Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In the Presence of Humble Rodent

Saw Modest Mouse last night at the Nokia Theatre. Very nice venue, albeit a bit on the big side. Wide concourses, clean restrooms, multiple bars that remind you of the Heineken Experience. All that, of course, means that I'm not likely to go back. What self-respecting indie rock fan could put up with such conditions?

Seriously, though ... a place like that attracts a certain kind of band and a certain kind of crowd. Given its size, only bands that have attained at least a modest level of commercial success (e.g., Modest Mouse) will be booked there. And what sort of crowd does commercial success generally entail?

Kiddies, kiddies as far as the eyes can see-ies, I tell you! (This tends to happen when your music gets featured on The O.C.)

Quite annoying. I didn't much like being around 16-year-olds when I was 16, and I like it even less now. They smoked. They drank. They got all giddy at each utterance of "fuck," "bullshit," "asshole" and the like but bored with each stretch of contemplative melody. Pogo bouncing, yes; gentle swaying, no. Subtlety never escapes them.

Funny how my level of annoyance varied in inverse proportion to their level of enjoyment. Makes me wonder what common thread, if any, ties our interest in Modest Mouse. But enough about the kiddies. Let's talk about the music.

An underwhelming show, really. Isaac and the boys seemed rather uninspired, and that was evident from the opening track -- "Ocean Breathes Salty." If I had a playlist called "I Hate the World," that song would be on it. But the rendition of the song last night would've fit more comfortably on the "Let's All Get Along" playlist. That set the mood for the rest of the show.

I wonder if the composition of the audience and the expanse of the space had anything to do with the band's apparent lack of zeal? My guess is yes. I'm sure the shows will be far more stimulating in the intimate environs of Bowery Ballroom on Friday and Saturday. Perhaps I would've enjoyed things better had they played "Gravity Rides Everything" and "Blame It on the Tetons."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Don't Hate Me Because My Voice Is Beautiful

Yay! Leona Naess is releasing another album soon! Can't wait. She has definitely mellowed quite a bit since Comatised, but I still like her lots.

She keeps a blog, where she opens up as much as she does in her songs.

my last post may have made you think that i was being screwed around by some label, thus the long delays. this is not the case. the truth is, i got dropped a long time ago by my label (a month or so after my dad died to be exact) which could have been taken badly on my side but was fairly meaningless in the large scheme of things. nothing like losing someone to put things into perspective. the delay is, that now with this record done, i want to make sure that it is in the right hands and not somewhere where after failing to get a song on the radio, the label will stop taking my phone calls. it happens all the time. there are many options out there now and i have to make sure its the right one.

its actually very liberating. now that i understand how things work, its not scary, just very important.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I Take Money from The Man, and There Ain't Nothin' Wrong with That

I rolled out of bed today and saw this photo of Figurines on The New York Times home page. The caption for the photo read: "The Figurines, in New York as part of a tour partly financed by the Danish government, in front of the United Nations last week." And the story blurb read: "Countries from Sweden to Australia are turning to an unlikely diplomatic tool: scruffy indie rockers."

The article discusses subsidies that various governments give to bands in the hopes that the success of the bands will boost the international profiles of their countries. One of those countries is Canada. I'd read before that bands like Broken Social Scene and Stars take advantage of grants from the Canadian government. I'd just assumed that the Canadian government was supporting art for art's sake. Silly me.

Heather Ostertag, chief executive of Factor, the public-private Canadian agency that oversees music funds, said it controls a budget of roughly $12.4 million and handed out awards to one-third or more of the 3,800 applicants who sought support last year. Broken Social Scene and its label, for example, have been offered more than $140,000, she said. The Arcade Fire and Stars were also beneficiaries.

Why does the government of the world’s second biggest land mass bother? “The government recognizes the importance of a cultural spend for a cultural identity,” Ms. Ostertag said. “I think that we struggle as Canadians for our own Canadian identity. American dominance is so prevalent wherever you go.” Part of maintaining the nation’s place on the cultural map, she added, “is happening through identifying ourselves through the success of other Canadians.”

Hey, if I'm a tool of the Canadian government, they can use me at will, because BSS, Stars and Arcade Fire are damn good. (I should extend a thank you to my Canadian co-worker for randomly lending me her copy of Stars' Set Yourself on Fire a couple of years back. I wonder if she receives grants from the Canadian government, too?)

