Sunday, January 25, 2015

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Now I know a lot of sites like to do their year-end lists at the end of November, but that means they won't include anything released in December.  Although I don't know anyone that is still listening to the D'Angelo album (Too much hype anyway.  It sounds like a poorly-mixed Prince demo in my opinion.), I bet there were more than a few critics who would've included it on their lists.  So now that last year's dust has settled, I'm going to be putting out my year-end lists.  It all starts here with the Top 10 Albums of 2014.

10. Rx Bandits - Gemini, Her Majesty

We all knew the hiatus wouldn't last.  While I still miss the horns, the Bandits affirmed that they've still got plenty of good songs in them with this crowd-funded, rocking effort.

9. Stardeath & White Dwarfs - Wastoid

Holy fuzz bass!  These roadies have learned more than a thing or two while tuning up the Flaming Lips' instruments.  Although the FLips' influence is there in spades (Hell, they even turn up on "The Screaming."), that shouldn't detract from the fact that this is better than anything Wayne & Co. have put out this year.

8. G. Love & Special Sauce - Sugar

Fifteen seconds into "Come Up Man," it's evident that Jimi Jazz and Houseman are necessary ingredients to the Special Sauce, reuniting with G. for the first time in eight years.  And though the original lineup is the main draw, guest spots include Ben Harper, Shamarr Allen, and 20 Feet from Stardom chanteuse, Merry Clayton. 

7. Speak - Pedals

The Austin band took D.I.Y. to the extreme for this LP: writing, recording, mixing, mastering, producing, and doing the artwork.  This level of control was a risky move, but the risk paid off, resulting in 14 tracks that will make you think just as much as they make you dance.

6. Stars - No One is Lost

Over the past decade, Stars' albums have either gotten too dour or too uneven for my tastes.  On this album, the Canadian group dove headfirst into electro-pop, reinvigorating their sound for their best work since Set Yourself on Fire.

5. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

Easily the most fully-realized NP release yet, proving power pop is alive and well in 2014.  Albums like this make me wish I had a car, so I could roll down the windows and sing along at the top of my lungs.

4. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

I first listened to this in December, and I really wish I hadn't slept on it.  Believe what everyone says: This is the album Annie Clark has been threatening to make since she first stepped out of the backing band and into the spotlight in 2007.  Danceable, riff-heavy, sensual, and thought-provoking, this self-titled spectacle has it all.

3. Chris Mills & the Distant Stars - Alexandria

I'd been waiting for this album since I first saw Mills at Mercury Lounge in February of 2013.  The lyricism is astonishing.  I missed the first five minutes of the Super Bowl because I was waiting for the record's b-side to finish spinning.  Beautiful and timeless folk music.

2. The Majorleans - Black Belt

When a friend gives me their album to listen to, I'm tentative.  What do I tell them if I don't like it?  Will it put a strain on our friendship?  Thankfully, this one blew my expectations away.  Despite having a classic '70s feel, as if Lou Reed had fronted the Heartbreakers, Nicky Francis' ruminative street poetry grounds the Majorleans firmly in the present.

1. Vacationer - Relief

Combine Polynesian textures, hip-hop beats, and effervescent vocals, and you've got music as infectious as a tropical disease.  Kenny Vasoli and his Body Language cohorts created a record that brings the paradise to you.  No packing, no TSA, no kid kicking the back of your airplane seat.  Just press play and you're magically transported to a beach with water as crystal clear as the cover art.  There's something to be said about an album that you want to listen to again immediately after you're finished, and Relief was that album for me this summer.

Vacationer, the Majorleans, Chris Mills, and Speak were all on my podcast to talk about their albums, so make sure to have a listen.

I'll be posting my top concerts, live songs, and songs over the next few days, so don't be a stranger.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Howard Spreads Religion at Mercury Lounge

Two Brooklyn bands celebrated their EP release at Mercury Lounge last night.  One band had a definitive sound, but suffered technical troubles.  The other had no equipment issues, but also no objective.

