22 May 2007

Animal Collective in Denver, May 21

The hipsters were out last night in Five Points here in Denver. The freak-folk group Animal Collective played at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom, which really was a spectacle to behold. The theatre itself is located in a recovering neighborhood and was a great venue for such an eclectic show. As we walked around before the show, I could see the old Denver, the place that Jack Kerouac roamed. We passed old barber shops and family stores that were flanked by new lofts and light-rail tracks. Cervantes has lots of seating around the dance floor which was helpful because the show was more of something to see rather than listen.

Sir Richard Bishop (he’s a knight of the Spanish guitar, apparently) opened with an angst-ridden showing of classical guitar and folk songs. Bishop is very skilled at classical guitar, but his lyrics were more the ravings of a crotchety old man that actual songs. He sang about lynching a preacher and various other anti-Christian themes, for which the crowd really seemed indifferent. He finished with a fifteen minute instrumental piece that raged in a flamenco dialect. Bishop was entertaining, but his virtuosity with a guitar was not enough to merit his lengthy set.

Animal Collective’s frenetic sound demands a live show. Their equipment crowded the stage- not a guitar in sight. They opened with ‘Purple Bottle’ and transitioned into ‘Grass’ and I really couldn’t take it all in at once. Animal Collective’s music is complex and layered, it was very interesting to watch them assume the stage and jump into their entrancing performance. The frantic vocals of Portner and Lennox (aka Avey Tare and Panda Bear, respectively) hounded the theatre in waves of reverb and rang true to the group’s name. All of the performers stuck to their stations throughout the performance, which was appropriate considering how small the stage was. They played new material from their upcoming album, but I really couldn’t tell the difference between it and their old work. Animal Collective has released seven albums since their conception in 2000. Animal Collective has pretty decent music, but their act is truly a sight to behold.

Their next album, Strawberry Jam, will be out in September 2007.

20 May 2007

Top Albums of 2006 version 2.0, by Jack X

First of all: Yes, I know that "Best Of..." lists are supposed to be completed in December or early January, which I did. I decided, however, that a 2.0 version was needed, since I have had much more time to get into all the albums since 2006 ended. Here is my 1.o list, from January.
Top Albums of 2006 v 1.0
  1. Ben Kweller- Ben Kweller
  2. Bright Eyes- Noise Floor
  3. Band of Horses- Everything All The Time
  4. The Decemberists- The Crane Wife
  5. Regina Spektor- Begin To Hope
  6. Tapes 'n Tapes- The Loon
  7. Sufjan Stevens- The Avalanche
  8. Grizzly Bear- Yellow House
  9. Islands- Return To The Sea
  10. The Arctic Monkeys- Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
  11. Annuals- Be He Me
  12. Camera Obscura- Let's Get Out Of This Country
  13. Belle and Sebastian- The Life Pursuit
  14. Muse- Black Holes And Revelations
  15. Guster- Ganging Up On The Sun
  16. The Strokes- First Impressions Of Earth
  17. Jenny Lewis- Rabbit Fur Coat
  18. Isobell Campbell & Mark Lannegan- Ballad Of The Broken Seas
  19. Cat Power- The Greatest
  20. Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
  21. Bonnie "Prince" Billie- The Letting Go
  22. Beirut- Gulag Orkestar
Other things from the 1.0 list
Best New Artist:
Band of Horses
Runners Up:
Tapes 'n Tapes

Best Compilation:
Bright Eyes- Noise Floor- Rarities 1998-2005

Best Outtakes Album:
Sufjan Stevens- The Avalanche
Runner Up:
Elliott Smith- The Basement on a Hill Sessions

Best Albums that I already had, but got really into in 2006:
Sufjan Stevens- Seven Swans
Antony and the Johnsons- I Am A Bird Now
Best Song of 2006:
Ben Kweller- Thirteen

After re-reading this list, I realized how foolish it is to make a list that close to some of the albums' releases. I decided to redo it with a little more thought and perspective. Some of the albums listed above I listened to a lot then, but not now, some of them don't stand the test of a year's time, and to some extent, my musical tastes have changed quite a bit. So here is a new "Best of 2006" list

