The other day 4AD Records sent out an up-date regarding its stable of artists. Most interesting was news of Deerhunter recording an intimate live show in New York at the city’s premiere Soho Apple Store. The show occurred late last year, and it marked the first in a series of live performances at the store. Now, Apple has made the session exclusively available at their iTunes store as an 8-song digital-only EP, entitled “iTunes Live from Soho” (get it here).
Pitchfork has provided a preview of the session in the form of the opening cut, “Desire Lines” (stream it here). It’s my favorite track off the band’s last album, Halcyon Digest (buy it on vinyl here). However, when I first heard the smattering of applause and the “Hi, everyone. Thanks for coming out,” from singer Bradford Cox on the iTunes session, I was not hopeful for the sound quality. But then the song started, bounding by the booming bass guitar line, and in that second, I knew the sonics would be amazing. It’s particularity impressive for such a noisy song, filled with dense droning layers of guitars. I know no one right now who have created a dronescape as masterful as the last half of this 6:44 song. If anyone knows a band that can drone as awesome as Deerhunter do on this song, correct me.
The preview track cuts off at the end, so I imagine it flows nicely in the next track, “Hazel St.” Here are the rest of the tracks, by the way (and the cover art):
It’s an iTunes exclusive, so you’ll have to get it there, and only there. It’s a good price for $3.99 in the US, though I hear it’s as much as 8 Euros for those in Europe. For $3.99, I’m off to make my purchase.
I just received an email from the distributors of the new Radiohead album, the King of Limbs, with the official release date of the physical format of the album— in stores (no, you cannot order these other formats direct from the site where you can pre-order the digital format or “newspaper album”). During the haste of announcing the availability of the digital format and the artsy newspaper album, there was no mention of when the album would be available on old fashioned CD and older fashioned 12-inch record at shops (on-line or brick and mortar). It seems the answer is March 28, a Monday, meaning a UK release date. Those in the US should therefore expect the CD and LP on Tuesday, March 29. So, in a little less than a month after the digital release, the physical format will follow at your favorite indie record shop or nearest Best Buy. Here’s the specific line from the email from Sandbag UK:
“For the next few weeks, The King Of Limbs will be exclusively available from our website,
but from March 28th it will be on general release on CD, 12″ vinyl and digital download in all good record stores.”
So it seems the double 10-inch format for the newspaper album is a design thing, as the album does fit on one 12-inch record, a concern expressed in an earlier post. Hopefully the spreading out of tracks does improve the album’s sound quality. Although, if they really wanted to give it higher quality vinyl sound, they would have manufactured it on two 45 rpm 12-inch records, as In Rainbows‘ limited edition featured. Still, it should not make that much difference, seeing as Radiohead is not necessarily about analog instrumentation and have been known to make music with lots of digital affectations. But who knows, maybe we will be in for another surprise…
February 15, 2011
Tuesday release dates are for corporate suckers. Here comes Radiohead with their new album: The King of Limbs. You can own it on digital format this Saturday for the price of $9 (Higher quality WAV files will set you back $14). My order is in for the unique sounding vinyl version, which will not arrive until May 9 (you still get a digital copy on Saturday, however). Here are the details on the physical copy, as found on the pre-order site:
Radiohead’s new record, The King Of Limbs, is presented here as the world’s first* Newspaper Album, comprising:
- Two clear 10″ vinyl records in a purpose-built record sleeve.
- A compact disc.
- Many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradeable plastic to hold it all together.
- The Newspaper Album comes with a digital download that is compatible with all good digital media players.
- The Newspaper Album will be shipped on Monday, 9th May 2011. You can, however, enjoy the download on Saturday, 19th February 2011.
- Shipping is included in the prices shown.
- One lucky owner of the digital version of The King Of Limbs, purchased from this website, will receive a signed 2 track 12″ vinyl.
So, Radiohead are celebrating that dying medium, the newspaper. According to the terms and conditions on their website, the package will feature true newsprint, something I am sure will feel alien to the youth now buying music. Having originally graduated college with a print journalism degree, I can appreciate the reference.
As for the 10-inch wax, I do not know whether it was an aesthetic choice or practical reasons, but I do not care for double 10-inch albums (I already have two Radiohead albums in that format). Too much record flipping for my taste. It also remains unclear whether this is a true limited edition, as nothing on the site seems to say so.
Unlike their last and first independently released album, 2007’s In Rainbows, the King of Limbs offers no “choose-your-own-price” option for the mp3s. I gave nothing for that last album, as I have always invested in new Radiohead records with some skepticism. Their albums have always grown to be great, but, going in, I always wonder if the band could keep up the quality. Before you call me a mooch, after several listens, I would later happily drop $85 for the limited edition vinyl box set (now it seems it goes for $200 new).
