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Friday, October 22, 2010

CMJ Day 3.5: If We Are Trees Fall at CMJ and No One But Drunk People Hear …

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 12:25 PM

It took me three days, but I finally figured out who the mystery band was that opened for Das Racist on Tuesday night. It was a Virginia Beach-based outfit called We Are Trees. And I heart them. They don't have much available online, save for an EP on Bandcamp. But here's a track I found on YouTube. Enjoy!

 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CMJ Day 3: The Uke's On Me

Posted By on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 at 5:40 PM

So it seems not everything at CMJ is as totally rad as I may have been led to believe following my stellar first night on the town. Who knew?

I began the evening at a Press Mixer at a swanky hotel on the Lower East Side, figuring free booze and food would help bandage my hemorrhaging wallet, at least temporarily. However, what I failed to remember was just how much I despise social mixers, gladhanding and pretending I give a shit about who you are, where you're from and what big name band you just interviewed. Blech.

I left after about 30 minutes and bounced around from club to club, with very little to show for it, I'm afraid. I don't know if the rock gods were simply conspiring against me last night or what, but it seemed as though every show I caught featured band after band even more forgettable than the last.

Cutting my losses, I decided to make my way uptown to Webster Hall a little early for Surfer Blood, who I've been dying to see for months. Unfortunately, I didn't go nearly early enough. On the chance that any of you folks reading this ever attend CMJ with any sort of press or artist credentials, here's a word to the wise. For most of the bigger shows, you can flash your badge to get in. However, they often limit the number of badgeholders they will allow in at one time. And once they reach capacity, it's a one-out, one-in scenario. So it was that I found myself waiting in line with about 50 other disgruntled rock critics whose badges were barely worth the plastic they were printed on. We're kind of a prickly bunch by nature. Knock us down a peg and tell us we're not as big a deal in NYC as we are in our hometowns … what a nightmare. I actually overheard a fairly well-known writer for a big deal music website say, "What the fuck? I write for (insert big deal website here), and they're telling me I can't get in? This is bullshit." (cough) Prick. (cough)

After not moving in line for about a half an hour, and growing increasingly annoyed by my pissy colleagues, I decided to leave, and trek all the way back down to the Canal Room, which was roughly 756 blocks from Webster Hall. I may be exaggerating the distance … slightly. Though I think I must have walked close to that many blocks before I realized that Broadway and West Broadway are two completely different streets … oops. 

Fortunately, I made it just in time to catch most of a set by my old friends Good Old War, who rocked a completely packed house. Those cats are good, and just keep getting better. So glad to see a truly talented young band find so much good fortune and success. It almost made the rest of the night worth it … almost.

On the docket for tonight … um, I'm not sure yet, actually. But I might go check out Neutral Uke Hotel, whom I only just discovered are not, in fact, Neutral Milk Hotel. One more word to the wise: read the CMJ guidebook very carefully, lest you too mistake the word "uke" for "milk" while skimming through it. Ahem. Anyway, here's a snippet. It's actually kinda cool. More tomorrow!

 

 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CMJ Day 2: The Curmudgeons of Rock

Posted By on Wed, Oct 20, 2010 at 5:50 PM

Hey, folks.

Welcome to my ongoing scattershot coverage of the CMJ Music Marathon, live from balmy NYC.

I just got back from a mildly interesting panel discussion, the Curmudgeons of Rock, featuring some pretty serious names in music journalism, including Rob Harvilla of the Village Voice, Sean Fennessey of eMusic, freelancer Maura Johnston, SPIN magazine music editor Charles Aaron and the newly minted music critic at New York magazine, Nitsuh Abebe. The hour-long discussion touched on a variety of issues of particular interest to yours truly, including the changing face of music journalism in the Internet age, the relevance of "authoritative" opinions when anyone with a keyboard and a web connection can blog their thoughts, or download an album in the time takes to read a review, and whether there is any value in publishing negative criticism. I especially enjoyed that last one.

