quiet Street
Here To Stay
Gone
Halfway
For Disposal
50 14ers

Cass McCombs illuminates Bowery Ballroom

To the backdrop of a lit screen resembling digital sequins, Cass McCombs and his band descended onto the stage of Bowery Ballroom.  Despite the glittering panels, Cass and his band were enshrouded in darkness with all overhead lights off.  They rambled into “Love Thine Enemy” from his last album, Humor Risk to start.  With only periodic camera flashes to reveal Cass’s facial expressions, this was a concert where audience members were forced to listen and less about the antics of the artist, not that Cass would oblige.  He leaves his songs to tell his stories.   He barely chatted, only to open with a “hi” and “how’s everyone?” and a thank you with introductions for his band at the tail end.

Borrowing largely from Humor Risk, Wit’s End and Catacombs, Cass and his gang of four melded nicely throughout the set on “My Sister, My Spouse,” “Buried Alive” and “The Same Thing”.  The gents on lap steel and keys really enveloped the wayward nature of the nomad singer-songwriter’s compositions.  Some songs even ensued praise from concert goers as one shouted “That was niiiiice,” after the conclusion of “Harmonia”.   A few deviations from the trio of last albums were “My Master” from the A album, the tribute/protest song “Bradley Manning” and “Angel Blood”, which had been played plenty in the fall 2011 tour and captured by Pitchfork and Daytrotter.

The appropriate swan song of the night had to be “County Line,” which you could feel the crowd anticipating.  NPR labelled “a song for ever time” and that it is.  For Wednesday night’s rendition in New York, the bluesy waltz was stretch for maximum appeal.  The perfect lullaby to send this writer back to her own county line (Kings).

Gem Club dreams at Littlefield

The duo of Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala create ethereally slow burning ditties as Gem Club.  With a keyboard and a cello, their songs are cavernous and evoke a sense of longing.  Gem Club’s tunes are the perfect soundtrack for a walk on a cold and foreboding beach, which is not surprising that their song “Red Arrow” was featured on the ABC drama, Revenge.  Hamptons approved.

For their set at Littlefield, they were joined by vocalist Ieva Berberbian.  They quickly gave the thumbs up and started with “Birds” from their self-released six-song EP, Acid and Everything.  Taking from both the EP and their full length Breakers, the audience was transported into a dreamy reverie of piano ballads.  For the track “Breakers”, Kristen delicately tapped colorful foot bells and Chris lamented “the graceless years are gone”.  Chris offered very little chatter between songs, though very thankful for the opportunity to play and open for Califone.   One of the few songs he introduced,  “Acid and Everything” started somewhat in the vein of Radiohead’s “No Surprises” with its loopy piano keys.   The band ended their short 40-minute set with “In Wavelengths”, which has a glorious rendition recorded for a Daytrotter session over the 2011 CMJ festive.

If you haven’t had a chance to witness the slow burn of Gem Club, do yourself a favor and check out their Tiny Desk Concert for NPR’s All Songs Considered.  Guaranteed to leave you in a woozy haze.

Sharon Van Etten warms up Mercury Lounge

On a crisp evening, fans poured into Mercury Lounge to witness a rare, intimate concert with Ms. Sharon Van Etten.  Weeks before her latest LP, Tramp hits stores February 7th, she played to a sold out crowd on Wednesday.   She thanked her fans for giving up their hump day to hang with her.  Amongst her fans in the crowd was one Aaron Dessner of The National, who also helped producer her upcoming release.  Though not in attendance, Sharon’s other fancy friends include TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone (who was given a demo personally from Van Etten) and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who is her fellow Jagjaguwar label mate.  Girl rolls with fine company.

Covering her new album from side A to B, she began with “Warsaw” and continued in order of the track list.   As most of the songs were very new to her audience (unless they had streamed her performance the day before at The Greene Space for WNYC’s Soundcheck), they piped up for her single “Serpents”.  She had taken the single out for a spin on her first network television appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon a few weeks earlier.   She then went on to introduce the next tune “Kevin’s” as a song about quitting smoking.  Though there was little chatter between SVE and the crowd, she brought out a ukulele and an omnichord.   The latter instrument elicited a cheer of “OMICHORD!”

“All I Can” was well received by the entranced audience.  This reporter overheard one concertgoer say, “I really loved that last song.”  Sharon’s echoey vocals sure do that to listeners.   Her vocals were enhanced especially by bassist/keyboardist Heather Wood Broderick (Horse Feathers, Efterklang) on the second to last song “I’m Wrong”.  Though there was no encore, the crowd left completely satisfied and blessed to witness a true artist on the heels of a breakout.  SVE plays additional New York shows in February:

February 24 – Music Hall of Williamsburg
February 25 & 26 – Bowery Ballroom

Needless to say, not to be missed.

Set list
Warsaw
Give Out
Serpents
Kevin’s
Leonard
In Line
All I Can
We Are Fine
Magic Chords
Ask
I’m Wrong
Joke or a Lie

Over The Rhine at Le Poisson Rouge

On a cool, crisp evening in New York, the fans of Over the Rhine descended into the cellar of Le Poisson Rouge.  The real life couple of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler rose to the stage starting off with “Born” off their 2005 Drunkard’s Prayer album.  The crowd was in for a treat as Karin thanked the masses for coming to their holiday tour.  Getting down to the holiday spirit, Karin crooned “All I Ever Get For Christmas in Blue” with her signature pipes.  Before continuing the festive caroling with “White Horse”, Linford asked his wife if it was true that she once put a plastic horse under the Christmas tree in the hopes it would be a real horse Christmas morning.  Karin admitted she did and that her mother was relieved when there was no Christmas morning miracle.

Then the evening really heated up when the cable to the kick drum shocked the drummer as they started into “I’m On A Roll”.  They dug deep into their 20 years of songwritng to fulfill a request by singing “Suitcase” from their double album Ohio. Though they did treated fans to oldies but goodies, they played a majority from their latest album The Long Surrender, including “The King Knows How”, “Undamned”, “All My Favorite People” and “Rave On”. The pair also debuted a new song “Sacred Ground” and a new as-yet-named holiday tune. Of course they dusted the set with Christmas songs from their previous holiday recording Snow Angels. The true Christmas gift was their Hank Williams cover of “Still in Love With You” with the accompaniment of openers, The Milk Carton Kids.

Setlist
Born
All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue
White Horse
I’m on a Roll
Suitcase
The King Knows How
Undamned
Sacred Ground (new song)
New Christmas song
Snow Angel
Pull Through
North Pole Man
Trouble
All My Favorite People

Encore
Rave On
Drunkard’s Prayer
Still In Love With You (Hank Williams cover)

Eleanor Friedberger whites out Le Poisson Rouge

On a crisp evening in New York City, Eleanor Friedberger, one half of the brother sister duo The Fiery Furnaces, graced the stage of Le Poisson Rouge, performing selections from her debut solo album, Last Summer, as well as new material. Eleanor opened with the first single “My Mistakes”, donning a full white suit and matching white Keds.  Who said you can’t wear white after Labor Day?

Eleanor peppered her show with new material “a song about falling in love”, “Stare at the Sun”  and the rocking “That Was When I Knew” for the encore.  Her lyrics present sharp narratives with decisive repetition.  It’s especially noticeable live when she chimes “Wrong, wrong, wrong” in the later newbie and even in “Inn of the Seventh Ray” where a broken promise rings over and over in her memories.  She even counted out 2-0-1-0 for “Glitter Gold Year”.

Behind her mint green electric guitar and manicured bangs a la Patti Smith, she was completely comfortable on stage, except a moment before kicking into “Roosevelt Island”. Eleanor had to hold up saying she was tipsy and blamed it on the suit.  Fashion is painful.  She took a mini breather and a sip of her Corona.  All good!