With this new album, I do not mind dropping $48 straight up, as I have finally accepted myself a full-fledged fan, especially after it became hip to hate on Radiohead following “Spin” magazine’s article that the band may actually blow (Read my blog post about that here). It should come as no coincidence that article came out around the time Radiohead left their major label to go truly indie by self-releasing In Rainbows. All of a sudden they were an easy target by a corporate rag. How curious.
Some might be surprised that Radiohead have announced not only the completion of their eighth album, but also a rapidly approaching release date. I am not. Word of a new album had been circulating about the Internet for well over a year now. Also, as an independent band, they have more control over their music, so I would be surprised if it leaks for free before Saturday. Without the greedy corporate types involved, including bottom-feeding underlings with sticky fingers and all too easy access to studio masters, it is even less likely to leak.
I look forward to the first listen on Saturday. But if you want some knee-jerk review, look elsewhere. As I have found over my years following the band, a Radiohead records needs time to stew for full appreciation. I might have something to stay when I finally get the physical vinyl release in my hands in May, where I can offer some original pics of the item. Edit: seems the physical release on 12-inch record and CD is due March 28 in the UK. Read more here.
Until then, watch a sanctioned but unofficial concert video of Radiohead in HD on YouTube (It’s their 2-hour-plus benefit concert for Haiti via Oxfam):
February 14, 2011
Well, besides the fact this blog celebrates the Independent Ethos in music and occasionally film, it should come as no surprise to read my endorsement for Arcade Fire‘s Grammy win for album of the year. They are the only truly independent band on an independent label (Merge Records) to win the honor.
I had not planned to write about the Grammys at all, as it usually celebrates the contrived dreck that is pop music: from rock to disco. But the voters got my attention this morning.
Arcade Fire deserved the win for many reasons, and to those who call them “upsets” to crap like the music of Lady Antebelum, Lady Gaga and such: get some culture. They are true musicians making creative music with real instruments. Their energy live is unmatched and forgoes the distracting trappings of theatrics. Their music is creative while strongly rooted in rock (especially the progressive kind). Hence they have fans that span the ages from the current hipster youths, to respectable rock elders like David Bowie and Peter Gabriel.
So good for them. The Suburbs is a great album, as seen in my top 10 albums of 2010. OK, so it was not a personal fave of the year, as the exuberance of first hearing Arcade Fire via Funeral is a tough act to follow, but Arcade Fire are good enough to only measure against themselves. It’s all downhill from here. ;-)
February 12, 2011
Mogwai has returned with a new full-length album and a sound as dark and brooding as ever. It’s the band’s first for Sub Pop Records after leaving Matador with the Hawk is Howling… Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Appropriately, the opening track “White Noise” sounds like a slip away from consciousness, with a buoyant guitar line that reverberates with every note on a steady, spare beat. Other instruments stack up, as brilliant vibes waft over the din in a patient, redundant melody. When the guitars rumble and screech to soaring heights, yes, this is the soundtrack to the eternal abyss, and the music that will forever live on after the last shake of your mortal coil.
The group’s name, a reference to the 1984 Joe Dante film Gremlins, started as a joke. But, as the band point out on their website’s FAQ, it also means “ghost” in Chinese. Now, after all these years, along comes the album that fits their name for its more serious, ethereal reference.
The music is epic and otherworldly. Hissing guitars quake and rumble on the opening of “Rano Pano” in a manner that loosely recalls the original Godzilla theme song:
But it’s eerie beyond monster movie schlock. This is the sound a mountain might make if it began to shake and inch toward you.
With Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Mogwai’s seventh album, the Scotland-based quintet are once again working with producer Paul Savage. Savage was in the studio to help bring to life Young Team, the acclaimed 1997 album that put Mogwai on the mostly instrumental, post-rock map. As much as I loved that album, which still stands tried and true in the annals of indie rock, Mogwai have grown up much since then. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will features a more focused and less self-indulgent sound. The shift has been gradual enough to make every album in-between interesting, and I have never tired of the band over the years. Don’t get me wrong, Mogwai still have a sense of humor, as seen in the official video for “Rano Pano”:
But do not be distracted by the goofy sci-fi/bromantic video above, the guys in the band have matured nicely. On Young Team, and other early works, Mogwai at times fumbled around with what can be best described as “noodling.” Over the course of their discography, they have learned to follow the music instead of force it. Like the soulful LCD Soundsystem and the masterful Robert Fripp, Mogwai create transcendent, complex music that sounds effortless and fluid.
