Friday, March 30, 2012

Miike Snow - Happy to You

Happy to You is certainly a more upbeat release than their debut. The self-titled first release took the traditionally cheery sounds of electro-pop and injected it with some very sombre themes. Even the less than happy sounding "God Help this Divorce" has more pep and optimism than most songs off the debut.

"Pretender" stands out as a potential dance-floor hit with trance organ stabs and very complimentary oohs and ahhs. This variety of mood will only add more replay value to each album respectively.

"Archipelago" counters this by turning down the electronics slightly and allowing Ezra Koenig/Peter, Bjorn, and John vocals to ring out making them the centerpiece.

Highly enjoyable.

Houston, please don't paint your teeth

As Ramon so kindly reminded you all in this week's preview, Big Star Bar will be visited by a representative from Corwood Industries this Sunday afternoon. I am speaking of none other than the least accessible musician in all of Houston music history, the arcane, abstruse, artist himself: Jandek.

I felt compelled to write this little piece because I've run into an unbelievable amount of people my own age who have no idea who Jandek is. This includes people who are into way weirder music than I am, like power noise and pedal noise stuff. Stuff you couldn't pay me to pretend to care about.

There was a time when this would have been a bigger deal, more specifically before his 2004 Glasgow gig, which Ramon also touched on. Before this small, unheralded, show there is essentially no record of the man playing live despite the fact that his career started in 78 and he had, by 2004, released over thirty albums. It wasn't until 2009 that Jandek played his hometown of Houston for the first time at Rudyards. Just a few months ago he played the Menil as well.

However, some of the best live music Jandek has played for Houston so far was not on any stage or at any festival. Last year, he was kind enough to play a fully original two song acoustic set broadcast live over KTRU shortly before the station's FM signal went dead. The songs had a chilling, eldritch, delivery but also one of great emotional depth and pathos. Jandek was a perfect last live performance to honor the innovation and eclecticism that KTRU has shown Houston over the past few decades.

Besides his highly unconventional contributions to music, Jandek himself is an interesting subject for investigation. Most of what we know about him is founded upon rumors and hearsay (and Wikipedia). According to an entry in Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music, "He'd written seven novels, but after they'd been rejected by New York publishers, he'd burned all the manuscripts."

Odd, impossible to confirm anecdotes like these are typically all we can learn about Jandek because of his curious unwillingness to talk about his personal life at any meaningful length. Even during the rare occasions Jandek has made himself accessible to the press he remains impossibly distant and vague; not hostile by any means but distant for sure. This clip from the documentary "Jandek on Corwood" shows Jandek's characteristic evasiveness. It's almost comical. When asked about where he met a particular group of session musicians he responds with what feels like the longest pause in all of human history. The camera pans, the interviewer fidgets, some b-roll is shown, and then Jandek finally replies that it wouldn't be right to say. Under the Youtube video, commenters swear that the man on the other end of the line couldn't possibly be Jandek. They say he put someone up to it. One even says he met Jandek and that he sounds nothing like this. Every time someone tries to answer more questions about the man, the plot always seems to thicken.

If you're looking to actually purchase his music, it gets even more mysterious. One cannot simply drive over to Cactus and load up on Jandek. No. That would be too easy. The only way to have access to his full catalog is by mail. There isn't even an order form, just an address and a list of very reasonably priced albums and DVDs.

Whether this anonymity is merely an artistic choice or a real distaste for public life I can't say, but either way I've decided to not detract from it by omitting what consensus says is his real name. It's out there, you can find it but I'll leave that to you. If it's important to him, I won't bother him with more exposure of that kind.

Regardless of what you think of Jandek's work, he's an important part of Houston's rich musical heritage and Sunday's event should prove interesting to anyone with a taste for outsider music. The performance will be an early one at 4 p.m. so don't plan on showing up late. Eclectic Houston, multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Wesley will be involved somehow but the details are hazy. Expect great things.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Show Review: The Jesus and Mary Chain at House of Blues

Ever since Monday I’ve been holding my breath after finding out that the Scottish noise gods cancelled their date at Denton 35. I was having unpleasant flashbacks of post-punk disappointment last summer when Killing Joke killed their plans for a US tour which included a spot at Summer Fest’s Budweiser stage.

The show started a little late because the band was having power issues with their UK based gear. One of the staff told me that they ran to Rockin Robin’s to get some help. Doors opened a little late but no matter, I was first in line. The opener was a band from LA that I didn’t enjoy all that much. The vocalist had a very nasally voice and the music was a cloying power-pop but the front man was so chipper and friendly that it was hard not to root for him.

Jim Reid was far less hairy but no of less bad ass. The between song banter was friendly but the man kept a stiff upper lip during the whole performance, never looking he needed to be there. Will Reid definitely had a few extra pounds and some wrinkles but his guitar didn’t seem to notice this. His setup allowed him to faithfully produce the jagged, brittle, clangs of his past work.

The highlight of the show for me was a dark snarling rendition of Reverence. William was allowed to fully break out here, filling the room with warbling feedback and white noise. Here is an incomplete set list, in no particular order:

-Head On
-April Skies
-Happy when it rains
-Cracking Up
-Just like Honey
-Some Candy talking
-Teenage Lust
-Never Understand

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fun. - Some Nights

I bet some people my age (22) remember a little band called The Format. In the 2000s, The Format played standard, radio-friendly, emo fare, not sentimental enough to be as embarrassing as most commercially successful emo acts but not that much better. Either way, not my cup of tea. Fun. (which I will for the rest of this review refer to without the period) takes the naive emo charm of Nate Ruess' vocals and strips them away from the crapola soft-rock accompaniment of The Format. In its place, the new band provides intricate baroque-pop melodies, lush synths and strings.

It's still not "cool", don't get me wrong, but the album is enough to qualify for a guilty little pleasure. Ruess has dropped some of his unfortunate emo tropes (he has become a little less nasally) and reinvented himself in role that resists type-casting. It even sounds kind of grown-up at times, like the triumphant "One Foot" which for some reason reminds of Paul Simon's Graceland era (there's a comment section below if you want to tell me I'm nuts, I won't cry, I promise). Other songs to look out for are "We are Young" and the surprisingly beautiful, six-minute, "Stars".

Ruess will probably always sound pretty effeminate when he sings, which will always hold him back in my book, but I have to hand it to him for producing something I don't completely hate. I wasn't expecting that. I hope that sounds more like a compliment than I think it probably will. Really, I'm serious.

They'll be at Warehouse Live on the 20th. If I do go I'll be wearing a paper bag over my head but most likely I'll just continue to enjoy them with my headphones ON in the privacy of my apartment.