Eleanor was happy to play an early show because she was due to attend a wedding post-concert.  Maybe an explanation for the all white ensemble?  Drawing from her recent album she performed “Scenes from Bensonhurst”, “Early Earthquake” and ended the set with “I Won’t Fall Apart on You”.  The fans at the lip of the stage bopped “on and on and on” to the conclusive song.  Post show, Eleanor got behind the merch table.  Let’s hope she made it in time to that wedding or her white hotness would have been missed for the matrimonial bliss.


First Aid Kit mends and heals Mercury Lounge

The sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg (aka First Aid Kit) arrived upon the stage of Mercury Lounge with matching cosmos patterned dresses.  Johanna strummed the autoharp as the pair began their set with “New Year’s Eve”.  Klara told the crowd that for the evening they would be joined by a Swedish videographer.  The show would be taped for Swedish television.

As the drummer counts off in Swedish, the gals barreled into a new track “Blue” off their forthcoming album, The Lion’s Roar, produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk).  Klara spoke to the technician in Swedish and a fan requested more of the Scandinavian tongue.  Klara asked if anyone knew Swedish and a few “hej’s” were uttered.  She graded us with a C in Swedish.  Fair enough.

It was revealed that oldie, but goodie “Tangerine” was written by a young 14 year old Klara.  From there, the gals treated the audience to a lovely acoustic version of “Ghost Town” sans mics.  Fans joined in singing “And I found myself attached to this railroad track / But I’ll come back to you some day / To you /To you/ To you/ Some day”.  The Söderberg sisters were truly touched by the impromptu sign along.

Though drawing mostly from their last album, The Black and The Blue, fans were introduced to new material including the sweet “Emmylou”.  Their new album The Lion’s Roar hits stateside on January 24, 2012.  In the meantime, they open for Lykke Li tomorrow in the Garden State and will be back in New York on March 28 at Webster Hall.  They also served as backup singers for Lykke Li on David Letterman a few hours before their show tonight.  They didn’t get to shake Dave’s hand unfortunately, but they will be soon enough.

Set list
New Year’s Eve
You’re Not Coming Home Tonight
Hard Believer
Blue
Tangerine
In the Heart of Men
Ghost Town
Our Own Pretty Ways
Wolf
Heavy Storm
Emmylou
The Lion’s Roar

**Encore**
Waltz for Richard
I Met Up With The King

Over the Rhine brings The Long Surrender

Over the Rhine
The Long Surrender
Now available
Great Speckled Dog

The wife-and-husband duo of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler known as Over the Rhine return with their twelfth studio album. The couple have been making music for over two decades and for their latest, The Long Surrender, it was for the fans. No literally. The album was fan funded and released on the couple’s label Great Speckled Dog (named after their own beloved Great Dane, Elroy).

With the new album, OtR team up with Grammy winning producer Joe Henry to craft a stellar treasure trove of songs.  Karin explains that the album title “speaks to our ongoing desire to let go of certain expectations (and much of what we are so convinced we know for sure) in favor of remaining open and curious. It seems like many of our friends are currently wrestling with various forms of ‘letting go,’ so hopefully, the ideas conjured by the title feel somewhat universal. And I think the title speaks to the arc of a lifelong commitment to writing and performing regardless of recognition. Learning when to work hard and when to let go. Learning to leave room for grace to billow our sails occasionally. Learning not to white-knuckle everything.”

With that mantra, Lucinda Williams lends her vocals for “Undamned”, which pairs nicely with Karin’s vocals as they melt nicely into Lucinda rasps. “Infamous Love Songs” is classic OtR, as Karin enunciates each lyric with aching desire. A slight lyric low point would be the reference to “fuzzy whuzzies” on “Only God Can Save Us Now”, but that’s redeemed by the slow waltzy ballad “Days Like These” with lyrics that any top 40 pop artist would kill to cover.  “Oh By The Way” showcases the heart of OtR at its best when Linford and Karin sing together.  “All My Favorite People” has Randy Newman-esque keys anchored by Karin’s pitch perfect vocals that trickle in the memories of the gang from Toy Story.  Another solid release from the pair from Ohio.

Track list
The Laugh Of Recognition
Sharpest Blade
Rave On
Soon
Undamned
Infamous Love Song
Only God Can Save Us Now
Oh Yeah By The Way
The King Knows How
There’s A Bluebird In My Heart
Days Like This
All My Favorite People
Unspoken

Tour dates
11.5 – Louisville, KY / Bomhard Theater
11.13 – Los Angels, CA / El Rey Theater
11.15 – San Francisco, CA / Great American Music Hall
11.17 – Portland, OR / Aladdin Theater
11.18-20 – Seattle, WA / The Triple Door12.2 – Boston, MA / Berklee Performance Center
12.3 – New York, NY / Le Poisson Rouge
12.4 – Alexandria, VA / Birchmere
12.5 – Philadelphia, PA / World Cafe Live Downstairs
12.7 – Columbus, OH / Lincoln Theatre
12.8 – Kent, OH / Kent Stage
12.9 – Grand Rapids, MI / Calvin College Covenant Fine Arts Center

Feist goes full “Metals”…kinda

Feist
Metals
Cherrytree/Interscope
Available now

It’s been four years since the ubiquitous “1234″ graced the iPod nano commercial and skyrocketed Leslie Feist to a guest spot on Sesame Street.  She spent the time off jamming with old friends Broken Social Scene and retreating to a cabin in Big Sur to write her latest album, Metals.

Feist is back with a more percussion heavy effort, as opening track “The Bad in Each Other” thunders into a gush of tenor thumps and snare whips.  “The Commotion” causes quite the bombastic hiccups of choral crescendos, while “Undiscovered First” jiggle jangles and rattles through horns.  Feist doesn’t diverge too much from her sound, in fact “Caught A Long Wind” brings memories of “The Water” from The Reminder, with its stark piano and her vocals on full display.  The first single, “How Come You Never Go There” struts in with a bittersweet ditty of heartbreak.

The setting of where she recorded can be heard in her references to “horizon lines” on “The Circle Married The Line” and song titles like “Cicadas and Gulls”.  Other choice tracks include “Bittersweet Melodies” and “Get It Wrong, Get It Right”, which will not disappoint Feist fans (or as some would call the brunchwave).   You can listen to the whole album below to make your verdict.  Brunchers unite!

Track list
The Bad In Each Other
Graveyard
Caught A Long Wind
How Come You Never Go There
A Commotion
The Circle Married The Line
Bittersweet Melodies
Anti Pioneer
Undiscovered First
Cicadas And Gulls
Woe Be
Comfort Me
Get It Wrong, Get It Right

Tour dates
11.06 – Atlanta, GA  / Tabernacle
11.08 – Dallas, TX / Majestic Theatre
11.12 Los Angels, CA / Wiltern Theatre
11.14 San Francisco, CA / Warfield Theatre
11.16 Portland, OR / Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
11.17 Seattle, WA / Moore Theatre

Cass McCombs returns with his second album of 2011

Cass McCombs
Humor Risk
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Domino

The prolific Cass McCombs doles out his second album in 2011.  The first was Wit’s End, which contained charmer “County Line” as well as other moody waltzes.  With Humor Risk, Cass rocks it out a bit more.

The opening track “Love Thine Enemy” trembles in with an incessant bass line, and Cass even breaks out the electric guitar for “Mystery Mail”.  At the heart of Humor Risk is poetic lyrics set against melancholy cadences.  On “To Everyman His Chimera”, Cass spits  “California makes me sick. Like trying with a rattle snake.”  OUCH!

Classic Cass for fans.  A little country.  All little rock.  All heart.

Track list
Love Thine Enemy
The Living Word
The Same Thing
To Every Man His Chimera
Robin Egg Blue
Mystery Mail
Meet Me At The Mannequin Gallery
Mariah

Tour dates
11.30 – Los Angeles, CA / The Echo

12.1 – San Diego, CA / Casbah
12.4 – San Francisco, CA / Great American Music Hall
12.6 – Vancouver, British Columbia / Electric Owl
12.7 – Seattle, WA / Tractor Tavern
12.8 – Portland, OR / Doug Fir
12.9 – Eugene, OR / Cozmic

Kelly Clarkson returns “Stronger”

Kelly Clarkson
Stronger
Release Date: November 24, 2011
Sony

Our American Idol sweetheart is baaack and better than ever.  Kelly Clarkson returns with her fifth studio album, Stronger, and takes off running with her first single “Mr. Know It All”.  It’s got the same swagger as former Kelly songs, “Miss Independent” and “Walk Away”.

