Tuesday, February 26, 2013

SHOW REVIEW: Tame Impala, Houston, 2/25

Tame Impala played for a sold-out room at Fitzgerald's last night and certainly met my high expectations. They were psychedelic and professional, at the same time. From what I witnessed, they definitely had any tendencies toward silly excesses or uncomfortable, 10+ minute, meandering, jam breakdowns beaten out of them, by heavy touring and their recent success. I say this because those problems are always a consideration when watching psych bands (new or old), live. Leave the 20 minute drum solos and flaming teeth riffs to people who are already dead. You are not breaking any new ground- thanks. ANYWAY- their playing was tight but breezy, accurately capturing the dreaminess of their music, in-studio.

I only caught a little bit of openers, The Growl, but I liked what I heard. They sounded to me like what Led Zeppelin might have become if, in addition to all the old Delta greats, they had somehow been influenced by modern music, like Jack White or punk rock.The front-man played better harmonica than anyone I've ever seen live (except for maybe Stevie Wonder) and absolutely crushed Son House's "John the Revelator".

Enter Tame Impala. A lot of the material played came off of "Lonerism", which delighted me because it was the album I was familiar with. Being the shallow music snob I am, it took seeing the 9.0 score in Pitchfork (which only happened in October) for me to take them more seriously than I had, in the past. So I was not all that familiar with anything off their first LP.

Luckily, the sound was incredible, last night. Given that we were at Fitzgerald's, I wasn't surprised, but all the levels were such that I could hear everything, from the impressively articulate bass playing to Kevin Parker's angelic, heavily phased vocals. This is key, given that on their albums, Parker's sunny, John Lennon, Brian Wilson-y cantation has just as much to do with how psychedelic the music feels as the space-rock guitars or warm, mock-analog synthesizers. Lighting was also phenomenal.

Some of the music I heard seemed to be piped-in, at least during the less integral parts (like the perpetual drum loop on "Be Above It). However, there were times when it seemed back-tracking or triggered sounds were used when the keyboard player could have probably done it live. And yeah, it did disappoint me just a little bit that that the aforementioned drum loop was not live. Yet, my complaints here aren't directed at any of the musicians' abilities. It was plain to see that they all knew what they were doing up there.

"Be Above It" and "Apocalypse Dreams" were the show's highlights. And even though the somewhat cheesy and ill-fitting hard-rock tune "Elephant" got repetitive really quickly, the bridge of the song, framed by possibly live, possibly back-tracked organ, was one of the nights coolest moments. It was neat to see one of the most dramatic parts of "Lonerism" acted out, in front of me, by some very promising young musicians. Seeing that this show sold out weeks ago, it is very possible that Tame Impala may never play another venue this size, again, for future Houston dates. I'm happy I was there.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Maria Minerva - "Bless" EP

It's a rare treat when a dance artist actually puts out more than one track at a time. The most compelling, club-ready dance music seems to only come out in trickles of singles (or EPs that are, themselves, nothing more than one track and 3 or 4 remixes). But Estonian electronic artist Maria Minerva has bucked that trend, with this EP. It contains 4 original tracks and they are all solidly listenable.

"Black Magick" is easily the EP's standout track. Its forward machine-gun snare and steadily pumping synth line make it obvious dance floor fodder. Minerva's vocals are hypnotic. Ladytron fans (like me) will drool. A dark, magical theme pervades her lyrics as she quips, "you cut me in half and you put me together again".
"Space 4 U" would be just as robust as dance material, if it weren't as down-tempo and experimental. But that being said, it's still a pleasure to listen to. I don't know what she's saying, but it's very sexy, mysterious and maybe even profound. But I can't say for sure because all I can get other than "make a wish, boy" is something about "super trooper". Hopefully not this kind.

"Symbol Of My Pleasure" is pleasantly old-school, with its Liquid Liquid cowbells. Minerva's lyrics are hard to make out as they are shrouded behind a curtain of delay.