I entered the room to see Craig Martinson in the middle of the stage, facepaint streaked across his nose and cheeks and a string of white Christmas lights knotted around his neck.  Atop his head was a fluorescent yellow beanie, giving him the appearance of a highlighter with its cap off.  He leapt offstage to perform Kanye West's "New Slaves" in tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.  I'm not so sure that Dr. King would've approved of the dedication, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it, or at least couldn't believe it.  Reclaiming the stage after his rap, Martinson started unveiling the songs from the new EP, titled My Love is True.  The songs were played well, but they lacked direction.  I don't mind eclecticism, but it just didn't seem like Craig knows what he wants to do with his music yet.  "Monster Man" recalled memories of Phil Spector-produced girl groups, while "Your Love is a Burden" was an entirely country affair.  The final number began and finished as baroque pop, but took an unexpected detour into guitar freakout territory in its midsection, Martinson nearly face-planting as his neck lights entangled his legs like a vengeful vine.  He's a unique performer, but until he gains a coherent point-of-view, he just comes across as trying too hard.

Howard were promoting their much-buzzed-about debut, Religion.  Although they've been folded under the folktronica umbrella, that genre doesn't leave room for the hard-edged, driving rock that their songs sometimes flirt with.  Onstage, it became more than just flirting, with album opener "Falling" plunging headfirst into the tribal zone halfway through.  A more accurate description of their sound would be José González fronting Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead, which was especially characteristic of "Song About Something," Howard Feibusch's smooth vocals bobbing over a jittery breakbeat.  Despite Chris Holdridge's SPD-S drum pad not working, "Spelled Out" was a subdued treat, with Feibusch's acoustic guitar interweaving sweetly with its electric brother.  After another fruitless attempt to fix the drum pad, Howard announced "Alright, bear with us.  This is the acoustic version."  Riding in on the organic sound of Holdridge's cymbals and snares, they proceeded with "Her Eyes," a tune from Feibusch and bassist Myles Heffernan's previous band, Orange Television.  "Fool" was probably the standout of the set, Chris' clacking on the rims erupting into a prehistoric climax complete with Pteranodon guitar wails from Howard.

If Martinson's songs sounded too different, Howard's only offense was that some of the tunes sounded too similar.  That could've been the fault of the irrational drum pad, however, so they took one last stab at it.  "Let's all pray to God," Feibusch suggested mockingly.  Chris reeled back and struck it with his drumstick.  "POP!" shouted the pad miraculously.  "There we go.  It works.  Religion works," smirked Feibusch.  "But Only While" quickly displaced any thoughts of the set becoming stagnant with similarity, venturing into a nearly dubstep finale.  "This is the closest thing to a single we've ever written.  So we're going to need a lot of help, especially because a lot of our technology is not working," instructed Feibusch.  "Sing along if you know it.  If you don't, don't."  The crowd clapped along to the first verse of "Money Can't Buy," swaying from side-to-side until Howard's crescendoing jangle demanded their full attention, with bursts of a dying drum pad poking their way into the din.

HOWARD - 01.19.15 - MERCURY LOUNGE (44 minutes)

Falling > Song About Something / Spelled Out / Her Eyes / Fool / Religion / But Only While (Alarm Call Rise) / Money Can't Buy

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Keller Williams & More Than a Little Irving Plaza Selist

Review to come.

KELLER WILLIAMS & MORE THAN A LITTLE - 01.16.15 - IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 36 minutes)

Cadillac > Feel Like a Stranger > I Told You I Was Freaky / This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) / More Than a Little / She Rolls > You Don't Know How It Feels / Right Here / Let's Jam > Mary Jane > Hollywood Freaks > Mighty High

Talk to the Fist > Hey Ho Jorge

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dr. Dog Turns Music Hall of Williamsburg into a Flamingo Hotel

To celebrate the release of their long-anticipated live album, Live at a Flamingo Hotel, Dr. Dog announced a New York 4x4: four shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg followed by four at Bowery Ballroom.  Last night at Music Hall, they offered up a career-spanning third show, where the band touched on every LP and EP in their discography with the understandable exception of the holiday release, Oh My Christmas Tree.  The venue was decorated to fit the live record's theme, with strings of lights housed in small, colorful China bulbs dangling across the room from a balcony whose support beams had sprouted palm fronds.