“What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”, the “title” track is a dancey anthem with synths bumping and might be the guuuurl power anthem of 2012.  This track leaves Britney’s “Stronger” in the dust as Kelly belts out “Stroooooonger” with more panache than the former mouseketeer.  The twinkling bass line ending is a nice touch too.

“Dark Side” reminds me a little of the opening of The Hills (aka Hillary Duff’s “Come Clean”)  with it’s slow burn into the chorus, “Everybody’s got a dark side. Do you love me.”  Another track that conjures familiar pop territory is “You Love Me” which opens a little like Gwen Stefani’s “Cool” with a retro 80′s undertone, as Kelly’s vocals really pack a punch on this track.

Standouts include “The War Is Over”, a signature ballad soon to be a kellassic, and “I Forgive You”, which  Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly aptly concluded “plays like a heartfelt postscript to the guy who left her in ”Since U Been Gone””.  Could this be the next single?  Unfortunately, the album isn’t free of duds.  Most glaringly is “Einstein”, where Kelly sings about math and utters the cringe-worthy lyrics, “Dumb plus dumb equals you.”  Kelly is known as a queen of the pop ballad, but aside from the aforementioned “The War Is Over”, tracks like “Standing In Front Of You” and “Breaking Your Own Heart” are simply sweet serenades and not the power ballads we love Kelly belting.  Here’s the thing though.  These mediocre ballads are still better than many of the latest crop of pop princesses attempting to overthrow our queen.  So with that all hail, Queen Kelly!

Note: Though not reviewed, a bonus version includes previously released “Don’t You Wanna Stay?” (duet with Jason Aldean), “Alone,” “Don’t Be a Girl About It” and “The Sun Will Rise.”

Track list
Mr. Know It All
What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)
Dark Side
Honestly
You Love Me
Einstein
Standing In Front Of You
I Forgive You
Hello
The War Is Over
Let Me Down
You Can’t Win
Breaking Your Own Heart

No tour dates announced yet, but Kellibrities await at baited breath.

Swede Return: Jens Lekman takes Music Hall of Williamsburg (Night one)

Jens Lekman’s been on the road, but he hasn’t neglected his fans on his “small talk” blog:

“Currently I am on the road and I won’t have time to reply to e-mails. But I made a little FAQ for the most common questions:

Q: Can you get me into the show somehow, maybe you have a guestlist I could be on?
A: No, I couldn’t even get my mum into the show if I wanted to.

Q: It’s my friends birthday the day of your show, can you do a shout-out / sing happy birthday etc etc?
A: That’s really sweet, I wish I had friends like you. But I get this question maybe 20 times per day, so I’ll have to say no to all to be fair. Instead, take your friend out to the show, have an excellent time and then make pancakes in the morning.

Q: What is this topic of the month thing?
A: The topic of the month is the compulsory main subject of your e-mail when you write to me. If you wanna talk about something else you will have to make associations, find reference points. This is mainly because I see our communication as an exchange, not a service, so there needs to be some groundrules to keep it consistent and creative.

Q: What is the topic for October?
A: The topic for the month of October is “Highways”

That delightful exchange was only a snippet of the self-deprecating humor and charm that Jens brought to the first of three sold out shows at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The always adorable Jens showcased songs from his latest EP, An Argument With Myself, including the title song and “Waiting for Kirsten”, an ode to stalking Kirsten Dunst in his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden.  Jens also played crowd favorites from previous albums Oh You’re So Silent Jens and Night Falls Over Kortedala.  “I Saw Her At The Anti-War Demonstration” and “A Sweet Summer’s Hammer Hill” ensued infectious hand claps.

Jens then got nostalgic about his three months living by McCarren Park and how everyone says how great Brooklyn and New York is.  Unfortunately, Jens’s time ended with him taking the Q train to Coney Island for a lonely walk in the cold of November.  He did say he was growing to love Brooklyn again, which lead into his dedication of “The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love ” to the broken hearts.  He stripped down “Black Cab” beautifully to his voice and the slowed down strum of his acoustic guitar.  The rendition might even rival the one he performed for the Black Cab sessions.  “The Opposite of Hallelujah” was an interesting set up with only his drummer Addison Rogers.  Jens pushed a few buttons on his drum machine to create horn players.

Jens returned for not one, but two encores.  Turning the encore into a session for deejay Lekman, he mixed in Ten City’s “That’s The Way Love Is” which caused a dance party.  Opener Geoffrey O’Connor joined in on the encore goodness as well.  For the final tune, it was just Jens under the spotlight crooning “Pocketful of Money” with the audience backing with lulls of “You set my heart on fire.”

Still haven’t gotten enough of your Jens’ fix?  How about you write him at smalltalk@jenslekman.com, but remember “only personal matters”.  (He) reads all and responds to most.

Set list
Every Little Hair Knows Your Name
An Argument With Myself
Waiting for Kirsten
I Saw Her in the Anti-War Demonstration
A Sweet Summer’s on Hammer Hill
I Broke Up A Fight
The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love 
You Were in My Dreams
Black Cab
Golden Key interlude
The Opposite of Hallelujah

*Encore*
That’s The Way Love Is (Ten City cover)
Sipping on the Sweet Nectar

**Encore 2**
Maple Leaves
Pocketful of Money

We Were Promised Jetpacks blasts off

We Were Promised Jetpacks
In the Pit of the Stomach
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Fat Cat Records

Can there be a more amusing band name? We Were Promised Jetpacks hails from Edinburgh, Scotland and have supported fellow countrymen Frightened Rabbit in late 2008.  On their sophomore effort, In the Pit of the Stomach, the Scots bring fuzzy guitar heavy indie rock that ignites from the start with opening track “Circles And Squares” with a thrashing one minute interlude before even the first lyrics are sung.

Their second single from the album “Medicine” sputters a frenzy of guitar riffs that don’t let up until the last lick.  The foursome bring it down a notch for “Act On Impulse” as the melodic chord progression is slowly roused into a climax with an increasingly rapid drum beat.  This is probably the kind of song that closes out an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”.  The track was most notably shortlisted by the All Songs Considered gang over at NPR.  “Picture of Health” is strangely reminiscent of the Foo Fighters without the leadership of Dave Grohl.

Overall the album sways between stadium rock and Scottish brogue musings.  The rock often engulfs the potential of a decent rock ballad.  For instance, “Sore Thumb” opens with an over two minute instrumental before lead Adam Thompson sings from what seems like 25 feet from the mic.  It’s pleasant and then the crescendo of guitars, drums and cymbals washes over.  Don’t get me wrong I love a good rock out, but really?  At least, it ends sweetly and with a crash of a cymbal.

You can stream the entire album over that the AV Club and be the judge yourself.

Disclaimer: Never heard the WWPJ’s debut These Four Walls, but from the comments on the stream.  More of the same for you fans!

