Thursday, December 23, 2010

Figuring out the Pitchfork top 50 albums of 2010

Even though I do plenty of searching on my own, Pitchfork Magazine always helps me to orient my musical compass and I wait all year for their top songs/albums lists. After looking through the top 50 albums of 2010, I can say that I'm mostly happy. To start off, here are a few albums I'm thrilled to see on the list:
-"Crazy for you" Best Coast -"At Echo Lake" Woods -"One Life Stand" Hot Chip -"Forget" Twin Shadow -"Halcyon Digest" Deerhunter -"Swim" Caribou -"This is Happening" LCD Soundsystem -"Innerspeak" Tame Impala -"King of the Beach" Wavves

These are albums I've grown pretty attached to during the year and am happy to see get the proper recognition. However, there is one album on the list that made me blurt out "What the shit?" and that album was Vampire Weekend's "Contra". To me, the album was no more than ok and I feel like there was already a slot set aside for VW just because they released another album in 2010.

"Contra" was just as pretentious (see "Horchata" for example) as the band's first release but without the tight songwriting and sense of organization.
It isn't even easy for me to hate on "Contra" because I sincerely loved VW's first album and waited patiently for a followup. The result was a poorly written album that sometimes hits the mark but only after many annoyingly aimless meanderings. I am a little disappointed to see Pitchfork taken in by the hype surrounding "Contra" but other than that, they were pretty dead on this year. Take a look.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The pains of being too busy to enjoy the pains of being pure at heart

I've had to put lots of music I wanted to listen to on the back burner this past year because I've been so busy. One band I've had recommended to me a few times is NYC noise pop group The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and recently have gotten around to listening to them. It's a pity it took me so long to discover these guys because they are excellent.

Their self-titled first album is a noisy but dancy release that incorporates a number of shoegaze themes with present day indie pop. In songs like "Teenage in Love" (not to be confused with the Dion and the Belmonts song) the band uses fast, dance-tempo, drumbeats and whimsical lyrics to create angsty but restrained music that is hard not to love. The vocalist sings in a very dramatic, Morrisey/Ride, sort of style which completely appeals to me as a post-punk junkie. The real success of the record is its innocent poppiness and simplicity.

My favorite tracks include A Teenager in Love, Contender, and Hey Paul.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A look at Black Dog Records

Black Dog Records is an inconspicuous little record store on South Shepherd, in the same plaza as Star Pizza. While the store specializes in 60s and 70s records, the stock is eclectic and includes vinyl from a variety of genres. Recently the store was recognized by Google for being the best record store in Houston. I've known the owner, Cliff for over a year now and in that time, he's taught me a lot about music.

Me: Are you the original owner?

Cliff: Yes I am. I started Black Dog Records online, selling at conventions and stuff and that went from 96 to 98. And then I decided I liked it so much that I wanted to open a store and we opened the physical store in 1998.

Me: One thing that really stands out about Black Dog Records is the abundance of hard to find records. How do you find your rarer pieces? Some of them I have a hard time believing that someone just brought them in.

Cliff: Well, one thing we focus on is finding vinyl in the best possible condition. I'm one of those owners where I don't buy just for me but more for the people who will come in here and hopefully support my store. So I try buy everything from something as typical as the Monkees to something so obscure that the hardcore prog collectors would appreciate. I've been very fortunate because in the years I've been here I've had people bring me collections I never thought I'd see and they bring them to me because they know that I'm willing to pay top dollar for them in the shape I want them in.

Me: Even though I can find gems at bigger places like Half Price Books, sometimes I'll bring an album home and realize it's all fucked up and be really pissed off.

Cliff: And rightfully so. No one should sell crappy vinyl. I clean every piece before it comes out to the public and inspect each piece under a halogen light. I don't expect everyone to do it but that's the way that I do it.

Me: The last time I was in here, you told me about that Google award you won. Tell us a little more about that.

Cliff: Google called me and said that we had received their nomination for best record store in Houston which is just an incredible accomplishment for us, we were just tickled pink. They came by and photographed the store and did a really nice job of putting us out there. So I asked them, 'who was runner up?' and the woman from Google, I can't remember her name, said 'oh, we don't do that, we just pick the best of the best'. I didn't know we were best of the best but I'm glad that Google thinks that.

Me: Have you noticed, over the past couple years, any increase in the interest in vinyl?

Cliff: Yes I have. It's really been on the rise and it's continued to go up. Our business is doing so well. I'm just overjoyed. And what I'm finding is that a lot of young people, who have been brainwashed into thinking that CD is the sound of all sounds, are discovering vinyl and realizing that they've been duped. They're coming in and buying a lot of the old classic rock stuff whether it's original or whether it's the 180 gram vinyl. They want the warmness and brightness of the vinyl sound.

Me: What's changed, since you started, about the layout of the store and how and what you buy?

Cliff: Well, I've continued to buy the best possible vinyl in the best possible shape but I've scaled back on trying to compete with people like Walmart and Best Buy. I used to handle new CDs and I learned a hard lesson with that because they purposely keep us out of that market. I'll go to my distributor and I'll be able to get it for two dollars more than I could get it at Best Buy or someone like that.

Me: Now I know we're in Texas and we're doing a little better than the rest of the country but overall, lots of industries are suffering in the current economy. As a small business owner, has the recession affected your sales at all?

Cliff: No, it actually hasn't. In fact, in comparison to last year our sales are up. But you know I've always been in the music industry, I managed record stores back in the 70's and forward, and we've always had bad times from time to time but I find that people will always buy themselves a case of beer, a couple bottles of wine, and a couple new records and invite friends over and instead of going out and having dinner they'll have people and over and just kind of hang out and just talk to each other which is a great concept in this age of texting and computers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Clockpole tonight at Mango's Cafe

If you're not from Houston just disregard this one but if you are here, musical collective Clockpole will be playing tonight at Mango's Cafe in Montrose with Rapeworm and a few other local acts. The sounds will be loud, intense, and hopefully awesome because Clockpole, for those of you unfamiliar, is a band that never stays the same. Anyone with an instrument is welcome to go on stage and play with the four core musicians. The goal is to get everyone involved in some way.