"Soul Searchin' "'s chrous of "too much, is never enough", when combined with bongos, is pleasantly reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem, albeit, with her sleepy vocals, it's more like LCD Soundsystem on Quaaludes, after a week of staying awake. Once again, Minerva's vocals are hypnotizing (but they also sound like they're being uttered while under the influence hypnotic trance). The vocals are intercut with a slowed-down rendition George Carlin's now-famous "Modern Man" monologue. 

Entertaining stuff.

Friday, February 15, 2013

LOCAL INTERVIEW: Scott Ayers' musical career lives on in new band, Dead Links

Scott Ayers is, to say the least, an important figure in Houston rock history. In the late 80s and early 90s, Ayers was the driving creative force behind experimental rock act Pain Teens. The band combined the sultry singing of female vocalist Bliss Blood with Ayers' scorching math-rock guitar riffs (and his handmade tape loops). The noisy echoes of Ayers' influence are easy to hear in many contemporary local bands, like Indian Jewelry and Balaclavas.

In November, the band played their first reunion show in years -presumably their first official date since the Pain Teens' 1995 breakup. They headlined the first half of a two-night Axiom reunion extravaganza, joined by the likes of Houston veterans Toto Ehio, Poor Dumb Bastards and The Anarchitex (of which Ayers is also founding member). They followed this performance up with another date in Austin, playing with former Trance Syndicate label-mates, Ed Hall and Crust; and fortunately, there have been a few dates added, since, and it looks like there are more to come.

I met Scott at Antidote, few weeks ago, to discuss his legacy, what he's working on now and what the future holds for the Pain Teens and his other musical endeavors.

Really it was see all The Dead Links shows on Space City Rock that inspired me to interview you and ask you what you've been doing lately. Can you talk about The Dead Links a little?

It's just something that started off with me and this singer. Basically I'm making all these demos, with no vocals. Some of them are rock songs, some of them are ambient, some of them are noise- or whatever. But I met this guy - my ex-wife's roommate - and he had been on a major label a few years back with this band called Twenty Mondays. So I gave him some tracks and he picked the ones he liked and wrote words for some of them.

You've only played about two shows so far, according to Space City Rock. Where do you see it going?

I don't know exactly where it's going to go. We've been wanting to put this album out and it's really..refined. It's different than what I've done before. There's singing and harmonies and it's something that sounds kind of like Pink Floyd or something.

That's good because last time you guys played, at the Axiom reunion show, I feel like not enough people knew about it. A lot of people I spoke to said they had no idea. Do you see yourselves doing more reunion shows or is this more of a one off thing that just happened a second time?

Well, I would like to do a few shows a year, if people can come through with the money.

Yeah, because Bliss lives in another part of the country now.

Yeah, she has to fly in from New York and that's an extra 500 bucks.

What is it about Houston that makes it a fertile place for bands like Balaclavas and Indian Jewlery and Pain Teens with all the darkness. And Pain Teens wasn't all doom and gloom but there was definitely that dark depth to it. Do you think it's something about the city?

For us, it was more of a rebellion against any kind of sing-songy pop. And then later we were doing some self-parody and stuff but yeah, it was a rebellion against the “alternative” band where everything was all singer/songwriter. We were very independent-minded.

You did some pretty progressive stuff during Pain Teens, as far as tape manipulation and loops, without, I would imagine, a lot of computers or digital equipment. Was that a lot of work to get it to sound that way -compared to what it would be like now?

Yeah maybe, but tape is kind of forgiving in a way. We definitely didn't do anything according to any rules. Stuff would get recorded badly, like really badly but we'd make it work.

Some of the tape stuff you did kind of reminded me of that guy from Mission of Burma, you know, Marvin Swope, with the tape effects. They came to Fitzgerald's a few months ago and they were good but that guy wasn't there and that was a little disappointing.

Yeah, I mean I would even tape sections of tape together to create a loop. The part where they met you can hear it slip.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vicky Cryer - "The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering"

Jason Hill's Louis XIV is a band that never got a fair shake. Some of the material was immature and AMateurish, but there was definitely some sex-drenched rock genius sprinkled into the band's first three records. And, again, sure, they sold some albums and got a little bit of attention but mostly, they were under-appreciated. Pitchfork gave their debut full-length (2005's "The Best Little Secrets Are Kept") a 1.2. As far as online music journalism goes, this is not only really really bad - it's fucking LEGENDARY. While Pitchfork is notoriously rough, as far as ratings go, they normally relegate stuff they don't like to 3s and 4s. And even 3s are mercifully rare. If you score a 5 or higher, chances are, your music is probably commercially viable and at least fairly creative. 