Track list
Circles And Squares
Medicine
The Drawing Board
Act On Impulse
Hard To Remember
Picture Of Health
Sore Thumb
Boy In The Backseat
Human Error
Pear Tree

Tour dates
10.26 – Harrisburg, PA / The Abbey Bar
10.27 – Washington, DC / Black Cat
10.28 – Boston, MA / Paradise
10.29 – Philadelphia, PA / Union Transfer
10.30 – New York, NY / Webster Hall

11.1 – Cleveland, OH / Grog Shop
11.2 – Chicago, IL / Metro
11.3 – St. Louis, MO / The Old Rock House
11.4 – Norman, OK / Oklahoma Memorial Union
11.5 – Dallas, TX / Trees
11.8 – Phoenix, AZ / Crescent Ballroom
11.9 – San Diego,  CA / Casbah
11.10 – Los Angeles, CA / The Music Box
11.11 – San Francisco, CA / Bimbo’s
11.12 – Eugene, OR / WOW Hall
11.13 – Portland, OR / Wonder Ballroom
11.15 – Seattle, WA / Neumos

Fool’s Gold shimmers at Mercury Lounge

Late into Thursday evening, Fool’s Gold hit the stage of the Mercury Lounge.  The LA outfit led by Luke Top and Lewis Pesacov, which once had 8 players, has downsized a bit to a quintet.  With the bulk of the set deriving from their latest album Leave No Trace, Lewis started off the night with a twangy instrumental interlude into “Bark and Bite”.  From the new to the oldies but goodies, a heavy bass line throbbed and the saxophone blew into “Nadine”.

Luke didn’t chat much, sticking to the music to entertain the crowd.  “Wide Window” had the crowd clapping along and shuffling about on the dance floor.  Then, saxophonist Brandon Claukins picked up his shakers and went at it to open up “The Dive”.  Luke’s vocal were reminiscent of Morrissey’s over a sunnier composition.  Luke also showed off some of his native tongue singing “Tel Aviv” in Hebrew.   The crowd really got into it when the band went back to their self-titled debut album to jam through “Surprise Hotel”.  As if that wasn’t enough of a treat for fans, they  extended the song which elicited a dance party.

Sadly, Luke announced “Street Clothes” would be their “last” song.  He couldn’t end the set without announcing that  sax player Brandon was celebrating his 21st birthday.  Jokingly, Luke said the tour has really aged him.  It was all in good fun as Brandon later joined Luke at the mic.  So instead of exiting the stage which is a cumbersome endeavor at the cozy venue, the band played one more for the road.  To get in on the Afro_Hebrew dance party, head to Brooklyn Bowl Saturday night, September 24 to get your groove on.

Dirty Beaches crashes into Mercury Lounge

Alex Zhang Hungtai (aka Dirty Beaches) exudes an effortless cool with his rockabilly style while toting an electric guitar.  He looks like he has step out of a Wong Kar-wai film.  (Funnily enough most of Dirty Beaches’ You Tube videos are posted by a wrongkarwei.)  On the early Tuesday evening, Alex gracefully ascended the stage at the Mercury Lounge to set up his various pedals and loops for his set.  He was checked with 10 minutes to spare, so decided to start ahead of schedule.

Expanding from a solo outfit, Dirty Beaches added friends Francisco on saxophone and Jesse on drums and percussions.  Playing the recorded drum beats off loops, Alex and gang rocked through tracks from Dirty Beaches’ recent effort Badlands and new songs.  For instance the newish song “Shake That Thang” rings with an R&B heavy sound set against jarring guitar riffs.  Another new song declared “New York, I love you.”  Alex screamed into his mic.  At the tune’s conclusion, Alex exclaimed, “I love you New York.  I work so hard for you.”

All through the night, Alex was spitting on stage like the old grannies and gramps in neighboring Chinatown.  There was a  few disgusted comments from the crowd, which was funny as Alex complained in his lyrics, ” Why you got to say that shit to me.”

Under the distortion and production of Dirty Beaches’ songs is Alex’s ability to channel a sea of cacophony into a symphony.  Many have asked about his sampling and in his blog, he has replied:

* To all inquires in regards to samples *

I sampled vintage drum machines I couldn’t afford from youtube and other software programs that compiled the drum sound files. All the prior releases before badlands were written by me and played by me. Misc instruments were midi triggered software instruments from: Mellotron, Chamberlin, and Optigans (i.e. Synths, orchestra, flute, strings, horns, choir, etc) The rest are keyboards and guitar. Hope this explains to all the questions in regards to my recording and sampling set up.

Best,
Alex

Alex seemed genuinely thankful and appreciative of the crowd.  At one point, a fan yelled, “That was so hot!”  He sheepishly replied, “Thank you.”  Indeed the evening was concluded perfectly with fan favorite “Lord Knows Best”.  No encore, but fans didn’t mind so much.  The crowd were loving him and he was truly thankful.

Fruit Bats and Vetiver buddy up at Bowery Ballroom

Subpop labelmates Fruits Bats and Vetiver graced the stage of the Bowery Ballroom for a good ol’ jam session.  Vetiver covered most of their latest release The Errant Charm, much like their set a few months back at Mercury Lounge.  Andy Cabic and crew strummed through the delightfully summery “Everyday” from their last album Tight Knit.  The greatest treat of the set was when Eric Johnson of Fruit Bats joined Vetiver on a cover of Bobby Charles’s “I Must Be In A Good Place Now”.   You knew it was a special night as Andy had previously told Yours Truly, “It’s always great to play this song live in places that you had a great day cause then it just ties them all together.”

The good vibes continued as Fruit Bats took the stage to a rousing welcome, as they open up with “Heart Like An Orange” for their latest Tripper.  Eric relinquished his guitar to croon “Darling you better leave ” as hand claps ensued.  After the experience, Eric quipped that it was the first song singing like Bono sans guitar and comparing his performance to a few David’s – Bowie, Byrne and Matthews.  Band played the first few chords of “Crash Into Me” for laughs.  Though most of the set was peppered with tracks from Tripper, old fans were delighted to hear “Lives Of Crime” as they sang along and bopped about.

The encore was full of love to openers Citay and “super tight bros” Vetiver.  Eric and company jingle jangled into “Primitive Man” from their previous album The Ruminant Band.  Then the dance floor erupted as the kick drum thudded to open “When U Love Someone”.  To top the night, Eric’s falsetto on “You’re Too Weird” left him striped of guitar and hat. It was a easy breezy night of west coast singer songwriter goodness.


Memoryhouse lulls Brooklyn Bowl

Straight off their Fashion Night Out gig for Steven Alan last Thursday, Memoryhouse brought their hazy dream pop to Brooklyn Bowl. Lead vocalist Denise Nouvion declared that it was the first time they had actually played a bowling alley, but seemed charmed by the realization. This duo hailing from Ontario, Canada were an interesting opener to headliners Peter, Bjorn and John.  Many of the audience were there for the trio of Swedes, however the peppering of commentary assured a few new fans emerging after the Canadians’ set.

Evan Abeele was up first of the band to sound check his guitar.  I was disappointed to discover that Denise’s videos would not be shown in the background as in previous concerts.  The videos are almost as much of the band as their languid compositions.  There’s a great example of this at Yours Truly.  Despite the missing videography, the band was in fine form on the eve of the release of their EP “The Years“. They played tracks “Lately”, “Sleep Patterns”, “To The Lighthouse” and “Quiet America” from that album.  They also treated the crowd to some oldies (“Heirloom”) and somewhat new songs (“Walk With Me”).  The duo ended with a cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep”, which was the perfect send off.

You can stream The Years below.  Don’t be surprised if you get drowned in a wave of synth pop.   It’s gloriously refreshing.  New Yorkers catch them this October as they hit the CMJ 2011.

St. Vincent returns with the beautiful Strange Mercy

St. Vincent
Strange Mercy
Release Date: September 13, 2011
4AD / Beggars Group

Ms. Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) returns with a refreshing third album entitled Strange Mercy.  Annie’s indie rock darling status is not in jeopardy.  Far from it.  It almost feels like a return of sorts to the songwriter that wowed us with Marry Me. Rather than composing on a laptop for her first album, Annie concentrated on the lyrics and guitar.  Striped down with minimal embellishments, unlike the heavily orchestrated sophomore effort, Actor, Annie wanted to be straightforward.

“I wanted to make things direct and immediate,” Clark says.  “I didn’t tinker.  I tried to keep the arrangements pretty simple and use just enough instrumentation to get the point across.  I didn’t want anything to get in the way.”