While I'm not one of the core members, I will be there playing with Clockpole tonight. If you're an adoring fan and want to find me, I'll be playing the guitar pictured above (I like to stroke the ol' ego every once and a while). Here's the facebook link to the event because I'm just going to assume that most of you have Facebooks.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Zefirina Bomba melts faces

I'm going to share some interesting punk music with you courtesy of a reader who contacted me from Brazil. His band is called Zefirina Bomba and was started in the quiet town of Joao Pessoa. Ilsom said that the tranquility of the town inspired the band's sharply contrasting, loud and subversive sound.

The band currently has two albums released and has secured a spot at SXSW in March. You can listen to some of their stuff here. I really, really, like it. It's loud and noisy but thoughtful at the same time. The best part about their sound besides powerful vocals is their delightuly erratic guitar playing. I also have to add that for punk, it's pretty experimental. I'm sure they're a blast live. If all goes well, I'll see them play here in a few months.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Wall tears it down at Toyota Center

Haven't been on here in a while and I really regret that. I tried to post some stuff last week but school dropped more and more shit into my lap and prevented me from posting.

Last weekend, Roger Waters performed the whole Wall at the Toyota Center here in Houston and it was fantastic. The only thing that would have made it better is if Rick Right was alive and Nick Mason and David Gilmour weren't "back at the hotel", but the show still managed to be better than I ever anticipated. Besides Waters there was at least one other major Floyd veteran on stage, Snowy White. While white was never a band member, he did tour with Pink Floyd on the original wall tour and also contributed some playing for the European version of Animals.

The content of the show was similar to the original wall but was updated for maximum relevance. Waters collected pictures from fans of people killed in combat and maintained the same anti-war message with out any sort of hippie naivety. Waters has always been a critic of anarch0-capitalism and used to be an outright socialist but during the show he also mocked the role of overbearing government. In the song "Mother" he displayed an ominous red and black animation of a security camera while belting out "of course momma's gonna help build the wall".

Just like the original show, the concert revolved around the building of a literal wall on stage and mind-blowing visuals. One of the most amazing special effects took place after the second song "the thin ice" as a large model plane smashed into the wall and exploded into a giant fireball. An extended cut of the "empty spaces" animation was played and it looked amazing on the huge, circular, screen.

The message of the show was more universal this time too. Using visuals, Waters criticized war, interventionism, over-consumption, radical Islam, and material greed, especially during "goodbye blue sky".

Overall Water's voice held up incredibly well and his band did a good job reinterpreting the music. It's too late for Houston but if by some stroke of good luck, he finds the time to come back again, please go see him. You will thank me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dead Audio Fest & Local Noise 2010

Houston often gets credit from music critics and the media for its past contributions to the blues with artists like Sam Lightnin' Hopkins or for the pioneering of chopped and screwed beats with DJ screw or providing an incubator for country and folk with famous residents like Townes Van Zandt. However, progress in less mainstream genres like noise rock, outsider music, and experimental efforts is rarely mentioned which is tragic considering the city's rich but underexposed culture of underground music.

Houston's tradition of “out-there” music started, detectably, in 1966 with a group of art students from the University of St. Thomas, headed by Mayo Thompson, who founded the avante-garde outfit The Red Krayola which was avante-garde way before the genre was profitable or accepted. Just to give readers an example of how “out-there” the band has been in the past, Pitchfork music critic Alex Lindhardt reported that early on in their career the band was paid ten dollars by Berkley to stop their performance. They've gone through many phases and are still active today. Readers can even find their music on CD at Cactus.

Ever since then, there has always been an abundance of new underground bands and musicians in Houston; none very commercially successful but all influential in their own rite. In the 70's Houston saw the activity of players like outsider musician Jandek (which is the genre most musicologists put the delightfully weird Daniel Johnston into). In the 80s and 90s Houston was home to the brilliantly cacophonous noise bands like Pain Teens. Building on the past, the 2000s have been an even more prolific time for the city's complex and rapidly evolving experimental scene seeing the advent of bands like Indian Jewelry, Female Demand, Cop Warmth, A Pink Cloud, and many more.

In the spirit of Houston's colorful experimental and noise music heritage, Super Happy Fun Land will be throwing Dead Audio Fest 2010 on Nov. 12. starting at 2:00 p.m and raging till until 11:30. The bill will include bands from all over the world, such as Skönhet from Sweden, and many from Texas. Some acts will be melodic and others will not be, some are loud while others are more quiet yet they all share one thing in common: if you're looking to hear something like Nickleback or other mainstream crapola they will probably scare you far far away.

To get the most out of the show attendees should come with open minds and a pair of good earplugs. Come out and support Houston's and the world's experimental scenes by showing up at Dead Audio Fest 2010. Whether you love experimental music or hate it, Dead Audio Fest should do a pretty good job blowing your mind.

Go here for a full list of bands.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Agora Coffee bites the dust

Agora Coffee off of Westheimer was one of my favorite places to go and drink coffee and write, especially for this blog. It was quiet and hip but not so hip that I felt like I was in an American Apparel ad which sometimes happens at joints off Westheimer populated by all the young dudes, as Bowie would say. They had a great selection of foreign and domestic beers and wines and a well-developed jukebox. However, at 12:30 AM on Halloween morning, a blaze consumed both Agora and the swanky little Antique Warehaus nextdoor.