Best Albums of 2006 v 2.0

1. Ben Kweller-Ben Kweller
First of all, I'm really surprised this wasn't on any top 10 lists last year. I remember reading an interview with BK before Ben Kweller came out where he said (and here I'm paraphrasing): "No disrespect to my back catalog, but these are the best songs I've ever written." I was somewhat suspicious, because I couldn't imagine him topping "Lizzy," "On My Way," "Family Tree" and a slew of others that are among my all time favorite songs. I thought this was just a way to say he was excited about the new album. Little did I realize that it was I who was wrong. Touché, Ben, touché. This album far surpassed my wildest expectations. There isn't one song on the album I don't like, and the album includes masterpieces like "Thirteen," "Sundress," and "Until I Die." I would urge anyone who loves music to purchase this album. Incidentally, the album is called Ben Kweller because every note and sound you hear is played by the man himself.

2. The Decemberists- The Crane Wife
I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical that the Decemberists could maintain their phenomenal streak of excellent albums on their fourth long player. After all, they had jumped major, and major label dollars mean they expect major sales, meaning major meddling, right? I was slightly worried because of the last band that had also an album in my top 5 ever (Death Cab for Cutie with Transatlanticism) had gone to a major label and produced a pretty good, though not great album. Then they started getting some major label-funded airplay, the annoying teens took hold of them, and all of a sudden, their concerts were full of super annoying emo kids. This didn't happen luckily. The Decemberists are too weird and literarily savvy to attract a whole lot of radio play, and what shallow fourteen year old girl wants to listen to songs of sailors, Japanese folk tales, and excellent antiwar commentary? All said, this album was excellent, not better than Picaresque, but great in its own right.

3. Jacob Borshard- The Last Brontosaurus
Jacob Borshard is criminally overlooked. We have tried promoting him in the past, but simply put, Jacob Borshard is making the best bedroom pop in this or any other country these days. Period. The Last Brontosaurus is phenomenally simple; just our man Jacob and his four-string (ukelele), but has that quality that I would call devastatingly simple. His lyrics, from the hilarious opener "Brains, Brains" (Brains, brains, you can't kill a zombie with a wooden stake), to the standout "Grass Stains" (I've got a kiss here, with your name on it. And I've been thinking all day about this dream I had, where I never lost you, but the only mermaid that's flesh and blood is a bad tattoo), to the excellent "Ernest Hemingway" (I’m waiting, and waiting, you’re fading away. I still see, you at work, shelving books by Ernest Hemingway. And the girls round here just aren’t the ones for me, the last girl I was with was from Albuquerque. I got grass stains when she kissed me, but I know that she won’t miss me, the girls round here just aren’t the ones for me) are phenomenally poetic, and he can write a song about nearly anything. If you haven't heard of him by now, and you like twee pop or bedroom pop or anorak pop or any of the other numerous names for it, download his albums at his website. There's nothing to lose, they are both available for free.

4. Regina Spektor- Begin To Hope
A standout breakthrough album for the Russian born Brooklynite. I'm sure you already know about her, but if not check out "On The Radio," "Samson," and the contender for best video of 2006, "Fidelity." Also, she puts on some excellent concerts.

5. Joanna Newsom- Ys
This is an artist, and album, that you shouldn't expect to get into easily. The five songs here total over 55 minutes and prominently feature the lovely Ms. Newsom's harp, her quavering, childlike voice (which I typically describe as "about as easy to appreciate as early Conor Oberst, Jeff Mangum, and Colin Meloy singing three part harmony"), and the kind of songwriting where "thees" and "thous" are not at all out of place. That said, if you do get past those barriers, they become endearing qualities that only enhance this gorgeously layered, multi faceted album.

6. Beirut- Gulag Orkestar
Phenomenal debut from the (then) 20 year old Santa Fe native Zach Condon. Balkan-folk-pop in the vein of A Hawk and a Hacksaw (aka Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes, who helped on this album) or Devotchka.