Anyway- even though I've always had a knack for the idea of Louis XIV and what they could potentially realize musically, they sort of faded off into the background after 2007's underrated and under-reviewed "The Distances from Everyone to You" EP. 

Vicky Cryer is the more-sophisticated, more grown-up vehicle that I've been looking for, to enjoy Jason Hill's raunchy artistry. The backdrop for Vicky Cryer is funkier and more soulful than anything that the constituent members have tried before. The lineup includes members from The Killers, Muse, The Mars Volta and even some sax playing from the New York Dolls' David Johansen. None of these bands scream funk but when they get together, it sounds like Roxy Music meets Rare Earth meets Beck. The funkiness is funky (as in weird, that is), but the collaborators still have all the necessarily skills to lay down some unbelievable grooves. 

The first song ("Smut") hits like a shotgun blast to the chest. A distorted, pitch-shifted guitar hook starts off the track, accompanied by nothing else, and by the time it has the chance to repeat, it's joined by an abrupt explosion of thundering bass and mechanical percussion which sounds more like a rhythmic slamming of car doors than any drum kit. Not even a minute into the record, Hill starts with his hallmark sexual innuendo, "Baby, you're like a ten-speed. Because, baby you were born to ride." The funky, molasses-slow, rhythm section allows suggestive Hill's vocals to hang in the air.

"Girls" will inevitably be re-mixed by every dance artist and DJ who can get their hands on it. Aside from two short bridges, the song is basically a perpetual chorus of "girls just want to make the boys cry". But the disco rhythm section spins these simple words into pure gold, and a worthy dance-floor anthem nobody ever saw crass rocker Jason Hill being involved with. This song is already bouncing around on Youtube. We get more disco genius on track "Krokodil Tears".

Fancy Animal records plans to release the album in April

Monday, February 4, 2013

BEST NEW/OLD MUSIC Mozart's Sister - "Dear Fear" EP

  Let's face it, EPs tend to be leftovers. Either that, or they're made up of one or two good songs packaged with 3-4 not-so-good songs to give the illusion of a uniform effort, even when the artist knows otherwise. Yet, there are those rare EPs with momentum better than some full lengths, and Canadian project Mozart's Sister has succeeded in producing something of this caliber.

The opening track, "Mozart's Sister", has a magnetic, dance-floor pull to it that sets the pace for the whole EP. The track opens with a chorus of Dirty Projector-like oohs and ahhs, and with a sudden pop, launches into a very simple but satisfying synth melody. Lyrics seem like they're about Maria Ann Mozart, Wolfgang's talented but far less recognized older sibling. Hannant laments how she's been pushed aside but does so to some exceedingly sunny-sounding music - and it works.

Hannant waxes soulful in "Don't Leave It To Me" which bares a pleasant resemblance to the music of Swedish electro-pop group Little Dragon. This track is a little more elaborate, as far as layers and instrumentation go. It's probably the best standalone track. Hannant shows off incredible vocal talent and masterful vibrato while belting out "Can I get on ya? can I get on yaAHH", during the chorus.

"Single Status", the EP's shortest song, starts out sounding very much like a dance track but then takes a turn for the emotional. Its twinkling synths sound like they belong on Passion Pit's debut EP, "Chunk of Change".

The airy, tropical guitar (think Vampire Weekend/Fool's Gold) on "Contentedness" will surprise listeners who have been treated, so far, to a mostly electronic performance. Hannant greets listeners during the chorus with a deep, sultry, tomboy "Hey- Hey man", throwing off her singing voice for just a moment, to add a sexy, personal touch. The song also contains some of the EP's best lyrics: "Contentedness, you can come on in but I wouldn't take my shoes off."