It's hard to express how upset I am about the fire since I know everyone who wants to appear hip and happening is going to be loudly and publicly lamenting Agora's loss. I'm not trying to be one of the asshats who strives to appear more authentic than everyone else but I really felt a personal connection with that place. Everytime I'd go I'd spend literally hours there and not have a single thing to complain about as I blogged or worked. If you guys have any memories you'd like to share please, post to the comment section on the blog or the facebook page. I'm trying to collect a body of stories I can re-publish as an homage to Agora and all the great times I know people in the Montrose community have had there.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Os Mutantes graces Houston

I started listening to the Brazilian psych band again ever since I heard that they are coming to Houston on the Nov. 7 at Fitzgerald's. The band combines bossa nova and jazz type music with psychedelic rock, all sung in Portuguese. They got their start in the 60s and have been remarkably active ever since. Here's one of my favorite songs:

If you like it then I recommend that you buy the mp3s on Amazon. I think it cost me about six dollars to get their self-titled debut album which has 12 songs. It's a pretty good deal.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Blank Dogs spitting image of 80s post-punk

There are a lot of present-day bands that claim post-punk as a major influence in their work; think of bands like Interpol, the Strokes, or the Horrors. However, even though they contain identifiable echoes of post-punk the resulting sound is still very different from the genre's golden age. Every once in a while though, I run into a band that is influenced by post-punk and actually sounds exactly like classic post-punk. I discovered one of these uncanny bands on Sunday night while listening to KTRU: Blank Dogs. Originally I thought it was just some obscure British artist from the 80s that never charted or got any major recognition but they're actually from Brooklyn and have only been around since 2007. Take a listen to the first song I heard by them:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Austin City Limits Wrap-Up

Even though I only spent two out of the three days at Zilker Park , I created an exhaustive schedule for myself and saw some really excellent performances. I wish I had some pretty pictures to show you all but I completely forgot to ask the mgmt for a press pass. Here are some of my favorite sets:

LCD Soundsystem
: I've been waiting to see James Murphy play since I heard the first LCD LP when I was in high school so the release of tension was considerable when I heard them open with a solid version of "dance yrself clean". The sound was good and Murphy had a full live band with him that was able to keep up with the project's tight disco sounds.They played at least one song from every album, including the tearjerker "all my friends" and a particularly old but good song called "tribulations". Murphy ended the set with a long version of "Yeah" (called the 'pretentious version' on the album) and then wound the crowd down with "Home". Overall, this was one of my favorite performances of the entire festival since I had high expectations and they were met, fully.

Sonic Youth:
Sort of like James Murphy, the members of noise band Sonic Youth are not young today but their sound doesn't really suffer for that. Both over fifty years old, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore played ferociously on a stage with well-managed levels just two slots before the major headliners. I was a little disappointed to see so few people at the Honda Stage for their set but with the small crowd I was able to see the stage really well. The vocals and playing were spot on and my mind was blown. The best song they played was "silver rocket".

My fiance really loves MIA and I've gained a decent amount of respect for her after the release of "Born Free" which samples Suicide and was accompanied by an excellent video. The exotic dance beats and intense lyrics were infectious, even at a distance. MIA does not present herself as some vapid, pop princess while on stage: she is something totally different. She is fierce, sexy, and often shocking. The set ended a little early but other than that, there was nothing to complain about.

Bear in Heaven: Due to the timing and location, it would have been easy to miss this Brooklyn experimental band's set on Saturday but I paid thirty bucks to a pedi cab just to get there in time. The sound consists mostly of echoing vocals, electronic textures, and a lot of arpeggiator tones bolstered by thumping bass and toms. It made me feel stoned, almost.

Black Lips:
Black Lips were punchy, bratty, and loud enough to give me the garage/punk fix that was missing from the rest of the fest. The two best tracks they played were "Old Man" and "Drugs". My only complaint was that I wish their slot was longer but that's festivals for you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

PSA: Amazon delivers cheap mp3s

Amazon dot com rules. I can find any book, DVD, or CD that I want for a reasonable price and can expect speedy deliver. Now, no one is paying me to say this and no, I have sold out to the illusory "man" some people are so fond of railing against. However, I do have a quasi-advertisement I'd like to do for them:

You can now find select digital albums on Amazon for four or five bucks or less! They always have deals on new and old albums and some are much less expensive than on iTunes. A few weeks ago I picked up Ratatat's LP4 for FOUR DOLLARS! That's amazing.

Check it out here. I just bought David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World for 3.68. If you listen to as much music as I do, you'll realize that iTunes is too expensive to be your only source of music. Try Amazon's service too.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

These Young Girls are kicking ass and taking names

One of my favorite Houston bands, Young Girls, have been presented with an attractive opportunity: that is to open for increasing popular Brooklyn indie band The Drums when they play in Dallas. Having already completed a multi-state tour earlier this year and currently working on their official debut Out for Blood, the band is really kicking serious ass. They haven't even been around for a whole year yet.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Austin City Limits will be rock you

I'm beyond excited for this year's Austin City Limits music fest in Austin Texas. My fiance and I have tickets for two out of the three days and I'll get to see almost everyone I want to. The highlights of the fest are The Eagles and Flaming Lips which will both be on Sunday but fortunately for me I worked Houston's Free Press Summer Fest and got to see them already in June (even though I'd still love to see them again). Here's my personal ACL schedule. I'm going to ask on the Facebook fanpage, who's going to ACL? Please tell me, I want to know! Who are you excited about.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Warpaint returneth!

I'll be at Austin City Limits on Friday and Saturday but couldn't afford to stay for the last day which is disappointing since it would be my fiancee's first opportunity to see Warpaint. However, sharing a bill with Young Mammals, the beautiful L.A. experimental-rockers Warpaint are coming back to Houston on the 10th of October, just in time for my arrival. The gig will be from 7-10:30 at The Orange Show, 2402 Munger St. Be there, especially if you've never seen them play before.

RE POST: State of the KTRUnion

Although I've not personally been able to get through to Rice University prez myself (surprise surprise), I still feel obligated to explain his perfidy to everyone who is concerned but might not know exactly what went on with the sale of KTRU. Amid all of the chaos, I feel like it would be beneficial to restate the origins of the sale and the manner in which it was handled. I got the idea after I had a few beers with a DJ I won't name to protect him from any bullshit he might catch. Hopefully by doing this I can remind the community that KTRU was sold in a very controversial and clandestine way which completely merits the outrage most of us feel towards the decision. We must either continue to put pressure on President Leebron and the parties involved in the decision or quietly accept this undesirable and unjust arrangement. There's nothing new in this article, per se, but we need to keep this in the news and keep people talking. It's the only way KTRU stands a chance of staying on Houston's airwaves.

