By Vaughn Schoonmaker
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Underneath a starry sky on a warm summer night in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Animal Collective took the stage for a nearly two hour set that left some fans highly satisfied with an outpouring of new material. While I found the setting and weather to be the perfect accompaniment for an Animal Collective concert, whose new wave, electronica, dreamy and arguably pop sound has garnered them a sizable following in the U.S., I could not stop wondering why I was having such a hard time getting into the mood of the show.
Considering it was seven songs before they played a recognizable crowd-pleaser, "Brother Sport," from their hit album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, I realized that I was not the only one having a difficult time adjusting to their new material.
"What is this song?" I heard mumbled from several fans in their late teens/early 20s. "When are they going to play [insert any one of their earlier song titles here]?"
Artists must go through a very complex stage of tour preparation when designing their set list. A careful line must be drawn that establishes how much of the older content can be played without overshadowing the material. In Brooklyn tonight, it seemed that they chose a route that shifted full gear into exclusively new material. Read More...
One of the great quests in rock music has been to try to bring together traditional guitar-drum-bass rock sounds with dance music. Some of the biggest bands in the world have made the attempt (most notably U2, who boldly attempted to bridge the gap between rock and electronica with Zooropa and Pop in the 1990s), but most have failed. At the end of the day, groups with rock elements are written off as dance artists (Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem) and rockers who dabble in dance are dismissed as overreaching.
Still, that doesn't stop bands from trying, and lately a handful of groups have managed to score points with bold experiments. Bloc Party manage to both rock hard and be groove-friendly, and the Big Pink are currently splitting the difference between English pub rock, shoegaze and techno. The XX (who hail from London and went to the same school as the aforementioned Hot Chip) are a group who manage to combine jagged post-punk with genuinely groovy post-modern dance styles. But rather than try to be more rugged than the next group of students, the XX tend to err on the side of indie pop (check out the ethereal melodies of "VCR" and "Heart Skips a Beat" for proof). The group recently shifted from a quartet to a trio, as keyboardist Baria Qureshi left the band, citing exhaustion. But the other three members left — Jamie Smith, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim — are soldiering on, having toured with fellow buzzworthy acts Florence and the Machine and the Big Pink.
The XX are currently on tour in the United States with Friendly Fires, and while the live show is worth checking out, the real experience is in the dense, lovely production of the album.
Maybe it's the volatile nature of the beast, but it always seems like it's extremely difficult to keep a good hardcore band together. With all that raw emotion coming out of the singer's throat and the inevitable misplaced flailing limb, it's no wonder that many of the most intense groups break up just as they're getting good (this is called the Hüsker Dü effect). So it was not especially surprising when truly stunning outfit Some Girls called it quits in 2007, right after releasing the stunning Heaven's Pregnant Teens. It's possible that frontman Wesley Eisold has mellowed a bit, but it's more likely that he's simply more curious about machines now, hence his new project Cold Cave.
It's best to think of the Philadelphia-based Cold Cave as the New Order to Some Girls' Joy Division, a synth-heavy, dance-friendly version of a caustic, abrasive experiment. The band's just-released debut album, Love Comes Close, takes the low-fi machinations of Some Girls and runs them through a bevy of turn-of-the-century electronics for a sound that is fuzzy and tough without sacrificing sweetness. Cold Cave's secret weapon is Caralee McElroy, the former member of Xiu Xiu who adds a heaping spoonful of ethereal sweetness, especially on the distorted gem "Life Magazine."
Eisold thinks of himself as a poet as well as a musician (he even has his own publishing company called Heartworm Press), but it'll take a lyric sheet to tell if there is any profundity buried beneath the scuzz of Cold Cave's album. Regardless, it's an incredible evolution for Eisold, as he appears to have gone from caustic savage to psych-pop mastermind in only a few years. Perhaps more hardcore bands should break up after all.
Yesterday saw the release of a handful of high-profile new albums from Tokio Hotel, Backstreet Boys, Toby Keith and Kiss, but a glance at the iTunes album sales chart revealed something interesting. Among the still-strong sales of Paramore's Brand New Eyes and Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 sits Anywhere But Here, the second album from Tallahassee, Florida's Mayday Parade. The group has been on the road constantly in the lead-up to the release of the album (they're currently on tour with the Academy Is...), and it appears as though their grassroots approach has paid off.