7. Islands- Return To The Sea
Ex-Unicorns Nick Diamonds (Nicholas Thorburn) and J'aime Tambeur (Jamie Thompson) return with a perfectly catchy summer album. Try "Jogging Gorgeous Summer" or "Swans (Life After Death)."

8. Sufjan Stevens- The Avalanche
An outtakes album with as many strong songs as the original (2005's excellent Illinois). Standouts include "The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself)," "The Avalanche" and contender for best song name of the year "Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in his Hair," as well as three new versions of "Chicago."

9. Grizzly Bear- Yellow House
Great sophomore album for Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear. Try "On a Neck, On a Spit," "Lullabye," and "Colorado."

10. Band of Horses- Everything All The Time
Carissa's Wierd (sic) alumni Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke return with Best New Band (of Horses). Try one of the best songs of the year "The Funeral," "The Great Salt Lake," or "Saint Augustine."

11. Annuals- Be He Me
Phenomenal debut from a young (average age was 19 at time of release) Chapel Hill band that aptly draws comparisons to the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. "Brother" and "Dry Clothes" are your best bets.

12. Final Fantasy- He Poos Clouds
Owen Pallet, the string arranger for the Arcade Fire, won the Polaris Music Prize for Canada's best album. It was well deserved. "This Lamb Sells Condos," and "I'm Afraid of Japan" are both excellent.

13. Belle and Sebastian- The Life Pursuit
Scottish twee pop band's seventh LP delivers in an incredibly fun and catchy package. "The Blues are Still Blue" and "Sukie in the Graveyard" are worth a listen.

14. Camera Obscura- Let's Get Out Of This Country
A different Scottish twee pop band delivers a similarly great third LP. Check out the title track and the perfect pop gem "Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken."

15. Jenny Lewis- Rabbit Furcoat
Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis enlists the help of gospel singers the Watson Twins to make her triumphant solo debut. The best tracks are the Traveling Wilburys cover "Handle With Care" and country tinged pop ballad "Rise Up With Fists."

Albums Ruled By Me To Be Ineligible
Bright Eyes- Noise Floor (I already had most of these songs and they weren't new)
Tapes 'n Tapes- The Loon (The album was apparently released in 2005)

11 May 2007

The Interview

Sebastien of the (chronically) awesome Chronically Sick, But Still Thinking I Think was kind enough to send me these great interview questions. I tried to answer them, and the aftermath follows the period at the end of this sentence.

1. How do you come up with ideas for your artwork? or is it spontaneous? or hard to explain?

Well, I think my ideas come from things I see. Any creativity in my drawings is the result of some horrendous mistake that I tried to clean up. For example: I’ll start drawing a guy in a suit and then not really want to draw his face, so I’ll put a gigantic beard that turns into a flowery bush thing instead of a face (I’m going to put that image up sometime soon hopefully). That technique works really well with all sorts of images. If I have a line that doesn’t look right, I’ll just turn it into some sort of plant. The only exception is when I draw birds, because I love birds so much I can’t mess with them. When I draw, things that I have been thinking about always work their way onto the page. It’s very therapeutic. So I would say above anything, my work is spontaneous.

2. You are supposed to run zigzags if a crocodile is chasing you. Do you think that's true? If not, what's your method for escaping a crocodile that's chasing you?

I saw an episode of Mythbusters about that, and I think they busted the myth that you’re supposed to run in zigzags. I know if I were running in a zigzag pattern, I would more likely fall down than successfully run away. At least is seems that way. But crocodiles really don’t seem that smart (I’m probably wrong about that though), so I would just act like a tree or something. I’m tall and skinny, so I think I could pull that off. If the crocodile didn’t fall for my tree act, I would try to make noises like a poacher (I hear they grunt a lot) and talk about how I wanted some new Sunday shoes.