On the opening track “Chloe in the Afternoon”, there are guitar riffs that tremble into a delicious cacophony arising from a swirl of high vocals.  The second single from the album, “Cruel“, brings back hints of Actor with a sprinkling of woodwinds and bounces to an infectious guitar melody.  On “Cheerleader”, Annie laments “I I I, I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more / I’ve played dumb when I knew better / Tried too hard just to be clever. ”  Her songwriting on this album encompasses more singing than her past two albums.  It’s a treat to hear Annie’s vocals, though not to fear her prowess as a guitarist is fully intact.  Annie really lays it out there with “Northern Lights” as she shreds over pounding drums.  Annie’s vocals anchor the down tempo “Champagne Year” with lyrics,  like ” I make a living telling people what they want to hear”.  Her ethereal voice is spotlighted against sparse instrumentation.  “Dilettante” continues with sweet vocals juxtaposed against cranking guitars.

Annie is always evolving and Strange Mercy is only one of the many albums that will define an extraordinary musical career.  You can listen to the full album streaming currently at NPR.

Track list
Chloe in the Afternoon
Cruel
Cheerleader
Surgeon
Northern Lights
Strange Mercy
Neutered Fruit
Champagne Year
Dilettante
Hysterical Strength
Year of the Tiger

Tour dates
9.30 – New York, NY / New Yorker Festival

10.2 – Minneapolis, MN / McGuire Theatre
10.3 – Milwaukee, WI / Pabst Theatre
10.5 – Chicago, IL / The Metro
10.6 – St. Louis, MO / Old Rock House
10.7 – Lawrence, KS / Liberty Hall
10.8 – Boulder, CO / Boulder Theatre
10.10 – Salt Lake City, UT / Urban Lounge
10.12 – Vancouver, BC / Commodore Ballroom
10/13 -  Seattle, WA / Neptune Theatre
10/14 – Portland, OR / Crystal Ballroom
10/16 – San Francisco, CA / Treasure Island Festival
10/18 – Los Angeles / Music Box
10.20 – Phoenix, AZ / Crescent Ballroom
10.23 – Dallas, TX / Kessler Theatre
10.24 – Austin, TX / Moody Theatre @ ACL Live
10.25 – Houston, TX / Fitzgerald’s
10.26 – New Orleans, LA / Tipitina’s (Uptown)
10.28 – Atlanta, GA / The EARL
10.29 – Asheville, NC / Moogfest
10.30 – Charlottesville, VA / Jefferson Theatre

11.1 – Washington, DC / 9:30 Club
11.2 – Philadelphia, PA / Union Transfer
11.3 – New York, NY / Webster Hall
11/4 – Boston, MA / Royale

An Horse doesn’t hit the Walls

An Horse
Walls
Mom + Pop

Now available

An Horse, a duo from down under, produces jaunty pop tunes that have garnered them slots opening for Tegan & Sara, Death Cab for Cutie, Silversun Pickups and Cage the Elephant.  Kate Cooper and Damon Cox met (fittingly) working at a Brisbane record store and now on their sophomore effort, Walls, the pair channel their experiences on tour into a true musical partnership.

An Horse reminds me of a watered down Mates of State without the extra power pop element.  The closest they get is on “Trains and Tracks” which couples motoring guitar licks with a heavy tempo of snares.  Kate’s vocals are reminiscent of her mentors’ Tegan & Sara.  Even  the song composition is similar, as producer Howard Redekopp has worked with T&S before.

The opening track, “Dressed Sharply” is a fizzy, shimmery memory of the early 90′s.  An Horse throws in an acoustic gem with “Windows in the City”, which stands out amongst the lite pop punk.  Walls largely comprises of easy to listen to hazy pop that is destined to score the latest MTV reality series.

For An Horse fans, Walls is available for $5 on Amazon until the end of July.

Tracklist
Dressed Sharply
Not Mine
Airport Death
Know This, We’ve Noticed
Trains and Tracks
Walls
Brain on a Table
100 Whales
Leave Me
Windows in the City
Swallow the Sea
Tiny Skeletons

Tour dates
8.06 – Chicago, IL / Lollapalooza

9.16 – Austin, TX / Austin City Limits
9.18 – St. Louis, MO / The Old Rock House
9.20 – Akron, OH / Musica
9.21 – Bloomington, IN / The Bishop
9.22 – Chicago, IL / Beat Kitchen
9.23 – Iowa City, IA / The Mill
9.24 – Lawrence, KS / Jackpot Music Hall
9.26 – Denver, CO / Hi-Dive
9.27 – Salt Lake City, UT / Kilby Court
9.28 – Boise, ID / Neurolux
9.30 – Seattle, WA / El Corazon Lounge

10. 01 – Portland, OR / Bunk Bar
10. 03 – Oakland, CA / The New Parish
10.04 – San Luis Obispo, CA / SLO Brewing Company
10.15 – Jacksonville, FL / Underbelly

Fruit Bats going strong with Tripper

Fruit Bats
Tripper
Release Date: August 2
Subpop 

On the Fruit Bats fifth album, Tripper, band leader Eric D. Johnson moves away the sunny disposition of past records and embarks on a darker journey.  Having spent a decade with Fruit Bats while also playing with Califone, The Shins and Vetiver (who they will be co-headlining  a tour with this fall), Eric has traveled through the long winding road of indie pop and beyond.  Most recently he has contributed to the upcoming My Idiot Brother soundtrack.

Pausing from the heavy folksy strumming guitars for more keyboards and synthesizers, Fruit Bats have composed a mix tape for a long road trip. Produced by Thom Monahan who worked on albums for the likes of Devendra Banhart and Vetiver, Tripper has a similar sound to Vetiver’s recent release The Errant Charm.  The connection between the bands runs deeper than Eric playing with Vetiver.  There’s an amazing video of Andy Cabic of Vetiver and Eric dueting on a cover of Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be In a Good Place Now”.  Tripper‘s last mention on the liner notes is “For Andy”.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Bromance a brewin’.

Honestly, Tripper took me a few listens to absorb, but I enjoyed it more with every listen.  Standout tracks for me:
“So Long” infuses harp strums which are actually from a vintage Chamberlain keyboard.  Who would have thunk it?  “Heart Like A Orange” reminds me of older Fruit Bats’ tracks with the addition of heavy keys, but a familiar rollicking sound of year’s past.  “Dolly” is a toe- taping ditty which is dangerously infectious.  Maybe it’s Eric’s work with soundtracks but “The Fen” is a simple instrumental piece sandwiched between bold tracks anchored by Eric’s falsetto that I had not remembered being so high in the past.  Check out the album for yourself as it’s streaming on KCRW until August 23rd.

Track list
Tony the Tripper
So Long
Tangie and Ray
Shivering Fawn
You’re Too Weird
Heart Like an Orange
Dolly
The Banishment  Song
The Fen
Wild Honey
Picture of a Bird

Tour dates
7.29 – Spokane, WA / A Club
7.30 – Pullman, WA / Bell Tower

8.2 – Seattle, WA / Easy Street (Queen Anne)
8.3 – Portland, OR / Music Millennium
8.5 – Happy Valley, OR / Pickathon Festival
8.6 - Happy Valley, OR / Pickathon Festival
8.22 – Redmond, WA / Marymoor Park
8.23 – Vancouver, Canada / Malkin Bowl

9.3 –  Gorge, WA / Gorge Ampitheatre
9.6 – Minneapolis, MN / First Avenue
9.7 – Iowa City, IA / The Mill
9.8 – Chicago, IL / Lincoln Hill
9.9 – Newport, KY / Southgate House
9.10 – Pittsburgh, PA / Mr. Smalls
9.11 – Big Indian, NY / Tiger Mountina & Truck Festival
9.12 – Cambridge, MA / Middle East
9.13 – New York, NY / Bowery Ballroom
9.14 – Philadelphia, PA / First Unitarian Church
9.15 – Washington, DC / Black Cat
9.17 – Durham, NC / Motor Co
9.19 – St. Louis, MO / Off Broadway
9.20  - Lawrence, KS / Jackpot Saloon
9.22 – Denver, CO / Bluebird Theater
9.24 –  Salt Lake City, UT / Urban Lounge

Fool’s Gold – Leave No Trace

Fool’s Gold
Leave No Trace
Release Date: August 16
I Am Sound Records

Leave No Trace, the follow-up to Fool’s Gold’s self-titled debut, does not divert from the dancy fun times that were introduced back in 2009.  Luke Top and Lewis Pesacov continue infusing African beats and rhythms to the ten tracks that comprise the new album out August 16.