Anyhow, I say it's money well-spent by those progressive governments. I'm headed to Sweden next year, in part because a good number of my favorite bands are Swedish. (Go here and go wild.) Now that I'm cognizant of the fact that Figurines and Mew are Danish, I'll be sure to swing by Denmark as well. (And maybe visit LEGOLAND.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Fog of International Law

Just read that Errol Morris is making a documentary about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He's got a style that's artistically distinctive, but distinctively inaccessible to the masses. (Then again, aren't most documentaries?) Should be an interesting follow-up to The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. Too bad Rumsfeld didn't watch this. He and McNamara are virtually interchangeable figures.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

What's the Big Secret?

I'm sitting at the office listening to the three albums I received last night and ported onto my iPod. After the last track of one of the albums plays, I hear silence for several seconds. At first, I wonder whether my iPod had crapped out. But a few more seconds of silence later, I realize that IT'S ANOTHER DAMN HIDDEN TRACK! What's with those things?

The ol' hidden track was kind of a nifty gimmick back in the day, when the only thing that would play a CD was the clunky CD player on your stereo system. During those ancient days, it was a bit tricky figuring out that there was a hidden track on a CD, because you didn't have a slider that you could conveniently drag to skip through 3 minutes of dead air. So, if you were patient enough to let the CD play itself out, you could pat yourself on the back for discovering an Easter egg.

But, c'mon. Who listens to CDs on CD players anymore? In an age when most every CD gets transcribed into MP3 form, a hidden track is no Easter egg; it's a rotten egg.

Thanks, silly record producer/marketing guru, for turning 5 lousy minutes worth music into a bloated, 10-meg MP3 file.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

He Don't Read So Good

I just got a call from a friend harassing me about how he's not referenced in any entry. As is customary, he's wrong. In any event ... what the hell?

You don't get calls from me telling you how to write code, do you?

So now you're mentioned with clarity. Happy, ya freak? And don't call at 1:30 in the morning again, unless it's to announce that you're getting married or something mildly interesting like that.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Come in, Memories, but Leave the Past Behind

I had a bit of a eureka moment while riding the subway home. (Isn't that when you get them, too?) I had the ol' iPod on, listening to ... what was I listening to? Doesn't really matter. What matters is that I was quite happy, reflecting on my recent re-immersion in music and its triggering of this gush of words in blog form. The creative synapses in my noggin are firing with rapidity once again. Of course, I couldn't leave it at that. I had to understand how I got here. And that's when it hit me.

I ran into a creative wall when I went to law school and came out to New York because I refused to grow. Before law school, I found comfort in the likes of New Order, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Cocteau Twins, the Smiths and Pale Saints -- the Linus blankets I grew up with. And for those of them who were still making music at the time, I'd fuss about how they didn't sound like they used to. Meanwhile, the natural progression of things led my compatriots into the vibrant world of indie rock as I stood idly by, whining like an old man to his grandchildren: "When I was young, we used to ..." this, that and the other.

I hated law school, and I complained about it incessantly. When I started working at a firm, I hated that as well and complained even more. Much of it was fueled by thoughts of the days of yore, when my main occupation consisted of critiquing all that was less than ideal. (Ever seen High Fidelity?) I was quite miserable, and that misery was of my own creation.

So what's the parallel here? Just as I failed to evolve with the changes in the music world, I failed to evolve with the changes in my life. But now, I've learned to accept my existence as it is and cease lamenting the loss of my existence as it was. And that's what made me smile on the subway.

British Sea Power. That's what I was listening to.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

And the Marathon Ends

Just got back from Hipster Central (a/k/a Williamsburg), where I saw a slew of bands at Northsix. It's a god-awful place to see a show, especially in comparison to Bowery Ballroom. But the bands were nice, except for an obnoxious one called Illinois. (The hazards of showing up too early.)

Oh No! Oh My! started off the night (the part of it worth writing about, at least). They were the band I was most eager to see, but I was rather disappointed by their performance. Quite the jolly, endearingly dorky lot that was obviously tired from playing six or so shows in a matter of days.