Shortly after nine, the packed house turned their eyes to the stage for the opening act.  While Elvis Perkins' upcoming I Aubade is mainly a solo effort, he had no qualms about sharing the stage with his backup band, Dearland.  The audience had no problem either, when the group began their set in delightful four-part harmony.  Nick Kinsey's drums rocketed into "I Heard Your Voice in Dresden," with Perkins' whooping vocals complemented nicely by wafts of harmonium and trumpet.  "Stay Zombie Stay" coasted along on that springy rootsiness shared by so many Dr. Dog songs that anyone in the room not yet onboard hurried to the gangway.  A helping of flute and bowed double bass segued the number into "Shampoo."  If the imagery of lines like "Black is the color of a strangled rainbow" wasn't enough, the song was made all the more haunting by the choral moans of his bandmates during the hook.  Kinsey left his kit, strapping on a large drum to join the rest of Dearland center stage.  Perkins conferred with his band and quickly readjusted his tuning.  "That would've been a very interesting hybrid of a song from Ash Wednesday and a song from In Dearland at the same time, but..." he remarked, proceeding with the clap-inducing "Hey."  Perkins had even more fun with "Stop Drop Rock & Roll," a rockabilly ditty that could've been performed by his namesake.  The quintet finished off the set with a horn-filled "Doomsday."  When the members reappeared a few minutes later to retrieve their gear, the crowd cheered as if they were about to get an encore.

Backlit by a pink flamingo amidst blue geometric shapes, the shadow people of Dr. Dog took the stage.  A drone of low-end feedback was happily interrupted by the insistent bass line of "The Girl."  Scott McMicken tossed the lead vocals over to Toby Leaman for "Hang On," as the couple in front of me held hands and sang along contentedly.  "Love" was an early standout, its verses of slick cocaine funk erupting into the joyous refrain led by McMicken.  "The Beach" progressed like a spooky Bond villain theme, reaching peak wickedness when Toby ripped his mic from its clip and slithered across the stage, baptized in a crimson glow.  On "Too Weak to Ramble," Leaman loaned his bass to percussionist Dimitri Manos and picked up an acoustic guitar.  The ballad slowed the show's pace a bit, but "We All Belong" got things back on track with a big finish, Scott McMicken leading the harmonies into a blinding white light.  Their excellent cover of Architecture in Helsinki's "Heart It Races" featured a groovy, jammed-out coda, and with a helpful nudge from the lighting design, "Heavy Light" was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

A hurricane overtook the Flamingo Hotel during the encore break, with thunderclaps of applause and balconeers shaking the lines of lights violently.  After nearly four minutes, Dr. Dog reemerged.  "Thank you so much, folks," offered Toby, and they plunged into "These Days," not wanting to waste any more time.  Keyboardist Zach Miller switched to electric guitar for "Today," taking the solo.  At this point, I was a little uneasy.  Sure, there had been some nice moments so far, specifically "The Beach," but they'd been playing it too safe.  Where was that riotous energy that their shows are known for?  The answer was next.  "Let's continue with Zach Miller on guitar.  Normally I can't stand that guy, but tonight, I don't know," joked Toby before inviting the percussion-equipped Elvis Perkins in Dearland to join them for "Lonesome."  You could finally see that they were having a blast, and as the house lights illuminated the room with every "hey," the crowd clearly was too.  Not to mess with a good thing, Dr. Dog kept Elvis and Dearland onstage for the final three tunes, "California," "Die, Die, Die," and an exuberant "That Old Black Hole."


Join This Union* > I Heard Your Voice in Dresden / Stay Zombie Stay > Shampoo / Hey / All the Night Without Love / Chains, Chains, Chains / & Eveline / Stop Drop Rock & Roll / AM > Doomsday

DR. DOG - 01.11.15 - MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG (1 hour, 46 minutes)

The Girl / Hang On / Love / Broken Heart / Mystery to Me / The Beach / Mirror, Mirror / Distant Light / How Long Must I Wait > Too Weak to Ramble / We All Belong / Army of Ancients / Be the Void / Heart It Races / The Old Days / Nellie / Heavy Light

These Days / Today / Lonesome (feat. Elvis Perkins in Dearland) / California (feat. Elvis Perkins in Dearland) > Die, Die, Die (feat. Elvis Perkins in Dearland) / That Old Black Hole (feat. Elvis Perkins in Dearland)