A shout out goes out to Luke Sutherland who guests on the album on various instruments in addition to vocals on “Mexican Grand Prix,” a song that also recently got the official music treatment (and the album still hasn’t officially arrived [It's due out Feb. 15]!):
Sutherland has been a frequent collaborator with Mogwai, and I loved his old band Long Fin Killie. I even had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing him for a profile piece in “JAM Entertainment News,” a Florida music mag that used to be available for free and local record stores before the rise of the Internet. Continuing with the theme of death, Sutherland brings the experience to the album, as he nearly died in a car accident while touring. But thank God he survived, because here is one of those rare vocal-oriented Mogwai tracks that works. Sutherland sings in an eerie, near unintelligible whisper over a buoyant bass line as noisy interweaving guitar lines pile up over an organ melody.
Finally, I do not own the vinyl version– yet– but I cannot wait to hear those beefy sounding drums tapping away at the skins on “Death Rays,” as organs swell and billow, following the lead of an electric guitar’s entrancing, triste melody on the analog medium (and Sub Pop knows how to press records [For the record, Matador is none too shabby either]).
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will can turn gray and gloomy at times (“Letters to the Metro” is especially hushed and dreary), and that mood is so well reflected in the odd twilight overcast images of the cityscapes that so suitably permeate the album art inside and out. All the better reason to hold it in the large record-size format of the double-LP.
Look out for a limited edition version of the album, as well, which includes a bonus CD featuring a 23-minute long piece called “The Singing Mountain” recorded for Douglas Gordon and Olaf Nicolai’s “Monument for Forgotten Future” installation in Essen, Germany. I have not heard the track, but the length sounds interesting.
Finally, you can stream the album free here, and experience it for yourself. If you like ambient, jazz or metal, Mogwai never seem to fail at bringing it all together in their truly original sound.
I just realized the coupling of image and music in the videos above do not compare with the gorgeous short film shot by the album art’s photographer, Antony Crook. It features an exclusive edit of “How to Be a Werewolf” off Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. You can watch “Thirty Century Man” here.
February 8, 2011
After many listens and much contemplation, I think I’ve numbed my mind to the cheesy qualities of Cut/Copy’s new album Zonoscope to dive into why I really do not like it as much as most will (plus I’ve had this thing for a month, thanks to the band’s PR company giving me a sneak peek, and today is release day already!).
I will admit that these Australian synth-poppers know how to make some catchy pop music. With their third full-length album, the band’s sound continues to grow slicker. Still, with this growth, a piece of Cut/Copy’s soul continues to drift away. They used to sound much more interesting: a kaleidoscopic electro outfit with leanings to meandering psychedelia, recalling the hippie disco of the Chemical Brothers. But now comes an album that sounds like it emerged from a time capsule sealed since 1986.
Zonoscope arrives on the heels of much anticipation, as their last album, 2008’s In Ghost Colours, saw them breaking out to much critical and popular notoriety. But I also found that album a mostly cold experience compared to 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love. At least that debut album came across as a witty send-up of the dance pop/new wave era of the eighties, and the shtick is getting old. Now Cut/Copy seem a bit too icky in love with that sound. Despite all the buzz that followed it, for me, In Ghost Colours had only a couple of outstanding songs worth noting: “Unforgettable Season” and “So Haunted,” and the album grew stale quick. That second album definitely foreshadowed a direction turning away from the psychedelic wit of their debut and toward a colder, more sincere and, in effect, dated disco sound. Of course, Zonoscope continues that trend, and it will probably be embraced by many. However, will it be a classic touchstone in alt-rock? Probably not. It’s all too derivative of a pop scene that died a long time ago for good reason, and Cut/Copy explore that sound without a trace of irony and an almost fetishistic affection.
After repeated listens (the first of which left me dumbfounded with horror by just how retro, soulless and sort of embarrassing to my aesthetic sensibility the album sounded), I feel a bit more comfortable to take a closer look at how this young group of musicians, who must have been babes in the eighties, captures that era’s pop music so expertly. They truly seem to relish in the aesthetic of new wave pop artists like Erasure, Level 42, Talk Talk and Information Society. Singer/main songwriter/instrumentalist Dan Whitford channels the period with masterful skill. His deep, affected vocals sound more than ever like those of post-new romantic blue-eyed soulsters of that era. Breathy, deep and elastic, his voice ranges from falsetto to baritone, not unlike Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore.
It fits well with the airy drum machines and cheesy synths that permeate Zonoscope. According to the press material included with the advance copy of the album I received, the album is the result of the band playing with “piles of vintage studio equipment and instruments.” It certainly worked to produce an album that could fit comfortably on late-eighties pop radio or MTV.