Just to recap, President Leebron issued a public letter on the 17th of August regarding his decision. The board of regents voted to officially execute the sale on the same day Rice students and KTRU staff were given notice. Prior to this, only Houston Press's "Rocks Off" blog had any idea what was happening and even their discovery was only made by sifting through the minutes of the upcoming meeting of the board of regents and seeing an item on the agenda about the sale of a radio station. Prior to the 17th there was no official disclosure. Writing a letter like the one I've linked to really means nothing at all given that no one who received the letter, and was upset, had time to appeal the decision or ask for a place at the table, so to speak.

Even though it's true that KTRU will be broadcasting via the Internet regardless of the outcome it's the actual radio transmission that allows the station to bring in new listeners. Everyone knows that KTRU won't be completely dissolved but that doesn't matter. Once the station loses its frequency it just becomes another one of the endless rabble of online radio stations. Albeit it will still function as an excellent online radio station, there's no way one can accidentally discover a streamed station the same way one can on the FM dial. The tower and frequency are integral to the spirit of the station and its local nature.

The other problem with the letter was the dismissive nature of the President's other arguments for selling the channel. He implied that Arbitron data suggested that the station's audience was barely enough to justify keeping it on the air. What a cold and utilitarian argument to make about such a cherished, culturally-enriching, student-run enterprise. It's almost as if he doesn't realize that such hamfisted comments are a direct insult to the station and its listeners. He then tries to make a populist argument claiming that Houston does not have two 24 hour all-news and 24 hour all-classical formats without caring to explain that this programming will not be student-run or generated but rather will most likely be bland, syndicated, commercial-programming. I just wish that President Lebron would act a little more proud of presiding over a college with such a unique outfit such as KTRU. Every one of his comments just indicate that he doesn't care about the opinions of Rice students or KTRU staff. Please read the letter for yourself as well but I don't think any of these claims are unfair. Res ipsa loquitur.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Warpaint takes on Bowie

One of my favorite up and coming bands, Warpaint, recently released a cover on iTunes of David Bowie's classic 1980's single "Ashes to Ashes" and it is phenomenal. While the cover definitely resembles the original, Warpaint shines in their ability to turn the glam-laden track into something they themselves could have written. It's a bit slower and much more mysterious and haunting. The proceeds of the sales will be donated to the War Child charity which fights to prevent and spread awareness about the enlistment of child soldiers in third world nations.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Save KTRU!

Rice University's sometimes weird and always wonderful KTRU college radio station was purchased by mega-university U of H earlier this week and I sincerely hope that KTRU's excellent programming is affected by the acquisition. This Sunday there will be a demonstration on the Rice campus to protest this awful decision. For details, log onto Facebook and click here. U of H's station is filled with unimpressive, overly-corporate, programming that threatens to obscure the greatness of KTRU. If you happen to be in town on Sunday, please show up at Rice, in a civil and orderly, to oppose this action.

New Miami Horror track feat. Neon Indian

One of my coworkers showed me this today and it is excellent:

Haling from Australia, just like other electro outfits Cut Copy and The Presets, the Miami Horrors employ a catchy throwback style of electropop that I don't understand how anyone could dislike. The guy doing vocals on this track is from Texas "chillwave" band Neon Indian. For the entire summer I've been listening Neon Indian's latest album, Psychic Chasms, which consists of distorted, flanged, and phased disco beats alongside trance-like vocals. Neon Indian will be playing here in H Town in October. I hope this collaboration is only the first of many.

Monday, August 16, 2010

See Takers and I promise you won't feel robbed

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to see a press screening of gangster film Takers and though I must be tight-lipped about the fine details, I can safely assure readers that it was unequivocally awesome. To be on the safe side, all I'll reveal about the plot is that it involves a bank heist executed in a refreshingly unorthodox manner. Being a project of rap superstar T.I. I must confess I was a little skeptical before the screening. These days it seems like every actor thinks they can make music and every musician thinks they can act but after seeing Takers, it's obvious to me that T.I. can do both unusually well.

Luckily, last Friday, I also was able to attend a roundtable interview with T.I. at the lavish St. Regis Hotel. who was still in Houston after the red carpet screening of Takers the previous night. He told us that he was originally only offered an acting role in Takers but upon giving his two cents about the script to producers he was also given some creative control and his credit as producer. The film is the first of a three movie deal with Sony cinema subsidiary Screen Gems in which T.I. will get to both produce and act. He hinted to us that the next movie will be some kind of romantic comedy involving the music industry, an image which is surprisingly tender for the King of the South. In addition to his cinematic projects, his upcoming album King Uncaged, and his new partnership with Rémy Martin cognac, T.I. is also managing his A.K.O.O. clothing line which was launched in 2008 and it is, according to him, doing very well even during the current recession.

A strong, no nonsense, gangster flick, that doesn't pretend to be anything else, make sure not to skip out on Takers. It comes out the 27th of August and the conclusion is anything but the standard, predictable Hollywood fare.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Behold Houston! Ghoulfest!

Free Press Summer Fest in June was a smash hit bringing acts like the Flaming Lips and Girl Talk to the Bayou City but on October 30th we have the good fortune of another excellent music festival by the name of Ghoulfest. Headlining acts include eccentric Texas legend Daniel Johnston, reggae punk legends Bad Brains, Fischerspooner, Hot Chip and many more high profile performers. Up until Monday I'd heard absolutely nothing about the festival but stumbled upon it while combing Houston Press. It doesn't look like the event has an official website beyond myspace but with a lineup like this I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I'll keep tabs on it. I am extremely excited. What I do know, at this juncture, is that tickets will cost 35 dollars and that the show will be at Tom Bass Park. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Talking marine biology and fruit sacrifice with Darwin's Finches

Last week I talked to Justin, front man of Galveston/Houston, garage rock band, Darwin's Finches for a whopping three hours at Agora and had a great time in the process. I won't bother to transcribe the two hours of audio I got before I cut it off but what I thought would be a straight forward, run-of-the-mill, half hour interview turned out to be something much more interesting.