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Next Round - Episode 29: Cookies

Anyone who has seen my standup knows I love cookies, so why wouldn't I also love a band called Cookies?  Ben Sterling (of said band) met me for a drink at the Owl Farm to discuss technology's effect on happiness, involving your spouse in your work, and breakfast.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Next Round - Episode 28: Fancy Colors

After a week off for Thanksgiving, The Next Round is back with this meandering, whimsical chat with Fancy Colors.  Multi-instrumentalist Zac Colwell and drummer Dave Heilman have such a rapport that it's over seven minutes in before I even ask what they're drinking!  Take a ride on Spaceship Earth, find out the favorite song of each member's mother, and savor the special visit by one of the artists they've remixed.

Stream below, download directly, or subscribe on iTunes to get new episodes hours before anyone else.

Fancy Colors are playing a free show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on Monday, 12/8, at 11:30pm.
Like them on Facebook.
Buy Island of the Dead for only $7.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Majorleans Bring Three Guitars to Mercury Lounge

Any martial artist will tell you that a black belt takes time to earn.  So it makes sense that the Majorleans' new album Black Belt took years to make, from recording in a poisonous Chinese church basement to the lead singer's living room to a professional studio, where it was engineered by a Grammy-winner who has worked with everyone from Faith Hill to the Fugees.  The record finally dropped on Tuesday.  Last night, the band took to the Mercury Lounge to celebrate.

The show was opened by Boston's McAlister Drive, or four guys who don't look like they belong in the same band.  If you based them solely on appearance, the bearded, bespectacled guitarist could've been in Beck's backing band, the long-haired drummer from a stoner-rock group, the floppy-haired bassist in a dance-pop outfit, and frontman Christoph Krey fit the part of a bartender at Western-themed watering hole in Bushwick.  Their sound was nothing like the combination of these styles, however.  It was Americana-infused pop-rock.  They weren't bad, but they weren't original enough for me to really care.  That doesn't discount the fact that they are enjoyed by others, including a recently married couple who first met at a McAlister Drive show.  "Thank you for listening to the band all these years.  We write terrible music," said Krey, dedicating "Best Dressed" to the newlyweds.  "This is the part where y'all put your hands together, y'all raise your drinks, and y'all just sing along," instructed Christoph before the final number, "Got It Right."  And exactly how does one clap their hands and raise their drink at the same time without making a huge mess?

While the setlist hasn't changed much in the times I've seen the Majorleans, the addition of a third guitarist, David Andreana, brought a new dynamic to the show.  The triple-guitar attack on the intro to "Mr. Magic" boiled so ferociously that when they turned things down to a simmer for the verse, Nicky Francis' talkin' blues vocals seemed almost sinister.  I don't think I'm off-base by suggesting that the presence of Andreana freed up Francis to concentrate less on his playing and more on his singing.  Take the lyrics in "Never Had Enough," where Francis implores, "I'd like to see you both at the same time with me / I'd like to see you both some time."  While you could interpret this as the desires of his inner monologue, the way he sang it last night felt like he was actually propositioning two women at a party for a threesome.  With a smirk in his voice and drawing out the "both some time" of the second line, he wasn't reiterating; he was correcting a Freudian slip.  The ladies definitely heard him, but they probably smiled and went home with him anyway.  My favorite song from the album, "Real Bad," got the crowd dancing, not to mention the old guy next to me who jumped for joy as soon as he heard the first notes.  Riding the wave of Chris Buckle's feedback on the tail of "See the Seams," "Under Ma Wheels" proved a formidable closer, a fun country rocker that never eased off too much thanks to Colin Brooks' insistent kickdrum and cymbals.
(To learn more about the making of the album, check out the podcast below, recorded at Mission Sound during the Black Belt sessions.)