Lewis has been a busy boy fronting his other band Foreign Born and producing Best Coast’s debut album.  He even has been tapped to compose some Afro-beats for a recent Nike commercial.  His creative energies aren’t dry when you hear the opening track, “A Dive”, as percussions are a blaze.  One can’t help but shuffle side to side.  The party continues on with “Wild Window” from the early sound of lasers. Yes friends, lasers! Check it out below.


In the middle of the album is the track “Balmy” which saunters in with a slow jam Bollywood cadence.  I have to say the second half the album is stronger with stellar tracks like “Tel Aviv” sung in Luke’s native tongue of Hebrew and “Bark and Bite” reminds me of the fervor in Lewis’ other band Foreign Born.  Last but definitely not least, “Lantern” serves as a perfect doo-wop close set against lovely wind instruments.  Fool’s Gold hits the jackpot again with Leave No Trace.

Track list
The Dive
Wild Window
Street Cloths
Leave No Trace
Balmy
Narrow Sun
Tel Aviv
Mammal
Bark and Bite
Lantern

Tour Dates
8.3 -  Los Angeles, CA / Greek Theatre
8.6 – Seattle, WA / Seattle Center
8.22 – Las Vegas, NV / Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay
9.3 – Los Angeles, CA / FYF Fest
9.13 – Tulsa, OK / Cain’s Ballroom
9.14 – San Marcos, TX / Texas Music Theatre
9.17 – Austin, TX / Austin City Limits
9.18 – Chicago, IL / Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements Festival
9.19 – Columbus, OH / Skully’s
9.20 – Philadelphia, PA / Kung Fu Necktie
9.21 – Washington, DC / Black Cat
9.22 – New York, NY / Mercury Lounge
9.24 – Brooklyn, NY / Brooklyn Bowl
10.1 – San Francisco, CA / Brick and Mortar Music Hall

Nicole Atkins sails into Music Hall of Williamsburg

Adopted hometown siren Nicole Atkins brought a bombastic voice that garners comparisons to Roy Orbison. In fact, she’s been known to cover “Crying“.  It’s crazy Columbia let this songstress go because gurl can sang.  In a sea of pop tarts, Nicole’s voice is a refreshing throwback to true artists of years gone by.  As she descended onto the stage of Music Hall of Williamsburg, her band offered her a rousing introduction and she barreled into her first song “Heavy Boots” .  Drenched in black lace and shimmery sequins, Nicole continued with a rocking rendition of “Cry, Cry, Cry”.

Spanning most of her recent album Mondo Amore, she played tracks “This Is For Love”, “Hotel Plaster”, “You Come To Me”, “My Baby Don’t Lie” and “The Tower”.  Carving from ballad to rock, Nicole’s gut wrenching vocals seamlessly navigated between the two.  She sweetly introduced “Hotel Plaster” with a simple “this one’s a slow song” and rollicked into “My Baby Don’t Lie” with hand claps.  For her tried and true fans, she played choice tracks from her previous album Neptune City.  The crowd swayed lovingly to the anthem “Maybe Tonight” , which she had played overseas on the Live on Later with…Jool’s Holland.  She really gave the Brooklyn crowd a treat when she announced the next one was a sing along.  That song being “Brooklyn’s on Fire”.  The audience erupted in unison “FOURTH OF, JULY, BROOKLYN’S ON FIRE”.

Nicole left the audience burning for more and crooned “Neptune City” for her encore.  Though the show wasn’t sold out her fans were rabid for every note sung.  She is regarded by there peers as well, playing with the likes of the Avett Brothers, Cotton Mather and  David Byrne.  On her enduring cover of Cotton Mather’s “Monterrey Honey”, she called Robert Harrison a dear friend.  It’s amazing that Nicole had to start up a Kickstarter campaign to fund her tour, and thankfully she was able to raise all the funds to get on the road to show off her pipes.

Panda Bear brought fireworks to Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Fourth of July weekend and the cool kids were at the sold out Panda Bear show at Music Hall of Williamsburg .  Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox and founding member of Animal Collective)  hit the minimal stage set up to a packed audience ready to groove into Independence Day.   The show was a rare treat as it  was only a handful of shows played this year.  The first reverb sent a ripple of sound into the sea of concert goers.  This concert,  unlike no other I have attended at MHOW, felt more like an music experience.  One to be savored which each  knob turned and note raised.

The audience was swaying to “Last Night at the Jetty”, as Noah sang “Didn’t I / Didn’t I / Didn’t I have a good time?”  I think he got this answer from the fans singing along and dancing to his bittersweet medley.  From the first beats of the drum machine to the strum of guitar chords, Noah was the preacher for the night.  There was little chatter between songs, but no one was complaining.  The music spoke for itself.

As “Slow Motion” played, the experimental film projected slowed down to kinetic snaps of images.  The strobe lights were pulsating.  The crowd was aglow mesmerized by the masterful manipulation of dials and buttons.  The only disappointment of the night was that Noah didn’t return for an encore, but the audience seemed to have had their fill.

Ben Sollee (southern) charms Music Hall of Williamsburg

Uniquely placed in a burgeoning indie atmosphere of non-traditional artists, cellist Ben Sollee transcends genres jumping from classical to indie pop to soul to traditional Americana blue grass. On Wednesday evening, Ben hit the stage of the Music Hall of Williamsburg, with violinist Phoebe Hunt and percussionist extraordinaire Jordan Ellis, to the delight of his fans.

Ben played tracks from his latest album Inclusions, including “Close To You”, “Captivity”, “Electrified” and “Bible Belt”.   For the latter, Ben strapped on the electric guitar and provided an introduction to the aptly titled tune where this Kentucky boy grew up.  He described the signs that pepper his home, but couldn’t bring himself to recount what the signs exactly said.  The audience had no problem imagining what they proclaimed.  You can listen to these tracks and all of Inclusions in its entirety at bandcamp.

Though Ben didn’t pull out his “Change Is Gonna Come” cover, he enamored this Sam Cooke fan by interweaving “Good Times” into his rendtion of “It’s Not Impossible”.  Other tracks he played from his Learning To Bend album were “How To Watch A Sunrise”,  “Bury Me With My Car” and “Built For This”.  For BFT, what seemed to be a drunken fan request turned out to be one of the most enduring moments of the night.  A gentleman exclaimed we were married to that song.  How could Ben deny that?  He obliged with a  caveat -  only if they danced. Of course they did, along with several couples in the center of the floor after some coaxing from Ben.

As the evening neared its closing, Ben became thoughtful placing his de-fogged spectacles back on.  He spoke of his contribution, “The Wires” to Patagonia Music and how the proceeds of the track’s purchase went to a cause close to his heart, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.  The organization rallies local communities to battle mountaintop coal removal in the Appalachian region. It was fitting that Ben encored with “Only A Song” as the crowd sang along “But it’s only a song, it can’t change the world”.  Lesson of the night – be the change that you want to see in the world.  Amen!  To top it all off, Ben covered Cat Stevens  “Wild World” a thrilling end of all ends to send us off in the night.


Rooftop evening with Jose Gonzalez

New York summers are known for rooftop parties that overlook the vast landscape of cramped buildings.  For 15 years, the “Underground Movies Outdoors” have been bringing choice indie flicks to the people of Gotham.  On this Sunday evening, one Jose Gonzalez meshed his music with film, and the event, not surprisingly, was sold out.  After playing with his band Junip at Prospect Park on Friday night for the Celebrate Brooklyn series, Jose turned his attention to a recent documentary made about him, “The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of Jose Gonzalez”.  The al fresco screening began with a 30-minute set, which included an encore of “Teardrop”.  Jose wasn’t sure if he was allowed to encore, but there was no doubt that it would be allowed.