3. Who are some artists that inspire you? Why?

There are so many artists who inspire me, too many to name them all. I took an art class in high school for which we had to basically write about an artist every day for two years, so I went through a whole slew of great artists. I started with one of my childhood favorites, William Heath Robinson who was an illustrator (he worked from WW1 to WW2). From him I moved onto Norman Rockwell onto American printmakers. Then I found the book “Stencil Graffiti” by Tristan Manco at the same time I found Wooster Collective. Of the many street artists that I found who still inspire me, a few of them are: Arofish, 108, Akay, Swoon, Blek, Borf, Tano, Dave Kinsey, Sam Flores, Evol, Pisa73, and Revs. Street art got me into silkscreen, seeing as I really don’t have the passion to go around doing real graffiti. A lot of my work now is influenced by graphic designers like Ben Cronin. I love simplicity, so many of the artists I admire have that quality to their work (like Rolf).

4. What celebrity do you find most attractive? Why?

Sufjan Stevens. Hands down. I mean, I have a great girlfriend but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s such a cutie. He can wear a set of butterfly wings while still maintaining his rugged good looks. If that doesn’t declare his attractiveness, something with the world is dreadfully wrong (but that leads me to your next question).

5. Do you think there is a duckbill platypus conspiracy to take over the world? Or is it just an elaborate hoax?

I only hear bits and pieces, but I think one is the mayor of Sarajevo. If you don’t know much about history: Sarajevo is the place where stuff went down, which resulted in World War One. If those platypuses control the powder keg of Europe, I don’t know what we should do. We could go wage war in Bosnia, but that’s kinda cliché. Even if we did try to stop platypuses, did you know the males have giant poisonous barbs on their underbellies? I don’t even want to mess with that.

If you would like to be an interviewee:

* Leave a comment at my blog saying, “Interview me.” Include your blog URL.

* I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.

* You will update your weblog with the answers to the questions.

* You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

* When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

09 May 2007

Oh the Urbanity!

It's starting to feel like the future. Sometime this year, 50% of humans will be living in an urban environment. This brings up the following questions:
  • How can I rent out space for maximum profit? (This guy has the right idea.)
  • Can John Deere survive in a non-rural economy? I propose a combo sitting mower/taxi. It would of course come with one of those beaded seat covers.
  • Will cities finally become as big and cool as they are in comic books? On the same note, when will we start seeing real super heroes? This is the future, and genetic mutations should be good for something other than cancer.
  • Will The Illinois ever be built? I think it would do well in Dubai.
  • What will happen to screen doors?
  • Are people still going to have Southern accents?
  • What is the fifth element?
  • When are they going to find midichloreans? We need to build the academy soon before there is no room left for the archives.
  • Where is my flux capacitor? Seriously guys, I can't find it anywhere.
  • Will Wile E. ever catch the roadrunner before they build the new bypass and subdivision?
  • What happens in the meadow at dusk?
(Piece above was done by the amazing graffiti artist, Evol.)

A playlist for our modern lives:
1. See You at the Lights - 1990s
2. Transistor Radio - The Helio Sequence
3. Gravity's Rainbow - Klaxons
4. Someone Great - LCD Soundsystem
5. Wake Me When It's Over - Longwave
6. Maple Leaves - Jens Lekman
7. When I Go Deaf - Low
8. Moonchild - M83
9. Void - The Mary Onettes
10. Some Kind of Sad - Ringo Deathstarr
11. Jsem Absolutní Vůle - Plastic People of the Universe