The Little Ones were next. Huge surprise. Not just because they sounded impressively polished live, but also because they're a five piece with two Asian guys as the centerpiece. Definitely didn't expect that from listening to their EP. I felt strangely proud seeing my fellow yellow men on stage.

Silversun Pickups closed out the night. I've known about them for a while now, but I've been on the fence about buying their album. Now that I've seen them live, I'm still on the fence, although one foot is on the side of buying. If they were just a bit more melodic, both feet would be firmly planted on the buy side. They sound somewhat like the Smashing Pumpkins, except a tad faster, louder and angrier. (I've never been much of a Pumpkins fan.) Of all the bands I saw tonight, they probably have the best shot at making it big. They've got a sound that's easy for disaffected youth to latch onto. That's a good formula for success these days, no?

So, that leaves The Tyde as the lone band on my CMJ hit list that I didn't get to cross off. Better luck next time, I guess.

I felt quite young and quite old all at the same time at each of the CMJ shows. Young in that I felt re-connected with the me of old -- from the days in high school and college when I was thoroughly engrossed in music. Old in that ... I am, especially standing next to the college kids. I wonder if they'll be in my position ten years from now, or will they have moved on?

Next up: Modest Mouse. And then, it's just a few short months until Coachella 2007! Gotta work on the sales pitch to get the whole gang to go.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Mew Drops on the Bowery

Caught Mew at Bowery Ballroom last night. (Still, hands down, my favorite place to see a show in the City. Just the right size, with the most phenomenal of acoustics.) I paid 30 bucks to see them -- nearly twice face value -- when I could've seen them as a throw-in during the Bloc Party/Secret Machines show at McCarran Park Pool over the summer. I had looked them up briefly before that show and found them to be interesting, but not quite interesting enough to trek out to Brooklyn in the mid-afternoon. So, I missed them.

I didn't come upon them again until a week ago when I was browsing about the Celebrity Playlists on iTunes. That's probably one of the best features of iTunes. It's fascinating what sort of music the famous listen to. Much of it is predictably pedestrian. But, every now and then, you come upon something unexpected, like Samuel L. Jackson listing "Wake Up" by Aracde Fire among his favorites. Or Maria Sharapova being a fan of Imogen Heap and Frou Frou. The best moments are when a Celebrity Playlist helps you discover something good. Like when I clicked on O.K. Go's playlist (of all things) and got re-acquainted with Mew.

So, the show starts, and the drummer emerges alone. He plays with a tight, concussive cadence as the lead guitarist nonchalantly strolls on stage and picks away. Next come the bassist and keyboard player. Then, the cherubic lead signer appears. He has a rather fragile, delicate look about him, which seemed quite fitting given the soaring, soprano-like notes emitted by his vocal chords. (Before I saw them, I was sure that Mew had at least one female vocalist. They have none.)

I've described Mew as reminiscent of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. Last night, as I heard and saw them live, thoughts of Pale Saints and Lush also came to mind. But it's not that Mew sounds like one of those bands during a song and another during the next. It's that Mew sounds like a strange brew of all those bands in a jam session. Airy falsetto vocals; discordant, effects-laden guitar riffs; elongated synthesiser swirls; subdued bass lines; bombastic percussion -- it all sounds gorgeously symphonic, if not operatic. But just as you almost begin to fall into a lull because of the sway-inducing harmonies, Mew delivers one sonic punch after another to remind you that you're not at Lincoln Center.

Oh, and they're Danish, too -- just like Figurines. Such beautiful music those Scandinavians make.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

And the Marathon Begins (No, the Other One)

Woohoo! It's time for the CMJ Music Marathon, and I caught my first show last night -- Figurines at Mercury Lounge.

Got there a little early, so I had to suffer trough a dreadful set by some kids from Michigan who should probably give college another try. But all was well when Figurines took the stage. Crisp, cool and charmingly propulsive. They're Danish, after all.

It's a shame more people don't know about them. (Of course, I say that about most bands I like. But I'd be rather annoyed if any of them were to hit the Billboard charts. A bit of a disconnect, I know. Then again, when I say "more people," I'm really only referring to those with a sympathetic ear for indie rock.)

I'm hoping to catch Oh No! Oh My!, the Little Ones, the Tyde, Silversun Pickups and Mew before the Marathon ends. We'll see how that goes.