Coming from a very musical family but not having a lot of serious musical training himself, Justin, comparing himself to his pianist brother chuckled, "yeah, my brother actually knows what he's doing". Essentially teaching himself, he related to me the band's beginnings in Galveston and his frustration with playing in a city that was overly fond of cover bands. Being a native of Houston, Justin ventured down to Galveston when he was younger and told me about the interesting characters, many being vagabonds and eccentrics that he met while on the coast. Going back and forth between Houston and Galveston, ever since Ike, Justin's youth has been an eventful one consisting of art, couch surfing, and odd jobs. For someone not even thirty years old, Justin has had one of the most interesting lives I've come across. Being raised by his grandparents, Justin explained that the album's title came from a funny "grandpa-ism" wherein his grandfather would tell him stories using the name Old Skatillivich for characters "I don't think old Skatillivich was ever just one person," Justin explained " he'd say 'One time me and Old Skatillivich were. . .' when he was telling me stories".

Later, Justin told me about their CD release a few weeks ago (that I missed, regrettably) for their official debut album Old Skatillivich and something he described as fruit sacrifice, "Me and the drummer collected a bunch of fun fruits from Asia and the guy from Walter's was like 'next time don't bring so much stinky fruit'. I just had it sitting on a table was encouraging people to try things like mangosteens. The whole fruit thing started one time in league city near this little community theater and i used to get these huge watermelons at this gas station nearby and we'd draw faces on them and stab them with our instruments and smash them." We then talked about how important it was to be a little weird as a band and how much it could add to the music when people were willing to depart from the normal, just a bit.

The other thing Justin told me was about his passion for animals, particularly birds and sea creatures. Having held different jobs working with animals, even at Moody Gardens, he told me different stories about the exhibits and how much he enjoyed working alongside them. Lately, Justin works at the restaurant in the downtown aquarium, cleaning out the tanks and swimming with the fish.

Darwin's Finches latest album can be purchased at Domy Books next to Cafe Brasil, off of Westheimer. I've had the album in my car CD player for a month now and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere. It's the Cramps meets the White Stripes only better.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Go get lost in some Woods

Folk doesn't necessarily evoke feelings of excitement for most people which is understandable given the rootsy, no-nonsense yet lo-fi characteristics of most folk artists. There's a plethora of excellent folk out there but it doesn't always grab you in the same way a really crazy, out-there, indie band has the power to do. However, the other day I stumbled upon a band that I would definitely call folksy (and at times lo-fi) that is really different. Combine acoustic guitars, strangely high vocals, the occasional electric guitar solo, and some interesting tape effects you'll get freak folk band Woods. The near falsetto singing reminds me almost of the fantastic, freaky-deek, Philadelphia, indie band Man Man yet a bit more accessible.
Songs of Shame is the name of the 2009 LP that first exposed me to this excellent band but I hear they also have a new LP out as well. I'll have to find that sometime soon. If you're interested in the band I'd direct you to the songs "September with Pete" which is a groovy psych jam with lots of lush reverb and the close to as psychedelic but catchier "The Hold".

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Daft Punk! . . .sort of

No, they're not releasing a new album right now but they are doing music for the remake of 80's classic Tron. I've listened to the songs and honestly, it pains me to say this since I love Daft Punk, they're not that interesting but that's excusable considering that it's soundtrack-type music tailor-made for the movie. Oh well, at least we know they're still alive considering they haven't released anything since Human After All in 05.

A weekend of British rock, new and old

I had an excellent weekend even though I wasn't able to go and see Lady Gaga, someone who I've really grown to like over the past year. Somehow, I was lucky enough to grab two tickets to see Robert Plant for thirty bucks apiece at the Woodlands and he was phenomenal. Playing songs in the same folksy bluegrass style he had when he was touring with Alison Krauss Plant put his voice to good work performing new songs and excellent covers of Zep songs like "Houses of the Holy", "Gallows Pole", "O'er the Hills and Far Away", "Rock and Roll", "Thank You", and even a short version of "In my time of dying". His latest album,
Band of Joy comes out in September and I'm pretty excited to pick it up after seeing a few of the new songs the band played. Plant was accompanied exclusively by American folk and bluegrass musicians which makes sense considering the fact that he's always shown a flattering appreciation for the American folk and blues culture.

On Sunday I got to see Keane with a photo pass and got to go behind the barrier and shot some excellent photos even though I've still only got a factory lens on my Nikon. Yet at the distance I shot from it doesn't matter what lens you have. The front man from Travis opened and I missed him but got to see the end of Ingrid Michaelson's set and she didn't so much for me honestly. The ironic Britney Spears cover she did at the end of her set was so five years ago. Keane was great though. Here are some pics:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Strange Sensations?

Fellow electric musicians, I have a strange experience to share with you. The other night I was playing my guitar in the garage and I felt like a was struck by a tiny, attenuated, blot of lightning in my fingers and hand. I turned off the amp and touched the strings again to see if it was some kind of pins and needles type deal but I didn't feel the shock again. It wasn't incredibly intense when I did feel it but it was kind of alarming. I'd been ignoring the feeling for a while as I played since my fingers were all over the fretboard and didn't have time to notice but whenever I played an open A I felt it. I now realized I was shocking myself for about two hours without noticing it. When I tested it again the other day nothing happened. I couldn't find the source and last night the amp and guitar were working perfectly. Weird huh?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Young Girls tour US, makes Houston proud