12. Gravity's Rainbow (Van She Remix) - Van She/Klaxons

13. Kelly - Van She
14. Where Do the Children Play? - Cat Stevens

07 May 2007

ReSpekt, Or, Last Friday night

Friday night was one for the books (not the sound-rock duo, but actual books). Jack, Taylor, Ben and I all drove down to Denver for the Regina Spektor concert at the Paramount and then went to 'Spiderman 3' (Jack liked it, I really couldn't stand it). Jack and I dressed up for the occasion seeing as we were at a more upscale venue, or at least a place where nobody smoked during the concert. The stage was simple, with just Regina's piano, electric guitar, and also Only Son's acoustic guitar. The only accent to the whole show was a simple color lighting scheme, which was very appropriate. Playing before Ms. Spektor was Jack Dishel, who goes by the stage moniker of Only Son. He played about seven songs for his set, during all of which he sang and played his acoustic guitar. Most of the audience had come to see Regina, so everyone around us talked for at least his first three songs. After his opening song (I wish I could find a setlist), Jack and I both remarked that he would sound much better with a band. Before the next song, he whipped out his iPod and announced, “Seeing as how I don't have a band, I will be playing accompanied by my iPod. On the East coast, Only Son normally plays with a full band, but on tour due to extreme financial difficulties, Only Son tours with an iPod. If you don't like it, go blog about it.” (That part spoke to me, I looked over to Jack and said “I think I will.”) I really didn't mind the fact that he wasn't with his band, although I would really like to see Only Son in full. Dishel's voice is great, and I like to compare it to that of Ben Gibbard. Also similar to the work of Gibbard (technically, similar to the work of Jimmy Tamborello) was that Only Son used long droning background bass notes very much reminiscent to those of The Postal Service. His lyrics were personal and occasionally humorous, he definitely has the potential to become more popular. Assuming there is one, Only Son's next album looks to be pretty enjoyable.

When Regina Spektor walked out onto the stage, the audience around us erupted in hoots and cheers. She opened singing 'I Want to Sing', which is an a capella song: her voice was amazing. It was the perfect way for her to start. Without question her greatest asset as an artist is her powerful voice, which completely showed through during the whole of her performance. You would not be able to guess that that she has such a powerful voice given her shyness in interviews and while she talks, but when she sang her voice rang out and captivated the audience. After she finished 'I Want to Sing', Regina took her place on the piano and played 'Poor Little Rich Boy' which really showcased her raw talent. During that song she had to simultaneously keep beat on a wooden chair with one arm and play the piano with the other, a task that was unthinkable to me. She played a collection of other songs, the majority of which were from her recent album 'Begin to Hope'. Since we didn't know all of the songs, I'll just go over the highlights. She played a new song (I don't know its name) about how she took a statue of baby Jesus and kept it in her closet fearing what it would do if it grew up and had to feed it too, the song was pretty humorous and I think it will be on her next album. The only part of the show that I didn't understand was that for 'On the Radio', she pronounced the word 'radio' very differently from the way it is on the album. Oh well. She played 'That Time' on her guitar, which was superb. She has such skill that she can just walk around the stage and really play any instrument she wants. Since Ms. Spektor performed on her own rather than with the accompaniment on 'Begin to Hope', her most popular song 'Fidelity' was done with just her voice and the piano. I really liked how she performed it, but I think 'Fidelity' sounds best with strings. 'Summer in the City' was really entertaining and made everyone laugh. Up until that point I didn't feel too connected with the whole show, but her humor drew me in. Her performance of 'Apres Moi' was my favorite of the main part of the show. The skill with which she plays the piano really shows through, and for the song the stage lights were red. The whole effect was very dramatic. She followed that with 'The Ghost of Corporate Future' as her last song before the encore, which was probably her best performance for the night: the song isn't my favorite but the emotion with which she played it was wonderful.

For the encore she sang 'Hotel Song' with Only Son doing beatbox, which was really fun. Performances like that are why concerts are great. We were worried the she wasn't going to play 'Samson' which I think is her best song, but of course it was the one she ended on. The whole concert was very fun and seemed personal, although we were almost at the back of the theatre. I think Jack said it best: “I think I would compare Regina Spektor to Norah Jones in the same way that I would compare Ben Folds to Coldplay. They both are too personal with their lyrics to become popular adult-contemporary acts. They just put too much of themselves into their work for that.”

Sketched back to the 70's

I'm getting into Typography again, it seems like summer always does that to me. It may be time to create a font or two. In the meantime, I'll try to post a review of the Regina Spektor concert, because it was pretty great.

02 May 2007