But Zonoscope, for the most part, seems to relish in late eighties new wave a little too much for my taste. I don’t know if the dudes in Cut/Copy grew up listening to the radio in the mid to late eighties, but anyone with serious alt-rock sensibilities in those times knows that was the era new wave died on the top of the pop charts. New wave is the waste left by the pioneers of the post punk world of the late seventies and early eighties. Modern English went from singles like the ethereal noise of “Gathering Dust” to the long overplayed “I Melt With You,” their single definitive hit. Even pioneers like Roxy Music sacrificed their glam rock edge for the light bounce of synthesizers that defined dreck like Avalon. That was also the era David Bowie sold his soul by following up the progressive Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) with Let’s Dance, and those are only the horrors observed of the early eighties. The decade grew more putrid for pop radio as the years rolled on, until the anger of the Pixies, Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana exorcised those demons at the end of that era.
With all this cynicism informing my aesthetic principles when it comes to today’s modern rock, here comes Cut/Copy with Zonoscope. So pardon if when I hear the opening cut, “Need You Now” (thankfully not to be confused with the even more banal hit by current pop act Lady Antebellum) unfold with layering melodies that seems to mimic LCD Soundsystem (a much cooler retro-informed band) but without a sense of patient, soulful groove. It instead builds on the mechanical timing of adding one layer after another in all too perfectly timed sequences. After a fake, electro stuttering “drum” fill, Whitford starts singing, “Hush, darling, don’t you cry/Hush, darling, don’t you cry” as the song perkily bounds along, and so begins the eye-roll worthy lyrical schlock that not only permeates this album but also the late eighties. There are coos and doo-wops throughout that cloy throughout “Need You Now” that seems to linger too long at just over six minutes.
“Take me over” features more annoying silly lines like “Take me over/Take me under” and some “Ooo, oo, oooooo”s in between on a bouncy beat that recalls the swishy quality of “I go I go I go” by the Wave Machines, another current act with a retro new wave vibe. Synth chords that many once worried would replace string sections when they seemed to dominate pop songs in the mid-eighties honk throughout the song. When “Take me over” breaks down, Cut/Copy cue up the samples of jungle sounds with birds cawing and a monkey howling. Maybe they are not taking themselves all that seriously. I don’t know. It just all sounds too clichéd to me and such an unworthy style of music to revisit. It is the most dated, disposable kind of pop there is, the equivalent of Britney Spears nowadays.
I had high hopes as “Take Me Over” faded away and “Where I’m Going” began. The sound of railroad cars and whoosh of some unintelligible backward vocals hover above tribal beats and as one song swells into a spacey sparkle several guitars join in and groove along to a tambourine beat at the start of the next. It’s almost like the old Chemical Brothers influence had reappeared, but it lasts only a few seconds. Then the song switches gears to perky sing-song: “Take my hand if you know what I’m going through … Ooo, ooo,ooo, whoah-oh, yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” It bobs along blissfully but vapidly on a syncopated beat. Several tracks later there is little relief of this too cute love for new wave.
I will admit that there is at least one track I honestly like on Zonoscope: “Alisa.” Sure, it’s a simple clichéd title with a chick’s name. I should have hated it, but the band explore the song with just the right amount of dense layering and vocals that obscure the lyrics just enough. It starts stupid enough with shakers and a simple beat and a guitar line that begins like an Echo & the Bunnymen track but then falls apart nicely as synths ring, zip and sparkle in the background. The chorus begins with stings from an honest-to-goodness-sounding string section before the song returns to the Bunnymen guitar line. It’s simple, but the extra amorphous guitar effects and synth noise are obtuse enough to keep the song interesting and rewarding to repeat listens.
But that’s the highlight for me on Zonoscope. There is even a 15-minute-plus closer that I had high hopes for, but it just turns out dull and uninspired.
As far as Cut/Copy’s Miami connection with this blog. They will apparently play a major role at the Ultra Music Festival in Downtown Miami, hitting one of the dance festival’s main stages (it’s their third time at the fest). With that show Cut/Copy kick off a month-long North American tour. Brooklyn’s Holy Ghost will join them on most of their tour dates, which will proceed as follows:
26 – Miami, FL @ Ultra Music Festival
28 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade *
29 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club *
31 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero *
02 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5 *
04 – Boston, MA @ House of Blues *
05 – Montreal, QC @ Club Soda *
07 – Toronto, ON @ Sound Academy
08 – Chicago, IL @ Riviera *
09 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue *
12 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox Sodo *
15 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival (Empire Polo Grounds)
16 – San Francisco, CA @ The Grand Ballroom *
20 – Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater *
22 – Austin, TX @ Stubbs BBQ *
23 – New Orleans, LA @ Republic *
*w/ Holy Ghost