Catchy-as-hell, local Houston indie band, Young Girls, has embarked on their first major tour outside of Texas playing shows in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Illinois. Just a few hours ago I heard from band member Pete Tijerina that they'll have a spot on the lineup at the Free Tulsa music festival as well. I got to attend their tour kickoff last week at Walter's on Washington and they play a well composed, tightly formed, brand of original indie pop that really stands out in the crowd. Lots of bands, as I was discussing earlier with front man of Jody Seabody and the Whirls, want to ride that shiny, attractive, indie gravy train but have no real talent to show for it but Young Girls are different. With no stupid gimmicks or gaudy Sergeant Pepper's wardrobe, Young Girls delivers excellent, accessible, music that has a wide appeal. I'm not sure when their next Houston show will be but I'll be sure to alert y'all when I know. In the mean time, visit their myspace and take a listen for yourselves. I'm not sure if their debut EP Out for blood has been officially released but you should be able to buy demos at their shows for a couple bucks.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some fresh, old, post-punk goodness

Found this one courtesy of the Tiny Mix Tapes. There's a UK band called the Trash Kit and to my ears, they remind me of excellent, early-to-mid-80's, post-punk bands, like the Raincoats and Delta 5. With a female vocalist, funky guitar riffs, and the help of some frantically-played wind instruments it updates the musical zeitgeist of that time period for second-gen post-punk fans like myself. I just find it neat that I, born in 89, could find a band that still plays like this. This needs to happen more. Check them out at their myspace.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Revisiting Lost Souls

One of my favorite albums of all time is "Lost Souls" by the British indie band Doves. The effect of this album is so melancholic, calming, and pensive on the listener that some days I would turn it on and it would literally put me into a semi-catatonic state of relaxation as I lay on my bed, ear buds in tightly, music turned up. Semi-psychedelic in nature, the album goes back and forth between ethereal instrumentals and satisfying indie ballads. Songs like "Firesuite" and "Break Me Gently" are undeniably trippy and out there but there are plenty of regular indie songs too like "Catch the Sun". The most powerful track however is title number "Lost Souls" which is one of the most psychedelic songs I've ever heard this side of 1975 while still benefiting from good, meaningful, lyrics and concrete songwriting. The album was released in 2000 but I didn't happen upon it until 2007 and I'm sure there are plenty of potential fans who've missed out on it even now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bringing Malawi to the world

I spied a band on the 2010 Austin City Limits lineup called "The Very Best" and felt like I'd seen the name before. Since I'm currently making a must-see-list for when I go at ACL in the fall I figured I should check them out and see if they were worthy. The band is pretty new and only has a single LP out which features the contributions of talents like M.I.A. and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend; combining traditional African music with western beats TVB is a new noteworthy player on the indie music scene. Working with London music production team Radioclit, Very Best front man, Esau Mwamway creates warm, world music, inspired by the traditions of his home nation of Malawi. This culturally rich project has a bright future and a versatile style that I look forward to hearing at this year's ACL.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Land ho! Islands come to Houston

Last night I had the good fortune to see Canadian indie rockers Islands at Mango's Cafe. My friend Rock even arranged a video interview with them and I helped the interviewer brush up, very quickly, on her Islands info which earned me a seat, in back while it was going on. Nicholas Thorburn, the front-man of Islands and co-founder of the iconic but since broken up Unicorns, was cool but also a total headcase. It pissed me off a little bit since he implied that Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade stole ideas from Islands and that Islands was around before Wolf Parade, which is not true. Whatever though. He's an artist and lots of artists have a messiah complexes. The two opening bands, Steel Phantoms and Active Child, hailing from Brooklyn and LA respectively, were incredible. Active Child consisted of two guys: one on bass, the other on harp and synth. The vocals were ethereal, operatic, and very different from standard indie fare. Piquing my post-punk nerd sensibilities Active Child even played a cover of posthumously the released Joy Division song "Ceremony" which I immediately recognized. Islands were just as good as I'd hoped with their zany old synths and poppy beats. Their latest album, Vapours, is a bit more electronic than the other two works in their catalogue and the keyboard playing definitely hails back to The Unicorns. Overall it was a good night at Mango's and I will link to the Free Video Houston interview with Islands when it goes up on the web.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Silence is not golden

As you all can probably infer, I need my music. I need it like a newborn needs to suckle at his mother's teat, to give you a slightly melodramatic parallel. However, this basic requirement was denied me last night as I tried to get my iPhone to play a Blind Faith album for me to listen to while I showered. There was no volume for music or applications yet the ringer and keystroke noises continued to work. I knew my shit was fucked. I panicked. I restarted my phone thrice but to no avail. Only after an hour of one-man pandemonium and installing the very latest OS, iOS4, onto my phone was I able to remedy my problem. It sounds dorky and slightly pathetic but I could not bring myself to think about taking it to the Apple store since that would mean at the very least a few hours without a portable music player. I have CDs in my car but for some reason that was not consoling. I couldn't listen to MY LIBRARY! I just wanted to share that harrowing experience with all of you and cement in all of your minds the suspicion that I am a helpless audio-geek.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Phil Selway goes solo

Phil Selway, Radiohead's excellent drummer, is currently working on his debut solo album Familial. You can listen to one song here. The sound of track is definitely distinguished from his work in Radiohead but retains the band's dark beauty.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Two Suns: setting or rising?

Bat for Lashes, for those of you unfamiliar, is an excellent female artist who combines her haunting but lovely voice with dark textures and quiet ambient music. She's a favorite of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and really has the power to set a mood. The saturnine beauty of Bat for Lashes really shines through on her latest release:
Two Suns. I know that album was released a while ago but I'm discovering it for the first time and just wanted to share. The dynamics go back and forth between intense, blinding, darkness (see "Two Planets") and serene, contemplative, melancholy tracks like the operatic "The Big Sleep". While the mood of the entire album is undoubtedly low there are peels of happiness and hope that bleed through in certain songs which makes Two Suns more appealing than if it were just a simple, flat-line, of sorrow. Both relaxing and harrowing Two Suns is evocative without being overwrought.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Empire of the Sun sucks live?