The film was like no other roc-doc I’d seen as it included animation for deep conversations about his song writing process.  What we learned is Jose is a nerd.  He admitted it.  He was shy of completing a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Gothenburg as his popularity as a musician took off.  Jose talked a lot about protons, DNA and nuclei. One can see a link between his analytical thought processes to his meticulously slow productivity on his last album “In Our Nature”.  Boy likes to take his time and that’s alright when you produce fine compositions.  What I loved the most about the film were the mundane moments captured on tour from awkward interviews to backstage conversations.

At the conclusion of the film, Jose and one of the directors, Mikel Cee Karlsson were on had for a Q&A.  One question posed tackled the accuracy of the portrayal, which Jose answered was a side of him, the slow songwriter side.  It was interesting to see the subject of the film answer for the celluloid.  What you see on screen isn’t very different in person. Jose is reserved but not completely closed.  I almost think his trite answers are more an edit of all the thoughts he has in his head.


All in all the rooftop evening was a unique event where music and film collided in the best way.

Vetiver plugs into Mercury Lounge

Hitting the stage at New York’s Mercury Lounge close to 11 in the evening, Vetiver plugged in and touched down for a quick stateside gig before departing on their European leg.  Lead singer Andy Cabic admitted that they were playing a lot of new tunes for the first time to a nearly sold out crowd.  Their latest studio release The Errant Charm coincidentally (or not) came out last night.  This writer has been a fan since their early days in San Francisco when Andy would jam with one Devendra Banhart.  How the years have evolved Vetiver’s sound and it was evident in last night’s show.

Drenched in electric guitar cadences rather than the strums of an acoustic, Andy and gang ripped through the new album with some choice gems from year’s past.  One choice new tune, “Hard To Break” envelops warm folksy goodness with an evolving and rollicking sound.  Overall the new tracks infuse a warm Californian road trip with a nice stop by the beach.  Vet dug into their last album Tight Knit and hashed out “Sister” and the star single “Everyday”.

And for fans from yore, Andy gave “Luna Sea” a more upbeat take.  An extra special treat came in the form of a cover of The Go-Between’s “Streets of Your Town”, in which the female keyboardist lent lovely backing vocals.  If that wasn’t enough, Andy brought out the 2009 Record Store Day single “Wishing Well” for the encore.

Catch Vetiver at The Bell House in Brooklyn on July 10 as they return from their European tour.  Tickets still available here.  It will be quite the homecoming. And to send it off a nice track from their latest, “Can’t You Tell.”

<span><a href=”http://soundcloud.com/subpop/vetiver-cant-you-tell”>Vetiver – Can’t You Tell</a> by <a href=”http://soundcloud.com/subpop”>subpop</a></span>

Thao and Mirah charm Music Hall of Williamsburg

A heatwave rolled into New York Wednesday evening , but the cool kids at the Music Hall of Williamsburg were sheltered with a/c  as Thao and Mirah trotted on stage.  I was a bit surprised to see T & M toting in a band of fine females, including drummer Lisa Schonberg of Tom Tom Magazine.  I was envisioning the pair alone with a lone percussionist.  For those hoping for a special appearance from collaborator Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, it would not be had as she was playing in London.  The beat heavy “Squareneck”  did not lose any of its swagger despite Merrill’s absence.  Kudos to the backing band.

The gals happily rocked through their self-titled album, including a “Mirah rock block” that Thao concluded, “It’s what the people want.”  I would concur, Thao.  From “Little Cup” to “Spaced Out Orbit”, Mirah surprisingly rocked out from her usually contained and quiet delivery.  I was expecting to be lulled to a sweet slumber, but should have known better as Mirah’s paired with the more rambunctious Thao Nguyen.  Heck, Mirah even patty-caked with drummer Lisa through “Teeth”.  Adda girl!

The two played off each other nicely even during in between song banter.  Mirah mentioned that they named their tour van Oprah and funnily enough their GPS has always been named Gale.  Thao chimed in, “You should tell them about last night.”  Mirah said she’d save it for the next banter round, but instead she couldn’t wait and told the tale while playing the next tune.  The ladies of van Oprah download an hour interview with Barbara Walters and needless to say the interview brought the seven touring gals to tears.

The encore seemed to come too soon, but a fitting end to the night.  Mirah asked, “Do you remember 2000?  Do you remember 1999?  This song’s from that year.”  With that she treated her fans to an oldie but goodie with a delightful rendition “Telephone Wires”.  To cap off the night in true Thao and Mirah style, the gang banged through “Eleven” which was the perfect anthem to set me off into the steamy streets of Brooklyn.


Through it all, the gals were there to raise awareness as they posed in an open letter to fans:

Dear Friends,
We are encouraging our fans to raise their voices in support of positive social change. With so many vital social services under attack by conservative lawmakers, now is the time to dedicate ourselves to reversing this dangerous drift from humanity in government. We will focus on supporting local domestic violence shelters and childhood sexual abuse prevention programs in each city we visit on tour. Through discourse, education, action and strategy we believe it is possible to create communities in which all people are given the respect they deserve. Because we have decided to add one dollar to our show’s ticket price, the simple act of buying a ticket will enable us to raise much-needed funding for the organizations in your communities providing this urgently needed work. Please show your solidarity by joining us in support of the women and children in all of our lives.

Sincerely,
Thao and Mirah

Bravo Ladies, music for a good cause!

Yellow Ostrich floats into Music Hall of Williamsburg

The crowd at Music Hall of Williamsburg was thin, but that didn’t stop Yellow Ostrich from performing an uplifting 9-song set.  The Brooklyn (via Wiscounsin) outfit started off with the appropriately animal themed “Elephant King”.  Alex Schaaf’s vocals were crisp as he looped samples to create his own chorus of harmonies, which was perfectly exemplified live on their rendition of “Campaign”.   The conversation between band and audience was sparse, however Alex did introduce “Marathon Runner” as a song about a marathon “racer” walking.  The band strummed and drummed through several tracks from their LP “The Mistress” from ” Hold On” to “Daughters”.  A mini dance party erupted when “WHALE” was chimed through with its “oh-oh-oh-oh”.

Yellow Ostrich also debuted two new songs Saturday evening – “Madelyn” and “Shake Down”.  Both tracks display all the promise the blogosphere has been buzzing about for this relatively young trio.  This fledgling band (who essentially was Alex in his dorm room) created an EP dedicated to Morgan Freeman, a reimagining of Radiohead’s Kid A and countless covers of the likes of Beach House, Joanne Newsome, Dirty Projectors, Tallest Man on Earth and The National.  The hype is not to be denied.  Soon enough Yellow Ostrich will be selling out the Music Hall of Williamsburg with their infectious harmonies.

Set list
Elephant King
Campaign
Marathon Runner
Hold On
Madelyn
Shake Down (new song)
WHALE
Daughters
Mary

Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong

Dawes
Nothing Is Wrong

Release Date: June 7
ATO Records

The LA outfit, Dawes, hailing from the niche of musicians residing in Laurel Canyon creates Americana folk rock.  Their second album, Nothing Is Wrong, continues the rollicking sound mixed with toned down heartachey ballads.  I have to admit I am more a fan of the latter.  Reader’s note: This comes from a fan of  lead singer Taylor Goldsmith’s side project Middle Brother, which joins Taylor with John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit.  In fact, the track “Million Dollar Bill” is performed by the indie “super” group.