Although it was the Majorleans' release night, they shared the bill with their longtime friends, Frances Cone.  After eating a banana on the stairs beside the stage, Christina Cone took her spot at the keyboard in the center and began playing "Heartland" from the band's first album, Come Back.  Her bandmates joined her and they launched right into a new song, "Wait Right Here."  Though repetitive in its lyrics, the song eschewed boredom nicely by its variety of sounds: Alex Baron's simultaneous shaker-work during his drumming, bassist 
Andrew Doherty's vocal harmonies, and a few well-placed handclaps.  The result was a song that you're singing along with before it's over, a testament to the band's writing abilities. "Better Man" underwent another remake, as Cone stepped away from her keys, accompanied by Jeff Malinowski's slowly jangling guitar and Alex's mallet-drumming.  Their cover of the Black Keys' "These Days" was excellent, as always, and the hints of classical music in another fresh tune, "Not a Man," proved that the best is on its way from this young group.

MCALISTER DRIVE - 11.21.14 - MERCURY LOUNGE (43 minutes)

Ocean Skip Away / I Met You* / 22 / Devil's Ghost / Best Dressed / Another Day / United South / Got It Right

THE MAJORLEANS - 11.21.14 - MERCURY LOUNGE (32 minutes, 30 seconds)

Go Down All the Time / Coal Mine/Cold Mind / Mr. Magic / Never Had Enough / Imaginary Plane / Real Bad / See the Seams > Under Ma Wheels

FRANCES CONE - 11.21.14 - MERCURY LOUNGE (37 minutes)

Heartland > Wait Right Here > Soon / Better Man / Wiser / Come Back / These Days / Not a Man / So So / 85

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Revivalists Debut New Love Song at Irving Plaza

The Revivalists started last night's show at Irving Plaza by flipping the script.  Every time I've seen them, their set has ended with "Criminal," but they put the moody, crescendoing rocker right up front.  It was a powerful move on the band's part, a way of saying, "We're not gonna make you wait for the song you want to hear the most.  We have just as much confidence that we're gonna rock the shit out of anything we're gonna play after this too."  "Stand Up" was the frank rallying cry to unite everyone under this mission.  That was followed directly by another fan favorite, "Concrete (Fish Out of Water)."  Michael Girardot, who was jumping around more than I'd ever noticed before, took the song into his hands with a rip-roaring organ solo that had the crowd screaming for more.  Instead, as soon as he was finished, he picked up his trumpet and soloed on that to even more applause.  Singer David Shaw's hair, which had been tied back for the first few tunes, came unraveled during the number, his brown, shoulder-length curls exploding outward to give off a Sideshow Bob appearance.  "Monster" was next, David pleading in the lyrics, "Stop, save yourself / You could have anyone else."  But it was clear that this audience didn't want anyone else, only the Revivalists, especially when Rob Ingraham picked up his baritone sax for the explosive "All in the Family."
The New Orleans band was keen on inserting fresh songs into the mix, from the gentle finger-tapped melody of "It Was a Sin" to the soul-drenched "Fade Away."  But none of us knew just how new they would get.  After the encore break, Shaw and Giradot emerged for the debut of "Men Amongst Mountains."  Ed Williams joined midway through the heartfelt love song, laying down a solo on his pedal steel that would've made any '80s power ballad's ax-slinger jealous.  As the other bandmates returned to the stage, David quizzed the crowd, "New York City, are you ready to tear this place apart?"  Cheers from the crowd as Michael and Rob convened at the keys to start up the Who's "Baba O'Riley."  Guitarist Zack Feinberg and Williams did their best Pete Townshend windmills as every person in Irving Plaza came together to sing the chorus.  The room was all smiles at its conclusion, and the crowd craved another.  "One more song!" they demanded, the band still onstage.  A brief band meeting made the decision: "Forgot About Dre."  And while I would've preferred another Revivalists original, something along the lines of a "Bullet Proof Vest" or "BTBD," it was hard to deny the wave of excitement that surged through the crowd when Feinberg started playing those familiar staccato notes.

I drank beers with a few of the Revivalists in their van back in April.  You can listen to our conversation here:

THE REVIVALISTS - 11.20.14 - IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 34 minutes)

Criminal / Stand Up / Concrete (Fish Out of Water) / Monster / All in the Family / When I'm Able / It Was a Sin > Elementary / Navigate Below > Upright / Not Turn Away / Fade Away / Catching Fireflies

Men Amongst Mountains / Baba O'Riley / Forgot About Dre