I've been listening to up-and-coming, Australian, electronic, duo, Empire of the Sun for a while now and when I heard they were touring the US my heart skipped a beat. I was so excited. Not surprisingly though they're not coming anywhere near Houston, or even Texas for that matter. However, my disappointment has been alleviated by an article I read on which claims that they don't sound so hot live. I don't always take what the critics say at face value but it was just kind of shocking for me to hear this. I don't know if it means anything to you guys. Just a heads up if anyone has tickets to see them. However, I do recommend their 2008 LP Walking on a Dream.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Still whipping it

Devo has always been one of those bands I am supremely jealous that I did not have the good fortune to grow up listening to. Though they've been active since the reformed in 96 I barely knew it until the release of their latest album just a week ago. Their novel take on consumerism, conformity, and the workaday world is still just as clever as it was in the 80s if not sharper in their latest offering Something for Everybody. Watch this hilariously deadpan, pre-release address, by band member Jerry Casale on the content of Something:

I'm very happy about the album's sound and instrumentation which sounds fairly consistent with their earlier stuff, albeit a little more polished. Jerry even benefits from some autotuning on my favorite track "Human Rocket" while still keeping that satisfying electro 80's timbre instead of turning into a New Wave TI. Production here was key for me because it's hard to get into newer music from an older band when production is jarringly dissimilar from earlier work. Other great tracks include "Sumthin'", "Don't Shoot", Fresh", and "Please Baby Please". New fans or old fans will love Something for Everybody.

Seeing LIMB live is a religious experience

Last Friday I had the fortune of seeing LIMB play at El Rincón Social in the warehouse district to celebrate the release of their latest LP The Shape of Punk for Some and it only gave me more respect and admiration for their work. The band's set was surrounded by a plethora of surreal imagery that made it, for me, an almost mystical encounter. Featherface, an original experimental Houston rock band, opened with a relaxing ambient rock set that was only enhanced by the echoes of the cavernous El Rincón warehouse. Other performances of the night included trippy electronic artist Cosmic Sound, the fierce Somosuno, rapper BLACKIE, and finally, the immortal LIMB. Cosmic Sound played his set alongside a series of incredibly psychedelic, masterfully edited, video clips including appearances by various muppets. However, LIMB managed to up the psych ante by playing in pitch dark, with a flashing pyramid, naked band members, and painted dancers. At one point someone even did a handstand on the pyramid. It's hard to fully convey the mood with these words but hopefully some of the pictures will make up for that.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Obscured by Coulds: a largely unknown pleasure

I grew up basically idolizing the Pink Floyd and everything they did. At first it was just for David Gilmour's masterful guitar licks but later I'd develop a fuller appreciation by understanding their full genius. I started, as many newcomers do, with
Dark Side of the Moon and from there I listened to all the Floyd the casual rock fan would know of (i.e. greatest hits type tracks). Later though, I got the Floyd compilation Echoes as birthday present from my mother and was exposed to less familiar, old school, tracks like "See Emily Play" and "Astronomy Domine" and I learned how rich the rest of their discography was. There were the albums like Meddle and A Saucerful of Secrets I'd never heard of before because they never got any radio play; now I knew of their existence and was full prepared to seek them out.

Two albums that a lot of Floyd fans have missed, largely due to their obscurity (no pun intended) were both movie soundtracks called
More and Obscured by Clouds. Obviously the movies never did exceedingly well and Obscured by Clouds actually tanked pretty badly yet their soundtracks are both good finds for true Floyd fans. Clouds in particular was a childhood favorite of mine and recently I acquired the album on vinyl and I continue to enjoy it. It includes quiet, majestic "Us and Them" type tracks like "Burning Bridges" and "Mudmen" but doesn't fail to take on a harder rock edge in songs like "When you're in" and "Childhood's End". Ballads like "Free Four" pontificate about human mortality and there's even an endearingly romantic song called "Stay" that you could use to set a mood for an intimate evening. Fuck Barry White, let's throw on some Floyd and make-a some-a sexy time! It's a stellar album but for some reason critics poo pooed its contents as merely a soundtrack rather than a standalone. I can see making that charge of More but Obscured by Clouds has lots of thoughtful songwriting, lyrics, and complexity unlike the former which is good but definitely sounds as if it's subordinate to something greater. Obscured by Clouds is actually my favorite Floyd album but what's a favorite when everything a band does is gold, I guess. Definitely worth a look though if you're unfamiliar.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Don't think twice, it's alright

This isn't a new song by any means but I was going through my library and found a song I listened to a lot last year. I don't know how popular it is but it's called "I couldn't say it to your face" by Arthur Russell and it's sweet and sad and I just wanted to share it with you guys.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Enter the Passion Pit...we promise it's nothing dirty

Passion Pit is coming to Warehouse Live on Thursday and as an added treat they’re bringing along catchy Canadian indie rockers Tokyo Police Club who just released a new album on the 8th of June. But back to Passion Pit; before you groan and say to yourself “oh, not that band on MTV and the phone commercials” let me assure you that if you haven’t listened to Passion Pit extensively before they got noticed and are extremely cynical, these guys are excellent song-writers and are certainly worth the fuss. I know we all have to put up with the scenie, poser kids who show up to Radiohead concerts practically shouting things like “play Creep! That’s all I came for! Attention world: I AM SHALLOW!” but those of us who really listen to all of PP’s work know that there’s a lot more there than MTV or scenesters do not notice. Take for example songs like “Eyes as Candles” which deal with complex matters like faith or “Little Secrets” in which vocalist Michael Angelakos seems to talk about drug abuse. I’d recommend that anyone showing an interest in Passion Pit who’s only heard Manners also listen to the band’s debut EP Chunk of Change, which was a gift from Michael Angelakos to his then girlfriend. My point is that Passion Pit is anything but a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon and deserves the attention of serious music-listeners. Don’t miss your opportunity to see a two great bands on Thursday. There might still be tickets and if there are there ain’t a lot. Thank Pegstar for booking this awesome show!

Friday, June 11, 2010

What to make of Alejandro?