Nothing against the strong guitar anthems and rattling keys, but I love me a good ballad rich with male heartbreak and longing.  The opening track “Time Spent in Los Angeles” grooves through guitar riffs and a chorus that rings “Cause you got that special kind of sadness/You got that tragic set of charms/that only comes from time spent in Los Angeles/Make me wanna wrap you in my arms.”   That ain’t bad.  Not to mention the toe tapping percussions on “Coming Back to the Man” that lead into some mean harmonica.  The boys are best when they meld the rock with the down tempo woes of love, which is exemplified in the track “Fire Away”.  The album overall doesn’t skip a beat and “A Little Bit of Everything” is a fitting ending with tinkling keys that set us off into a Californian sunset.

Track list
Time Spent in Los Angeles
If I Wanted Someone
My Way Back Home
Coming Back to a Man
So Well
How Far We’ve Come
Fire Away
Moon in the Water
Million Dollar Bill
The Way You Laugh
A Little Bit of Everything

TourDates
6.05 – Hunter, NY / Mountain Jam (1:30PM Set)
6.06 – St. Louis, MO / The Pageant
6.07 – Louisville, KY / Iroquois Ampitheatrer
6.08 – Columbus, OH / LC Ampitheatre
6.09 – Pittsburgh, PA / Stage AE – Indoors
6.10 – Philadelphia, PA – Mann Center for Performing Arts
6.11 – Vienna, VA / Filene Center at Wolf Trap
6.13 – Vancouver, BC / Vogue Theatre
6.14 – Seattle, WA / Moore Theatre
6.15 – Portland, OR /Crystal Ballroom
6.16 – Bend, OR / Athletic Club of Bend
6.17 – Chico, CA / El Rey Theatre
6.18 – Los Angeles, CA / Orpheum Theatre
6.20– San Diego, CA / House of Blues
6.21 – Tucson, AZ / Rialto Theatre
6.22 – Phoenix, AZ / Marquee Theatre
6.23 – Las Vegas, NV / Silverton Casino
6.24 – Reno, NV / Knitting Factory
6.25 – Oakland, CA / Fox Theatre
6.26 – Atlantic City, NJ / Dave Matthews Band Caravan

7.02 – Emeryville, CA / High Sierra Music Festival
7.07 – Winnipeg, MB / Winnipeg Folk Festival
7.08 – Winnipeg, MB / Winnipeg Folk Festival
7.09 – Ottawa, ON / Ottawa Bluesfest
7.11 – Quebec City, QC / Quebec City Summer Festival
7.27 – Danbury, CT / Ives Concert Park
7.28 – Boston, MA / Wang Center
7.29 – Chautauqua, NY / Institution Ampitheatre
7.30 – Charlottesville, VA / Charlottesville Pavillion

8.02 – New York, NY / The Beacon Theatre
8.05 – Gilford, NH /Meadowbrook Pavillion
8.06 – Mashantucket, CT / MGM Grand Theatre
8.09 – Bethlehem, PA / Musikfest
8.11 – Cary, NC / Koka Booth Ampitheatre
8.12 – Asheville, NC / The Biltmore
8.13 – Atlanta, GA / Fox Theatre
8.14 – East Hampton, NY / Music to Know Festival
8.19 – St. Augustine, FL / Augustine Ampitheatre
8.20 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL / AuRene Theatre
8.21 – Clearwater, FL / Ruth Eckerd Hall
8.26 – Nashville, TN / The Ryman
8.27 – Nashville, TN  The Ryman

Dale Earhardt Jr. Jr. – It’s A Corporate World

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
It’s a Corporate World
Release Date June 7, 2011
Quite Scientific Records

The Detriot indie-pop outfit known playfully as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. releases their first full length album June 7th, and it’s quite the musical treat. I was first won over by the duo’s vocal stylings after hearing their cover of The Beach Boys “God Only Knows” on an Daytrotter session last summer. The latest album includes previous tracks from their Horse Power EP, including “Nothing But Our Love”, “Simple Girl” and “Vocal Cords”. The first single, “Morning Thought” follows from the same vibe as the previous tracks with swooning harmonies against a backdrop of dings and blips. I predict hand claps and sing alongs at future concerts.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Morning Thought by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

If you twisted my arm for a weak spot, the track “When I Open My Eyes” begins with a down tempo beat that rings into keys and a crescendo yelps, which strays from the floaty vocals I love from Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott. Sounds more like spoken word against Groove Armada. Not to worry the rest of the album is solid. The title track, “It’s A Corporate World” rings a bit like an anthem for suits trudging to work. “We Almost Lost Detroit” presents a more rollicking pop rock tune and strong guitar riffs than the rest of the tracks on It’s A Corporate World.

On the whole, It’s A Corporate World presents the lulling musicality that fans of Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr. fell in love with on the Horse Power EP. Here’s to indie rock stardom! Get ready for your close ups Josh and Dan.

Track list
Morning Thought
Nothing But Our Love
Skeletons
An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen
When I Open My Eyes
Husbands (Interlude)
It’s A Corporate World
Simple Girl
If It Wasn’t You…
Vocal Cords
We Almost Lost Detroit
The Fisherman

Tour dates
5.19 – Chapel Hill, NC / Local 506
5.20 – Atlanta, GA / The EARL
5.21 – Nashville, TN / The Basement
5.24 – Bottletree / Birmingham, AL
5.25 – Proud Larry’s / Oxford, MI
5.26 – Fitzgerald’s / Houston, TX
5.27 – Club DaDa / Dallas, TX
5.28 – Emo’s Alternative Lounge / Austin, TX
5.31 – Santa Fe Brewing Company / Santa Fe, NM

6.1 – Rhythm Room / Phoenix, AZ
6.2 – The Casbah / San Diego, CA
6.3 -  The Echo / Echo Park, CA
6.4 – Rickshaw Stop / San Francisco, CA
6.6 – Mississippi Studios / Portland, OR
6.7 – The Tractor Tavern / Seattle, WA
6.9 – The Neurolux / Boise, ID
6.10 – Kilby Court Gallery / Salt Lake City, UT
6.11 – Hi-Dive / Denver, CO
6.13 – The Waiting room – Omaha, NE
6.14 – The Mill / Iowa City, IA
6.15 – 7th Street Entry / Minneapolis, MN
6.17 – White Rabbit Cabaret / Indianapolis, IN
6.18 – Mad Hatter / Covington, KY
6.25 – St Andrew’s Hall RECORD RELEASE SHOW /  Detroit, MI

Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr. takes pole position at Mercury Lounge

The Detroit duo, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., came out in their signature NASCAR jumpsuits only to strip them off to reveal business suits underneath.  This was all in line with their soon to be released album, It’s A Corporate World.  The crowd was ready for this board meeting.  The boys barreled into their first single “Morning Thought” with an enthusiastic crowd bopping along.

Josh Epstein welcomed the crowd saying they suited up for the occasion.  Having just come from Boston (who were claiming superiority over the Big Apple),  Josh and fellow bandmate Daniel Zott were genuinely amped for the New York fans and their first headlining gig.   They were equipped with dimmers shaped in the letters “J” and “R”, a pair of them of course.  As if “J” and “R” dimmers weren’t enough, there was…wait for it….a bubble machine.

The pair covered most of their tracks from  “An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen” to old favorites from their previous Horse Power EP, “Simple Girl” and “Vocal Chords”.  As expected a dude yelled “play some Beach Boys” and lo and behold their sweet reimagination of the classic “God Only Knows” was delivered.

Dedications were abound as “It’s A Corporate World” went to the suits of Wall Street and “We Almost Lost Detroit” to their hometown brethren.  Kicked off the night before, the band had recruited a handful of concertgoers to don skeleton costumes and join them on stage to sing on “Skeletons”.   If you are interested in being DEJJ’s own Skeleton Choir email skeletonchoir@yahoo.com. This reporter sadly missed out.  I do a mean skeleton.

DEJJ dismissed the “pretentious” walk off stage to return for an encore.  The encore opener was something they “had been working on”.  Curious, no?  The cheeky boys began with the lyrics “Think about it, there must be a higher love.”  Yes friends, a cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”.  Genius!!!  To end the night full of shenanigans, the oldie but goodie “Nothing But Our Love” grabbed the checker flag for the night.