But the elephant in the room was the general decline of print media and how the music journalism industry as whole has been forced to adapt. Fennessey had some particularly poignant remarks, speaking as both a former print journalist and currently as one of the driving forces behind eMusic. His stance was essentially that sites such as his, and several others around the web serve more as curators of taste rather than arbiters of cool. Unlike Harvilla and Aaron — or myself, for that matter — writers for his site have the luxury of writing solely about music that interests them, that they have a passion for. Since they promote music — in an effort to sell it, of course — true criticism never enters into the equation. They simply write about stuff they like, and hope some other folks will too.

The flip side, and perhaps the most spirited debate of the day, centered on whether negative criticism has a place in modern music journalism. Aaron was particularly candid, all but admitting to formerly feeling at least somewhat beholden to record labels advertising in his mag. But now that major label influence has waned, he feels more emboldened to tell it like it is … to a point. He added that negative reviews rarely benefit anyone, whether it be the artist (obviously), the publication, the writer or, more importantly, said artist's fans, who often respond passionately when they feel their favorite band has been unduly skewered. He also added that a negative review can often sever relationships with artists whom you may wish to cover in the future. I can attest to the validity of all of those points. But my take is this: so what?

If I may, I'd like to borrow a line from the late, great Lester Bangs:

"My responsibility as I see it as a critic is not to help a lot of new bands sell their records. It's to help people who are buying the records to keep from making a purchase that they're going to get home and hate my guts and the band's too because it's a piece of shit."

Amen. Harvilla echoed a similar sentiment, offering that trust is a key component between a writer and his or her readership. And part of building that trust means offerring a negative opinion when it's warranted. It doesn't have to be mean-spirited or snarky — though those are often the most fun to read … and write. Ahem. But it does have to be honest. To illustrate, Harvilla pointed to the "I'm not mad, I'm disappointed" style review — read my review of the Death reunion show for an example.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, or just naive, but I believe professional music criticism is still a valid and important part of how we collectively experience music. I'm biased, of course, since I am one of a lucky — and shrinking — few who actually make a living doing this. And as Fennessey put it, it's hard to take any of it too seriously because, "We're not doing God's work. We're writing about rock and hip-hop records." Yup. But there is still a place for informed, well-reasoned discussions about music amid the shrieking blogosphere … at least I hope.

*******

A couple more notes on last night's rambling.

1. Das Racist was … disappointing. Coulda just been the poor sound, or the general difficulty of translating hip-hop to a live setting, or maybe they just haven't made the developmental adjustment from studio darlings to live act, but I left unimpressed. With a cadre of hype men and various hangers-on crowding the stage, dudes just seemed a little too comfortable letting shenanigans drive the show, instead of focusing on performing. It's too bad, since they write such clever, funny songs but you'd never know it based on last night's show.

2. The surprise of the night was … well, still a surprise, but I'm working on that. The band was an incredible art folk outfit from North Carolina. But they were a late addition, not listed in the CMJ guide  and never actually told the crowd who they were. But I'll figure who they were and pass that info along, hopefully soon.

3. On the docket for tonight: a Press Mixer — not my bag, but the food and booze is free, which is key in this town. Surfer Blood, Good Old War and … well, who knows? But that's the whole point, right?

 

 

 

CMJ Day 1: Hipster Disneyland

Posted By on Wed, Oct 20, 2010 at 12:54 PM

Greetings from New York City, Solid State!

Welcome to the first of several-if-and-when-I-have-time-and-computer-access posts from the CMJ Music Marathon in NYC. 

I arrived in NYC yesterday afternoon and had quite the introduction to this here city-wide hoedown. After depositing my belongings at a friend's apartment in Brooklyn, I made my way into the city to check in at the CMJ registrar where I was given my press credentials, a strange, multi-colored neon gift shoulder bag and a voluminous guidebook outlining anything and everything I might need or want to know about the showcase — which also makes me look like an idiot tourist every time I pull it out to figure out where I'm going and when I need to be there, which is often since, well, I'm kind of an idiot tourist this trip.

I loosely planned my attack over a beer or two while watching the Phillies-Giants game — at a Red Sox bar, of all places! With over 1200 bands and 50+ venues, trying to stick to a rigid itinerary at CMJ is foolish. Still, it's good to have a few landmark shows along the way to help structure all the wandering. My idea for last night, roughly, was to make my way from 14th Street to Piano's on Ludlow Street and swing through as many joints as I could en route to — drum roll, please! — Das Racist. Oh, hell yes. 