I still don't know exactly what to think about Lady Gaga's latest video effort but at least it wasn't as ridiculous and confusing as her video for telephone. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Gaga fan. I love her style, her music, her attitude but Telephone (both the song and video) just never cut it for me. The song was hi-jacked by Beyoncé and the parts where Gaga sung were just sort of boring. The problem with the video was a little different in that my problem was the fact that I had not a single clue what the fuck was going on. There was the pussy wagon from Kill Bill, the random poisonings, and Gaga's relationship with Beyoncé that all left me wondering whether I had missed an hour of plot from the storyline. The video for Alejandro was pretty good. I liked the dictator feel to it since it allowed Gaga to be creepy and weird: two things she is good at. The dancing was cool too even if the leather boys did freak me out just a little bit. No matter though, Gaga is just being provocative. Same thing with her use of religious imagery against raw, nasty, sexual images. Being a Catholic, I could be offended but I think I understand what the latex nun outift and rosary were all about. She's just juxtaposing different things for effect. I liked it a lot more than Telephone but not nearly as much as Bad Romance.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some pictures of the Reverend

I'll make this short but the Reverend Horton Heat's show at Warehouse last night was very cool. The man is a Texas treasure and I feel so happy that I got to see him. I've never seen someone play the guitar like he does: my jaw was constantly on the floor. The opening band, Cracker, wasn't bad either.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Reverend is turning up the volume!

The Reverend Horton Heat is coming to Warehouse Live on Thursday to preach his gospel of rockabilly madness to the good people of Houston. These guys play within a very specific and under-appreciated genre called psychobilly which was pioneered by the Cramps in the 80s and subsequently picked up by lots of other excellent bands later on. The style has grown into a rockabilly revival with wittier lyrics, a louder volume, and harder slightly punk-like vocals. Even though it includes bands outside the US the entire genre sounds very American in nature. The Reverend Horton Heat has been active since 85 and includes all the trappings of 50’s rockabilly band but with a harder edge, a generous heaping of cynicism, and a mordant sense of humor. Get your tickets here!

Monday, June 7, 2010

2010 Free Press Summer Fest: a retrospective

I arrived bright and early at Eleanor Tinsley Park on Saturday morning, grabbed some tasty breakfast burritos that management was kind enough to procure for us, and hit the box office. I sold tickets from twelve to five and then found myself on what I would later realize was the high roller section. Now, for those of you who weren't lucky enough to sneak up there, the high roller section is this bad ass little platform right on the left side of the main stage where you're only about fifty feet away from whatever band is playing. I stayed there for the rest of the night and got some pretty good pictures of Martin, Medeski & Wood, Ra Ra Riot, and Girl Talk. Girl Talk was amazing live and he let about a crowd of people jump up on stage with him and dance so of course I obliged.

Day two started for me with some disappointment as I missed one of my favorite bands: Lymbyc Systym. Uh Huh Her was on when I got there and frankly don't care too much for them so I paid the Camel tent a visit. I went in looking for a free pack of good ol' Camel filters but also left with like eight cans of this nasty dip stuff called Snus (pronounced snoos). When they asked me whether I wanted any I lied and said I already tried it before and it made me sick. Without any explanation he sort of gently pushed two large cardboard boxes of Snus at me which I decided to take just so he'd give me my camels and leave me alone. It's kind of disturbing they give out that much merch hoping to get us hooked but cest la vie I guess, it's always been like that with tobacco stuff. After trying to give the Snus to about four people I saw smoking I dumped the unwanted Snus into the nearest trashcan. I then visited the 29-95 stage to watch Somosuno which is another project of Fernando from excellent Houston punk band The Takes. Somosuno reminded me of Captain Beefheart with different vocals and the addition of horns. During their set it started raining cats and dogs. It was the heaviest downpour I've ever been in and had to seek refuge in the HQ and hide my phone and camera. It was like a mini Woodstock! People were bathing themselves in the runoff coming from overflowing sewage pipes and rolling around in the mud. I think I completely destroyed a pair of white Vans I bought only a week ago but given the experience was totally worth it. Once the rain let up, around five o clock, I parked myself in front of the stage to watch Stars and didn't move from that spot all night. Stars were simply amazing; they played some very vocal driven indie rock with a slightly electronic feel to it. Extremely professional, they played a great set and had the same tight sound to them that they have in the studio. They'll be coming out with a new album on the 22nd called 5 Ghosts, so watch out for that. Next was Bun B and Slim Thug which was a little hard for me since I was getting pretty dehydrated but there was no way I was gonna miss half of UGK just because I was thirsty. Please. The set was well worth staying for and on top of that I was able to secure my spot for the Flaming Lips. There was a commencement ceremony before the Lips went on, to welcome them back after ten years of being absent from our fare city of Houston. Wayne, to my relief, told us that there was nothing wrong with Houston and that there was no particular reason they were gone for so long; there was "no bad drug deal or anything" were his words. The visuals for the Lips were surreal and included giant rotoscoped animation of a naked dancing woman, confetti, giant balloons, giant hands shooting lasers, and of course Wayne's famous space bubble. The Lips played songs from Embryonic, At War with the Mystics, and Yoshimi battles the pink Robots and even a rendition of "She don't use jelly" from 1993. It was the most fun I've ever had at a show, to date. The Free Press Summer Fest was a total success this year and will only continue to get better. Regardless of who the main headliner is next year, it will be very hard to top The Flaming Lips. It might be impossible.

Hospice comforts listeners and leaves them to die

Hospice, the latest studio album from the Antlers, is unsettling and comforting at the same time. The music is incredibly varied but is grounded mostly in ethereal, dreamy, music which ranges from pleasant and melodic to scary and atonal. It makes sense given the title is Hospice. A hospice is a place where people go to die but be made comfortable as possible while they do so. The music on the album seems to go back and forth between this idea of a place of comfort and care and also the real purpose of the hospice which is basically a waiting room for an impending death. This further visible on the album cover which includes an outstretched hand hovering over another hand clad in a plastic hospital bracelet. The band also plays a lot with dynamics and shifts of mood on Hospice. In the song "Two" the music is undeniably cheerful while songs like "Kettering" it's quiet, gloomy, and foreboding. These sorts of variations always indicate to me, a good band, capable of flexibility and universally relevant musicianship.