"It's been a really long time for this album," singer Derek Sanders told MTV News on the phone from Salt Lake City, Utah. "We started thinking about it after Warped Tour last year, and haven't really stopped since."
Anywhere But Here represents a transition for the band, as it represents the first release after the departure of former singer Jason Lancaster. But despite the drama, they managed to maintain their focus — especially when producing the video for the album's first single, "The Silence." "It was shot in San Diego," Sanders explained. It was brutally hot and we were wearing jackets. The scene where we're inside the hot air balloon was just so insanely hot, but it was worth it because it was such a fun time."
Sanders cites the video for "The Silence" as his favorite of all of the band's clips, and may even have a future as a director himself. "I have an idea that would be amazing, but it has nothing to do with any of our songs. The band would be chased by hordes of zombies, and one by one we'd all be picked off. At the end, I'd be the last one alive, and all the band members would corner me and turn me into a zombie, and then we'd play a show as zombies to a zombie crowd. I think that'd be the best video ever." And yes, Sanders has seen (and enjoyed) "Zombieland."
You may not know who Mayday Parade are right now, but by next week when the Billboard charts hit, everybody will certainly find out.
Every once in a while, a song will just stop you in your tracks the very first time you hear it. For me, those kinds of tunes have ranged from the Stone Roses' "Fools Gold" to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."
There's something just so undeniable about the propulsion of those songs, the synapse-firing beats, the instant-classic nature of how they sound. They do what any great song does, which is make you feel like you already know it even if it's the first time you're hearing it.
I got a jolt of that recently when I heard a song called "Dominos" by the UK duo the Big Pink on XM Radio. I stopped what I was doing as soon as I heard the big, fat cascading Led Zeppelin-meets-Madchester drum wallop, the hypnotic chorus ("These girls fall like dominos! Dominos!") and watched the elegant, dark performance video that brings to mind some lost 1980s new wave classic, complete with slow motion exploding ice sculptures.
The trio, fronted by Robbie Furze (who used to play guitar with digital hardcore icon Alec Empire) and Milo Cordell (who runs indie label Merok Records, home to Klaxons and Crystal Castles) excel at the kind of gauzy English drone rock that was pioneered a generation ago by the Jesus and Mary Chain and a legion of mop topped shoegazer bands. If you don't believe me, listen to the slow motion jet engine roar of "Crystal Visions," the opening track from the band's just released debut album, A Brief History Of Love, which England's NME described as "f--- off massive."
What is it about Scotland that allows it to produce such an impressive multitude of indie rock bands? The tiny U.K. nation has provided the world with seminal contributions like Belle & Sebastian, Idlewild, Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, Primal Scream, Travis and the Jesus & Mary Chain. Is it the majestic countryside? The phenomenal whiskey? The kilts? Whatever the reason, each of those bands have pushed the boundaries of guitar-based music with a knack for darkness and melody.
We Were Promised Jetpacks, an excellently-named quartet from Glasgow, are the latest group to carry the torch for Scotch rock. The songs on their recently-released full length debut These Four Walls are all slow-burning, passionate slabs of jangly guitars, marble-mouthed crooning and jumpy backbeats. Their signature song and first single "Roll Up Your Sleeves" is a phenomenal distillation of their attitude. It's built around an insistent, sad-eyed guitar riff that slowly becomes more triumphant as the track advances. By the climax, it becomes a chiming anthem before coming back to earth, all the while sounding restless and sad. "Roll up your sleeves for winter/ I can't wait 'til summer/ When you're warmer," sings frontman Adam Thompson. In a live setting, the band shakes with the same intensity that made Arctic Monkeys an exciting, slightly dangerous act.
And the best part? Thompson's Scottish accent. It's thick and colorful and naturally gives his vocals a more mysterious hue — it's one of those voices that would make even the most inane lyrics sound hauting. Luckily, Thompson doesn't have that problem.
We Were Promised Jetpacks launch their first U.S. invasion in September.