The first stop was an old favorite NYC haunt, the Lit Lounge. Crammed into the claustrophobic's nightmare that is the punk dive's basement, my virgin CMJ ears were gently broken by the strains of Israeli garage-pop outfit Izabo. Maybe it's only because they were my first band at CMJ, or maybe it's because their pretty merch girl gave me a free lighter, but I friggin' loved these guys. My notes from the show are a little cryptic, but here's my best shot at distilling them:

Narcoleptic psych-pop with a dramatic lead singer caught somewhere between the Velvet Underground, the Yardbirds and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Intricate arrangements and surprising melodic turns, bolstered by cleverly carefree backing vocals. Also, I have something written down about when a bartender asks if you're with a band, just say "yes." Sage advice.

The next group was an experimental avant rock duo, Dada Trash Collage. I imagine these cats might go over well with Aether Everywhere and Mars Pyramid folks. For me, they kind of bridged the divide between my love for catchy hooks and curiosity about crazy-as-fuck noise. The thing that often loses me about "experimental" or "other" music is a lack of something tangible to anchor my interest within the unwieldy maelstrom of sounds. DTC obliged by tackling fairly anthemic pop songs within the unpredictable constructs of an electronic noise band. But even amid all the sonic chicanery, they never lost sight of the song as the focus of their performance. Cool stuff.

I'll check in with more about the rest of the evening in a little while. But I'm running late to a panel discussion featuring CMJ Managing editor Michael Tedder, eMusic's Sean Fennessy (you got some 'splaining to do), SPIN's Charles Aaron, freelancer Maura Johnston and, a personal hero, Rob Harvilla from the Village Voice.    

In the meantime, here's a clip from possibly my favorite find last night, Lily & the Parlour Tricks, who'll actually be at 51 Main in Middlebury on November 6. Enjoy!

Lily & The Parlour Tricks - Vampire Love Song (live) from Gabriel on Vimeo.

 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shazam!

Posted By on Thu, Oct 14, 2010 at 10:07 AM

This is gonna be fun. Foxy Shazam, tonight at  the ’nome with Free Energy and a group with maybe my current favorite band name, Hollerado. Check it … 

 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Got Dungen?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 12:23 PM

Get some tonight at the Monkey. In the meantime …


DUNGEN FAMILJ

Kemado Records | MySpace Music Videos
 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cuckoo Birds

Posted By on Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 11:48 AM

With (perhaps) the only Vermont performance of fabled proto-punkers Death tonight at Higher Ground, I've been on something of an early punk and rock and roll kick this week. Obviously, Death weren't the only band exploring the roots of what would eventually become punk rock in the early 1970s. There were others, including Rocket from the Tombs in Cleveland and Australia's the Saints — to name only a couple — both of whom got their starts roughly around the same time Death was blowing out garages in the Motor City, and a few years before the "official" advent of punk.

But the genre's roots can be traced even further back, to at least the mid-1960s — and earlier, if you want to get really particular. Below is a concert video from 1965 by a proto-proto-punk outfit comprised of American GIs station in Germany, the Monks. Rumor has it, they were among the first bands to explore the use of feedback. That's probably not true, though they may be among the first to do so with banjo. And they are almost certainly the first to do so with banjo, in Germany. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.

In any event, here's "Cuckoo," by the Monks, live in Germany. (Big thanks, to my brother, Tyler, for posting this sucker to Facebook yesterday!) Hope to see you all at HG tonight.

 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 11:36 AM

Howdy, folks.

I'm kinda shocked I have never posted this before. But I have a nifty little story about the continuing rebirth of proto-punk band Death in tomorrow's paper (that includes a cameo from a VERY special guest). So before you read that — and hopefully catch the band at Higher Ground this Thursday — I thought you might be interested in this trailer for the documentary that local filmmaker Jeff Howlett is putting together about the band, Where Do We Go From Here???. Check it out — and, full disclosure, there's a good possibility yours truly will end up in the film in some fashion. Just thought you should know.

Also, if you read this before noon, do yourself a favor and drop by the band's press conference at 242 Main today, noon to 1 p.m.

Enjoy!

Where Do We Go From Here??? Trailer from Howlermano on Vimeo.

 

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